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Home » Category Listing » April 2008 Game Comments

May 1, 2008

Kinkō [均衡]

Game 29: April 30, 2008
Blue Jays 0 L: Scott Downs (0-1)
11-17, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 1 BS: Hideki Okajima (3)
W: Jonathan Papelbon (2-0)
17-12, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Kinkō means balance or equilibrium, something which Daisuke Matsuzaka achieved in last night’s game by using every weapon in his extensive arsenal. NESN just showed Tim Wakefield demonstrating the knuckler to Matsuzaka, so perhaps we’ll have that to look forward to. The starter had his longest outing of the season, following his fellow rotation members’ recent proclivity for turning in starts in excess of seven innings. Sixty-nine of his 111 pitches were for strikes and he allowed just two hits and two walks while striking out four. The Japanese have a phrase kinkō o yaburu [均衡を破る], which literally means “to destroy the balance” but in baseball refers to the first run to break a scoreless tie that has lasted five or so innings.

David Ortiz shattered the six columns of stolidly poised zeros on the Fenway scoreboard with his thundering shot to souvenir city in right field. His fifth home run of the season put his team in the lead late, a seeming repeat of Tuesday evening’s foray.

There were many Groundhog Day-like elements to the game. The weather was similarly chilly and the Red Sox notched a run late just as they did the night before. Unfortunately, Hideki Okajima rewound to April 22, a game against the Angels where he came in and relinquished the lead.

But that game was a late-inning, one-run triumph, just as this one would be.

Vernon Wells’s déjà vus were far less enjoyable than his opposition’s. It was off his arm that Ortiz crossed home in the first game of the series, and the center fielder’s arm would be tested twice.

He passed with flying colors the first time. A pair of Pawtucket call-ups, Brandon Moss (covering for an ailing J.D. Drew) and Jed Lowrie, set the stage. Moss shot the ball up the middle, his hit bounded off Scott Downs’s leg before being gloved by Wells.

Wells demonstrated why he is a three-time Gold Glove winner with an accurate heave to home that Rod Barajas ably caught while blocking the dish with his shin. With one sweep of his mitt Lowrie was erased from the game’s equation.

Jason Varitek, another backstop who can formidably barricade runners from home, lined his hit to the right of Downs, causing Wells to have to angle his approach to the ball. That slightest deviation from balance gave Manny Ramirez enough time to hurtle from second to home for the winning run.

That is the sort of déjà vu one could get used to.

April 30, 2008


Game 28: April 29, 2008
Blue Jays 0 L: Roy Halladay (2-4)
11-16, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 1 W: Jonathan Papelbon (1-0) 16-12, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Halladay has pitched four consecutive complete games and has lost the most recent three. Terry Francona let his starter leave the game on a high note and had Papelbon embarrass the top of the Blue Jays’ order. In contrast, John Gibbons let Halladay pitch in the bottom of the ninth. The ace struggled to hurl first-pitch strikes even though he got the first two batters out. David Ortiz proved patient at the plate, Manny Ramirez clubbed a single to center, and Kevin Youkilis smashed an RBI single to Vernon Wells to cap off the Red Sox’s first walk-off win this season. And it could have been avoided if Gibbons better managed his bullpen.

Don’t you hate it when a favorite restaurant of yours falls under new management and all the familiar tasty dishes you once enjoyed are radically altered into something unrecognizable to your taste buds? Men Tei Noodle Cafe on Hereford Street was one of my beloved pre- and post-game eateries, but last night I went there and since my last visit the gyoza had metamorphosed into a size, shape, and most importantly taste inconsistent with what should be heavenly fried bundles of porky goodness.

The ramen I ordered was fine but the bowl seemed smaller than I recalled, but any hot soup would have happily made its way into my gullet given the weather. So, with a mixture of warmth and disappointment in my belly I made my way from the Hynes Convention Center area to Fenway, a gelid wind whipping about flecks of rain that no umbrella could stymie.

I waited for my friend near the Ted Williams statue. Watching people look at something is revealing. Some approached the monument timid and awestruck, others arranging their appearance so that they would appear comely in a photograph with the object, still others stalked by without any appreciation for it other than it being a convenient item to put out their cigarette on.

The best person to bring with you to on a game on a chilly night is a someone from the Midwest. Not only do they have great tips on how to beat the cold but they will be kind enough to treat you to cocoa, coffee, and outstanding baseball conversation. Especially if he is as embroiled as you are in the intricacies of several fantasy baseball leagues.

For who else but a fantasy baseball buff or Red Sox devotee (as we both are) would know of Jon Lester’s maddening habit of nibbling like a Hollywood starlet at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party? The anorexic Lester was not on the mound on Tuesday evening. In his place was a man prepared but not overly prepared to face a former Cy Young award winner.

Lester had his best outing of the season and career so far but did not figure into the decision. The migrating Blue Jays are susceptible to left-handed pitchers and proved this by allowing Lester to only 97 times over eight innings. Lester struck out six, walked four, and allowed a single hit.

Despite the discomfort of the less-than-ideal conditions, Lester staunched his team’s five-game losing streak. Of course, the lefty has dealt with greater discomforts than a rainy night on the hill.

In the bildungsroman of Jon Lester the man, a game such as this may not even be a chapter or even a page. But in the novel-in-progress of Lester’s development as a pitcher, last night’s game may be the pivotal chapter.

(Photos from last night’s game to be posted later this evening.)

April 27, 2008


Game 27: April 27, 2008
Red Sox 0 L: Josh Beckett (2-2) 15-12, 5 game losing streak
WinRays 3 W: James Shields (3-1) 14-11, 6 game winning streak
Highlights: A dominant pitching start ended in Boston’s fifth straight loss. Not only was it the first time the Rays swept the Red Sox but it also propelled Tampa Bay into first place in the American League East.

The Red Sox had a few individual accomplishments of note: Josh Beckett mowed down 13 batters over seven innings of work, a career high. His previous high of 12 came on July 12, 2002 where he was opposed by the Expos. Manny Ramirez had his first stolen base since April 10, 2005 in a game against the Blue Jays. Certainly that theft was nowhere near as dramatic as Ramirez was dreadless back then.

But it was the nine innings of two-hit ball that James Shields turned in that prevailed. The young pitcher continued to fill in admirably in Scott Kazmir’s absence, striking out seven while walking a single hitter.

The game also revealed who will be the Red Sox’s gadfly this season. Light-hitting Jason Bartlett, formerly of the Twins, looks to be Frank Catalanotto 2.0. It was his gutshot single in the third that led to his team’s first run, but it was not thanks to his teammates’ efforts.

Beckett was so perturbed by Bartlett’s presence he fired a pickoff to Kevin Youkilis that even the Gold Glove first baseman couldn’t recover. The ball bounded past the bullpen mounds. By the time J.D. Drew dug up the ball Barlett was headed for third heedlessly.

Drew noodled a throw to home that resembled Johnny Damon’s worst efforts. Bartlett was crossing home plate by the time Jason Varitek came up the line to field the ball.

Bartlett made another appearance on the basepaths in the eighth. He was hit by a pitch, then swiped second, and finally scored on Carl Crawford’s double. Sometime between the third and the eighth Drew regained the strength and accuracy of his arm, heaving the ball to Dustin Pedroia in time for the second baseman to relay to third to hose Crawford.

Rookie standout Evan Longoria scored more conventionally by blasting his third homer of the season in the seventh.

The brooms Rays fans brought to Tropicana Field will be handy to clean off the dust from the empty seats there when the Red Sox fans return home.


Game 26: April 26, 2008
Red Sox 1 L: Clay Buchholz (1-2) 15-11, 4 game losing streak
WinRays 2 W: Scott Dohmann (2-0)
S: Troy Percival (5)
13-11, 5 game winning streak
Highlights: Clay Buchholz joined Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield as the only Red Sox starters to have eight-inning outings. The fireballer and knuckleballer won their games, but the ace apparent came one pitch short of doing the same.

Rayscowbell Just as the Rays team is comprised of players who just recently departed the minors, Tampa Bay’s promotions department must have just come off stints with the Durham Bulls or Montgomery Biscuits or still feel the influence of Mike Veeck. Perhaps with the 10,000 cowbells were meant to make the Rays players feel as if they were back in Durham Bulls Athletic Park or Riverwalk, but more likely it was to give a slight advantage to the outnumbered home team fans. Surprisingly, last night’s attendance was 36,048, which is over twice last season’s average per game headcount.

Jerry Remy’s feud with Raymond continued; the rambunctious mascot left a cowbell for the analyst. “I’ll ring this every time the Red Sox scored,” Remy proclaimed.

