Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Deja Vu for Red Sox

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched his best game of 2008 last night as the Red Sox treated fans to a near identical game as the one the night before. Does this sound familiar? Low scoring pitching duel, game is tied, last of the ninth inning, Papelbon has just preserved the tie in the top of the inning, Big Papi is on second base, Manny Ramirez is on first base, the batter hits a single to center field...

The night before, the batter was Kevin Youkilis, and Vernon Wells bobbled the ball to let Papi score from second to end the game in walk-off fashion. Last night was a bit different, but not a lot. Last night, Terry Francona pinch ran Jed Lowrie for David Ortiz (thank you Terry), and Brandon Moss hit the single to center. But, this time Wells did not bobble the ball and he threw a strike to home nailing Lowrie for the second out of the inning. That brought Jason Varitek to the plate with Manny now on second, and Moss at first, with two outs. The Captain proceeded to rip a single to center, Vernon Wells fielded it cleanly and fired home. This time his throw was a little up the first base line, pulling the catcher away from the plate and Manny took advantage and slid in for the walk off run.

David Ortiz belted his 5th home run of the season in the 7th inning to give the Sox a 1-0 lead, but Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima combined to allow the Jays to tie it at one in the eighth inning, setting up the drama in the ninth.

I still say the cold weather has slowed down the bats, allowing the pitchers to get a slight edge. Nothing wrong with that, and it was fun to see Dice-K submit a masterful performance, pitching 7 shutout innings, allowing only 2 hits to go with 4 strike outs and 2 walks. This is the fourth such pitching start for the Red Sox in a row. The last four starters went as follows:

Buchholz : 8 innings, 3H, 2R, 9K, 1BB
Beckett: 7 innings, 4H, 2R, 13K, 1BB
Lester: 8 innings, 1H, 0R, 6K, 4BB
Matsuzaka: 7 innings, 2H, 0R, 4K, 2BB

Before you get too excited about that, remember that you need at least a little bit of offense to win a game. Over the last 45 innings that the Red Sox have played, they have ONLY SCORED 5 RUNS! If you are a math expert, you already know this is an average of one run per 9 inning game. If I recall, Albert Einstein had identified that as the classic formula for a losing streak. Luckily for the Red Sox, they have won 2 games in those 45 innings.

Tonight, all the pressure is on for Tim Wakefield to match the feats of his fellow starters. My recollection is that cold weather does not create the best conditions for the knuckle ball. The Jays send potential ace, AJ Burnett to the mount to face Wakefield, and in my book, the pitching match up leans in favor of Toronto. The one thing to hope for is that the law of averages is enforced, and the runs once again start flowing.

Are you worried about injuries? You should be. Last night the Red Sox had NO extra outfielder available for the game. Julio Lugo would have been recruited had there been an emergency need. Let's hope Jacoby Ellsbury is available tonight off the bench at least. JD Drew will probably need a couple more days.

I leave you with a joke my daughter made up tonight...

"Why did Jason Varitek suffer with a such bad case of the flu?"

"Because he catches everything!!!"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sox Eke Out Close Win in Pitching Duel

The scene from my Sox seats last night... Bottom of the ninth inning, score tied at zero, two outs. Terry Francona had already sent Jonathan Papelbon into the game, so it was clear he was going for the quick win. Big Papi draws a walk. So, we looked at each other and said, "okay, let's get Jacoby Ellsbury in there to pinch run. Papi already has a sore knee, and Ellsbury may be able to swipe second base with Manny at bat". But, no substitution comes. Manny Ramirez hits a flair to center that drops in sending Papi to second. " Okay, time to get Ellsbury in there. If Kevin Youkilis hits a single to center, Papi may have to stop at third, but Ellsbury could score easily". Still no substitution. Moments later, Youk hits a single to center - uh oh! Papi goes rumbling around third and it looked like this could be close and we cringed, picturing Papi getting hurt crashing in to home. But, thank heaven, Vernon Wells bobbles the ball in center and cannot get the throw off. Game over, 'Dirty Water' rains down on the Fenway Faithful.

After getting home we discovered 2 things that were not made clear at the game. First, Ellsbury has a sore groin and that is why he was not sent in. Second, JD drew, who we saw replaced by Brandon Moss apparently strained a quad trying to beat out a play to first in the second inning. The Sox get Lowell back, and lose two? When will the injury woes end? Mike Lowell received a huge ovation as he stepped in for his first at bat. He made a couple of nice plays, including a diving play, and looked pretty sharp. Welcome back Mike! But just looking at what could have gone wrong in the ninth shows you how these injuries can mess up the team, in more ways than just who starts where.

Dustin Pedroia made the defensive play of the game in the top of the ninth to set up the big finish for Youkilis. With Scott Rolen on second base with two outs, Vernon Wells ripped a Papelbon fastball back up the middle. Papelbon had to duck of of the way, and it looked like a sure single to center that would easily score Rolen for the Jays' first run. But, somehow Pedroia managed to scramble and dive to his right to just barely snare the ball, leap to his feet and quickly fire a strike to first for the third out of the inning. That was incredible.

The pitching duel was the heart of the story last night. Jon Lester went toe to toe with Blue Jays' ace, Roy Halladay, and carried a no hitter into the fifth, which was broken up when Lyle Overbay opened the inning with a single. But, that was the first and ONLY hit that Lester would allow on the night before turning it over to Papelbon in the ninth. Easily Lester's best outing this year. If Lester and Buchholz pitch even somewhat close to the way they the past two games, this will be a terrific season.

Roy Halladay was the unfortunate tough luck loser. This was Halladay's fourth straight complete game he has pitched this season, but the last three, including last night, have all been losses. Strange!

So, good news and bad news. The Sox finally have another win, and the team looked solid getting the win. But, two more players are hobbled. Hopefully Ellsbury and Drew both have minor injuries they can bounce back quickly from. I ask you this, do you still think the Sox should have traded Coco Crisp? Right now, he is exactly what they need.

Tomorrow, Dice-K Matsuzaka will face off against Dustin McGowan. You heard it here first. Dice-K will pitch well enough to keep them in it, and Manny will launch home run number 497 to help propel Boston to another much needed win.

(Photos courtesy of ESPN)

Red Sox Don't Lose Last Night

Finally, for the first time in nearly a week, Red Sox fans do not have to hang their heads over a Red Sox loss the night before. This breaks a streak of 5 nights in a row that the Red Sox have been defeated. Terry Francona was his usual stoic self after the milestone was reached. "I'm just proud of these guys. They know what they need to do and support each other day in and day out. Last night, there was no way they were going to let their fans suffer through another loss".

The most encouraging sign last night was the fact that the bullpen gave up no runs, and did not contribute to a disheartening loss, as they did in 3 of the past 5 games. Mike Timlin had this to say. "It does feel good. It seems like every night something goes wrong, but last night we made it look easy. Maybe that will help us get back on track".

"Nothing boosts a bullpen like a night where you give up no runs", added pitching coach John Farrell. "I'm really proud of these guys. It just shows what they are made of". Theo Epstein added, "You can see we are not going to bend to public pressure to make crazy moves to bolster our pitching depth. Sometimes if you just give it a little time, the schedule can take care of things for you".

