Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lackey Misses No Hitter, Takes Pedroia Off Christmas Card List

Last night was a beautiful night to be at the ballpark. Perfect weather, nice seats, and a near historic pitching outing by John Lackey. Lackey did not look like he was throwing anything overpowering, primarily throwing a low to mid-90's fastball, and mixing in a slider, occasional curve, and a rare change up. He really wasn't throwing overpowering pitches, nor was he drastically mixing up speeds. Lackey only struck out 4 batters the entire game. Red Sox batters were generally putting the bat on the ball, but they could only muster looping fly balls to the outfield, or ground ball aimed right at infielders.

John LackeyInning after inning would pass and we'd keep waiting to see a base runner in a white uniform, and the potential for a rally. Other than JD Drew being hit by a pitch in the second inning and Dustin Pedroia drawing a walk in the 6th inning, no Red Sox batter reached base. Unfortunately, I broke the cardinal rule of a no hitter. I spoke the fatal words "no hitter" while the no hitter was underway. In fact, I said the words as often as I could casually bring them up in conversation starting around the 6th inning. You know, things like, "could you pass the ketchup, I don't want to get up and miss any of this no hitter", and "what a nice night to try for a no hitter, isn't it?".

So, if I jinxed it for John Lackey, I apologize (NOT). There was really not too much buzz about the on-going no hitter in the crowd until the bottom of the 8th inning. I guess people didn't think it would last that long, and when the 9th inning came around and the Sox were losing 6-0, I scanned the crowd and noticed that I could not find a single empty seat. Even though the Sox looked certain to lose, the Fenway Faithful understood that a piece of baseball history was unfolding before them, and no one wanted to miss what would happen.

Another interesting tidbit. I have seen home crowds actually being to cheer for a visiting pitcher in the 9th inning when pursuing a no hitter, even when their team is the one to suffer the loss, like when Curt Schilling chased a no hitter against the Angels last season in Anaheim. Sox fans? no chance. Everyone was interested that a no hitter was in progress, but not a single solitary clap or voice of encouragement went out to Lackey. I have no doubt whatsoever that, had Lackey completed the no hitter, he would have received a warm standing ovation in recognition of the feat (and the first no hitter by an opposing pitcher in Fenway Park in 50 years). However, up until that final out, every Fenway fan was cheering for one thing, and one thing only...a hit that would ensure there would not be a no hitter in our house, and a hit that would fire up a last minute rally.

Dustin Pedroia Singles off John LackeySo, with one out in the ninth, Dustin Pedroia laced a ground ball single through the infield into left field for a clean hit, and the crowd let out a huge roar. Pedroia will never again receive a Christmas card from John Lackey, but he made everyone in Boston happy with that hit. Lackey was getting high on pitch count, and when Youkilis stepped up to the plate, I imagine Lackey felt just a little deflated. Youk did not pause to ponder that, instead he went for the kill, clobbering the second pitch he saw into the Green Monster seats, putting the Sox on the board 6-2. With the meat of the order coming up, and only one out recorded, the crowd suddenly had visions of a dramatic last minute come-back. But, alas, it was not to be.

Mike Lowell's ErrorClay Buchholz, the Boston starter, had an up and down outing. He looked terrific opening up the game, and after two innings, he also had a no hitter going. But, with one out in the third, Mike Lowell misplayed an easy ground ball, and the inning unravelled for Buchholz. Before you knew it, there were two runs in, bases loaded, and still only one out. Not only that, but Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels power hitter, was at the plate. My stomach sank. one swing of the bat and this game was over before it got going. But, Clay showed some moxie forcing Vlad to ground into a blessed inning ending double play.

Clay BuchholzClay started off the 4th inning by allowing a single and a home run. Everyone was waiting for Francona to get him out of there before everything caved in. But, Varitek went out for a chat, soundly slapped Clay across the face and said "snap out of it man, your team needs you". With that, Clay realized he was right and proceeded to retire the next 10 batters in a row, taking the Sox into the 7th inning and saving the bullpen some wear and tear. So, a mixed outing for Clay, but he is showing signs of being a valuable member of the rotation.

Meanwhile, I attended the game with my daughter, and my sister and her son. Baseball is a game of streaks, trends, and records, and my sister has one going that we pray will end. She has never attended a Sox game in person and had the Sox win the game. So, next time she goes to a game, I'll let y'all know so you can adjust your wagers accordingly. The kids had fun though, and it was, for them, a pleasantly quick game, ending in 2 hours and 28 minutes!

Now, can the Sox get back on track behind Beckett tonight?

(Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Jon Lester Rights the Ship

Amid all the new found Manny Ramirez controversy, there was an actual game played yesterday. Not just any game, but a pivotal game against an historic rival who had just taken two straight games in Fenway Park. A loss would have allowed the Yankees to move into a tie with the Red Sox for second place in the AL East.

David Ortiz HomersBoston went on the attack early and often, scoring runs in 5 out of the first 6 innings. Big Papi got his groove back and led the offensive charge with a 2 for 4 night, driving in 3 runs, 2 of them coming off of a home run with Dustin Pedroia on base and two outs in the 4th inning. Manny Ramirez, who even now is being escorted out of town by radio talk show callers, paired up with Papi, just the way it is supposed to work, going 3 for 5, driving in 2, and scoring 2 runs. In fact, every Sox starter had at least one hit, except for JD Drew who went 0 for 2, but did walk twice. Even Jacoby Ellsbury, relegated to the bottom of the order to work on getting his swing back, went a cool 3 for 4.

Jon LesterBut, what would all that offense be without some good pitching to go along with it? It would be like lobster without butter, Laurel without Hardy, Charlie's Angels without Cameron Diaz. Playing the part of butter, Oliver Hardy, and Cameron Diaz yesterday was Jon Lester. Lester has truly become the cornerstone of the starting rotation. This season he has been more steady than even Josh Beckett. Nothing seems to rattle Lester anymore. His steely gaze shines across the plate when he looks in for the sign. Most times he looks like a cat toying with a helpless mouse. Yesterday, he went 7 innings (again), allowing 9 hits and a walk, but struck out 8 batters, holding the Yankees to just 2 runs. He would bend, but he would not break.

Manny Delcarmen and Mike Timlin pitched a scoreless inning each to secure Lester's 9th win of the season. Meanwhile, the newest Yankeee starter, Sidney Ponson, got knocked around like a judge on an Aruban beach. Ponson only lasted four innings, and left the game trailing an impossible 7-0. But, the games must go 9 innings, so the Fenway faithful were treated to 4 1/2 more innings of watching the Red Sox chase the Yankees around the boxing ring before the inevitable TKO in the 9th, and a 9-2 victory.
Sidney Ponson
What about Manny? What about him? Am I surprised Manny has, yet again, turned into a petulant child? No, quite the contrary. After 4 seasons of Manny loving the Red Sox, wanting to be traded, being so happy in Boston, demanding to be traded, so thrilled to be part of baseball in Boston, etc., etc., I have simply been waiting for the next shoe to fall. Manny is on a part of this team right now, and a critical part of the team at that. As long as he is here, under contract, he will play hard, and do his best to win ball games. When he does not, I will shout down to him how he is letting us down. Will he be here next year, does he want to be here next year? We'll see.

As far as everyone was concerned, Manny was gone years ago. He asked (through his agents) to be traded before. The Red Sox even put him on waivers, and offered him in a possible deal for Alex Rodriguez. Yet, he is still here. So, will he be here next year? Who knows. I do not think Manny has planted deep roots in Boston (ala Johnny Damon). He is pretty happy here, has good friends on the team, and has had a supportive fan following to go with all of his success (including being named the MVP of the 2004 World Series). So, you would think Manny would be happy here.

But, I think Manny was actually much happier in Cleveland, and look where that got him. Manny has the evil Scott Boras as his agent. The Red Sox will not be stupid. They want Manny here, playing hard, batting 4th, and anchoring the offensive lineup. But, they will not keep him here at all costs. They'll wait until the end of the season to decide what to do next in terms of exercising Manny's option for next year.

Will they trade Manny before the deadline? Not likely, but maybe. Same as every other player on the team. If, and only if, there is a deal that Theo feels will improve the team, give them a better shot at another championship, without costing the team too much, then he will swing that deal. I am doubtful that deal will present itself with regards to Manny, but you never know. For a trade to take place, you need both side to like the deal. Many teams would love Manny's bat, but he's expensive and the Red Sox will want significant compensation in return. They would be foolish to do anything else. My guess is that no other team will be able to come up with the right offer, nor will they want to take on the risk that Manny walks once free agency hits. I think they'll all wait until the end of the season and make a run for him in free agency if the Sox do not lock him up.

