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Home » Category Listing » May 2008 Game Comments

June 1, 2008


Game 58: May 31, 2008
WinRed Sox 6 W: David Aardsma (2-1)
H: Hideki Okajima (11)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (16)
34-24, 2 game winning streak
Orioles 3 BS, L: Lance Cormier (1, 0-2) 26-28, 3 game losing streak
Highlights: Five hundred home runs for Manny Ramirez. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz also homered; their consecutive four-baggers in the third tied the score. The evening was somewhat dampened with David Ortiz’s departure in the ninth, but x-rays were negative and the designated hitter was diagnosed with a sprained left wrist. Defensive replacement Alex Cora tandemed with Pedroia for a nifty double play to end the game and get Papelbon out of a spot of trouble.

A player deemed not to have class by many entered an elite class comprised of very few last night.

Manny Ramirez is the 24th player to hit 500 hundred home runs. The Boston Globe, NESN, and ESPN provided extensive supporting trivia that affirms that Ramirez is not merely good but great, and Baseball Reference Play Index’s report of Ramirez’s 500 home runs makes for hours of diversion:

  • He is the third player to hit his 500th in a Red Sox uniform, joining Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams. For 264 of them Ramirez wore a Red Sox uniform and 135 dingers were launched at Fenway Park.
  • Eddie Murray and Frank Robinson also hit their 500th homers in Baltimore, but theirs came in Memorial Stadium and they were garbed in home whites.
  • It took Ramirez 7,263 at bats, making him the eighth fastest to attain this milestone.
  • The tape measure shot went 410 feet to the waiting hands of brothers Damon and Jason Woo, New England expatriates living in Manhattan and Washington D.C. respectively. (Technically, it hit Damon’s neck.)
  • His belated birthday gift to himself made him the 12th youngest to attain this feat.
  • His career batting average of .312 trails only Ted Williams (.344), Babe Ruth (.342), and Jimmie Foxx (.325) for members of the 500 club.
  • Jamie Moyer has been most victimized amongst the 324 pitchers Ramirez has homered off of, surrendering 10. That’ll happen if you hang around the MLB for 22 years. Mike Mussina (9) and Tanyon Sturtze (8) round out Ramirez’s favorite three targets.

In the context of the game, Ramirez’s home run added to a one-run lead secured by David Ortiz’s sacrifice fly to plate Jacoby Ellsbury. To begin the home half of the seventh, the Camden Yards crew wheeled out their usual shtick, displaying “A treat for you Red Sox fans...” on the screen and playing “Sweet Caroline.” Like clockwork, the tune abruptly stopped and the Orioles gang flashed an impudent “Not!” on the Jumbotron. Jerry Remy thought it was a tribute to Ramirez, but in reality it was a puerile prank that actually acknowledges the preponderance of Boston fans in Baltimore.

In the context of history, the Red Sox again join arm-in-arm with an all-time great on his walk into the Hall of Fame. Unlike the impending orchestrations surrounding Alex Rodriguez’s presumptive toppling of Barry Bonds, Ramirez carries his own among the sport’s aristocracy but never puts on airs. Manny will high-five fans along his way to Cooperstown; for him this is a culmination of his love and devotion to the game, not a line item on a marketing venture.

May 31, 2008


Game 57: May 30, 2008 ∙ 13 innings
WinRed Sox 5 W: Mike Timlin (3-3)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (15)
33-24, 1 game winning streak
Orioles 2 L: Chad Bradford (2-2) 26-27, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: The Red Sox game started before and ended after the Celtics’ beatdown of the Pistons in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, 89-81. Seemingly out of consideration for fans of both Boston teams torn in loyalties, the Red Sox scored only when their crosstown brethren were not in action.

Early in the game it looked to be one of those typical steamrollings by the Red Sox of the scuffling Orioles. Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a double to the opposite field and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Dustin Pedroia. David Ortiz manhandled Daniel Cabrera’s second fastball over the shift to plate Ellsbury.

I had to look up “suicide squeeze” because I had no idea why Coco Crisp got caught three-quarters of the way to home with Alex Cora at the dish in the second. Earl Weaver, the best Orioles coach ever, Hallf of Famer, and proponent of the three-run homer would have disapproved of such a strategy. A team such as the Red Sox should try it but rarely.

Manny Ramirez pulled a scorching liner into left for a double, leaving the shell-shocked Cabrera to face the resurgent Mike Lowell with one out and runners on second and third. Lowell got just enough of fastball inside to plate the second and final run of the inning.

Those would be the only runs for the visitors for 12 innings. Bookended between the Red Sox’s runs were tying runs by Baltimore and an epic game of roundball in the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Like the Red Sox the Celtics secured an early lead. The Piston fans adopted the fatuous last resort gimmick of sports fans every, the ThunderStix, setting the demise of their team’s championship aspirations to a furious, cacophonous fugue.

Detroit led 68-60 at the end of the third. The quarter ended in yet another flourish of infuriating officiating: with 1:35 left Bennett Salvatore called an offensive foul on Paul Pierce when Rip Hamilton clearly made contact with Pierce as he squared up and made a three. The points were wiped from the board and the ThunderStix rumbled their approval.

The Celtics roared back in the fourth, outscoring the home team 29 to 13. The exodus of mercurial Detroit fans began in earnest; very few stayed to thank or cheer the Pistons despite their loss. Perhaps they had to rush to get on the Red Wings’ bandwagon.

Meanwhile, the majority of the crowd remaining at Camden Yards were Red Sox fans, even as the game entered its thirteenth inning. Red Sox pitcher Class of 2005 Chad Bradford took the mound to pitch to Ramirez and was immediately victimized by Melvin Mora’s galley-west toss over Kevin Millar’s glove. Ramirez scored on Lowell’s liner to left for the lead.

It was not so much the Red Sox’s rejuvenated offense that would extend the frame but rather the Orioles’ slovenly play. Freddie Bynum heaved a throw well right of Millar allowing two more runs to plate.

The copious innings did not dull Boston’s reflexes. With his bare hand Lowell plucked Adam Jones’s chopper out of thin air to put out the rookie for the first out. Jonathan Papelbon closed out the game with two strikeouts, including one of righty Jay Payton who batted in place of the southpaw-batting Bynum. Even late in a losing effort Dave Trembley saw fit to engage in a bit of didactic benching.

One can only hope that David Stern will do the same for the NBA Finals with the deficient officials that have littered the parquet throughout the playoffs.

May 30, 2008


Game 56: May 28, 2008
Red Sox 0 L: Tim Wakefield (3-4) 32-24, 2 game losing streak
WinMariners 1 W: Erik Bedard (4-3)
H: Brandon Morrow (3)
S: J.J. Putz (6)
20-34, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Lou Merloni made his NESN debut in the pre-game show. He wasn't on par with David McCarty, but who could ever live up to the standard set by the former utility player/relief pitcher?

The story of this pitchers’ duel is thankfully brief: slap-hitting shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt smacked a knuckler that got too much of the plate into the left field seats.

It was one of those shots that Tim Wakefield is wont to surrender. For hitters will guess lucky and swing in the general area of where they think the fluttering sphere will alight, however briefly, to connect for a happenstance blast.

I must admit to being somewhat thankful this game wasn’t full of excitement because most of my attention was devoted to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Kendrick Perkins had a monster of a game: five offensive rebounds, 11 defensive rebounds, and 18 points, trouncing Rasheed Wallace in rebounds (one offensive, three defensive) and tying the Pistons center in points.

I did switch over to NESN in time to see another example of Mike Lowell’s sparkling defense in the bottom of the eighth. With Ichiro Suzuki threatening to score from third after advancing there on an off-target throw to second by Jason Varitek, Miguel Cairo cuffed what appeared to be an RBI single behind third. Lowell was there to circumvent the ball’s trajectory down the base line, snaring it backhanded and hurling it bounceless to Kevin Youkilis’s glove for the final out of the inning.

The Celtics travel to Motown tonight to finish off the Pistons after their 106-102 victory at home while the Red Sox continue their so far losing road odyssey to B-more. Daisuke Matsuzaka left Seattle early to get an MRI of his shoulder, the results of which have not yet been announced.

I need an MRI of my finger, which I think is suffering from overuse due to remote control usage during these intersecting weeks of baseball regular season and basketball playoffs.

May 28, 2008

Kokushi [酷使]

Game 55: May 27, 2008
Red Sox 3 L: Mike Timlin (2-3) 32-23, 1 game losing streak
WinMariners 4 W: J.J. Putz (2-2) 19-34, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Kokushi means exploitation, overuse, and abuse. Daisuke Matsuzaka left last night’s game after four innings due to shoulder fatigue. Rany Jazayerli devised the Pitcher Abuse Point (PAP) statistic to gauge the abuse of arms. Not only did Matsuzaka edge Josh Beckett to lead the Red Sox in innings pitched last year but he lead the league in PAP in 2007. Are they paying now for overworking the starter last year?

