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Home » Monthly Archive » June 2009

June 30, 2009


Game 76: June 29, 2009
Red Sox4
W: Jon Lester (7-6)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (19)
47-29, 1 game winning streak
L: Jason Berken (1-5)
34-42, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: Ramon Ramirez started off the bottom of the ninth sharply with two quick outs but then surrendered a single and a walk. Terry Francona had the foresight to have Papelbon ready at a moment’s notice, a shrewd tactic given Ramirez’s recent shakiness. The Red Sox closer tied Bob Stanley’s franchise record of 132 saves and owes Jason Bay a beer.

Jason Bay chased down Matt Wieters’s slicing fly ball to left, legs akimbo as he barrel-rolled across the turf. He had to run shallow enough so that Kevin Youkilis and Nick Green had a close-up view of the snowcone snare. I hope Bay feeds the ball to his dog.

In a recent interview Jonathan Papelbon stated that pitching in pinstripes was a possibility. Understandably Papelbon’s comments got some fans up in arms. There is a sliding scale of things people are permitted to place unquestioned faith in without ridicule:

  • Age 4: Santa Claus
  • Age 55: Sports Heroes
  • No limit: God
We say we want the players on the teams we cheer for to be straight with us, to show us a piece of their heart rather than repeat well-worn clichés. After this week Papelbon now realizes we’d rather have visions of hometown loyalty dancing in our heads.

Dennis Eckersley demonstrated that his Eckisms might be other people’s isms. He co-opted Dave Trembley’s “finger in the socket” trope and tried it out so much that I felt like actually doing it myself. The Hall of Famer is a Beatles fan; wonder if he’s looking forward to Beatles Rock Band as much as I am.

Wieters, the Orioles’ superstar in the making, chased down Mark Kotsay’s pop foul to the rail of the Red Sox dugout in the second inning. The catcher had the ball in his mitt but dropped it as he tipped over the railing; Brad Mills and Jason Varitek saved him from a fall. A tip to the new kid: don’t emulate someone like Doug Mirabelli now that you are in the bigs. Holding onto your mask while you fail to make a stretch catch isn’t All-Star caliber technique. Kotsay singled through the hole on the very next pitch.

Adam Jones, another up and comer, emphatically demonstrated how to use the glove near the wall in the fourth. The center fielder tracked a fly ball all the way to wall, flawlessly timed his leap, and suddenly Youkilis’s one way trip to Souvenir City was diverted.

J.D. Drew fell a double short of the cycle. Drew’s excitement level is inversely proportional to Papelbon’s. The right fielder talked about the game as if he were talking about an oil change.

Jon Lester awkwardly swung at... oh right, we’re finished with designated hitter-less baseball. Lester stymied the Orioles for seven innings, striking out eight and walking none. The local nine were only able to hit singles against all of the Red Sox pitchers.

I seem to say this about every team, but the Orioles have the makings of a contender. Luke Scott, Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold, and Jones form a promising outfield, Wieters is the youthful infield anchor, and Brian Roberts provides the veteran leadership. The Orioles, like the Red Sox, have a number of arms ready to crack the rotation: Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta.

The American League East will be an interesting place for the next few years.

June 29, 2009


Game 75: June 28, 2009
Red Sox1
L: Brad Penny (6-3)
46-29, 1 game losing streak
W: Tommy Hanson (4-0)
H: Eric O’Flaherty (7)
H: Peter Moylan (11)
H: Rafael Soriano (6)
S: Mike Gonzalez (9)
35-40, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Mmmbop, ba duba dop. Please tell me this is Hanson’s mound music. He was 10 when the song hit number one. The Little Leaguers that took over the NESN studio wouldn’t remember this tune. Tom Caron asked a couple of the tykes who their favorite players were. Not surprisingly, one stripling named Dustin Pedroia. Because of the second baseman’s spunk, his glove, his bat, his accolades? Nope. Because Dustin rhymes with Justin, his own name.

Tommy Hanson took a page out of Brad Penny’s book and pitched impressively despite flu-like symptoms. If Hanson maintains this pace he could be named the Rookie of the Year. That Boston lost to an outstanding first-year player and not just AAAA cannon fodder removes some of the sting of this loss. He may have been sick, but so was his stuff.

Clay Buchholz’s voodoo doll seemed to work at first. Brad Penny clutched his wrist after a pitch, prompting Paul Lessard and Terry Francona to rush to his side. But Buchholz’s hopes were dashed as Penny once again showed unexpected toughness to last six innings and pitch well enough to win.

Unlike pure American League pitchers, the stout starter knew his way around the batter’s box enough to make contact. He hit the ball on the screws right at Chipper Jones in the third and in the fifth reached on Jones’s error.

Jones had already made his mark on the game in the first inning with a two-out solo shot. Garrett Anderson led off the fourth with a four-bagger that proved the difference in the game.

I’m being a homer, but I wouldn’t pick either home run as the play of the game. Instead, Penny’s put out of Kelly Johnson in the fifth makes my highlight reel. He stood still and let Johnson’s ground ball ricochet off his foot, and then he caught the self-created carom and threw to first for the first out of the inning.

The last game of interleague means not having to watch David Ortiz stumble around batted balls. The ersatz first baseman reached Gregor Blanco’s third-inning bunt attempt well enough but dropped the ball when he tried to swipe tag the runner. In the fourth, Ortiz couldn’t pick Nick Green’s relay in the dirt and at first the shortstop was given an error. The official scorer eventually converted the error into a hit for Jeff Francoeur, perhaps to make him feel better after getting nailed in the helmet by Penny in the second.

Lessard not only fixes players’ ills but equipment, too. He tinkered with Ortiz’s glove, which was about as effective as Dave Magadan helping pitchers with their swings. Farewell to National League shenanigans, at least until the Midsummer and Fall Classics.

June 28, 2009


Game 74: June 27, 2009
WinRed Sox1
W: Tim Wakefield (10-3)
46-28, 2 game winning streak
L: Javier Vazquez (5-7)
34-40, 4 game losing streak
Highlights: In the aftermath of the 2004 ALCS, the Yankees sought to prune away those players who failed them so miserably. Amongst the casualties was Vazquez, who has pitched 200 or more innings in every seasons since 2004 and has accumulated over 200 strikeouts in his past two seasons.

To top it off, the Yankees traded Javier Vazquez to Arizona for Randy Johnson and then flipped Johnson back to the Diamondbacks in 2007 for Steven Jackson, Alberto Gonzalez, Ross Ohlendorf, and Luis Vizcaino. Last year Jackson and Ohlendorf were packaged for the Xavier Nady deadline deal, which was a coup for the club at the time. A few days later the Red Sox would end up with the best Pirates outfielder (apologies to the followers of Nate McLouth who worship at his shrine).

Neither Jason Bay or McLouth were in the lineup yesterday. Bay was given the day off while McLouth is day-to-day with a hamstring strain. It’s late June and Terry Francona is already planning for the postseason by resting key players here and there.

Mark Kotsay played in left in place of Bay and was the key offensive contributer for the visitors. With two out Vazquez relinquished two walks to Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. Ortiz’s base on balls was particularly deflating as Vazquez was ahead 0-2 in the count.

Vazquez worked Kotsay with pitches away until the count was 1-2 and then tried to get the outfielder to bite on a slider a shade too far inside. With the count even Vazquez resorted to the outer edge again. Kotsay anticipated this and carved an RBI line drive single to left for the only run of the game.

How fortunate are the Red Sox to have a player of Kotsay’s caliber on the bench? His at bat was the stamp on Tim Wakefield’s invitation to this year’s All-Star Game.

Yesterday also saw Wakefield tie Roger Clemens’s franchise record of 382 starts. The knuckleballer has won 174 games for the Red Sox and is 18 games away from Clemens’s and Cy Young’s shared record of 192 wins for the Boston AL club. I’d like to think that Wakefield will have the chance to match or surpass that achievement, but with Clay Buchholz champing at the bit and Michael Bowden on the cusp of contributing at the major league level, the 2010 Red Sox rotation might not even include Wakefield.

If that ever happens, it will be a sad day, not just for the Red Sox but for baseball. The game’s addiction to bigger, faster, stronger led to the Steroid Era. Perhaps the sport has emerged from this shameful period, but perhaps too late for those of Wakefield’s ilk. His pitch seems doomed to decline to the status of quaint antiquity.

June 27, 2009


Game 73: June 26, 2009
WinRed Sox4
W: Josh Beckett (9-3)
45-28, 1 game winning streak
L: Jair Jurrjens (5-6)
34-39, 3 game losing streak
Highlights: Every series against Braves brings announcers the opportunity to speak of the Atlanta dynasty of the 90s to the early aughts. In that same period the Florida Marlins won two World Series. I’d take two championships over being just good enough to fail in the NLDS or NLCS repeatedly.

Josh Beckett didn’t just slap down the Braves (to the tune of 7 innings, 6 hits, no runs, no walks, and 6 strikeouts) but also Heidi Watney in the post-game interview.

