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Home » Monthly Archive » May 2009

May 31, 2009


Game 51: May 31, 2009
WinRed Sox8
W: Jon Lester (4-5)
29-22, 1 game winning streak
Blue Jays
L: Ricky Romero (2-2)
29-24, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Terry Francona shook up the lineup (Pedroia, Drew, Youkilis, Bay, Lowell, Ortiz, Varitek, Ellsbury, Green) and the results were promising. Lester’s first inning was disquieting: Marco Scutaro led off with an infield single, Alex Rios walked, the pair executed a double steal, and Vernon Wells lofted a sacrifice fly to left. Through it all Lester worked ploddingly, which he does when he is overthinking.

John Farrell must have said something to Jon Lester in the dugout after the end of the first because the southpaw picked up the pace for the rest of the game. Lester was the stopper for this series with his six innings of impressive pitching: 3 hits, 1 earned run, 3 walks, and 12 strikeouts. All three hits were infield hits.

While Lester had his best outing of 2009 Ricky Romero had his worst. Lasting only four innings, the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft allowed 6 hits, 5 earned runs, 5 walks, 5 strikeouts, and 2 home runs. Others drafted after Romero and their draft slot: Troy Tulowitzki (7th), Cameron Maybin (10th), Jay Bruce (12th), Jacoby Ellsbury (23rd), and Matt Garza (25th and 2008 ALCS MVP).

J.P. Ricciardi might be looking for another club when his contract runs out in 2010. The Blue Jays have never made the playoffs under his stewardship and the best finish they had in the AL East was second place in 2006. Ricciardi can’t use the competitiveness of the division as an excuse anymore: the Rays have turned themselves around in fairly short period of time while Ricciardi has been with Toronto since November of 2001.

Kevin Youkilis, formerly the Greek God of Walks, is now the Swiss Army Knife of the Lineup. He can hit in any spot of the order and plays both corners with Gold Glove ability to boot. Unsurprisingly Youkilis cottoned to the three-hole well: he homered in the first and eighth innings.

He may have jacked two, but those were only solo shots. One of his fellow homegrown players knocked in three runs in the fourth inning and led the team in RBIs for the game, and he probably made sure everyone knew who had the most ribeyes in the game. Dustin Pedroia, who led off, knocked a shot off the foul net in left (Rogers Centre doesn’t have traditional poles).

David Ortiz was driven in by Pedroia, who he calls Mini-Me. Ortiz just missed a homer to begin the fourth. His fly ball caromed off the Nikon sign in center, high enough so that Vernon Wells didn’t have a play. Maybe this will be the hit that rekindles Papi’s spirits.

In the eighth Jason Bay continued to build his credentials for AL MVP votes and his case for a huge contract with his 15th four-bagger, propelling his homer into the Blue Jays’ bullpen just as Youkilis did right before him. Bay also doubled in the first inning.

Dennis Eckersley hasn’t broadcast more than a dozen live games and his reputation as a color analyst is already on par with his legend as a pitcher. Rance Mulliniks, who I didn’t like at first but grew to enjoy over the course of the series, commented drolly, “I’ve heard the Eckisms. I woke up in a cold sweat thinking about how to pronounce “Masterson.” And I make sure not to try and read people’s lips.”

The lanky reliever pitched two innings and Mulliniks pronounced “Justin Masterson” without incident.


Game 50: May 30, 2009
Red Sox3
L: Ramon Ramirez (4-2)
28-22, 2 game losing streak
WinBlue Jays
W: Brian Tallet (3-3)
H: Brandon League (3)
S: Scott Downs (7)
29-23, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: The first two games of this series have been like Groundhog Day in baseball format. Seven innings pitched by the Blue Jays starter? Check. Eighth inning with one strikeout by League? Check. Perfect save by Downs? Check. Jason Varitek didn’t homer twice, but Rocco Baldelli smashed his second home run of the season with Varitek on base.

Unfortunately, Rocco Baldelli didn’t complete the game. In the fifth he slid into the wall bordering the right field stands in pursuit of Aaron Hill’s fly ball into foul territory and banged up his surgically-repaired knee, but x-rays came back negative. Too bad; I was looking forward to another withering glance from Baldelli to Jacoby Ellsbury should the latter attempt to poach a put-out as he did in the fourth inning.

Baldelli was ball-hawking in center before Ellsbury was drafted by the Red Sox. I wonder, as Baldelli probably wonders, what might have been if his career hadn’t been waylaid by injury and illness. I think if he fully recovers that the former Ray will be a better player than Ellsbury.

Toronto has a tenuous hold on matters practical and sartorial. Yesterday the roof was open with the sun drenching the field. Accordingly, the Blue Jays wore their alternate home jerseys, which are black. The stadium crew closed the roof in the fifth because of the threat of a few raindrops.

Rance Mulliniks dialed back his commentary for the middle game of the series and sprinkled in anecdotes to ease the tedium. “I would actually hear something creative and funny and you had to laugh along with them,” admitted Mulliniks about hecklers. As a rookie Mulliniks had braces. In Arlington, Texas, a fan mocked him with a draw, “Hey 18, you get AM/FM with them braces?”

For tips on how to deal with hecklers, look no further than Vernon Wells. In 2007, the center fielder somewhat placated a slew of unruly Indians fans with a ball. The ball, however, carried an amusing message to his antagonists.

Brad Penny’s pitching reminds me of John Burkett but with a few ticks on the radar gun remaining. He is a candidate to get shelled: he gave up 10 hits and eight of his 12 outs were fly ball outs. But when, not if, the wheels start to come off, Clay Buchholz and John Smoltz will be ready with engines revving.

May 30, 2009


Game 49: May 29, 2009
Red Sox3
L: Tim Wakefield (6-3)
28-21, 1 game losing streak
WinBlue Jays
W: Casey Janssen (1-1)
H: Brandon League (2)
S: Scott Downs (6)
28-23, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Rance Mulliniks filled in for Jerry Remy. Like Remy he was a slightly above average player who debuted in the mid-70s and has reemerged as a baseball analyst. A third baseman, Mulliniks had more power than Remy, but Remy trumped the former Blue Jay in the speed department. Mulliniks’s career petered out just as the Blue Jays won their first world championship. He wasn’t on the playoff roster and was granted free agency after the conclusion of the 1992 season. For Mulliniks, Flashback Friday uniforms aren’t a way to recreate an all-but-forgotten past for new fans but a living memory of his last season as a ballplayer.

Don Orsillo and Rance Mulliniks played dueling analysts for nine innings. A Rogers Sportsnets employee, he knows the Toronto roster backwards and forwards, and didn’t hesitate to volunteer this knowledge. He always did so with a polite “excuse me” if he talked over Orsillo, but he definitely wasn’t catering to his audience.

In contrast, Jerry Remy is able to adjust his approach if he is on a national broadcast for Fox or if he is in his regular NESN gig. Mulliniks is rather new to the color analyst shtick, so he has yet to learn how to adapt to a different viewership or dole out his analysis across the entirety of the game.

He did have a Kevin Millar anecdote to share, but then again who doesn’t? Millar got a free pass from Tim Wakefield in the second and while the designated hitter stood at first Mulliniks talked about how Millar got fired up and emotional when he saw a replay of Dave Roberts’s steal. Orsillo mentioned that Millar was the one who kept the clubhouse light during the 2004 ALCS and that it was Millar who said, “Don’t let us win tonight.”

“He says a lot of stuff,” said Orsillo, “and some of it sticks.”

“Yes it does. And some of it you can say on the air, not all of it,” quipped Mulliniks.

He did introduce me to a phrase I’ve never heard turned before: buzzard’s luck. David Ortiz is a classic example of buzzard’s luck last night: his deep fly to end the first could have been a home run if the roof were open and his rope to right could have been a double if Lyle Overbay hadn’t gotten a glove on it.

The Blue Jays’ loss this past Wednesday against the Orioles had buzzards picking on carcass. Had they played the game at home Aaron Hill’s two-run homer would have been the end of Toronto’s futility. Instead, they waited until last night to end their nine-game losing streak and even up with the Red Sox in the win column.

May 28, 2009


Game 48: May 28, 2009
WinRed Sox3
W: Josh Beckett (5-2)
H: Hideki Okajima (8)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (13)
28-20, 1 game winning streak
L: Anthony Swarzak (1-1)
24-25, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: I listened to the radio broadcast with my new Apple In-Ear Headphones. Rather than noise-canceling they are sound-isolating, but the way they physically filled up my ear canals allowed them to transfer the vibrations of the wire hitting against my keyboard tray to travel along its length. This Morse code transmitted a message of annoyance almost as nettlesome as Todd Tichenor.

You know how rookies get high numbers when they first come up? Well, Todd Tichenor’s number is 97, the highest number issued this season. He issued Mike Redmond’s first ejection in his 12-year career when the catcher disputed a call at the plate. Tichenor adjudged Jeff Bailey safe at home although at certain angles Jason Kubel’s throw and Redmond’s tag conspired to render Bailey out. The score was 3-1, so the questionable ruling in the top of the seventh did not make the difference in the game. Ron Gardenhire came out to defend Redmond and was summarily dismissed.

The charged-up Minnesotans laid into Tichenor for calling a first-pitch strike against Joe Crede to begin the bottom half of the seventh. If you are disliked by midwesterners you are doing something very wrong.

If I were an umpire I’d get freaked out too if I got Twins fans worked up enough to boo my calls. Who can blame Tichenor for squeezing Josh Beckett a bit?

Well, Jason Varitek for one, and Terry Francona for another. The pitcher reacted strongly to the umpire’s failure to call the third strike on Brendan Harris and Varitek interceded. Perhaps Tichenor was eager to get the crowd back on his side: he gave Varitek the boot after just a momentary exchange of ideas. Francona arrived on the scene a second too late to save Varitek so the Red Sox skipper got in a few choice words before getting the heave-ho himself. Like a substitute teacher vainly issuing detention slips to an unruly class of middle-schoolers Tichenor demonstrated his utter lack of control by overcompensation.