When Ichiro Suzuki led off the game with a double down the third baseline it was inevitable that the Mariners would take an early lead even with the hapless bats following the center-fielding star. Daisuke Matsuzaka obliged the home team by trying to erase Suzuki at third on Jose Lopez’s sacrifice bunt attempt that only resulted in runners at the corners with none out. Another Jose, Vidro, would drive Suzuki in by grounding into a force out and Raul Ibanez would plate Lopez.

Suzuki led off the third with a single, swiped second, and advanced to third on Sean Casey’s throwing error. The first baseman’s toss to Matsuzaka sent the pitcher sprawling to the turf, something that couldn’t have helped the hurler’s health. David Aardsma took the mound in relief of Matsuzaka in the fifth.

Julio Lugo must have wanted to hang out with Matsuzaka because he got himself ejected by third base umpire Angel Hernandez in the fifth. The abrupt ejection prompted Terry Francona to confront Hernandez and get the rationale behind the official’s dismissal of his shortstop.

The conversation escalated rapidly and Francona was also sent to the clubhouse. He either wasn’t satisfied with Hernandez’s elucidation or was looking forward to a rousing cribbage match against Lugo. (Francona can’t play against Lugo as often as he would like because Dustin Pedroia gets jealous.)

With one strapping blast in the sixth Manny Ramirez tied the game and inched closer to becoming the 24th member of the 500th homer club. It makes one wonder if Ramirez selected his number wittingly.

The Mariners eventually prevailed with Lopez’s liner off Mike Timlin to plate rookie Wladimir Balentien in the ninth. Seattle celebrated as if they had won the World Series when just moments before Yuniesky Betancourt was throwing a tantrum, his bat, and his helmet in the dugout when John McLaren elected to pinch hit Jeremy Reed in his shortstop’s place.

There’s just too much readily available caffeine in that park.

May 27, 2008


Game 54: May 26, 2008
WinRed Sox 5 W: Bartolo Colon (2-0) 32-22, 1 game winning streak
Mariners 3 L: Felix Hernandez (2-5) 18-34, 7 game losing streak
Highlights: The first image I see when I switched over to NESN is Bartolo Colon drinking some Starbucks. There was also a carafe in the dugout with more java readily available. But all the caffeine in the world couldn’t energize the flagging Mariners and their poor record, which is the worst in the majors. David Ortiz homered in the fourth right about the same time Rasheed Wallace got his fifth foul. The former event helped lead the team to victory while the latter was yet another advantage that the Celtics failed to capitalize on in their Game 4 loss.

Felix Hernandez need not sign up for Weight Watchers; looking across the field at Bartolo Colon should be deterrent enough for the younger pitcher to win his battle against weight gain. Although Hernandez’s career is on the ascent while Colon attempts to relaunch his own, it was the visiting pitcher who triumphed last night thanks to a late inning offensive flareup.

Jason Varitek wore camouflage gear in honor of Memorial Day, looking a bit like the Decepticon Armorhide (the tank version with desert paint scheme, not the blue semi). Galvanized by his burly appearance behind the plate, the backstop carried that swagger into the batter’s box. The catcher stood firm in the box in the eighth with the bases jammed and two out, fouling off multiple pitches but then standing pat to take a walk to push the fourth and final run of the inning across home.

Jerry Remy mentioned the lush grass of the infield repeatedly and how it dampens the speed of ground balls. Given the swiftness of Ichiro Suzuki and the defensive excellence of Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez, such a strategic tailoring of Safeco’s diamond makes perfect sense. The sharp groundskeeping strategy stands in stark contrast to Bill Bavasi’s front office moves. Anyone who signs Carlos Silva to a four year, $48M contract does not stand to keep his job for very much longer.

Until that day the one thing Mariners fans can enjoy is Gold Glove-caliber play up the middle. Betancourt slid for a diving grab of Jacoby Ellsbury’s first-inning blooper, impinging on Adrian Beltre’s territory. In the fifth Suzuki dashed to the wall and made an over-the-shoulder basket catch of Varitek’s fly for the second out of the inning and snazzily kept his cap on while recoiling off the wall.

There wasn’t anyone in the area to high five, however.

Dustin Pedroia added another clip to his highlight reel in the third by robbing his second base counterpart Lopez of a base hit with his diving stop. Pedroia had the favor returned in the ninth when Beltre snatched his sharp grounder, got the force at third as his lunge took him to the bag, then fired across the field for the twin killing, 5-3 (coincidentally, Pedroia’s height).

May 26, 2008


Game 53: May 25, 2008
Red Sox 3 L: Jon Lester (3-3) 31-22, 3 game losing streak
WinAthletics 6 W: Joe Blanton (3-6)
H: Keith Foulke (5)
H: Joey Devine (3)
H: Alan Embree (9)
S: Huston Street (11)
28-23, 4 game winning streak
Highlights: Relievers Foulke and Embree ganged up on their former team for a combined one and one-third inning of perfect pitching with two strikeouts. Sometime last night Geremi (also spelled Jeremi) Gonzalez was struck by lightning and killed in Venezuela. All three were teammates on the 2005 team.

For the fourth time this season Boston was swept. The other trouncings came against the Blue Jays, the Rays, and the Orioles, and they all, like this one, happened on the road. From the beginning of the game it seemed the Red Sox bats would come to life; David Ortiz homered in the first frame.

But Emil Brown responded with an RBI single in the bottom of the first and the visitors would not take the lead again. Manny Ramirez lined a single into center with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth to score two more runs, but that was all the scoring his team could muster.

Ramirez’s single would have tied the game were it not for the left fielder’s play in the bottom of the third. The outfielder backed up on Hannahan’s fly ball and took a poor angle for a catch. The ball ricocheted out of his glove and he nearly Alex Riosed it over the wall. Instead the gaffe was a mere three-base error.

Jon Lester made his first start since his no-hitter on May 19 and came back to earth after establishing that career capstone. Jack Hannahan ended the suspense quickly with a leadoff line drive single to left on a 1-2 fastball that had too much of the plate. Lester lasted five innings, long enough to end up on the losing side of the decision, giving up seven hits, four runs (three earned), two walks, and three strikeouts.

One decision Lester did have complete control over was to speak openly about his father’s diagnosis of lymphoma. It’s a different kind of lymphoma than his own, but nonetheless the elder Lester must to undergo similar tiring treatments that his son lived through. In an interview segment on ESPN Lester stated that his father has urged him to speak out more about his experiences and be an advocate for cancer survivors.

“I am not a role model,” Charles Barkley famously declared in a Nike commercial. But sometimes there are athletes who can credibly share their life’s struggles and inspire others in their own battles, even their own fathers.

May 25, 2008


Game 52: May 24, 2008
Red Sox 0 L: Josh Beckett (5-4) 31-21, 2 game losing streak
WinAthletics 3 W: Justin Duchscherer (4-3)
S: Huston Street (10)
27-23, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: Some will moan, “Why can’t we get players like Duchscherer?” who had a perfect game through five innings last night. The righty was Red Sox property until June 12, 2001, when he was traded for Doug Mirabelli.

One Boston team’s road woes continued while another’s lifted. The Red Sox were one-hit by a two-pitcher tandem last night while the Celtics conquered their Eastern Conference rival Pistons 94-80.

Once again Josh Beckett came up on the short end of a pitchers’ duel. Back on April 27 Beckett and the Red Sox lost 3-0 to Tampa Bay thanks to James Shields’s complete game shutout. Last night was all too reminiscent of that game, replete with a dominant performance from an improbably source accompanied by the ceaseless rumpus in the stands.

Fittingly the operatic Jim Joyce was calling balls and strikes. As the tension mounted, Duchscherer carrying his perfect game frame by frame into the night, Joyce punctuated each Boston batter’s strikeout with his orotund bellow.

Duchscherer was not afraid to come in on hitters, but he got too close with Jason Varitek at the dish to lead off the sixth. Varitek didn’t make a tremendous effort to avoid a slider inside and thus became the first Red Sox baserunner of the evening.

Bob Geren brought in his best outfield defenders in the top of the seventh, removing Jack Cust from the lineup in favor of Rajai Davis who then slid to center, Ryan Sweeney assumed right field, and Emil Brown crossed from right field to left. But even all those maneuvers could not hinder David Ortiz from finding the right-center gap for a line drive single with one out in the seventh.

The number of Red Sox men on base in this game was the same as the number of Oakland hurlers it took to shut out the visiting team: two. At least they saved their legs for the series finale this afternoon.

May 24, 2008


Game 51: May 23, 2008
Red Sox 3
L: Tim Wakefield (3-3)
31-20, 1 game losing streak
WinAthletics 8
W: Rich Harden (3-0)
26-23, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: In just 62 plate appearances against Wakefield Frank Thomas has seven home runs. Alex Rodriguez follows with six homers against the knuckleballer, but that is over the course of 80 face-offs.

Mark Ellis also homered early, his coming in the third with two on and two out. The Athletics had a seven run advantage that the Red Sox weren’t able to overcome, thus ending the visiting team’s seven-game win streak.