Manny RamirezMeanwhile, what happens the rest of the year? Same old thing. Manny will go on a hot streak, he'll forget about the contract stuff for a while, and he'll contribute. The fans will steam and yell, then they'll cool down and watch the games. We'll enjoy a fun playoff run, and then we'll rejoin the debate after the season. Manny's performance, overall, will be no different. If he stays, let's enjoy watching the guy hit, and hope he minimizes the childishness.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yankees Suffer Amnesia - Forget How To Lose

Well, winning 8 games in a row since the All Star Break is a nice way to get yourself back into the playoff mix. The Yankees have been kind to the Red Sox fans the past couple of years by starting off the season slow, sluggish, and appearing to be done for. They give Sox fans a chance to boast, thump their chest, and proclaim how the mighty Yankees have fallen and they are now the king of the roost. Then, the All Star Break comes around and the Yankees begin their attack. Remember how that 20+ game lead last year melted like butter left out in the sun?

Andy PettitteSo, what can you say about yesterday's game, a 10-3 loss at home? Well, it looked like it was going to be a Red Sox day when Big Papi drove in his first run since returning from the DL in the first inning. After 1 inning the Sox had a 2-0 lead, and it looked like Andy Pettitte was going to have an early day. But, Pettitte is no 20 year old rookie. He just took a deep breath, adjusted his approach a bit, and went back to work shutting down the Sox until JD Drew's solo home run in the 6th inning. The Sox offense, since the break, has looked no more potent than the lowly Devil Rays (Oh wait, that was just a habit. Change that to the Royals and let's keep going...). Since the break, the offense has only scored 4 runs once, and less than 4 in every other outing. They just cannot get a rally going! Part of that may be the slump of Jacoby Ellsbury who does a great job of clogging the bases, but overall, they get a hit here and a hit there only. In other words, "here a hit, there a hit", but never, "everywhere a hit, hit".

Tim WakefieldSo what went well? Not much. The Yankees were held in check for a spell, but continually put pressure on Tim Wakefield until he finally started to crumble in the 6th. Justin Masterson came in and threw some very nifty pitches with impressive movement on them. However, the Yankees fouled those off and waited for the ones that weren't as tricky to hit. Masterson faced 3 batters, gave up 3 hits, and took a seat.

So, yesterday we discussed whether or not Joba Chamberlain intentionally threw at Kevin Youkilis. I think we got part of the answer yesterday, specifically in the 8th inning. With two outs, and runners on 1st and 3rd, Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate. If a team is going to throw at an opposing player in retaliation, and to send a message that they will not be pushed around, they will try to pick a premier player on the other team, right? Okay, A-Rod fits that criteria. They'll also tend to do it late in the game, especially if the score is out of control. Check. With runners on 1st and 3rd, a smart move might have been to walk A-Rod to take the bat out of their best hitter's hands and create a force play at any base situation. Well, if you are going to put him on base intentionally....

Alex Rodriguez Gets HitSo, with one ball and no strikes, Craig Hansen threw a 98 mph fastball right at A-Rod's arm (wisely not going right for the head like Joba did). A-Rod got nailed in the arm and hopped around in pain. Clearly an intentional pitch. So, what does a team do when their best player just got intentionally nailed by a 98 mph pitch in a game where all they are trying to do is play good, solid baseball? They get pissed off, the batter throws a few choice words out to the pitcher and begins marching out to extract his pound of flesh. The bench empties and the bullpen pitchers come running in to help. If no punches are thrown, there is at least some serious posturing, swearing, and shoving. Remember the situation with the Rays? Coco gets hit - fight ensues. You get the idea.

What happened yesterday? A-Rod winced in pain, shook it off, and took first base. The guys in the dugout never even flinched, and the guys in the bullpen remained seated. Two possible reasons for that. One is that the Yankees can't stand A-Rod and are glad someone plunked him with a pitch and wish they were allowed to do the same. I know, that could be the real reason. But, the second reason would be that they knew their guy was wrong throwing at Youk, and by allowing A-Rod to get drilled without even a nasty look is conceding that they were owed that one. And before you go commenting that a third reason might be that the Yankees are good sports and simply won't stoop to that level, don't embarrass yourself, that reason just would not fit.

Hansen did a fantastic job of plunking A-Rod (many pitchers completely botch the revenge pitch), but rather than firing him up, and got his knees rattling. Hansen went on to walk in a run, and then gave up a double to let the game get completely out of hand. So, if you need a pitcher to deliver a message, you can let Hansen do it, just pull him from the game after that.

The Red Sox ace of 2008, Jon Lester, takes the mound today to end the losing streak. A task Lester is definitely up for. The Yankees counter with beach brawler, Sidney Ponson. Ponson has a tough time at Fenway with a 2-4 record and a 7.16 ERA. Time to put a W on the board and get the ship pointed in the right direction again!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Without Manny, Sox Have No Answer for Joba

Yes, I was at the game last night. Unfortunately, the results were not what I was hoping for, but for the most part, it was an interesting and well played game. This was our first look at Joba Chamberlain as a starter, and he looked good. As expected, he fed Sox batters a steady dose of fast balls, topping out at 100, but not very frequently. In addition, he mixed in a slider and a curveball to keep batters from sitting on the fastball. Joba lasted 7 innings and baffled Sox hitters all night, recording 9 strikeouts while only allowing 3 harmless singles and one walk. The only time it looked like the Sox might get to Joba was in the 2nd inning. Mike Lowell lined a soft single to left field, then JD Drew came up and ripped a shot to center that Melke Cabrera dove for and made the catch. Had he not come up with that, Lowell would have been on third, and they might have gotten something started.

Joba ChamberlainLast night David Ortiz made his debut from the DL. Papi has been hitting minor league pitching well, but it is a big jump from minor league prospects to facing Joba's fastball. Papi looked like he needs a little more time to get his timing down. Meanwhile, there was little excitement while the Sox were at bat until the 7th inning when Joba, AGAIN, almost took Kevin Youkilis' head off with a pitch. Joba has twice before thrown at Youk, once at his head, and once behind him. Joba was precise in his command all night, only walked one batter, and hit no batters. So, could it be coincidence that this one pitch that gets away from Joba all night happens to be against Youk, and happens to go right at his head? Only Joba knows for sure, but I have to say, the game situation just did not make sense for it to be intentional, unless Joba is a complete idiot. At the time, the Yankees were leading 1-0, and Youk was leading off the 7th inning and had a 2-0 count. It just would not make sense for Joba to want to let the lead-off man get on base.

Counterpoint...If Joba does have it in for Youk, and wants to plunk him for some reason we don't know, but he sure makes obvious, then when would he do it? Well, he would not do it early in the game and risk getting thrown out, right? If he was going to do it, it would be late in the game when his turn to pitch was nearly over, like maybe the 7th inning? Joba's pitch count was in the 90's, he knew this would be his last inning, and his last chance to face Youkilis for the series. It was now or never. The way he was mowing the batters down, I'm not sure he was worried about getting through the inning with Youk on first, and if he made it looks accidental, he made not have been ejected for the first offense. Hmm, now that you put is that way, maybe it was not accidental at all! Now, what the hell does Joba have against Youk?

Josh BeckettJosh Beckett pitched well, but not as dominating as Joba. Beckett also went 7 innings, striking out 6 and only walking one, but be gave up 9 hits, all of them singles. Beckett allowed the Yankees to get runners on base, but stayed enough in control to prevent anyone from crossing the plate. That is except for the 3rd inning. With 2 outs, Bobby Abreu and A-Rod hit back to back singles to put runners at 1st and 3rd. With Jason Giambi coming up, the Sox put the shift on moving Dustin Pedroia out into shallow right field and shortstop, Jed Lowrie, shifted over to stand behind 2nd base. Giambi swung at and barely connected with an 0-1 fastball that lazily rolled out to where the shortstop normally plays. With the shift on, there was no one there to get the ball in time to make a play, and Abreu scored the only run from third base. Not Beckett's fault, but what can you do?