Watney asked a question to which Beckett replied, “You missed that question already, Heidi.” Is Jason Varitek still dating Watney? If so, Beckett better hope his catcher doesn’t cross him up the next time they share the field.

Sorry, NESN, but putting a microphone on Nick Green is like following a certified public accountant on the job. Let Green’s bat and glove do the talking. In the seventh the shortstop chased down Diory Hernandez’s grounder and hurriedly set himself to relay to Mark Kotsay’s outstretched glove. Green worked the walk to lead off the next inning, moved to second on Julio Lugo’s sacrifice bunt, and then scored on newly-shorn Dustin Pedroia’s gutshot single. While Green didn’t notch a hit or RBI, his consistent play in the hole kept the Braves at bay no matter how often their fans invoked their montonous war cry.

Credit is due to the Braves fans, however, as they at least had critical mass to attempt to over the chants of the traveling Red Sox contingent. The stereotyped and derivative tomahawk chop isn’t terribly intimidating, however.

Jair Jurrjens is from the same town in the Netherlands Antilles as Andruw Jones and is the first pitcher from Curaçao to pitch in the majors. The former Detroit prospect came over to the Braves with Gorkys Hernandez for Edgar Renteria in October 2007. Given Dontrelle Willis’s struggles, the Tigers likely regret trading away Jurrjens, who may have ace or number two potential.

The Braves pitcher held the opposition scoreless until the fifth when the reinvigorated David Ortiz sent the ball sailing over the fences. Pedroia led off the next inning that he chopped off home plate, dropped between Chipper Jones and the shortstop Hernandez, and stopped at second with a double. The second baseman’s antics at the keystone sack perturbed Jurrjens, inducing a balk. J.D. Drew plated Pedroia with a ground out to second for an insurance run.

Bobby Cox demonstrated remarkable faith in Jurrjens, allowing him pitch the eighth despite a leadoff base on balls. Again Jurrjens balked with Pedroia on second but this time the former MVP scored on a passed ball with Kevin Youkilis at bat. Folly was not limited to Atlanta’s side: Youkilis tried to advance to second while the infield responded to Pedroia's dash and was run down.

We thought Hideki Okajima’s head movement was unnerving, but Mike Gonzalez’s gyrations are in a class by themselves. Jacoby Ellsbury had a pitch sail 10 feet behind and then was rocked into swinging under a hanging slider for a strikeout. Mike Gonzalez turned down the appropriate and striking nickname “The Cobra” in favor of “Gonzo.”

Just like a Brave to go for the mundane.

June 26, 2009


Game 72: June 25, 2009
Red Sox3
L: John Smoltz (0-1)
44-28, 1 game losing streak
W: Jordan Zimmermann (3-3)
21-49, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: The Zimmermen(n) had me confused last night, particularly with this pitcher hitting situation. I wish the National League fuddy-duddies would adopt the designated hitter already.

The success or failure of Heidi Watney’s “Opposite Field” segment all hinges upon the interviewee. Last night Julian Tavarez answered a few questions and I realized how much I miss his personality. He also said he loves and misses us, that he was rooting for Boston during the playoffs last year, and even hopes the Red Sox go all the way this year.

While Tavarez didn’t say so explicitly, there is a chasm of difference between playing for the floundering Nationals franchise and the continually contending Red Sox club. The reborn team can only hope that the similarly-surnamed young stars, Ryan and Jordan, are still around by the time the premium prospects they draft now can contribute at the major league level within the next few years.

Provided they sign the talent they draft. The Nationals failed to sign their first pick of the 2008 draft, Aaron Crow. That was under Jim Bowden’s regime, however, so perhaps negotiations to secure Stephen Strasburg, the first pick of the 2009 draft, will go smoother under new management. As for the player’s agent, well, we all know how reasonable Scott Boras can be.

With some luck, the 2012 Nationals could be the 2008 Rays, but I think they just don’t have the critical mass of young talent on the cusp to suddenly blossom as Tampa Bay did. It took the AL East upstarts 11 years to right the ship; the Nationals might be on the same course to success.

Who had June 25 down for the Nick Johnson injury pool? Perhaps John Smoltz, who nailed the injury-prone first baseman in the shin. Dave Roberts provided his first Dave-ism in response to this incident, mentioning that Johnson’s rapidly-swelling contusion was called a “shinburger” in the business. Would you like your shinburger with or without cheese? I’ll take it with cheese, but no hair, please.

Smoltz vacillated between terrible and terrific in his Red Sox debut: 5 innings pitched, 5 runs (all earned), 1 walk, and 5 strikeouts. I predict he’ll fall smack dab between Curt Schilling and Bartolo Colon on the veteran pitcher reclamation scale.

June 25, 2009


Game 71: June 24, 2009
WinRed Sox6
W: Jon Lester (6-6)
H: Justin Masterson (4)
H: Hideki Okajima (14)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (17)
44-27, 4 game winning streak
L: Craig Stammen (1-3)
20-49, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: Home plate umpire Bob Davidson ran Dave Magadan in the fourth inning after the hitting coach joined Kevin Youkilis in disputing a called strike. It was just his second ejection as a coach. He was first thrown out as a coach on my birthday last year by Tim Tschida for arguing that J.D. Drew should have been given time to put pine tar on his bat.

In an effort to increase local ticket sales, the Nationals had Player Recipe last night. Anderson Hernandez neglected to mention that he was sharing his recipe for Nick Green Kebabs.

Hernandez artfully demonstrated his skewering technique in the second but was thwarted by Green’s agility. Somehow the Red Sox shortstop avoided the bat shard targeting his tender midsection and it glanced off his sinewy arm instead.

Although he singled, Hernandez was perturbed by the failure of his showy entrée. “The ball was a decoy, it wasn’t supposed to get to the outfield. My swing is calibrated to shatter the bat, impale the shortstop, and place the ball such that it goes into the player’s mouth when he collapses.”

Instead of the kebabs, Craig Stammen served his world-renown meatball in the fourth to David Ortiz. Ortiz responded in kind with three rib eyes.

Jon Lester didn’t bring his finest cheese but didn’t resort to serving salad, either. He pitched six innings and matched the number of innings with the hits he surrendered and the strikeouts he doled out. Lester walked only two batters and allowed three earned runs.

Jacoby Ellsbury provided dessert with a snowcone catch of Ryan Zimmerman’s fly ball to center. (It didn’t peek out of Ellsbury’s glove until he hit the center field wall, but I’ve got a theme going here.)

Apologies to Dusty Brown for not mentioning his major league debut in the first game of this series. He got sent down today to make room for John Smoltz, but Brown did enjoy his first cup of coffee.

June 24, 2009


Game 70: June 23, 2009
WinRed Sox11
W: Manny Delcarmen (2-1)
H: Hideki Okajima (13)
43-27, 3 game winning streak
L: Julian Tavarez (3-5)20-48, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Tuesday evening featured the first visit to the nation’s capital by the Red Sox since 1971. Nationals Park, which debuted last season, is not as self-consciously retro as other recent parks; there’s no silly hill in center field (I’m looking at you, Houston) or obnoxiously jutting banks of seats (ahem, Phillies). The field isn’t boringly uniform like Rogers Centre and has a just a subtle assymetry in center field. The home plate camera angle should be called Bob Uecker Cam, however.

Even cozy Fenway has a camera bay far below the announcers’ booth. When you can’t distinguish Dustin Pedroia from Adam Dunn you know your camera is too far from the field.

This franchise missed out on a tremendous opportunity to pay homage to the renowned Negro League teams that called the district their home. Washington D.C. had Black Senators (long before there were actual African American senators in the post-Reconstruction Congress), Elite Giants, Pilots, Potomacs, and, most importantly, the Homestead Grays.

I guess marketing “gray” is difficult for your modern advertising executive.

There are three statues honoring significant players: Walter Johnson of the original Senators, Frank Howard of the expansion Senators, and Josh Gibson of the Grays. It’s a shame that the legacy of the Grays is frozen in stagnant statuary rather than vibrant on the front of players’ jerseys day in and day out.

Goodness knows that “gray” is easier to spell than “national,” which would be a relief to the team's equipment manager: no more misspelled jerseys.

In other fashion news, Nick Green, still reveling in his walk-off win, was shown wearing a Yawkey Way Rescue Squad tee shirt during an interview with Heidi Watney. The design was created by Mark Kotsay for the relievers and bench players. It might be the most prescient player-made shirt since Adalius Thomas’s “Humble Pie” line.

Green finds himself in the middle of all the action. In the third Christian Guzman squibbed the ball up the middle. The Red Sox shortstop grabbed it, reached back to tag Guzman, flipped over his counterpart, and then hurled to Kevin Youkilis for the inning-ending twin killing.

Save for Pedroia (3-for-6, 2 runs), Jason Bay (4-for-6, home run), and Jacoby Ellsbury (4-for-4, 2 triples, stolen base), everyone was a little off their game tonight. Kathryn Tappen called Ted Williams “Tom” in her lead-in to a segment on the former Senators franchise. Watney, commenting about Green not knowing his home run won the game, snidely stated, “Well, at least you didn’t lose track of the score like Milton Bradley.”