The loss was accompanied by the constant, shrill blasting of a one-note whistle as well as the tuneless bleating of a horn. The din obviously incited the ire of home plate umpire Tim Tschida, who ejected Dave Magadan in the sixth inning with little provocation.

The Athletics organization is characterized by intelligence, shrewdness, and innovation, but its home venue is far from a reflection of the club. McAfee Coliseum is a multipurpose structure, housing football and soccer as well baseball. It is round and bland and huge swaths of seats have to be covered by decorations so that the lack of fans is not trumpeted to the television audience.

To add some life to the arena people bring in cacophonous instruments in a vain attempt to enliven the atmosphere. Red Sox fans could clearly be heard out-yelling any Oakland devotees, from the ubiquitous salutation of Kevin Youkilis to the rhythmic chanting of “Let’s go Red Sox!”

But the verbal clamor didn’t inspire Youkilis, who had a rare outing where he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and no walks. Dustin Pedroia broke up Rich Harden’s no-hitter in the fourth inning with a homer into the center field chasm, but the smattering of runs here and there did not put a dent into the home team’s early lead.

In three of his five starts Harden has opposed Boston and pitched adeptly. Oakland may well consider only starting him against the Red Sox for the remainder of the season. Given Harden’s injury history, this may well be the eventual outcome even without such stratagems.

May 23, 2008

Tanjōbi [誕生日]

Game 50: May 22, 2008
Royals 8
L: Brian Bannister (4-6) 21-26, 4 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 11
W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (8-0)
H: Javier Lopez (7)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (14)
31-19, 7 game winning streak
Highlights: Just as the denizens of NYYFans.com debased the value of Jon Lester’s no-hitter because it came against the Royals I am sure they are belittling J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell’s grand slams. For that is how cellar dwellers maintain their esteem, which would otherwise match the level of their position in the division. Tanjōbi isn’t a term related to baseball; it means birthday. Mine is today, so I took yesterday off to go to the game and celebrate. The Red Sox made it memorable.

I had a seat in Section 26 of the left field grandstand that was near-perfect. Just the barest slice of my field of view was sacrificed to a post, but I didn’t need to see the calls of home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt as the new fascia scoreboard were in plain view.

It had been a while since I was at an almost completely sun-drenched day game. Even though the lights were on because of looming clouds and there was a momentary rain burst, it was nothing like those dreary April games that were only brightened by a Red Sox victory.

The way Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched every daylight moment was needed. He struck out seven over five and two-third innings but also walked six. He allowed an early run to Jose Guillen in the first but shutout the visiting team until the fifth. I was surprised Matsuzaka took the mound in the sixth, but it seems that he and his coaches have come to agreement that his pitch count will be somewhat above their expectation of 100 but far less than Matsuzaka’s calculation of “until the job is done and/or his arm falls off.”

J.D. Drew’s longball swing in the second inning was lithe yet powerful. It came after the right fielder had fouled off a pitch low and down the middle. Brian Bannister tried to pitch away but Drew flourished his bat authority and finished with an uppercut worthy of Ted Williams. How can something that looks so effortless be so devastating?

Mike Lowell’s grand slam shouldn’t have even come to pass. Trey Hillman gave Manny Ramirez the four-fingered salute to load the bases in the sixth, eliciting the derision of the crowd. The Royals manager then left southpaw Jimmy Gobble in to face Lowell, even as right-handed Yasuhiko Yabuta was ready to go in the pen.

In response to my friend Matt's Joannakin™ from last year, I created Matt-tion Figure™. We had a great time at the game. He was so excited by the authentic Matsuzaka jersey I got him, he insisted I take pictures of him around the park.

And of course he got the requisite portrait with the 2007 World Series ring.

As the years wear on and each birthday weighs upon me, a day at Fenway lightens my spirit and lifts away worries. I turn back into a child, like the kid behind the Red Sox dugout cheering Lowell.

May 22, 2008


Game 49: May 21, 2008
Royals 3 L: Brett Tomko (2-5) 21-25, 3 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 6 W: Bartolo Colon (1-0)
H: Craig Hansen (2)
H: Javier Lopez (6)
30-19, 6 game winning streak
Highlights: At one time Colon inspired fear in more than just all-you-can-eat buffet operators. In 2005 he had a career-best 21 wins for the Angels, sported a 3.48 ERA, and won the Cy Young award. His win total definitely swayed voters as that season Johan Santana pitched more innings (232 compared to 223), had more strikeouts (238 to 157) and maintained a lower ERA (2.87) and WHIP (.97 versus 1.16). Injuries and weight problems submarined his career to the point that he was willing to sign a minor league deal with the Red Sox in February to attempt a comeback.

Bartolo Colon was less than his 2005 self but much improved over the Colon of the past two years. He lasted the minimum to secure a win, his first since June 14, 2007, an interleague game against the Reds. Colon’s line of five innings pitched with six hits, two earned runs, two walks, and four strikeouts are in line with his projected role as a fourth or fifth starter.

Justin Masterson was sent down to Pawtucket to make space for Colon. I was surprised to see that Masterson outweighed Colon by five pounds (at least according to the weights officially listed), but the former is seven inches taller than the latter.

The Red Sox pitching depth is unparalleled. Long gone are the days of making do with the stopgap starters of 2006 (apologies to Jason Johnson and Kevin Jarvis). Perhaps the Yankees would like some of our excess arms to shore up their rotation.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Varitek both homered off Brett Tomko. Not only did Joey Gathright play the same position as Ellsbury but the two centerfielders both notched three runs last night.

With this six-game streak at home (reminiscent of the Celtics) the Red Sox reestablished themselves as the AL East leaders and now have the best record in the majors. I’ll be at the game this afternoon, celebrating the day before my birthday and hopefully a sweep against the Royals

May 21, 2008


Game 48: May 20, 2008
Royals 1 L: Gil Meche (3-6) 21-24, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 2 W: Justin Masterson (1-0)
H: Javier Lopez (5)
H: Manny Delcarmen (6)
H: Hideki Okajima (10)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (13)
29-19, 5 game winning streak
Highlights: Alex Gordon dismissed any possibility of a no-hitter by smacking a two-out double to the left field corner in the first inning, which was very thoughtful of him as we didn’t need another nine innings of drama. Masterson was workman-like in his six and one-third innings of work and struck out more batters than he walked by a margin of five to three. The one run marring his ERA was allowed by Manny Delcarmen on a John Buck single up the middle in the seventh. Okajima worked himself into a bases-loaded mess in the eighth, but Papelbon was able to tidy up the place, striking out three of the four batters he faced.

Jerry Remy and Jeff Van Gundy are the ideal color analysts of their respective sports. Both provide sharp in-game interpretation while interlacing anecdotes from their lives in the sport in meaningful ways. Unlike Joe Morgan who believes that his Hall of Fame credentials grants him carte blanche to muddle through Sundays with nary a whit of insight, watching a game with Remdawg and JVG will always be entertaining no matter the game situation. I feel more comfortable saying this now that Remy has toned down mentioning his commercial endeavors.

The Red Sox game was as much a meditation on what Jon Lester had achieved Monday evening as it was an actual game. Remy talked about the 10 no-hitters he had witnessed, five as a broadcaster and five as a player. For only one was he a player on the winning side: June 1, 1975 with the Kevin Bacon of no-hitters, Nolan Ryan.

Remy was wistful as he recalled a no-hitter he broke up with two out in the ninth on May 26, 1976. Ken Brett had carried his no-no that far only to lose it on a ground ball single to third baseman Jorge Orta that Remy said could have and probably should have been scored an error.

Brett came out for the tenth and allowed another single but no runs. Don Kirkwood started for the Angels and gave up seven hits over 10 innings and shut down the White Sox until Bucky Dent hit an RBI single in the eleventh.

Since the game went into extras, it wouldn’t have even counted as a no-hitter unless Brett pitched for however many innings the game lasted. How bizarre that changing the definitions of no-hitter and perfect game penalizes pitchers of the past who were actually able to endure more than nine innings of punishment.

Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Mike Breen, the ESPN NBA crew, were at the no-hitter. Jackson whined about a female fan who rolled her eyes at him because he was wearing a New York Mets cap and a Dodgers jacket. I’m sure that elicited an eye-roll from JVG.

Much like Remy, the petite basketball coach brings keen observation and insider knowledge to his analysis but doesn’t detract from the action. Van Gundy’ opposite member would be the bloviating Doug Collins, who must lack the human need to breathe while speaking.

Neither does Van Gundy doesn’t have the obsequiousness of Bill Walton, who can turn a clever phrase but gets lost in his overly effusive paeons of praise. Van Gundy has shown he is not adverse to calling out NBA officials, alleged superstars, and his co-hosts on their iniquities while not shying away from his own. He made the Celtics’ 88-79 win over the Pistons in the Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals all the more enjoyable. Verbally he is much like the immortal image of him clutching on to Alonzo Mourning’s leg with determination: amusing yet compelling in his verve.