The Red Sox big chance came in the 8th inning when Chamberlain left the game and Kyle Farnsworth came in. I had all the confidence in the world that the Sox could at least score one run off Farnsworth and most likely send the game into a late night extra inning battle. This was a Yankee game, after all, and we all expected it to last at least 5 hours, and this one looked like it was on track to end in a mind-boggling 3 hours! The inning started with Jed Lowrie getting a single, a feeble looking Jason Varitek popping out, and Coco Crisp getting a single off of a swinging bunt. The top of the order was coming up with two men on and only one out. Things looked good! But, if we knew the Yankees were in trouble, you'd expect their manager would know it too. Sure enough, Joe Girardi spoiled all the fun when he realized that if he wanted to steal a 1-0 win from the Red Sox in Fenway Park, he was going to have to nail it down right now. That meant a call to Mariano Rivera to get 5 outs. It only took Rivera 6 batters to get those 5 outs.

Mariano RiveraIt looked like some trouble might be brewing in the 9th inning. Oritz lead off with a soft fly out to right, but Youk followed that with a single to left. With Mike Lowell and JD Drew due up next, things looked promising. That is until Yankee catcher, Jose Molina, slipped the umpire a little something. Mike Lowell was waging a battle for the ages against Rivera. The first two pitches were a ball and a called strike. Then Lowell fouled off three straight fastballs, watched ball two go by, and then fouled off another fastball. The eighth pitch of the battle was a fastball, but clearly (on replays) not a strike. Lowell let it go by to bring the count to 3 balls and two strikes (in his mind), and then, as the umpire remembered the Molina bribe, called out strike three instead. Lowell could not believe his ears. He leaped about 3 feet into the air, spilling out Cuban curses on the way up, and at the peak of his leap, slammed the bat down to the earth, and I swear we felt the vibration out in right field. I have never seen Lowell lose his cool like that, and he went after the home plate umpire as if he had just parked in his parking space after Lowell spent an hour shoveling the snow out of it.

Mike Lowell Discuss Strike ThreeWe all figured Lowell ought to get this off his chest and go ahead and get thrown out. Maybe it will fire up his teammates! So, Lowell got sent to his room for a time out, and JD Drew stepped up. Drew has been swinging a hot bat, and one good swing could end this one, right? Well, with one ball and two strikes, instead of being inspired by Lowell, Drew decided to emulate him and sat there watching strike three go by without a swing. This one was not a ball, this one was a strike. Game over.

So, a 1-0 loss. Anyone think Manny Ramirez might have helped in that game?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sox Sweep Seattle to End Road Trip

That was a close one, and also a timely win. Both the Yankees and the Rays won yesterday, and when your competition wins, you want to win and keep step with them.

Clay BuchholzClay Buchholz was much improved over his past two outings, and that is a good sign. Clay went 5 1/3 innings and gave up 3 runs, but he held the line early on, and did not fall behind quickly like he has in his last two outings. In fact, entering the 6th inning, he had only surrendered a solo home run to that point. In the 6th, he started to unravel giving up a two run home run and putting two men on base with one out before turning the game over to Justin Masterson. Masterson is working out of the bullpen for the Sox and this was a big test. How does he handle coming in to the inning with 2 men on and one out? Simple. He strikes out the next two batters to end the inning.

Masterson did not stop there. He went on to record a 1-2-3 7th inning, followed by a 1-2-3 8th inning! So far, whoever thought he'd work well out of the bullpen looks like a genius. Also, since Masterson had been training all year as a starter, he can be used (at least for a while) in long relief situations very effectively. Masterson did a nice job of getting to the ninth inning for Jonathan Papelbon, but the problem was that the game was only tied 3-3.

Ichiro Suzuki Robs JD DrewIn the 3rd inning, Ichiro Suzuki kept the game from getting out of reach when he leaped high on the right field wall to rob JD Drew of a sure 3 run home run. It was an amazing catch, and the Sox may have been able to use that to build a comfortable lead. But, as strange things always happen in baseball, the next batter, Kevin Youkilis, laced a line drive to right field. As Ichiro chased it down and bent to scoop it up, the ball snuck under his glove and rolled to the wall for an error, allowing two runs to score. That's baseball. Once play you are a hero and a sure web gem, and the next play you make an error that could cost the game.

More great pitching for Boston came after the 8th inning as Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen combined to pitch two scoreless innings. In an interesting move, with the game still tied, Terry Fancona went to Papelbon to pitch the bottom of the 11th inning. Papelbon finally got a strikeout (he's had fewer of those lately) and induced a double play to end the 11th.

Mike LowellThe 12th inning, the Red Sox had had enough. Time to end this thing. They worked the bases loaded with one out, and Mike Lowell became the designated hero with a line drive single to left. Jacoby Ellsbury scored from third, and JD Drew showed some speed sliding in safe at home from second base. Sean Casey singled in an insurance run to bring the score to 6-3. So, now we're thinking Papelbon will be back out and end this, right? Wrong. Francona, perhaps not feeling Papelbon has enough bullets left in the gun, and also thinking a 3 run lead should be comfortable enough, sends in none other than Craig Hansen to close the game out. Hansen did it, but he did not do it easily. With two outs and a runner on first, Hansen surrendered a single and a walk to load the bases. White knuckle time, folks. So, Jose Vidro steps to the plate and watches the first three fastballs go by, none of them is a strike. Bases loaded, three balls, no strikes, two outs. Next pitch, called strike. Next pitch, Vidro tops the pitch for an easy bouncing ball to Dustin Pedroia who flips the ball to first to end the game. Phew! Close one there Hansen!

Tomorrow, the dreaded Yankees come to town. Stay tuned...

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Red Sox Take Two From Seattle Behind Dice-K

So far, so good. The Red Sox, having lost three straight, could use three straight wins from Seattle to get back on track. With a win this afternoon, they could accomplish just that.

Dice-K MatsuzakaLast night, Daisuke Matsuzaka was brilliant. The key to that statement was the fact that he only walked three batters the whole game, and was more efficient with his pitch count. It has become unusual to see Dice-K standing on the mound in the 8th inning, but there he was, looking like he was heading for a complete game.

Unfortunately, his game began unraveling in the 8th inning. With JD Drew leading the way to a 4-0 lead, the Mariners were finally able to chip away as Dice-K began tiring. With one out, and a runner on base, Ichiro Suzuki laced a double to plate the first run, and Jose Lopez followed that with a single up the middle to score Ichiro. With the score now 2-0, Terry Francona felt it was time to give Dice-K some help and ensure he holds on to his 11th win of the season. So, Terry called for Hideki Okajima.

Ichiro SuzukiAs we all know, Okajima has not fared well entering the game with runners on base, but in this case, at least the runner was at first base, and the left handed hitting Raul Ibanez was due up. Sox fans were thinking "ground ball, double play, inning over". Sox fans were also praying "please, not a home run". As it turns out, neither prayer was heard by the baseball gods, but Ibanez did hit a ground ball to first, and Kevin Youkilis managed to throw to second base to get the lead runner for the second out. Oki followed that up by getting Jose Vidro to line out to center to end the inning and complete the transition to Jonathan Papelbon.

Jonathan PapelbonThe Mariners opted to not wait around for Papelbon to strike them out and came out with a strategy to swing early in the count. Good idea, but the result was the same, three straight outs, and Papelbon's 30th save of the. With the save, Papelbon becomes the first closer in Red Sox history to record 3 consecutive 30+ save seasons. Hopefully, that is only the start of more amazing years to come.

Meanwhile, this afternoon all focus will turn to Clay Buchholz. Will the young pitching phenom return to his former brilliance, or will he continue to labor through difficult innings, not fooling batters with an ineffective fastball? Another short and ineffective outing could result in another trip to Pawtucket. Bartolo Colon is nearing a return, but that may be weeks away. On the other hand, if Clay has a solid outing, we'll all breath a sigh of relief and welcome him back to Boston next week.

Last night's win, combined with Tampa Bay's loss, inches the Sox back to within 1/2 of a game of first place. Good timing too, as the Yankees, in their typical post-All Star surge, are starting to create pressure behind the Sox. The Yankees now have notched 5 wins in a row, and tonight will go for a sweep of the Twins before coming to town to face the Red Sox on Friday. That series will be huge. A sweep by the Yankees could vault then over the Sox into second place and return them to serious contention. A sweep by the Red Sox could stomp the Yankees back towards the basement where we'd rather see them. Stay tuned!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Varitek and Lester Put Sox Back in the Win Column

It was not that long ago that when the Sox went on a big swing through the west coast, everyone crossed their fingers and prayed to win half the games. It is a big trip, on the road, 3 hour time zone difference, and some tough competition. Since 2004, Sox fans have gotten a little too used to winning more often than not, and have put their fear of the West Coast Trip behind them. Maybe that fear was put away a little too soon, as the Angels managed to swipe 3 straight games from the Sox and knocked them back to second place.