First: Bradley lost track of the number of outs, not the score. Second: he was on the field, playing defense.

Who let the blondes out?

A power outage at Nationals Park prevented Don Orsillo and Dave Roberts from doing their preview of the game. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised at the logistical shortcomings at Nationals Park; this is the crew that couldn’t deploy the tarp during a rain delay.

Roberts predicted that Josh Bard and Willie Harris were primed for vengeance against their former squad. I tensely watched their at bats transpire, and then I realized that it was Josh Bard and Willie Harris. To their credit, Harris tied up the game in the sixth by doubling in Bard, rendering the score 3-3.

The Red Sox were close to walking the same path of ignominy as the Yankees before them. Then Julian Tavarez remembered his roots and allowed Jason Varitek a sacrifice fly for the lead in the seventh.

The overriding cause of the Nationals’ atrocious record is their leaky bullpen. Where the Yankees failed to score against the likes of Tavarez and Ron Villone, the Red Sox pummeled Nationals relievers for six runs in the eighth. Teddy Roosevelt, pitching from the stretch on a unicycle, had a better chance of shutting down Boston’s formidable lineup.

Nationals Park had a record number of attendees, and the intensity and frequency of Red Sox chants made it clear why the record was broken. It’s just the nation warming up for its trip to Baltimore.

June 22, 2009


Game 69: June 21, 2009
Braves5L: Jeff Bennett (2-4)32-36, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox6BS: Ramon Ramirez (2)
BS: Hideki Okajima (2)
W: Jonathan Papelbon (1-1)
42-27, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: You could only tell it was the official first day of summer by looking at a calendar. The gusts in the park were so strong you could hear them buffeting the on-field microphones. Every fly ball was an adventure in the swirling winds.

Luckily for the home team the wind didn’t push Brian McCann’s first-inning double over the right field wall. It curled along the curve in the wall long enough to plate to two runs.

Dustin Pedroia figured out another way to get a hit in these conditions: he powered a liner to left for a leadoff double. Jair Jurrjens inelegantly attempted to field Kevin Youkilis’s squibber and instead of the ball came up with runners at the corners with one out.

Jason Bay’s fly ball to right could have been a homer but blew back onto the field for a sacrifice fly. David Ortiz followed up with a blast to left-center that defiantly sailed against currents into the Monster seats.

Ortiz singled to start the home half of fourth but it could have just as easily been called an error on either Yunel Escobar or Chipper Jones. Ortiz scored on a bases-loaded sac fly off the bat of George Kottaras. Kottaras might not be a stud who hits bombs, but he didn’t ground into a double play or pop out uselessly to an infielder.

Without stroking an extra base hit the Braves tied the game in the seventh. With a quartet of bloops and bleeders the score knotted at 4-4. Youkilis stopped the bleeding with diving snare of the hardest hit ball of the inning. Escobar’s bounding liner was nearly past Youkilis but the infielder made the catch and beat Gregor Blanco to the hot corner.

“Did his parents drop the “Y”?” asked Dennis Eckersley.

Kottaras doubled off the wall to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Pedroia failed to move the runner over and his batting helmet took the brunt of his frustration. J.D. Drew seemed to get the benefit of a strike called a ball by home plate umpire Bill Hohn and carved the next pitch over Anderson’s head. Eric O’Flaherty, Chipper Jones, and Bobby Cox were ejected in the aftermath. That was the hottest I had seen Jones; he was probably happy to leave the field given the weather and the taunts that he surely received for the fourth-inning foul-up.

Eckersley mentioned that Cox gets thrown out just to stay in shape, and was he ever right. Cox is the all-time leader in ejections with 143.

Against Hideki Okajima the Braves re-tied the game in the eighth. Kelly Johnson doubled off the wall much as Kottaras did and was then driven in by Anderson. It’s easy to underestimate the veteran left fielder but he still gets a timely hit here and there.

Jonathan Papelbon struggled in the top of the ninth, giving up two walks and a single to load the bases with two outs. Matt Diaz struck out swinging at a nose-high pitch.

With the eight and nine-hole hitters coming up I thought the Red Sox had a two-out comeback in the ninth brewing. Nick Green thought otherwise.

Green has always had to think otherwise. Labeled a part-time utility guy, the infielder kicked around five teams before finding a home with Boston because of injuries to Jed Lowrie and Julio Lugo. If he improved his defense, he could distinguish himself from the Alex Cora utility infielder model with his power.

On Sunday, a blast of wind and Pesky’s Pole came to the aid of a shortstop. Instead of the Mother’s Day Miracle from two years ago NESN can now play the Father’s Day Frenzy when they lack programming thanks to Green’s unlikely walk-off home run.

If I’m Terry Francona, I’m starting Green against his all of his former teams.

June 21, 2009


Game 68: June 20, 2009
L: Derek Lowe (7-5)
32-35, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox3
W: Josh Beckett (8-3)
41-27, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Lowe, ensconced in the shroud of invulnerability for being on the 2004 roster, got standing ovations walking from the bullpen to the dugout before pitching and when he left the game in the seventh inning. A pitcher that didn’t experience such affection from the crowd, Daisuke Matsuzaka, was placed on the 15-day disabled list and catcher Dusty Brown was called up.

If I were Josh Beckett, witnessing the adulation heaped upon Derek Lowe would annoy me. I might be so piqued as to retaliate with my first complete game shutout since April 10, 2005 and do so with just 94 pitches. The Braves lineup mustered a mere five singles and didn’t work a single base on balls.

I was mildly surprised that Beckett only had three complete game shutouts in his career; his fragile former teammate A.J. Burnett has nine and 2002 rookie classmate Aaron Harang has six. In the three years since Beckett arrived in Boston he has transformed from blister-prone question mark to rock-solid stopper.

Beckett didn’t fend off the Braves single-handedly. Jacoby Ellsbury came up with a spectacular sliding catch of Jeff Francoeur’s slicing hit to the warning track in left-center in the third inning. Much as Jason Bay skimmed to a stop to the wall of the left field stands in Friday’s game, Ellsbury glided right up to the San Francisco sign on the scoreboard. Replays showed it was an actual catch, unlike Nate McLouth’s questionable snare of Bay’s second inning fly ball to left-center.

Boston’s offense snapped out of its two-game slump during which it notched three hits and three runs. In fact, eight and nine-hole hitters Jason Varitek and Nick Green combined to outhit the entire team’s production in Saturday night’s game. Varitek went 2-for-3 and in a post-game interview claimed that knowing Lowe didn’t help him do well against his former teammate.

Little do the media know that Varitek programs all his pitchers, much as the CIA programmed its assassins. If Dennis Eckersley made an effort to read Varitek’s lips he would have seen the Red Sox catcher say “improper work relationship” to Lowe in the fifth inning, after which point the Braves pitcher lost the lead.

Listening to Eckersley is like being transported back to a world of shag carpet, psychedelically-painted vans, and lava lamps. As a Letters to Cleo song accompanied images of slightly damp fans for the Dunkin’ Donuts musical montage, the Hall of Famer asked, “Did I miss anything?” Hallucinogenic persisting perception disorder episodes happen; Eckersley should check in with Bill Lee to figure out how to deal with them.

June 20, 2009

Yaji [野次]

Game 67: June 19, 2009
W: Kenshin Kawakami (4-6)
32-34, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox2
L: Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-5)
40-27, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: It was Bermuda Night at Fenway and in honor of the event Red Sox fans lost their affection for Matsuzaka in the Bermuda Triangle. My friends were at the game and told me that some unacceptable terms were hurled in the Red Sox starter’s direction. I liked to think that Boston fans might accept whole-heartedly accept an Asian player but this is almost Byung-Hyun Kim redux. Jon Lester has had starts this season as bad as Daisuke Matsuzaka’s last night but wasn’t booed. Perhaps Matsuzaka have to be a cancer survivor to earn the fans’ undying love, but I think it’s something more vile underlying the Fenway crowd’s jeers. Yaji [野次] is the Japanese word for heckle, boo, and jeer.

The two characters in Kenshin Kawakami’s family name [川上] mean “stream” and “upper,” respectively, so his family lived upstream at some point. The two kanji in his given name [憲伸] symbolize “rule” or “constitution” and “develop” or “progress,” but instead of being a lawyer Kawakami became a professional baseball player. Kawakami played 11 years for the Chunichi Dragons before coming over to the major leagues to be the first Japanese player to don a Braves uniform.

Bobby Cox got less boos than Daisuke Matsuzaka when he came out to argue Jason Bay’s second inning double. In the fifth inning Casey Kotchman smacked a ball that followed a similar trajectory towards the left field chalk. Bay intercepted the sphere with a sliding catch that had him stopping just short of the wall of the left field stands. The left fielder was the only Red Sox hitter to get any hits let alone drive in runs; his two-run shot in the sixth made a fine souvenir for a fan in the Monster seats. He also had a base on balls and a fly ball to right that just missed the bullpens.