Round it out with a guest appearance by Lenny Clarke and already you have the makings of something infinitely more diverting than “The Best Damn Sports Show Period” and its ilk.

May 20, 2008


Game 47: May 19, 2008
Royals 0 L: Luke Hochevar (3-3) 21-23, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 7 W: Jon Lester (3-2) 28-19, 4 game winning streak
Highlights: Jacoby Ellsbury charted the shifting winds to track down Jose Guillen’s batted ball in the top of the fourth. The ball hawk swooped at his prey unerringly, nabbing it before it impaled itself on the blades of grass below. It was a magnificent play then and would only grow in its importance with each replaying. But at the time, Lester said his approach to this game was like any other game: get first-pitch strikes to get outs. That methodical technique enabled Lester to be the fifth Red Sox southpaw to throw a no-hitter, the 18th in his team’s history. Jason Varitek was the backstop for four of those games, the most all-time since the redefinition of no-hitter. Varitek also homered with one on and one out in the sixth.

Terry Francona wanted it. He wanted this perhaps more than Jon Lester wanted it. In the top of the eighth he slid Jacoby Ellsbury to left and brought Coco Crisp in to play center, removing Manny Ramirez from the scorecard. Francona wanted it so badly he even risked bruising the ego of a veteran player, something he is loathe to do.

Julio Lugo was plucked from the infield at the top of the ninth so that Alex Cora could play short field. The Red Sox have 27 errors this season and Lugo is responsible for 11 of them, so the move was warranted.

Not that Lugo didn’t make an early contribution to the no-hitter. In the third he made a charge on Tony Peña, Jr.’s grounder and relayed to Kevin Youkilis to get the second out of the inning by the breadth of a cleat.

But entering the ninth Lester had 113 pitches on his arm; an unsound toss or graceless glove could push Lester into unmarked and potentially perilous territory.

In that last inning every one of those nine players realized that a single, simple slip could cost one man his chance to make history. Francona, who Lester likened to his second father, paved the way for Lester a by putting in the optimum defensive alignment possible. It was what a father would do for a child: ensuring that his progeny has the best environment in which to thrive.

A surplus of adrenaline accompanied Lester to the mound to begin the final frame. Instead of the sure-fire deliveries that characterized most of his outing, Lester lost the zone to Esteban German and walked the left fielder in five pitches.

Again the speedy Peña took the box and Lester was equally prompt in dismissing him. Mike Lowell calmly fielded the infield chopper and fired across the diamond to Youkilis for the first out.

Now Lester harnessed the energy within and from the fans. He deftly worked David DeJesus inside and out until the batter could do no better than nub a weak grounder to Youkilis’s waiting glove. The first baseman ran it to the sack himself. He could have tossed it nonchalantly to Lester, feigning ignorance of the situation, but instead the corner infielder’s head-down determination to get the out unassisted belied what he and all 37,746 attendees knew they were so close to experiencing.

Alberto Callaspo took the dish, representing what could be the final out or the undoing of eight and two-thirds innings of dominance. Lester worked him inside and high with heat. Just when Callaspo thought he got down Lester’s timing and location, the lefty hurled his fastball high and outside. The utility infielder’s bat casted itself after empty air, quick as a clapstick signaling the beginning of the scene.

Only at Fenway is the reality better than any script.

May 19, 2008


Game 46: May 18, 2008
Brewers 7 L: Carlos Villanueva (2-5) 20-24, 5 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 11 W: Josh Beckett (5-3) 27-19, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: Jim Rice was in rare form in the pre-game show. When asked about Jason Giambi’s gold lamé thong and his penchant for sharing it with his slumping teammates, he said, “I like my teammates, but I don’t like them that well.” The crowd chanted “We want Gagne!” as the score tipped heavily into Boston’s favor and the bullpen options thinned. Yesterday pitchers were handing out home runs like the sign-wielding evangelist on Brookline Avenue hands out pamphlets: indiscriminately but with determined vigor.

For Milwaukee, J.J. Hardy, Prince Fielder, and Ryan Braun (twice) all added to Josh Beckett’s earned run average with home runs of various heights and lengths but all equally infuriating to the Texas native. On the home side, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and David Ortiz (also twice) notched four-baggers of their own.

Beckett put on a clinic on how to allow longballs, and sophomore Carlos Villanueva and freshman Mark DiFelice took to their elder’s teachings well. In fact it was DiFelice’s first day of class and Pedroia stole his Pee Chee folder while Ortiz took his lunch money and threw it into the seats just beyond the visitors’ bullpen.

DiFelice did maintain a whit of dignity by striking out Manny Ramirez in just four pitches, but the damage had been done.

Frankly I was glad for the wide margin between the teams since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals began when the Red Sox had the game in hand. The duel between LeBron James and Paul Pierce has already been likened to Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins’s classic 1988 face-off. Twenty years ago Wilkins scored 48 and Bird 34, but ultimately Boston triumphed.

In keeping with tradition, James scored 45 points to Pierce’s 41, but the Celtics prevailed 97-92 (coincidentally, the speed of Beckett’s fastball and change-up, respectively). With a minute left Pierce muscled a jump ball that danced from the tips of Zydrunas Ilgauskus’s and through several Cavaliers’ hands until Pierce made a career-defining lunge to regain possession of the ball, the game, the series.

With seven seconds left Pierce iced the game with two free throws. The first bounced three feet off the rim before dropping straight through the net and Pierce smiled knowingly. After the game Pierce said Red Auerbach tipped it in.

How do I think the Celtics will do? Pierce’s number is 34. That’s all I need.

May 18, 2008


Game 45: May 17, 2008 ∙ Game 2
Brewers 6 BS, L: Salomon Torres (2, 3-1) 20-23, 4 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 7 H: David Aardsma (3)
BS, W: Craig Hansen (1, 1-2)
H: Javier Lopez (4)
S: Mike Timlin (1)
26-19, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Sloppy play abounded in the second game of yesterday’s doubleheader. The number of errors looked more like a score, and even in that aspect the home team edged the visitors, 4-3. Boston is 1-0 in the alternate home jerseys this year.

At first the second game of the doubleheader seemed like it would be a leisurely romp of the local nine over the haggard visitors. Mike Lowell gave his team an early lead with a two-run double in the first and another two runs via home run in the third.

The Brewers found late life, however. Corey Hart’s sixth inning solo home run nearly took out one of the light towers in left. Why do Corey Harts have issues with lights?

Milwaukee tagged on another two runs in the sixth, with Gabe Kapler in the mix with a single and a run scored. Kapler received a warm ovation in his return to Fenway, and apparently not just from the women in the crowd.

The Brewers’ seventh inning outburst owed much to Boston’s own bloopers. Craig Hansen’s woes were in part caused by Mike Lowell and Alex Cora’s back-to-back errors. Then fatigue or mental distress came into play, with Hansen uncorking a wild pitch and then allowing a two-RBI the batting stance-challenged Counsell.

It seemed the energy expended in scoring tapped the Brewers when fielding. All four of the Brewers’ mistakes proved costly. Craig Counsell’s rushed throw allowed Jacoby Ellsbury to get on base in the fifth.

Bill Hall then flubbed Kevin Youkilis’s ground ball and then flopped on the base path like LeBron James attempting to get a favorable call while Ellsbury dashed for home. Hall, the former outfielder and shortstop who now mans the hot corner, accounted for half his team’s errors and seemed a poor substitute at third even in comparison to Ryan Braun. At the beginning of the season Braun had to be moved to left field because of his poor fielding.

Knowing that Ellsbury could leg out a single, instead of playing Ellsbury’s ground ball straight on Rickie Weeks tried to angle his approach so that he could relay quickly to first. Weeks fumbled the rookie’s grounder and failed to get the first out of the seventh inning. The power of negative thinking continued with Hall’s errant throw to second that missed Weeks’s glove and skimmed into center; what could have been a double play or at the very least a fielder’s choice turned into runners at second and third with no out.

Ellsbury scored on a David Ortiz grounder and Dustin Pedroia shrewdly took third as the ball was batted behind him. He either wanted to show that baserunning smarts are not limited to NL players or prove to Alex Cora that he has been paying attention in Super-Genius Baseball class.

That heads-up tactic proved crucial as the Brewers infield was forced to play in with Kevin Youkilis at the dish. Pedroia scored the go-ahead run on Youkilis’s bloop single that dropped between Weeks, Prince Fielder, and Corey Hart, an RBI that probably would not have happened if either infielder were positioned normally.

Sloppy seconds, but we’ll take them.

Hirutoyoru Daburuheddā [昼と夜のダブルヘッダー]

Game 44: May 17, 2008 ∙ Game 1
Brewers 3 L: Jeff Suppan (2-3) 20-22, 3 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 5 W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (7-0)
H: Manny Delcarmen (5)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (12)
25-19, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Day-night doubleheader translates easily enough from English to Japanese. Just take the kanji for day [昼] and night [夜] and add it to the katakana that approximate the English word “doubleheader” and you are good to go. If only playing two games in a day were so easy.