Remy would only clank in the once in the fifth inning. Coco Crisp led off with a liner into right and his presence at first proved highly distracting to Rays starter Edwin Jackson. Jackson uncorked a wild pitch during Jed Lowrie’s at bat that had Crisp scurrying all the way to third. The starter then walked Lowrie but composed himself and struck out Julio Lugo.

Lugo disputed Dan Iassogna’s call so vociferously the shortstop was nearly booted. Without Terry Francona’s interceding on his player’s behalf Boston’s infield alignment would have resembled Tony LaRussa’s emergency tactic that required Albert Pujols to play second base on April 22.

Next Jackson turned his attention to Jacoby Ellsbury. The home team’s starter was lucky that Ellsbury’s sharp shot found Evan Longoria’s glove after scorching the third base line as the swift center fielder could have easily doubled. Instead, Longoria knocked down the hit, rushed his throw to first, and pulled first baseman Carlos Peña off first. Crisp was off on contact and scored what would be the visitors’ sole run.

Clay Buchholz cruised after a shaky first inning in which he walked batters back-to-back. From that point he didn’t allow another baserunner until B.J. Upton doubled to start the fourth. Facing the most formidable part of the Rays’ lineup Buchholz induced ground outs from Peña, Longoria, and Hinske to sustain the shutout.

It was but a hint of the dominance Buchholz demonstrated; from the fifth through the seventh no member of the local nine reached base. In the eighth, after striking out Gabe Gross, pinch hitter Dioner Navarro singled to right, setting up Akinori Iwamura’s game-winning home run.

Words I never thought I would have to type: The Red Sox failed to score late in the game because of Tampa Bay’s shutdown bullpen.

Like cowbells at baseball games, that’s just wrong.

April 26, 2008


Game 25: April 25, 2008 ∙ 11 innings
Red Sox 4 L: Mike Timlin (2-2) 15-10, 3 game losing streak
WinRays 5 BS: J.P. Howell (1)
W: Scott Dohmann (1-0)
12-11, 4 game winning streak
Highlights: Tim Wakefield’s knuckler was dancing as much as Raymond the mascot, so much so that Kevin Cash had a difficult time behind the plate. But the movement was too uncontrollable he walked five batters and had both a wild pitch and a passed ball. Extra inning futility characterized the Red Sox batters’ first visit to Tropicana Field. At times their effort was as dull as the Devil Rays’ new uniforms. Taking the “devil” out of their nicknames is like refusing to say “hello” because of the first four letters of the word. HeavenO, three-game losing streak.

In the first inning a fly ball off Dustin Pedroia’s bat lodged itself into the one of the catwalks that ring the dome of Tropicana Field’s roof. It was a metaphor for many of the innings of last night’s game: starting off with potential but then ending with an unsatisfying thud.

One of the thuds was the sound of David Ortiz bellyflopping. In the top of the eleventh Jason Varitek was plunked by Gary Glover and then sacrificed over by Jacoby Ellsbury. Dustin Pedroia shot a single between first and second and Boston’s designated hitter found himself in a crucial at bat.

Ortiz fisted the ball to the first baseman Eric Hinske, who quickly relayed to Jason Bartlett. The shortstop got off a toss to pitcher Scott Dohmann who covered at first and saw first hand Ortiz’s last-second lunge.

Tonight Ortiz is out of the lineup because of improperly deployed landing gear in his red-eye flight landing attempt. His right knee bruised, Ortiz will sit in favor of J.D. Drew. Sean Casey went to the 15-day disabled list and Brandon Moss was recalled to the major league club to shore up Boston’s swiftly deteriorating lineup.

Speaking of deteriorating, Mike Timlin turned out to be the loser last night, but many contributed to the defeat. In the final three innings of the game the last batter had the chance to drive in the go-ahead run and place pressure on the young Rays to match them. But Manny Ramirez struck out in the ninth with two on and Julio Lugo grounded into a double play in the tenth.

Boston failed to take advantage of Akinori Iwamura’s gaffe in the ninth. Instead of erasing lead runner Kevin Cash on a ground ball to him, he decided to throw to first. Tampa Bay’s second baseman took too long to make up his mind, however, and missed the chance to take out Pedroia. Enough time had elapsed that even a not-so fleet-of-foot backup catcher such as Cash would be safe at first.

Another Ray miscue was a managerial one. With two out and B.J. Upton at first, designated hitter Carlos Peña singled to right. Speedy Upton advanced all the way to third on the hit. Joe Maddon then had Nathan Haynes pinch run for Peña. With the score tied in the bottom of the ninth and Upton, who represented the winning run, at third, Maddon removed one of his most potent bats for Haynes. Haynes happened to drive in the winning run in the eleventh with none out and Carl Crawford at second, but in my opinion that doesn’t justify removing 2007’s Comeback Player of the Year in a close divisional match-up when the run Peña represented would have been meaningless.

April 25, 2008


Game 24: April 24, 2008
WinAngels 7 W: Joe Saunders (4-0)
H: Justin Speier (6)
H: Scot Shields (5)
S: Francisco Rodriguez (9)
14-9, 2 game winning streak
Red Sox 5 L: Manny Delcarmen (0-1)
BS: Hideki Okajima (2)
15-9, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: Justin Masterson was drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft. Two years ago did he dare to imagine himself starting at Fenway?

Games I’m Glad I Did Not Watch Live, Part 2 of 2

Actually I was bummed I did not get to experience Justin Masterson’s first major league start in-person as I did Clay Buchholz’s in August of 2007. Buchholz also started against the Angels, and the crowd was piqued as Gary Matthews, Jr. had criticized Boston fans much like Mike Bibby did.

Day games are the most wondrous things when you can be there, immersing yourself in the sights, smells, and sounds of a contest played in full sunshine. They are the most morbid things when they are missed because you are holed up in a hermetically sealed office building for the duration but still have the unhealthy need to record, absorb, and dissect what you already know was a losing effort.

Its saving grace was the debut of Justin Masterson. For the second game in a row a Red Sox staple pitcher was unable to take the mound. Daisuke Matsuzaka fell ill with the flu so the front office scrambled, optioning Craig Hansen back to Pawtucket and summoning Masterson from Portland to Boston.

Some scouts have likened Masterson to Derek Lowe by virtue of his sinker and PECOTA lists Brandon Webb in the top five of comparable players. The problem is the players listed one through four: Nate Minchey, Richie Gardner, Chris Reitsma, and Sean Bergman. If, like me, you are unsure who any of these pitchers except Reitsma are, you are in good company. He did not face players above Double-A until Thursday afternoon.

And yet he lasted six innings against a playoff-caliber lineup, equalizing his walks and strikeouts at four, permitting two hits (one of which was a homer and the only earned run that marred his line), and impressing a fan base that has come to expect excellence from its homegrown players. While it’s unlikely a second outing by him could top Clay Buchholz’s second start in 2007, Masterson’s premiere whetted the fan’s appetite for another showing.

Masterson got a taste of the future, and gave the Red Sox a taste of it as well.

David Ortiz, hungry to get past his early-season slump, slammed a home run with Jacoby Ellsbury on second in the ninth to pull his team within two runs of the left coast division leaders. Manny Ramirez enticingly arced a fly ball to the deepest part of park but Torii Hunter was there to net the ball for the game and series win.

The four-run fourth inning outburst visited upon Javier Lopez, Manny Delcarmen, and Hideki Okajima by the visitors proved too much to overcome, however. With the flu and short starting pitching outings, bullpen overuse is already an alarming trend to monitor this season.

April 24, 2008


Game 23: April 23, 2008
WinAngels 6 W: Jon Garland (3-2)
H: Justin Speier (5)
H: Scot Shields (4)
S: Francisco Rodriguez (8)
13-9, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox 4 L: Craig Hansen (0-1)
15-8, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Jon Lester on three days rest isn’t terribly different from Lester on full rest. He lasted five innings while allowing nine hits, four earned runs, two solo shots off the bat of Gary Matthews, Jr., and two bases on balls. His lone strikeout came against Garret Anderson in the third inning. Kevin Youkilis wasn’t in the starting lineup because of back issues so sparkplug Jed Lowrie covered for him at third. David Ortiz knocked in the tying run in the fourth but the taxed bullpen couldn’t fend off the Angels’ bats.

Games I’m Glad I Did Not Watch Live, Part 1 of 2

The Angels are a contending team. I’m looking forward to the Red Sox sweeping them in the ALDS as they have done in the past two playoffs they have met. For how this American League West team plays in the regular season is different from their postseason selves.