(Then again, Francona’s ejection may have been self-engineered to get out from under the horrors of the Metrodome sooner rather than later. He’s not an admirer of the building, you see.)

Fortunately, Varitek had already smacked two home runs to give his team an unassailable lead. I admit I was one of those fans who had visions of Jarrod Saltalamacchia in a Red Sox uniform dancing in my head in the offseason, but after today’s game Varitek now has twice as many homers as the Rangers’ catcher.

The bullpen tandem of Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon shut down the Twins’ offense. Okajima’s outing was of note because he shut down the M&M Boys, one of the premiere batting duos in the league. Joe Mauer’s on-base skills make him an ideal two-hole hitter but his burgeoning power might see him move down in the order.

The Red Sox split a series with an underestimated team and move northwards to play against an exposed team. When the Red Sox last saw the Blue Jays they were looking up to them in the standings and hearing a lot of talk about how Toronto finally put it all together. One nine-game skid later and the contenders appear to be pretenders. And unlike last season, Boston won’t have to face Roy Halladay every series.

David Ortiz broke two bats, one on a check swing and another on his knee after a strikeout. Next time he’ll take his anger out on the ball.

I hope.

Bōtō [暴投]

Game 47: May 27, 2009
Red Sox2
L: Daiske Matsuzaka (0-3)
27-20, 2 game losing streak
W: Kevin Slowey (7-1)
H: Jose Mijares (5)
H: Matt Guerrier (7)
S: Joe Nathan (8)
23-24, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Hits and wild pitches are like bananas: they come in bunches. Matsuzaka uncorked four errant missiles over the course of his five innings of work. Manny Delcarmen and Justin Masterson both had wild pitches of their own. George Kottaras should have just used a first baseman’s mitt like he does when catching Tim Wakefield. Bōtō means “wild pitch” in Japanese. The first character has the following meanings depending on context: outburst, rave, fret, force, violence, cruelty. (Sounds like Carlos Zambrano to me.) The second symbol: throw, discard, abandon, launch into, hurl. (Zambrano again!)

One hundred-two pitches over five innings isn’t going to cut it for a starting pitcher making $8M this season and who was thought to have at least number two slot stuff. He didn’t have a horrible outing last night: 9 hits, 3 earned runs, 3 walks, and 6 strikeouts. With a touch more run support we would be talking about Daisuke Matsuzaka’s first step to recovering his former success.

The only Red Sox runs came in the third and sixth. Kevin Youkilis lofted a sacrifice fly to right to plate Jacoby Ellsbury for the first run; Ellsbury was on base with a single up the middle that extended his hitting streak to 22 games. Jason Bay homered for the second run. The visitors only had players in scoring position two other times in the course of the evening, unable to convert the few chances they had into runs.

The Twins could have scored much more than four runs with all the baserunners and wild pitches flitting hither and yon.

Dave Roberts understandably has a keen eye for baserunning situations. He criticized Dernard Span for failing to steal in the first, but with Matsuzaka pitching like the blood donor of the game all the Twins had to do was wait for a visiting hurler to uncork one.

Roberts made the evening for me by comparing Jose Mijares to Dennys Reyes in appearance and reminding me that Reyes’s nickname is “The Big Sweat.” What is it about the allure of chunky middle relievers? Boston had El Guapo, Rod Beck was a legend, Everyday Eddie Guardado has made his rounds about the league.

It’s because these players looked like they just came off the street and put on some baseball togs. They are not finely chiseled physical specimens but regular guys with just enough talent to cut it in a major league bullpen. That variable skill is just lacking enough to blow the game or just exacting enough to go 1-2-3. Mijares did the latter in the seventh. Perhaps he’ll get his nickname soon.

May 27, 2009


Game 46: May 26, 2009
Red Sox2
L: Jon Lester (3-5)
27-19, 1 game losing streak
W: Nick Blackburn (4-2)
H: Matt Guerrier (6)
S: Joe Nathan (7)
23-24, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Shouldn’t a batter be charged with a strike if they swing when time is called, like what happened in the eighth with Delmon Young batting against Takashi Saito? Saito had to throw four strikes against Young for the strikeout.

It’s hard to harbor resentment towards Justin Morneau. Clean-cut, good-looking, likable, model clubhouse citizen, 2006 AL MVP, and 2007 Home Run Derby winner. On top of that he is a two-time All-Star and twice earned the Silver Slugger award. Even with all that hardware his swing is free and easy. Jon Lester shouldn’t feel terrible about Morneau taking him deep for that three-run homer in the fifth because the Twins first baseman is one of the premier players in the league. But Lester probably does.

For 4⅓ innings the southpaw held the home team to goose eggs, but as is his wont this season he had that one inning that undid him. The second time the bottom third of the order saw him they were all over his pitches. Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, and Nick Punto singled. In the midst of the one-baggers Delmon Young had an extra base hit ripped from his stat line by Jacoby Ellsbury’s remarkable diving catch.

The trajectory of Young’s batted ball had me wondering how far Harris would get before Ellsbury dug out the ball and hurled it back into the infield. That the Red Sox center fielded snared the ball defied logic and physics.

Ellsbury also scored both runs for the Red Sox. He and Dustin Pedroia paired up in the top of the fifth for their signature maneuver: fielder’s choice-SB-RBI double. (Julio Lugo’s leadoff single in this inning was nearly as surprising as Ellsbury’s catch.)

Lugo led off the seventh with a fly ball out to center, so Ellsbury’s and Pedroia’s consecutive singles came with one out. J.D. Drew tapped the ball to Twins second baseman Tolbert, who passed to Punto at short to erase Pedroia. Punto’s relay to first was way off the mark, allowing Ellsbury to score. First base umpire Chris Guccione obstructed Drew’s path and Drew got caught between Morneau and Punto for the final out.

I can only imagine what Dennis Eckersley would be saying about this crew. In Jerry Remy’s absence Dave Roberts has been doing road games, so the probability of live cussing is considerably lessened.

The Red Sox had an odd third out to end the first inning that didn’t require umpire interference. Morneau rapped a grounder up the middle and off Lugo’s glove. Pedroia pursued the ricochet into shallow center and tossed the ball back to Lugo to hose Morneau.

Amongst his accolades Morneau does not have “league leader in steals,” so his attempt to capitalize on the error was questionable. He doesn’t have the wheels that Ellsbury or even David Ortiz.

Papi legged out double to start the second inning but was stranded. He even slid legs-first. Being back in Twins territory has reinstilled the designated hitter’s fundamentals and slap-hitting. Perhaps retracing his steps will bring him back to where he was in his heyday.

May 26, 2009


Game 45: May 25, 2009
WinRed Sox6
W: Brad Penny (5-1)
H: Ramon Ramirez (7)
H: Hideki Okajima (7)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (12)
27-18, 2 game winning streak
L: Francisco Liriano (2-6)
22-24, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Apparently Penny was vomiting between innings. Bulimia is not the answer, Brad!

Brad Penny’s regurgitation wasn’t about his body image but a sinus infection that impacted his stomach. I had the impression that Penny was something of a softie because of his frequent visits to the disability list, but beneath his squishy midsection are some steely guts.

For some reason NESN played a remake of “Making Our Dreams Come True” by Those Darn Accordions. Either they didn’t realize “Laverne and Shirley” was set in Milwaukee rather than Minneapolis or they were paying homage to the Border Battle that wrapped up Sunday evening.

It was adorable seeing the heated rivalry between the cheeseheads and the, um, lakeheads. A few folks got into a dispute about whose green bean casserole was better. The battle was hard-fought. Famous people from Wisconsin: Orson Wells, Georgia O’Keefe, Les Paul, Liberace, Thorstein Veblen. Minnesota: Terry Gilliam, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, Judy Garland, Charles and William Mayo. Sorry, Wisconsin, but Minnesota is superior because “Mystery Science Theater 3000” originated within its borders.

When Red Sox fans got rowdy in the Metrodome they were soundly tsk-tsked and if a Minnesotan really wanted to make a point the dreaded finger waggle was used. And they use their index fingers, unlike other places.

To prove how hardy they are, the replacement ballpark, Target Field, will not have a roof. Are they trying to prove to their neighbors to the north that baseball is a tougher sport than hockey? Or that the Twins are more rugged than the Vikings? Are they intentionally replacing the adventurous white roof of the Metrodome with snowflakes?

Jonathan Papelbon has had his adventures on the mound of late. That Omir Santos handled his heat was troubling, but that can be chalked up to luck. Joe Mauer’s two-run pinch hit homer shouldn’t cause concern because Mauer is one of the best hitters in the league. But it will and incalculable words will be written about it.

Countless comments will also be written about David Ortiz dropping to sixth in the lineup for tonight’s game, but let us give kudos to Terry Francona for finally doing so and also for letting Papi ride pine against a southpaw.

I didn’t know Francona threw a left-handed knuckleball until last night. I did a search and found Alex Speier’s article about it. He already rated high on the cool and quirky quotient and this sends his score off the charts.

Another knuckleballer, R.A. Dickey, picked up in the fifth inning after Francisco Liriano allowed five earned runs despite striking out seven. Dickey surrendered a solo shot to Jeff Bailey in the eighth inning that proved to be the margin of victory.

My friend was watching the Minnesota broadcast told me that an announcer made a quip about the home plate umpire’s big plate with Justin Morneau to end the eighth and the subsequent make-up strikeout given to Kevin Youkilis to kick-off the ninth: “Someone’s got a grill going and Jerry Lane is invited.”

Imagine how quick those innings will fly by in April in the new open stadium.

May 25, 2009


Game 44: May 24, 2009
L: Tim Redding (0-1)
23-20, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox12
W: Tim Wakefield (6-2)
H: Manny Delcarmen (2)
26-18, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Mother Nature knew that the Red Sox offense would be red hot against the likes of Redding, so she attempted to cool off their bats with a quenching rain in the bottom of the first inning.

Dan Shaughnessy was part of the pre-game show. He was so orange I mistook him for a new Mets mascot. He fulfills all of the criteria required for team mascots: outsized head, frozen and bizarre facial expression, and outrageous hair style, all of which combine to frighten young and old alike.