Julio Lugo had a particularly rough day. In the fourth he was called out by Doug Eddings as the bunted ball was adjudged to have hit the shortstop when he was out of the box. In the top of the next inning Lugo thought he had Bill Hall out on a daylight play but Dana DeMuth ruled otherwise. While Lugo argued with DeMuth Hall himself took his foot off the bag, a tell that the Brewer thought he should have been in the dugout. Lugo’s frustration led him to argue rather than hover around Hall to continue to try and get the out, as he did to Alberto Callaspo last year. Fox’s coverage was surprisingly fair and balanced, and the audio captured for the Eddings’s call was outstanding.

The last game the Brewers played at Fenway on September 7, 1997 was a loss to Butch Henry. Rookie sensation Nomar Garciaparra had come off his historic 30-game hit streak, but he did single and score in the third inning. Five of his teammates homered: John Valentin (twice), Troy O’Leary, Jeff Frye, Bill Haselman, and Wil Cordero to secure a series win.

The times have changed but beating the Brewers remained the same.

Only David Ortiz lifted a four-bagger into the Monster seats yesterday with two on and two out in the second. His three runs batted in added to the single score that J.D. Drew tallied in the first inning by taking a wayward pitch by Jeff Suppan with the bases loaded.

The fact that Suppan and Eric Gagne are key components of Milwaukee’s pitching staff gives some indication of the both the dearth of pitching talent in the majors in general as well as the differential in talent between the American and National leagues.

Daisuke Matsuzaka tried to stretch his outing over seven innings but after two quick outs an error by Kevin Youkilis extended the frame. At third Youkilis failed to come up with Rickie Weeks’s grounder and the second baseman was driven in by Mike Cameron’s fourth home run of the season.

All the while I was attempting to erase the image of Bob Uecker in overly-tight swim trunks from my brain. Matsuzaka and Javier Lopez may have been similarly affected: the former’s command eluded him in the seventh and the latter failed to sit the only batter he was brought in to face.

AL Rookie of the Year candidate Jacoby Ellsbury doubled to the far end of the left field wall in the bottom of the eighth. The extra base hit drove in Jason Varitek in the eighth for some much-appreciated breathing room.

Manny Delcarmen and Jonathan Papelbon for the most part kept the Brewers at bay. Papelbon ceded a scorching home run to last year’s NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun in the ninth. The ball was smacked so hard the kid in the Monster seats who snared it grimaced from the impact, much like Papelbon did when he realized he surrendered his second home run of the season.

The times have changed but the cycle of new talent replacing old remains the same.

May 15, 2008


Game 43: May 14, 2008
Red Sox 3 H: Javier Lopez (3)
L: Craig Hansen (0-2)
BS: Hideki Okajima (4)
24-19, 4 game losing streak
WinOrioles 6 W: Daniel Cabrera (4-1)
H: Matt Albers (2)
S: George Sherrill (15)
21-19, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Jon Lester pitched admirably through six innings, striking out four while walking two and allowing two runs. But somehow Daniel Cabrera lasted an inning longer, didn’t give up any bases on balls, struck out three, and notched his fourth win despite giving up home runs to Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell in the fifth and sixth innings, respectively.

Daniel Cabrera’s bullpen came through for him by shutting down the slumping Boston club in the last two frames. Red Sox relievers Javier Lopez, Craig Hansen, and Hideki Okajima failed to do the same in the seventh, with Hansen turning in a particularly wretched outing. The first round draft pick didn’t record an out, allowing a single to the nine-hole occupant Guillermo Quiroz and then walking Brian Roberts after a nine-pitch showdown to jam the bases with birds.

Okajima left the ball low and inside for Jay Payton who exacted revenge on his former team in the form of his fourth career grand slam. With his shot to left the Orioles’ left fielder secured a sweep of the two-game series.

MannyhighfiveThe game was just as memorable for Jonathan Van Every. Called up to shore up the rapidly depleting outfield, in the fifth the 27-year old knocked his first major league single to the very part of the field he patrolled. It was from that spot that he watched a remarkable twin killing in the fourth by none other than Manny Ramirez.

Ramirez bolted towards the wall to collar a fly ball off the bat of Kevin Millar. Ramirez continued apace to the wall and climbed it just high enough to high five the Boston fan who doubled-pointed to the left fielder to acknowledge his catch.

Ramirez turned back towards the field and coiled to relay to Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia completed the circuit to Kevin Youkilis to double off the unwitting Aubrey Huff. Van Every was the first to congratulate Manny on his improbable double play. But unlike the white guy in the stands, Van Every didn’t awkwardly fumble during his high five thanks to his seven years of minor league baseball training.

Photo courtesy AP Photo/Nick Wass

May 14, 2008


Game 42: May 13, 2008
Red Sox 4 L: Josh Beckett (4-3) 24-18, 3 game losing streak
WinOrioles 5 W: Jeremy Guthrie (2-3)
H: Jim Johnson (4)
S: George Sherrill (14)
20-19, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: The injuries and ailments mounted with J.D. Drew spraining his wrist in the third inning and Coco Crisp departing due to an upset stomach in the sixth. If those afflictions don’t sound very debilitating, you won’t be very impressed to learn that Clay Buchholz was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a broken nail on his middle finger. With the all the medical experts secured by the Red Sox they couldn’t come up with a more dignity-sparing malady than a broken nail? I guess rookies don’t get the benefit of more important and painful-sounding infirmities like “avulsions.”

If Coco Crisp’s tummy wasn’t bothering him perhaps he could have been around later in the game to contribute as he did early. Crisp led off with a single and advanced on David Ortiz’s double to the opposite field to ex-Red Sox malcontent, Jay Payton. Boston’s designated hitter handed off to Manny Ramirez, whose single up the middle scored Crisp and allowed Ortiz to stake out third base.

Aubrey Huff, an oft-mentioned trade target for the Red Sox, muffed Mike Lowell’s ground ball, permitting Ortiz to score. J.D. Drew smacked the ball right through Kevin Millar’s goal posts in the first inning, leading to the third run of the frame.

It’s rather sad the lengths Millar and Huff will go to to ingratiate themselves to Red Sox management.

That triad of runs would be the only offense the visitors would muster until the eighth. Super-sub and super-genius Alex Cora took into account humidity, wind direction and speed, pitch type and velocity, friction potential of the grass in right field, Nick Markakis’s arms strength, and Jacoby Ellsbury’s speed to calculate the angle and speed at which to strike the ball and drop a single to pull his team within a run.

The simpler thing would have been to launch a game-tying homer, but that is why the super-genius is merely a bench player rather than a regular.

Josh Beckett didn’t pitch terribly but did not bring skid-stopping stuff to Camden Yards. The four-score third, punctuated by a three-run blast by breakthrough outfielder Luke Scott, proved too much for Boston’s bats to overcome.

Ortiz groused about his strikeout in the ninth and was ejected by Laz Diaz, embodying the frustration surrounding Boston’s cold streak.

May 13, 2008


Game 41: May 12, 2008
Red Sox 3 L: Clay Buchholz (2-3) 24-17, 2 game losing streak
WinTwins 7 W: Livan Hernandez (6-1) 20-17, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Coco Crisp smacked a double into the baggie to commence the game and advanced to third on Dustin Pedroia’s bunt. Pedroia could have been safe if his legs were a smidgen longer. David Ortiz blooped a single to plate Crisp. The ball drifted over the shortstop off a gentle toss from Livan Hernandez looking more like a leisurely game of badminton then baseball.

Manny Ramirez blasted a commemorative ball behind the baggie where, unlike its namesake, it will not be preserved in perpetuity within an airtight seal. Ball number 498 was quickly seized and turned over Ramirez.

Those three runs would be the only scores for Boston the entire evening. I turned stations between the Celtics and Red Sox looking for a New England team that wanted to trounce its opponents into submission. Neither team came through: the Carmine Hose lost their four-game series while the Big Three dropped the fourth game of their seven-game series by a score of 88-77.

Delonte West, a former Celt, mentioned that he knew all of the signs and calls the current team was using because they hadn’t changed from when he was with them. I don’t claim to be a basketball maven, so I don’t know how essential a team’s codes are in this context, but for communications not to be updated when in a playoff series against a team with two players that were recently on your squad seems terribly stupid. I’m looking at you, Doc Rivers.

Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis sat in the dugout mimicking their teammates’ quirks in the box. Jason Varitek’s kicks were lampooned as well as Sean Casey’s back foot stomping.

Casey’s return may be welcomed but Clay Buchholz was in need of a mop-up man and Julian Tavarez was long gone. Terry Francona kept the rookie in as long as he could before replacing him with a trio of relievers who didn’t allow a run. Javier Lopez came into the game in the fifth after Buchholz had relinquished three runs while securing a single out. With a runner on second Lopez induced an inning-ending twin killing. one wonders if the Red Sox could have kept it closer if they had a swing man.

If only that were literal (the “twin” part, not the killing).

