I've played amateur baseball for many years, and I have never seen a pitcher throw at a batter because the batter has had success against the pitcher or the team. If anything, the pitcher tries to throw a lot of junk to keep the batter from hitting. But, last night the image that is most lasting is Kyle Farnsworth throwing a 97+ mph fastball right at Manny Ramirez' left shoulder/left ear. Luckily, the ball sailed and just missed Manny as it passed behind him! Yes, it was intentional, period. Every pitch Farnsworth threw after that was right around the plate, and he struck out two batters in the inning. He was not wild, he was headhunting. He knew he could throw one pitch and get away with it before warnings came out, and he did - he just missed. A 97 mph fastball in the location Farnsworth threw it is potentially career ending if it connects.
The once noble and honorable Yankees seem to be slipping into cheap and dirty habits. The team attitude comes from the leader. Joe Torre had always been a great baseball guy, and was always able to calm the often crazy and emotional vibes coming from the front office of George Steinbrenner. Joe stood his ground and ran the team very well, with honor and sportsmanship. As much as we all hate the Yankees as or main rival, Joe was a respected adversary.
Joe Girardi may not be up for following Torre's legacy of sportsmanship. I was surprised to read about Shelley Duncan sliding spikes-high into second base against Tampa Bay in spring training. That cheap move does nothing but instigate a fight, which it did. Let's hope Joe Girardi can calm the cheap stuff down and keep Torre's legacy alive.
Okay, that's out of the way. Manny Ramirez stole the show last night hitting home runs off of Mike Mussina in his first two at-bats driving in a total of 3 runs. Mussina has now given up 3 home runs to Manny this season. Prior to both of Mussina's starts against Boston, I discussed how to hit against Mike, and assured you that at least Manny would get it. I doubt Manny is reading this blog, but he definitely gets it!
Josh Beckett was also in good form last night. He has been tiring a little early in his starts so far, but last night he went 8 innings throwing 105 pitches. I had only called for him to go 7 innings, but having him go 8 saved Hideki Okajima for tonight's game. Jonathan Papelbon did wrap up the ninth inning, but was very sloppy in doing so. After striking out Jason Giambi, he gave up a double to Jorge Posada, then threw a wild pitch to send Posada to third base. A ground out by Robinson Cano scored Posada. So, with two outs I thought that was about it. But, Papelbon then gave up a solo home run to Melky Cabrera before striking out pinch-hitter, Hideki Matsui to end the game.
Now, on a more personal note, I am going to my first game of 2008 tonight. Sitting in Fenway Park under clear blue skies, warm 70 degree weather, taking in the sights, sounds and smells will be just a little slice of heaven. Of course, that's after ignoring the cramped seats, expensive beer, and dripping mustard all over my jeans, and possibly ducking the attack of a swooping hawk or two. For all of my friends out there (yes, I mean both of you), I will be preparing diligently for the game in my usual place of meditation - the end of the bar at Tequila Rain on Landsdowne Street. Here's what I'll be preaching to anyone at the bar who I can corner to listen, wearing my Dice-K branded Red Sox hat...
The Sox send Dice-K Matsusaka to the mound tonight to face Luis Mendoza of the Texas Rangers. Mendoza was originally signed by the Sox in 2000 and traded to Texas in 2006. This is his rookie season in the bigs, and as a 24 year old, he shows some promise. He had trouble with his curveball in his last outing and got behind on a number of counts, but had a respectful outing. The Red Sox have not historically done well against new pitchers they've never faced. The key will be to exercise patience at the plate, force the kid to throw strikes, get his pitch count up, and jump on mistakes. He's a right-handed batter, so look for the same batting lineup for the Red Sox as last night. Coco Crisp has been nursing a tender hamstring. He may be in center field if it is better, or he may get one more night off. Personally, I'd love to see Jacoby Ellsbury in person. He has not been getting many hits, but the Yankees put him on base with two (unintentional) HBP's last night, and Ellsbury created havoc on the bases.
The Rangers are on a small roll having just swept two from the Blue Jays, so Dice-K will need to have better command than his last outing, and I expect he will. Texas has fared well against Dice-K in the past, so he will need to be sharp, otherwise they'll run him out of the game by the 5th inning. And, we don't want the Sox bullpen coming in that early, do we?
Who's dangerous? Watch out for Frank Catalonado - he is a constant thorn in the Red Sox' side.
Finally let's all welcome Kason Gabbard in his first visit to Fenway not in a Red Sox uniform.
(Photos courtesy of Boston.com)