Mike Scioscia is even more tightly wound in the fall. He fiddles with the lineups like Jimy Williams and has his offense scrape out runs as if he were Tony LaRussa. Not that it’s an awful strategy to manage playoff series differently from regular season games, as Terry Francona in October is radically different from his spring and summer approach.

Francona deftly controls the pressure valve of his clubhouse, knowing when to let a bit of steam build up that will power his team on the field and when to release the stress so that his players can be loose when they need to be. Meanwhile, Scioscia hunches over the guardrails of dugouts reacting to every call on every pitch. Perhaps that bulldog mentality of a former catcher helps his club sustain momentum over 162 games, but by the time the postseason rolls around his overbearing mien has his club worn thin.

Craig Hansen made his first major league appearance since August 1, 2006, the beginning of that terrible month where the Red Sox’s chances of making the playoffs slipped away because of thin starting pitching. In light of this month’s flu epidemic, the baseball operation department’s ability to reap the farm for budding talent in emergency situations is heartening compared having to sign pitchers like Kevin Jarvis and Jason Johnson to plug into the rotation as they did in 2006.

How odd that Hansen was so full of promise then and how the innings he works in the majors now will go towards salvaging his formerly vaunted reputation. Hansen allowed the winning run to score in the sixth in the form of Casey Kotchman’s sixth homer of the year after notching two relatively easy outs. The lanky reliever did strike out three, so he had some positives to come away with on this venture into Fenway, but so much more to prove.

April 23, 2008


Game 22: April 22, 2008
Angels 6 L: Darren Oliver (1-1) 12-9, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 7 BS: Hideki Okajma (1)
W: Mike Timlin (2-1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (8)
15-7, 6 game winning streak
Highlights: Another game, another comeback. The Red Sox are 12-0 when leading after eight innings, 5-0 in one-run games, and have had 10 come-from-behind wins.

Dear Mom & Dad,

Well, after two long years I finally got to start another big league game. I didn’t think it would take this much time and Beckett’s neck seizing up for me to see Fenway again, but I’ll take any chance I can get.

Sometimes I wish I were the one traded to Texas instead of K-Man, but then again they are in last place in their division. I’m still trying to figure out if being a middling prospect in a great organization is better than being on the 25-man in a terrible one.

Thanks for sending the Purell and Theraflu. There is some sort of bug going around, and if it’s strong enough to keep Varitek out of the lineup, I definitely don’t want anything to do with it. MDC got sent home, too.

It was the skipper’s birthday. He took the time to welcome me back and talk with me some as he usually does when someone is brought up from the Pawsox even though he was making sure no one was plotting any pranks against him on his 49th.

You probably saw it was a rough go of it yesterday. In the third I almost got out of the jam I caused. Facing Matthews and Vladdy with the bases full made me sicker than any flu, but I managed to get them to pop out to the infield. But then I left too much of a fastball over the dish on the first pitch to Garret Anderson, and even he can put some wood on a toss like that.

In the fourth I let the one-out walk and the stolen base get to me a bit, I guess. I fell behind on the catcher (the catcher, for Christ’s sake!) and he eventually bombed one into the Monster seats. So against Aybar I didn’t want to fall behind, and he knew it too. He was all over the curve I tried to hard to keep in the zone. Coach Farrell came out to talk to me after that. He helped me focus and I struck out that pest Figgins and got Matthews to line out.

I carried out that focus into the fifth and was able to whiff Vladdy (he swings at anything). But then Anderson got to me again and I was pulled. I felt pretty crummy leaving the mound with my team in the hole like that.

I guess it shouldn’t be all that surprising given the string of comebacks, but the team did it again! Peewee doubled to start it off (Vladdy was tripping over himself in right and looked as awkward as hell) and Papi singled him in. Then Youk homered to tie it. I think the ball landed around where Mathis’ did.

Jacoby had two homers and his second one in the sixth gave us the lead. Okajima (real nice guy) blew it in the eighth, though. Then Jacoby scored again, though, on another Peewee double. All the girls in the stand scream Jacoby’s name at whatever he does. Papelbon, too, but not as much. (Never understood why girls think Paps is cute; I guess high-90s heat adds some sort of appeal to a goofy-looking face.)

I’m stoked we won, truly I am. But at this point in my life I wonder if I’m going the way of a guy like Joey Thurston (he got designated so I could come up), who will probably never have a steady job in the bigs. The clock is ticking and it may run out on me.

I see the guys I came up with have success in the majors and I think I can do the same if I could get the chance. Instead, I have to contend with guys like Colon (who’s a cool dude even though he’s always first at the postgame spread) to even get a look.

Your Son David

Dear David,

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: be patient, son. Your day will come. Your mother and I have and will always believe and support you, no matter what you do.

She’s very concerned about you getting down, so she’s making your favorite cookies for you. You should get them soon. She also told me to tell you not to swear and that she loves you, just as I do. (I don’t care about the swearing, though. Those bastards had me going, too.)


April 22, 2008


Game 21: April 21, 2008
Rangers 3 L: Dustin Nippert (1-2) 7-13, 4 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 8 W: Clay Buchholz (1-1) 14-7, 5 game winning streak
Highlights: Even with Co-Player of the Week Manny Ramirez taking a breather (a well-deserved break with his 10-24 and four homers in the last seven games), the Red Sox smacked 12 hits (including four doubles). Julio Lugo in particular took a shine to the Rangers’ pitching. The veteran shortstop, perhaps feeling the pressure because of Jed Lowrie’s outstanding debut, turned in a 4-for-4 performance with a double, a run batted in, and a base on balls.

Nederland, Texas native Clay Buchholz faced off against a team from his home state surrounded by many familiar faces from his Triple-A days: Jacoby Ellsbury led off, Dustin Pedroia manned the keystone sack, Jed Lowrie took over at the hot corner, and Joe Thurston spelled Manny Ramirez in left. Not only were there friends on his side of the ball but he opposed a pair of his former Pawtucket teammates, too: Kason Gabbard was the Rangers’ starting pitcher and David Murphy batted seventh and played right field.

Texas seems to spawn great athletes in abundance. Not 10 miles away in Beaumont, Texas multi-sport phenomenon Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias was born; there is a golf course named in her honor in Buchholz’s town. Most everyone knows of Zaharias’s prowess in track and field and golf, but I was surprised to learn that she also barnstormed with the House of David baseball team. According to Leroy Oliver, a teammate of Zaharias who was quoted in Susan E. Cayleff’s biography on the athlete, Babe “wasn’t really all that good a pitcher,” much like the assortment of arms the Rangers trotted out after Gabbard departed after the second inning due to back stiffness.

It was Dustin Nippert’s line that was marred with eight earned runs over two and a third innings of work, but Franklyn German did let two inherited runs score on David Ortiz’s fifth-inning wall-denting double. Of the Rangers’ hurlers only Joquain Benoit could contain the home team’s profuse offense.

Even over the radio Joe Castiglione and Dave O’Brien’s words painted a clear and vibrant account of the day’s events. In my mind’s eye I could see Buchholz flummox opposing batters with his on-target change-up. As clear as the sky, through their eyes I saw the red-tailed hawk make a flyby during Ortiz’s at bat in the bottom of the seventh. I laughed along with the 36,999-odd spectators at the fan who dropped Milton Bradley’s foul ball in the third. For a State Street Pavilion patron to celebrate so lustily only to have the object of his exultation plummet to the common seats below was a better lesson on class differences than a Charles Dickens or Mark Twain novel.

At least the fan didn’t hurt anything but his pride, as Bill Gramatica did when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament after over-enthusiastically rejoicing in the completion of a 42-yard field goal back in December of 2001. The fan could attribute his clumsiness to the tearing of his transverse carpal ligament.

April 21, 2008


Game 20: April 20, 2008
Rangers 5 BS, L: C.J. Wilson (1, 0-1) 7-12, 3 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 6 W: Tim Wakefield (2-0)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (7)
13-7, 4 game winning streak
Highlights: In 1997 Bob Ryan published The Four Seasons, which was about pivotal seasons in the four local teams: the 1975 Bruins, the 1986 Celtics, the 1996 Patriots, and the 1967 Red Sox. In 2008 one could write about the four seasons in one year, with the Bruins and Celtics making the playoffs, the Patriots preparing to avenge the humiliation in the Super Bowl, and the Red Sox embarking upon their title defense. In the book of this season, this game will be prominently featured, perhaps along with FanGraph’s Win Probability summary.

For no one could resist the story of an aging, loyal pitcher with a fluky pitch persevering through eight innings for the win while the young bucks around him struggled to get through seven. The contrast between Tim Wakefield’s placid acceptance of the leadoff homer by Ian Kinsler and the three-run shot of Milton Bradley in the sixth compared to C.J. Wilson’s inescapable deterioration in eighth was striking.