May 12, 2008


Game 40: May 11, 2008
Red Sox 8 L: Tim Wakefield (3-2) 24-16, 1 game losing streak
WinTwins 9 W: Nick Blackburn (3-2)
H: Dennys Reyes (4)
S: Joe Nathan (12)
19-17, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: It’s better to get close to a goal and fail rather than never having been in reach of it. Or so I keep telling myself. David Ortiz, puffing out his chest and displaying his formidable biceps, goofed off behind Terry Francona during the in-game interview in the midst of the fourth inning. Something tells me Ron Gardenhire wouldn’t countenance such behavior. My favorite part is how Ortiz turned away and whistled when Francona looked back over his shoulder, the designated hitter attempting to appear as if he were innocent any wrongdoing.

In terms of drama this was one of the best games of the season so far, but unfortunately it was dulled by the plodding commentary of Joe Morgan. Just as I developed a filter when I was 16-years old that made me oblivious to my mother’s voice, I am immune to Morgan’s prattle.

I was surprised how easily I could reestablish the mom filter. I called her right before the game but must confess I did tune out towards the end of the conversation.

Only my mom would need careful hand-holding when setting up a Mac. Or would need to recount in exquisite detail the terrible tragedy that befell her when she lost the bidding for an item on eBay. And then cap it off with an intricate telling of the menu she had planned for Grandma.

I miss her dearly, but all the talk of the foods I wouldn’t be enjoying began to verge on Morgan-level annoying. “Mom, Wakefield is pitching. I have to go now or by the time you are finished with this story he will be done pitching.” She laughed and bothered me for grandchildren before we said goodbye.

I switched over to ESPN just in time to see that Nick Blackburn has Joe Mauer sideburns. The power of the sideburns carried him through six innings with five strikeouts but also walked one, surrendered nine hits, and allowed four earned runs. In the third Blackburn came down with a case of the yips and put Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia on by hitting them.

Michael Cuddyer didn’t know whether to come in or back up for David Ortiz’s rapidly descending liner and thus caught in indecision allowed the bases to be loaded with visiting hitters. But only Mike Lowell launched the ball out of the infield for a run; Kevin Youkilis smoked an atom ball to third and J.D. Drew sent a gentle shot directly into Adam Everett’s glove.

Had more runs scored perhaps we would be celebrating another Mother’s Day Miracle like we had last May. If Tim Wakefield had not come undone in the second inning to yield five runs, including home runs by part-timer Craig Monroe and the spray hitter Everett, that ninth-inning rally would not have come up just short. If Mike Timlin didn’t allow a second homer to Monroe in the seventh, the Red Sox would have tied in the ninth.

I was stunned that Everett was able to get the ball over the wall. As I watched Ellsbury’s slightly mistimed leap I imagined Manny Ramirez making the play, as that would be one of those unlikely snares that the slugging left fielder is wont to make.

Another improbable hitter slugged his second homer in as many nights. Coco Crisp slipped a longball down the baggie with Drew on base and two out in the seventh. Crisp had been the catalyst in the three-run fourth with his leadoff triple that jounced off the rippling obstacle in right field.

Carlos Gomez should be discomfited that a visiting rookie played a better outfield than he. Ellsbury reeled in what seemed to be a surefire hit off the bat of Mauer to close out the eighth inning. In contrast Gomez was turned around in pursuit of Drew’s fly ball to dead center, allowing his opponents to pull within two scores.

I was right about Wakefield’s outing being short but for the wrong reason. Julian Tavarez pitched one and one-third inning of relief, for want of a better word. Today the slim mop-up man was designated for assignment to make room for the healed Sean Casey, the one guy who would actually feel badly for Tavarez’s plight.

May 10, 2008


Game 38: May 9, 2008
Red Sox 6 H: David Aardsma (2)
H: Hideki Okajima (8)
BS, L: Jonathan Papelbon (2, 2-2)
23-15, 1 game losing streak
WinTwins 7 W: Jesse Crain (1-1) 18-16, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: If this were a softball game, Jon Lester would have his third win and Okajima his second save. But the rules of hardball require nine innings and for the second time this season (not to mention the second in the past three days) Boston lost hold of a victory in the final frame of the game.

Near-disasters at first base abounded last night. In the top of the first Justin Morneau had to come off the bag and reach across to tag a hurtling Dustin Pedroia thanks to third baseman Matt Tolbert’s off-target toss. Kevin Youkilis struck out in the second inning but was safe at first since Joe Mauer couldn’t find the ball and then couldn’t find Morneau’s glove.

The most harrowing incident came in the third inning. Morneau’s bat exploded upon impact causing Jon Lester to protect his eyes from the splintering rod. Lester recovered just in time to see that he had to cover first. The southpaw sprinted to first, ensured his foot was on the bag, and then gloved Youkilis’s relay just before Morneau’s headfirst slide. At first Lester seemed to have been injured on the effort, but the lefty threw a few practice pitches and was fit enough to continue. In fact, Lester lasted long enough to secure a decision.

Rookie standout Carlos Gomez demonstrated that while he is a terror on the basepaths he doesn’t yet have the polish to deal with them as an outfielder. He came up throwing on Jason Varitek’s single but his cannon was errant. The throw hit J.D. Drew in the back and had Boof Bonser not been backing up the play Gomez’s error would have also cost a run rather than just Varitek taking an additional base.

The visiting Red Sox trailed in until the fifth inning. Pedroia led off with an infield single, David Ortiz walked, and Manny Ramirez loaded the bases with a liner to center. Delmon Young played Mike Lowell’s fly ball to left badly allowing both Pedroia and Ortiz to score, bringing the score to 5-4 in favor of the Twins.

Since Ramirez advanced to third on Lowell’s two-bagger he was in position to tie the game on Youkilis’s ground out. Lowell replaced Ramirez at third and scored easily on Juan Rincon’s wild pitch to Drew.

So many times Boston had held on to win one-run games (7-3 until this game). As David Aardsma and Hideki Okajima shutout the Twins until the bottom of the ninth, a rebound from the dispiriting last-minute loss to the Tigers seemed to be in the offing. After all, Jonathan Papelbon would take the hill with 6-5 lead and the bottom of the order due to hit.

But hit they did. Young singled, was bunted over by Tolbert, and swiped third with Gomez at bat. Papelbon walked Gomez on six pitches, a surprising event given Papelbon’s command and Gomez’s aggression.

Mike Lamb couldn’t catch up to Papelbon’s pure heat but was able to get around on a fastball that had a bit taken off of it. As the ball looped into left the Twins swarmed home to greet Young and then flocked towards first to pile on Lamb.

At least Boof Bonser didn’t get the win. Anyone who purposefully changes his name to “Boof” doesn’t deserve such an honor.

May 9, 2008


Game 37: May 8, 2008
WinRed Sox 5 W: Josh Beckett (4-2) 23-14, 1 game winning streak
Tigers 1 L: Justin Verlander (1-6) 15-21, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: A pair of young aces faced off and Beckett emerged supreme. Verlander continued his puzzling decline; already he has as many losses as he did last year while his ERA has ballooned northwards of six. The usual bullpen suspects rested their arms, giving way to Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen. The visiting duo held the Tigers at bay to secure the game and the series.

Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester should closely observe Josh Beckett when he pitches. They will see the successful result of not bullheadedly going after strikeouts and having unflagging confidence in one’s arsenal. Beckett put on a seven-inning clinic replete with eight strikeouts and no walks. The six hits allowed were all singles, and the Tigers were only able to score once by stringing three of them together in the fourth.

The Red Sox’s hottest hitter, Kevin Youkilis, batted in Manny Ramirez’s spot and emulated the Dominican slugger with a 1-for-2 showing with two walks. The corner infielder smacked his seventh home run of the season in the fifth inning off the crumbling Justin Verlander. The two-run shot added to the three runs from the second for what proved to be an insurmountable lead.

Boston had also had back-to-back-to-back singles, but their hat trick came in the second inning. After Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew got on base each advanced on a wild pitch. Jason Varitek rapped a shot towards Carlos Guillen who managed to cue the ball pass the pursuing Edgar Renteria into shallow left.

Lowell and Drew were plated for the first runs of the game, DeMarlo urging Drew to try for the run just in case Verlander chose this game to regain his form. Coco Crisp bunted on the patch of ground in front of home, catching replacement catcher Brandon Inge off his guard and positioning Varitek at third.

Perhaps disconcerted by his poor inning, Verlander plunked Julio Lugo to load the bases and Jacoby Ellsbury arced a fly ball to center for the third run of the inning.

In Boston a similar story was being written about the Celtics. The surging team demolished the Cavaliers in a 89-73 drubbing in Game 2. I can’t help but get excited by Kevin Garnett’s League of Clutch advertisement. The black and white still pictures subtly animated to appear to be three-dimensional accompanied by Carmina Burana are visually arresting.

It’s rather a letdown to see that spot and then turn over to NESN to see Dustin Pedroia work out with tires or people slapping Jonathan Papelbon’s bottom.