There were only three other Boston players to reach base: J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury drew walks. Matsuzaka wasn’t the only Red Sox player worthy of derision last night.

June 19, 2009


Game 66: June 18, 2009 ∙ 6 innings
W: Ricky Nolasco (3-6)
33-35, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox1
L: Jon Lester (5-6)
40-26, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: On a wet and messy night the only error wasn’t a flubbed grounder or an errant throw but a fifth-inning collision between Emilio Bonifacio and Dan Uggla with the shift on for David Ortiz. The home team failed to capitalize on the gaffe and didn’t have another chance to bat after the fifth. I guess they round up 5½ to 6, even though there was only one official at bat in the sixth.

Of course the day after I write about Kevin Youkilis’s slump he snapped out of it in grand style. The first baseman homered over the left field wall for the first run of the game in the bottom frame of the first inning.

Jon Lester was no mystery to the Marlins, however. The lefty yielded eight hits over the course of the evening, including a home run apiece by Dan Uggla and Ronny Paulino in the second for the win.

Remarkably, Ricky Nolasco of the juvenile name and the 7.15 ERA surrendered a single hit in his outing while striking out five. I thought for sure this game would complete the sweep of Florida, but the weather had other plans.

Don Orsillo and Dennis Eckersley added to their repertoire of in jokes. In addition to the guys in their ears we had three players going bridge, and keeping one’s moss intact. I miss baboombas, though, and definitely missed baboombas by the local nine.

Had we but world enough, and time
This weakness, Red Sox, were no crime
We would sit down and avoid the rain
On flinty seats and ignore the pain
Thou by the left field grandstand’s side
Shouldst foul balls find: I by the tide
Of Muddy would complain.

(Inspired by Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”)

June 18, 2009


Game 65: June 17, 2009
L: Andrew Miller (2-3)
32-35, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox6
W: Brad Penny (6-2)
H: Justin Masterson (3)
H: Hideki Okajima (12)
40-25, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: The 38,196 fans at Fenway were feted by the Boston Red Sox for 500 straight sold out games. The streak started on May 15, 2003 in a game against the Rangers that featured an eighth inning comeback win. There have been 175 players rostered since that day. David Ortiz played in the most games (449) and hit the most homers (109). Tim Wakefield had the most wins with 49, appropriately enough. Penny added to the festivities by delivering his 100th win, soldiering through a Jeremy Hermida comebacker in the first that nearly took his heard off.

Putting a dampener on the merriment was official scorer Charles Scoggins’s ruling that Jacoby Ellsbury erred on Jorge Cantu’s fly ball to left-center. Most other center fielders don’t have the wheels to get to the ball to have the chance to miss the catch, and for that reason Ellsbury’s streak of 232 games and 554 chances ended in the first inning. I’ve written about Scoggins before and I respect his acumen, but I think in this particular situation he is wrong. The Red Sox asked him to review the play and he didn’t change his mind. Fortunately it is not within Scoggins’s purview to take away Ellsbury’s seventh-inning home run.

Joining Scoggins in a spate of poor judgment was home plate umpire Jerry Crawford. Dennis Eckersley noted that Crawford was missing the low strike and called the outside corner inconsistently.

Despite the moving strike zone, Brad Penny battled through five innings with a line of 3 hits, 1 unearned run, 4 walks, and 3 strikeouts. He got more than enough support from the offense and the bullpen.

David Ortiz doubled, drew two walks, and scored all three times he was on base. His pal Mini-Me broke out of his slump; the Red Sox second baseman went 3-for-5, drove in three runs, and pulled his batting average back up above .300. Rocco Baldelli is a force off the bench; the platooning outfielder went 2-for-3 with a run scored and a run batted in.

Whatever was ailing Ortiz now seems to have affected Kevin Youkilis. The first baseman has looked lost at the plate and has struck out at an uncharacteristic rate. In April his OBP was .505, in May it went down to .441, and thus far in June it is .391.

Penny threw 100 pitches over five innings and needed four relievers to bail him out, and yet there was not an iota of the vitriol that is heaped upon Daisuke Matsuzaka when he does the same.

June 17, 2009


Game 64: June 16, 2009
L: Chris Volstad (4-7)
32-34, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox8
W: Tim Wakefield (9-3)
39-25, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Do I need to plunk down big iron if I want to try Meryl Masterson’s cookies? Don’t confuse these treats with the cookies Volstad was serving up. The rookie hurler lasted just 3⅔ innings and surrendered 9 hits, 8 runs (all earned), 2 walks, 2 strikeouts, and 1 home run.

David Ortiz crushed the ball in the fourth, deposited it into the visitors’ bullpen, after missing one by just a few feet in the second inning. The sold out crowd chanted his nickname but there was no curtain call this time. With his fifth homer of the season Ortiz preferred to stay in the dugout; he most likely with the hopes that such shots will be commonplace and not require any additional fanfare.

Tim Wakefield dispatched the first three batters with a mere nine pitches, striking out two of them in six. The Marlins had many things working against them: their inexperience in hitting the knuckleball, their free-swinging approach in the box (the Marlins lead the majors in strikeouts), and their excitement over playing in front of a sold-out crowd (the Marlins have about half the attendance of the Red Sox).

The former Devil Ray Jorge Cantu led off the second and took advantage of his prior knowledge of the knuckler. From the four-hole as the designated hitter he doubled to left field. Jeremy Hermida followed up with a base on balls to get Wakefield into an early jam. Wakefield doesn’t get unnerved with runners in scoring position. He went about his business and induced a ground ball double play off the bat of Dan Uggla and got Cody Ross to pop out.

Uggla brought the ugliness from the top of the inning into the bottom of the frame. Jacoby Ellsbury knocked a two-out single off his glove and both he and Hanley Ramirez couldn’t stop Nick Green’s center cut chopper. Uggla even tried to barehand the ball, but rather than help control the inside game he simply changed the trajectory of the ball and confused his shortstop. In the game there were two men who could score from second on that play, Ellsbury and Emilio Bonifacio.

Bonifacio flashed his speed in the third, running out an infield single to Mike Lowell, who had barehanded the ball to try and turn the out. Like Ellsbury he swiped second and then scored on a single. The score wouldn’t be tied for long.

J.D. Drew singled to left and was driven in by Jason Bay’s single to the left field corner. Chris Coghlan manned that part of the field and made it clear that left field isn’t his natural position by fumbling around for the ball as it ping-ponged in the crook. Drew motored home for the tie-breaking run but Bay got caught on the base paths.

National League teams play Fenway badly, particularly around the left field wall. Nearly every “Baseball Blooper” reel shown on the Jumbotron at Fenway features Lastings Milledge’s dreadful outing with the Mets. The poor play isn’t limited to tracking fly balls but also reading the defense while on the basepaths. Marlins shortstop Ramirez attempted to stretch a single into a double but was hosed by a well-aimed dart by Bay.

Dennis Eckersley called Ramirez’s play silly and rightly so. With the score 8-2, the single run Ramirez represented wasn’t worth the risk of giving up an out. Perhaps he was trying to show off in front of his former team’s fans.

Catchers are a crafty lot. They have those secret signals with their pitchers and the semophores with the infielders when there are runners on base. George Kottaras, despite being a rookie, demonstrated that guile. In the top of the fifth Kottaras knocked out Ross Gload’s batted ball fair and then tagged out the batter out. Later that inning Terry Francona and Kottaras laughed about it when the catcher was waiting for his turn at bat.

The sign on the Red Sox bullpen’s latrine door says it all: Death Zone, skulls and crossbones, No Prisoners. Manny Delcarmen, Takashi Saito, and Daniel Bard shutdown the visitors for the last three innings.

June 15, 2009


Game 63: June 14, 2009
Red Sox6
L: Josh Beckett (7-3)
38-25, 1 game losing streak
W: Chan Ho Park (3-1)
36-25, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: The Phillies turned the tables on the Red Sox yesterday, avoiding a sweep with an outburst of eleven runs. Terry Francona cobbled together a lineup sans J.D. Drew (much to his relief), Dustin Pedroia, and Jason Varitek, but Beckett made up for those gaps with a game-tying homer in the sixth. Don Orsillo commented on Beckett’s angry swing, which seemed to say, “How about them apples?” Dave Roberts’s classic reply: “I like apples.” The unlikely pair of Rocco Baldelli and Nick Green had back-to-back apples in the second.

Even with the staff ace on the bump a good team can only keep another good team down for so long. And a good player like Jimmy Rollins will rarely be held hitless for an entire series. He broke the tie in the seventh with a leadoff home run.

Rollins was happy enough after his four-bagger, but the shortstop flared up in the dugout after his fifth-inning RBI ground out. Even though he brought his team within two runs of the opposition he acted as if he didn’t do anything positive. It was reminiscent Kevin Youkilis’s selfish behavior of seasons past. Rollins might be a former MVP but that doesn’t mean he has to act like Alex Rodriguez.

Starter Josh Beckett was off-kilter and the defense behind didn’t help either.