Dwight Evans accompanied Don Orsillo in the booth. I thought Dennis Eckersley might have been benched by NESN for swearing during Friday night’s game, but the Hall of Famer does have a contract with TBS to analyze select Sunday games.

Evans is a peach of guy but his voice is better suited to golf than baseball. He was so soothing I barely realized that the Red Sox were pummeling the Mets. Nearly every Boston batter notched a hit yesterday. Every hitter except David Ortiz. The sympathy in Evans’s voice was apparent with each plate appearance by Papi. Today Ortiz will sit against Francisco Liriano, as Terry Francona finally sussed out that it is difficult for a southpaw slugger to face lefties in multiple games after given a few days off.

Tim Wakefield wasn’t his shutdown self but his teammates provided so much run support he didn’t need to be flawless. The third inning started off with a Luis Castillo single; a cassingle, if you will. The Mets tied with David Wright’s line drive single to left and took the lead on Jeremy Reed’s liner to right. Visiting fans drowned out the devotees of the local nine.

The fifth inning comeback started off on a sour note. Kevin Youkilis seemed to have hit a leadoff home run but after video review Joe West stated that the call of foul ball stood. Youkilis flied out to right and Jason Bay gave the ball a ride to center. With two outs under his belt Tim Redding couldn’t stay in the game to get the required innings for the win. Boston scored three runs as Sean Green allowed all of his inherited runners cross the plate, including George Kottaras. The back-up catcher scored thanks to another Green, Nick, who got himself caught in a rundown between first and second so that Kottaras wouldn’t be out at home.

Kottaras had a career day: 3-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI. Youkilis was denied a homer in the fifth but powered a no-doubter in the seventh with two on and two out. Kottaras is the real Greek, by the way, though not a god of walks. More days like this and he could be named the god of second catchers.

The Blue Jays continued their skid, losing their sixth straight game and the division lead. With this win and the losses by Toronto and New York the Red Sox now lead the AL East. It’s a slim margin, but it’s the lead nonetheless.

May 24, 2009


Game 43: May 23, 2009
WinMets3W: Pedro Feliciano (1-1)
S: J.J. Putz (2)
23-19, 2 game winning streak
Red Sox2BS, L: Jonathan Papelbon (1, 0-1)25-18, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: Alex Cora was interviewed by Heidi Watney in her “Opposite Field” segment. He misses Boston, you can tell. When asked about how he likes playing for the Mets, there was a long pause. Then he went for the standard “this is a great team, we’re contenders” soundbite before mentioning that in New York the fans and media get on you quicker than in Boston. Cora characterized his time with the Red Sox as “my best three years I ever had in baseball” and that he missed Dustin Pedroia’s smack talk. In preparation for the knuckleballer today, Cora said the strategy is to go out tonight and have some drinks. Probably with some of his former AL teammates.

If it had been J.J. Putz or Francisco Rodriguez who blew the game for the Mets, the back page of the Gotham tabloid would have been worse than what it was for Jonathan Papelbon. The Boston Herald only screeched “Gone Baby Gone” in 200-point font. “K-Fraud,” “J.J.=Just Junk,” and “Just a Putz” are some of the possibilities.

Josh Beckett was a bit too keyed up in the first inning. He got two quick outs but then allowed a single to Carlos Beltran that Nick Green stopped from slipping into the outfield. Beckett’s second pickoff throw was off the mark and allowed Beltran to take second base.

The Red Sox starter then tried too hard to right his wrong and compounded the situation. Beckett got into Mike Lowell’s way attempting to chase down Gary Sheffield’s pop-up in foul territory. Sheffield singled to left to plate the first run of the evening.

Boston answered right back with two runs in the bottom of the first. Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 18 games with a single and Dustin Pedroia singled through the hole. With the skittish Mike Pelfrey on the mound and Kevin Youkilis in the box the baserunners perfectly executed a double steal. Youkilis nailed Ellsbury with a sharply batted ball right before he straightened out his line to drop a liner into left for two runs.

Shockingly those would be the only runs the Red Sox would plate. Pelfrey does not have nerves of steel and yet he matched Beckett’s goose eggs frame by frame.

Green’s defensive prowess ended the fifth inning threat. With runners on second and first Green chased down Daniel Murphy’s pop out behind second and twisted just in time to glove the ball. In the bottom of the inning Green jumped on the first pitch and shattered his bat to single up the middle. “That bat died a good death,” said Dennis Eckersley. Murphy was robbed by Green again in the eighth; the Mets outfielder’s broken-bat bloop found Green’s glove for the first out of the inning.

“Who is Omir Santos?” Jonathan Papelbon should be asking himself. A rookie back-up backstop that shouldn’t be hitting cheese for a game-winning two-run homer with two outs, that’s for sure. The home run, which was so improbable it required Joe West to fire up the replay machine (the first time it was used at Fenway), was the second four-bagger in Santos’s career. His only other quadrangular came against Anibal Sanchez, a former Red Sox prospect who was traded to the Marlins to acquire Beckett.

May 23, 2009

Modori [戻り]

Game 42: May 22, 2009
W: Johan Santana (6-2)
H: Bobby Parnell (8)
S: Francisco Rodriguez (12)
22-19, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox3
L: Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-2)
25-17, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: “Modori” means return in Japanese. Like Matsuzaka I returned to Fenway last night; I was there to help kick off the series sweep against the Blue Jays and hoped to do the same for the opening of interleague play.

Johan Santana had other ideas. Santana is one of those lefties that doesn’t rely on craft rather than stuff. His nasty repertoire had all the Red Sox hitters befuddled. Kevin Youkilis, who rarely get punched out, struck out swinging thrice, as did David Ortiz. Since his time off, Ortiz has had to face off against three southpaw starters, and one of them could legitimately be titled the best pitcher in baseball. Santana may have gone to the weaker senior circuit, but his pitching translates to any league.

My voice is hoarse from trying to out-yell Mets fans. They were in full throat and it being May they weren’t choking. Come this September these Mets fans will have abandoned their garishly garbed team in favor of the Giants or Jets (whichever team is doing better).

When Daisuke Matsuzaka emerged from the dugout to begin his warm-up routine the first thing I noticed was that he seemed to have put on some weight. The next thing I saw was that he eschewed the highlights in favor of his natural hair color. But what matters is his performance on the mound, and given that this was his first outing since being on the disabled list he did rather well.

The hardest hit balls against him were Gary Sheffield’s second inning homer (which died on its way to the Monster seats and would have been a fly ball out in other parks) and Carlos Beltran’s fourth inning ground-rule double (which was legitimately scorched). The rest of the hits in the fourth were not rockets by any means; they were hardly sparklers. David Wright, Omir Santos, and Ramon Martinez’s singles were bleeders and bloops, but that’s all you need to string together a rally.

The Red Sox answered back in the bottom of most every inning the Mets scored in: Jason Varitek matched Sheffield’s home run and scraped out two runs in the bottom of the fourth. Without Martinez’s fielding error, both of those runs would not have crossed the plate. So much for hometown scorer’s bias. Unlike the hitter who was magically granted a single from Mariners’ scorer on Nick Green’s throwing error Varitek merely got an RBI.

Jason Bay’s running catch Martinez’s fliner (a great portmanteau) to left looked more impressive in person. As Bay glided towards the wall and made the stretching leap at the last instant reminded me of a Ted Williams photograph I saw on Sports Temples, an online photograph collection hosted by the Boston Public Library. That site is currently being revamped, so watch that space.

Looking back at those photos one tries to imagine how the game was once played and how Fenway used to look. I heard a father tell his kids about how spectators used to stand on the field of play itself. Judging by his first inning Baltimore chop, Jacoby Ellsbury would do well on a team practicing “inside baseball.” No wonder he isn’t well-liked on Sons of Sam Horn.

For once I remembered to record the live version of the game and was blessed with a priceless sound bite in doing so. Dennis Eckersley said one of George Carlin’s seven words when reenacting Youkilis getting hit by a pitch.

He said what I wanted to say about that game had not a family of four with their 12-week baby girl sat to my immediate right. After the cussing, Eckersley said, “Never mind.” Same thing with this almost inevitable loss. Turn the page and try to salvage the series, starting tonight.


Game 41: May 21, 2009
Blue Jays
L: Robert Ray (1-2)
27-17, 3 game losing streak
WinRed Sox5
W: Jon Lester (3-4)
25-16, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: Lester turned in his first quality start since his May 4 outing against the Yankees. Blue Jays batters mustered eight hits against him, but the only extra base hit came off the bat of Vernon Wells in the third. In the first inning Lester let one fly when Alex Rios called time out. Dennis Eckersley said that pitchers are coached to do so but that it’s hard for them to do so because they are so focused on pounding the zone.

Speaking of pounding, Jason Bay has been a behemoth at the plate. The left fielder powered an opposite field homer off the top of the Red Sox bullpen’s wall with Kevin Youkilis on first. The two-run shot added to David Ortiz’s RBI ground out that plated Jacoby Ellsbury. Ortiz was the first guy in the dugout to high five Bay. It’s nice to see Papi smile again.

So much for the beasts of the east Toronto Blue Jays. A couple of series before squaring off against the Red Sox Toronto played against the Yankees and lost the three-game series. Toronto’s hot start reminded me of the surging Orioles of seasons past.

I wonder if Vernon Wells regrets signing his long-term deal that keeps him with Toronto until 2014. He has an option he can exercise in 2011. By 2010 Roy Halladay could be gone should the pitcher decide to test the free agent market. There must have been annoyance when Wells threw in the ball to the keystone sack to hose Dustin Pedroia. The Red Sox second baseman showed that his lightning-quick reflexes not only help him when batting but also when eluding tags; he nimbly moved his hand away from Marco Scutaro’s tag to get reach second safely. Second basemen must vex Wells; his own second baseman, Aaron Hill, is a racist (link to a Wells interview where the outfielder displays his wry wit).

The Red Sox have a 25-year old MVP-caliber player anchoring their middle infield, but the Blue Jays are no slouches in this department. They have extended Hill to 2011. While Pedroia broke out at 24, Hill is having a similarly productive season at age 27.

