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Home » Category Listing » July 2009 Game Comments

August 1, 2009


Game 102: July 31, 2009
WinRed Sox6
W: John Smoltz (2-4)
H: Ramon Ramirez (10)
H: Hideki Okajima (20)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (27)
60-42, 2 game winning streak
L: Jeremy Guthrie (7-10)
44-58, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Smoltz muddled through six innings on the mound with a line of 8 hits, 5 earned runs, no walks, 2 strikeouts, and 2 homers. The grizzled pitcher carried that look that lingers on the visages of aging athletes, a look of befuddlement when the mind is willing but the body is no longer able.

David Ortiz made his first road appearance since the allegations of the positive test from 2003 were revealed. Despite being 404 miles away from Fenway, for the most part cheers for him drowned out the jeers, which I don’t think happens to Alex Rodriguez in his travels. Ortiz’s two-run home run in the third sailed over the right field fences into a sea of Red Sox shirts.

The Orioles quickly replied in the bottom of the same canto. Nick Green aided the opposition with an errant throw of Brian Roberts’s batted ball that allowed Matt Wieters to put his team on the board; the Red Sox middle infielder has a gun but needs some work at the firing range. Nolan Reimold tied the game on a home run that Terry Francona disputed but was overruled by video replay.

When outfielders Reimold and Jacoby Ellsbury weren’t jacking balls over the wall they were robbing their quarry of four-baggers. Mike Lowell’s fly ball to left was intercepted by Reimold just before it slipped into the stands, ending the third inning. Ellsbury’s snare to snuff out the sixth was more impressive: the center fielder had to cover more ground and jumped as high as the right field wall to seize Luke Scott’s clout.

Not to be outdone by outfielders, Hideki Okajima adroitly snatched Wieters’s comebacker to kill the Orioles’ fledgling rally in the eighth. To be sure, many pitchers field their position well, but consider Okajima’s no-look delivery.

As rousing as Friday night’s game was, much of the action came off the field. In the waning hours of the trade deadline, Theo Epstein traded for the blue-chip backstop from Cleveland, Victor Martinez, and did so without having to sacrifice Michael Bowden or Clay Buchholz. Justin Masterson was sent to the Indians, along with minor leaguers Nick Hagadone (a first round talent from the 2007 draft) and Bryan Price (first round pick in 2008).

Just after the Martinez trade was announced another deal came to light. Adam LaRoche was traded to the Braves for Casey Kotchman, a transaction that is analogous to trading in your 2006 Toyota Camry for a 2008 Honda Accord.

The Red Sox’s trading deadline objective was to do business with the two MLB teams with insulting mascots.

Masterson was a peach of a guy, but in the end he’ll be missed about as much as Freddy Sanchez was. The lanky right-hander was versatile but not stellar, and there are more talented arms waiting in the wings. Don Orsillo will certainly miss Meryl Masterson’s cookies, although his waistline won’t.

July 30, 2009


Game 101: July 30, 2009
H: Russ Springer (5)
H: Michael Wuertz (12)
BS, L: Craig Breslow (1, 4-5)
43-58, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox8
W: Manny Delcarmen (3-2)
H: Daniel Bard (5)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (26)
59-42, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: David Ortiz authored his first late inning pressure situation triumph of 2009 with a three-run blast to the short bleachers in the seventh. The score went from 5-3 in favor of the visitors to 6-3 for the local nine. The designated hitter came out for a curtain call. I wonder how many of them knew about The New York Times report that named Ortiz as one of the 104 players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.

I’ve started and stopped and restarted this column as many times as David Ortiz homered in 2006. I was there on September 21, 2006 when he broke Jimmie Foxx’s team record for home runs in a season. This is the best I could do.

BOSTON — Red Sox blogger Joanna Hicks issued the following statement today:

Today I was informed by several friends via text and instant messenger that one of my favorite players was on the 2003 list of MLB players to test positive for performance-enhancing substances. This happened right before the game, and the news blindsided me. No one sought me out for my comments, but here they are anyway.

I want to talk about David Ortiz, how he was the backbone of the team in 2007, that he was one of the few bright spots in the 2006 season, and when he wrested victory from the clutches of defeat in 2004. But it is difficult because I am at times a starry-eyed idealist who pitched a tent on the moral high ground only to have it crumple with the overall collapse of the terrain known as Baseball Purity.

In the meantime I want to let you know how I am approaching this situation. One, I will contact the Players Association and point out that they were fully complicit in the Steroid Era and although they fattened their members’ wallets they did so at the risk of their members’ health and turned a blind eye to the use of flat-out illegal drugs. Two, I will mention that Bud Selig shouldn’t be applauded as the initiator of the clean-up crew when he was the enabler who held the decades-long PED party in his sport. And, three, don’t forget the owners who passed out the big contracts in pursuit of greater revenue. I will not hide those people who made excuses about illegal substances in baseball.