Playing short isn’t easy, even when a player of Mike Lowell’s prowess assumes it temporarily for the shift, as he did in the fifth with Chase Utley in the box. Lowell fielded Utley’s grounder easily enough but sent the ball into the bullpen, allowing Utley to take second and Victorino to advance to third. Ryan Howard then starched a double to the right field wall for the lead.

In the seventh Shane Victorino scored on Julio Lugo’s errant throw to first. It wasn’t completely Lugo’s fault as Utley broke up the double play attempt, but Boston’s shortstop should have prudently pocketed the ball instead of going for the twin killing.

They say that pitchers have the advantage in full daylight, but whatever benefit the sunlight might grant eluded the Red Sox relievers. In the seventh Daniel Bard relieved Josh Beckett, in the loosest sense of the word. Bard intentionally walked backstop Chris Coste to load the bases and get to the pitcher, and then proceeded to walk Chan Ho Park on four pitches to plate a run.

Takashi Saito took over for Bard but was just as ineffective. Saito nailed Rollins with his first pitch (which might have made some of his Phillies teammates smirk) and then walked Victorino with just four pitches.

It was just one of those day games that got away.

June 14, 2009

Ame [雨]

Game 62: June 13, 2009
WinRed Sox11W: Hideki Okajima (3-0)38-24, 5 game winning streak
Phillies6L: Antonio Bastardo (2-1)35-25, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: I’m going to give Daisuke Matsuzaka a mulligan for his performance last night. He was dealing in the first inning but his momentum was stalled by a 1:35 rain delay. Ame, the Japanese word for rain, is pronounced ah-may, like the first two syllables of the word “amazing.” David Ortiz had the day off and sat in the dugout with his umbrella [amagasa, 雨傘].

The Red Sox jumped to a five-run lead in the first inning. Three errors by the Phillies extended the inning. Carlos Ruiz started the circus when he airmailed his throw into center when trying to catch Jacoby Ellsbury, allowing Boston’s center fielder to not only steal second but advance to third. In the second ring of the circus we have Antonio Bastardo’s pickoff toss to Ryan Howard, who not only missed the catch but tarried long enough for Ellsbury to score and Kevin Youkilis to take third.

After Jason Bay launched a homer (his 17th of the season), Mike Lowell doubled and Rocco Baldelli walked. Shane Victorino uncharacteristically missed a line drive; the bounding ball got all the way by him to the center field wall. Lowell and Baldelli scored on Julio Lugo’s single and Lugo ended up on third.

Daisuke Matsuzaka actually made contact but popped out to third. He took the mound and dispatched the first three Phillies batters in 14 pitches. The hurler looked crisp and confident, but then the rain came.

After the rain delay it was as if someone pressed a reset button. To stay game-ready Matsuzaka had another bullpen session after the delay; the extra work obviously took its toll as the game wore on. Matsuzaka relinquished two home runs in the fourth and the Phillies had pulled themselves within in a run of the visitors. When Matsuzaka reached base on a fielder’s choice in the fourth he held his gloves in his hand like a real baserunner.

The letters in Jack Taschner’s name can be used to spell the word trash. Coincidence? He toed the rubber in the fifth and compiled a line of 1 inning pitched, 5 hits, 3 earned runs, 1 walk, and 1 strikeout. Victorino put himself in the running for an ESPY for Best Performance by an Outfielder Attempting to Sell a Trap as a Catch when he gloved Bay’s sinking liner to start the frame. The Phillies center fiedler then atoned for his error with an outstanding basket catch of Youkilis’s fly ball to put a merciful end to Taschner’s outing.

Judging by the cheers, the sole Phillies reliever to do his job was Sergio Escalona. Sure, he gave up a couple of runs in his two innings of work, but he nailed J.D. Drew with a pitch. Only the longballs hit by Raul Ibanez, Pedro Feliz, and Jayson Werth elicited louder applause.

The Red Sox bullpen reaffirmed that it is the class of both leagues with a five-inning production that limited the home team to a mere two runs. Of note is Ramon Ramirez’s recovery from a pair of tough outings; the righty pitched a perfect eighth with a strikeout.

Games presented by Don Orsillo and Dave Roberts are pleasant but bland. Roberts is almost too much of a nice guy to be a color analyst, though. To zest up his commentary, Roberts could take a more critical stance to the plays on the field. Can you imagine what Jerry Remy or Dennis Eckersley would have said during the top half of the first inning? It’s funny to think that Roberts has to wait for a ride in Philadelphia; in Boston people would offer to carry him 20 miles on their shoulders to get him where he needed to be.

The previous four series have been against first-place teams: Detroit, Texas, New York, and Philadelphia. Boston swept the Tigers but lost the series against a youthful Rangers team. The Yankees were in first place for one game until the sweep in Fenway. The Red Sox have assured themselves a series win against the defending champions, and the AL East leaders seem to be hitting their stride at the right time.

June 13, 2009


Game 61: June 12, 2009 ∙ 13 innings
WinRed Sox5
H: Hideki Okajima (11)
BS: Ramon Ramirez (1)
W: Takashi Saito (2-0)
S: Daniel Bard (1)
37-24, 4 game winning streak
L: Kyle Kendrick (0-1)
35-24, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Instead of Heidi Watney, Rocco Baldelli conducted a pre-game interview. The interviewee, J.D. Drew, said that he thought the Red Sox sought him out so that when the team played in Philadelphia he would be the fans’ primary target rather than Terry Francona.

Rocco Baldelli and J.D. Drew also discussed pitchers hitting. “I’m just hoping they survive,” Drew said with concern in his voice.

“Yeah, it’s embarrassing,” affirmed Baldelli.

Jon Lester allowed the first run of the game in the second. Raul Ibanez singled, advanced to third on Shane Victorino’s double, and crossed home with Pedro Feliz’s ground out to Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis threw across the diamond to David Ortiz’s waiting glove. The first baseman pro tem juggled the ball but recovered in time for the out.

From that point on Lester reasserted his pitching dominance. He didn’t allow another baserunner until he walked Jayson Werth in the sixth inning. For the third consecutive game Lester struck out 10 or more batters, becoming the first Red Sox southpaw to do so. Dave Roberts is a peach of a guy, but occasionally he states the obvious or repeats Don Orsillo’s questions in the form of an answer. “He’s in pretty elite company,” remarked Roberts on Lester’s historic feat.

“Yes, he’s all by himself,” quipped Orsillo. With Jerry Remy on the mend, Announcer Boy has enjoyed being the cleverest man in the booth.

Despite its reputation as a hitters’ park, Citizens Bank Park hasn’t ranked in the top 10 for fields favoring hitters since 2005 (third) and 2006 (eighth). Youkilis and Drew were more than happy to perpetuate that reputation with their home runs in the fourth and fifth innings respectively. Were those “boos” or “Drews” as he circled the bases?

Phildelphians would jeer at Mohandas Gandhi or Albert Einstein if they were still alive. “What, you too good to eat our cheesesteak? Boo!” “Hey, you! Cosmological constant, right! Nice try, Einstein! Boo!” (Writing about Einstein made me think of this classic “Kids in the Hall” sketch.)

Ryan Howard homered to tie the game in the ninth, most likely to lessen the chance that his team’s fans would slash his tires. Instead of former closer Takashi Saito, Terry Francona went with Ramon Ramirez in the bottom of the ninth.

Jonathan Papelbon could only watch from the pen; he had been used in the previous two games and no one wanted a repeat of his 2006 shoulder injury. So he sat on the sidelines, perhaps writing out his check the league office for his $1,000 pace-of-game fine.

Saito ended up in the game anyway, taking the mound in the twelfth to relieve Justin Masterson, who turned in 2⅓ innings of solid pitching. Masterson had just taken a spill on the infield trying to chase down Carlos Ruiz’s bunt, ending up rather comically on his bum (insert Dennis Eckersley’s belief that the junk in pitchers’ trunks help with their power).

Nick Green artfully fielded Jimmy Rollins’s ground ball, gloving it just as he stepped on second. The Red Sox shortstop then fired to first with his momentum taking him towards the mound to nail Rollins at first.

The thirteenth inning was an auspicious one for the visiting team. Jason Bay and pinch-hitting Julio Lugo knocked in back-to-back singles and Jason Varitek jammed the basepaths with a five-pitch walk.

The bottom third of the lineup came through for the Red Sox. Jacoby Ellsbury snuck a single under Chase Utley’s glove to break the tie, Green sacrificed to Ibanez for the lead, and pinch hitter Mike Lowell singled for an insurance run.

Daniel Bard walked Utley to begin the bottom half of the thirteenth but battled back to strike out two formidable bats, Werth and Howard. Ibanez got hit with 99 MPH heat, something he’ll hopefully remember for the rest of the series. Two men on, two out, and facing the defending World Champions didn’t unnerve Bard: he dispatched Victorino with a biting slider inside.

So much for the Eckersley Theorem of the Impact of Gluteal Mass on Pitching Efficacy.