The very essence of Wakefield’s signature pitch is that not even he knows where it will end, necessitating a Zen mind. One run behind, five runs behind, it matters not.

Manny Ramirez is usually of this philosophy: his mind only in the moment, not tormented by past failures or future worries but simply reacting to the pitch. But today for some reason the left fielder tangled with home plate umpire Paul Emmel about balls and strikes and was ejected in the second inning.

The superstar in the lineup, or not in the lineup, it mattered not.

Two bases loaded situations in the sixth and seventh innings not turning into runs... now, that mattered. The Zen mind requires emptiness, such as the emptying of loaded bases when they are full.

The Red Sox embraced absence in the seventh by hitting to where the Rangers weren’t. Building on the two runs scored in the seventh, Jacoby Ellsbury blooped a single into no-man’s land with two out and was doubled in by Jed Lowrie in the eighth. Next David Ortiz sneaked another single that nearly skipped into the outfield but Kinsler dashed almost to the first base line to stop the ball from bleeding through. Kinsler forgot about his middle infield counterpart Lowrie, who scored on Texas’s absentmindedness.

Pinch hitter Dustin Pedroia doubled to the triangle and capered along the same path as Josh Hamilton’s errant throw. Hank Blalock stumbled after the ball and nearly tagged Pedroia, but the second baseman eluded the touch with one step to his left and a lunge to the sack.

The bases filled just as Wilson’s mind flooded with doubt. Sean Casey’s mind cleared as he fouled off a couple of pitches and realized he was swinging at balls rather than strikes. Action through inaction, he walked the winning run in.

April 20, 2008


Game 19: April 19, 2008
Rangers 3 H: Jamey Wright (3)
BS, L: Joaquin Benoit (2, 1-1)
7-11, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 5 W: Javier Lopez (1-0)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (6)
12-7, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: David Ortiz’s eighth-inning single for the tie and Manny Ramirez’s 496th homer for the win was proof that the Dynamic Duo is gearing up for another spectacular season. Kyle Farnsworth was suspended three days and fined $2,000 for throwing at Ramirez’s head on April 17. The reliever is appealing the decision. The Bruins expand their appeal by defeating the Canadiens and forcing their playoff series to seven games.

With Boston’s designated hitter showing signs of life, its left fielder striding inexorably into the the 500 home run club, and a passel of young players hitting like longtime pros, it’s not the offense that is concerning about this crew.

Rather, it’s the collection of starting pitchers who aren’t able to go deep into the game that is worrisome. Daisuke Matsuzaka has been the workhorse of the group with all five of his starts lasting at least five innings and two where he nearly completed the seventh inning. Josh Beckett has also improved from four and two-third innings in his first start to eight in his start against the Yankees in the Bronx.

In the four starts prior to last night’s game Jon Lester had two that were under five innings and one that went into the seventh. Which Lester showed up last night, the one who over thinks his approach to each batter or the one who trusts his stuff?

It depends on which inning you watched and which batter he faced. David Murphy started off hot by clanking a double off the scoreboard, but then Lester sat him twice. Gerald Laird also struck out twice against the southpaw and Adam Melhuse froze on one of Lester’s fastballs in the fourth to round out the quintet of Lester’s punchouts.

Oddly enough and as Jerry Remy noted, it was lefty Josh Hamilton who knocked in the Rangers’ only longball of the night with his first-inning shot into the Monster seats. Lester’s splits show that lefties slug .517 against him compared to .384 for righties, but that is in 32 plate appearances versus 90. In comparison, Lester strikes out southpaws at a rate of 9.95 per nine innings and right-handers at 3.54. It seems that the reverse split observation is an overstatement; lefties hit for more power against Lester and one is more likely to remember when a hitter gets extra base hits against someone that he has a disadvantage against than not. Furthermore, the strikeout rates I quoted are also an exaggeration given the size of the data available.

Manny Delcarmen is taking the buccaneering thing too far: his scraggly goatee is inspiring as much fear in batters as his mid-90s fastball. Mike Timlin hurled an unnerving two-thirds of an inning in which he allowed two hits, but Javier Lopez induced a liner off the bat of Hamilton to end the eighth and secure a vulture win. Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t his strikeout self but overcame a leadoff single by Hank Blalock to tally his sixth save.

April 19, 2008

Manrui Hōmuran [満塁ホームラン]

Game 18: April 18, 2008
Rangers 3 L: Luis Mendoza (0-2) 7-10, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 11 W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (4-0) 11-7, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: David Ortiz buoyed his team not only with his smile but also with his third-inning manrui homuran (grand slam home run). The first character means “full” and the second stands for “bases.” The remainder of the phrase is the Japanized pronunciation for home run, keeping in mind that the “a” sound in Japanese is the same as in Spanish or Hawaiian.

I entered through Gate E and bought a raffle ticket for the 2007 championship ring. Just as they did in 2005, a sample ring was on hand to entice fans to enter the raffle, as if further encouragement would be needed.

The weather was near-perfect last night. The cocoa being hawked by the vendors just last week was replaced by Sports Bars and Italian ice. The dancers entertaining the fans for Puerto Rico Day could wear flirtatious dresses without getting a chill. Kids taken to Fenway for their first ballgame weren’t bundled up as if they were on a Trans-Siberian trek.

The temperature wasn’t the only thing heating up. Rookies Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie played in place of their older and, in Coco Crisp’s case, ailing counterparts. The pair not only held their own but improved upon the production of the players they replaced. In his Fenway debut Lowrie sent a liner into the left field corner, unafraid to slash at a pitch he liked with two out and a strike against him.

The extra base hit rattled Luis Mendoza, who signed as a minor league free agent with the Red Sox in 2000. He passed to the Padres on waivers in July of 2005 only to be reclaimed from the NL team later in the month. In 2006 Boston sent him to the Rangers for Bryan Corey.

Certainly Mendoza’s dreams in the years after he joined the Red Sox involved pitching in Fenway were nothing like what happened with the next three batters he faced. Pitching from the stretch unhinged his mechanics and he walked Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia in a mere nine pitches.

David Ortiz stepped into the batter’s box and one toss later a fan in the Monster seats had a souvenir. The lyric little bandbox turned into a raucous rock show as Papi rounded the bases with even more flash bulbs popping than usual.

Not to be outdone by oldtimers, in the next inning Ellsbury improved upon J.D. Drew’s walk, Jason Varitek’s double, Sean Casey’s single, and Lowrie’s sacrifice fly with a stand-up triple. Had the angle of the ball’s caroms eluded Josh Hamilton for a few seconds more, we could have been looking at an inside-the-park home run.

Knowing he couldn’t leg out such an accomplishment without strategically placed mines in the outfield, Pedroia fired a four-bagger one row beyond where Ortiz hit his.

Jerry Meals, home plate umpire of the evening, also happened to be behind the dish when Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters in 1998. Either his zone has shrunk since then or Daisuke Matsuzaka was barely missing; the starter hurled 101 pitches in just five and one-third innings of work. Pitching with such a large lead should have been easier on the starter, but Matsuzaka didn’t have his prime stuff and was knocked out of the game when Hank Blalock arced a two-run homer into the Red Sox bullpen.

The denizens of the pen, those corsairs of the club, sent out Javier Lopez, David Aardsma, and Mike Timlin to finish off the last-place Rangers.

April 18, 2008


Game 17: April 17, 2008
WinRed Sox 7 W: Josh Beckett (2-1) 10-7, 1 game winning streak
Yankees 5 L: Mike Mussina (1-3) 9-8, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: The blind item that Peter Gammons wrote long ago about how an Ivy League-caliber player didn’t want to be drafted by a New York team because of the diversity of the city still haunts Mussina, but him plunking Jacoby Ellsbury doesn’t make a good case for the aging righty’s tolerance. What is appealing about Mussina is that the Yankees continue to display him and his decaying skills every fifth day, much to Boston’s benefit.

Manny Ramirez blasted two home runs last night, one to dead center and another high into the left field stands. The pair of moonshots brought him to a career total of 495 and sole possession of 24th place in total home runs.

Of all the members of the visiting team only David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t manage a hit off Mike Mussina. Even the hobbled Kevin Youkilis racked up two hits and two runs. Every Red Sox player felt poised to boost their hit totals last night: after flying out to shallow center Sean Casey slumped his shoulders, his body language conveying that even he should have launched Mussina’s slops into the stands.

