Thursday, October 2, 2008

Observations After Red Sox ALDS Game 1 Victory

Game one actually played out much like I had expected, and hoped, it would. Jon Lester pitched a great game, but he did have me worried in the first inning. He was missing his spots, falling behind in the count, throwing too many first pitch balls, and walked a batter to load the bases with 2 outs. I was confident he'd get out of the jam (since there were two outs), but if this was how he was going to pitch the whole game, we were doomed.

Jon LesterThankfully, Lester and Varitek kept making adjustments, Lester's command got tighter, and his pitch selection worked incredibly well. As hoped, Lester kept the Angel's score down (only 1 unearned run), and got through 7 innings. I was initially surprised to see Justin Masterson become the first Sox pitcher out of the bullpen. But, Masterson's delivery can be tough on right handed batters. The Angels featured a stretch of right handed batters in the middle of the lineup, partly thanks to facing a lefty starter, and Masterson would be a good choice to confound them. You have to tip your hat to Masterson. His very first playoff appearance, facing the meat of the Angels lineup in the 8th inning of a 2-1 game; Mark Teixeira, Vladimir Guerrero, and Tori Hunter, right off the bat.

Well, Masterson survived, and probably boosted his confidence, but he did not dominate. Teixeira lofted a line drive that looked like a sure hit until Jacoby Ellsbury made a sensational diving catch to rob him of the hit. Then, Vlad lined a single to left, before making a huge base running error. With Vlad on first, Tori Hunter floated a Texas Leaguer over first base into no man's land. JD Drew charged in from right, Dustin Pedroia ran over from second, and Kevin Youkilis backpedaled from first base. Youk came the closest, but could not snare it. In a move that appeared to be half in frustration, Youk snatched the ball up in a second with his glove and turned toward the infield. His eyes must have lit up as he saw Vladimir lumbering to third base like a bison already riddled with arrows from an Indian hunting party. The throw arrived in time for Mike Lowell to do some stretching before making the tag. The gaff gave the Angels their second out, and Masterson quickly induced a ground ball to finish the scoreless inning.

The Red Sox are too well focused in the playoffs and will not let the Angels get away with mistakes like that. Reminded me of the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series - good team, but just could not put it together to score, and made dumb mistakes to keep themselves out of it.

Jonathan Papelbon did not disappoint in the 9th. He gave up a sharp single, but struck out three batters to seal the win.

Jason BayThe non-pitching stars of the game for Boston were Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Bay. Jason Bay, looking foolish in his first two at-bats, both strike outs, drove Youk (who had walked) home in the 6th with a 2 run home run. Bay followed that with a double in the 8th inning.

But, Jacoby Ellsbury brought it last night. The Angels approach was to leverage speed, aggressive base running, solid defense, and keep the pressure on the defense constantly. Well, Ellsbury must have been listening in to those strategy meetings! He lead of the game with a double, but got stranded at third base. Then in the 3rd inning, his speed prevented the Angels from turning an inning ending double play. With Ellsbury on first, Lackey was so worried about a steal that he ended up walking Pedrioa. Again, no run scored, but the pressure was being applied. The pressure continued in the 5th inning when Ellsbury bunted his way on base with two outs, and then easily stole second, only to be stranded again. Then in the 7th, with two outs, Ellsbury hit a triple to right center (that was ruled an error but shouldn't have). This time Big Papi stranded him.

Jacoby EllsburyEllsbury's pressure final caused the Angels to crumble in the 9th inning when he hit a single to drive in Jed Lowrie, and then stole second base for the second time. This inning, he was not stranded. Ellsbury advanced to 3rd on a Pedroia groundout, and scored on a David Ortiz single.

Mike Lowell and JD Drew, our two injury concerns, both played all 9 innings, surprisingly. Each time a ball was hit to Lowell, I cringed, then breathed a sigh of relief as each play turned out to be routine, and did not require any awkward bending, twisting, or diving. Neither player did very much, both going hitless in 4 bats. But, they both got the work in, both got a chance to improve their timing, and both got a test their injuries in a live game situation. I think JD Drew looks physically solid, and is likely to have an impact. Mike Lowell did nothing wrong, but he kind of looked like he could go down at any minute. Let's hope not.

So, the Sox are in the position they wanted. The Angels look down the road and see Josh Beckett, who is still a go, waiting to face them in game in Boston. That is a game they have to be worried about. A loss to Daisuke Matsuzaka tomorrow night would make game 3 against Beckett a potential series ending sweep. So, clearly tomorrow's game is a must win for the Angels. That puts additional pressure on a starting pitcher who has not pitched well in September and is trying to regain his dominance. Well, trial by fire tomorrow night.

The match up I'm looking forward to is Dice-K against Vladimir Guerrero. Dice-K like to keep the ball away from batters and has no problem risking a walk. Meanwhile, Vlad does not know the meaning of walk. He'll jump across home plate to attack a pitch. I am not sure Dice-K could walk him if he tried. Should be a fun match up. For Dice-K to keep the ball away from Guerrero's bat, who knows where he'll have to throw it.

The Sox were successful this year by different players stepping up, almost in a rotation, to have big games. Last night, some regular heroes were a bit quiet at the plate; Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and even Big Papi (9th inning ground ball was far short of his typical fireworks). So, I'd watch for them to have a bigger impact, as well as JD!

Final note - the Angels' middle of the order looks tough. Last night, each time those three came up (Teixeira, Guerero, and Hunter) at least TWO of them reached base, every time! in the first inning they went, single, fly out, walk. In the 3rd it was, strike out, reach on error, RBI single. In the 5th, single, single, ground out. Finally, in the 8th, they went, fly out (diving catch by Ellsbury), single, single (during which, Vlad got thrown out at 3rd). Dice-K, and the rest of the Sox pitching staff need to take heed. This is a dangerous threesome.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)


Suldog said...

I am much less apprehensive than I was yesterday at this time :-)

Fenway West said...

I hope game 2 does not go as you expected.

Rooster said...

I just got home from a weekend in the remote woods of Maine - many miles from contact with the outside world.

I was pumped to see they won game 2 - I still need to read up on it, and the Sox are losing 1-0 right now in the 2nd.