June 12, 2009


Game 60: June 11, 2009
L: C.C. Sabathia (5-4)
BS: Alfredo Aceves (1)
34-26, 3 game losing streak
WinRed Sox4
BS: Manny Delcarmen (1)
W: Takashi Saito (1-0)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (16)
36-24, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: When I looked at the match-ups for this Red Sox/Yankees series this was the game that I marked down as a loss. Brady Penny’s trade value hopefully skyrocketed with his 6 innings of shutout ball. He must like pitching here, even though Delcarmen blew what would have been his 100th win. To be a good teammate Penny plunked Alex Rodriguez in the back in the first inning with two out and the count 1-1. That makes the hit by pitch contest 9-3 in the Yankees’ favor.

Alex Rodriguez didn’t take his base immediately. He made his way to the mound but must have noticed out of the corner of his eye that no one came out of the dugout to defend him. So, he made as if he were a good Samaritan and was recovering the ball that nailed in the back. After calling a meeting, the umpiring crew determined that Brad Penny beaned Rodriguez intentionally and both dugouts were warned.

David Ortiz crushed the first pitch he saw over the left field wall. Papi homering off a Cy Young-caliber southpaw was an encouraging sign and worthy of a curtain call.

I can only imagine the flack Johnny Damon took for dropping Ortiz’s can of corn in the fourth. When Damon made a catch of Kevin Youkilis’s fly ball in the sixth a sarcastic cheer rang in his ears.

Just as Terry Francona may have stuck with Manny Delcarmen a bit past his expiration date in the seventh Joe Girardi let C.C. Sabathia linger too long on the mound in the eighth.

Girardi’s first sign should have been Nick Green’s single. We all remember that this is the Nick Green that wasn’t good enough to be rostered in the Yankees organization. Girardi apparently forgot about that.

The next warning was Dustin Pedroia’s epic 10-pitch at bat. To his credit, the battle prompted a mound visit by the former catcher. You’d think a backstop of all people would know when a pitcher is gassed, but Girardi felt confident that Sabathia could get J.D. Drew out and he was backed by conventional wisdom.

Drew bucked the book with an RBI single up the gut. Sabathia was pulled in favor of Alfredo Aceves, who gave up the singles and sac fly that led to the tying and go-ahead runs. Perhaps Aceves should be back at the level of his initials — AA.

Rocco Baldelli filled in at center admirably in Jacoby Ellsbury’s absence. In the eighth he laid out for a slicing line drive off the bat of Melky Cabrera. Had Baldelli not made the diving catch his Yankee counterpart would have a double at least and the visitors another run.

With Damon now on the Yankees our teams are strangely entwined. The Athletics drafted Nick Swisher with the compensation pick they garnered with Damon’s departure and a few years later the Red Sox acquired Daniel Bard with their compensation pick.

One place we are no longer entangled with the Yankees: in the AL East standings. The Red Sox now hold first place alone, just in time for what will be a tough trip to Philadelphia to face the defending World Champions.

June 11, 2009


Game 59: June 10, 2009
L: Chien-Min Wang (0-4)
34-25, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox6
W: Tim Wakefield (8-3)
H: Ramon Ramirez (8)
H: Hideki Okajima (10)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (15)
35-24, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Last night I tried my hand at Polite Heckling™. I was perfectly positioned to do so: Section 94, Row J, Seat 5. My seat was five rows directly behind Pesky’s Pole. Polite Heckling™ mainstay Nick Swisher was not more than 30 feet away from me.

The Yankee multipurpose player Nick Swisher made it too easy for Polite Heckling™. In the second he missed an easy fly ball to right that slipped by his glove and bounded into the stands for a free ground-rule double and run batted in for Dustin Pedroia.

“Nick! Perhaps you should ask Melky if he would switch places with you,” I bellowed when the SwishHawk took his spot to field J.D. Drew’s at bat.

Swisher chased down George Kottaras’s foul ball hard in the third inning, so hard he wound up over the wall and in laps of the people in the first row of the right field seats. He was about 10 feet from me and as a baseball fan I was impressed. He knew he mucked up on Pedroia’s fly ball and was attempting to make amends. I thought to myself that if Swisher were on the Red Sox he would be one of my favorites.

But he’s not, so he got more of the business. “Nick!” I noticed whenever I started my taunts he would shake his head slightly as if he were thinking to himself, “Here we go again.”

“Why are you still playing in right? Didn’t you ask Melky if he would switch with you? You would like playing in center better.” I paused. Pracitioners of Polite Heckling™ look out for the well-being of their targets. “There are no seats in center for you to fall in,” I offered helpfully.

The Red Sox knocked out a Yankee starter in under three innings for the second night in a row. Phil Hughes balked facing his first batter.

“Nick! Perhaps you’ll be pitching tonight,” hoping that Swisher recognized the good cheer I was trying to spread. “You did a good job last time! If you impress Mr. Girardi, perhaps you’ll make the rotation. You know, in case the outfielder thing doesn’t work out.”

Mike Lowell had a double robbed by Swisher in the seventh. It was another great gutty play that I would rave about if it were made by a Red Sox player. After he made the catch he sprawled on his back in right-center and held the ball up in his gloved hand defiantly. He hung out with Melky Cabrera as Joe Girardi swapped out Hughes in favor of another Phil, Phil Coke.

When Swisher returned to his spot in right, I was this close to acknowledging that I respected him as a ballplayer. But my Polite Heckler™ training took over. “Nick! Did you apologize to Melky for taking his putout?”

I thought I would have another chance at Swisher in the bottom of the eighth, but Swisher walked and Brett Gardner ran for him.

Had Swisher returned to the field, I would have waited for a conventional heckler to call him a bum.

“Nick! Don’t listen to them! I don’t think you’re a bum,” I would exclaim. “In fact, I voted for you on my All-Star ballot.”

I’d wait for the crowd to stop their tittering. “It’s a new category. The Jim Edmonds Unnecessary Dive Award.”

One of the best conventional heckles I heard last night: “You take steroids” with rhythmic claps during Alex Rodriguez’s last at bat.


Game 58: June 9, 2009
L: A.J. Burnett (4-3)
34-24, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox7
W: Josh Beckett (7-2)
34-24, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: I thought a Yankee player would get hit by Beckett, especially after the Red Sox built up a rather sizable lead going into the sixth. The Red Sox ace is a figure of some notoriety with his recent suspension, so it fell to Manny Delcarmen to even up that score, which in terms of hit batsmen currently tilts in the Yankees’ favor, 9-2.

Before the game I talked to a friend about which Yankee we thought would get drilled. I said Johnny Damon because he plays the same position as Jason Bay, the Yankees’ favorite target, and has been on a tear. My friend suggested Mark Teixeira.

We were both wrong, and so was Dennis Eckersley. In the eighth Manny Delcarmen tried to plunk the Yankeeiest Yankee of them all, Lord Yankee of Yankeeshire, possessor of a doctorate in Yankeeology, Derek Jeter. Eckersley missed the chance to comment on Delcarmen’s intent while it happened; he simply thought that Delcarmen was going by the book on Jeter and was trying to bust him inside.

Even Don Orsillo thought to raise the issue, asking Eckersley a leading question to that effect. The Hall of Famer brushed him off, saying that Delcarmen was pitching Jeter as all pitchers are taught to do so. In the very next inning Eckersley admitted to Announcer Boy, “You were right, and it makes me sick.”

A.J. Burnett was all over the place last night: 2⅔ innings pitched, 5 hits, 5 runs, 3 earned runs, 5 walks, 1 strikeout, and 1 home run. Believing that Brett Tomko would be an improvement over what you had the mound pretty much tells the tale of how badly the series opener went for the Yankees.

During the first pitching change the Red Sox and Yankees made their first round picks in the amateur draft. Both teams selected center fielders; the Red Sox picked Carlos Beltran’s cousin Reymond Fuentes while the Yankees drafted Zachary Heathcott.

The war between the Red Sox and the Yankees is waged on many fronts: there are the 19 regular season skirmishes and the seven potential postseason battles, but at the root of the conflict is the careful selection of these amateur ballplayers who could become the foundation of a dynasty. I will check in on Fuentes and Heathcott as they make their way through the system and write about them from time to time.

The good news: David Ortiz and Nick Green homered in this game. The bad news: Ortiz has three homers this season, just one more four-bagger than Green.

At the end of the game Josh Beckett gave Daniel Bard a cuff on the back of the neck as a brother would do to a younger sibling. Bard took the mound in the ninth with 100 MPH heat to help Beckett secure the shutout. If Jonathan Papelbon doesn’t sign a long-term deal as Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester have, we may have seen the future closer testing out how his sneaky, hairy cheese plays in the last inning of a game.

June 8, 2009

Janken [じゃんけん]

Game 57: June 7, 2009
W: Vicente Padilla (4-3)
H: Darren O’Day (5)
S: C.J. Wilson (5)
33-23, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox3
L: Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-4)
33-24, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: After Jacoby Ellsbury left the game in the sixth inning, Rocco Baldelli and Mark Kotsay played rock-paper-scissors (RPS) to decide who would play where in the outfield (but Brad Mills had the final say). The words one chants or the symbols used in this hand game provide a lesson cultural anthropology. Janken is the Japanese word for RPS. Japanese plantation workers brought their name for the game with them to Hawai‘i, generations of kids before me added to the chant, and these words were passed on to us. “Junken a munken a saka saka po!” we would begin. If we tied, we would continue, “Wailuku, Wailuku, big fat toe!”