Indeed, Mussina’s fastball is the speed of Josh Beckett’s change-up. Beckett turned in a performance that showed that not only is he working his way back to in-season shape but also that can set aside his desire to strike out every batter he faces. Instead of going for the macho kill, Beckett pitched efficiently to contact, inducing 11 ground outs and eight fly outs while whiffing five. In just 105 pitches he dispatched 24 batters with just a three-run hiccup in the fifth.

Jonathan Papelbon allowed the Yankees back into the game with a fat fastball to Melky Cabrera in the ninth. Cabrera sent the few remaining fans in Stade Fasciste into a frenzy with his two-run four-bagger, but that briefest flash of hope was all they would see.

One couldn’t draw a better ending to the game: Papelbon sat the recently-wedded Hideki Matsui with a mere four pitches. After the game, Matsui told reporters that his wife was saddened by his lack of clutch hitting and held up an artist’s rendering showing a disappointed Mrs. Matsui.

And thus the universe is almost set completely aright: the Red Sox are back in first, back at Fenway (where I’m going tonight), and the weather is ideally suited for baseball. All that is left is for Beckett, or another pitcher, to avenge Kyle Farnsworth’s headhunting of Ramirez. Since the game was close, last night wasn’t the time, but come July, a Yankee hitter will have the imprint of baseball stitches on some part of his anatomy.

April 17, 2008


Game 16: April 16, 2008
Red Sox 9 L: Julian Tavarez (0-1) 9-7, 1 game losing streak
WinYankees 15 W: LaTroy Hawkins (1-0)
H: Billy Traber (1)
S: Brian Bruney (1)
9-7, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: In the bottom of the sixth, Manny Ramirez made a running, backhanded snag of a slicing fly ball off the bat of Bobby Abreu for the first out. Although he caught the ball short of the warning track, he kept scampering towards the wall and bounced off it in a sort of half-Lambeau Leap. That’s why I never understood the extreme enmity towards Ramirez, as he loves the game and plays it with manifest joy.

It’s those glimpses of joy that Red Sox fans had to focus on in this maddening, back-and-forth brouhaha. With neither Clay Buchholz or Chien-Ming Wang pitching well, it became a war of attrition. Boston’s bullpen has had recent success, but with no starting pitcher being able to go seven strong and two games against Cleveland that stretched them thin, asking the relief corps to fend off the Yankees was too much to ask.

Another mirthful moment was Sean Casey’s contribution to the blooper reel in the top of the fourth. After floating a single into shallow center to plate Jason Varitek, Casey displayed excellent baserunning knowledge and took second on the throw. Effectiveness does not equate to elegance in first baseman. A panicked Casey thought he might get picked off the keystone sack and fell down when he tried to change course. Instead of saving his dignity he crawled his way back to the bag and then peered out from under a skewed helmet to see that there was no throw from home. Indeed, there was no one to even catch the ball if there had been a throw from the backup backstop Chad Moeller. Accordingly, Casey called himself safe.

When the Red Sox reassumed their positions, Kevin Youkilis made a show of dusting off Casey’s uniform.

I would love to attempt to detail each fluctuation in score in detail, but as I peruse my games notes I see jots of excitement almost immediately squelched by scrawl of distress. No need to relive that nor share it.

Not only am I disappointed in the outcome of last night’s game but also saddened that it was a Yankees fan, Garrett E. Reisman, who threw the first pitch from the International Space Station. For all their boasting about this being a Yankee Universe, this wasn’t even the first pitch from space; that honor belongs to Commander Ken Bowersox for Game 5 of the 1995 World Series between the Braves and Indians. Bowersox was on the space shuttle Columbia when he made history, as it was both the first time a ceremonial pitch had occurred off-site as well as from space.

Even when doing something cool the Yankees are derivative.

April 16, 2008


Game 15: April 15, 2008
WinRed Sox 5 H: Javier Lopez (2)
BS: Manny Delcarmen (1)
W: David Aardsma (1-1)
S: Hideki Okajima (1)
9-6, 4 game winning streak
Indians 3 BS: Rafael Perez (2)
L: Jensen Lewis (0-1)
5-9, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: Jed Lowrie made his major league debut at the hot corner, a position he has played just three games in since being drafted by the Red Sox. He was the second supplemental round pick of the 2005 draft, a compensatory pick for allowing Orlando Cabrera to lapse into free agency. That draft also yielded Jacoby Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, and Clay Buchholz.

Amazing to think that right after winning the World Series in 2004 the Red Sox reloaded with Jacoby Ellsbury, who contributed to the 2007 title, and Clay Buchholz, who pitched a no-hitter in his second major league start.

Imagine that after toiling away in a branch office for three years with somewhat lackluster results, you finally get a position in headquarters. Then your contributions immediately lead to a multi-million dollar sale that launches your company past its competitors. That’s Jed Lowrie’s career arc so far with the Red Sox.

Lowrie added his own page to the growing volume of youthful contributions in the seventh inning. In his third major league plate appearance the infielder faced tough lefty Rafael Perez with the bases loaded, no out, and his team trailing by a run.

He knocked a ground ball past a flailing Jhonny Peralta to plate Kevin Youkilis and Ellsbury, who had reached on bases on balls issued by the feckless Jorge Julio. Ellsbury also notched a run in the fifth thanks to Lowrie’s fielder’s choice, making the newest member of the franchise the RBI leader of the evening.

Of course Tim Wakefield and the gang would vandalize a random ball with messy writing and misspelled names, but Jeb, er, Jed, would of course be presented with the actual ball replete with Wakefield’s calligraphic flourishes.

The lead Lowrie secured would not last long, however. Javier Lopez relieved Wakefield in the bottom of the seventh and after two quick outs couldn’t put away the Indians. Lopez nailed Travis Hafner with a pitch and then nearly won the battle against Victor Martinez.

Martinez is not your stereotypical offensively-challenged catcher. He prevailed in the 10-pitch at bat against Lopez with a single to left. Terry Francona pulled Lopez in favor of Manny Delcarmen, who gave up the lead the same way Hafner reached base. Even though was struck in the hands by Delcarmen’s mid-90s heat, Ryan Garko took his base after a brief visit by the trainer, his pain paving the way for a tied game.

Another catcher played a pivotal role in the ninth. Jason Varitek pinch hit for Kevin Cash and arced an impressive shot into the left field stands. Varitek, with his slowing bat, massive contract, and unchanging at-bat music, is so easy to malign. But then he does something like this, a monumental strike that propelled his team into first place in the AL East, and you remember why he is the captain, and why you can’t help but like him.

April 15, 2008


Game 14: April 14, 2008
WinRed Sox 6 W: Mike Timlin (1-1) 8-6, 3 game winning streak
Indians 4 H: Rafael Betancourt (2)
L, BS: Joe Borowski (2, 0-2)
5-8, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Progressive Field? The stadium that holds the record for sellouts (455 games between 1995 and 2001) now has sold out in another way. It was originally named after the Jacobs brothers who owned the team from 1986 to 2000 and who owned the naming rights until this season.

Joe Borowski wishes he could rename himself after his team’s loss last night. The shoddy closer came in the game with a one-run margin to preserve in the ninth.

His defense did him no favors by aligning themselves in the outfield such that Julio Lugo dropped a double into left field. Coco Crisp bunted Lugo over and could have actually notched his second hit of the evening if Jerry Layne made the correct call. It was another defensive lapse by the Indians, who should have realized that Crisp has been bunting for base hits at a rapid clip.

With one out, last year’s Rookie of the Year teamed up with Lugo to score the tying run on a sacrifice fly. Dustin Pedroia smacked an arc into the poised glove of David Dellucci.

The exorcism of David Ortiz in the Red Sox dugout just before the game seemed successful. Whether it was the santeria parodied by the character Pedro Cerrano in the movie Major League or some more mundane Catholic rite, whatever Mike Lowell and his devotees performed worked. Ortiz singled twice, both hits to the opposite field, with his ninth-inning effort representing the go-ahead score.

Jacoby Ellsbury pinch ran for Ortiz, but the rookie’s speed wouldn’t be needed. Borowski gifted Manny Ramirez with an 82 MPH fastball, for want of a better term.

With his moonshot into the gate leading to the concourse Ramirez tied Fred McGriff and Lou Gehrig with 493 career home runs.

The win would not have been possible without earlier runs by Kevin Youkilis, who doubled in Pedroia in the first and homered in the eighth. Pedroia and Lugo also teamed up in the seventh for a run on the second baseman’s single, which handcuffed his counterpart.

Mike Timlin at last displayed proof that it is not time to hang up his spikes in favor of bingo cards with his perfect eighth inning. Even more surprising was Julian Tavarez’s relief appearance: he took over in the fifth with the bases soused and one out and struck out Ryan Garko and Dellucci. He bridged the gap between another abbreviated and disappointing start by Jon Lester to Timlin and Jonathan Papelbon’s immaculate innings.