Luckily, this West Coast Trip is only going through two visiting cities, and the second one is home to the AL team with the worst record, the Seattle Mariners. So, a 3 game sweep of the Mariners would be just what the doctor ordered to allow the Sox to return to friendly Fenway Park with an even 3-3 road trip record. This is no guarantee, but is well within reach.

Jon LesterLast night, Jon Lester continued a superb season, again pitching late into the game (7 1/3 innings) and holding the Mariners scoreless. Lester was dominating the entire night, and at one point looked like he might be headed for a complete game shutout. But, in the 8th inning he appeared to be tiring, and got himself into a jam. Bases loaded, 1 out, and a 4-0 lead. One meatball pitch could tie the game. Terry Francona opted to send Jonathan Papelbon in to get out of the jam. It only took Paps 2 pitches to do so as he induced Raul Ibanez to hit into a game saving, and inning ending double play. Thankfully, Francona opted to send in Papelbon and not Hideki Okajima, who was a sure thing last season, but this year has been struggling when coming into an inning with runners on base.

Manny RamirezWhile Manny Ramirez did what we could to get rallies going, his three singles were all harmless as he was sandwiched between JD Drew and Mike Lowell who went a combined 0-9 last night. But fear not, when help was needed, out of the dugout with cape flapping in the wind came Captain Varitek! Jason Varitek got a hold of a sweet pitch with one runner on in the 5th inning for a 2 run home run. Tek could have had a huge night, but that was all the damage he could muster (and thanks to Lester, all the damage they needed). Varitek came up in the 6th inning with bases loaded and 2 outs, but struck out swinging on a foul tip. Then, in the 9th inning he again found himself in a bases loaded, 2 out situation. This time he connected, only to fly harmlessly out.

Jed LowrieThe Sox also loaded the bases in the 8 inning (Varitek drew a walk to load them). The Sox really had the Mariners against the ropes in the late innings, and this time it was Jed Lowrie at the plate. Lowrie came through with a nice single to plate the Sox' final 2 runs en route to a 4-0 victory.

The next two games will feature Dice-K Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. Dice-K will be looking for his 11th win, and should have a good shot at it. Clay, on the other hand, has yet to find himself a good game since returning to the Sox from Pawtucket. Personally, I'm happy he gets the third game of the Mariners series, rather than opening the Yankees series. Let's hope Clay pulls it together and is able to give Boston a quality start. The Sox do have Bartolo Colon back on the mend. Colon has been out since hurting his back while swinging at a pitch during interleague play. He should be ready to rejoin the club in August, so the clock is ticking for Clay.

When the Yankees come to town on Friday, the Sox will be unveiling the new and recently recovered David Ortiz. Big Papi is still swinging well, going 2-3 with the Portland Seadogs yesterday. He claims he is pain free and nearly 100% ready. When he launches a home run in his first at bat Friday night against Joba Chamberlain, the Fenway crowd will go crazy. Thankfully, I will be in that very crowd!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Exciting New Prospect in Pawtucket

The start of the second half of the season always brings with it a host of trade talks. The trade deadline is July 31st, and fans everywhere will be inventing some pretty incredulous trades to either attempt to jettison players they don't like, or bring in players they'd love to have (very often both in the same trade).

David OrtizThis year, there is not big need to look outside the organization if you are in the market for a power hitting left-hander. Watching the Pawtucket Red Sox the last two days, I couldn't help but notice just such a player. He is big, strong, and looks locked in. He homered in both of the past two games, and one of those home runs was on an outside fastball that he was able to stay with and drive the other way to left field. That is the sign of major league material.

The one drawback that I can see is that the guy is a bit slow afoot and seems to have the most value as a DH. He can play some first base, but I sure wouldn't worry about his job if I were Kevin Youkilis.

The guy's name is David Ortiz, and you need to keep your eye on this guy. I assure you, he'll be called up before you know it, perhaps as early as the upcoming series against the Yankees when the Sox return to Boston. This guy would be perfect in the number 3 hole batting in front of Manny Ramirez. I know, you are now saying, "but we already have a power hitter in front of Manny - JD Drew". That is true, and JD Drew did win player of the month honors for the month of June. But, I'm telling you, this Ortiz guy can be even more effective. Imagine a guy like that in front of Manny, and then you bat JD Drew in the #5 hole behind Manny! That is what a lineup should look like. Instead of simply being in first place in most team offensive statistics, the Red Sox would be in mega-first place!

Clay BuchholzBut, what about pitching and defense? Well, good point. Clay Buchholz sure did not have a game to remember yesterday, getting clobbered right out of the gates by the Angels in an 11-3 loss. In two starts since returning from Pawtucket, Clay has only proven that sending him down to Pawtucket was a good idea, and maybe they brought him back a bit too soon. Reworking a guy's delivery and arm angle is not something that takes root overnight! If it were not for Clay's past success and his amazing no-hitter, we'd all be shouting for him to be not only sent back, but including in some blockbuster trade deal.

Manny Ramirez looks for the BallDefense? If your goal for defense is to have a few laughs, then there is no need to worry about defense! Last night Manny provided plenty of laughs in left field. He got a terrible jump on a weak fly ball, feebly dove for it in a last ditch effort, but came no where near the ball. As the ball rolled past him he tried to quickly get up and chase it down, but in getting up he tripped, stumbled, and fell over the ball. As he rolled, the ball ended up under his butt, and he had to arch his back to reach under and retrieve it. Of course, by then, the batter was on third base, trying to suppress a good belly laugh. Did anyone really ant to catch the ball after watching where he had to retrieve it from?

Okay, so the Sox lost their opener against the California Angels of Los Angeles who play in Anaheim. Fear not, for a well rested Josh Beckett will make everything right today. Look for Jed Lowrie to make a significant contribution, and for some small ball to come into play. The home runs did not work yesterday (Youk and Manny), so let's do it with singles, stolen bases, and timely doubles today.

(Photos courtesy of ESPN)
(David Ortiz Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Yankees Sign Richie Sexson

Looks like the Yankees are now a threat to be reckoned with! They have a tentative deal in place to sign first baseman Richie Sexson for a pro-rated league minimum salary. Financially, it is a safe move, but signing a guy who was cut by the worst team in baseball? My guess is they want to solidify defense at second base, add a right handed bat that is effective against lefties, and utilize Jason Giambi (while he is relatively hot) more as the DH in Matsui's absence?

Anyway, not a terrible move, but what they really need is pitching!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

All Star Game Thoughts

Just some feelings and observations from the 2008 All Star Game.

New York, in general, did a nice job of putting on a good show, a great party, and a fun baseball game. Very appropriate that Yankee Stadium got to host the game in its final year. I thought the All Star Game was a great way to celebrate the storied ball park (especially since it does not look overly hopeful that the stadium will be part of too much post-season action). Of course, you never know, that's just how it looks right now. Until they get the pitching in line, the post season is a long shot.

I have always disliked the 'typical' Yankee fan (there are many out there I do like, and some of my closest friends are Yankee fans). But the fan I am talking about is the one who does not really know the game, or really know what is going on. All they know is that they have won a lot of rings, and they'll beat you eventually. This fan also does not love baseball, this fan only loves winning. When you watch a Yankee game, and the stands start emptying out in the 7th inning of a critical game because the Yankees are losing, those are the fans I'm talking about.

Those fans rose on my hate meter this week. First, for freaking out and totally harassing Jonathan Papelbon and his pregnant wife, all because the guy wants to be the one to close the All Star Game. In the same conversation, he gives props to the wonderful Mariano Rivera, and looks up to him in awe, but that does not matter. So, because a closer wants to close a historic game, the fans have to let his pregnant wife hear it? In the parade, the fans have to yell obscenities at Jason Varitek who happens to have his children with him? It is one thing to hurl swears at a player, but not with his kids right there.

Meanwhile the stars of all the AL teams are joined together, battling as one, hoping to win and secure home field advantage for the World Series. The players work hard together, the Sox players lead the way in that battle, and the Sox manager shows class and sportsmanship when he sends someone to run and find A-Rod in the clubhouse before he gets undressed so he can send him back out for one more out, giving him a chance to draw a rousing cheer from the home crowd. Terry Francona repeats the gesture to Derek Jeter, allowing both live a wonderful moment in the final year of the old stadium. The players all are impressed with the class and grace by which Terry handles the team.