Growing up on the East Coast, the Red Sox Scholars have their own words for RPS, probably something like, “One, two, three, shoot!” I still am surprised by the brevity of ritual in places outside of Maui. My cousins who grew up on O‘ahu started with “jan ken po” and then “I canna show” in case of a tie. Maybe the bigger the city someone grew up in the faster they wanted to get through it given their pace of life. The game is not typically treated as game in and of itself but rather a way to figure out who goes first or resolve a tie somewhat impartially.

Jonathan Papelbon rubbed his Red Sox Scholar’s hair with the earnestness of a thousand grandmothers. His kid-praising technique is like his approach on the mound: unrelenting intensity. David Ortiz also palmed his kid’s head, his gloved hand easily covering the top of the boy’s head. The left field wall now has a logo for the scholarship program: a Red Sox cap with a red tassel.

You won’t find Daisuke Matsuzaka at the head of the class. Tony Massarotti said he has middle of the rotation stuff, but I disagree. When he pitches the way he is accustomed he is more effective, as you can see by perusing his World Baseball Classic statistics. I know that the level of competition in that tournament is not as high as the majors, but whenever Matsuzaka is on the mound he seems not only to be battling against the batters but against Jason Varitek, John Farrell, and his own nature.

When I moved to Massachusetts I adapted in some ways: I drive in a way that turns my parents’ knuckles white and I know what to expect when I order a milkshake and ask for a frappe instead. But when I get a chance I will show my continental friends RPS the way I learned it. Perhaps the Red Sox pitching coaches can learn something from the way Matsuzaka was taught to pitch.

A few incidents revolving around Kevin Youkilis reminded me of what a kid’s game baseball is. After he just missed a homer in the first Youkilis got a bit lazy taking his lead off of second. Ian Kinsler noticed and Youkilis was picked off. To his credit, the Red Sox first baseman pushed against Kinsler’s glove mightily to get his hand back on the bag, but the move was too late. The opponents jostled each others’ hands as if they were in a thumb war.

In the third Youkilis stuck his elbow out into the path of the pitch so that he could get a free base, something you might see a overmatched Little Leaguer do. It was so blatant that home plate umpire Tim Timmons ruled that it was intentional, a judgment rarely passed. So rare that Terry Francona came out to argue the call, but eventually relented. Vicente Padilla ended up walking Youkilis on the next pitch anyway, loading the bases with one out. The local nine didn’t capitalize on the situation, however: Jason Bay struck out looking and Mike Lowell grounded out to second.

Fittingly the Fenway hawk made an appearance in a game that ball hawk Jacoby Ellsbury made a spectacular play. Ellsbury misread former Red Sox farmhand David Murphy’s fly ball to center in top of the third, yielding two runs for the visitors. Boston would get a pair of runs back on Kinsler’s mishandling of Ellsbury’s batted ball in the bottom of the inning, which had the center fielder sliding head-first into the keystone sack. And the center fielder had more film for the highlight reel.

With two out in the fourth Kinsler blasted the ball towards deep center field. The missile seemed destined for the triangle for at least a triple but Ellsbury launched himself at it. Sliding across the warning track, Ellsbury cradled the ball in his glove with more tenderness than how he treated his body. The two runs and the defensive play of the game (month? season?) came at a price: Ellsbury left the game with a stiff shoulder.

June 7, 2009


Game 56: June 6, 2009
Rangers1L: Derek Holland (1-3)32-23, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox8W: Jon Lester (5-5)33-23, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Don Orsillo has an unusual amount of experience in calling no-hitters for someone who has been a major league play-by-play man since only 2001. His first game was Hideo Nomo’s no-hitter against the Orioles and he has since announced no-hitters by Derek Lowe, Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester.

This game had everything: a perfect game bid, a disputed home run, a balk, a double steal, and a David Ortiz home run.

Last night Dennis Eckersley contained himself and didn’t say baseball’s n-word, but as before, his restraint (or lack thereof) did not determine the outcome of the game. It was Jon Lester’s combination of his fastball velocity and location set against his deceptive breaking ball delivery that bewildered the Rangers’ hitters for nine innings.

Only Michael Young could solve the southpaw pitcher. The Texas third baseman broke up the perfect game with one out in the seventh. Lester’s fastball caught too much of the plate and the instant the ball came off Young’s bat it was clear that not even Jacoby Ellsbury would run down the missile.

Lester received an appreciative ovation after that hit. His applause was only overshadowed by the cheers for Ortiz’s sixth-inning homer off Pesky’s Pole. Ortiz got a curtain call that he was reluctant to take; it was only after urging by Dustin Pedroia and Terry Francona grabbing him by the back of the jersey and pulling him up that Papi climbed to the top of the dugout steps to acknowledge the crowd’s summons.

I can imagine Pedroia smirkingly remarking to Papi after the acclaim, “Man, you took a curtain call for that cheap home run?”

Mike Lowell squeaked a home run over the left field wall in the second inning, but the ledge confused the umpiring crew more than differential calculus. For the fourth Red Sox game this season and the third time at Fenway the officials convened in the video booth to make a ruling on a home run. Unlike the last time a questionable Red Sox fly ball had to be reviewed (Kevin Youkilis’s shot on May 24), last night Boston’s third baseman came away with a four-bagger.

Rangers rookie Derek Holland kept the game close until the fifth inning. He lost composure when he balked with Pedroia in the box; Holland must have seen the second baseman’s Dunkin’ Donuts commercial and was rightfully intimidated. Pedroia rocketed a shot into left, rendering the score 2-0. Holland walked Ellsbury in five pitches. The homegrown duo of Pedroia and Ellsbury executed a double steal with Jason Bay at the dish. After fouling off five pitches Bay lined a single a few feet deeper than Pedroia’s, allowing both baserunners to score.

Josh Beckett took his recent no-hit bid deeper into the game but he and the rest of the team seemed to let up after the no-hitter fell by the wayside. Not so for Lester, who stayed in for all nine innings and hurled 107 pitches in doing so with a 67% strike rate. Eckersley has been rubbing off on Don Orsillo. “If it’s me I gotta have it,” Announcer Boy commented on a close pitch in the eighth.

“Now you want everything, huh?” replied Eckersley.

June 6, 2009


Game 55: June 5, 2009
W: Kevin Millwood (5-4)
H: Eddie Guardado (4)
32-22, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox1
L: Brad Penny (5-2)
32-23, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: David Ortiz supporters brought their “Papi” sign and a target up into the seats on the left field wall. With two runners on in the eighth Ortiz sent a rope into right field for a run. Unfortunately for the returning Red Sox, it was the only run scored. They need more home cooking than Ortiz’s side dish; 13 left on base doesn’t satisfy the appetites of the Fenway faithful.

Brady Penny cruised through four innings, but then he remembered he has been the subject of trade rumors. He thought about how he would miss Fenway and pitching with his pal Josh Beckett, so he eased up some on the mound.

Not really, but that is what it seemed like. The wheels came off after Julio Lugo allowed a single to his rookie counterpart, Elvis Andrus, under his dive. The Rangers plated their first run and Ian Kinsler followed up with a three-run longball into the Monster seats.

Speaking of other players lowering their trade value, Lugo’s mobility has been further reduced to that of a reanimated corpse. The Boston shortstop dove after Marlon Byrd’s grounder in the sixth in a manner similar to how he missed Andrus’s ground ball. Penny then relinquished a ringing double to right bounded into the the seats. Had the ball stayed in play, Byrd would have scored along with Hank Blalock, who had led off the inning with a four-pitch free pass.

From third base Byrd tried to score on Daniel Bard’s errant pitch to Jarrod Saltalamacchia but Jason Varitek got to the ball and fired to home quick enough for Bard to tag the center fielder out to end the inning.

Dennis Eckersley called Bard a tall glass of water. I guess that is the drink of choice when you dine on a nice piece of cheese. Bard has been solid if not spectacular thus far in his rookie season: 10 innings, 8 hits, 3 runs (1 earned), 3 walks, and 9 strikeouts.

The Red Sox best (read: only) offensive moment of the evening was followed by the best comedic moment between Don Orsillo and Eckersley. The booth replayed Varitek’s reaction to whiffing on Eddie Guardado’s change-up and Eckersley voiced what he thought the catcher said: “Wow.” “I thought we were going to stay away from lip-reading,” Orsillo jested.

That was even better than the NESN studio crew’s dance break to “Low” featured in the post-game show.

June 4, 2009


Game 54: June 4, 2009
WinRed Sox6
W: Tim Wakefield (7-3)
H: Justin Masterson (2)
H: Hideki Okajima (9)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (14)
32-22, 4 game winning streak
L: Dontrelle Willis (1-3)
28-24, 3 game losing streak
Highlights: Jim Leyland told the Red Sox radio team about how Ted Williams tried to give him hitting advice: “Just look for the little red dot as the ball comes in.” It’s just that simple. Maybe that is why David Ortiz is going to get his eyes checked.

