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Home » Category Listing » April 2006 Game Comments

May 1, 2006

Sinking

Game 25: April 30, 2006
Red Sox (14-11), 4
Devil Rays (11-14), 5
L: Curt Schilling (4-1)
W: Scott Kazmir (3-2)
H: Chad Orvella (1)
S: Shawn Camp (3)

Tropicana Field: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Consider Tampa Bay’s mascot Raymond. Again he mocked Gordon Edes as the Boston Globe sports columnist as he delivered his notes from around the league. Raymond, who habitually meanders about the field without pants, also had the temerity to flash the camera. Who knows what he’s trying to put on display there, as rays don’t have mammary glands. The mascot even left a note on his publicity still in the NESN booth. He told Jerry Remy that he had fleas. We clearly have a case of mammal envy.

The Devil Rays took their cue from the Swedes and added Ws to their vocabulary, securing a game and therefore series win yesterday. The Red Sox dropped their third straight series and are now tied with the Yankees for the lead in the AL East; perfect timing as the Gotham jocks make their way for a two-game series.

There were a few highlights for the visiting team. Mike Lowell reached into the stands in the first inning to retrieve a foul ball off the bat of Carl Crawford. The third baseman actually had to jostle some Red Sox fans who exhibited horrible in-game awareness. Perhaps it was because they were on vacation on not on their best fan form.

David Ortiz hit a franchise record tenth home run in the fourth inning. It was the first run scored in the game for the Red Sox who, as was typical in this series, were trailing the opposition. Toby Hall, displaying a taste in coiffure as egregious as Kevin Millar’s, jacked a two-run homer in the second inning for the early lead.

In the seventh inning, Rudy Seanez made yet another bid to be the first player on the opening day roster to be removed by gifting Carl Crawford with the left fielder’s first roundtripper of the season. Seanez would be right at home in the Tampa Bay bullpen. Chad Orvella relinquished back-to-back homers in the ninth inning to Lowell and Wily Mo Peña, and Orvella still got a hold.

Boston continued their comeback attempt after the twin homers. Trot Nixon walked and Willie Harris pinch ran for the right fielder. Next Terry Francona had J.T. Snow pinch hit for Alex Gonzalez. During Snow’s at bat, Harris stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by Hall. Tyler Walker was so spooked he was pulled mid-at bat in favor of Shawn Camp. Camp proved as unreliable by hitting Snow, who was replaced by Alex Cora. Home plate Brian Runge seemed to be in a hurry to get home; he called three straight strikes with Kevin Youkilis at the plate, not all of them as “strikey” as the others. Mark Loretta ended the rally and the unsuccessful roadtrip by grounding out to the shortstop.

April 30, 2006

Resurface

Game 24: April 29, 2006
Red Sox (14-10), 9
Devil Rays (10-14), 6
W: Keith Foulke (2-1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (10)
BS: Travis Harper (2)
BS, L: Tyler Walker (3, 0-2)

Last night it was the Devil Rays’ turn to fail to capitalize on offensive opportunities. Tampa Bay had a chance to salt the game away early in the first. Lenny DiNardo allowed three straight singles and images of last week’s meeting against the Blue Jays, who vaulted to an early 4-0 lead, descended from the catwalks of Tropicana Field.

Ty Wigginton, the roving fielder with the league-leading RBI total, ground into a double play to score Joey Gathright. Given all possible outcomes, it was one of the more favorable. The Devil Rays scored in each of the next two innings, including Greg Norton’s first home run of the season. In fact, it was Norton’s first homer since 2004. Jonny Gomes, whom we are more accustomed to seeing go yard, did so in the third with Carl Crawford on the bases. Crawford had reached because DiNardo hit him with a curveball. Due to the intense rivalry between the teams, home plate umpire Mike Winters saw fit to issue warnings to the dugouts. Because of a DiNardo curveball. Just wait until Scott Kazmir and Curt Schilling lock horns this afternoon.

Revivified by the umpire’s injustice, the Red Sox got around to making their statement in the sixth inning. Manny Ramirez homered, Trot Nixon doubled, and Jason Varitek walked, a collection of events that finally chased Doug Waechter from the game.

Relief pitcher Travis Harper promptly gave up a single to Mike Lowell to load the bases. Wily Mo Peña lined a single to left field to bring his team within two runs of the Devil Rays. Kevin Youkilis tied the game with a clutch two-out, two-run double to the opposite field.

Julian Tavarez replaced DiNardo in the sixth inning with the expectation of shutting down the uppity Tampa Bay lineup. Those expectations were short-lived as Toby Hall propelled the second pitch he saw for his second homer of the season.

With the Devil Rays once again in the lead, the Red Sox had to unveil their hidden weapons in the seventh. Ramirez unleashed his speed on the basepaths for his 16th career triple. Ramirez haters may think he was tarrying before first base, but I give the left fielder the benefit of the doubt that he thought his ball was hit foul at first. Ramirez isn’t used to discerning fair versus foul territory deep along the foul lines because of hitting for so long in Fenway. Furthermore, he also didn’t execute his usual bat drop and home run demeanor at contact. At any rate, Ramirez was plated by Nixon, who displayed his not-often-seen ability to hit to opposite field for a sacrifice fly to tie the game.

But Gomes has dangerous devices of his own, and responded with a leadoff double in the eighth inning. Wigginton moved him over with a sacrifice fly and Gomes would tally another run on Hall’s fly ball to shallow left. Ramirez very nearly hosed Gomes, but the ball got hung up in the runner’s cleats.

Terry Francona deftly handled the top of the ninth inning. Youkilis led off with a line drive single to left and was pulled for pinch runner Willie Harris. With a speedy utilityman on first, Francona knew that he had half the equation for a hit and run play, so he pinch hit Mark Loretta, who is a better contact hitter than Alex Cora, who started in the two-spot.

But Tyler Walker did as his surname states; he walked Loretta and David Ortiz to load the bases. Walker was able to strike out Ramirez but gave a free pass to Nixon to permit the tying run. The Boston hit parade marched three more runs across the plate (including an RBI single for Peña that was lined off a Dan Miceli breaking ball), which was more than enough for Jonathan Papelbon to work with.

Papelbon sustained his remarkable rookie relief run. With just fourteen pitches he rang up the side. He now owns the all-time record for rookies with ten saves in April. He is tied with Murray Wall for most saves by a Red Sox rookie. Wall, whose nickname was “Tex,” was 30 years old in 1958 when he set the record. Wall’s career ended the next year, apparently because of injury. No such misfortune seems to be in store for Papelbon, who can pitch no matter how catastrophic his hairstyle is.

April 29, 2006

Submerge

Game 23: April 28, 2006
Red Sox (13-10), 2
Devil Rays (10-13), 5
L: Matt Clement (2-2)
W: Casey Fossum (1-1)
H: Dan Miceli (2)
S: Tyler Walker (1)

If I were to tell you that the opposing team’s pitching staff would yield nine walks in the course of a game and is 28th in the majors for team ERA (5.63 cumulative), 26th in strikeouts (123 total), and second in walks (101 season to date), you would probably think the Red Sox would walk all over said team.

Instead, Boston’s bats proved impotent against an incompetent group of hurlers. The Red Sox lineup had just six hits. Seventeen at bats came and went with runners in scoring position, and only twice, both in the eighth inning, did Boston batters come through with hits.

Red Sox fans may have already voiced their near-hysteric concern over Wily Mo Peña’s fielding, but at least he’s no Jonny Gomes. The sometime Devil Ray outfielder somehow lost track of Jason Varitek’s fly ball in the second inning, which resulted in the captain’s ninth career triple. The subsequent trio of Mike Lowell, Trot Nixon, and Peña could not bring a run home.

To lead off the fourth inning, Casey Fossum hit both David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Both were clearly unintentional. But still, imagine if Josh Beckett or Curt Schilling had been on the mound? Next Varitek and Lowell both flied out, but Nixon walked to load the bases. Peña nearly snuck a grounder up the middle, but it was intercepted by the jack-of-all-trades Ty Wigginton, who stepped on the second base for the force. In another sign of the impending heat death of the universe, thanks to the two RBIs he notched in the first inning, Wigginton leads the AL in RBIs with 24.

Another indication of increasing entropy was Matt Clement beating Carl Crawford in the sixth inning foot race to first for the final out of the inning.

The Red Sox squandered another bases loaded opportunity in the seventh inning. Alex Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis reached on back-to-back bases on balls. With two on and no out, Mark Loretta struck out and Ortiz advanced the runners with his ground out to second base. With first base open, however, Ramirez was given nothing to work with, leaving the task to score runs to Varitek. Varitek has had only one grand slam in the majors; two, if you count his bases-loaded clout in the World Baseball Classic. The Red Sox catcher enjoyed an eight-pitch at bat but came up empty, popping out to second base.

Vague signs of life in the form of back-to-back doubles by Lowell and Nixon in the eighth at least assured the Red Sox would not be shut out. J.T. Snow pinch hit for Gonzalez and knocked a single up the middle to plate Nixon.

The score should have been 6-2. Home plate umpire Bruce Froemming missed a call that would have granted Gomes a run in the fifth inning. With Gomes and Wigginton on second and first with no out, Toby Hall bunted. Clement did not reach the ball in time, but Lowell did. Lowell’s throw took an odd hop and Youkilis could not catch it on the first bounce, but did recover in time to “hose” Gomes at home. Replays showed Gomes actually did touch home before the tag.

No number of gifts from the umpire could have salvaged last night’s debacle. The Red Sox now must win the second game of the series or they will have dropped three consecutive series.