April 14, 2008

Isshō Kenmei [一生懸命]

Game 13: April 13, 2008
Yankees 5 L: Philip Hughes (0-2) 6-7, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 8 W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (3-0)
H: David Aardsma (1)
H: Javier Lopez (1)
7-6, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Every once and a while I order specialty snacks from J-List, an exporter of specialty Japanese products founded by an American named Peter Payne (warning: they also sell producs for adults only). Not only does he run a great service but he also writes regular columns on his observations of Japanese culture. Like me, he was drawn to the idiom isshō kenmei, a concept whose characters translate literally to “to put one’s only life on the line,” or to try extremely hard.

That is exactly what Daisuke Matsuzaka had to do Sunday night. He threw 116 pitches in the minimum number of innings required for a decision, including a whopping 32 pitches to seven batters in the fourth. In each game a pitcher throws he puts his livelihood, which for elite athletes is the equivalent of life, on the line. Frigid nights chilling an arm with more than a hundred pitches on it was not the most cautious course of action for Terry Francona to take.

The Yankees were more attentive to their 21-year-old potential ace. Phil Hughes labored similarly but was pulled after just two innings and 65 pitches. He did start a third inning of work but, failing to get an out, was replaced by Ross Ohlendorf.

Hughes has family ties in Rhode Island and even grew up a fan of the Red Sox, but the Yankees gave him $1.4 million reasons to put aside his childhood allegiance. He is not extremely far removed from his boyhood, so it wouldn’t be surprising if pitching in the ballpark of his dreams did indeed impinge upon his vaunted talent. He did flash a superlative curveball that dropped like plum-bob; he used the tool to strike out Dustin Pedroia twice and Jason Varitek once.

David Ortiz took a mental health day. He should be joined by Mike Timlin: in two appearances since his return the reliever has surrendered two homers to Jason Giambi. Keeping Bryan Corey, in hindsight, seems to have been the better tactic. (Idea: have Timlin pitch to Ortiz to restore the slugger’s confidence.)

Even without the designated hitter the Boston offense proved formidable. Sean Casey knocked in the only extra base hit for the local nine, a ground-rule double to right. The torrent of runs in the first and third innings came thanks to free passes, passed balls, and timely singles.

The series win was enough to salve the torment of four hours of Joe Morgan’s commentary.

April 13, 2008


Game 12: April 12, 2008
Yankees 3 L: Mike Mussina (1-2) 6-6, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 4 W: Josh Beckett (1-1)
H: Manny Delcarmen (2)
H: Hideki Okajima (3)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (4)
6-6, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Regarding rain delays, Rule 3.10(c) states, “The umpire-in-chief shall at all times try to complete a game. His authority to resume play following one or more suspensions of as much as thirty minutes each shall be absolute and he shall terminate a game only when there appears to be no possibility of completing it.”

Fox broadcasters weren’t brimming with enthusiasm as the rain delay lated eleven or so minutes over two hours (three hours less than it takes to jackhammer an Ortiz Red Sox jersey out of concrete). One would think their producers could goad a tad of passion into their on-screen talent (using the term loosely) since the company will shell out $257 million per year until 2013 for the rights to MLB games.

Instead, Jeannie Zelasko and company were as antsy as grade-schoolers being held after school as punishment for misbehaving during class. They pouted and whined for 131 minutes, and then Fox had the gall to cut away from the last batter of the game to switch to NASCAR.

Only in my mind did I hear the bawdy opening riff of Dirty Water and the line of Red Sox players congratulating each other for a well-deserved victory since I didn’t find the sister station in time to share in the festivities. Had I switched, I would have seen the end of a 10-pitch battle between Robinson Cano and Jonathan Papelbon.

The Yankee keystone sack man lasted longer than his corner-infielding teammate Alex Rodriguez. The former MVP looked anything but as he couldn’t stomach the three-scoop dish of blazing fastballs the Red Sox closer served. Rodriguez got a nibble of the first helping but tasted nothing else as he greedily lunged two more times to finally conclude the top of the eighth.

The home team notched the first run of the game in the fourth. Mike Mussina hung a curve right in Manny Ramirez’s kitchen and the slugger’s blast could have knocked over the Sausage King cart on Lansdowne if a sign hadn’t interceded.

Josh Beckett lost his bearings in the sixth and allowed consecutive singles to bottom-of-the-order batters Jose Molina and Alberto Gonzalez. Joe Girardi isn’t long removed from his days managing a National League team: he directed Johnny Damon to sac bunt and Melky Cabrera flied out deep enough into center that even Molina could tag up from third.

I was truly attempting to avoid using the word “speedy” with the replacement shortstop’s surname, so let’s just say Gonzalez was quick enough to score the go-ahead run on a wild pitch.

Youngsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, while respectful of the game, are exactly the type to answer back to their elders. The former singled and the latter doubled, putting their team in position to take the lead with David Ortiz and Ramirez backing them up.

Ortiz’s struggles continued, however, and he frustratingly struck out on a foul tip. Mussina somehow talked Girardi into keeping him on the mound to face Ramirez. Perhaps the pitcher has incriminating photos he found in the locker that he took over from Girardi.

Ramirez again took Mussina deep, lofting yet another fly ball into the triangle. The Red Sox took the lead and through rain and delay would not relinquish it.

Tonight the rubber game will be carried by ESPN, whose broadcasting team of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan are if anything overly respectful of baseball establishment. Thank goodness for mute buttons.

April 12, 2008


Game 11: April 11, 2008
WinYankees 4 W: Chien-Ming Wang (3-0) 6-5, 2 game winning streak
Red Sox 1 L: Mike Timlin (0-1) 5-6, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Last night was Native American Day at Fenway Park and Jacoby Ellsbury, a member of the Navajo Nation, didn’t make an appearance in the game. It’s unlikely that he or anyone else could have improved upon Coco Crisp’s 1-for-4 showing given Wang’s dominance. The Yankee ace ended the evening with a meager two hits (one a J.D. Drew homer, the only Boston run) encumbering his line, with no walks, three strikeouts, and 93 pitches to his credit.

The loudest my section (5 in the right field grandstand) got besides cheering for J.D. Drew’s solo shot into the Red Sox bullpen was when a rambunctious female Yankee fan got booted. At first she wasn’t swearing or disrespecting Boston players or fans, merely shouting for her team (“Hip, hip, Jorge!” “I love you, Bobby!”) fueled by some liquid courage.

When the bases were loaded with Yankees in the eighth, however, she proved to be equally soused. Drunkenness claimed the better part of common sense and she got into yelling matches with Red Sox fans in the vicinity. Fenway security descended  upon her and when she refused to leave the stadium with her Boston Police officers took more forceful measures.

If only there were some policing of Boston batters’ impatience: 17 times Chien-Ming Wang used three or fewer pitches against them in an at bat. Twice this resulted in success as Drew’s homer came on the second pitch and Coco Crisp’s bunt single on the first pitch caught the Yankees unawares. Since Wang’s control is so impeccable, it’s difficult to fault the Red Sox for aggressively going after the first pitch as they would otherwise fall behind in the count. Had a few of the shots to the outfield found the gaps or grabbed the wall, there would have been more baserunners in the home team’s favor. Such is the quandary when facing a sinking fastball of Wang’s caliber.

Clay Buchholz showed promise but not polish in his six innings of work. He was sharp for the first few innings, but as the pitch count increased he began to miss the zone with his fastball. In the fifth inning alone he had all three of his bases on balls.

When attending such losses in person the best memories often happen off the field. Before the game at Gate E throngs of fellow fans milled about hoping to be amongst the first into the park. A Fenway employee came out and spotted a family. “Who’s your favorite player?” he quizzed two boys.

“Big Papi!” exclaimed one while the other hollered “David Ortiz!”

“Well, I have a surprise for you. I was in the park during batting practice and this ball,” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a ball scuffed with grass stains, “was just hit against the Green Monster by Big Papi. It bounced off and rolled right toward me.”

The kids were too stunned to speak. “What do you say?” prompted their father.

After gulping down their astonishment after a few they finally managed, “Thank you... thank you so much.”

“You two are going to have to share it, okay?” said the attendant before heading back into the park.

“Okay!” agreed the older boy, though his younger brother didn’t look entirely convinced by this eager affirmation.

Years from now, this is what will be remembered, not the loss.