McGreevy’s 3rd Base Saloon, America’s first sports bar and the stop before home, now serves a 1.9 pound monstrosity called the Big Mouth Beckett burger. I like the irony of the name; for the stuff that he has, Beckett could have a lot bigger mouth than he does. But were he to run his mouth, he’d back it up, no doubt.

Part of the sale proceeds goes to Beckett’s charitable foundation, so chow down. Ken Casey, co-founder of McGreevy’s and a member of the Dropkick Murphys, visited the booth and mentioned that it’s not all meat since it’s garnished with 11 ounces of lettuce. “So it’s good for you,” cracked Eckersley. A Dropkick Murphys roadie made a bet that he could finish the Big Mouth. If he lost, he’d have to work the rest of the tour in his underwear. There was no word on the outcome. He could have made a deal with the scoreboard operators and have them help him hide the remnants; those behind the scenes guys know all the secrets of places.

But where did first base umpire John Hirschbeck hide his sense of vision? In the fifth he called Julio Lugo safe at first on Marco Scutaro’s off-target throw. Hirschbeck asserted the Kevin Millar lifted his foot off the bag. Replays showed that Millar held his toe down and that Lugo never stepped on the sack. Lugo was erased on Ellsbury’s ground ball to Millar. That fielder’s choice led to an RBI for Pedroia, but thankfully that ill-gotten run did not impact the outcome of the game.

May 21, 2009


Game 40: May 20, 2009
Blue Jays
L: Brett Cecil (2-1)
27-16, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox8
W: Brad Penny (4-1)
24-16, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Cecil was basically Chase Wrighted in the fifth inning. Cito Gaston was just too slow with the hook and before he knew it five baboombas cleared the fences.

Including the first home run of the season by one David América Ortiz Arias. Just as he did when he broke Jimmie Fox’s franchise record of 50 homers in a season, Papi got the cold shoulder in the dugout. But the teammate he calls “Mini-Me,” Dustin Pedroia, couldn’t restrain himself from hugging his friend for very long.

Peewee got his arms about as high as Ortiz’s waist.

Ortiz took a curtain call. It wasn’t like the meaningless ovations they pass out at Yankee Stadium. It seems to me that fans at Nouveau Stade Fasciste like to show the power they exercise over their players by summoning them to the top step. They will boo their player while he is at bat and slumping but do a 180-degree turn and demand a doff of the cap. And Yankee players hunger for that adulation, so they willingly answer the call.

It’s not like at Fenway.

We root for our guys while they are in the box to encourage them. In Tuesday’s game I did hear a smattering of jeers after Ortiz struck out and I imagine that might have happened to the designated hitter last night — until that monstrous fifth inning. Said Ortiz in this article, “The fans, they’ve always been so supportive since I’ve been here. That’s unbelievable. There’s not too much I can say about it. I try to come every day and get it done for them.”

Thank you, Papi! (Clap, clap, clap clap clap.)

Unlike Cito Gaston, Terry Francona learned his lesson on burning out rookie pitchers, but he had to repeat the course. For the Red Sox skipper there was Cla Meredith and then Craig Hansen (although the latter was mostly a product of the Scott Boras-negotiated agreement that required Hansen have a major league deal). Francona is determined that first-round pick Daniel Bard doesn’t go down that same path. With the lead secure at 8-0, Bard made his Fenway debut.

Dennis Eckersley was impressed by Bard’s “easy gas,” but noted that the hurler needs to mature and fill out before we know what his full potential could be. Bard flirted with triple digits on the radar but topped out at 99 miles per hour. The Blue Jays were well aware of Bard’s repertoire and hacked at his first pitch heat repeatedly. They strung together a three hits for a run but nothing that will permanently scar Bard’s psyche.

The last out gloved by Jacoby Ellsbury tied the major league record for putouts in a game. Ellsbury joined Lyman Bostock (on May 25, 1977 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Red Sox) and Earl Clark (May 10, 1929); all three men fielded a dozen putouts.

It must be a good night when the 3-for-5 return of Kevin Youkilis is one of the last things I could recall about the game.

May 20, 2009


Game 39: May 19, 2009
Blue Jays
L: Brian Tallet (2-2)
27-15, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox2
W: Tim Wakefield (5-2)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (11)
23-16, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: I went to my first game of the 2009 season last night. My office moved from Waltham to Billerica, so now instead of parking at Wellington and riding the T in I park at a stop along the Blue Line. I’ll miss the parking attendant at Wellington with whom I chatted with about the Celtics and Red Sox.

I’ll also miss the old prices for T parking. All stations have increased their fees by $2, so I have to drop a five-spot at my station. I think the additional revenue went towards adding hand straps for the vertically challenged. Now I don’t have to hover around the back of someone’s chair on Green Line trains or affix myself to vertical posts in Blue Line cars. I do have to get used to the feeling of lack of circulation to my continually upraised arm.

Kenmore Square station and its environs are in the process of being renovated, and the changes so far look nice if a bit touristy. An airy glass structure divides Beacon and Commonwealth and the walls of the station have historic pictures of Fenway and Boston Red Sox players.

I got to Fenway in time to see the last set of home hitters take their hacks. David Ortiz was amongst them. He didn’t have a shot that reached me in Section 4, Row 3 of the Monster seats nor did he give any souvenirs to the fans in the bleachers, but several promising line drives peppered center and right fields.

Adam Lind was determined to send as many balls as possible over the left field wall. A couple ricocheted off the Sports Authority sign right above me, one hit off the light stanchion, and another zigzagged between the table-walls between the rows of Section 5.

Although the weather was perfect, the flags both on the field and hoisted around the park whipped wildly. I was fine with withstanding the gusts knowing that Tim Wakefield gets a boost of confidence when he feels the wind in his face.

The possibility of a perfect game or no-hitter for the knuckleballer was quickly dispatched by Alex Rios in the first. His ground ball died in the infield shag in front of third and curved away from foul territory while doing so. I imagine the grass is longer there by design to aid Jacoby Ellsbury, Nick Green, or Julio Lugo when bunting, but that feature can also help out a visiting batter who happens to find the right grain in the grass.

The only Red Sox runs came in the second inning. Mike Lowell led off with a seeing-eye single through the hole and J.D. Drew followed up with a nine-pitch at bat that yielded a walk. Julio Lugo didn’t exhibit the same patience as Drew and he popped out first with the infield fly rule in effect.

It was the bottom of the order that made the difference in the game. Eight-hole hitter Jeff Bailey inched closer to the Mendoza line with an RBI single to center. George Kottaras lofted a sacrifice fly to left field to plate Drew, but Lind entertained the notion that his arm was as strong as his bat and attempted to hose the runner at home. His throw was galley-west, so off target that Bailey advanced to second base.

Toronto’s only run came off the bat of Kevin Millar, whom I’ve taken to calling the herpes of the AL East. In the fifth inning the sound booth provided the visiting DH with his own at bat music. Lowell seems to have opted for a different song and was fine with “Iron Man” serenading Millar. Instead of yanking the ball high into the State Street Pavilion he blasted it into the Monster seats.

So close yet so far. It hit the last table-wall and bounced into the second row... of the section to my right.

As it seems at bat tunes can inspire one to homer, we ardently hoped our cheers would help Ortiz break out of his slump. In the eighth inning with Dustin Pedroia on first and B.J. Ryan on the mound Papi came to the plate.

There was little cheering from the fans in the Monster seats. Last night the constant wind chilled our enthusiasm and ability to cheer somewhat. The two-beer limit may also have something to do with that. From my position I could hear an almost avant-garde sonic bricolage of sound: from the right field grandstand came “Let’s go Papi,” from the left field seats the tempo and volume increasing mantra of “Papi! Papi! Papi!” He struck out in five pitches and didn’t look good doing so. He only faced southpaws after being idle a few days, so the conditions for a triumphant comeback were not ideal.

After “Dirty Water,” “Tessie,” and the requisite touristy photos on the Green Monster I made my way to the concourse near Gate A and finally saw the old brick ticket windows converted into museum exhibits. It was odd to see things in my living memory thus enshrined, but 2004 and 2007 were historic. Along with these World Champion teams stands 1986, 1975, and 1967. Yankee Stadium can boast its billion-dollar edifice of artifice, but I’ll take the honest, ancient bricks of 4 Yawkey Way, every day.

May 18, 2009


Game 38: May 17, 2009
Red Sox2
L: Ramon Ramirez (4-1)
22-16, 1 game losing streak
W: David Aardsma (1-1)
18-20, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: The Celtics joined the Bruins in elimination yesterday. Sunday was much like last week Thursday when all three Boston teams lost. Everyday is like Sunday. Armageddon, come Armageddon. Come, Armageddon, come.

Ronny Cedeño must be well-liked by the official scorer for yesterday’s game. Or perhaps that scorer didn’t want to see the utility player dip below .200 for his batting average. Whatever the reason, Cedeño was credited with a single for what should have been a two-base error for Nick Green. The Red Sox middle infielder threw the ball higher, harder, and farther than Cedeño hit it.

With two out and first open, Terry Francona decided to intentionally walk Ichiro Suzuki so that Ramon Ramirez would pitch to Franklin Gutierrez. It was the right tactic when you compare the two hitters, but it just didn’t work out. To trot out a baseball cliché, any team has a chance to beat any other team. That’s what fans of teams expected to make the playoffs tell themselves when their favored club falls to a sub-500 crew.

Ramirez suffered his first loss of the season, but if losses could be attributed to position players, Green might be a sub-500 player.

J.D. Drew scored both of the visitors’ runs. He was the only player to score with the bases loaded in the second. The right fielder hit his sixth homer of the season in the fourth.

As for the Celtics, injuries and fatigue took their toll. Without Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis had to square off against the likes of Joakin Noah and Dwight Howard over the course of two seven-game series.

More than other sports I think basketball players rely on their teammates. Those five players together form a being of their own. The point guard is the head, putting the rest of his body in order. The shooting guard is the primary hand, poising itself behind the ball for the perfect pull-up jump shot.The small forward is secondary hand, dribbling swaths through the defense to the rim to make the reverse shot at the last second. The power forward is the upper arms and shoulders, using their strength to muscle away rebounds or launch a midrange shot. The center is the legs, forming the defensive foundation.