April 28, 2006

Massacre

Game 22: April 27, 2006
Red Sox (13-9), 3
Indians (12-10), 15
L: Josh Beckett (3-1)
W: Paul Byrd (3-2)

The Cleveland Indians should be number three on the ThreatDown, just below the Blue Jays and bears. They are still a young team, as witnessed by Grady Sizemore’s tagging up in the seventh inning with the score 13-3. He’s lucky it was the final game of this series, or his ribcage would likely be graced with the imprint of baseball stitches.

For the Red Sox, it was a night of firsts, some good, some bad. Wily Mo Peña made his first start as a center fielder in a Red Sox uniform and recorded no errors in two attempts, both fly balls off the bat of Ronnie Belliard. Josh Beckett gave up the first grand slam of his career to Ben Broussard in the first inning.

Boston was feeble at the dish, scraping together only eight hits and going 2-10 with runners in scoring postion. Predictably, David Ortiz had those two hits, although he struck out to end the game with runners on second and third.

Alex Cora had two uncharacteristic throwing errors in the second and seventh innings, both resulting in runs scored. When your defensive whiz shortstop can’t field cleanly, a loss seems inevitable.

At least Manny Delcarmen is racking up major league innings but not without taking some lumps in the process; his two-thirds of an inning pitched in the seventh ended with a line of four hits, four runs (two earned), walk, and strikeout. Impressively, the whiff was earned against Travis Hafner.

If you’re tired of the tired old arms the Red Sox have been trotting out in late innings, there is change in the wind. Craig Hansen was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket yesterday.

April 27, 2006

Drab

Game 21: April 26, 2006
Red Sox (13-8), 1
Indians (11-10), 7
L: Tim Wakefield (1-4)
W: Cliff Lee (2-1)

Each game I carefully select a single word to recap the game. Can you guess why I chose this particular word?

So there. Are you pro-Arroyo guys happy now? Wily Mo Peña now has as many home runs as Bronson. Last night Peña jolted a homer in the fourth inning for Boston’s only run of the game.

Just kidding. I miss Arroyo, too. Who would have known he was so well-suited to Great American Ballpark and the National League? He is currently sporting a 4-0 record with an orderly 2.34 ERA. However, I do think that once the NL hitters have seen more of him, the more vulnerable he will become. I wonder if he has booked a gig at Bogarts yet?

Although scorn is being heaped upon backup catcher Josh Bard, please do note that, despite the four passed balls, he broke up Cliff Lee’s no-hitter in the top of the third inning. Lee has only given up three gopher balls this season and all of them have been to right-handed hitters.

Travis Hafner may have a candy bar tastily named “Pronk” after the “part project, part donkey” tagline he adopted during his push for the MVP last season, but he certainly runs slowly. In the third inning, he grounded out to Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis fumbled multiple times with the ball but still managed to relay it in time for Tim Wakefield to tag the bag. Perhaps Hafner should consider developing an energy bar.

I think Jason Davis really wants to be on the Red Sox. How else would you explain that facial hair? Davis pitched two scoreless innings, allowed no hits, and walked a single batter. I’d prefer him over a few of the current bullpen options.

Manny Delcarmen made his first appearance this season, fresh from being recalled. The righty pitched the ninth and gave up four hits and two earned runs with no walks or strikeouts.

Wakefield has had similar losing streaks in the past; it appears worse than it is because of the new catcher and everyone has exceedingly high expectations at the beginning of the season. Also, in comparison to Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett’s outstanding streaks, Wakefield’s 1-4 April is frightful. Just as easily, however, the knuckleballer can win four or five in a row.

April 26, 2006

Antinomy

Game 20: April 25, 2006
Red Sox (13-7), 8
Indians (10-10), 6
W: Keith Foulke (1-1)
H: Mike Timlin (6)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (9)
H: Jason Davis (1)
BS: Scott Sauerbeck (1)
L: Guillermo Mota (0-1)

Last night was both sublimely divine and delightfully silly. Which other team but the Red Sox could come from behind twice in late innings and yet butcher plays on the basepaths with such aplomb?

Early in the game Mark Loretta proved that he hits when it matters. With the bases loaded and two out in the top of the second, the Red Sox second baseman swatted in two RBIs with his gutshot single.

Two runs are not enough against a team like the Indians, who have compiled the following team stats in comparison with all other major league teams:

  • Third for batting average at .308.
  • On-base percentage of .365, also placing them third.
  • “Just” fifth in slugging with .478.
  • Ranked third in RBIs 114.
  • A bit weak in walks, placing 17th with 65. (The Red Sox are second with 95. Surprisingly, the Cincinnati Reds lead the majors with 103.)

Ben Broussard is not the likeliest of the high-powered Cleveland lineup to tie the score, but he arced a two-run homer in the bottom of the second to knot the game at 2-2.

Apparently, Manny Ramirez was confused in the third inning. After lining a single to the opposite field to lead off the inning, the sometimes addled left fielder seemed to lose track of the number of outs. He left second base early with the count against Mike Lowell at 3-2. Ramirez found himself in limbo between second and third as pitcher Jake Westbrook noticed the wandering baserunner. Catching Westbrook’s relay toss, Aaron Boone forced Ramirez to retreat towards second as Jason Varitek tried to advance to the same base. Boone flung the ball to the jaunty Ronnie Belliard and the Red Sox captain was out. Belliard then passed to Victor Martinez, who tagged Ramirez was attempting to take third to salvage his gaucherie. Just your typical 1-5-4-2 double play.

There was another run-of-the-mill 6-2-3-6 double play by Cleveland in the seventh inning. Willie Harris was at the dish with Lowell at first and Varitek at third. Harris grounded to Jhonny Peralta, who knew that the play at first would be close with the alacritous Harris zooming down the base line. The Cleveland shortstop opted to throw home to nab Varitek.

Those sorts of baserunning blunders fall by the wayside when one thinks of the David Ortiz game-tying leadoff roundtripper in the seventh inning. Scott Sauerbeck, who thankfully made only one appearance in the 2003 ALCS for the Red Sox, threw one and only one pitch that evening. Ramirez also came through in the eighth inning with his two-out, three-run roundtripper that would grant Boston the lead they would not relinquish.

The bullpen had some key strikeouts. After walking Peralta, Keith Foulke got Travis Hafner to whiff at a change-up in the seventh to end the inning. Foulke is showing that he’s gamely trying to get his job back as closer. With runners on first and second and two out, Grady Sizemore missed Mike Timlin’s appetizing sinker in the eighth and quashed the chance for a rally. By the time the ninth inning came about, the Indians batters were pressing and over-anxious; Jonathan Papelbon sat them down in succession with just 10 pitches.

April 24, 2006

Scavenge

Game 19: April 23, 2006
Red Sox (12-7), 6
Blue Jays (9-8), 3
W: Matt Clement (2-1)
H: Keith Foulke (2)
H: Mike Timlin (5)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (8)
L: Josh Towers (0-4)

Josh Towers has yet to win a game this season. In the four games he has started he has given up at least four earned runs; in his two-inning effort against the White Sox on April 16th he had five earned runs. Suffice to say, Towers is not an elite American League pitcher.

But if the option is to fall in a series sweep, you take any advantage you can. A first inning score like the two-run homer David Ortiz provided helps. So does Mike Lowell piercing the infield defense to drive in Manny Ramirez, who reached on a broken bat grounder up the middle. Ramirez was so looking forward to getting into the dugout to hug Ortiz or eat applesauce he didn’t slide into home but dashed right on top of it.

In the top of the third, Kevin Youkilis turned his first 3-6-3 double play. Frank Catalanotto, in a departure from his usual role of Red Sox killer, grounded sharply to Youkilis. The converted first baseman threw the ball to Alex Gonzalez so that it led him up and away from the sliding Russ Adams. Youkilis then returned to the bag in perfect position to field the final toss for the final out of the inning. And to think I had my doubts about Youkilis transitioning to first.

There were quite a few quirky things about this game:

  • In the fourth inning, Lowell threw erratically, missing his target Youkilis. For a Gold Glover like Lowell, it should have been a routine ground out to third and throw to first to seat Vernon Wells. After inducing a fly out from Troy Glaus, Clement walked Lyle Overbay to give Gregg Zaun the chance to take over Catalanotto’s function. Of course Zaun took full advantage by jacking a three-run roundtripper into the stands of center field. It was Zaun’s second homer of season; not bad for a guy who has only made six starts.
  • With one out and third baseman Glaus positioned deep, Jason Varitek attempted to bunt for a base hit in the fifth inning. He advance the runners but also tallied the second out. Lowell was intentionally walked to load the bases and Willie Harris grounded out to end the potential rally.
  • Zaun doesn’t fully relish his stint as Red Sox gadfly. With the bases loaded in the fifth, the backup catcher flied out to deep right field, just in front of the luminescent scoreboard walls of Rogers Centre.
  • Ortiz bunted for a single in the sixth inning in response to the overshift. The bases would eventually be clogged with Red Sox runners, but Trot Nixon missed his chance for a grand slam after grounding Scott Schoeneweis’s pitch Overbay.
  • Keith Foulke pitched a perfect one and two-thirds innings and struck out Adams, Wells, and Glaus in the process.
  • Gonzalez finagled a walk out of Vinnie Chulk to lead off the eight. The second baseman and Youkilis combined for a hit and run. Perched at third, Gonzalez scored easily on Mark Loretta’s liner to center.
  • The Red Sox scored in the ninth on a Lowell double, which isn’t so unusual. What is odd in this inning is that Harris walked on four pitches and Youkilis struck out.
  • Jonathan Papelbon allowed singles to Adams and Catalanotto to commence the ninth. He bore down to strike out Vernon Wells on six pitches and then induced Glaus to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.

Tomorrow Boston has its first series against the powerhouse Cleveland Indians. The probable pitchers, Jake Westbrook, Cliff Lee, and Paul Byrd, have combined for a 5-5 record, but we all know that win/loss records for pitchers can be deceiving. Cleveland is 10-9 and boasts the one of the more fierce lineups in the majors.