Not everyone felt the loss-less night was a sign of good things to come. Team Captain, Jason Varitek, was more reserved in his analysis. "Well, to be honest, I have to give most of the credit to the schedulers. They are the ones who really helped break this streak of losing every night. I know people have been down on the schedulers for the hell they put us through up until now, but last night we saw how the schedule can contribute to our success as well".

Left fielder, Manny Ramirez, had this to say. "I don't know nothing about that, man. I just love to play".

So, with the streak of consecutive nights with a loss finally behind them, the Red Sox will try for a win tonight, at home, in friendly Fenway Park. Jon Lester gets the call against Blue Jays' ace, Roy Halladay. Halladay is coming off of his third consecutive complete game. So, it is going to be tough to get him off the hill. He has been throwing well, but has yet to look like the ace he has in the past. The Sox should get a boost with the expected return of Mike Lowell from the DL, and the re-insertion of Big Papi into the lineup after a couple of days off for a bruised knee. The Jays look tough on paper, but have yet to step it up, currently supporting an 11-15 record.

It is one thing not to lose. Tonight, it needs to be time to WIN.

(The above quotes are works of fiction, the facts are accurate)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Losing Streak Continues for Red Sox

The Red Sox have been worn out, beaten up, and suffering through a bad case of the flu. All of that combines to make you light headed, and perhaps a bit forgetful. So, last Thursday, after losing their second game in a row to the Angels, the players were told to pack for the trip to Florida. Well, it appears that they completely forget to pack their offense in their overnight bags, but at least the pitching and defense were packed with care. Last night Josh Beckett pitched a fine game, but like Clay Buchholz the night before, ho got no run support. I thought something magical was in the works as I watched Beckett strike out eight batters in the first three innings. Visions of Roger Clemens' single game strikeout record were dancing in my head. Alas, Beckett was masterful, but topped out at 13 strikeouts for the game, which just happens to be his career high.

The Rays scored their first run in bizarre fashion. In the third inning with one out, Jason Bartlett reached first on a single. With a 2-0 count on the next batter, Beckett threw three straight pick-off attempts to first base, but the third one was off line behind the runner and Kevin Youkilis could not get to it. The ball had legs and sailed down the line, caromed off the wall and continued deep into right field, finally getting picked up by JD Drew in the bullpen area. JD muffed the throw back to the infield, and by the time the Sox got a handle on the ball, Bartlett had crossed the plate for the first run of the game. I'm not sure I've ever seen a runner score from first on a missed pick-off attempt.

Beckett lasted 7 innings, and his only other mistake was a curve ball that did not bite enough to Evan Longoria, who planted it in the left field stands to give the Rays a 2-0 lead. That would have been the final score, except that Terry Francona sent Manny Delcarmen in to pitch the 8th, and Manny graciously provided the Rays with an unneeded insurance run.

The only offensive excitement for the Red Sox came in the top of the fifth inning when Manny Ramirez walked, and then surprisingly took off for second on a straight out steal. He slid in head first, just beating the tag. Manny joked after the game, "Contract year - I'm stealing bases". Unfortunately, Manny's aggressiveness went for naught, as Youkilis grounded out, and Crisp and Varitek both struck out to end the threat.

So where did the offense go? The Red Sox have scored exactly 2 runs in the last 27 innings of baseball they have played! What happened to Manny, who has more career home runs against the Rays than any other player? What happened to the electric Ellsbury forcing runs to be scored? What happened to clutch hits by the Captain, Pedroia, or Youk? Is Tampa Bay pitching that good this year?

I think it is a combination of a few things. Yes, Tampa Bay pitching does look good, and will only get better when Scott Kasmir returns from the DL. Combine that with the Sox' roster being depleted and continually juggled due to injuries (Mike Lowell, Big Papi, Alex Cora, Sean Casey, Coco Crisp) and illness (Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jason Varitek among others). On top of that, throw in a relentless 20 game streak without a day off, and you have the perfect recipe for a 5 game losing streak.

I want to know who in the scheduling office is on the Yankee's payroll. Someone who creates the schedule has to have it in for the Sox. They start the season in Japan, then take a few days off for exhibition games, then play Oakland on the road, travel to Toronto for 3, get one day off before a 20 game stretch without a break, that starts off with facing Detroit, New York, Cleveland, and New York again. Hopefully the worst is behind us now.

Tomorrow night they will get Mike Lowell back, and I would guess Big Papi too. I expect they'll send Brandon Moss back to Pawtucket to make room for Lowell, and they'll keep Jed Lowrie around until Sean Casey or Alex Cora returns. Jon Lester will take the mound in Dice-K's spot giving Dice-K one more day of flu recovery before starting on Wednesday. Let's see if Lowell's return to Fenway can bring some stability back to the offense this week.

(Photos courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Beckett to the Rescue?

While I hope the title of this post is true, I don't want to imply that pitching was the problem last night. Clay Buchhulz pitched the second best game of his young career last night throwing an 8 inning complete game only allowing 2 runs on 3 hits to go with 9 strike outs and 2 walks. The big problem was that the Sox could only muster 1 run, forcing Clay to take the loss for a brilliantly pitched game.

I'm sure there are fans out there who are questioning Terry Francona's decision to leave Clay in to face Rays' hero, Akinori Iwamura with a runner on and two outs in the 8th inning and the Sox clinging to a 1-0 lead. The alternative was to bring in a well rested Jonathan Papelbon to get the final four outs to preserve the win. The result was that Iwamuri guessed right in his chess match against the tandem of Buchholz and Varitek and was sitting on a curve ball that came in a little too high in the strike zone and left the ball field very high into the right field stands for a home run.

In hindsight, you'd love to have seen Papelbon come in, but at that moment Buchholz was still pitching very strong, and had the game well under control. If Terry had pulled Clay at that point, I would have thought, in that moment, that he should have let Clay get the last out in the 8th. Iwamura was 0-3 with two strikeouts against Buchholz up to that point. After allowing the home run, Buchholz struck out Carl Crawford on three straight pitches to end the inning, so you can see he still had it. It was just a chess match where Iwamura got in the last move. It is a shame Clay could not get a win for such a great night.

Big Papi was out of the lineup tending to a sore post-operative knee suffered from his desperate, noble, but ill-advised head first dive into first base the night before. That, combined with Sean Casey being placed on the 15 day DL, was enough to silence what had been up to now, a rather loud Red Sox Offense. But, Tampa Bay youngster Edwin Jackson had a terrific night as well only allowing a single run on 5 hits in 7 innings to keep pace with Buchholz.

The one run the Sox scored, they were lucky to score, thanks to a wild pitch. Speedy Coco Crisp was on first with one out. Jackson may have been distracted by Coco's threat to steal second, but he unleashed a wild pitch that rolled far enough away from the catcher that Crisp was able to sprint all the way to third. Jackson still almost escaped the inning but after striking out Julio Lugo for out number two, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a sharp grounder deep to third. Evan Longoria made a fabulous play off the ball to his right and fired a rifle shot to first that beat Ellsbury to the bag. But with Ellsbury running, he had to rush the throw and it pulled Carlos Pena off the bag. Ellsbury was safe, and Crisp scored the only run of the night.