Take away an essential part of the body and the rest of the pieces endeavor to rise to the task. They may strive, but there is only so much a patchwork roster can accomplish. Subtracting Garnett takes away more than just the lanky arms that stretch to tip opponents’ shots or the shoulders that carry the weight of a storied franchise’s expectations. A fragment of the heart of the team was on the bench, and there just wasn’t enough to keep the blood flowing.

May 17, 2009


Game 37: May 16, 2009
WinRed Sox5
W: Josh Beckett (4-2)
H: Hideki Okajima (6)
H: Ramon Ramirez (6)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (10)
22-15, 1 game winning streak
L: Garrett Olson (0-1)
17-20, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Jon Lester gave a Tim Tebow-like speech after his series-opening loss Friday night. “I can promise you that there hasn’t been a pitcher who has worked harder than I have from the beginning of the season, and there won’t be a pitcher for the remainder of the season who will work as hard as I will to get back to where I’ve been in the past.” And like Tebow, Lester inspired the men around him. Beckett had his first seven-inning outing since Opening Day.

Josh Beckett struck out only five and walked three batters, but it was an encouraging outing from a rotation that has taken its lumps. The only earned runs Beckett relinquished came on a home run to Yuniesky Betancourt with a man on base in the second inning. Hitting two-run bombs was the trendy thing to do yesterday evening — Jason Bay did it in the first and Jason Varitek did the same in the second.

The Mariners’ only other run came as a result of Julio Lugo’s throwing error to kick off the home half of the fourth. As Russell Branyan’s double skipped down the left field line Adrian Beltre barreled around the bases, bringing his team within a run. Jeff Bailey would get that run back with a leadoff four-bagger in the top of the fifth.

The triad of Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez, and Jonathan Papelbon form an extraordinary set of relief arms. If a starter can get to the sixth or seventh with the lead, the Red Sox will most likely come away with the victory.

It helped that Mike Lowell was his Gold Glove self at the hot corner. He snagged Betancourt’s blistering liner for the first out of the seventh. With Branyan on second thanks to a two-out double in the eighth, Lowell smothered sophomore Wladimir Balentien’s grounder and threw un-Lugo-like to first for the final out of the inning.

Dave Roberts has taken well to the game booth. He works well with Don Orsillo, facilely mixing analysis and anecdotes. Dennis Eckersley has cornered the market on colorful language, but Roberts has an easy-going and pleasant on-air persona (which isn't that different from his off-air personality).

Brian Daubach looks less comfortable than Jim Rice on camera, which is saying something. Daubach reminds me of Albert Brooks’s character on Broadcast News without the flop sweat and wit. Perhaps with time he’ll loosen up and show some of his character.

Speaking of Rice, the former left fielder got a tour of Hall of Fame on Friday. This article revealed that the most feared hitter of his time eased the stress during induction announcements by following a soap opera. Tom Caron might be tempted to tease Rice about it, but that broadcaster’s desk is not that big and the slugger’s reach could easily bridge the distance between them.

May 16, 2009


Game 36: May 15, 2009
Red Sox4
L: Jon Lester (2-4)
21-15, 3 game losing streak
W: Chris Jakubauskas (2-4)
H: Sean White (1)
H: Mark Lowe (2)
S: David Aardsma (4)
17-19, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Ichiro Suzuki hit two home runs off Lester. J.D. Drew cottoned to batting third, going 3-for-5 with an RBI single in the first, a leadoff double that sparked the scoring in the third, and a two-out single in the ninth. Jason Bay batted clean-up and was a foot short of giving his team the lead in the top of the ninth. The Joy of Sox pointed out that Boston has scored four runs in the last five consecutive games, tying their team record.

From what I have been able to uncover, “Jakubauskas” is a Lithuanian name. Linguists believe that Lithuanian is the oldest surviving Indo-European language. It has remained remarkably constant throughout for at least the past 5,000 years. In fact, it still retains the same vocabulary as Sanskrit.

All the words in Dustin Pedroia’s vocabulary are devoted to smack talk, even when speaking to children. The pre-game show featured a segment with the second baseman playing a baseball video game against a kid whose surname was Cashman. Fitting, as his parents must have paid a pretty penny for the privilege. The pair played the game on a television bigger than both of them. At least Pedroia cleaned it up when trash talking with a minor.

You don’t throw too many strikes, do you?

All I do is hit home runs in this game.

Uh oh, I’m starting to figure it out now.

You just struck out three guys on 9 pitches

Look at video game me going deep.

Kid: What’s the score?
Pedroia: A lot to a little

Pedroia lost 6-1, but not without him trying to strike a deal. “How about this: if I score in the next two outs, we tie.” The kid didn’t fall for the offer.

May 15, 2009


Game 35: May 14, 2009 ∙ 12 innings
Red Sox4
L: Manny Delcarmen (1-1)
21-14, 2 game losing streak
BS: Scot Shields (2)
W: Jason Bulger (1-1)
18-15, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: How do you know it’s getaway day? When Darren Oliver strikes out the side.

The Red Sox lost their extra innings affair just in time for me to have a little nosh and switch over to the Celtics. The green team seemed to have the game in hand, so I switched over to the Bruins.

There’s something about playoff hockey that grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go. Football plods along four downs at a time and basketball, while more free-flowing, is marred by momentum-draining intentional fouls and free throws. Possession is nine-tenths of the law — but not in hockey. The puck can slide like your grandma’s Impala on an unsalted street. In a quicksilver second it passes from one team to the other then into the goal for a gut-wrenching loss.

That it was Scott Walker who scored the winning goal for the Hurricanes wasn’t salt in the wound, it was fluoroantimonic acid in a sucking chest wound. Imagine steroid user Alex Rodriguez hitting the winning home run off Jonathan Papelbon in the 11th inning of the seventh game of the 2009 ALCS. Imagine Shawne Merriman intercepting Tom Brady in overtime and running 38 yards for the touchdown in the AFC Championship Game. Imagine Kobe Bryant flying from a court of law to the parquet of the Garden to hit the winning three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left on the clock.

Walker should have not even been on the ice. He was the one that bashed Aaron Ward’s face without provocation. Instead of spending time on the bench he paid a fine. Congratulations to Carolina for their $2,500 price tag on advancing in the playoffs.

This is supposed to be about the Red Sox, right? Sorry.

What an odd game of reversals. Jacoby Ellsbury bungled an attempt on Bobby Abreu’s fly ball in the eighth. The catchable ball turned into a triple. Torii Hunter lofted a ball that Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew converged to a single point to catch, but it was Drew who came up with the ball. Drew had the best arm and angle of the three, unfortunately for Abreu. The Angels’ right fielder was out at home on a unusual 9-2 double play.

A visiting player be able to make a play easier than a home town hero? Mike Lowell calmly made the first out of the sixth inning by reaching out of the park over the railing. Kendry Morales tried to make a similar play in the ninth on Jeff Bailey’s pop out in to the first rows of the seats behind first. Those monkey-mad Angels fans got in his way, however, and Morales came up empty. Not that Bailey would get the benefit of the doubt by home plate umpire Bill Miller. If Drew and David Ortiz didn’t get a few inches leeway, an unestablished player like Bailey doesn’t have a chance.

Of Miller’s 11 called strike threes, 10 were against the Red Sox. Terry Francona was ejected in the 10th inning for arguing balls and strikes. That’s one way of avoiding the sight of Ortiz stranding a dozen men.

May 14, 2009


Game 34: May 13, 2009
Red Sox4
L: Tim Wakefield (4-2)
21-13, 1 game losing streak
W: Matt Palmer (4-0)
17-15, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: I thought for sure I'd find higher hits for Matt Palmer than the baseball player. There's this computer whiz Matt Palmer, this artist/photographer Matt Palmer, and this musician/composer Matt Palmer. They are all lower in the results than the baseball player Palmer, who emerged from season after season of AAA obscurity to win after win in the bigs. Who is this man?

These Matt Palmers should come clean. They are all the same guy. While the Angels hitters were pummeling Tim Wakefield, Palmer was at his laptop designing an odd t-shirt. As Hunter Jones struggled, he changed it up and brainstormed revolutionary ways to use SheevaPlug. After he finished his nine innings, he cooled down at his Korg for an impromptu jam session. And you thought going toe-to-toe with C.C. Sabathia was impressive.

No one can really go toe-to-toe with the portly pitcher unless they are concave.

Torii Hunter had the sound bite of the evening. When asked about his approach to knuckleballers, the center fielder said, “You don’t need no batting practice, you don’t need no tee. Just come in here naked, ready to go.” Hard to dispute someone who is .390 BA, .432 OBP, .707 slugging with 3 home runs against Wakefield. Make that four, as of the fourth inning.

Jason Bay’s two-run home run in the first inning and Nick Green’s RBI double in the second were the only extra base hits by the visitors in the game. They would have been the sole providers of highlights for Red Sox fans were it not for Daniel Bard’s major league debut.

The game was still in reach at 7-4, so passing the ball from Hunter Jones to Bard was not merely a mop-up situation. Jones left the mound with runners at second and third and no outs in the bottom of the sixth. This is classified as a high leverage situation by the authors of The Book. How would Bard, who has some lingering questions about his makeup because of his erratic minor league career, stand up to the challenge?

Fairly well, given the circumstances. He struck out Mike Napoli on three fastballs, allowed a sacrifice fly off the bat of Juan Rivera, and induced a ground out by Howie Kendrick with a curveball. The scouting reports were right: Bard pitches in the high-90s with an easy movement. While other relievers look as if their arms will come flying out of their sockets along with the ball (Francisco Rodriguez), Bard seemed to be playing catch with George Kottaras as he hurled 98 MPH heat.

It’s too bad Dennis Eckersley wasn’t on the road trip. I can only imagine the words he would use to describe his impressions of the young pitcher. Educated cheese, indeed.