April 23, 2006

Shorn

Game 18: April 22, 2006
Red Sox (11-7), 1
Blue Jays (9-7), 8

L: Lenny DiNardo (0-1)
W: Roy Halladay (2-1)
S: Pete Walker (1)

For the second time this season the Red Sox drop a series, and both times it has been to the Blue Jays.

Aside from the unveiling of Jonathan Papelbon’s mohawk, the only interesting moment in the entire broadcast was the profile of the Red Sox’s new second baseman. NESN showed a photograph of Mark Loretta at the University of Hawai‘i. He must have went to the islands for a “road” trip series against Hawai‘i while he was at Northwestern. I searched through Northwestern’s baseball archives, but their website only has data from 1997 onward.

Odd things happen with Trot Nixon on the bases. Last year, he was hit by a batted ball and was called out. Yesterday in the top of the second inning he was tagged out because of his step toward second base was judged to be an attempt to advance to second base by umpire Andy Fletcher. Later, however, the seemingly reinvigorated right fielder would be responsible for Boston’s only run of the game. In the fourth, Nixon’s line drive found the gap in left center and Manny Ramirez, who had reached on a single, scored with brisk run around the horn. Giving his first close “go” sign, DeMarlo Hale lived to tell the tale. Wisely, he chose to do so while on the road.

In his three innings of work, Lenny DiNardo turned in a line of 10 hits, seven runs (all of them earned), one base on balls, one strikeout, and a home run (to Bengie Molina, who can only get around the bases if he launches the ball out of the park). Four of the runs came in the first inning, which is more than enough room for Roy Halladay to work with.

Jermaine Van Buren made his Red Sox debut and the results were fairly encouraging. During his three innings of mop up he gave up two hits, walked Reed Johnson, and struck out Troy Glaus. He seemed to be laboring and quickly worked up a sweat; just judging by his body shape and demeanor he isn’t in the best of shape. But, with conditioning, perhaps Van Buren can eventually fill the role that Jeremi Gonzalez did last season. The former Cub was optioned to Pawtucket and Manny Delcarmen was recalled to the major league Red Sox.

Today Boston attempts to foil a sweep. With an erratic pitcher like Josh Towers (0-3, 9.24 ERA) on the mound for Toronto, it would seem to be an attainable goal for the Red Sox. But the visiting team has their own inconsistent starter, Matt Clement, who is 1-1 with a lucky number 7.00 ERA. Can I place a proposition bet in Las Vegas for baseball game most likely to feature scores in double digits for both teams?

April 22, 2006

Flu

Game 17: April 21, 2006
Red Sox (11-6), 6
Blue Jays (8-7), 7

BS: Mike Timlin (2)
L: Keith Foulke (0-1)
W: Justin Speier (1-0)
12 innings

The Red Sox were afflicted by a variant form of avian flu last night. The Blue Jays proved that they are indeed an offensive force to be reckoned with, doing their best impression of the 2004 Red Sox with their come-from-behind, extra innings win.

One good thing coming out of the marathon meeting is the possible injury of A.J. Burnett. The big ticket free agent pickup exited before the fifth inning after just 78 pitches with elbow discomfort. He gave up a pair of two-out home runs to Boston’s dynamic duo of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Should this be a long-term injury Burnett, Toronto may prove to be more vulnerable without their ace tandem. But their bats could carry them through the lack of pitching.

In fact, until the twelfth and final inning, all runs had been scored because of roundtrippers. Ramirez gave fans in the right field stands two home run ball souvenirs for the first time this season and Ortiz added another four-bagger to his gaudy numbers. Not wanting to be left out of the barrage, Jason Varitek notched his first homer of the season in the sixth.

In the top of the eighth, did Jerry Remy make a fat joke about Josh Beckett? The color guy said, “Beckett, sitting on the bench, enjoys a little cushion in this game.”

That little cushion was quickly flattened. Beckett commenced the inning by hitting Aaron Hill. Home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg immediately warned both dugouts because Alex Gonzalez had been hit by Jason Frasor in top half of the inning. The supposed retaliation proved Beckett’s undoing. Russ Adams, Vernon Wells, and Troy Glaus all homered in the eighth to tie the score, 6-6.

Except for the errant throw by Mike Lowell to J.T. Snow in the eighth that allowed Shea Hillenbrand to reach base, the Red Sox defense displayed its acuity. Lowell played the artificial turf to his advantage in the third inning; after snaring Hill’s grounder, the third baseman bounced the ball to first from his sitting position on the infield, knowing that the fast surface would carry the ball to Kevin Youkilis’s glove. In the fifth, Youkilis himself flashed the leather. He ranged to right for another Hill ground ball and tossed the retrieved orb over to Beckett, who managed to win the footrace to the bag despite his cushion.

With the bullpens depleted, the Red Sox and Blue Jays meet this afternoon for the pivotal middle game of the series. I’m beginning to find the Canadian team more compelling and menacing than that other team somewhere south of Boston, even if Burnett has to sit out for a number of months.

April 21, 2006

Outage

Game 16: April 20, 2006
Devil Rays (8-8), 5
Red Sox (11-5), 1
W: Scott Kazmir (2-1)
H: Travis Harper (1)
S: Dan Miceli (4)
L: Tim Wakefield (1-3)

After this game, the fans who gathered to bid farewell to the players noted that Tim Wakefield’s SUV had a bumper sticker that said “Got runs?” Whenever Wakefield walks past Matt Clement, he pulls out the inside of his pant pockets and holds up a piece of cardboard upon which is scrawled, “Sober, drug-free. Need runs to support family. Thank you and God Bless.” The knuckleballer went eight innings with a line of eight hits, three runs (two of them earned), two walks, two strikeouts, and one gigantic homer launched by Jonny Gomes in the seventh inning.

Gomes was in peak form in the late innings; both his homers were crushed over the Sports Authority sign on the Monster and both were the first pitch of his at bat. If Gomes played for a big market team, the press would be clamoring for sound bites from the toast of the town batsman. The slugger was in contention for the AL Rookie of the Year award last year, finishing third behind Huston Street and Robinson Cano. He garnered two first-place votes and 39 points for his 21 roundtrippers, .372 OBP, and .534 slugging. Cano finished second with 14 homers, .320 OBP, and .458 slugging. See what media exposure can bring you?

Speaking of overlooked Devil Ray players, Scott Kazmir pitched an outstanding five and two-thirds innings, striking out seven hitters. The capable southpaw continued to confound our best hitters: David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez struck out one time each. Kazmir did walk Ramirez in the sixth inning and was subsequently pulled from the because of a possible injury.

Perhaps one of the highlights of the evening was the tug-of-war between two spectators for Josh Bard’s bat in the second inning. You could call it the “Bat-Tle Royal.” Or “The Rumble for the Lumber.” Bard was fine with not having the bat; he wasn’t using it anyway.

Willie Harris made is Red Sox debuted in the seventh inning as a pinch hitter for Wily Mo Peña. The veteran utilityman was brought up to replace Adam Stern, who will get more frequent playing time in Triple-A Pawtucket. Harris struck out in his two at bats.

The Red Sox failed to secure their second series sweep. Games like these will happen, but what is of greater concern is the utter inability of Tavarez to get a batter out. He relinquished a home run and two doubles, which amounted to two earned runs.

April 20, 2006

Moxie

Game 15: April 19, 2006
Devil Rays (7-8), 1
Red Sox (11-4), 9
L: Doug Waechter (0-1)
W: Curt Schilling (4-0)

Cast
Tina Cervasio, ingénue under pressure
Don Orsillo, starstruck announcer boy
Jerry Remy, grizzled veteran
Rene Russo, established Hollywood starlet
Ty Wigginton, Devil Rays utilityman

[Cheesy infotainment musical opening. Flashy graphics package swoops across the screen trumpeting “Red Sox Moxie,” a show where baseball and celebrities collide.]

ORSILLO: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the second game of a three-game series against the Devil Rays. When Boston last tangled with Tampa Bay, tempers flared and suspensions were delivered. [Clip of the Julian Tavarez/Joey Gathright incident.] Jerry, what can we expect from this match-up?

REMY: Well, Don, the Devil Rays have new ownership and management, but all of the same old problems. They’ve got a stacked lineup, particularly in the outfield, but no pitching. Tonight’s starting pitcher, Doug Waechter, has started two games and has no wins. So far this season he’s pitched for nine and two-thirds innings with a 3.72 ERA.

ORSILLO: That’s not too bad.

REMY: Well, it’s good for the Devils Rays’ pitching staff.

ORSILLO: This is true. Tina, you’ve got some news for us?

CERVASIO: Thanks, Don. I was talking to some Devil Rays players before the game and they tell me playing for a new owner, general manager, and field manager has been uplifting so far. The Devil Rays squad tells me that because expectations are low, the team doesn’t feel the pressure that one would in a high-profile franchise where every person associated with the team is analyzed daily under a microscope.

[Cut to interview clip of CERVASIO with TY WIGGINTON.]

CERVASIO: So, what’s the real estate market like in Florida?

WIGGINTON: Real cheap. And you know there’s no state income tax.

CERVASIO: And they’re as laid back as you say they are?

WIGGINTON: Yeah, nothing like Pittsburgh. That place was like a pressure cooker. This place is like so intense. I don’t know how I’m going to handle playing in left field here. Those fans over there [gestures to CVS Family section] are all over me.

[Cut back to ORSILLO and REMY.]

ORSILLO: Quite interesting.

CERVASIO: [Uncharacteristically glum.] They tell me that no one even knows the name or even cares about the sideline reporter on their local broadcasts.

ORSILLO: Thanks very much, Tina. I hear you have a noteworthy guest with you today?