Prior to the game, the Sox called up outfielder, Brandon Moss, to replace the injured Sean Casey. An interesting move, because the Sox are down to only 4 infielders on the active roster, so how does calling up an outfielder help? Moss has been doing some work at first base in Pawtucket to give him some more versatility for Boston, but he's still very new to the position. I suppose in an emergency, Moss would play first, and we almost got to see that strategy in action. In the fifth inning, Julio Lugo had issues with the home plate umpire's view of the strike zone, and got in a heated argument, not thinking that getting kicked out of the game would be the worst thing he could do for the team. Terry Francona was out of the dugout faster than chicken running from Colonel Sanders to get Lugo back in the dugout. Smarten up Lugo!

A loss today would allow the Rays to pull into a tie in the standings with the Sox. But, they have to get past a well rested Josh Beckett first. Just watch out for Beckett to keep from over-throwing. When a power pitcher is feeling too strong, he can overthrow and ride too high in the zone and get into trouble.

(Photos courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Frustration Mounts for the Red Sox

Hey, I'm back from a bought with the Red Sox flu. Hope my old pal Marty entertained you in the meantime. He'll make occassional appearances for me as the season goes on.

My first thought after last night's game was, "man, I'd hate to be David Ortiz' cat tonight", after Big Papi went 0-6 including hitting into a double play in the 11th inning (for all us animal lovers out there - it is just an expression). All-in-all it was not a bad game, and the Red Sox bullpen held their own, which was nice to see. I cringed when Brian Corey came into the game, but he battled well and held down the fort.

The real frustrating part was having two men on with one out TWICE in extra innings and BOTH TIMES ending those opportunities with double play ground balls, in the 10th by Julio Lugo, and in the 11th by Big Papi himself. You have to tip your hat to Papi for trying, as he dove headfirst into first base in a desperate effort to keep the inning alive. The grounds crew for Tampa Bay will have some work to do to repair the damage that dive left behind, I'm sure.

Another frustrating moment was when Sean Casey had to leave the game with a strained muscle in his hip. He will not be available tonight. Now, unless the Sox make a move, that leaves them with four infielders tonight, Youkilis, Lugo, Pedroia, and Lowrie (who is getting a lot more playing time than we all expected). If one of those guys gets hurt, who plays infield? Ellsbury, Drew, Crisp? That would be interesting. Mike Lowell is doing well in his rehab with Pawtucket, but won't be available until later in the week. The Sox are also carrying 13 pitchers on the roster right now, which has been necessary. I would guess they'd have to send a pitcher back to Pawtucket (Corey?) and bring up an infielder for tonight, just in case. We'll see.

Bonehead play of the night was made by Rays' second baseman, Akinori Iwamura. In the ninth inning, with Kevin Cash on first and one out, Dustin Pedroia hit a grounder to Iwamura which looked like an easy inning-ending double play. But Cash was running towards Iwamura who, rather than fire to second for the force, thought about tagging Cash and throwing to first. When Cash put on the brakes, Iwamura suddenly realized he was in trouble of even getting one out, and fired to first, but it was too late as Pedroia beat the throw. Cash had taken off for second and beat the throw from first too. Safe on both bases. Unfortunately, the inning ended after Papi popped out and Manny struck out.

Tonight Clay Buchholz tries to show his last start was not a fluke. What we need from Clay is 6 or 7 strong innings, leave with a lead, and let Okajima and Papelbon take the last innings tonight. Give the rest of the bullpen a rest. The Rays are starting their own promising youngster, 24 year old Edwin Jackson, who was born in Germany, interestingly enough. Jackson sounds similar to the Sox' young pitchers, in that when he has his good stuff, he looks terrific, but when he's a little off he gets clobbered. Boston fans are hoping for the latter tonight.

Lastly, isn't there anything in the rule book to prevent an idiotic, 8 foot tall, blue monstrosity from standing right behind home plate intentionally trying to distract the pitcher? This is not the NBA you know. How about a little class?

(Photos courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Blogger Late Scratch - Flu Symptoms

The Rational Sox Fan has been pulled from today's post at the last minute, the latest Red Sox icon to be hit by a flu-like bug making its way through the Red Sox clubhouse. Replacing the Rational Sox Fan is a minor conversation between two fans getting ready for the upcoming series against Tampa Bay:

MARTY: Bobby, I'm so depressed about the last two Sox games. But, at least we go against the Devil Rays next - should be a couple of wins in there for us.

BOBBY: Hey, Marty, you know they aren't called the "Devil Rays" anymore?

MARTY: Are you joking? That name was perfect for them! Devil Ray is a nickname for a Manta Ray, which is just a big slow fish that can look scary, but is really very docile and harmless. Why would they want to change that?

BOBBY: You got me Marty. Maybe there was a religious protest about having the word "Devil" in there?

MARTY: You know that's not fair. Satanism is a religion too - anyone care about hurting their feelings? And I know players like to give God a lot of credit when things go well, but no one really believes God has the time to intervene to help out a baseball team. But Satan? Man, he'd love to help out if he can get something out of it! The guy is a natural win-at-all-costs, morals-be-damned, crush-your-opponent kind of guy. Hell, it worked for the Yankees - you know the Steinbrenners must be related to the Dark Prince somewhere in their family tree.

BOBBY: Good points Marty. Having Devil in their name never seemed to hurt the NJ Devils much, now did it?

MARTY: OK, so give me the news, what's the new name? The Avengers? The Destroyers? The Hurricanes? It's gotta be good, right?

BOBBY: They are now the Tampa Bay Rays!

MARTY: That's it? How's that any different? Just afraid of the devil? It's still a fish, right?

BOBBY: No, Marty, this "Ray" is like sunshine, like a light beam. The owner, Stuart Sternberg, was quoted as saying it will be like "A beacon that radiates throughout Tampa Bay and across the entire state of Florida."


BOBBY: Seriously.

MARTY: I don't know what to say, it's just so beautiful and relaxing.

BOBBY: You okay Marty?


BOBBY: I guess we'll never confuse Sterberg with Steinbrenner.

MARTY: Jesus Christ, Bobby.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Red Sox Bullpen Lets Masterson Down

This must have been one of the best days of 23 year old Justin Masterson's life - his very first appearance in a major league game! This wasn't just any game either. It was a game pitching for the reigning champion Boston Red Sox, in Fenway Park, in front of 37,848 rabid baseball fans, against the AL West leading Angels. What could make it any more perfect? How about pitching your very best and getting your first big league win?

Well, Justin certainly did his part impressing Red Sox fans everywhere. He showed off an impressive repertoire of pitches, featuring a fastball in the low 90's, a change up in the low 80's, a slider, a splitter, and an occasional curve ball. Only Dice-K has more pitches in his bag of tricks. He lasted 6 innings facing exactly 4 batters in every inning except the 6th, when he only faced three. He never really got into trouble, his only mistake being a solo home run on a slider that stayed out over the plate to Mike Napoli in the 5th inning. This kid appears to be for real, and left the game with a 3-1 lead, thanks to a based loaded RBI ground out by Coco Crisp in the 2nd, and back to back ground rule doubles by Crisp and Kevin Cash in the 4th.

But, turning the game over to the bullpen, especially a bullpen battling the flu, is a risky proposition these days. Javier Lopez got the damage started in the 7th by allowing the only two batters he faced to reach base with a walk and a single. Manny Delcarmen was summoned to help out, and looked like he was still suffering flu side effects as he walked his first batter on four straight pitches to load the bases with no outs. We all knew this would not end well. Manny allowed a single to the next batter, scoring a run. This brought on the usually dependable Hideki Okajima, who gave up back to back singles allowing 3 more runs to score.