Meanwhile, Yankee fans continue to boo their own team (the AL team) whenever a Sox player shows his face. JD Drew hits a game preserving 2 run home run and gets greeted with silence from the fans, and a new round of boos when he takes right field again. One Red Sox player got cheers and that was Papelbon when Miguel Tejada scored the go-ahead run from third on a sacrifice fly. The run was not charged to Papelbon by the way, Tejada reached third on a horrific throwing error from the catcher to second on a steal.

Enough ranting. All I have to say about the fans was that there was very little class shown, and no sportsmanlike conduct whatsoever. I really don't care if Yankee fans are less interested in cheering for Sox players, but all I saw was a total lack of respect for the game, period. Shame.

Meanwhile, the game was great, exciting, and well played. I do think I'd rather see managers manage the game more like a real game. Use your starters for 3 or 4 innings, not just one. Don't try to bend over backwards to get every player on the field. Historically, there were always players who never got in the game, why worry about that now?

Cheers to JD Drew, MVP of his first All Star Game. Well deserved, and let's hope he keeps up the pace for the rest of the season. Another fun time was the home run derby. Josh Hamilton was amazing. The guy can swing a bat! Too bad he wasted away his first few years wallowing in drugs. Maybe he can stay on track and carve out a place for himself in history. And, with this being a celebration of Yankee Stadium's last year, it was incredibly dissapointing that A-Rod, the likely future all time home run leader, refused to participate in teh Home Run Derby, as did Jason Giambi. Nice going guys.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Return of the Youkie Monster

Youkie Monster LOVES cookies! On Friday night, Kevin Youkilis came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, with bases loaded, two outs, and the Red Sox behind the Orioles by the score of 7-3. Red Sox fans did some quick math in their heads and realized a grand slam would tie the game. But, that was not in the cards. Instead, Orioles' pitcher, George Sherrill, was throwing nothing but peas and bananas to Youk. Youk no like! You want cookies! So, Youk struck out to bring the game to a disappointing end.

Yesterday was different. It was the third inning, the Red Sox had the bases loaded with one out and Youk was up. The Red Sox were leading 3-1 and looking to extend the lead for Tim Wakefield, who the Sox have owed a win to for while now. Orioles' starter, Radhames Liz, made a big mistake. Trying to be too careful, he threw three straight balls to Youk to bring the count to 3 balls and no strikes. Not wanting to walk (another) run in, Liz had little choice but to throw fastballs. When the batter knows exactly what the pitcher will throw, it is like getting a cookie! Youk watched the next pitch go by for strike one, but got a good smell of the cookie, and got hungry. Youkie Monster want COOKIE! Liz throw cookie, Youkie eat cookie! The smile on Youkilis' face went from ear to ear as he watched his first career grand slam settle into a fans glove high up on the Green Monster.
Fan Catches Youks Home Run
The Red Sox did not look back, walking off with a 12-1 victory, pulling them within 1/2 game of the first place Rays, who lost their sixth game in a row. Looks like the Rays need the All Star break to regroup before they lose too much ground.

Red Sox fans got a small wish filled when Julio Lugo was placed on the 15 day DL. Many fans have felt Jed Lowrie would be a better option than Lugo, who has been error prone this season and not hitting as well as expected. Lowrie got into the game, but did not get to show his stuff. Lowrie was the only starter to fail to record a hit, and the Orioles did not hit a single ball his way, so we did not get a chance to see his smooth defense. But, he'll get back out there, and hopefully he'll get his hits when the Sox need them more. Yesterday, they had all the hits they really needed. JD Drew and Manny Ramirez hit back to back home runs in the first inning, Youkilis drove in 6 runs, Dustin Pedroia went 2 for 5 with 2 RBI. Who needed Lowrie to hit yesterday?

Tim WakefieldSo, Wakefield finally pitches a brilliant game on a day when the Sox could give him run support. Wake only allowed 2 hits in 7 innings, one of them a solo home run to account for Baltimore's only run of the day. Craig Hansen provided a 1-2-3 8th inning, and Mike Timlin wrapped up the ninth inning. On to today's game, when Dice-K will be vying for his 10th win against the Orioles' Daniel Cabrera. Cabrera does not generally fare well against Boston and Dice-K is coming off a well pitched game against the Twins. A win would be a nice way to roll into the break. Combine that with a 7th Rays' loss in a row (not likely) and the Sox could enter the break back in first place!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Red Sox Offense Explodes to Sweep Twins

Now, that's entertainment! As crazy as the final 18-5 score is, this was actually a tough, close game until the bottom of the 7th inning came around. Josh Beckett had a rough start, giving up 3 runs in the first inning, but settled down to hold the Twins scoreless until the 6th inning. By the 6th, Beckett's pitch count was getting too high, and when he started off the inning by giving up a solo home run followed by a double, Terry Francona gave him the hook. The Sox had put 6 runs on the board, but Javier Lopez gave up an RBI single to score that run from second, and the Twins pulled to within 6-5.

Denard Span Traps the BallBy the bottom of the 7th, the Sox were holding on to, what felt like, a 7-5 lead, but it was a strange day and it seemed like anything could happen, and it pretty much did. The bottom of the 7th started off with Mike Lowell walking, followed by a ground rule double by Sean Casey to put runners at 2nd and 3rd with no outs. Then, Jason Varitek hits a sinking line drive to center field, and Denard Span dove to make the catch. The ball ends up in his glove, and the initial ruling is that the ball was caught for an out. Both runners had taken off, and the Twins tagged both bases for what appeared to be an inning ending triple play. It should not have been a triple play as it appeared that Lowell had tagged up before running home. However, the umpires conferred on the play, and reversed the initial call, ruling that the ball had hit the ground and bounced into the glove. Replays confirmed the ruling was correct, and the Sox caught a break that the umpires were willing to confer and get the call right. Had the umpire stubbornly decided to stick with the initial ruling, we would have headed to the 8th inning of a close game.

Gardenhire Disagrees with the UmpInstead, here's what happened to the Twins. Have you ever been working out in the yard on a hot summer day and find yourself hot, sweaty, and dying of thirst? So, you go over to the water hose and point the end at your face and then spin the valve to turn on the water. At first, nothing happens, and you realize there is a kink in the hose. So, you straighten out the kink, and suddenly the water erupts from the hose, drenching you from head to toe and the surprise of the blast causes you to stumble and fall on your butt, right in the rapidly filling puddle around you! Well, that's pretty much what happened to the Twins right there. Reversing the triple play call was the same as fixing the kink in the hose.

By the time the Twins got the water turned back off, the Sox had scored 7 runs in the bottom of the 7th inning, increasing their lead to 14-5. Another 4 runs in the 8th just added insult to injury leading to a final score of 18-5. It was as if the Sox offense had been trapped but bursting to get free. Once it broke free, there was no stopping it. Every single starter in the Sox lineup had at least 2 hits (except for Brandon Moss who only had one), every single starter scored at least once, and every starter (other than Moss) drove in at least one run. Geez, what the heck was with Moss, is he in some kind of slump or something? Even Kevin Cash belted a solo home run pinch hitting for Varitek to lead off the 8th inning.

Things were so easy for the Sox, that Manny Ramirez had to take a break and call all of his friends and tell them to turn the game on and check it out (this is an actual game photo)!

With the Yankees beating the Rays again yesterday, the Sox are now a mere 2 games behind the Rays for first place. The Sox get a day off today to rest their exhausted swinging muscles, before hosting the Orioles for a three game series at Fenway. Clay Buchholz will be recalled to start that series off. It will be interesting to see if we can notice any difference in his delivery, or pitch selection, after working on improving things down in Pawtucket. If the Sox can keep their momentum going, they should be in good position heading in to the All Star break.

(Photos Courtesy of Boston.Com)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Red Sox Steal Another One Run Game From Twins

The Twins sure do make for exciting baseball. Two games into the three game series have featured excellent pitching, terrific defense, smart base running, strategic managerial moves, and (thankfully) two one run wins for the Red Sox.

Brandon MossOne of the most frustrating areas for the Red Sox recently has been the ineptitude of the bottom of the order. In tough situations, the 7-8-9 batters have not been getting it done. So, Terry Francona mixed things up a bit last night. Rather than Crisp, Varitek, and Lugo at the bottom of the order, last night's lineup featured Brandon Moss, Julio Lugo and Kevin Cash. Lugo was typical Lugo, and Cash mostly served to give Varitek a night off. However, Moss was able to provide the spark at the bottom of the lineup that had been sorely missing.