CERVASIO: In Tampa, there’s no “Weiner Whiner Line” that ridicules you, or fan message boards that criticize every aspect of your performance on a nightly basis.

ORSILLO: I see. And your surprise guest...?

CERVASIO: Nope, no pressure in Florida. Plus, a lot of the folks I know from New Jersey live down there already. It’s like Yankee Stadium south.

REMY: Lots of snowbird retirees down there. All pulling their pants up high, like the new Wally. Don’t forget, you can get Wally and other fine merchandise at The Remy Report. Early bird menu not included.

ORSILLO: [Clears throat.] So, Tina, I hear you’ve got film star Rene Russo with you.

CERVASIO: [Suddenly chirpy.] Rene Russo, star of the Lethal Weapon and Major League series, is here tonight. So, how do you feel about being here at Fenway?

RUSSO: It’s just great. I came specifically to be here and finally watch a game in person.

CERVASIO: Do you have any predictions for this game?

RUSSO: Schilling’s going to go six innings with six hits, one earned run, one walk, and seven strikeouts.

CERVASIO: Which Red Sox batters do you think are going to score a lot of points?

RUSSO: You mean runs? Well, I think Youk is going to continue on his tear and go three for four with two RBIs, including a homer. Lowell will abuse the wall with his line drive doubles and also drive in two runs. I’ve been keeping my eye on that Wigginton kid. He’s all shook up about his first start in the outfield here, so look for him to commit some key errors.

CERVASIO: Back to you, Don and Jerry!

ORSILLO: [To production crew.] Could you send Rene Russo to the booth? I’d really love to take a picture with her....

[REMY rolls eyes.]

April 19, 2006

Duple

Game 14: April 18, 2006
Devil Rays (7-7), 4
Red Sox (10-4), 7
BS: Scott Dunn (1)
L: Ruddy Lugo (0-1)
BS, W: Mike Timlin (1, 2-0)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (7)

It was a night of defensive marvels that one doesn’t usually expect from a Red Sox/Devil Rays match-up. Jerry Remy was amazed by the defensive alignment Joe Maddon devised for David Ortiz. The Tampa Bay field manager had four outfielders and also had his second baseman fairly deep in right field. Remy could only recall a similar blueprint for Jim Rice, but reversed for the right-handed hitter.

Ortiz’s strategy to beat the shift in the third inning? With two outs, he slammed a wallball double. The Red Sox designated hitter was driven in by Manny Ramirez’s liner that just inched past Carl Crawford’s glove. Ramirez also notched two more RBIs in the seventh inning in response to Tampa Bay taking the lead at the top of the inning. With runners on second and third with two out, Ramirez’s liner bounced off of right fielder Russell Branyan’s glove and was ruled a single.

I wonder how Ruddy Lugo got his job? He’s not related to anyone famous, is he? Julio Lugo’s younger brother entered the game in the bottom of the eighth after his team had tied the game in the top of the inning. He quickly gave up a wallball double to Mike Lowell and walked pinch-hitter Trot Nixon on five pitches. The younger Lugo then left the game with runners on first and second with no out for Chad Orvella, who was just recalled from the triple A Durham and is one of the few potential bright spots in the Devil Rays bullpen.

Adam Stern attempted a sacrifice bunt to advance the men on base but ended up deleting Lowell from the equation. Alex Gonzalez put up a fight against Orvella by fouling away four pitches but struck out swinging. The stage was set for Kevin Youkilis, who had grounded out in his first two at bats but then singled and walked. He jetted the ball off the Monster more towards center than left field to drive in two runs for the lead. Mark Loretta singled a grounder into the opposite field to plate Youkilis, tacking on another run.

The Red Sox did not record an error in the game, continuing to play crisply on the field. In the fifth, Ramirez played the wall with his usual aplomb, catching the carom of Toby Hall’s fly ball off the wall barehanded and returning it to the infield rapidly, limiting the Devil Rays catcher to a single. Hall was then thrown out at second by Jason Varitek on a failed hit and run play. Clement also fielded his position well in the seventh. He fielded a Joey Gathright ground ball Clement wisely opted to get Tomas Perez out at second, which both reduced the risk of a close play at first base and erased the runner from scoring position.

Despite the outstanding play of the defense, a potential weakness in the bullpen was exposed. Mike Timlin blew the first save for Boston this season in the eighth inning. He walked Travis Lee on four straight pitches and gave up doubles to Jonny Gomes and Branyan, who tied the scored 4-4 with his RBI double. Hopefully Timlin’s shaky outing won’t be indicative of future performance or a sign of veteran pitcher being overused.

One can’t speak of defense without mentioning the defensive play of the game, and according to my opinion of not ESPN’s, the Web Gem of the night. Jonathan Papelbon was in danger of blowing his first save of the year. After striking out Gathright on three pitches, Papelbon allowed Crawford to reach on a single up the middle. The young closer also struck out Jorge Cantu, but not after throwing nine pitches to the persistent second baseman and also allowing Crawford to reach second. Lee then walked on 10 pitches and Gomes on five to load the bases. Damon Hollis, who came into the game in the eighth as a pinch runner, fell behind 0-2 in the count before winging the ball into shallow center for what appeared to be a certain hit. Center fielder Stern had other plans, however, diving for the cambering ball just before it touched the turf.

Instead of this brilliant catch to save the game, however, ESPN opted to highlight Johnny Damon’s collisions with the outfield wall. Go figure. It’s probably just an effort to stoke the flames of the rivalry.

April 18, 2006

Untie

Game 13: April 17, 2006
Mariners (6-8), 6
Red Sox (9-4), 7
H: Jake Woods (2)
BS: J.J. Putz (1)
BS, L: Eddie Guardado (1, 0-1)
W: Mike Timlin (1)

Have you ever witnessed something so perfect and of such beauty that you were hesitant to commit words to paper, brush to canvas, voice to notes, for fear of failing utterly in the attempt to convey what you saw?

It’s no stretch to say that, after 2004, all Red Sox fans share this in common--a far better legacy than contrived curses or maladroit management. When you see something so wonderfully implausible, you wonder if, in the retelling, some of that magic will dissipate. But then you realize, no, you should recount said events, even if only for the selfish pleasure of reliving such feats.

The comeback win on Patriots Day had a trace of July 24, 2004 about it. Sure, it’s only April and it was against the Mariners. But when there are retrospectives of 2006, this game could be heralded as the game where everything came together.

Lenny DiNardo made his second major league start, a sport start in a top-heavy pitching rotation. I did see his first start in September of last year; I wish I could have been on hand for his second. He went five innings with a line of six hits, two earned runs, and one each of bases on balls and strikeouts.

The Mariners scored first thanks to Ichiro Suzuki hit DiNardo’s second pitch over Manny Ramirez, who, as usual, was playing shallow, for a leadoff double. Ichiro, who could advance a base when a pitcher scratches his nose, proceeded to third base Jose Lopez’s 1-3 ground out. Raul Ibanez then lofted a sacrifice fly to left field, Ramirez at the ready for a play at home. The left fielder’s throw was accurate but Suzuki was too fast. 1-0, Mariners.

Gil Meche is one of those run-of-the-mill righties hitters like David Ortiz feast on. With two out and the count full, David Ortiz propelled a ball into the camera hut in the center field bleachers to tie the game going into the second inning, 1-1.

Adrian Beltre reached first DiNardo’s only walk of the game. It would prove costly as Seattle’s third baseman scored on Yuniesky Betancourt’s fly ball double to center field. Alex Cora displayed transcendental game awareness when netting Suzuki’s grounder: instead of attempting to throw to Kevin Youkilis to get the out at first, he trapped Betancourt in a rundown. Cora along with infield accomplices Mike Lowell and Mark Loretta ensnared the sophomore shortstop for the third out of the second inning. Suzuki was left stranded at first, but the Red Sox failed to keep the game tied. Seattle led 2-1 going into the bottom of the second.

Perhaps overly anxious after his brief respite, Trot Nixon fell behind 0-2 in his first at bat. He then evened the count watching two pitches miss low. Meche tried to go low and away, but Nixon was able to single to right field and advanced on Jason Varitek’s ground out to second base. The Boston right fielder was perfectly positioned to score on Cora’s short fly to center. The Mariners’ second baseman Lopez had pursued the ball just deep enough into the outfield to allow Cora to leg out a double since none of Lopez’s infield covered second base on the play.

The game would remain knotted at 2-2 until the sixth inning. Rudy Seanez struck out the first two batters he faced, Ibanez and Richie Sexson, with just 10 pitches. Then rookie catching standout Kenji Johjima (called variously by Jerry Remy as “Joe Jama” or “Jojimer”) dispatched a fly ball single to center field, scoring when the all-too-familiar Carl Everett jacked a two-run roundtripper off Pesky Pole. The teeter-totter tipped again in the Mariners’ favor, 4-2.

The Red Sox played “our DH is better than your DH” in the bottom of the sixth. Ortiz retorted with a two-run blast of his own with Youkilis on base. Boston could have taken the lead had Ramirez’s fly ball off the wall not missed clearing the Monster by just a foot. Instead, the game headed into the seventh inning with a 4-4 draw.

The tie was quickly effaced. Cora, despite his earlier heroics, erred on a Willie Bloomquist liner. The Mariners utilityman went then went station to station on a Betancourt sacrifice bunt, stole third base, and scored on Suzuki’s ground out to second base.

Trailing 5-4, Ortiz nearly evened the score again with his olympian fly ball to right. Instead, Suzuki cleanly fielded the ball just in front of the visitors’ bullpen. Nixon then proved that the rest did not rust his skills; he placed himself into scoring position with a two-out double that bounded along the first base line before trickling into right field. Varitek’s gutshot grounder past the diving Lopez drove in Nixon to, yet again, tie the score.