May 13, 2009


Game 33: May 12, 2009
WinRed Sox4
W: Ramon Ramirez (4-0)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (9)
21-12, 2 game winning streak
H: Jose Arredondo (10)
BS, L: Scot Shields (1, 1-3)
16-15, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Remember the great run Shawn Chacon had with the Yankees in 2005 and how pundits predicted similar success for him 2006? Remember how he got sent to the bullpen right before the All-Star break and was replaced by Kris Wilson in the Yankees’ rotation? Guess who the Yankees gave up to acquire Chacon? Hint: he has four wins for the Red Sox this season.

For some reason Ramon Ramirez never found a home with his previous major league clubs. The Rockies traded him in March of 2008 for a player to be named later despite his franchise record of 15⅓ scoreless innings to start his career. The player the Rockies acquired was Jorge de la Rosa.

When Boston exchanged Coco Crisp for Ramirez, who knew that the reliever would become the key cog in the bullpen machine that chews up the ends of games and leaves befuddled hitters in its wake? The Royals traded from a position of strength (their relievers have for an ERA of 3.07 in the season thus far) and the Red Sox from a position of excess. Crisp has been delivering in the defense and steals departments, Ramirez has been lights out, and both clubs are vying for the top spot in their respective divisions, so this trade helped both teams.

Justin Masterson walked the bases loaded in the first but the Angels only managed a sacrifice fly. Actually, since Mike Scioscia’s modus operandi consists mostly of scoring runs in ways that also generate outs, he was perfectly content with the first inning’s outcome. The Angels scored the go-ahead run in the fourth with, yes, a sac fly.

J.D. Drew homered to the front corner of the center field bleachers in the second to tie the game. That was the only run that Jered Weaver allowed in his seven innings of work. Since his friend Nick Adenhart’s death Weaver has been pitching with increased purpose. He pitched his first complete game shutout against the Toronto Blue Jays just a few days ago.

Did he insist on going all nine in that game? He must have felt a bit leery leaving the fate of the game in the hands of the shaky pen.

Jose Arredondo co-authored an anti-Hollywood ending for the home team. Nick Green knocked a humpback single into right field. Jacoby Ellsbury fell behind in the count but worked it full. With the count full Ellsbury could be more selective. The center fielder shot a grounder between first and second and Green sprinted to third with the hit.

Like many pitchers, Arredondo was uneasy with Ellsbury dancing at first. So uneasy that he walked Julio Lugo to load the bases.

Scioscia went by the book and brought in southpaw Darren Oliver to face David Ortiz. They say lefties can pitch into their late 30s, perhaps even into their 40s. I guess that depends on what your definition of “can” and “pitch” is. Oliver hit Ortiz with the fourth pitch he threw to force Green home. Then the incomparable Jason Bay scored Scioscia style; his ground out to second tied the game.

Earlier in the evening the Bruins had won in dominating fashion while the Celtics survived a squeaker. Taking their cue from the Celtics’ comeback late in the game, Drew lined a single over the shortstop’s head. Jason Varitek made like Stephon Marbury; his double through the right-center gap to the wall plated the winning run.

Jonathan Papelbon didn’t pitch a perfect bottom of the ninth. Despite the sole walk he issued to Bobby Abreu, this save was orders of magnitude less ulcer-inducing than his previous outing. With three teams from Boston playing in one night, the less stress the better.

May 11, 2009


Game 32: May 10, 2009
L: Brian Shouse (1-1)
15-18, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox4
W: Ramon Ramirez (3-0)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (8)
20-12, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: What a white-knuckle ending to a tense game. It was bad enough living through the Celtics’ nailbiter, but Papelbon added some Glen Davis-sized drama to the ninth inning by walking Akinori Iwamura and letting Jason Bartlett single into center field. Can’t Papelbon have a clean inning like Hideki Okajima or Ramon Ramirez did? These relievers along with Manny Delcarmen form one of the best bullpens this season; they are currently fourth in the league behind the Athletics, Mets, and Royals with an ERA of 3.29.

Jonathan Papelbon might be the next pitcher to get shown up by a batter. When Aubrey Huff homered off Joba Chamberlain yesterday the hitter made sure to demonstratively fist pump after passing first and again at home plate. In this link, Chamberlain’s lawyer (who also represents his mother in her upcoming criminal trial for distribution of a controlled substance) defends his client’s actions... oh wait, that’s Joba himself. You can try and take the white trash out of the boy but then again you can’t. Not when he plays on the Yankees.

I can’t imagine Papelbon ever trying to clean himself up like that, nor would the Red Sox management force him to do so. The Red Sox closer could improve his mound etiquette; I cringe every time he goes into Francisco Rodriguez-like paroxysms. I fully expect someone to get huffy if they manage to notch a run against him.

Last night was not the time. With the slimmest of leads Papelbon got out of his self-created jam, striking out the streaky Carlos Peña, the mercurial B.J. Upton, and the lethal Carl Crawford. Any of these three batters had the potential to double their team’s runs with a single swing. If any of them walked, the most dangerous of them all, Evan Longoria, would get a bite at the apple.

Never fear, Red Sox fans. Joe Morgan had a talk with David Ortiz during batting practice, so his season is going to turn around. Ortiz doubled off the deepest part of the left field wall to lead off the eighth. Jason Bay is so hot right now he could score 11 points, nab 5 rebounds, and get 3 steals for the Celtics, hop on a plane to Boston, get into hockey gear and score a shorthanded goal for the Bruins, then take the T to Fenway and double off the Green Monster to plate Ortiz for the winning run.

Just kidding. There’s no way he would play for the Bruins. He’s a Canuck fan.

Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis are both on the mend, but their backups have contributed. In the bottom of the fourth Jeff Bailey sent a two-out double off the center field wall and was driven in by Jason Varitek’s double to the corner pocket in left. Middle infielder Nick Green singled to his counterpart, who dropped the ball. Varitek scored on the hit, but Green was thrown out by the right fielder Ben Zobrist at the keystone sack. He was also hosed by Crawford to kick off the third inning.

Green needs to stop taking baserunning tips from Mike Lowell.

Boston had lost its last six series against the Rays. The two teams won’t play each other again until August. By then the contenders will distinguish themselves from the pretenders. I think these teams will find themselves in the former category in the late summer.

May 10, 2009


Game 31: May 9, 2009
W: Scott Kazmir (4-3)
S: Lance Cormier (1)
15-17, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox5
L: Jon Lester (2-3)
19-12, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: This was the last you’ll see of Javier Lopez for a while. He was designated for assignment to make room for Daniel Bard. Unfortunately, that won’t be the last of Evan Longoria. The slugger will undoubtedly be afflicting Red Sox pitchers for the indefinite future.

Carlton Fisk visited Dick Stockton and Tim McCarver in the fifth. In a circuitous way the Hall of Famer advocated knocking Evan Longoria down. The corner infielder was just too comfortable in the box and someone had to take control of the situation, he said, and make him a bit less comfortable. Apparently no one in the Red Sox video room had the volume up as Longoria proceeded to have a 2-for-4 showing with a four-bagger and 5 RBIs.

Perhaps a pitcher like Daniel Bard will be the antidote to the scourge of Longoria. Bard was selected by the Red Sox in the first round of the 2006 amateur draft. His development was held back because he didn’t sign right away and therefore had no professional innings in 2006. In 2007 Bard was promptly shelled in Lancaster, which is de rigueur in the California League. But his failure on the West Coast was jaw-dropping: in 13⅓ innings he allowed 21 hits, 15 earned runs, 2 home runs, 22 walks, 9 strikeouts, and 5 wild pitches. He was sent to Greenville to piece together what was left of his confidence.

West End Field proved less of a launching pad than Clear Channel Stadium, but the young prospect was plagued by wildness. In South Carolina he had 56 walks and 22 wild pitches while striking out only 38.

Bard played in Hawai‘i over the winter and was moved from the rotation to the bullpen. The change in roles diverted his career path from bust back to ace. Perhaps he’ll make his debut tonight and add to the constellation of new stars emerging from the Red Sox development system.

The national media outlets have picked up on David Ortiz’s slump, so you know it’s that bad. In short order whispers about Jon Lester’s lack of effectiveness will grow into a deafening chorus.

Despite these seemingly insurmountable setbacks, the Red Sox are a just a game behind the AL East-leading Blue Jays. There are more than a few reasons for optimism: Julio Lugo and Rocco Baldelli’s first homers of the season, Jason Bay’s emergence as a bona fide clean-up hitter, Mike Lowell’s full recovery, and the young players continuing to contribute.

As good as the Rays are portrayed to be, even if they win this series they will have to look up to see Boston in the standings.

May 9, 2009


Game 30: May 8, 2009
L: James Shields (3-3)
14-17, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox7
W: Brad Penny (3-1)
H: Hideki Okajima (5)
H: Ramon Ramirez (5)
19-11, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Seven runs scored, seven etched on the field, seven in heaven.

For the second game in a row the Red Sox defeated a pitcher with the initials “J.S.” Like Jeremy Sowers before him, James Shields cruised for most of the game until sixth inning.

I wish MLB weren’t so protective of its copyright on YouTube. I could watch Shields’s reaction to Jason Bay’s game-tying home run off the stanchion a million times over. Shields let fly a cookie (in Dennis Eckersley’s parlance) and even before Bay followed through with his swing the pitcher knew he lost his lead. He swiped at the mound with his pitching hand causing an eruption of dirt.

The fireworks weren’t over with Bay’s blast to left. J.D. Drew launched a two-run shot to right with Mike Lowell on second. This time Shields’s response was quite so violent: he jerked up his head to watch the ball’s lofty trajectory take his chance for a win into the visitors’ pen.

Lowell was fortunate to be on second in this inning; Carl Crawford’s throw to second was off and Lowell’s head-first slide didn’t cause a freak injury. The third baseman tried to stretch out a wall-ball single into a double in the fourth inning and failed. Lowell seemed to be running much better, but it would be a shame that in attempting to prove his soundness that he reinjure himself.

(Watching Michael Felger on “The Baseball Show” on Comcast SportsNet New England is like watching George W. Bush as President of the United States. It is one thing to be uninformed, but Felger, like Bush, is aggressively, ostentatiously ignorant. “Geez Louise,” as the Wisconsin farm boy would say. Please stick to being an apologist for football.)