In the 7th inning, with Kevin Youkilis on third form a well hit triple and one out, Moss came through with a sacrifice fly to plate Youk for Boston's second run of the game. Then, in the 8th inning, after Manny Ramirez had already tied the game with a much needed 3 run home run, Youkilis hit a two out double to keep the rally alive. Recently, we would have expected You to get stranded on 2nd base with a strikeout or a weak ground out. But, Moss was batting with confidence and sliced a single back up the middle to score Youk for the go ahead run.

Manny Ramirez HomersYes, Manny Ramirez is starting to look like he's breaking out of his recent slump. When Manny keeps his head down and drives the ball solidly to right center field, you know he's starting to get locked in. That is exactly the type of hit he has been starting to reconnect with. His two run homer in the 8th to tie the game was a breath of fresh air to Boston fans. Just what the home crowd needed to see.

It got Jon Lester off the hook for the loss. Lester had a decent night, pitching into the 8th inning. His one big blemish was the 4th inning when it seemed like no matter what he threw, it got hit. The Twins hitters just looked locked in in that inning. Lester's pitches were not that bad, but the Twins were able to make contact and put three runs on the board. Lester battled through it and, again, went deep into the game to take the pressure off the bullpen.

How about poor Sean Casey? I'm starting to wonder if Tito wants to get a left handed reliever into the game. It seems every time Casey steps out of the dugout to pinch hit, the opposing manager yanks his righty off the mound and sends in a lefty. Then, Tito sends Casey back to the bench. Casey shouldn't even bother grabbing a bat or helmet, just step onto the field, wave to the opposing manager, and take a seat. And by the way, does anyone else see a strong resemblance between Dennys Reyes and El Guapo (Rich Garces)? Must be long lost brothers!

El GuapoDennys Reyes

The Yankees were helpful last night in beating the Rays 5-0 behind a terrific outing from Andy Pettitte. The Rays are having a strong season, but at some point, they will need to win the big games on the road. The Rays' loss moved the Sox up to 3 games out of first place. Can the Yankees take another from the Rays behind the drunken Aruban (Sidney Ponson) tonight to give the Sox a shot at moving up to 2 games out? To do so, the Sox will have to do their part by beating the Twins this afternoon behind ace, Josh Beckett. Sounds like a plan!

(Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Dice-K Leads The Way

That's the type of game we like to see from Daisuke Matsuzaka. But, in the first inning, were you thinking what I was thinking? "Here we go again" were the only words that made sense. Dice-K retired the first two batters of the game on infield pop-ups, and then proceeded to make it exciting by loading the bases on two walks and an infield hit. He got out of the inning by getting Delmon Young to ground out to Kevin Youkilis, but thoughts of walks and high pitch counts were already dancing in my head.

Dice-K MatsuzakaI'm not sure what Dice-K did after the first inning to right the ship, but form there on he pitched very sharp, lasting into the 8th inning, and only giving up one more walk along the way. Perfect timing for a dominating outing, since the Twins' starter, Scott Baker, was also spinning a gem. Baker looked just as good as Matsuzaka, neither one of them allowing a single run to be scored against them.

Hideki Okajima came in to replace Dice-K in the 8th inning and did his job to raise tensions and keep fans interested. Dice-K was tiring. He got the first batter out thanks to a diving catch by Jacoby Ellsbury in left field, then gave up a bunt single, and a single to right field to put two batters on. He was done and Terry Francona needed to bring in a reliever. So, the game is knotted in a scoreless tie in the 8th inning with one out and two runners on base, and Justin Morneau coming to the plate, the Twins' outstanding cleanup hitter. Hmm, who can we bring in to relieve Dice-K who can really hold inherited runners on base? Oh, I know, Hideki Okajima! As my daughters are prone to say, "wait...what?". Okajima has been abysmal when brought into an inning with runners on base. It has been almost a sure thing that at least one of those runners would score, and yet that's who was coming in. Well, Morneau, and the on deck batter, Jason Kubel, are both left handed. At least we have that going for us.

I have to say, Okajima waged a valiant battle against Justin Morneau, but in the end, Morneau was able to draw a walk to load the bases. Rather than send another lefty up to bat, the Twins sent in Craig Monroe to pinch hit. Okajima buckled down and got Monroe to pop out to Youk for the second out, and then got Delmon Young to harmlessly ground out. Can you believe it? That was the game right there. Right then, you knew this one was ours.

Manny RamirezSure enough, in the bottom of the inning, Dustin Pedroia hits a double, and with one out, Manny Ramirez (finally) gets a clutch hit single to right to score the game's only run. Jonathan Papelbon made short work of things in the ninth, and with Tampa Bay finally losing a game, the Sox managed to creep one step closer, now 4 games behind the Rays.

The Rays will now be facing off against the Yankees in New York. Can you bring yourself to cheer for the Yankees to win to help us get closer to the Rays? That's a tough one, isn't it?

An interesting move on the horizon, as the Sox are ready to bring Clay Buchholz back up from Pawtucket. To make room for Clay, Justin Masterson has been sent back to Pawtucket, however he will begin working on coming out of the bullpen rather than starting. The Sox do have extra starters, with Bartolo Colon still waiting to rejoin the team, Masterson might have a tough time getting back into the rotation this season. However, as a reliever, he can surely contribute. I like the idea.

Now get out there and cheer for those Yankees (boy it hurt to type that).

(photos courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Red Sox Forced to Settle for Series Split With Yankees

It played out just the way Tampa Bay hoped it would. The Rays were about to start playing Kansas City, a team they should be able to dominate, and their closest competition, the Red Sox and Yankees, would be playing each other. The Rays were happy to watch the Sox and Yanks beat each other up in a futile effort to move up in the standings while they racked up wins against the Royals. So, the Sox and Yanks split their four game series, and the Rays won three straight from KC, resulting in the Rays increasing their lead by 1.5 games over both the Red Sox and the Yankees. The Rays now hold a 5 game lead, and appear to be setting the dial to cruise control.

Tim WakefieldThe Red Sox lost the last two games of the series in well fought, close games. In both, they managed to get Mariano Rivera on the ropes, and both times failed to connect with the knock out blow. Last night, Terry Francona seemed to have made the smart moves to put his guys in position to win. In the top of the ninth, with Rivera on the mound, Sean Casey lead off with a single. Preferring more speed on the bases, Tito sent in Brandon Moss to pinch run for Casey, and Coco Crisp nicely bunted him over to second base. One out, and a man in scoring position.

Tito then made an interesting decision. The next batter was Julio Lugo, who has not been batting so well lately. So, Tito pinch hits for him - not a bad idea, BUT he sends on Jason Varitek to hit for him. Varitek has been in a terrible slump lately, but you just have to hope he gets the bat on the ball in that spot. Tito was probably hoping for at least a sacrifice fly to get Moss over to third. Instead, Varitek broke his bat on the first pitch, weakly grounding out to the pitcher, holding Moss at second base.

Manny Ramirez Strikes OutSo, Tito goes for the big gun, and sends in Manny Ramirez to hit for Kevin Cash. Again, a very smart move that did not play out. For some bizarre reason, Manny went up to the plate and watched three straight change ups to go by, all of them called strikes! He never once took the bat off his shoulder! Even Rivera could not believe it. "I was kind of surprised, yeah, definitely," Rivera said. "Yeah, I was kind of surprised he didn't take the bat off his shoulder. I don't know what he was thinking. That's Manny." No one knows what Manny was thinking. I can't imagine he was being uncooperative because he wanted the whole night off, but that's what it looked like.

Having squandered their chance, the game went into the 10th inning, where the Yankees were able to sneak in a run off of Jonathan Papelbon. With a runner on second and two outs, Paps immediately worked the count to 0-2 against Brett Gardner, but could not get the 3rd strike. Garder ended up hitting a perfectly placed grounder up the middle that Cora tried to knock down, but it hit the lip of the grass and Cora could not come up with it.

Alex CoraA well fought game all around. Wakefield and Joba Chamberlain went toe to toe and came out of it with a draw. Wake went 6 1/3 innings allowing 3 earned runs on 4 hits and 5 strikeouts. Joba went 6 innings allowing 3 runs on 4 hits and 5 strikeouts. So, you see, you can be just as effective with speed as without. The Sox bullpen (Javier Lopez) gave up one run, and so did the Yankee's pen (David Robertson). So, it all came down to the closers. Even then, it was a split decision, with the victory going to Rivera over Papelbon.