Keith Foulke got Everett to fly out to left but then allowed two consecutive singles to Beltre and Bloomquist. Bloomquist’s single was a particularly sharp grounder up the middle that advanced Beltre to third base. With one out and runners at the corners, Mike Timlin entered the fray.

Timlin yielded the go-head run to pinch-hitting Roberto Petagine, who the Red Sox may have been more familiar with had he been allowed any playing time last season. Petagine’s ground out to second base scored Beltre. Suzuki was then intentionally walked to get to the slumping Lopez, who impatiently swung at every thrown pitch and quickly struck out.

Boston trailed 6-5 going into the bottom ninth inning. Wily Mo Peña and Dustan Mohr both struck out to Almost Everyday Eddie Guardado. The left-handed closer came within one strike of sealing the Red Sox’s fate, going up on Youkilis 0-2. But Youkilis muscled a ball into play on and just beat out a throw by Lopez for an infield single.

Loretta watched two pitches miss the zone and on the third pitch he saw hit his first walk-off home run at any level. His first circuit clout as Red Sox player soared into the Monster Seats to grant a fan a souvenir and a his team a win.

Like heavyweight fighters exchanging blows in a championship bout, each team rallied back after falling behind in a repartee of RBIs. Morever, the Red Sox proved they can win both tight games and offensive face-offs.

Is it really only April?

April 17, 2006

Boon

Game 12: April 16, 2006
Mariners (6-7), 2
Red Sox (8-4), 3
L: Jarrod Washburn (1-2)
W: Josh Beckett (3-0)
H: Mike Timlin (4)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (6)

Sometimes Jim Rice’s mixed metaphors are (unintentionally?) poetic. In the pre-game show to this game he said, “This is the time you have to put the nail in the coffin or they’ll come back to haunt you.”

Unlike Josh Beckett’s other two starts, the right-handed pitcher’s first inning was a walk in the park. Not that he literally walked anyone. Well, he did, but not until the fourth inning when Matt Lawton got a free pass. Beckett has been a big hit in Boston so far because he hasn’t given up a lot of them; just six in this game. The former Marlins pitcher has been on a great run (although he gave up just two runs, one unearned) as this is the first season he has started the season 3-0. After achieving prominence in the World Series, Beckett wasn’t known for striking out with ladies such as Leeann Tweeden; instead he struck out hitters, like the five Mariners he did on Sunday. Two of those strikeouts were key as they came in the sixth inning with a runner on third, one out, and the score 3-2. Beckett could have opened the door for Seattle to walk right back into the game, but he slammed it shut to end the inning.

Jerry Remy let slip that Tony Massarotti was the official scorer for this game. On the phantom safe call of Jason Varitek by first base umpire Rick Reed, Massarotti gave Adrian Beltre a throwing error rather than doing the homer thing and giving the captain a hit. In the second inning, Massarotti labeled Alex Gonzalez’s oddly hopping grounder as an error on Beltre rather than a hit. It almost seemed like Boston Herald scribe had it in for Beltre or just didn’t want to dole out Red Sox hits. Massarotti also charged an error to Mark Loretta in the third when the second baseman bobbled a grounder of the bat of Ichiro Suzuki. It probably would have been called a hit at Safeco. In his one act of mercy, Massarotti changed his mind on Wily Mo Peña’s dive for Raul Ibanez’s liner in the sixth inning. At first he called it a double and error, but he eventually changed it to a triple. Replays showed that Ibanez would attempt to leg out a triple no matter what Peña did.

The Red Sox bettered their one-run game record to 4-0, winning games on strength of pitching rather than offensive onslaughts. The home team scored early thanks to Kevin Youkilis leading off the game with a five-pitch walk. The leadoff hitter advanced on a Mark Loretta double that caught the bottom of the wall and then scored on Manny Ramirez’s ground out to first base. If an RBI could be granted to an umpire, Reed would be leading the league with his one-run miscall of the Varitek/Sexson play at first which scored Loretta.

Seattle responded with runs of their own in the top of the third inning. Suzuki reached on error and seemed to distract Beckett. After throwing pickoff, strike, pickoff, strike, ball, Jose Lopez got a hold of pitch and lined a triple into right field to score Suzuki. Ibanez then lobbed a wind-assisted RBI single to shallow center that eluded Gonzalez, which tied the score.

Gonzalez would use the wind, and a rookie center fielder’s inexperience, to his advantage in the fourth inning, however. Varitek poked a grounder just past Yuniesky Bentancourt’s outstretched arm for a single. After seemingly regaining his wits to strike out Mike Lowell, Jarrod Washburn proceeded to walk Dustan Mohr and hit Peña with a pitch to load the bases. Gonzalez came to the plate swinging, falling behind the count 0-2. On the fourth pitch he lofted what should have been a fly out to center but became an RBI single thanks to the buffeting gusts moving from left to right field. Jeremy Reed misjudged the strength of the win and, for the second straight win in a row, Gonzalez proved to be the difference maker.

Ramirez again showed flashes of brilliance on the field. With extended glove hand he caught Suzuki’s fly ball on the run as it trailed away toward the wall and to his left for the first out of the eighth inning. He then hauled in Ibanez’s slicing ball away on the backhand as it arced away from him towards the right. Peña could learn from his counterpart across the outfield.

The bullpen tandem of Mike Timlin and Jonathan Papelbon once again treated the fans at Fenway with a near-perfect pair of innings. I suppose they wanted to be sure that every Red Sox fan attending this homestand will get to see a Timlin hold and Papelbon save.

April 16, 2006

Asleep

Game 11: April 15, 2006
Mariners (6-6), 3
Red Sox (7-4), 0
W: Joel Pineiro (2-1)
H: J.J. Putz (2)
S: Eddie Guardado (2)
L: Tim Wakefield (1-2)

Thanks to Jere at A Red Sox Fan in Pinstripe Territory, I got to attend yesterday’s game. Unfortunately, it was because his usual accomplice got into a car accident (he’s fine) and the second in line was volunteering for charitable organization. Terry Francona was equally and simultaneously disastrous and philanthropic judging by the lineup he contrived:

  1. Adam Stern, CF
  2. Alex Cora, 2B
  3. David Ortiz, DH
  4. Manny Ramirez, LF
  5. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
  6. J.T. Snow, 1B
  7. Wily Mo Peña, RF
  8. Josh Bard, C
  9. Alex Gonzalez, SS

Given the above, is it any surprise the Red Sox were shut out for the first time this season? Joel Pineiro ably took on Ted Lilly’s mantle, pitching six and a third innings with just five hits, two walks, and five strikeouts.

I thought Francona could use some helpful hints; here are my rules for constructing Red Sox lineups:

  1. No more than one “Alex” permitted in a day.
  2. You must have at least one infielder whose surname begins with “Lo” start at all times.
  3. When the “Bard” sings, the “Snow” must not fall.

I can’t imagine what Tim Wakefield must have thought when he saw the lineup card. He busted his hump for a complete game loss, throwing 108 pitches for nine hits, three runs (two earned), and six strikeouts. I understand the difference between playing time for hitters and pitchers and that the bullpen is stretched thin after David Wells and Matt Clement’s back-to-back disappointing starts, but it still seems slightly contradictory of Francona to let the 39-year old pitcher take one for the team while the productive members of the offense sit.

At least my seating companions were enjoyable. Jere and I swung by Section 12 to see if Andrew of 12eight was there, and indeed he was, with this father. In another stroke of happenstance, two seats near them were vacant and we got to sit with them. There was much discussion of uniform numbers, baseball trivia (such as longest-running plate appearance reaching first base streaks), and Red Sox players of the past.

Perhaps at the next game I attend should be with a baseball neophyte who continually asks questions thereby distracting me from the game. I’m sure then Clement would throw a perfect game, Gonzalez would turn an unassisted triple play, and Ortiz would hit for the cycle in natural order.

Pictures of the day’s festivities to follow.

April 14, 2006

Scintillating

Game 10: April 14, 2006
Mariners (5-6), 1
Red Sox (7-3), 2
L: Jamie Moyer (0-2)
W: Curt Schilling (3-0)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (5)

Things are looking good for a pitcher when you are able to strike out Ichiro Suzuki twice in a game and hold him hitless, even with the right fielder’s sluggish start. Curt Schilling only allowed three hits and one earned run over seven innings while striking out seven. Currently, Schilling has the lowest WHIP of all active starting pitchers with 0.64. Mark Hendrickson of the Royals and Noah Lowry of the Giants both have lower rates at 0.44 and 0.60 respectively, but are on the disabled list.

Another Red Sox pitcher is in the top 10 of WHIP for relief pitchers with a minuscule 0.33. Jonathan Papelbon pitched a near-perfect ninth inning, surrendering only a single line drive off the wall by Jose Lopez. In Papelbon’s six innings of work so far this season, he has hurled 76 pitches with 53 of those being strikes, or a 70% strike rate.

In the top of the seventh, Wily Mo Peña made a catch very similar to the one he muffed on June 13th when he was on the Reds. He took his route towards the bend in right field and caught Adrian Beltre’s fly ball on the run.

Of all hitters the Red Sox can rely on, Alex Gonzalez is the one you’d least expect to have a three for four evening and, in a stacked lineup, the only one to drive in runs. He doubled of the wall to score Mike Lowell and Dustan Mohr. Thanks to Gonzalez’s power surge, Boston is now 3-0 in in one-run games.

Carl Everett drove in the Mariners’ only run in the fifth inning when he grounded out to Lowell. The Red Sox third baseman briefly considered attempt to gun out Richie Sexson, who had reached on a leadoff double. Instead, Lowell propelled the ball to third for the second out of the inning. Booing at Everett’s at bats has become perfunctory and no real malice accompanies the cat calls. It’s akin to blessing nearby people who sneeze; a habit rather than an act rife with intent.

