Sunday, May 11, 2008

Twins Knee to the Head Leads to Red Sox Win

Dice-K Matsuzaka
After a disappointing loss the day before to the Minnesota Twins, the Red Sox were able to bounce back yesterday with a 5-2 victory behind the solid pitching of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who improved his record on the season to 6-0. In Dice-K's last outing, he defeated the Detroit Tigers 6-3, but had to survive an amazing 8 walks in the process. Last night started out eerily familiar. Dice-K walked one batter in the first inning, and in the second inning he walked the lead off batter, and later with the bases loaded, he walked in the Twins' first run of the night. Three walks in two innings was sounding ominous. But, Dice-K was able to straighten things out and complete 7 innings without walking a single other batter. He countered those 3 walks with 7 strikeouts, while limiting the Twins to only 2 runs on 6 hits.

Good thing too, since the Twins' starter, Glen Perkins, was also having a great night and found himself clinging to a 2-1 lead heading into the 7th inning. Last night was Perkins' first appearance in the majors this season, and his first start ever for the Twins. In a situation like that, you are typically hoping to get 5 innings, maybe 6 from your young starter. Last night the Twins liked what they saw and thought they could stretch their good fortune to 7 innings. They were wrong.

Jed LowrieCoco Crisp, leading off the 7th, got a hold of a Perkins fastball that came in too high, and sent it deep into the left field stands for his first home run of the year. With the game tied, the ninth batter for the Sox came to the plate. No, not Julio Lugo. Were you wondering about the title to today's post? The night before, Julio Lugo took a knee to the head on a close play at second base. After the game he was feeling "woozy" and was given the night off as a precaution. Jed Lowrie was given the start at second base, and again, showed Boston fans why he should be considered the shortstop of the future (possibly the near-future?). Lowrie followed Crisp with a home run of his own - his first one in the Major Leagues to give the Sox a 3-2 lead. All told, Lowrie went 3-4 last night, scored two runs, and completed a nifty double play to end the 5th inning. A big knock on Lugo has been his errors. Lowrie did go error-less last night, but he only had the one opportunity on the double play. Funny story about the home run. The Red Sox managed to retrieve the home run ball for Lowrie, but had to do a little negotiating to get it. They managed to swing a trade for an autographed Josh Beckett baseball in return for the home run ball. Lowrie commented with a smile, "Apparently, [Beckett's] signed ball is worth more than my first home run."

Mike LowellIn the 8th inning, Mike Lowell hit a solo home run to add to the Sox total. For the second time in the past 3 games, both Lowell and Kevin Youkilis hit home runs on the same night. Youk continued his hot hitting with a solo shot of his own in the 2nd inning. The four solo home runs last night were the most by the Sox this season, and had there been a few more base runners, the game surely would have been a blowout.

Hideki Okajima confidently nailed down the 8th inning, as we are so used to seeing him do. He really does seem to perform much better when he is brought in to start off an inning, rather than get sent in with runners already on base. And finally, the ninth inning was wrapped up by Jonathan Papelbon, who showed no ill effects coming off of two straight blown saves. He was sharp, and even mixed his pitches up more than usual, but with solid results. Consider this, with two outs in the ninth, Papelbon welcomed pinch hitter Craig Munroe with two straight curveballs! I am not sure he has done that in his entire Red Sox career (I've got my stats people researching that one). Papelbon's line shows he gave up one hit, but the hit was actually a high pop up that hit a cable near the ceiling of the Metrodome and deflected away from the awaiting Jason Varitek. Also a positive sign that Papelbon has bounced back quickly, of his 20 pitches last night, seven of them went for strikes untouched - either called strikes or swinging strikes. Those numbers are more in line with his usual performance, unlike last night when only one pitch went for a strike untouched.
Hideki Okajima
Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz will try to take turns with the new home run combo of Lowell and Youkilis. Last night Ramirez and Ortiz went a combined 0-9 and served only as casual observers to the victory. Perhaps tonight will be their turn to provide the power.

Keep an eye open today for player moves. Both Alex Cora and Sean Casey have completed their rehab assignments and are due to be added to the roster today. You can count on a pitcher being moved, as the Sox are currently carrying 13 pitchers. The easy move would be to simply send Craig Hansen back to Pawtucket, but if the Sox want to keep him and continue his progress, there will have to be a bigger, more permanent move of a player like Mike Timlin or Julian Tavares. We'll have to see how confident the Sox are in Hansen at this point in the season.

Unfortunately, the other move would have to be last night's hero Jed Lowrie. Lowrie should not be wasting too much time sitting on the bench as a backup. Smarter move would be to get him playing every day in Pawtucket. Only chance to keep Lowrie for a few more days would be to move Lugo to the DL, but I would not hold my breath for that. If Lugo needs one more night off, I expect we'd see Alex Cora start at short tonight. Terry Francona likes to get people involved right away.

Tim Wakefield faces off against Nick Blackburn tonight. Wakefield is coming off his best outing of the year. No reason to think he'll have anything other than a solid night, as his knuckleball generally enjoys the indoor environment.

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