The Sox finally get to come back home, and if their usual success in Fenway Park continues, maybe they'll be able to inch closer to the Rays before the All Star Break.

(Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Red Sox Feeling Right at Home in Yankee Stadium

Everything seemed to be going wrong for the Red Sox on the road, but all that is turning around in New York, of all places. Surely a sign that this season's Yankee team, while full of impressive resumes and even more impressive salaries, does not have all the right pieces in place to make a serious run at an elusive 21st century championship. The talented players on the Yankee roster are aging, and not gracefully.

Jason VaritekJon Lester pitched a terrific complete game on Thursday, and was given ample offensive support. Facing guys like Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina (today's starter) must be like the good old days for the Sox, having faced them so many times over the years. Just what Jason Varitek needed to get his swing into gear. The Captain has been in a slump, and an automatic out lately, but is starting to regain some confidence in friendly Yankee Stadium. Tek hit an RBI single in the 8th inning Thursday, and followed that up with a 2 for 4 day on the fourth of July. Maybe the Captain America catcher's gear he wore on the 4th helped build up some confidence?

Johnny DamonYesterday, Josh Beckett was the beneficiary of some timely offense, in a rather entertaining game. The highlight of the game was Kevin Youkilis' deep drive to left field. Normally, Hideki Matsui would be patrolling left field, but he's hobbled with a knee injury that may end up needing surgery to correct. Had Matsui been in left field for that drive, it surely would have simply gone off the wall for a routine 2 run double. But, with Johnny Damon in left, he used his speed to turn a routine 2 run double into a memorable and timeless 2 run triple! Damon caught up to the ball, leaped to make the catch, but as the ball was settling into the web of his glove, he plowed full force into the fence, jarring the ball loose. Johnny crashed to the ground without the ball, but with a painful left shoulder injury from the collision. The ball, it turns out, landed right on top of the wall and sat there for a few seconds, and then rolled off the wall back onto the field. Had it rolled the other way, it would have been a home run, but instead turned into an entertaining triple. Johnny will likely miss today's game, further depleting an already depleted outfield (sound familiar?).

I don't expect today to go much better for the Yankees. Mike Mussina has lost a few mph off his pitches, but has been putting together a decent season, relying on being crafty and keeping hitters off balance. But, the Red Sox have faced the Moose so many times, I would be surprised if he can really surprise them after all this time. Instead, I think they'll be sitting on his breaking pitches and having a field day. The Red Sox have Justin Masterson taking the mound, and the Yankees have never faced him. Masterson is pitching with tons of confidence, and will not be intimidated by pitching in the House that Ruth built (and the one that Steinbrenner is tearing down). Especially after seeing his teammates walk over the pinstripers the past two days.

Tomorrow, we'll see a classic race between the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise will be played by Tim Wakefield, and the hare will be played by non other than Joba Chamberlain. Wakefield has been pitching brilliantly, but not getting wins lately. I expect a complete turnaround in this one. Wakefield will have a marginal day, giving up 4 or 5 runs and leaving the game early, but he'll end up getting the win!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Red Sox Bullpen Collapses - Hands the Broom to Tampa Bay

That was one of the worst, and most depressing games the Sox have played this season. Dice-K Matsuzaka started out shaky in the first inning, walking three batters, but was fortunate that it only cost the team one run. After that, he settled in nicely, holding the Rays scoreless through 5 innings. But, with the walks come a higher pitch count. After 5 innings, Dice-K had thrown 101 pitches. Normally, there is a good chance Terry Francona would have sent him back out for the 6th inning, but this was only his third game since coming off the DL for shoulder weakness. That being the case, Tito made the prudent move to be cautious and go to the bullpen holding on to a 4-1 lead, and the nightmare was looming ahead.

Dice-K MatsuzakaFirst out of the pen was Hideki Okajima who has been like a Forrest Gump box of chocolates this season (you never know what your gonna get). Yesterday was a good day, and Okajima pitched a scoreless 6th. Next up, Manny Delcarmen (cue the gloomy music). Manny had been very shaky early in the season, and then settled in to a very nice rhythm. But, that rhythm has been faltering lately. Manny faced three batters, resulting in a double, and two singles. With the score now 4-2, Tito made the right move and yanked Manny before the game could get out of hand.

So, Craig Hansen came in with runners on 1st and 3rd, no outs. So what does he do to help? Nothing! He walks the first two batters to score a run, then gives up a double to Evan Longoria, scoring two more runs. There goes Dice-K's opportunity for a win, the score now 5-4 in favor of the Rays, and still no outs. David Aardsma got one out on a ground out, and Javier Lopez got a second on a strikeout, but gave up a two run single before getting out of the inning.

Dustin PedroiaThe 6 run 7th inning was devastating. The Red Sox tried to claw back into it, but lost by 1 run, the final score 7-6. The Sox needed some hitting, and Dustin Pedroia decided he was the guy. Here's how Pedroia's at-bats went: Home run, triple, double, fly out, double. Just a single shy of hitting for the cycle! JD Drew also hit a triple and drove in a run. So, some of the Sox cylinders where hitting, but not all of them. Manny Ramirez went 0-5, but he did bring in a run from third on a ground out.

Jason Varitek is still in a funk at the plate, and the Rays took advantage, in embarrassing fashion. In both the 5th and the 7th innings, the Rays intentionally walked Kevin Youkilis with two outs to pitch to Varitek. Varitek did not make them pay, grounding out once, and striking out the other time. He'll snap out of it, but right now, Jason is a hole in the lineup, and the other teams see that. Let's hope he finds his stroke in NYC this weekend.

That's right, while the Rays proudly hold the best record in all of baseball, the Sox and the Yankees finally meet up again, but this time in a battle for second place. This is not time for the Sox to be on a losing streak. Red Sox fans have been proclaiming they are not afraid of the Yankees, and the Yankees do not have the pitching to compete this year. Well, let's find out! Today's game features a lefty-lefty match up with Jon Lester going up against Andy Pettitte. Sounds like a fair fight. So, let's hope the Sox find some fight in them and keep the Yankees from climbing back into the race.

(Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Red Sox Out-Pitched and Out-Managed in Loss to Rays

Do you miss Big Papi yet? The Red Sox sure do. Last night they were once again unable to get any real offense going in a 3-1 loss to the surging Rays. They are batting like zombies up there! Either Tampa Bay pitching is better than advertised, or the Sox need a rest. For the second night in a row, Rays pitching retired each batter in the Red Sox lineup in order the first time through. Two nights in a row the first 3 innings go 1-2-3. Last night, there were no solo home runs to tease us into thinking the offense was about to get going. As the key was turned in the ignition to get it started, the offensive engine sputtered, choked, coughed, and let out a sigh as it collapsed, refusing to start.

Red Sox Players Looking BlueEven JD Drew, the hottest batter this past month for the Sox, was unable to get it going. JD went 0-3 with 2 strike outs, the worse of those coming in the 8th inning. With one out and runners on first and second, the Red Sox had the makings of a rally started, but JD stood there and watched three straight pitches go by, each one of them called a strike. JD, wake up - you have to swing at least once! To JD's credit, he was credited with the Sox' only RBI of the night in the 4th inning. Jacoby Ellsbury had singled advanced all the way to third base when he hit a dribbler that catcher, Dioner Navarro, threw past first base for an error. JD Drew managed to hit a sacrifice fly to score Ellsbury from third, and that ended the Sox' offense for the evening.

Manny Ramirez remained silent at the plate, also going 0-3 with a walk and a strikeout. Even Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis were cold, both of them going 0-4. In games like this, the manager will try to shake things up with a timely pinch hitter. Terry Francona tried to shake things up, but failed in two ways. First, he fell for a little bait and switch by Rays' manager, Joe Maddon. Joe sent starter, Matt Garza, who had already thrown 102 pitches, back out to the mound to start the 8th inning. Joe knew that Tim Wakefield was most likely done for the evening, and that meant that the lead off batter for the Red Sox that inning, catcher Kevin Cash, was likely to be pinch hit for. He played Francona like a fiddle. Terry went for the bait and sent in left handed hitting Sean Casey to bat for Cash. As soon as he saw the move, Maddon marched to the mound and made the move he was planning all along. Maddon sent in the left handed reliever, JP Howell, in to replace Garza.