Lessen

Game 9: April 13, 2006
Blue Jays (5-4), 8
Red Sox (6-3), 6
W: Ted Lilly (1-0)
S: B.J. Ryan (3)
L: Matt Clement (1-1)


When people preface what they are about to say with, “Now, I’m not the [fill in adjective] type, but....” you know they are going to admit something that shows that they are, indeed the [fill in adjective] type. So, I’m not the competitive type, so I thought inviting someone against whom one of my fantasy teams is currently locked in an acrimonious battle to the death would be no problem. I was somewhat wrong.

NU50 (mundanely known as “Matt”) is a commissioner and owner in a keeper league comprised of posters from the Royal Rooters message board and a friend. Or, should I say, was a friend. Some folks get a little uppity when they’ve got Mark Loretta, David Ortiz, and Jason Varitek in their lineup. Upon further review of that list, he certainly does have a lot to crow about.

But fantasy baseball, much like the actual game, has its freakish vicissitudes. On Tuesday, my weak (as supported by 2005 production) infield of Justin Morneau, Jose Lopez, Ty Wigginton, and Khalil Greene hit 5 homers and produced 8 RBIs. To be sure, Morneau should be counted on to hit for some power, but had been pressing of late. For frame of reference, Matt’s starting shortstop, Miguel Tejada, hit 26 home runs in 2005, while last year Lopez, Wigginton, and Greene combined hit only 24 circuit clouts.

I understand my players will eventually fall back to earth, regression to the mean and all that, but I have that one of the simple pleasures of fantasy baseball is revelling in the unforeseen.

Given my competitive nature, it was with some trepidation that I watched “his” Red Sox players find themselves in situations that would aid him against “my” team. What kind of baseball fan am I? Am I really so wrapped in the fantasy that I would find myself not rooting the real Red Sox?

In the bottom of the ninth, as Ortiz stood in the box against B.J. Ryan, one of my relievers. The potential tying run was tantalizingly close to be launched from the designated hitter’s bat and plunged into the phalanx of fans in the right field boxes, which would spell certain doom for my team.

So, given those circumstances, how did I feel? Whom did I cheer?

Forget Ryan. Go Red Sox.

Things you missed if you weren’t hanging out with Matt and I at the park:

  • The Wooster High School Band performed “O, Canada!” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This is not a typo; they are from Wooster, Ohio. As they assembled behind home plate, the sound booth played “Teenage Wasteland.”
  • Matt got vanilla soft serve ice cream in a helmet cup. He tried to eat it without a spoon and the clump of frozen goodness slipped out and tumbled down the front of his light brown corduroy blazer. His professorial appearance showed that he did indeed have a degree in reflexology. It was as good a Web Gem as I had ever seen on Baseball Tonight.
  • Someone in an office right above the ramp from Gate A has a window facing the field. Perched in the sill of said window is a Lego Wally.

Pictures showing Fenway and Wally’s stunning transformations to follow.

April 13, 2006

Treble

Game 8: April 12, 2006
Blue Jays (4-4), 8
Red Sox (6-2), 4
W: Gustavo Chacin (2-0)
L: David Wells (0-1)

They say good and bad things come in threes. Last night’s game seemed to prove that theorem. The bad things in threes: the three homers hit by the Blue Jays (Alex Rios, Bengie Molina, and Vernon Wells, all off of David Wells), Kevin Youkilis’s three strikeouts and three left on base, Manny Ramirez’s unproductive three at bats, and Wells’s weight in hundreds of pounds. The good things in threes: roundtrippers by Red Sox (Dustan Mohr, David Ortiz, and Wily Mo Peña), Lenny DiNardo’s three innings of work, and Coco Crisp’s three year extension.

Serendipitously I got to go to last night’s game thanks to David Laurila, who does the majority of interviews at the Royal Rooters message board and has a book entitled Interviews from Red Sox Nation, a collection of the best pieces, coming out shortly. When the game itself isn’t interesting, it is guaranteed to be a better if you attend with an interesting person.

In person, the park looks sensational. It doesn’t look like Fenway used to; it looks better. Although I like the cornice of the old park, I think the new yet old seeming style the ownership group is trying to impart is class without clutter. The next thing they should do is recreate the clock that used to stand above the bleachers.

Since I knew I was going to tonight’s game well in advance, I’m better prepared to capture the sights and sounds. Expect a more detailed rundown for the rubber game of the series.

Things you wouldn’t have experienced if you weren’t there:

  • At one point during a lull in the action, fans in the bleachers above Section 40 where I was sitting started chanting “You suck! (clap, clap) You suck! (clap, clap)” to the gathered Toronto outfielders. Wells took a bow in response.
  • The inane conversation of the two season ticket holders behind us who, as David told me, always leave early. Even in Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS. Just as there are Fenway Ambassadors, there should be Fenway Enforcers. Those unworthy of season tickets will have them revoked.
  • Wally has had a makeover. It seems everyone is doing botox these days.

April 12, 2006

Habitat

Game 7: April 11, 2006
Blue Jays (3-4), 3
Red Sox (6-1), 5
L: Josh Towers (0-2)
W: Josh Beckett (2-0)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (4)

Josh versus Josh. Ah yes, it calls to mind the epic battle of the Jeremies (Jeremae?) last May.

The home opener paid homage to the 1946 American League Championship team. Six members of that team, Bobby Doerr, Dave “Boo” Ferriss, Don Gutteridge, Eddie Pellagrini, Johnny Pesky, and Charlie Wagner, threw out the first pitch of the game. All the members of that team had their names on banners festooning the park. There are many renovations to Fenway Park that I’ll get to see in person this Thursday for my first game of the season. I can’t wait to get a picture of the new façade and update the banner to this site.

Josh Beckett’s second start was a near carbon copy of his Texas debut. In press conferences, Beckett does not admit to any psychological effect of playing in either the fervent atmosphere of Fenway Park or the heightened profile of the Red Sox. Four of the first six hitters faced working full counts seem to indicate an overabundance of adrenaline. But when speaking of his outings, Beckett is preternaturally in control, just as he can be on the mound.

The young righty got Russ Adams to ground out easily enough but then proceeded to walk three batters and mixed in a single to Vernon Wells. One of the walks came with the bases loaded, scoring Frank Catalanotto. It was the only run Beckett gave up in his seven innings. Two of the three hits against Beckett were singles, and the third was a gift double due to Trot Nixon’s misplay in right field. Due in part to home plate Jerry Layne’s tight strike zone, Beckett walked four batters and struck out only two.

One can always rely on Shea Hillenbrand for a timely double play. The Blue Jays designated hitter grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end Beckett’s shaky first inning. The fourth inning witnessed an even better 4-6-3 inning-ending twin killing. Mark Loretta leapt, Pokeyesque, in an attempt to snare a liner off Bengie Molina’s bat. Unable to snare the ball, Loretta alley ooped in Alex Gonzalez’s area. The shortstop had the wherewithal to scoop the ball, scamper towards second base, slide his foot across the bag, and then promptly jettison the ball to Kevin Youkilis at first. Youkilis had to execute a semi-split to complete the double play.

Trot Nixon pulled his groin during the game and will be out of the lineup for the next five to seven days. It may have been in the second inning when he displayed ill-considered judgment when tracking Aaron Hill’s fly ball, resulting in an inopportune face plant in right field and the only extra base hit yielded by Beckett. In the bottom of the inning Nixon took the plate (with his equilibrium-enhancing double ear flaps), walked, advanced to second on Jason Varitek’s up the middle single, and scored on Mike Lowell’s wallball double, all the while not betraying any evidence of an injury.

Adam Stern and Youkilis (Coco Crisp’s replacement in the leadoff spot) both doubled in the bottom of the second to give the Red Sox a lead they would not surrender. Boston scored again in the seventh inning, when David Ortiz dispatched yet another ball into the right field seats. He’s a home run ball souvenir factory.

In the eight, Keith Foulke acted as the set-up guy for Jonathan Papelbon. All would have gone smoothly had Wily Mo Peña cleanly fielded Catalanotto’s fly ball for the second out of the inning. Fenway Park is many things: a receptacle of history, a place of leisure, a site much storied and even more beloved. And yet it spurns the very players who call it home. Any outfielder in Fenway can relate his frustrations over playing on such an incongruous field.

Of course Peña was not completely at the whim of the field’s idiosyncrasies. He jumped, not perfectly timed like Loretta, but early. He floundered with his glove, not in foul ground as Youkilis did with Hillenbrand’s pop fly, but near the bullpens, and didn’t recover. The two-run homer did not cost the game. Fans seem forgiving of Beckett’s early inning infirmity; some of that clemency should be extended to Peña. Perhaps all he needs is some of that Papa Jack magic.

Peña gloved the final out. There is hope.

April 9, 2006

Broom

Game 6: April 9, 2006
Red Sox (5-1), 4
Orioles (2-4), 1
W: Tim Wakefield (1-1)
H: Mike Timlin (3)
H: Keith Foulke (1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (3)
L: Rodrigo Lopez (1-1)


The final game of the series did not begin well for the Red Sox despite the strong presence of their fans in Camden Park’s stands. After Rodrigo Lopez sat the first third of the lineup in order, Mark Loretta kicked off the bottom half of the inning with his first error of the season. The second baseman came up to early on David Newhan’s grounder which skittered through his legs. Newhan then swiped second, the typical plan of attack with a knuckleballer on the mound. Luis Matos lifted a pitch deep enough into right field for Newhan to advance to third.

Tim Wakefield may have been having nightmares of his Texas start after hitting Melvin Mora and watching Miguel Tejada’s abrupt liner dart into center to score Newhan. Even though Josh Bard mimicked Trot Nixon’s tribal eye black pattern, the backstop did not copy Nixon’s bearing. This time around Bard was much more composed, his demeanor almost as relaxed as it was in spring training. The catcher garnered the second out of the first inning with a basket catch of Jay Gibbons’s pop fly near the brick wall. Said wall had a run-in with Jason Varitek yesterday, but x-rays were negative. Rally-killing Kevin Millar carried over his methods to the Orioles with his fly out to center field to end the inning.