Behind every big inning is a beleaguered pitcher, none moreso than Dontrelle Willis. His impressive debut season in 2003 and his breakout performance in 2005 seem a lifetime ago.

Back then his riotous delivery flummoxed batters and caught the imagination of most baseball fans. Aficionados of this sport love quirky, and Willis’s unorthodox approach epitomized odd.

But when one’s genius is driven by one’s unconventionality, there aren’t many people to turn to get advice. Would James Joyce go to your AP English teacher for writing tips? Or Jonas Salk to the local CVS pharmacist for a consult? So Willis flounders in a purgatory from which only he may free himself.

Willis did not allow a hit in today’s game but started the third by hitting Jacoby Ellsbury and then walked five batters. Jim Leyland got ejected for arguing with home plate umpire Jeff Nelson’s supposedly tight strike zone for his pitcher. Zach Miner relieved Willis, in a manner of speaking: he allowed of his inherited baserunners to score.

Jason Bay is such a nice guy he looked almost guilty when he lined a two-run double to left field. Wait, that’s his normal stoic expression.

For the second time this season the Red Sox faced a first-place ball club and swept the series. Fortunately this series was only three games long; any longer and the beanball battle may have escalated to a war or more players may have gotten dinged. Both teams’ first basemen, Kevin Youkilis and Miguel Cabrera, came up lame and left the field early.

The win put Boston in a tie with the Yankees for first in the AL East, just in time for next week’s showdown.


Game 53: June 3, 2009
WinRed Sox10
W: Josh Beckett (6-2)
31-22, 3 game winning streak
L: Armando Galarraga (3-6)
28-23, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: Kevin Youkilis was cleated by Josh Anderson in the eighth. As the camera got a close-up of Youkilis writhing on the ground in pain, Don Orsillo taunted Dennis Eckersley: “What’s he saying, Eck?” Eckersley wasn’t falling for it, though. “I’m not going there any more,” the pitcher said resolutely.

Where Dennis Eckersley will go is saying “no-hitter” right in the middle of one in the making. While I wouldn’t engage in jinxing, I don’t get incensed if others do, particularly someone in the broadcast booth. They have to call the game, after all.

Eckersley was clearly excited about Josh Beckett’s pitching. He’s usually boisterous, but from the fifth inning on you could not stop him, you could only hope to contain him. Eck can’t help it, it’s a chemical imbalance.

Beckett had the Detroit hitters completely off balance. He was painting with his fastball and touching up with his breaking pitches. The potential perfect game fell by the wayside early with Placido Polanco’s one-out base on balls in the first. After that baserunner another Tiger didn’t touch a bag until the bottom of the seventh.

But Gerald Laird did his best in the sixth inning: he led off with a bunt attempt. Eckersley promptly chirped, “Nolan Ryan didn’t play that game.” In a way, Beckett is more frightening than Ryan. With Ryan, retribution would be swift and immediate; Beckett, however, bides his time. Laird made his first step towards redress by watching a curveball break across the plate for a called third strike.

Laird’s next turn was in the eighth, where he batted second. By that time the no-hitter was erased by Curtis Granderson’s solid single. Brandon Inge had led off the eighth with a double and the score was 10-0. If Ryan were on the mound the first pitch would smack Laird square in the thorax.

Beckett, however, is subtle, crafty. You would think he was a southpaw. With the count 2-2 Beckett plunked Laird in the leg with a fastball. By delaying payback, Beckett created a situation of plausible deniability. The Red Sox pitcher was perfectly credible when he said, “That’s part of his game. You look at the scouting report, he generally tries to do that in his second or third at-bat. It wasn’t that big a deal.”

Almost lost in the drama of the no-hit bid was an impressive offensive showing — J.D. Drew’s 200th career home run in the first. The two-run shot carried deep into right field and gave Beckett early runs to play with. David Ortiz only went 1-for-4 but didn’t look lost at the dish. His only hit was a double into right-center for two runs in the six-run barrage in the sixth inning. He lifted a loud out to end the fourth that would have been a home run in any other park.

Last night’s game contains three handy lessons for the budding baseball player:

  1. How to almost throw a no-hitter by Beckett
  2. How to strike fear into the heart of opposing pitchers by Drew, Ortiz, Jason Varitek, and Kevin Youkilis
  3. How not to play defense by Nick Green, Mike Lowell, and Dustin Pedroia

June 3, 2009

Risu [栗鼠]

Game 52: June 2, 2009
WinRed Sox5
W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-3)
30-22, 2 game winning streak
L: Rick Porcello (6-4)
28-22, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Terry Francona tallied his 500th win as a Red Sox manager, joining Hall of Famer Joe Cronin and Mike “Pinky” Higgins. Aside from this accomplishment, I’d rather not associate Francona with these men as his predecessors were key in keeping the Red Sox segregated. In the wake of initiating a new generation to futile, furious devotion to the Boston club with the 2003 ALCS debacle, the owners and Theo Epstein rid themselves of Grady Little and hired Francona. That the spectacled skipper would helm not one but two World Championship teams is the hushed prayers and half-remembered fever dreams. And yet it happened. Congratulations, Tito.

Risu [栗鼠] means “squirrel” in Japanese.

All right, everyone got their chuckles at my expense last night. “Look at that fat squirrel get run ragged by the grounds crew,” everyone said. Video of me made theh highlight reels on “MLB Tonight” and “SportsCenter.”

Well, what tens of thousands of fans mocking me and the television audience didn’t know is that you can thank me for Justin Verlander’s renaissance. That’s right.

You think I’m out there in the center field hedges thinking simple squirrelly thoughts, right? Yeah, I know what you two-leggers say about my visually-impared brethren and I see all the feeble devices of torture contrived to mutilate or murder me. (YouTube is quick to pull videos infringing on copyrights but heaven forbid they ban videos of rodent torment.) You think our kind’s sole focus is to pillage your birdfeeders and rampage through your garbage. Okay, maybe 65% to 80% of squirrels are out to do just that. But I set my sights higher. Much higher.

I hang out near the bullpens absorbing vast amounts of pitching knowledge. Every game, every bullpen session, every in-game warm-up bustle. And not just for the Tigers, but every visiting team, too.

I noticed that Verlander was having an issue with his delivery throughout 2008. I mentioned it to Rick Knapp, and I tell him, “Knappy, what that kid has gotta do is lower his arm slot.” Rick mulled it over and after a few days mentioned it to Justin.

Soon Justin turned it around and was looking like his former Rookie of the Year self. The club was so thankful they made me part of their pitching staff. Which means access to the post-game spreads.

Do you think I got this waistline eating baseball fans’ sloppy seconds?

Yup, I was a rising star in the Detroit organization. How do you think Edwin Jackson turned into a legit pitcher? There were rumblings that maybe I should be the pitching coach, not Knappy. I had just started to help D-Train with his issues when, boom, I was shut out. My so-called friend Rick knee-capped me, said I was bad for the pitching crew, that I was taking all the credit for his work.

Kicked out of the clubhouse, I found myself wandering around the outfield last night. I’m not proud, okay? Before the game, I may have tied one on. Maybe more. Maybe a lot more.

Next thing you know I’m out there in right field stark naked ranting about Knappy, Dombrowski, and the tail-less ones’ conspiracy to keep the rodents down. They may say the right things to my face, but I know when I’m out of the room they talk about buckteeth and tail. One minute I’m chomping on stogies with the Tigers elite and the next I’m getting rundown by rent-a-cops, treated like a lowlife. Good think Eck can’t read squirrel lips, because I was going off!

Can you blame me for being bitter? I’d show them, I promised myself.

How do you think Daisuke got his first win? Do you think a little birdie told him what to do? Yeah, right. I’ve seen those moronic gulls loitering in the outfield at Cleveland, crapping all over the turf. No respect for the game, you know?

I may have been hammered, but I dropped a few pointers to the kid. Feel bad for the guy, you know? Thousands of miles away from home, big contract to live up to, outrageous expectations, rabid fans, and all that.

So he wasn’t brilliant, but he got the job done. 5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K. Look, I only had a few minutes and I don’t know how well slurred squirrel speech translates to Japanese.

That’s a bunch a great arms they got there in Boston. Kinda glad Timlin isn’t in there any more. Not because he’s not a nice guy and all, but he could basically kill me, skin me, and turn me into a glove in the course of a game. All the pen guys were all, “Come back with us to Boston! We like Farrell and and all, but you’ve taught us a lot even though you’re drunk off your ass.”

Tempting, you know? And that Pedroia kid cracks me up. Really enjoyed beating him at cribbage after Tito had his way with him.

I’m sort of like Ilitch. Love this city, no matter what. People think he kept Tiger Stadium up for the money. Well, okay, there were 400,000 reasons a year for him to do that, but he didn’t redevelop it because it was a home for the little guys like me.

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