Grant Balfour Finishes the Game
Then, Tito proceeded to make his second mistake. The Sox had only 3 players on the bench last night with Coco Crisp serving his suspension. That left Sean Casey, Jason Varitek, and Julio Lugo, who was getting a night off. We all love Varitek, but he has been mired in a slump lately and looks terrible at the plate. Meanwhile, Sean Casey is batting .358. But, Casey bats left handed, so shouldn't that favor NOT sending him up to face Howell? It might, but Casey is batting .350 this season against left handed pitching! So, who gives the Sox a bigger chance to create a spark for the offense? You say Sean Casey? Terry did not think so, and he pulled Casey, now ineligible to return to the game, and sent Varitek up to bat right handed. Varitek watched the first pitch go by for a strike, then swung at and missed the next two pitches. Then, in the 9th inning, with two outs and Alex Cora on second base with a double, the batter was again Jason Varitek, facing the right handed Grant Balfour. This would have been a sweet spot to have Casey batting, but alas, we again got to see Varitek strike out on three straight pitches to end the game.

Meanwhile, poor Tim Wakefield, who went 7 innings, allowing only 2 runs (one of them unearned), got saddled with the loss. It is nights like that when you realize how meaningless wins and losses can be as a meaningful statistic on the effectiveness of a pitcher. Wakefield pitched even better than we could have expected, and not only doe not get the win, but adds another loss to his name. Has to be frustrating.

The Red Sox have yet to win a game in Tampa this season. Can they break that streak tonight with Daisuke Matsuzaka facing off against Scott Kazmir? Kazmir is a tough lefty that will cause trouble for the Sox who have largely left handed outfield and bench. Ellsbury, Moss, and Drew will all have their work cut out for them, and Casey will be forced to ride the pine again. it would be a nice time for Manny Ramirez to get his fire going again, and for the Dice Man to keep them in the game long enough to get past Kazmir and start working on the bullpen. A loss would send the Sox on to face the Yankees trailing the Rays by 3 1/2 games. A win would cut the Rays' lead to only 1 1/2. Let's work on a win!

(Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rays Take Charge of First Place in 5-4 Win Over Boston

The Red Sox continue to look sluggish and unable to generate runs, resulting in another frustrating loss on the road, this time costing them a chance at regaining first place. Many people are looking at this series between Boston and Tampa Bay as a gauge to evaluate whether the Rays are truly for real this year. So far, they do seem to be for real.

Justin MastersonJustin Masterson pitched a decent game, but sure got off on the wrong foot. His very first pitch of the night to BJ Upton ended up clearing the center field wall, putting the Rays up 1-0. Masterson's control was not as sharp as we have seen it, as evidenced by the 5 walks in 6 innings. All but one of the walks came with two outs in the inning, and two of those ended up scoring. That was the difference between a brilliant night, and a mediocre night. In the fourth inning, Masterson got two quick outs, but walked the next batter only to give up a 2 run home run to Gabe Gross. The very next inning, Masterson again got two quick outs, followed by another walk. This one scored thanks to a double by Carlos Pena to deep center field. He also walked batters with two outs in the 2nd and 6th innings, but managed to keep either of them from scoring. If not for those walks extending innings, and driving his pitch count up, we would have been looking at a much different game.

Carlos PenaTampa's 5th, and deciding run, came in the 7th inning thanks to rookie, Chris Smith. This was Smith's 3rd appearance of the season, and his career, but it do not go as well as his past two, as his control was just abysmal. He walked the first batter, Carl Crawford, a dangerous base runner, on four straight pitches. The next batter, Willy Aybar, executed a terrific bunt down the third base line that Smith had to make a terrific defensive play on to just catch Aybar at first for the only out he would get. Smith walked the next two batters to load the bases, and a frustrated Terry Francona marched out to the mound to yank his rookie experiment. Javier Lopez induced pinch hitter, Jonny Gomes, to hit a ground ball to Julio Lugo's right. Lugo fielded the ball cleanly, fired to second for one out, and Dustin Pedroia quickly relayed the ball to first, but not in time to get the double play and end the inning. The 5th, and winning run scored on that play.

James ShieldsThe Sox offense struggled to generate any real rally for most of the game. In fact, Rays' starter, James Shields, set down the Red Sox lineup in order the first time through with three straight 1-2-3 innings. Not a strong start for the good guys. In the 4th inning, Pedroia became Boston's first base runner with a single, and the struggling Manny Ramirez walked to put runners at first and second. Mike Lowell, who had a hot night going 3 for 4, laced a single down the line to left to drive in the first Sox run. Their second run would not come until the 6th inning thanks to a solo home run by JD Drew, his 16th of the season tying him with Manny for the most on the team.

Entering the 9th inning, the Sox were trailing 5-2 and had one last chance, but had to get past the Rays' closer, Troy Percival, to do it. Manny Ramirez lead off the inning, and is normally a very smart batter, simply working with whatever he can get from a pitcher. But, in this at-bat, he was taking monster cuts at the ball as if a home run would win the game. I found myself yelling at the TV trying to get Manny to realize we needed base runners, so stop swinging for the fence. He did not hear me, and struck out swinging for the fence.

But, the Sox were not ready to quit yet. Lowell stepped up and stroked a nice shot to center field for a double, and Kevin Youkilis ripped one down the line that third baseman, Evan Longoria, could not handle. It deflected off his glove, and the Sox had runners at 1st and 3rd with one out. Now, a home run would make a difference! Brandon Moss stepped up to the plate. In the first game of the season, Moss hit a home run for the Sox in Japan against the Oakland A's to tie the game in the 9th inning. The Sox won that game in the 10th inning. Could Brandon Moss repeat that feat with a game tying home run? Moss took an upper cut swing at the first pitch he saw, lofting it out to deep right field. As Gabe Gross settled in to catch the ball, I thought, "well, at least that will bring in Lowell from third base". Suddenly, the ball dropped harmlessly in fair territory, about 50 feet in front of Gross. "What the heck happened?", my mind asked. Then I remembered, they are playing indoors, and that ballpark has numerous catwalks crisscrossing not quite high enough up out of the way. The ball had hit a cross walk and fell in for a hit. Mike Lowell scored, Youkilis ended up on third base, and Moss settled in to second for an unusual double.

Troy Percival Comes OutNow things looked promising. The Sox would battle to the end, and snatch victory right out from under the Ray's noses. Jason Varitek was the next batter. Tek has not been hitting well lately, but has been known to get his share of clutch hits. Jason hit a long fly ball to right field and Gross again found his spot and settled under it. This time, however, the ball would not hit a cross walk, and instead landed softly in Gross' glove for out number two, scoring Youkilis from third. The lead had been cut to 5-4 with two outs, and Brandon Moss was at third base, ready to tie the game. Julio Lugo was the next batter, but Terry Francona decided Sean Casey, a lefty, would have more success against Percival, and was about to make the move, when we all saw Troy Percival hopping on one leg. He apparently pulled his hamstring as he ran to third to cover on the previous play. Percival was forced to leave the game, and Joe Maddon had apparently been paying attention and saw the upcoming Sox move. So, Maddon called in the left handed JP Howell to replace Percival. So, Casey sat back down, Lugo headed out to the plate, and ended the game with a sharply hit line drive to short. So close.

Let's hope the Sox can build on that 9th inning rally and use it to generate a rally or two tonight. The Sox cannot rely on the occasional solo home run to win games. They need to hit, get base runners on, and cause some damage. Tim Wakefield takes the mound against Matt Garza. Wake generally has success pitching indoors, particularly at Tropicana Field. Hopefully, he'll do that again tonight, and give the Sox a chance to even the series up at a game a piece.

On a final note, all of you are apparently just terrible fans. You were all much more lovable and cuddly when your poor Red Sox were helpless in their efforts to win a World Series. It did not matter how much money the Sox spent, or how many fans swarmed visiting ball parks around the country. The Sox could not win a title, and you were all sympathetic figures who needed a hug. But, now that the Sox have won, not one, but two titles, you are all jerks. Notice in every ballpark the Sox visit, some dunce from the home town paper gets assigned to write an article about how much everyone hates the Red Sox and their fans. Tampa Bay was not going to spoil that pattern, and gave their assignment to Tom Jones of the St. Petersberg Times. He listed the top ten reasons to hate the Red Sox, and must have had a little trouble finding ten good reasons. I mean, seriously, a reason to hate the Red Sox is that Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice were grumpy? Or that Varitek actually has the nerve to wear a "C" on his uniform? Give me a break!

(Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)