Wakefield earned his first quality start and win of the year, pitching for six innings with five hits, one run, no earned runs, two walks, and four strikeouts. He was tested in the sixth inning after allowing a leadoff double to Ramon Hernandez and a single by Chris Gomez. With runners on the corners and no out, Wakefield proceeded to strike out Corey Patterson, Newhan, and Matos in order.

Although David Ortiz did not drive in a run, it was gratifying to see him ground a ball through the shift in the fourth inning. He urged the ball between the third baseman and second base, proving that above all he is a hitter, not merely a slugger.

Boston scored at last in the fifth inning, precipitated by J.T. Snow’s leadoff single which could have been a double. Bard shot a single past the middle infielders for his first hit as a Red Sox player to advance Snow. Alex Gonzalez perfectly executed a sacrifice bunt to move his both his teammates into scoring position, a tactic that probably had Red Sox fans doing a double take. The circumstances of the game, however (irksome pitcher, trailing by one, weak hitter at the plate, and no out), dictated such a strategy.

Adam Stern, starting in place of the possibly injured Coco Crisp, cracked a single into right field, plating Snow to tie the game. Baltimore second baseman Gomez snared a liner hit by Loretta for the second out of the fifth, but then errantly threw to first. Bard, attentive to the situation, tagged up to give his team the lead.

The pitcher Lopez earned his distinction as a Red Sox killer, but no one clued home plate umpire Derryl Cousins to this fact. The righty disagreed with Cousins’s calls and permitted the discordance affect his pitching. Lopez walked Nixon and Snow in the sixth, but seemed to be back on track when he induced Bard to hit a grounder to erase the runner at second base. With runners at the corners and two out, Lopez walked Gonzalez to load the bases, a certain sign of nerves.

Millar bobbled Stern’s infield poke and what should have been an easy out was instead converted into another run. The Red Sox further increased their lead to three runs with Loretta’s soft opposite field liner to drive in Bard.

The sweep of the Orioles was not without its difficulties. After two quick outs in the seventh, Mike Timlin got into a jam by allowing a Gibbons single and Millar walk to crowd the bases, but then dispatched hot-hitting Ramon Hernandez. Keith Foulke’s eighth inning effort was heartening and uneventful from an offensive standpoint; he struck out both pinch hitter Brian Roberts and Patterson and then forced Newhan to line out to first.

The same could not be said for Jonathan Papelbon’s showing. Despite complications including a leadoff double by Matos, hitting Tejada with a pitch, and falling behind in the count of every batter except Millar, Papelbon endured to earn his third save and secured the sweep.

It may have been too soon to anoint Papelbon the closer. I’m sure WEEI will have a field day with the brewing “closer controversy,” but having more than a one viable bullpen option from which to choose is a benefit as long as egos are checked in at the clubhouse door.

Anoint

Game 5: April 8, 2006
Red Sox (4-1), 2
Orioles (2-3), 1
W: Curt Schilling (2-0)
H: Mike Timlin (2)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (2)
L: Bruce Chen (0-1)


Curt Schilling won his second game in a row and the Red Sox won their second one-run game. Schilling’s only mistake was sent out of Camden Yards by Orioles center fielder Luis Matos in the sixth for a home run. It was one of just three hits Schilling served up in the course of his seven-inning appearance featuring two walks and four strikeouts.

The mantle of closer was definitively turned over to Jonathan Papelbon, the only bullpen pitcher who Terry Francona has brought into close games since he and Keith Foulke both pitched in the late innings of the season opener against Texas. In that game, Papelbon shut down the side while Foulke gave up an earned run and long, strongly hit fly balls that required outfield intervention.

Mike Timlin earned his second hold of the season, again in tandem with Papelbon. Get used to the mantra: “Timlin in the eighth, Papelbon in the ninth.”

Since Baltimore lefty Bruce Chen started, Wily Mo Peña made his first start in right field. Peña struck out both in the second and fourth innings, which were his only two times at bat. In each situation he did so to end the inning and stranded four runners total. He saw only seven pitches and swung at six. Peña would do well to emulate Jason Varitek (11-pitch at bat in the second resulting in a walk) and Manny Ramirez (10-pitch effort that ended in a strikeout). Even Kevin Millar took seven pitches from Papelbon as the last batter in the game.

As with seasons past, Ramirez made one of those circus catches you don’t expect. Schilling dug a hole for himself in the second inning by walking Javy Lopez with Jay Gibbons on and two out. Jeff Conine bolted an almost guaranteed extra base hit to left field only to have Ramirez corral the ball while on the run.

Both Coco Crisp and David Ortiz overestimated their speed. After rapping a grounder to center field for a single in the third, Crisp facilely swiped second. Thus emboldened, the Red Sox center fielder charged for third base but was caught stealing. Mark Loretta was at the plate with the count 1-0, one out, and the score knotted at zero. Loretta subsequently flied out to left to end the inning, but nonetheless the attempted theft was unnecessarily risky given Loretta’s batting average of .368.

In the fourth, Ortiz slammed a hit so sharply off the right field wall it caromed back to Gibbons in time to gun out the designated hitter at second. Despite the erasure, Varitek doubled to center and was driven in by Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis is another batter Peña should mirror; the odd prime number baseman worked the count full against Chen and then lined his hit just beyond the ambit of Miguel Tejada to put the first run of the game on the board.

In the bottom of the fifth, Varitek hurt the brick wall backstop. It had to be taken out on a stretcher for x-rays.

Ortiz led off the sixth with a base on balls and advanced to third on a Ramirez single to the opposite field. Varitek, despite feeling a twinge of guilt for felling the wall, lofted a fly ball double to right to score Ortiz. Youkilis once again worked the count, this time to load the bases, but the efforts of Trot Nixon, pinch hitting for Peña with righty Sendy Rleal on the mound, and Gonzalez were in vain.

The Orioles were left in a lurch with the departure of closer B.J. Ryan, but may have found solid bullpen options in LaTroy Hawkins and Chris Ray. Both pitched perfectly in the late innings, perhaps showing that Leo Mazzone’s magic touch has so far impacted his relievers.

Boston goes for the series sweep against a team that has traditionally proved to be a difficult match-up for them. Later today Red Sox killer Rodrigo Lopez faces off against Tim Wakefield, who is looking to rebound from a disastrous start in Texas.

April 8, 2006

Saunter

Game 4: April 7, 2006
Red Sox (3-1), 14
Orioles (2-2), 8
W: Matt Clement (1-0)
L: Daniel Cabrera (0-1)

I had to look up exactly what it was that Coco Crisp did to leadoff the first inning. It was something called “bunting for a base hit,” not a stratagem Red Sox fans see often, if at all. In 2005, Crisp batted second in the order; he had 434 at bats in the two spot with .344 OBP compared to 96 at leadoff with .327 OBP. Furthermore, Crisp’s career .332 OBP does not compare favorably with Mark Loretta’s .365. Although Johnny Damon is getting on base at an impressive .450 clip, Crisp’s has turned in an acceptable .381. The single time Crisp didn’t reach base when leading off the inning was in the third inning, when he was forced to swing after falling behind on a ball and two called strikes hurled by Eric DuBose.

“Eric DuBose in the third?” you ask. “Wasn’t Daniel Cabrera was the starter?” Leo Mazzone has yet to work his pitching coach magic on Cabrera, an exceedingly talented but utterly unpredictable power pitcher. Cabrera pitched only one and a third innings, during which he gave up three hits and seven runs, all of them earned. I was surprised they were all scored as earned runs since he also allowed seven bases on balls, three of which permitted runs to score with the bases loaded. He did strike out Trot Nixon, though. I wonder if the Red Sox dugout hassled the right fielder about that? Nixon did get a free pass the second time around the order, prompting Sam Perlozzo to mercifully end Cabrera’s disastrous stint.

Not that DuBose was a viable option with his attempts to sit Boston batters. In his part of the second inning he permitted two runs to score, including a Kevin Youkilis single grounded right past Miguel Tejada’s grasp into left field to drive in Nixon. Finally, DuBose elicited a double play from Alex Gonzalez to end the threat. I think I’ll be writing those last nine words an awful lot this season.

It’s too easy to criticize Gonzalez when he’s batting, isn’t it? In the sixth Gonzalez did have a double in the gap between left and center. Defensively, the Red Sox shortstop was solid as usual; in the bottom of the second with a double play to end the inning, although Youkilis needed to stretch to complete the twin killing. Youkilis is still getting a feel for first base. In the sixth, he charged an infield grounder by Nick Markakis as he would have done at the hot corner. Matt Clement was visibly annoyed by the gaffe as he could have turned the out to end the inning if Youkilis anchored himself at first. I also question the wisdom of shuttling him between first and third in the course of a single game.

Notably, David Ortiz and Jason Varitek did not get any hits, but other Boston bats filled the void. Nixon hit his second homer in as many nights in the fourth inning and finished off the evening with four RBIs. Manny Ramirez joined the festivities, going three for four with a walk and two RBIs, although he didn’t look his best in the fifth inning when he struck out swinging with the bases loaded.

The fourth inning saw a peculiar play. After Nixon had cleared the bases with his home run, Varitek flied out right for the first out. Mike Lowell lined to left for a double and then advanced to third on a single to the opposite field by Youkilis. Gonzalez grounded to Brian Roberts who threw to Kevin Millar at first to get the force at first, but there was no force at second. Youkilis got caught up between first and second and was tagged out by Tejada to end the inning, but Lowell scored because he touched home plate before the tag. In sum, smart baserunning by the veteran and not so sharp on Youkilis’s part. Perhaps hanging out at first base with Millar rubbed off on him.