David Aardsma and Julian Tavares each gave up a run in the 8th and 9th innings respectively, leaving the Sox in a deep 7-3 hole going into the bottom of the ninth.

But, David Ortiz gave the Sox one last glimmer of hope. With two outs in the 9th, and Ellsbury on with a single, Ortiz thrilled the crowd with a home run to right field, further boosting everyone's hopes that the real Big Papi is finally back. The home run made the score 7-5, but it was too little too late as Manny Ramirez, who was a terrific 3 for 5, flied out to center field to end the game.

The Sox are lucky they have been winning as much as they have with the health issues they have been battling. Maybe what they need is a trip down south to Florida for a little R&R, as Tim Wakefield will kick off three games against the "Rays" (formerly known as the Devil Rays). That is unless Wake gets the flu, then it is anyone's guess who'll pitch!

Flu Shots Anyone?

I know I got my flu shot this year, but they must have run out of serum by the time they got to Fenway. For the second day in a row, the starting pitcher for the Red Sox has been scratched at the last minute due to the flu that has been going around the clubhouse. Terry Francona has been very creative using his bench, as well as the minor league systems, to get through the crisis. Yesterday, Dice-K Matsuzaka was at the park and looking fine, but as the day progressed the flu rapidly took hold. he was such a last minute scratch that Tito had little choice but to bump up Jon Lester a day early.

This was the first time Lester had pitched on three days rest, and the coaching staff had decided to limit him to about 80 pitches to reduce the possibility of an injury. To compensate for the expectation of going to the bullpen early, Craig Hanson was called up from Pawtucket. Hanson took over for Lester in the 6th inning with the score tied. He threw well, and it was encouraging to see. But, he did leave a fastball too far out over the plate resulting in a solo home run for Casey Kotchman. Other than that he looked fine and went 1 2/3 innings. Timlin gave up a run in the ninth in his one inning of work. Still not the lights out guy we need yet. Hanson was returned COD to Pawtucket after the game to keep the flu doors revolving.

The Sox lost, which seems inevitable after a 6 game winning streak and half the team out with the flu. One good thing was a 2 run home run by Big Papi in the 5th inning to tie the game. Nice to see Ortiz coming around.

Early game today at 1:35. Since Lester pitched yesterday, the Sox called up Justin Masterson, a 23 year old hot prospect pitching in double A Portland this season. This will be Masterson's major league debut, and a chance for Sox fans to get a look at him. He is a player Theo Epstein has been keeping close and refusing to trade. Expectations are good for him to make the starting rotation next season, so this will be a nice preview.

Now let's just hope Masterson got his flu shot!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Earth, Wind and Fire

Last night began with the Red Sox remembering Earth Day, turned utterly thrilling as Jacoby Ellsbury flew around the bases like the wind, and ended with Jonathan Papelbon raining fire down upon Angels in the ninth inning. A terrific night at the ballpark.

I was not feeling overly confident heading into the game. Three hours before the game, Josh Beckett, who has been battling the "clubhouse flu", was scratched with a stiff neck. The Sox were concerned the stiffness would cause him to alter his arm motion, and potentially create an injury. Jason Varitek was already out with the flu, and Mike Lowell is still rehabbing his left thumb. Dave Pauley was called up from Pawtucket to start the game, and would be throwing to backup catcher Kevin Cash. My only solace was that Jered Weaver was starting for the Angels, and I was sure the Sox could get to him.

Sure enough, Jacoby Ellsbury leading off in the first inning launched a solo home run to welcome Weaver to Boston. But, Weaver managed to wiggle out of trouble in the first inning, escaping with only the one run and stranding 2 runners. He ended up throwing 30 pitches in the inning, which would eventually be his ticket to a shortened outing. But, he surprised us all by making it through the first 4 innings holding on to a 5-2 lead.

But the Sox finally pounced in the 5th inning. Dustin Pedroia doubled, which was significant. With a runner on second, the defense cannot put the same kind of shift on David Ortiz. Big Papi took advantage and sent a single up the middle (which would have been fielded by the shortstop had the shift been on) to drive home Dustin. Then Manny Ramirez created some excitement. With an 0-2 count, he went with a fastball on the outside of the plate and drove it down the right field line. A classic Pesky Pole home run swing. The ball sailed down the line, wrapped around the pole and tried to land in the first row of the stands, and would have except for the terrific play of Vladimir Guerrero. Vladi raced to the stands, leaped, crashed into the wall with his glove extended into the crowd while his rib cage withstood the collision, and he snared the ball and held on. The play was a mere 50 feet from my seat, and was incredible. I was sure he had injured himself, but he stayed in the game to entertain us with his caveman swings at the plate.

Just as we were about to lament the loss of a sure home run, we looked up to see the ball sailing into the green monster seats. Kevin Youkilis had Manny's back and made sure we would get that 2 run homer we felt we deserved. It tied the game and brought life back into the crowd.

Red Sox pitching was just good enough to keep them in the game. Dave Pauley looked impressive at first, erasing the first 6 batters he faced. But, he dug himself a huge hole in the third inning with a bases loaded, no outs situation and the Angels' 2, 3 and 4 hitters coming up having already scored one run. He almost got out of the jam unscathed, inducing pop-outs to both Gary Mathews and Vladi. But, Garrett Anderson jumped on the first pitch he saw hitting a single to center scoring two runs. Pauley's night was essentially over, but the coaching staff tried to squeeze one more inning out of him. It did not work as he surrendered a two run home run to Jeff Mathis putting the Angels up 5-2.

In the 8th inning, Hideki Okajima gave up his first run of the year as Casey Kotchman led off the 8th inning with a home run to nearly the identical spot that Vladi caught Manny's. But, Casey's ball had enough legs to land in the third row, easily out of the reach of JD Drew, who made a good effort to try to snare it.

The real hero of the game was Jacoby Ellsbury. In the 6th inning, he treated the Fenway Faithful to yet another solo home run to give the Sox their first lead of the night. So, now we fast forward to the 8th inning. The Angels had tied the game, there was one out, and everyone was wondering if Ellsbury could possibly hit his third home run of the night. Everyone including the Angels. After the first pitch, Ellsbury noticed Angels' first baseman, Casey Kotchman taking a couple of steps back. Ellsbury capitalized on the move and laid down a picture perfect bunt on the next pitch sending it deep, and just to Kotchman's right. Kotchman had no choice but to field it, and the pitcher had no prayer of beating Ellsbury to first. He made that look simple. With one out and Dustin Pedroia at the plate, the only question in Fenway was which pitch would Ellsbury steal on? His very presence on first completely distracted the Angels who practically forgot about Dustin Pedroia. With the count 2-1, reliever Scot Shields fired to the plate, Ellsbury faked towards second and stopped, and Pedroia ripped the pitch down the left field line into the corner. Ellsbury had to restart towards second and immediately went into overdrive. He had not even reached second base when the ball bounced in the corner, but his mind was already focused on home plate. In a flash, he was around third and effortlessly crossing the plate with no throw from the defense. He scored from first, unchallenged, on a ball hit to left field!

The crowd went crazy, and everyone remained on their feet throughout the ninth inning as Jonathan Papelbon threw fastball after fastball right by the heart of the Angels' lineup. Gary Mathews struck out on three straight pitches, and Vladimir Guerrero improved on that striking out on four pitches. The night ended when Garrett Anderson swung an 0-2, 98 mph fastball and actually managed to get a piece of the bat on it, popping out foul to Kevin Youkilis at third.