April 11, 2008


Game 10: April 10, 2008
Tigers 6 L: Nate Robertson (0-1) 1-8, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 12 W: Tim Wakefield (1-0)
H: Manny Delcarmen (1)
H: Hideki Okajima (1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (3)
5-5, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: The bullpen guys are a tight-knit group. Even this season they continue to pound out rhythms from their dwelling near the bleachers. But are they so bound to one another that Julian Tavarez would allow three runs in the eighth to score so Papelbon could get his third save of the season? I wouldn’t put it past “dumb like a fox” Tavarez.

The Bruins took over NESN because they squeaked into the playoffs, so I was forced to watch the game in non-HD format.

Even without high definition, however, I did have an issue with second base umpire Greg Gibson’s call of Coco Crisp’s hit in the fourth inning. The replay showed that the ball bounced in the fair territory beyond first then hit the foul pole. After hitting the foul pole, it wasn’t touched by a fan, so the ball should not have been called dead because the foul pole is an extension of the foul line.

Instead, Crisp was granted a ground-rule double because of fan interference. If the call had been correct perhaps both Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew would have crossed the plate for Crisp rather than just Youkilis.

Gibson may have still been reeling from the play just prior where Manny Ramirez ran through DeMarlo Hale’s stop sign to score on Drew’s single to shallow right. To see Ramirez motor around the horn to score his team’s first run of the game was simply that much of a spectacle that it skewed everyone’s view of reality for a few minutes.

Without Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney as the bridge from starter to closer Todd Jones, the Tigers bullpen has been reminiscent of the Orioles 2007 ragtag band of relievers. Between them, Zach Miner, Francis Beltran, and Yorman Bazardo allowed eight runs to score in the final two innings.

Youkilis took his first baseman Gold Glove credentials to the hot corner and with the second batter of the game proved that he has not lost his Midas touch at third. He flawlessly barehanded a grounder off the bat of Placido Polanco and fired it across the diamond. I think he should showboat at first and catch all put-outs thrown at him sans glove.

Speaking of dashing defensive play, Kevin Cash has filled in for Doug Mirabelli without a hitch. His slightly off-kilter crouch enables him to pounce after stray knucklers, which he did to great effect in the top of third. Cash snatched a butterfly out of thin air with Carlos Guillen at the dish and the bases loaded. Two pitches later Guillen popped out to short, disaster and yet another Mirabelli stint with the Red Sox averted (some would say the former equates to the latter and they would have a fair point).

Despite injuries to Mike Lowell and Alex Cora, Boston carries momentum and a .500 record into a three-game series against the Yankees, who hold the same win-loss tally. I’ll be at tonight’s tie-breaking game, cheering on Clay Buchholz as he faces New York ace Chien-Ming Wang.

April 10, 2008


Game 9: April 9, 2008
WinTigers 7 W: Jeremy Bonderman (1-1)
H: Bobby Seay (1)
H: Francis Beltran (1)
1-7, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox 2 L: Jon Lester (1-1) 4-5, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: It had to happen sometime, but unfortunately it happened to the Red Sox. The Tigers garnered their first victory of the season, allowing the 1988 Orioles to continue to hold the record for the worst start to a major league season with 21 straight losses.

To add to the indignity, Mike Lowell was placed on the 15-day disabled list for a sprained left thumb, an injury that occurred on the first play of the game. Lowell tumbled after a grounder off the bat of Ivan Rodriguez but still managed to throw out the runner and stay on the field until the end of the top of the second.

The Red Sox brain trust was further depleted when Alex Cora, while practicing to take over at the hot corner, felt a twinge in his elbow. Jed Lowrie was called up to fill the vacancy.

Rather than stew about Edgar Renteria’s post-Boston resurgence or the two homers that Marcus Thames and and Carlos Guillen managed to launch off Jon Lester and Javier Lopez respectively, I took a browse through Bill Nowlin’s Day by Day with the Red Sox.

According to Nowlin, 18 years ago on April 9, 1990 Bill Buckner was given a standing ovation by the Opening Day crowd upon his return to the team after stints in California with the Angels and Kansas City with the Royals. It was the media who long persecuted him, as he readily stated in his press conference after the 2008 Opening Day festivities.

The first game was played at Fenway Park in 1912, an exhibition game between Harvard and the Red Sox. The game was played during flurries and was called in seven innings because of darkness. The world champions-to-be won 2-0.

These are better memories than Wednesday night’s games, though seeing Sean Casey have success against his former team was heartening, especially given the recent spate of injuries.

April 9, 2008

Shonichi [初日]

Game 8: April 8, 2008
Tigers 0 L: Kenny Rogers (0-2) 0-7, 7 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 5 W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (2-0) 4-4, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: For his third shonichi (opening day), Matsuzaka lasted six and two-thirds and looked sharp for most of his outing. He allowed no runs to score while racking up seven strikeouts and walking four. Two of the walks were to Miguel Cabrera, someone who should not be feeding strikes as his weight loss and cold streak has probably made him ravenous for any sort of meatball. The Red Sox enjoyed some home cooking at last: Coco Crisp and and J.D. Drew had single servings of rib eyes while Kevin Youkilis helped himself to two. Cabrera wishes he had such a diet.

Red-tailed hawks and Tigers and Bruins, oh my.

While Kevin Youkilis was drawing a walk in the second inning one of the winged denizens of Fenway Park made an ostentatious flight around the park with his snack. Inspired by the aileron roll of the F-16s earlier in the day, a red-tailed hawk swooped around the park and neatly transferred her prey from beak to foot in flight.

Other predators did not find such easy quarry. The Tigers only mustered five hits and scored no runs. It’s difficult to push anyone across the plate when you have a total of nine baserunners in a game.

Although the local nine’s powerful lineup didn’t create any souvenir shots to the outfield, Kevin Youkilis doubled in the sixth to plate Julio Lugo and Manny Ramirez tripled in the third into the triangle and scored on Placido Polanco’s errant throw (his first error since July 1, 2006).

As the crowd filled in for one line for Steven Tyler’s rendition of God Bless America so did Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima cover for Daisuke Matsuzaka in the last two and one-third innings of the game. None the worse for the abuse Delcarmen suffered in Toronto by Frank Thomas, the Pride of Hyde Park struck out two and his bullpen mate matched him.

More brilliant than the sequins on Neil Diamond’s Red Sox jacket was this jewel of a game, the first win of many in the Fens of Boston.

April 7, 2008


Game 7: April 6, 2008
Red Sox 4 L: Josh Beckett (0-1) 3-4, 3 game losing streak
WinBlue Jays 7 W: Roy Halladay (1-1)
S: Jeremy Accardo (3)
4-2, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: Frank Thomas is the only player in history to have seven consecutive seasons of at least a .300 batting average, 100 walks, 100 runs, 100 runs batted in, and 20 home runs. He maintained this run from 1991 to 1997, which includes the strike-shortened year 1994. You wouldn’t think it’s possible, but he is more of a nuisance to the Red Sox than Frank Catalanotto. At least that runt wouldn’t hit monstrous grand slams off the bullpen as Thomas did to Manny Delcarmen in the fifth inning.

I’ve been procrastinating. There are a few things as unpleasant as writing about a series sweep, and I managed to do them all before writing this column: wading through two loads of laundry, slogging through a few weekly tasks at The Wood, the Abad, and the Uggla (the premiere fantasy franchise league in the northern hemisphere), and attempting to salvage my flailing team in a linear weights league (negative points in a complex scoring system are difficult to recoup).

I reviewed the notes to my game to see where it went wrong for Josh Beckett. With 42 pitches on his arm going into the fourth, an arm that had been dealing mid- to high-90s heat, Beckett flagged a bit. He walked Alex Rios on five pitches and served a gopher ball to Vernon Wells after battling through a half a dozen pitches.

Despite the longball Beckett returned in the bottom of the fifth to handle the wraparound of the lineup. He did so well enough, striking out fan favorite John McDonald and inducing a ground out by Shannon Stewart. But Aaron Hill, who recently received a contract extension, singled to center. Rios, who was also locked in by the Blue Jays with an extension of his own, walked after a strenuous nine-pitch confrontation. Wells took advantage of the fatigued Beckett by waiting out four off-target balls for a free pass.

Do I need to go into the grand slam or Julio Lugo’s three errors?

There were a few positives to come out of the win: homers by Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, and J.D. Drew come to mind. In the fourth Manny Ramirez reveled in his status as Toronto’s public enemy number one: he circled around Frank Thomas’s mammoth shot like a raptor spying its prey, leaped, improbably snared the ball, and rebounded his body off the outfield wall, arm outstretched with orb displayed for those jeering him to observe.