May 8, 2008


Game 36: May 7, 2008
Red Sox 9 H: Hideki Okajima (7)
BS, L: Jonathan Papelbon (1, 2-1)
22-14, 1 game losing streak
WinTigers 10 H: Bobby Seay (2)
H: Zach Miner (2)
BS: Francisco Cruceta (1)
W: Todd Jones (1-0)
15-20, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Outstanding outings by Kevin Youkilis (two homers with three runs batted in) and Mike Lowell (a game-tying four-bagger in the seventh) kept Boston in contention despite lamentable showings by Clay Buchholz and Julian Tavarez. Is the nightlife in Detroit particularly compelling? I only ask because of the lack of coordination by a pair of players. In the first inning Jed Lowrie tripped on this way towards to first when running out a ground ball to result in a double play. Buchholz slipped when pursuing Gary Sheffield’s infield grounder and touched the ball just before it crossed the foul like, rendering it fair. Buchholz also balked for the first time in his major league career in the first inning.

Buchholz and Tavarez combined for five innings, 14 hits, and eight earned runs. On the positive side, there was only a single base on balls relinquished. Buchholz gave Miguel Cabrera a free pass in the third amongst the carnage of run-scoring base hits.

Instead of being cowed by trailing the home team, the Red Sox picked away at the mountain of runs the Tigers built by scoring in five consecutive innings. The runs came in every conceivable way: Kevin Youklis homered in the fourth and sixth while Jed Lowrie sacrificed in the fifth, joined by David Ortiz’s opposite field shot to plate Jacoby Ellsbury.

Mike Lowell found an opportune time to blast his second longball of the season. With the score 8-5 in the Tigers’ favor in the seventh inning the third baseman added to the ever-growing collection of Zach Miner souvenir gopher balls. This was a peculiarly deep homer, clearing not only the left field wall but also the bullpen. More importantly Lowell’s three-run shot knotted the game at 8-8, making Red Sox fans doubly happy.

Pinch-hitting Dustin Pedroia took the box in the top of the eighth with two runners on an two out. His mighty hack sent a grounder beyond the reach of a diving Carlos Guillen. The go-ahead run was tallied and Boston seemed to be in the midst of a patented Red Sox comback.

The trio of David Aardsma, Javier Lopez, and Hideki Okajima bridged the gap between the early-game duds and the late-inning stud by heaving three scoreless innings.

In the bottom of the ninth one could only helplessly bystand, shake one’s head, and murmur, “That’s baseball.” By merely standing on the same spot of the field as Edgar Renteria Julio Lugo inherited the former’s error-prone ways. Notably it was Renteria’s ball that Lugo flubbed.

Ivan Rodriguez bunted over both baserunners and Curtis Granderson drove in the tying run on a ground out. The solid Placido Polanco was next at dish, determined to improve on his four-hit evening.

Polanco’s Texas Leaguer beyond the reach of the fully-extended Lugo pushed Renteria over home plate for the win and the end to Detroit’s five-game losing streak.

That’s baseball.

May 7, 2008


Game 35: May 6, 2008
WinRed Sox 5 W: Tim Wakefield (3-1) 22-13, 5 game winning streak
Tigers 0 L: Nate Robertson (1-4) 14-20, 5 game losing streak
Highlights: Wakefield turned in a brilliant eight-inning performance and Mike Timlin turned in a scoreless ninth to reduce his ERA to 11.05. It was the first combined shutout by pitchers older than 40. Not only did the knuckleballer strike out six but he had no walks, wild pitches, or passed balls.

Just as Tim Wakefield demonstrates parsimony with time in his outings my column will be frugal with words.

Kevin Cash continued to play a stellar backstop to Wakefield’s knuckler and contributed with the bat as well. The backup catcher went 3-for-4 with a run batted in on his second-inning double.

The Red Sox tacked on two more runs on consecutive homers by Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Ramirez’s shot ensconced itself in the center field shrubbery while Ortiz’s was fought over about a dozen rows up in the right field stands.

Ramirez hit his home run off a rookie Tiger’s first pitch of his major league career. Would it be too terrible of a joke to get the ball out of the foliage and have Wakefield’s calligraphic hand adorn it with “Freddy Dolsi’s first MLB pitch: 497th Career Home Run by Manny Ramirez, May 6, 2008, 7th inning, 0-0 count, 2 out” and give it to Dolsi?

I confess I was mostly watching the Celtics squeak out a close victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers (led by LeBron “Yankee Lover” James) in the Game 1 of the second round of the NBA playoffs, 76-72. At one point James adjusted his sweatband while bringing the ball down the court, inspiring well-deserved jeers from the crowd.

“Dirty Water” and a Gino Vanelli-tee wearing dude with smooth moves dancing to “Shake Your Booty” — who could ask for anything more?

May 6, 2008

Shikyū [四球]

Game 34: May 5, 2008
WinRed Sox 6 W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (5-0)
H: Craig Hansen (1)
H: Hideki Okajima (6)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (10)
21-13, 4 game winning streak
Tigers 3 L: Jeremy Bonderman (2-3) 14-19, 4 game losing streak
Highlights: Matsuzaka issued a career-high eight walks in last night’s game. The Japanese word for base on balls is shikyū [四球], which translates literally to four balls. Shi is a homonym for the Japanese word for death; in fact, the word for dead ball is pronounced the same but uses the characters 死球. One would think with so many walks that Matsuzaka wouldn’t come out ahead, but he notched his fifth win to continue to lead the Red Sox staff in victories

Perhaps Daisuke Matsuzaka persevered because was Boys’ Day(端午の節句, tango no sekku). On Boys’ Day windsocks in the shape of carp (鯉のぼり, koinobori) are displayed. Koi means carp in Japanese and is also a homonym for the Japanese word for love. When the carp is portrayed swimming upstream, however, it calls to mind the Chinese myth of a carp swimming up the Yellow River jumping over the Dragon Gate to be transformed into a dragon. So inspired by this imagery the Japanese added it to their own collection of mythos.

To celebrate the day Japanese people also bring out dolls of Japanese folk hero Kintarō (金太郎, Golden Boy), who as a child grew up with animals and rode a bear into battle instead of a horse. Kintarō is also depicted on the back of the upriver-bearing carp, a doubly auspicious icon.

So perhaps it was the image of the ever-striving carp and the brave warrior that spurred on Matsuzaka on the mound last night. In the face of his own self-created adversity the pitcher persisted, only allowing one of the eight walks he relinquished to cross home plate.

Craig Hansen wasn’t so lucky with the batters he walked. Maddeningly he walked Miguel Cabrera and Gary Sheffield consecutively to load the bases immediately after inducing a double play. The abrupt lack of location prompted Terry Francona to call for Hideki Okajima.

Pinch hitter Marcus Thames replaced Matthew Joyce (who made his major league debut) and dropped a single into left. Manny Ramirez flaunted his barehanded catching technique but the time he saved by not gloving the ball did not stop two runs from scoring.

Boston had already built a lead with double and home run combos. Ramirez led off the second with a stand-up double to the right center gap and was driven in by Mike Lowell’s four-bagger into the bullpens. The visitors repeated the one-two punch in the fourth inning with Lowell sending a double down the third base line and Kevin Youkilis dipping into the homer goody jar that is the bullpen in left.

Encouragingly David Ortiz was responsible for the remaining two runs. He singled to the opposite field to drive in Dustin Pedroia and pulled a homer into right field, at last demonstrating his power to all quarters.

May 4, 2008


Game 33: May 4, 2008
Rays 3 L: Scott Kazmir (0-1) 16-15, 3 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 7 W: Jon Lester (2-2)
H: Manny Delcarmen (4)
H: Hideki Okajima (5)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (9)
20-13, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: According to this March 2007 Baseball Prospectus article by Dan Fox, Terry Francona ranks amongst the trailers of managers who would put on the double steal. He apparently wanted to make up for lost time in this game by having two twin swipes.

Who could blame him with blazers like Coco Crisp, Julio Lugo, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia batting in a row? Yes, you read right: Pedroia was part of the double steal in the first inning. The speedster at second base ran in tandem with Ellsbury. Given that Scott Kazmir began the season on the disabled list and this was his first major league start, it would be hard enough to react to conventional baseball let alone esoteric stratagems.

Terry Francona had to be the quirky manager since Joe Maddon wouldn’t be able to put on the shift with David Ortiz riding pine. Unlike Maddon’s maneuvers, Francona’s gambit paid off when Ellsbury scored on Kevin Youkilis’s sacrifice fly to center.

With a newly-inserted relief pitcher Trever Miller on the mound in the eighth the Red Sox duplicated scheme succesfully, this time with Lugo and Ellsbury. Youkilis again brought his men home, this time with a rope into left.

Youkilis had led off the previous inning with solo shot into the batter’s eye. The ball trampolined off the black tarp like Lucky the Leprechaun during the Celtics’ halftime show. (I needn’t have been so fretful about the cross-town roundballers, thankfully, as they embarrassed the upstart Hawks 99-65.)