One of the more fun games I've been to. The Sox winning streak extends their winning streak to 6 games as Dice-K Matsusaka takes the mound tonight against the Angels' Jon Garland. Can Dice-K extend the streak? Can he work the strike zone better to get farther into the game? Will the Celtics' playoff game pull focus?

(Photos courtesy of

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Beckett Out With a Stiff neck

Breaking news...

Josh Beckett has been scratched from tonight's game against the Angels with a stiff neck. Dave Pauley has been called up from Pawtucket to take his spot. I'm not sure what move they will make to open a spot on the roster. {Update - Joe Thurston is being designated for assignment to open a spot}

Pauley only pitched in 3 MLB games - all in 2006 for the Sox going 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA in 16 innings. He is a 24 years old, and doing well with Pawtucket going 1-1 with a 1.17 ERA in three games so far. Maybe the kid can pitch?

But, can he handle getting the call 3 hours before game time and rushed to Boston?

I'm disappointed. Since I'm going to the game, I was looking forward to a dominating Beckett outing.

Clay Gets His First Win

The annual Patriots Day game in Boston is one of local signs of spring. Trees begin flowering, robins are back from their winter vacations, and the Sox play an 11:30 game during the running of the Boston Marathon. I tip my hat to all those who ran yesterday! It is quite an accomplishment.

Clay Buchholz achieved an accomplishment as well notching his first win of 2008. He looked good, mixing his pitches up effectively and getting ahead of hitters in the count. Clay threw first pitch strikes to 17 of the 24 batters he faced. That is very important, especially to a young pitcher trying to establish himself. The batter is now more on the defensive, while the pitcher can start controlling the at-bat more effectively. He also battled well. In the second inning, after getting the first two batters out, back to back singles and a walk loaded the bases. Yes, we were all worried if the house of cards was about to collapse, but Clay got Ian Kinsler to pop out to end the threat. That's the kind of day Clay had. He went 6 innings allowing no runs on 5 hits, 6 strike outs, and 2 walks while throwing 103 pitches. I was a little surprised that Terry Francona puled him after 6. Clay had only allowed one base runner over his last 3 innings pitched, and that base runner was erased with a double play. But, Clay had trouble with a tired arm late last season, so expect the Sox to nurse him along for a while more.

The Rangers were a confidence builder for the Sox. They do not look like a very solid team, continually helping the Sox out with sloppy play and poor relief pitching. So, don't look at this 4 game sweep of Texas as a sign that the Sox are bound for another World Series. We hit a mediocre team playing fairly poorly, and took advantage. That is what a good team does, and the Sox did it. Julio Lugo got his game going (possibly looking over his shoulder at his possible replacement, Jed Lowrie who looks terrific), and even Big Papi started recording a few hits and a few RBI, starting with his grand slam on Friday night. Lugo went 4 for 4 yesterday, and Papi had two hits, including a double.

The fun play of the game was in the 4th inning. After JD Drew reached first on a walk, Jed Lowrie squared around to bunt. He was trying for a hard grounder up the first base line, but the pitch was away, so he opted to switch directions with the hard bunt. In doing so, he dropped the head of the bat a touch too low and the hard grounder turned into a pop-up. Luckily he was trying to bunt the ball hard, so the pop-up had enough juice on it to loft over the pitcher's head and drop harmlessly behind him for a single. First time I've ever seen that!

Mike Lowell is scheduled to do some hitting in the cage today for the first time since spraining his left thumb. The trainers have been trying to concoct some sort of brace for the thumb to give it support and help him return sooner, and have not had much luck yet. Hopefully we'll see Lowell back soon, but Kevin Youkilis has played some very fine third base in his absence, and Sean Casey has done a great job hitting and playing first. The fine play of the Sox' bench players is why they have won 9 of their last 10 games and find themselves 2 games ahead of Baltimore in first place today.

I'll be attending tonight's game, the second of the year for me. Another visit to Tequila Rain, Cuban sandwiches for dinner, washed down with the sounds of a Red Sox victory. That's right, tonight is a game that I fully expect to result in a Red Sox win. Josh Beckett gets the start against Jared Weaver and the start against the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim which is just around the corner from Disneyland, not to be confused with Disney World" - or whatever they are called now.

The Angels have a good team and I doubt they will get swept. But tonight, the Sox' ace is on the mount, and all is right in the world. Jared Weaver is a guy with talent. But, to me he is always a guy who fares great in the middle of the pack. He'd look terrific in games against the Royals, Orioles, Rays (who apparently have had the "Devil" scared out of them), and teams like that. So, on paper he looks hot. Them he faces a tough team in an important situation and implodes. I just have no faith in Weaver getting it done.

The Sox only downfall would be if Beckett does not go deep (past the 6th inning) and the Sox need to rely on the bullpen for too long. Their one weakness so far.

Coco Crisp is still nursing a hamstring, so look for Ellsbury in center, Manny in left, and JD Drew in right. The non-Lowell infield should be in place with Youk at third, Lugo at short, Pedroia at second, and Casey at first. We may not see Varitek catching as he has been battling a tough case of the flu. If he is still down, we'll have Kevin Cash catching, who is looking solid as a backup catcher this season.

(Photos Courtesy of

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Day of Rest - Sort Of

With Tim Wakefield pitching yesterday, Jason Varitek was getting a regular game off. Manager Tito Francona gave Dustin Pedroia the day off to rest, and Coco Crisp was still off nursing a sore leg. Apparently, Manny Ramirez wanted to get his rest in too, so after striking out in the second inning he lobbed a few choice words towards the umpire and the umpire was so pleased, he gave Manny the rest of the day off. Idiotic move on Manny's part to put himself in that position since he is the hottest hitter on the team right now.

It also made for some interesting moves for Francona. With Dustin Pedroia out, Jed Lowrie was put in at second base, his third position for the Sox since coming up from Pawtucket. Coco Crisp was not available, so Joe Thurston, also freshly up from Pawtucket, went to left field in Manny's spot. This adds to a lineup where Youkilis was already playing third for the injured Mike Lowell and Sean Casey was substituting for Youkilis at first. Only Ellsbury, Drew, and Lugo were at their usual spots.

Tim Wakefield had a nice day going 8 innings on only 86 pitches. He gave up a lead off home run to Ian Kinsler, and another run in the second inning before settling down and getting the Rangers out 1-2-3 in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th innings. In the 6th inning, one knuckle ball just didn't knuckle enough and Milton Bradley got a hold of it for a 3 run home run. That put the Sox in a bleak looking 5-0 hole. This is where you would have liked to have seen Manny in the lineup!

But the Sox finally got rolling in the 7th inning scoring 2 runs to bring the game back into reach. In the 8th, Big Papi got rolling, incredibly beating out a ground ball to second. Ian Kinsler was playing deep in the shift, and with two outs and Lowrie on second, Papi knew he had to be safe. You've never seen the big guy fly so fast. First baseman Ben Broussard was so surprised that he forgot about Lowrie, who took advantage and snuck home for Boston's fourth run. Tito knew this was his best chance to tie the game, so he pinch hit Dustin Pedroia for Joe Thurston. Dustin came through with a terrific line drive into the deepest part of center field. Big Papi, still soaring from his speed to first, came all the way around from first to tie the game. After all that drama, the winning run came across in less exciting style. An intentional walk to Youkilis, followed by a not so intentional walk to JD drew brought Kevin Cash to the plate. No, there was no thrilling grand slam into the night. Just a third walk in a row to force in the go-ahead run.