Eckersley had his highs and lows last night. In the fourth he showed he didn’t know the rule about balls in the seats being a free-for-all between players and fans. Jeff Bailey was astounded that the fans didn’t clear out of his way on Pat Burrell’s pop-up, but luckily the designated hitter eventually flied out to center.

Later that inning NESN replayed clips of Coco Crisp yelling from the dugout about his encounter with Akinori Iwamura at second base. Eckersley provided the missing audio: "You got to let me know what you’re going to do if you slide over me when I’m stealing like that. Send me an e-mail or something."

Don Orsillo just might send Eckersley an e-mail requesting some pics of the pitcher in his baseball uniforms. Announcer Boy was a tinge too interested in Eck’s tight pants. Who can blame Orsillo, though? The fossil’s still got it, even with the bad moss.

May 8, 2009


Game 29: May 7, 2009
L: Jeremy Sowers (0-1)
11-18, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox13
W: Tim Wakefield (4-1)
18-11, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: This was the last game Dom DiMaggio watched before he passed away. He witnessed the only professional team he played on tie the record for runs scored before recording an out. Rest in peace, Professor.

The Red Sox went into the bottom of the sixth trailing 2-1. They say things can go south very quickly with Tim Wakefield pitching, but last night that truism applied to all of Cleveland’s arms.

Jason Bay knocked in the tying run with a gapper between left and center. Then the freshly activated Rocco Baldelli lined a shot over Luis Valbuena for the go-ahead run plus an insurance run.

After that the Indians hurlers passed out runs like banks gave away subprime mortgages in 2005. Jeremy Sowers pitched to six batters and Masa Kobayashi five; neither of them notched a single out. Matt Herges eventually got his team out of the inning, but not before Bay, with two runners on, smashed his eighth homer of the season.

The oddest hit of the inning was Nick Green’s. He earned his single by outrunning Valbuena to the vacant first base. The shellshocked Kobayashi failed to cover the sack and Ryan Garko was sprawled on the basepath in his attempt to field the ball.

When Baldelli returned to the dish he fouled off a ball into the seats behind the Red Sox on-deck circle. The pursuit of the ball took Victor Martinez near the wall, where he got into it with some fans. He angrily tossed the ball back to Herges with too much force and the ball sailed over the reliever’s head. Already amused and amazed by the dozen runs, the crowd enjoyed a good guffaw at the hapless battery.

I think Ben Francisco’s actions in the seventh inning give a hint about Cleveland as a team. He tried to stretch his single into a double and was thrown out at second. It was a selfish play by a guy trying to improve his slugging percentage or add a run to his statistics. The replay showed that Francisco got his foot to the bag before Dustin Pedroia applied the tag. I agree with Dennis Eckersley when he said, “Well, he should still be out because he was stupid for doing that.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some management changes in Cleveland if the club doesn’t turn it around. I don’t think they have to get into the playoffs, but a team just two seasons removed from winning the division shouldn’t find itself in the cellar. The Diamondbacks have already canned Bob Melvin; Eric Wedge might be joining him in the unemployment line sometime this summer.

May 7, 2009


Game 28: May 6, 2009
W: Carl Pavano (2-3)
S: Aaron Laffey (1)
11-17, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox2
L: Justin Masterson (2-2)
17-11, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: I must have missed the announcement about the medical breakthrough that allows doctors to surgically excise suck from pitchers. Pavano seems to have underwent the procedure. The Red Sox should see about having Brad Penny submit to the same operation.

For the entirety of the game I was on a train wending its way across the Eastern Seaboard. The tracks from Penn Station to South Station carried me from the empire and its possessions back home to the nation.

One of my friends sent me text updates on the game. I felt my mobile phone vibrate and I opened it excitedly, hoping to read about yet another Jason Bay homer. Instead, it was a fifth inning update about Victor Martinez’s two-run double. My phone battery was running low at that point and I was worried about missing a home team comeback.

I didn’t need to fret.

I also don’t worry about Manny Ramirez’s 50-game suspension. It is tempting to look for some sort of parable that somehow makes cohesive narrative of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. A few of the players who were anointed as anti-Bondses (Alex Rodriguez, Ramirez) have been exposed to be users. The next big revelation will not surprise me, I am beyond that emotion at this point. There are two players that I still believe in: Dustin Pedroia and Albert Pujols. Pedroia because he is the epitome of faith in oneself when surrounded by doubters and Pujols because he is the model of pure (hopefully) talent. In a recent issue of Sports Illustrated Pujols said don’t be afraid to believe in him. If either of them ever tested positive, I think I would be done with baseball.

I do worry about Jerry Remy. As much as I enjoy Dennis Eckersley filling in, it’s terrible that Remy can’t enjoy one of the things he enjoys. Take care and godspeed, Rem Dawg.

Rocco Baldelli was activated from the disabled list and Jonathan Van Every was optioned Pawtucket. Van Every had a painful encounter with the wall in center field but it’s David Ortiz who’s out tonight with a stiff neck.


Game 27: May 5, 2009
WinRed Sox7
W: Josh Beckett (3-2)
H: Hideki Okajima (4)
17-10, 2 game winning streak
L: Joba Chamberlain (1-1)
13-13, 3 game losing streak
Highlights: I watched the Red Sox complete their sweep of the Yankees in New Jersey. For most of the game I was at Tiff’s in Pinebrook; Tiff’s is a small chain of sports bars co-owned by Tony Siragusa. I was happy to watch the game even though it was on YES because Michael Kay and company’s voices were drowned out by a motley assortment of songs blaring out of an internet jukebox.

So this was a small taste of what Jere went through living in the Yankeeish part of Connecticut and New York City. I felt somewhat safer in numbers because at my table were two New Englanders. We would be a barbican waving the nation’s flag in the midst of enemy territory.

My friend B proudly wore his Red Sox cap with baby blue “B” logo. Since it wasn’t the traditional red, from a distance one couldn’t be sure that it was a Red Sox cap. My friend has a loud voice, however, so even from far away you could tell which team he was cheering for.

At the bar a pair of guys who looked similar except for the color of their polo shirts craned their necks to watch Dustin Pedroia single past a diving Derek Jeter in the first inning. “He should get to that!” one exclaimed. The other shook his head in disgust. Have they watched a Yankees within the last three years?

“Past a diving Jeter!” intoned my friend while takings special care to adjust his cap with a flourish so that everyone could see the insignia embroidered on its crown. Red Sox fans + Yankees fans + alcohol + Cinco de Mayo + Jason Bay first inning three-run homer = potential for things to get out of hand early.

There was a female fan with a satin navy jacket with the NY logo. She was quiet until another female Yankee fan showed up. The second fan was loud and boisterous, stirring up the zeal of her compatriots. David Ortiz took the box with runners on first and second but by the time he lined a single to center Jacoby Ellsbury had swiped third. Pedroia scored from first on Ortiz’s single.

“Shrek! I hate him!” screeched the rabble-rouser. The polo shirt twins spoke animatedly to one another, loud enough so that we could overhear the word “steroids.”

“Yeah, nothing like accusing another team about steroids when your own club is full of them,” B’s voice carried across the establishment. Another flourish with the hat but this time punctuated by a glare.

My other friend glanced across the bar to size Rabble-rouser up. “Actually, she looks like Shrek’s wife.” From that point forward Rabble-rouser was dubbed Fiona.

Fiona would have Tourrette-like bursts of obscenity while watching the game, much like I would do in the privacy of my home. At one point we heard her ranting about a “fake, no-good cheater.”

“Are you talking about A-Rod?” asked B in a tone as neutral as Switzerland.

Fiona wanted to strike back but because B asked his question without provocation Fiona would have looked (more) insane. “He doesn’t mean anything to me,” she replied. “I was talking about Favre.”

Sure you were, Fiona.

B also got in a few digs at Joba Chamberlain. When Pedroia got an infield hit because Chamberlain failed to field the ball cleanly, B attributed Chamberlain’s jitters and his intemperate reaction at lasting 5⅔ innings to meth.

Josh Beckett surrendered a three-run bomb to Johnny Damon to render the score 4-3 in the third. The Red Sox pitcher settled down to strike out Mark Teixeira, and Mike Lowell helped out the hurler with a superlative catch. The third baseman looked almost completely recovered when he made a running grab of Hideki Matsui’s pop out into the no-man’s land between the infield’s outermost range and the outfield.

Defensive gems were not limited to the infield. In the fourth the Red Sox put on an outfielding clinic for the sparse crowd. Pedroia couldn’t glove Melky Cabrera’s liner but did not give up on the play. J.D. Drew pursued the ball into the right field corner and retrieved it with a bare hand so that he could fire it back to the infield. He hit Pedroia perfectly and the second baseman pivoted as if he were turning a double play and threw to Lowell for the second out of the inning.

It took just three Red Sox pitchers to keep the Yankees in check while the home team went through twice as many pitchers just to lose 7-3.

We came, we saw, we conquered.

May 6, 2009


Game 26: May 4, 2009
WinRed Sox6
W: Jon Lester (2-2)
H: Ramon Ramirez (4)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (7)
16-10, 1 game winning streak
L: Phil Hughes (1-1)
13-12, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: Yankee fans longed for the good old days. Back on April 18, 1923, the day the original Yankee Stadium opened, the Yankees beat the Red Sox 4-1. In fact, New York club swept the four-game series and went on to win the World Series. The times, they are a-changin’.

Dennis Eckersley has found his new calling. As a color analyst he offers a distinct perspective: that of a Hall of Fame pitcher. As much as I appreciate Jerry Remy’s contributions in the booth, he approaches the game as a workaday ball player while Eckersley brings an elite player’s point of view.

Eckersley comes from much the same era as Remy, an era where there was no interleague play, no 24-hour media coverage, no exorbitant salaries. If you played in the American League, guys in the other league were like aliens existing in an alternate reality. Pitchers played the same game and were on the same teams as hitters, but they were their own species.