Don Orsillo, weak from loss of blood from a shaving accident, had been calling Eric Hinske “Nathan Haynes” because he misread Jerry Remy’s writing. Haynes’s middle name is Raymond, which may explain why Haynes gets any playing time.

Hardly anyone remembers Hinske was on the Red Sox despite him sacrificing his face to the warning track gravel on a spectacular catch in right in 2007. Hinske clearly remembers the nuances of the foul line between home and third as he consummately bunted in the eighth so that the ball meandered along the line but never lost contact with chalk.

Mike Lowell jokingly moved the ball into foul territory after it came to a stop. The third baseman knew better than to blow the ball foul as Len Randle of the Mariners did back in 1981 since the rule had to be rewritten because of Randle.

In his postgame press conference Jon Lester looked as if his mother had dressed him for Sunday school: starched white shirt and a broad brown tie with thick gold stripes. He looked more in his element on the mound with his second consecutive quality start and fourth overall. With Lester’s solid start and contributions from the bullpen staff the Red Sox avenged the Rays’ sweep with one of their own, just in time for a 10-game road trip.


Game 32: May 3, 2008
Rays 4 L: James Shields (3-2)
16-14, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 12 W: Josh Beckett (3-2) 19-13, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Now this looked more like the Devil Rays we know and love.

All but one of the Rays four pitchers allowed earned runs in their abbreviated appearances. James Shields, who heaved a complete-game shutout against the Red Sox less than a week ago, lasted only three and two-third innings. The local nine scored in every inning he took the hill. The parade of baserunners did not relent with Shields’s departure in the fourth.

When we last saw J.P. Howell on April 25 the left-handed reliever allowed the go-ahead run to score in the sixth with one out but then shut Boston down for the next two and two-third innings. Perhaps he showed a bit too much of his stuff that day because he was no mystery to Red Sox batters. The southpaw loaded the bases on four pitches to J.D. Drew and then plunked Jason Varitek to push in yet another run.

He got through the fifth inning unscathed but the uneventful inning may have given him false confidence. In the sixth he gave a free pass to Manny Ramirez. The pressing slugger advanced to third on Mike Lowell’s cue shot down the left field line and scored on Kevin Youkilis’s seeing-eye single through the hole.

I pictured Howell sipping a martini after the game wearing an ascot and navy blue monogrammed blazer while getting iced. I wished Joe Thurston was still with the team so Howell could pitch to him.

The only homers of the game were launched by Rays and both were off Josh Beckett: Gabe Gross knocked in two runs in the second and Akinori Iwamura rudely hit Ramirez’s home run countup with his eighth-inning four-bagger.

Since there were no longballs by the local nine the loudest the crowd got was in the fourth inning. With the score 5-3 in Boston’s favor, Beckett found himself in a jam. He had already allowed a leadoff double to Eric Hinske and two consecutive singles to plate the utility player. Beckett then walked seven-hole hitter Gross to load the bases, prompting John Farrell to visit his ace.

Together they drew up a plan: induce a fly ball to left field and have Ramirez gun down Carlos Peña at home to end the threat. It worked slightly better than Ramirez’s attempted deke on Hinske’s double.

Obviously Ramirez is spending too much time on defensive schemes to the deficit of his home run hitting.

May 3, 2008


Game 31: May 2, 2008
Rays 3 L: Edwin Jackson (2-3)
16-13, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 7 W: Clay Buchholz (2-2)
H: Manny Delcarmen (3)
H: Hideki Okajima (4)
18-13, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Brandon Moss took advantage of J.D. Drew’s absence and made our hearts grow fonder. With this win Boston broke the logjam at the top of the AL East and its cuisine reigns supreme in the division. Nothing compares to home cooking.

If three-quarters of the crowd wasn’t already in alcohol-induced stupor by the top of the second inning because of the two-hour, twenty-seven minute rain delay, Brandon Moss would be a Boston folk hero today. Moss’s feats were on par with those of Chuck Norris or Bill Brasky.

The call-up cut down Evan Longoria at home in the second to stop the Rays from scoring first. He came up with Jason Bartlett’s looper but didn’t rush his relay. Moss made sure he had proper footing in the dampness of shallow outfield, pointed himself to the plate, and heaved the ball into Jason Varitek’s waiting mitt.

Longoria, after a few seconds of laying prone across the batter’s boxes, pulled himself upright and flung his helmet down in disgust.

The Rays’ prized rookie wasn’t the only one who would be foiled by Moss in a scoring attempt. Old friend Eric Hinske (who didn’t get a warm reception as one of the 25 of 2007; perhaps the rousing round of applause was stifled by gloves) sent a towering fly ball to right field in the top of the fourth. Moss planted himself steps from the wall and made a last-second arm adjustment to glove the first out of the inning.

In the bottom of the same inning Moss rocketed a shot to dead center off the camera hut. The home run sparked a two-out barrage that would total five runs by the time the smoke had cleared.

Somewhere in the midst of the offensive onslaught my friend noted that Varitek had changed his at-bat music. No longer does 3 Doors Down’s biggest (only?) hit reverberate across the park, but we couldn’t make out the backstop’s replacement tune.

Clay Buchholz didn’t pitch as well as his most recent start but was bolstered by his bats in this second go-around against Edwin Jackson. Varitek seemed particularly mother hen-like last night, visiting the rookie pitcher even when he was ahead of the count.

Kudos to Red Sox management for saying they intended to have the game completed last evening and meaning it. Boos to the MBTA for not being flexible enough to have some sort of contingency plan to allow for trains to run longer to accommodate baseball fans.

May 2, 2008


Game 30: May 1, 2008
WinBlue Jays 3 W: A.J. Burnett (3-2)
H: Jesse Carlson (2)
S: B.J. Ryan (3)
12-17, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox 0 L: Tim Wakefield (2-1) 17-13, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: A.J. Burnett is the pitcher’s version of J.D. Drew: often injured but capable of sparks of brilliance from time to time. Last night was one of those times for Burnett (but not for Drew, who is still resting his left quadriceps).

David Ortiz used every ounce of brawn to break the shift against him last night. In the fourth he led off with a liner over the heads of three infielders and in the sixth he englished a grounder past Aaron Hill. But the only other Red Sox player to tally a hit against A.J. Burnett was Mike Lowell, who doubled into no-man’s land between Vernon Wells and Alex Rios in the second.

The home team had the opportunity to convert Burnett’s five bases on balls into scores but failed to do so. The paltry hitting conspired to hold the team scoreless for just the second time this season (the first time was in Tampa on April 27 with Josh Beckett on the hill).

With Wakefield on the mound I was reminded of the Red Sox Trivia Question from Tuesday’s game: Name three players in uniform who were members of the 1995 American League East Champion Red Sox. Of course Wakefield was the first and most obvious answer; the other two were Luis Alicea and Matt Stairs.

That year the 28-year old Wakefield led the team with 16 wins, 29-year old Alicea turned in a passable performance at second base (.270 BA, .367 OBP, .375 slugging), and 27-year old Stairs played 39 games and had a triple and was caught stealing once. Given the former outfielder’s physique (which isn’t much different from the body he inhabits today) both events must have inspired raucous laughter. Alicea looks younger than all of them while Stairs looks as if he should be lining up for the early bird special at Century House with a minivan full of retired men in Bermuda shorts hiked up over their bellybuttons.

The crispness of the evening imbued the players with exceptional defensive reaction time. In the top of the fourth Manny Ramirez scrambled to the wall to chase down Rios’s swiftly falling fly ball. The bases were loaded and a miss would mean at least two runs on the board. But the left fielder stretched for a last-second snag for the final out.

Not to be outdone, Aaron Hill snared a rope of a shot off the bat of Brandon Moss in the bottom half of the same inning with a cat-like lunge. Ortiz, pushed to second thanks to a five-pitch walk to Ramirez, was handily doubled off when the Blue Jays’ second baseman trotted to the keystone bag to complete the unassisted, inning-killing double play.

John Gibbons must have thought that the MLB officiating crew was surreptitiously replaced by NBA referees in the bottom of the ninth. B.J. Ryan compiled two quick outs and appeared to have induced a game-ending fly out to Rios, who came into shallow right to catch Coco Crisp’s pop-up.

NESN flashed the final score on the screen and Ryan prepared to high-five his teammates when Bruce Dreckman halted the celebration. Ryan swiveled his body about as best he could, given he has no neck, to figure out why the game wasn’t in the history books. The festivities were premature as the second baseman umpire called a balk on the no-necked closer.

Moss advanced to second and with his second chance Crisp smacked a single into right. Rookie Jed Lowrie took the box and came on the short end of Gerry Davis’s ball and strike calls.

It is not known if Davis’s crew will be assisting in what will probably be another skewed officiating session in Atlanta this evening for Game 6 of the Celtics’ first-round playoff series.

I’ll be at tonight’s game hoping that the weather and the Red Sox hittters’ bats heat up.

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