Now, if you have been paying attention (and who could blame you if you are not), Pedroia just pinch hit for the left fielder, and we have one more defensive inning to go, and the bench is devoid of outfielders. So, Tito got creative. He moved Julio Lugo from short into left field, sent Lowrie from second over to short, and left Pedroia to take back his usual second base spot. With Papelbon coming in, you would think it would hardly matter. But last night, there were no strikeouts in the ninth, so the defense did matter. A pop-up to Youk at third, a line drive to Ellsbury in center, and a ground out to Lowrie at short ended the game, extended the Red Sox' winning streak to 4 games, and sent 39,000 folks home happy.

Early game today on Patriots Day as the Sox try for a sweep of the Rangers behind the young arm of Clay Buchholz. Clay could really use a strong outing to solidify his spot in the rotation.

And of course, I have to send out congratulations to the Boston Celtics, crushing the Atlanta Hawks in the first game of the NBA playoffs. With the Bruins going for an historic win tonight over Montreal, you have to love the thrill in the air in Beantown!

(Photos of Big Papi and Dustin Pedroia courtesy of Yahoo Sports)
(Photo of Manny Ramirez courtesy of

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Moment of Silence

This Sunday morning, I'd like to begin the day with a moment of silence in honor of the passing away of former Red Sox catcher, John Marzano. John died at home in Philadelphia yesterday when he fell down the stairs after what appears to have been a sudden heart attack. John was 45 years old, and is survived by his wife, two daughters, and two grandchildren.

{Now a moment of silence for John Marzano, 1963-2008, RIP}

Boston has truly been an exciting place for sports fans recently. Red Sox made it to the World Series and won for the second time in 4 years, the Patriots made it to the Superbowl with an undefeated record, but lost a tough game to the Giants, the Bruins beat Montreal last night to force an amazing game 7 in the first round of the NHL playoffs, and the Celtics ended their regular season with the best record in the NBA and begin their playoff hunt tonight against Atlanta. The Bruins are surprising everyone, as they are trying to borrow a page from the come-back Red Sox playbook. Consider that they had not won a single game all season against the Canadiens (the Bruins' version of the Yankees), and were down 3 games to 1 in the best of 7 series. They have now won 2 in a row to even the series at 3 and forced the deciding game 7 on enemy ice. The Bruins have lost ALL 20 series in which they had trailed 3-1, including 2 in Montreal. Will they brush aside history and take an historic win like the 2004 Red Sox did against the Yankees in the ALCS? Tune in tomorrow night and see - should be exciting!

Oh yeah, the Red Sox. They just went and won their 3rd game in a row last night, beating Texas 5-3 behind the torrid bat of Manny Ramirez. The game was a close on all night, and the Sox were down 3-2 heading into the 8th inning and running out of time. But, as the Rangers are well aware, against this team the game is not over until that 27th out is recorded. Last night David Ortiz got into the fun as well. With one out in the 8th, Dustin Pedroia doubled and Ortiz ripped a hard grounder that was just out of the reach of second baseman Ian Kinsler. Pedroia came around to score, tying the game at three. Then Manny came to the plate and absolutely clobbered the second pitch he saw from Texas reliever, Joaquin Benoit, high over the green monster to put the Sox ahead 5-3. The ball was hit so hard, had it not struck the light pole, it looked like it would have landed on the Mass Pike. Manny now has 496 home runs. The way he is hitting, number 500 is only days away.

John Lester did not get the win last night, having left the game with one out in the 7th inning and throwing 106 pitches. He did not have a great night, but he pitched well enough to keep them in the game. What I have liked in these past two outings from Lester is that he just won't give up. He gets into trouble and looks very hittable, but whereas some pitchers just seem to fall apart, John never does. The more trouble he gets into, the harder he bears down and gets determined. He gave up 3 runs, but the runs came one at a time in each of the first three innings. In the third inning, it was looking bleak for Lester. With one out he gave up a single and a double, putting runners at the corners for the second time in two innings. But, rather than implode, he proceeded to strike out the next two batters to snuff out a potential momentum building rally. While it looked like Lester's night was nearly over, he battled all the way into the seventh inning, to put the Sox in position to win the game.

An interesting item of note for me last night was that Jacoby Ellsbury hit his FIRST double of the season. With his speed, I was shocked that it was only his first double.

So, how is our enemy from NY doing you ask? Not so good right now as the Yankees lost their 3rd straight game last night in a 6-0 loss to Baltimore, thanks in part to our old buddy Kevin Millar who contributed with a home run off of rookie pitcher Ian Kennedy. The Yankees' starting pitching has got to be worrying them. They clearly have been counting on their two rookies, Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, to help anchor the rotation, but neither one looks up to the task. Kennedy is 0-2 with a 9.64 ERA. In 2 of his 3 starts he was unable to get past the 3rd inning. Phil Hughes has not fared much better. In 4 starts, he is 0-3 with an 8.82 ERA and in 2 of the starts was gone by the start of the 4th inning. Mike Mussina is looking more and more like he is at the end of his career. He still has some nasty breaking pitches, but needs to truly re-invent himself to be effective. That leaves Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte, who have both done well so far. But, how far can you get with two effective starters?

On another cheerful Yankee note, MLB apparently read my post about Kyle Farnsworth trying to take off Manny's head Thursday night and has suspended Farnsworth for 3 games. Kyle is appealing the decision claiming that the ball slipped, which we all know is garbage. For MLB to decide to suspend Farnsworth, they must also feel pretty confident that there was intent. Farnsworth did not hit Manny, warnings were issued, and no further incident occurred. In that circumstance, it is unusual for MLB to hand down punishment. The fact that they did tells you what really happened.

New enemy, Joe Girardi, was also confused by the penalty and as far as I can tell, he just doesn't get it. He compared that incident to Friday night when the Orioles' Daniel Cabrera hit Hideki Matsui twice, once grazing his hand and the other hitting him in the thigh. Joe even indicated that Cabrera is often a bit wild and his ball rides away on him. Okay Joe, look...Cabrera was wild all night that night. The pitches that hit Matsui were low and riding the inside area of the plate. None of them were shoulder high. In contrast to that, Farnsworth was NOT wild at all Thursday night. He was precisely accurate for the whole outing, other than that one pitch, and that one pitch did not ride in on Manny and hit his hands or thigh - it made a direct line for his ear. Joe wake up.

I never dreamed I'd long for the days of Joe Torre.

(John Marzano photo courtesy of The Baseball Almanac)
(Red Sox photos courtesy of
Yahoo Sports)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Grande Papi!

What a fun night that was! The Red Sox beat the Texas Rangers 11-3 on a beautifully warm spring evening in Boston while the Red Sox had their youth on display. Jed Lowrie made his major league debut at shortstop for the Red Sox with Julio Lugo getting the night off. Lowrie made the most of the opportunity hitting his first major league double while going 2-3 with an RBI and a run scored. On defense, where the Red Sox coaching staff feels he still needs some work, he was very solid on a busy errorless night, completing 7 assists and 2 put-outs.