Clement ended the evening with seven innings pitched, nine hits, four runs (all earned), a single walk, and seven strikeouts. His first win of the season was placed in slight jeopardy in the eighth with Rudy Seanez’s appearance during which he yielded four runs, but the two touchdowns the Red Sox put up on the board proved insurmountable. Keith Foulke faced four batters in the ninth in a non-save situation and permitted only a meaningless hit, but inclusion in such a game isn’t a ringing endorsement.

Non-game related notes:

  • It was Hazel Mae’s birthday.
  • Apparently, NESN has a media guide.
  • Jerry Remy thinks Don Orsillo looks like a young Nick Cafardo.
  • The Orioles’ new caps were ugly and their performance followed suit.

April 6, 2006

Verve

Game 3: April 5, 2006
Red Sox (2-1), 2
Rangers (1-2), 1
W: Josh Beckett (1-0)
H: Mike Timlin (1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (1)
L: Kameron Loe (0-1)

In the landscape of extinction, precision is next to godliness.
—Samuel Beckett

And the winner of the Best Young Pitcher Imitating Roger Clemens Award goes to.... It was amazing to watch Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon on the mound last night. At this point I’m not able to say which righty was more right on and all the voting members of the academy have yet to turn in their ballots. Both of the youthful Red Sox pitchers turned in arresting performances to secure a series win.

Beckett’s debut didn’t start out favorably. In the first inning Brad Wilkerson hit a leadoff double and then reached third base on a wild pitch. Wilkerson would go on to score on an infield hit by Michael Young. Facing the heart of the order with no outs, Beckett did not buckle but excelled in the face of hardship. It was the first and last run of the evening.

With all hubbub over Beckett’s premiere, everyone seemed to forget that J.T. Snow also made his first start. The veteran first baseman went 0-4 and left two on base, which is probably why no one seemed to notice.

Don Orsillo generated material for next year’s “Rem Dawg Unleashed” early in the season. The second inning saw Orsillo was waxing poetic of the new age of general managers in baseball. “Young GMs have had sex,” he began. A long pause followed as he realized what he had let slip, perhaps Freudianly. Then he continued, “Success.” Jerry Remy was no where to be heard; he was most likely convulsing in laughter on the floor of the broadcast booth. Fortunately for Orsillo but unfortunately for the Red Sox, the top half of that inning went quickly. In the bottom of the inning Ranger sinkerballer Kameron Loe induced every Red Sox batter except Jason Varitek to ground out.

Until late in the game, it was a long, tedious night for Boston. David Ortiz ground into two double plays to end scoring opportunities, including a twin killing in the sixth inning that stranded Coco Crisp, who had powered a triple into right field.

Trot Nixon eventually discovered the chink in Loe’s armor in the seventh inning. A leadoff walk by Manny Ramirez unnerved the 24-year old pitcher, who left a ball too high in the zone to the Red Sox right fielder. Nixon propelled Loe’s mistake into the right field seats for the lead.

What does a guy have to do to overthrow an incumbent Gold Glove in this league, Ramirez must wonder to himself. In the eight inning, the left fielder and last year’s leader in outfield assists got his first of the season by throwing out Mark Teixeira at home for the second out of the inning. The Texas third base coach Steve Smith displayed shades of Dale Sveum with his decision to send his runner home on a line drive single into shallow left. Had it slipped Smith’s mind that the ball was hit into the dominion of fielding savant Ramirez?

The Red Sox went into the bottom of the ninth with just a one-run lead and the eighth hitter in the Rangers lineup in the queue. Skipper Terry Francona went with Jonathan Papelbon instead of Keith Foulke to slam the door. Papelbon struck out two to secure the victory and perhaps the closer spot in the bullpen. Baseball aficionados like to bring up Wally Pipp in such situations, but I unlearned a lot of accepted knowledge about Lou Gehrig’s predecessor at Snopes.com.

Waiting for Beckett was well worth it.

Red Sox debuts of notable pitchers:

April 5, 2006

Succumb

Game 2: April 4, 2006
Red Sox (1-1), 4
Rangers (1-1), 10
L: Tim Wakefield (0-1)
W: Vicente Padilla (1-0)

I blame Josh Bard’s helmet. That monstrosity belongs only on a sheet of ice in front of a net, not on the diamond. The Baseball Gods are not pleased with the debasement of the sacred baseball field, and they exacted payment in the form of three passed balls by Bard and three home runs relinquished by three different Red Sox pitchers. Bard, do yourself and the team a favor: go see Captain Varitek for new tools of ignorance.

Coco Crisp had his fans asking “Johnny Damon who?” with his three for five outing. He scored half of the runs in the Red Sox paltry night of production and both times he led off the inning he got on base with singles. Also, isn’t it nice to see an outfielder that can get the ball back into the infield without a bounce? Someone should send a video clip of this method to Joe Torre because it’s been years since he’s witnessed it on his own team.

At 35 years old, Rangers designated hitter Phil Nevin has been reborn in Texas. After falling off the map in Petco’s vastness and further hampered by injury, Nevin proved hit fitness with a three-run home run in the first inning.

In the sixth inning the Red Sox ended the Rangers’ bid for a shutout with David Ortiz’s RBI double to score Crisp. Trot Nixon drove in Crisp in the eighth. Nixon’s platoon partner Wily Mo Peña made his team debut with a fly ball to right to drive in Alex Cora. Peña would later score on Mark Loretta’s single to left.

Manny Ramirez struck out three times and looked uncharacteristically befuddled against Padilla, but despite what you may read at Boston Dirt Dogs, news of the death of Manny’s bat has been greatly exaggerated. Looking ahead, Ramirez bats 1.00 against tonight’s starter, Kameron D. Loe. Sure, it’s just one at bat, but with that middle initial and homophonic last name reminiscent of a certain former Red Sox starter gives one confidence.

The Rangers had the bases loaded with no out in the eighth inning after relief pitcher cum ultimate fighter Rudy Seanez walked two hitters and allowed a hit. Seanez pitched inside to Nevin, forcing the Ranger to hit the deck. Seanez stayed in to strike out Hank Blalock and get the next two outs.

Let that be lesson: do not anger Seanez or the Baseball Gods.

April 3, 2006

Launching

Game 1: April 3, 2006
Red Sox (1-0), 7
Rangers (0-1), 3
W: Curt Schilling (1-0)
L: Kevin Millwood (0-1)

It wouldn’t be the Red Sox if there wasn’t drama off the field as well as on. Even before the first pitch rumors of Roger Clemens and his agent meeting with Theo Epstein and other members of Red Sox management at Ameriquest Field, formerly known as the Ballpark at Arlington. Clemens was a guest of Tom Hicks, owner of the Rangers, another team vying for the services of the seven-time Cy Young award winner. Noncommital, Clemens expressed no other preference than to, should he decide to return, pitch for a contending team only. He did say his children were excited by the prospect of moving back to Boston and his wife was also agreeable to the notion. Only the fullness of time and wallets will tell if Clemens pitches for the Olde Towne Team once again.

This year the average age of the team is 31.3; last year the average age of players appearing in more than 20 games was 31.97. I was expecting a greater reduction in age, but it seems like the Red Sox organizational strategy is to temper youth with experience, raw talent with honed skills.

The five Red Sox debuts demonstrated the spectrum of roster additions. The youth movement was represented by Coco Crisp, as well as sophomores Jonathan Papelbon and Adam Stern. Alex Gonzalez, Mark Loretta, Mike Lowell, and J.T. Snow. I’m hesitant to apply the new moniker Jerry Remy devised for the infield, however; LoGoYo (an amalgam of Lowell, Gonzalez, and Kevin Youkilis) doesn’t fly with me.

Crisp, despite striking out looking in his first at bat as leadoff, had one hit in five at bats, scored two runs, and made two outstanding defensive plays. In the second inning the center fielder charged hard to rob Phil Nevin of a hit, but the best was yet to come. Laynce Nix launched what looked to be an extra base hit off of Keith Foulke in the ninth, but Crisp managed to intercept the ball in stride, looking more like Troy Brown than a baseball player. Without that catch, Foulke would have found himself in a spot. The closer gave up tremendously hit fly balls and had little confidence in his change-up, which demonstrated that he is perhaps not completely prepared to return to his 2004 brilliance.

The first runs of the season were driven in by Jason Varitek in the fourth. The Red Sox would not relinquish the lead. Both newcomers and oldtimers of the club dove into the scoring assault in the fifth; Loretta drove in Crisp with a double to center and who else but David Ortiz hit the first Red Sox home run of the season.

With a five-run lead, Curt Schilling seemed to let up a bit, resulting in a two out, two-run roundtripper in the sixth inning on a 1-1 pitch. Perhaps surprisingly, Terry Francona left Schilling in the game to pitch to the bottom third of a stacked lineup the seventh inning. But it wasn’t a repeat of sticking with Schilling because of the pitcher’s obstinance as we have seen, and the right-hander pitched a perfect inning.

The most inauspicious debut was that of Alex Gonzalez, who was picked off of second base in the seventh inning on Loretta’s fly ball to center and also did not contribute any runs despite his two hits. If we wanted guys to do such things, we would have kept Kevin Millar. He’s just one inside-the-park homer from winning the hearts and minds of fans, I suppose, but he doesn’t have the charismatic, chantable name. It will be a difficult haul for Gonzalez with Boston and he’ll probably be replaced by Dustin Pedroia within a few months.

The eighth inning second Red Sox homer came from an unlikely source in Mike Lowell. The over-priced third baseman was a throw-in with the Josh Beckett deal, so a return to his 2004 production almost makes him worth his $7.5M pricetag.

So it begins.

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