Monday, September 22, 2008

Matsuzaka Peaking at the Right Time

Dice-K looked completely ready for the post season last night. He pitched seven shutout innings to help the Red Sox clinch at least a tie for the Wild Card. There is but one team left to smite before their spot in the playoffs is secure. Yes, the Yankees are that very team. Unfortunately, the Red Sox don't play the Yankees until later this week, and by then, amazingly, those games will truly be meaningless.

Dice-K MatsuzakaThe Yankees packed up their venerable old park last night after completing the final game ever to be played there. With two outs in the ninth inning, Derek Jeter was replaced by Wilson Betemit, presumably to allow Jeter one last moment in the spotlight to be cheered by his adoring fans. However, we all know the real reason is they were scared he'd make an embarrassing error on the final out of the game, right?

So, enough of the crying and tears over poor Yankee Stadium. If it was so sad, then why tear it down? If it means so much to everyone, what was neither George or Hank Steinbrenner at the glorious final game? If honoring the historic players and coaches was so important, why was neither Roger Clemens nor Joe Torre acknowledged during any of the ceremonies? And, if this was such an important event, why was the closing of Yankee Stadium held on a Sunday night, in a meaningless game against the Orioles? I'll tell you why. It was not supposed to be that way. The Yankees think they are automatically in the playoffs every year. The true hope and expectation was that they would indeed have a farewell game, but it would be in celebration of a World Championship. They were so confident they would at least be in the playoffs, that no thought was given to the event that the final game would be a regular season game against Baltimore. No wonder the vocal half of the Steinbrenners did not show. They were embarrassed.

Now, back to real baseball...

David OrtizBrilliant game yesterday to defeat the Blue Jays 3-0. The pitching worked like last year's formula. Dice-K (the starter) went 7 innings, Hideki Okajima shut down the 8th, and Jonathan Papelbon mopped up the 9th. Nicely done! On offense, Jacoby Ellsbury led the charge going 3-4 with 2 doubles and a triple. That allowed him to save his 50th stolen base of the year to take place during the final 7 game home stand. Thank you Jacoby! Ellsbury's triple in the 1st inning was quickly followed up by a sacrifice fly by Dustin Pedroia to give the Sox the game winning run from the second batter of the game. Pretty cool. In the third inning, with Ellsbury on second base, David Ortiz crushed his 22nd home run of the season to give Dice-K a little cushion. Papi has been hitting with more power lately. Either his wrist is no longer an issue, or he's decided to ignore it until November.

Yes, Tampa Bay lost last night, and at first glance, it looks like an exciting race developing for the final week. Tampa holds a mere 1 1/2 game lead over the Sox, and there are still 7 games remaining for Boston, and 8 remaining for the Rays. But, before you get too excited, overtaking Tampa is still a long shot, although not mathematically impossible. There are two keys. First, the Sox do not play Tampa, so no chance at taking them down head to head. Second, Tampa Bay holds the tie breaker, and are 2 games ahead in the loss column.

So, if Tampa Bay goes 6-2 in their remaining games, that would eliminate Boston. If they go 5-3, Boston has to finish the season 7-0. All the Rays need to do is to go 4-4 to force the Sox to go 6-1. So, yes, the Sox are only 1 1/2 back, but it is a VERY long 1 1/2 games.

I will be going to the game tomorrow night (Tuesday). And, just like earlier this month when the Sox set the new consecutive sold out games record on Monday, and I went to the game on Tuesday, it looks like I may miss by one game again. A win by the Sox tonight, or a loss by the Yankees, and the Sox clinch the Wild Card. Oh well, as long as they clinch!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

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