Jacoby Ellsbury, already rookie of the year to many Red Sox fans, showed off his dazzling speed in the 4th drilling a triple to center field. We watched Texas center fielder Josh Hamilton chase the ball down, and quickly wondered if Ellsbury would try to leg out a triple - we looked backed to the field and he was already at third base. The man can fly! He used his speed again in the 8th inning when David Ortiz hit a single to center with Sean Casey on 2nd and Ellsbury on first. Casey scored easily and Ellsbury went to third, but the relay throw was dropped by first baseman Jason Botts, and in the blink of an eye Ellsbury was crossing the plate.

Last year's rookie of the year, Dustin Pedroia, got into the action in the 4th inning launching his first home run of of 2008 into the green monster seats, bringing home Ellsbury who was at third base following his triple. The kids were shining!

But, the highlight of the game was David Ortiz' grand slam in the 3rd inning. With two outs and no one on base, it looked like just another quick 1-2-3 inning. That's when the kids got things going. Jed Lowrie stroked his double to left field, then Ellsbury walked on four straight pitches, Pedroia following up with a walk of his own to load the bases. Now, we all know that Big Papi has not been hitting so well (he's been referred to as "Big Slumpi" in the NY Post), but when he strode to the plate, fans all across the ballpark rose to their feet in unison. A cheer started growing out of the night air, and we could just feel the energy build as the fans were trying to channel their energy into Big Papi and simply "will" him to get a hit and break this lousy slump. You could tell something great was about to happen as every set of eyes in the ballpark focused in on the play. Texas starter, Luis Mendoza, hurled a 93 mph sinking fastball to the outside of the plate, and Papi went with the pitch, going the opposite way and driving it high into the night sky. For a brief moment, the sound level dropped as 39,000 fans caught their breath and whispered a silent plea for the ball to travel far enough. When the ball finally came down, it landed in the 3rd row of the green monster seats and the crowd erupted! Big Papi is back, his grand slam providing all the runs the Red Sox would need.

Those first runs of the game led to one of my favorite Fenway traditions, our first "Kazoo Guy" sighting of 2008. I don't know his real name, we only know him as "Kazoo Guy". He sits in the bleachers about 20 rows back from the visitor's bullpen wearing a beat-up old Red Sox hat with two droopy red socks pinned to either side of it - making him look like he has dog ears. Whenever the Red Sox score a run, he stands up on his seat, and using his kazoo, leads the fans in the area in a cheer. He's been there leading that cheer for as long as I can remember. I just love that!

Dice-K Matsuzaka started the game and pitched well enough to earn the win, but is still struggling to get deep into games. He went 5 1/3 innings allowing 3 runs on 5 hits, 4 strike outs, and 2 walks. He would have gone deeper, but he had already thrown 101 pitches at that point. Luckily, the bullpen was up for it last night. Javier Lopez did a nice job allowing only one base runner finishing the 6th and 7th innings. David Aardsma loaded the bases with two outs in the 8th, but managed to strike out Gerald Laird to get out of the jam.

Mike Timlin, like Big Papi, has been in a little slump of his own. But with last night being "Break Out of Your Slump Night", Timlin had to comply and reeled of an easy 1-2-3 ninth inning to preserve the win.

And yes, Frank Catalanado was a bit of a pest, but luckily was unable to do too much damage, but he did his best. He doubled in the 4th, walked in the 6th, and walked to load the bases in the 8th. Maybe walking him was the best way to minimize the damage.
(Photos courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Yankees Getting Dirty?

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

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pitching Can Also Lose Games

Well, for anyone who thinks a low scoring game is boring, you must have had fun last night. On a night when the Sox offense was on a roll, the pitching imploded. The Yankees had a very similar problem. The two teams went toe to toe for the most part. After 5 innings both teams had gone through 2 pitchers with the Red Sox giving up 11 runs, while the Yankees gave up 9 runs. Both teams needed a reliever to stop the bleeding. The Yankees found theirs in LaTroy Hawkins who pitched two scoreless innings, and the Red Sox found theirs in David Aardsma who also pitched two scoreless innings. But, to end the game, the Sox brought in Mike Timlin who was (again) unable to hold back the dam and gave up 4 more insurance runs to the Yankees. Game over. Yankees win 15-9.

The good news, for Sox fans, is that the Red Sox were able to clobber Yankee ace Chien-Ming Wang, who had pitched a 2-hitter against them only last week. The bad news is that Clay Buchholz got just as clobbered. So far, Clay looks like a pitcher who has potential, but still needs more work in Pawtucket. Here's what I expect. Clay will get 2 more starts, probably fare moderately well, but not brilliantly. Right around that time, Bartolo Colon will be declared fit and ready to go, and we'll see Colon come up and Clay go down. That's more good news - we have a starter working his way up to help out. We also have the possibility of Curt Schilling making it back up sometime this summer.

The Yankees caught a break in the 5th when Melky Cabrera went a mile out of the base path to break up a double play. The rule is that he has to be able to reach second base when he slides, but in this case he was sliding out to center field, no where near the bag. The ump should have made the call, which would have resulted in the runner at first being out, ending the inning. As is turned out, it only cost the Sox one run - and gave Julio Lugo a cheap error in his stats.

Here's a worrisome quote from Terry Francona...

"Tonight, we go to Tavarez, and if he struggles, that's what happens. We really didn't have anywhere else to go," said Francona.

We didn't have anywhere else to go because Kyle Snyder had been cut loose! Theo Epstein needs to be out there looking for dependable middle relief!

When you score 9 runs and lose, in my mind you really let one get away. The other piece of good new for the Sox is that our #5 pitcher is the one who got hammered. For the Yankees, it was their #1 ace pitcher. Not a good thing. The Red Sox send their ace, Josh Beckett, to the mound tonight to face Mike Mussina. You would think this one should go to the Red Sox, but we'll see. If Beckett and Mussina pitch the way you'd expect, and the Sox bats (Ramirez, JD Drew) stay hot, the game is in the bag. I'd look for a classic pitching night for the Sox - Beckett goes 7 innings, Okajima pitches and 8th, and Papelbon closes her out. The only worry is that Beckett has been tiring around the 6th inning, so (gasp) we might need middle relief!

Lastly, start worrying about injuries. The list is growing with Kevin Youkilis fouling a pitch off of his toe, and Alex Cora going the DL for an elbow strain. To replace Alex Cora, the Sox are bringing up Joe Thurston from Pawtucket. With Youk likely sitting out tonight, the Sox are expected to play Jed Lowrie at third base, and Sean Casey at first. Not a good sign to be missing your two starting corner infielders.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sox Re-Take the Lead

Another thriller in Cleveland last night! Indians fans must be getting pretty sick of the Red Sox beating them in last minute drama. The feature of the night was the debut of hot shortstop prospect Jed Lowrie (who played third base interestingly enough). Lowrie looked sharp on defense with a gun for an arm. He did not have a great night batting, but made the most it. He struck out twice, and in the fifth he grounded into what looked like an inning ending double play, but as a switch hitter he was batting lefty and the extra step allowed him to just barely beat out the relay to first. That allowed Jacoby Ellsbury to score from third for the Red Sox first run. So, what was almost a disaster turned into a memorable at-bat. His at-bat in the 7th was better. With bases loaded, no outs, he was able to bat right handed (his natural side) against lefty reliever Rafael Perez. He made the most of it hitting a ground ball single through the infield into left, scoring two runs. Not a bad night. The three RBI were the most by a Red Sox player in his debut appearance since Merl Combs did the same in 1947.