Eckersley is such a creature. I don’t doubt he respects the Red Sox organization, perhaps even loves it. But this affection didn’t stop him from marveling over, perhaps almost cheering for, Phil Hughes.

Who can blame him? Hughes is the Yankees’ premiere pitching prospect. His arsenal is varied and advanced for a pitcher, period, let alone a 22-year old hurler. He added a cutter to his repertoire, and Ecklersley noted that Hughes loved it so much that he overused that approach against lefties.

In the first Dustin Pedroia stood at first base thanks to a free pass. Although David Ortiz didn’t break his home run slump, he shot a double into the right field corner to advance Pedroia to third. The Red Sox second baseman notched the first run of the series by scoring on a passed ball.

Ortiz walked in the to lead off the third inning and had the chance to see more of Hughes’s offerings. By the time the fourth inning came around Boston’s designated hitter had taken a complete inventory of the opposing pitcher. The first pitch Ortiz saw ended up in the same area as his previous double, and this time a runner was in scoring position.

In fact, Hughes was lucky that the runner, Jacoby Ellsbury, had hit a ball into the stands on a bounce. Had the ball stayed in play, the Red Sox’s first appearance would not only be remembered for a solid outing by Jon Lester but also for an inside-the-park homer.

Lester’s 10 strikeouts were marred by a fifth-inning power surge by Mark Teixeira and Johnny Damon. The pair launched consecutive homers to right field to pull their team within a run. Hitting home runs to right in the new Yankee Stadium is like making fun of Alex Rodriguez: too easy.

Dave Roberts got geek points in the seventh. He said J.D. Drew “tried to do a little Matrix there” in avoiding a pitch. With Drew on base Jason Bay increased his asking price to a number that I hope John W. Henry will seriously consider offering. Bay’s career may not compare to Manny Ramirez’s, but in re-signing him the Red Sox will have him at his peak.

Some great Eck quotes:

Regarding the Amica strike zone: If it’s in that box I gotta have it.

After the Yankees’ back-to-back homers: Two baboombas and you’re like where did this come from?

Another observation about the Amica pitch zone: I don’t think I could throw a strike in this zone.

Eck to Roberts about what the hitter notices in the batter’s box: Can you feel that catcher setting up inside? Can you smell him?

May 4, 2009


Game 25: May 3, 2009
Red Sox3
L: Brad Penny (2-1)
15-10, 1 game losing streak
W: James Shields (3-2)
H: J.P. Howell (1)
H: Dan Wheeler (3)
S: Troy Percival (3)
11-15, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: I enjoy kids doing the lineups on Sundays as much as anyone, but bringing them into the booth to do color commentary is a bit much. Oh, that was Tony Massarotti? Here I was impressed when he talked about wins and losses not necessarily indicating a pitcher’s performance. Speaking of impressive, Carl Crawford had more stolen bases in a game (six) than the Atlanta Braves have had this entire season. Crawford leads the league in steals with 17; 20 teams have less steals on the season.

Justyn Farano, an artist from the Tampa Bay area, was interviewed by Heidi Watney for a segment in the pre-game show. His work is nearly photo-realistic, but he does not merely reproduce photographs. Farano often places his main subject in front of smaller scenes of that player rendered in subdued colors, making the focus of the painting pop out from the background. During games he works in the Ted Williams Museum and fans can watch him bring players like Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz to life.

Pedroia, Ortiz, and Kevin Youkilis were very lively in the first inning. (Farano hasn’t tried to paint Youkilis yet. Too hard to find a picture that doesn’t look like it belongs in a rogues’ gallery?) The trio loaded the bases with one out. J.D. Drew lined a single into center for a run, the first of many, it would seem.

James Shields settled down, however, pitching into the eighth inning. He let Jacoby Ellsbury reach on a single, but the speedster was replaced by Pedroia on a fielder’s choice. Joe Maddon took a more conventional approach and had southpaw J.P. Howell face Ortiz. Maddon achieved the desired result: the Red Sox designated hitter grounded out.

Youkilis has been so hot it didn’t matter if Bob Gibson were on the mound — the corner infielder would get a hit. Pitted against a mere mortal such as Howell? Youkilis hit his sixth homer of the season to the deepest part of the center field, pulling his team within a run. The home bullpen would hold the lead, and this time Troy Percival didn’t injure himself while closing.

These Rays fans don’t deserve this fine of a team. When Evan Longoria reached into the stands to glove the final out of the game a fan reached up and snatched it away from him. Longoria hardly hid his disdain as he returned to his base.

Tony Massarotti told a story about Bill Mueller at Fenway. Just as Longoria did, Mueller leaned into the crowd to catch a foul ball. Unlike the Tropicana spectator, a Fenway patron got out of the way of Mueller. When Mueller came back out for the next inning he brought the fan a ball.

That is the difference between these two teams, a difference that no amount of American League East, American League, or World Series championships can bridge.

May 3, 2009


Game 24: May 2, 2009
WinRed Sox10
W: Tim Wakefield (3-1)
H: Hideki Okajima (3)
15-9, 1 game winning streak
Rays6L: Jeff Niemann (2-3)
10-15, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Judging from Don Orsillo’s comments it sounded like the Buck Martinez era is finally over. This series lacked the interplay between Raymond and Jerry Remy, a diversion that would have been welcomed in light of the first two games. Hopefully Remy feels better than George Kottaras; the Red Sox catcher was knocked in the noggin twice by Evan Longoria’s ridiculously long follow-through. Despite the bumps and bruises, Kottaras was solid behind home plate and shepherded Wakefield through his 20th victory against the (Devil) Rays.

Last night was a thowback game, reminiscent of the beat downs the Red Sox routinely gave the Devil Rays until last season. The visitors spread out their 10 runs over five innings and had runners on base for two-thirds of the game.

When Boston wasn’t scoring it was an episode of “Baseball’s Funniest Home Videos.” Carl Crawford’s throw from left landed in an unfortunate part of Dustin Pedroia’s anatomy in the fourth inning. To end the third inning, Pedroia and Nick Green bumped into each other when they both tried to field Evan Longoria’s pop fly behind the mound. Green prevailed; those extra inches he holds above his double play partner made the difference.

The second inning featured the gaffe of the night and it starred none other than Green. The shortstop had just knocked in two runs with a ground ball that got away from Akinori Iwamura. Green tried to ratchet up the pressure on Jeff Niemann, Tampa Bay’s rookie starter, by taking off for second.

On his way to second Green stumbled. It was not a “Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home” sort of trip that let his momentum carry him to safety. Green plummeted well short of the keystone sac.

Back in the dugout Green was greeted with slaps on the back and grins. Julio Lugo hugged him, the show of affection seemed to say “Thanks for keeping my job safe.”

The Red Sox averted a series sweep and go for a series split this afternoon.

May 2, 2009


Game 23: May 1, 2009
Red Sox2L: Justin Masterson (2-1)14-9, 2 game losing streak
WinRays6W: Andy Sonnanstine (1-3)
H: Dan Wheeler (2)
10-14, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: After concerted effort I came up with a few positives about this game. A Red Sox position player didn’t have to take the mound. Boston still has a chance to split this series. The visiting team outhit their opponents.

Can we bring back the days of Ruddy Lugo, Shawn Camp, and Travis Harper in the Devil Rays bullpen? Those were great times. Just a few years ago it wouldn’t have mattered if Evan Longoria hit three grand slams because his bullpen would have coughed up the lead.

The Red Sox game started promisingly with Dustin Pedroia singling and David Ortiz walking, but the incipient offensive barrage was forstalled. Pedroia tried to advance to third on a ball in the dirt and he was actually prompted by Kevin Youkilis to do so. Dioner Navarro recovered more quickly than Pedroia could scamper to the hot corner and was out by mile.

In those halcyon days of the Devil Rays winning about a third of their games the bases loaded situation in the third would have resulted in at least four runs. Last night the Red Sox eked out a single run.

Youkilis kicked off what used to be a multi-run rally just a few seasons ago. His ground-rule, two-out double plunked into the touch tank (hey kids, come pet a devil ray!) and he was driven in by J.D. Drew’s liner to right. Drew took second on the throw and the visitors were poised to widen the margin. In such a key situation Boston could always rely on the Tampa Bay starter to crumble under pressure.

Andy Sonnanstine didn’t, however, and was out of the inning in three pitches.

The Rays amassed six runs in the bottom of the fifth. Is it wrong to hope that Evan Longoria goes down in a blaze of ignominy like Alex Rodriguez? Two preternaturally outstanding third basemen in one division are two too many.

May 1, 2009


Game 22: April 30, 2009
Red Sox0
L: Josh Beckett (2-2)
14-8, 1 game losing streak
W: Matt Garza (2-2)
9-14, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Terry Francona executed a perfect single switch in the bottom of the eighth. Jonathan Van Every made like that other Jonathan and closed out the game while Javier Lopez took over in right field. Perhaps like other players that play in that part of the field Lopez will take a little break from baseball activities.

It says a lot when the worst thing about the game was a choice between Buck Martinez’s analysis, the ridiculous din of cowbells, or Matt Garza nearly nabbing a perfect game against your team. I wished that the cowbells were loud enough to drown out Martinez’s prattle about Garza’s almost perfect game, but knowing that Rays fans reveled in their self-created hullabaloo made it a half-hearted inclination.

That was cute when Tropicana’s sound booth crew played “You Had a Bad Day” when Jason Bay flubbed a catch in the bottom of the fifth. He had done the same in the inning prior, too, so of course the Rays employees piled on.

Wasn’t it a bit cheeky of Jacoby Ellsbury to call off Bay for the last out of the fifth? I know, I know, the center fielder captains the outfield, but it was more in the district of Bayville than Ellsburyton. Just a touch of gerrymandering in the outfield given Bay’s troubles, I supppose.

Michel Hernandez, the Rays backup catcher, pronounces his given name like the First Lady’s name. He really needs to use “Michelle” for his at bat music.

This game was so bad I actually cheered when Julio Lugo made routine outs for the second and third outs of the fourth inning.

Enough about that game. It makes me madder than Dustin Pedroia getting called out at first because of lazy umpiring (seventh inning).

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