Thankfully the eighth-inning collision between McDonald and Wells was not nearly as cataclysmic as that of Johnny Damon and Damian Jackson in Game 5 of the 2003 ALDS, but any incident that is even vaguely reminiscent of that accident is worrisome. Both Toronto players shook off the cobwebs and stayed in the game.

The Red Sox will have to do the same to face the winless Detroit Tigers back in Fenway. The fourth season opener will hopefully be the charm, Japanese superstition about the number four aside.

April 6, 2008


Game 6: April 5, 2008
Red Sox 2 L: Clay Buchholz (0-1) 3-3, 2 game losing streak
WinBlue Jays 10 W: Jesse Litsch (1-0)
H: Brian Tallet (3)
3-2, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: It started out promisingly enough with Manny Ramirez doubling in David Ortiz, who had walked to become the game’s first baserunner. But Toronto shot ahead in the fourth, bruising Buchholz with three singles and profiting from Sean Casey’s mishandling of Gregg Zaun’s grounder.

Six more runs for the home team would come in the sixth. Kyle Snyder’s began the inning by walking Aaron Hill and Marco Scutaro with only nine pitches while sprinkling in a wild pitch that allowed Hill to take second. The only out Snyder recorded came on a sacrifice bunt.

Bryan Corey did not improve on Snyder’s outing, but he faced the lethal trio of Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, and Frank Thomas. The triad doubled, singled, and homered respectively. Only the combined mediocrity of Julian Tavarez and Lyle Overbay allowed the inning to end.

Snyder was designated for assignment to make room for Josh Beckett. Since Snyder is out of options, he cannot be sent to Pawtucket. There wasn’t even a female streaker to cheer up the reliever on his way out. Hopefully any resentful feelings Snyder may have fade before April 8, since he is entitled to a 2007 World Championship ring.

The most interesting development of this series other than the Blue Jays reprising their role as the Red Sox’s perennial nudnik was the untrammeled dislike Toronto fans have shown Manny Ramirez. In the background noise of the game mocking chants of “Manny” were heard in both games. The left field crowd admonished Ramirez in the bottom of the second when Wells placed a single in shallow left that could have been caught by the Boston outfielder.

I guess Canadians don’t appreciate Manny the way the Japanese do.

April 5, 2008


Game 5: April 4, 2008
Red Sox 3 L: David Aardsma (0-1) 3-2, 1 game losing streak
WinBlue Jays 6 W: Shaun Marcum (1-0)
H: Brian Tallet (2)
S: Jeremy Accardo (2)
2-2, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: The Blue Jays publicity department seemed to get some pre-game ceremony tips from their neighbors, the Raptors. Rogers Centre was darkened and disposable rock songs assaulted the ears as a frenetic highlight montage glowed from the screen over center field. The long swaths of bunting covering the fascia rather than the old-fashioned half-circles of fabric was the one updated aspect of the festivities that worked. Donning the uniforms from the Toronto franchise’s heyday seemed to grant the present-day team the confidence to succeed: Marcum pitched an impressive seven innings and Frank Thomas drove in the go-ahead runs in the bottom of the seventh.

David Ortiz sent teammate Tim Wakefield this personal message through XM’s viral marketing site.

Ortizxm2008“Hey, this is Big Papi. You may have heard, [pause] Tim [pause], that I’m running for president of XM. As president I will protect your constitutional rights to pitch indoors whenever possible. I will urge the legislators to create laws in the United States to ban the use of fireworks in enclosed stadiums. I am sure allies such as Canada will follow suit.”

“I know you’re a little bummed at not getting a win last night, but I hope the streakers I sent out in the ninth amused you. The exchange rate might not be favorable, but those crazy Canucks are easily bribed.”

“I was even giving J.D. some batting tips, since us lefties have to stick together. He really came through for us in the seventh with that three-run bomb.”

“Anyway, I know you have to spend a lot of time manicuring your nails, but when you get a chance, be sure to vote for me as president of XM. As you know, I’m running against Jeter. We must not let our country fall into the clutches of the likes of him (although, because of his limited range, not much does get into his clutches).”

April 3, 2008


Game 4: April 2, 2008
WinRed Sox 5 W: Jon Lester (1-1)
H: Bryan Corey (1)
3-1, 2 game winning streak
Athletics 0 L: Alan Embree (0-1) 1-3, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: Last night Kevin Youkilis tied Steve Garvey’s major league record of 193 flawless games at first base. Garvey was far from exemplary in real life: he is known to have fathered two children outside marriage to two different women.

Baseball season has begun, and so has the exploitation of all the illicit ways to watch day games while at work.

Like surreptitiously opening up MLB Gameday in a browser window and Alt-Tabbing if someone happens to walk by, which was what I was doing as Jon Lester compiled his six and two-third innings of scoreless work. Jack Cust certainly takes his hacks at pitches, that’s his second strikeout... I mean, this work-related spreadsheet is ever so interesting!

Or trying desperately to hide the disappointment on my face as the Red Sox loaded the bases in the first and sixth without scoring, which was much like the unsatisfactory response I received from the project manager on the study I am on. Truly, that is the reason why I have this sour look on my face, not because of consecutive strikeouts by Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell or Dustin Pedroia tapping out to the shortstop.

Aside from actually being at the game, there are few things better than slipping away from my desk at the end of the day to turn on 850 AM in the car and hear Joe Castiglone exult in David Ortiz’s second hit of 2008: a soaring homer into dead center, the end result of old friend Alan Embree’s placement of a pitch low and inside.

Did the people at the intersection where Winter Street turns into Totten Pond Road know that the bizarre display of a woman behind the wheel celebrating by herself was me enjoying the first extra base hit by Boston’s designated hitter?

It mattered not to me as I coursed home under a vast and hyaline sky, listening to Castiglione, looking forward to the replay of the game on NESN.

For as fine as Joe is describing Ramirez’s disbelief of Chris Denorfia’s nab of his near-home run in the seventh (“he’s standing there in disbelief”) and Kevin Youkilis’s basket catch (“like a punt returner making a catch”) to conclude the same inning, some things are better seen then heard.

April 2, 2008

Beikoku [米国]

Game 3: April 1, 2008
WinRed Sox 2 W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-0)
H: Hideki Okajima (1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (2)
2-1, 1 game winning streak
Athletics 1 L: Joe Blanton (0-1) 1-2, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: The kanji for the United States of America, pronounced beikoku, translates literally to rice country. This odd association is the result of kanji being used for their phonetic value rather than their meaning, a method of character usage called ateji. The Red Sox are back in America and Matsuzaka looked more at home here than he did in his country of birth: he lasted for six and two-third innings with nine strikeouts and no walks. Only Jack Cust managed an extra base hit, but it was a homer off a first-pitch fastball to lead off the second inning. Matsuzaka even slapped Kevin Youkilis on the butt when the corner infielder handled the ground ball out of Daric Barton and tapped fists with Hideki Okajima when his outing was over, exhibiting the starter’s gradual acquisition of quintessential American athletes’ display of camaraderie.

Wally Bell is broad man with a correspondingly wide strike zone. When it comes to judging home runs, however, the chief umpire of last night’s game was less generous.

Just ask Jason Varitek, who bounced a ball off the top of the scoreboard in left field in the sixth inning. Replays showed the shot cleared the yellow line that demarcates the difference between an automatic four bases and however many stations a hitter’s legs may grant him. But Bell, after a conference with Paul Schrieber, Rob Drake, and Brian Knight, determined that the Red Sox backstop launched an RBI-double rather than a four-bagger. Fortunately the missed call did not prove to be the difference in the game although the run provided the barest margin of victory for the visitors.

Fans of the Athletics may have a similar beef with Bell given his fifth inning call at home. Kurt Suzuki appeared to block the plate and tag Kevin Youkilis before the first baseman touched home with either his foot or hand, but Boston was granted the tying run.

The butchery of the umpires’ calls was foreshadowed by the presence of not one but two Sweeneys on the home team’s roster, Ryan and Mike. Bob Geren’s swap of the two players in the eighth should have been done to “Epiphany,” from the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd. All that remains is for Billy Beane is to acquire Mark Sweeney and he will have a complete trio.

Other carnage included Jack Hannahan bunting to his counterpart in the eighth inning with a man on first and no out. Mike Lowell read the situation brilliantly, charging the bunted ball and relaying to Julio Lugo for the force at second. Coco Crisp, despite his lack of offense, at least read his opponents’ defensive alignment correctly and bunted successfully in the ninth.

The game’s futility drove Oakland fans to drink: by the ninth inning they were holding their signs upside down and entertained delusions that a comeback was in the offing with Jonathan Papelbon on the hill. The closer sat all four batters he faced, and emphatically struck out the final three batters.

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