Alex Cora has been nursing an ailing elbow, and may be headed to the 15 day DL. This could extend Lowrie's stay with the big club. However, he is not the type of player you want wasting on the bench. He is best served doing some spot duty this season to get experience, but should do most all of his playing in Pawtucket until the Sox have a starting spot for him (watch out Julio Lugo).

The drama built up in the 9th inning. With the score tied, Terry Francona, trying to give Jason Varitek the night off, caved in and sent him up to pinch hit for Kevin Cash with one out and the bases empty. The Captain earned his title, clubbing a 1-2 pitch over the left field fence, giving Boston a 4-3 lead. Kevin Youkilis provided an insurance run with two out and bases loaded. The Indians had wisely walked Manny Ramirez with runners on second and third, but Youk still made them pay with a single to left, which easily scored Coco Crisp from third. Dustin Pedroia, ever full of energy, tried to be aggressive and score behind Crisp, but was gunned down at home to end the inning.
It is nice to write about offense for a change, but, the pitching held their own too. Tim Wakefield started and only allowed 3 runs through 6 innings, but came out of the game down 2-1, so was not able to get the win. Javier Lopez started the 7th inning with two easy outs, but got in a jam putting two runners on with a hit-by-pitch and a single. Terry Francona called down to the bullpen and told Manny Delcarmen to grab a bucket of water and come put out the fire. Unfortunately, Manny grabbed the bucket of kerosene by mistake, and only added to the fire while earning his first blown save of the season. Delcarmen was sloppy, walking the first batter he faced to load the bases, and then hitting his second batter to force in the tying run for Cleveland.

Francona, clearly preferring to save Jonathan Papelbon for the Yankees, went to Hideki Okajima to sew up the game. Unlike Delcarmen, Okajima brought his best thread and needle, striking out the first two batters he faced.

Now, did I say drama? You know the saying "fight fire with fire"? To wrap up the game, the Red Sox fought the Indians with an Indian (sorry, couldn't resist). With two outs in the ninth, Jhonny Peralta, who still can't spell his first name right, sent a long fly ball slicing foul to right field. Jacoby Ellsbury, who is part Navajo Indian, tore after the ball and managed to crash, leap, and stretch in the stands to snag the ball away from a fan who thought he had caught the ball. Jacoby showed the ball to the ump - game over.

Next up - round two with the Yankees, this time on their home turf. If everything works out the way you might expect, you'd have to give the edge to the Yankees tonight with Chien-Ming Wang going up against Clay Buchholz, who is still trying to find his best stuff. Wang was stellar against the Sox last week, but maybe seeing him a second time will help. Tomorrow, the pendulum swings back Boston's way as Red Sox ace Josh Beckett squares off against softball pitcher Mike Mussina, who probably won't be trying to sneak any more 84 mph fastballs past Manny Ramirez.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

#24 is Now 24th

With a tremendous swing of the bat, Manny Ramirez (number 24) moved into a tie for 24th on the all time home run list. It was home run number 493 for Manny tying him with Fred McGriff, and the legend Lou Gehrig (whose number 4 I wore on my back for most of my baseball playing days). I am sure that swing rubbed a lot of already irate Indians fans the wrong way. If you had not heard, there has been a movement in Cleveland to bean Manny for his "transgression" of watching his home run in game 4 of LAST YEAR's playoff series against Cleveland. Have you ever heard of fans holding a grudge like that? Sheesh.

There were a number of heroes yesterday, and for me, a notable one was David Ortiz. I have mentioned a number of times that the Sox offense has been weak, in part due to Big Papi's slump. That does not mean he has to hit home runs all the time, but when he goes 'o-fer' it leaves a big hole in a critical part of the lineup and shuts down the offense. Just look at the ninth inning last night. Two outs, bases empty, tie ball game. Ortiz gets on base with a bloop single, then Manny wins the game. Had Papi struck out, we lose that opportunity. Nice job Papi!

Jon Lester, I thought, was very heroic. Yes, he had a mediocre night all together, but battled well in the 4th. It looked like the Indians were about to completely blow the game open, but even though Lester was against the ropes, he did not go down. He kept the damage to 2 runs, kept the bullpen off the field a little longer, and kept the team in the game. His stuff was good again, but he needs to stay closer to the strike zone - his big issue.

The middle relief out of the bullpen was great (sigh of relief). Julian Tavarez was tremendous, coming into the game in the 5th inning with bases loaded and only one out. He proceeded to strike the next two batters out to save the day, and then went two more innings of overwhelming shutout ball to stymie the Indians. Mike Timlin, who has looked incredibly hittable recently, followed Tavarez with a snappy 1-2-3 8th inning, setting up the late heroics for Manny in the ninth.

All in all a fun game to watch. It was encouraging to see the Sox put up a great fight like that. The Sox are now 5-5 on this very challenging 13 game stretch in the schedule. We all realized that if they go roughly .500 in this stretch, they'll be doing fine. So far so good.

A few days ago I pondered how the Sox would use Jed Lowrie, who is primarily a shortstop, as an aid to the ailing Mike Lowell, who plays third base. Tonight we will find out as Terry Francona has indicated Lowrie will be in the starting lineup. Terry has not committed to where Lowrie will play, but he seems to be leaning towards putting Lowrie in at third, moving Kevin Youkilis back to first, and giving Sean Casey the night off. Always fun to get a look at the young talent. Let's hope he has a good, and memorable night.
(AP Photos/Mark Duncan - from

Monday, April 14, 2008

Weekend Yankees Winless

I re-wrote an old poem that I feel truly sums up everything I wanted to say today (my apologies to Dr. Seuss)...

To preface... the Steinbrenners were too busy counting money to watch the games this weekend, and wake up today to hear the good news...

Three thousand feet up! In the Yankee Boss’ den,

The Steinbrenners tuned their TV to ESPN!

"Pooh-pooh to the Sox Fans!" he was Yank-ish-ly humming.

"They're finding out now that no wins will be coming!

"They're just waking up! I know just what they'll do!

"Their mouths will hang open a minute or two

"Then all the Sox Fans down in Beantown will all cry BOO-HOO!"

"That's a noise," grinned the Boss,

"That I simply must hear!"

So he paused. And the Boss put a hand to his ear.

And he did hear a sound on the ESPN show.

It started in low. Then it started to grow...

But the sound wasn't sad!

Why, this sound sounded merry!

It couldn't be so!

But it WAS merry! VERY!

He stared down at Beantown!

The Boss popped his eyes!

Then he shook!

What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Fan down in Beantown, the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any tears at all!

He HADN'T stopped the Wins from coming!

They CAME!

Somehow or other, they came just the same!

And the Boss, with his feet all buried in money,

Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be funny?

It came without Schilling! It came without Papi!

"It came without Mike Lowell, or Doug Mirabelli!"

And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Boss thought of something he hadn't before!

"Maybe my players," he thought, "don’t play very well.

"Or maybe...perhaps...we’re under a spell!"

And what happened then...?

Well...the very next day

The Boss got a jackhammer

And hammered away!

And he dug a big hole in the locker room floor,

He searched for a Sox shirt buried there before

And he lifted the shirt! And on it read “ORTIZ”!

And he...


Cursed to heaven on his knees!