I want to thank my family, the Red Sox, and my readers for their patience and support.


Game 100: July 29, 2009
W: Brett Anderson (6-8)
H: Craig Breslow (9)
S: Andrew Bailey (13)
43-57, 2 game winning streak
Red Sox6
L: Brad Penny (7-5)
58-42, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: Eighth inning, two men on, two outs, one run already in and the tying run at the plate. Breslow induced a pop-out to third off David Ortiz’s bat. Wish we could get players like Breslow....

You know the game isn’t going to go well when the most uplifting moment of the game is Joe Pantoliano visiting the booth in the fourth to talk about clinical depression, alcoholism, and suicide.

Perhaps Pantoliano can stage an intervention for Brad Penny. If the pitcher wasn’t depressed before the game he should have been by the end of the first. Adam Kennedy kicked off the game with a home run off Penny’s first pitch and Oakland’s lineup almost turned over in the opening inning.

While Pantoliano’s at it, set up a session for couples therapy for Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney. Right fielder Sweeney didn’t yield to center fielder Davis and Jason Bay’s can of corn dropped to the turf for a three-base error on Sweeney. Bay just barely scored on Mike Lowell’s sac fliner to left.

Despite all the offense the Athletics generated in Fenway (20 run in three games thus far), the team is penultimate in the American League in batting average, 11th in on-base percentage, last in slugging, last in home runs, 12th in runs batted in — basically, for any offense category you can conjure the Oakland club is amongst the worse if not the worst.

“There must be some kind of way out of here,” Jimi Hendrix sang as pitching coach Curt Young visited his young charge Brett Anderson after leading off the sixth with a base on balls to Mike Lowell. The clip is meant to mock visiting pitchers in jams, but with Boston’s recent play I take it to mean some kind of way out of this slump.

“So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

July 29, 2009


Game 99: July 28, 2009 ∙ 11 innings
W: Craig Breslow (4-4)
S: Andrew Bailey (12)
42-57, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox8
H: Ramon Ramirez (9)
H: Daniel Bard (4)
BS: Jonathan Papelbon (3)
L: Manny Delcarmen (2-2)
58-41, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: During batting practice, Fenway Park organist Josh Kantor played “My Funny Valentine” and “Eight Days a Week.” I failed to note every retired number-related song performed as I got caught up soaking up the pre-game atmosphere. Number 14 jerseys, t-shirts, and caps abounded. Every few seconds fans would catch each others’ eyes and smile because we all knew that we were sharing history.

I arrived at Fenway about three hours before the gates opened to take advantage of my Red Sox Nation benefit of hanging out in the Monster seats and failing to catch a home run ball. A crimson curtain hung over Jim Rice’s 14 on the right field roof, but like a kid cheating at hide-and-seek I caught a glimpse of that honored number.

Nick Green jostled with a teammate in center to catch fly balls as expletive-laden songs echoed through the park. Sound booth standards are lenient when the home team takes batting practice.

I preoccupied myself with trying to identify players by body type since the majority of them had their warm-up togs on. It took me a while but I eventually I noticed the 14 mowed in the left field turf, which was upside-down from the heights of the left field wall. I vowed to get to the left field pavilion at some point to take a picture of that sacred half-acre rightside-up.

Fenway security guards made their rounds to clear the area of Red Sox Nation members. Just as two women left their perches a home run off the bat of David Ortiz rattled into their seats.

I made my way to the stairs to the left field seats fully intending to go to my assigned spot, but the pavilion beckoned. I had to wait for a guided tour to descend the steps of the pavilion and made my way unaccosted to the major soft drink pavilion. The only other souls in the area were a few security guards who turned a blind eye to my incursion. I snapped a few photos and then swam through the humidity down to my seat.

Section 163, row BB, seat 9. Two seats away from the last seat in my row in the first (last?) section in left. There were white seats arrayed near home plate and I thought that I would be too far from the ceremony to get any good pictures.

I saw a boy and his father wearing matching t-shirts. “Two Legends” read the caption above a bald boy and a beaming Rice. The boy now had a full head of hair and was a few years older. He and his father went to Cooperstown to see their hero inducted and made it back in time to get a ticket for the ceremony and the game. I somehow managed not to cry. I didn’t need to see the celebration up close to feel in my heart and soul how Rice touched others not just as a baseball player but as a person.

Then I saw a cameraman and his assistant make their way to the left field door. They wouldn’t bother to find a 310-foot long cord unless someone important was going to come out of the door in left unless Wally is a lot more popular than I thought he was.

Carl Beane handed over the mic to Joe Castiglione and Don Orsillo. They confirmed that the Hall of Famer was going to make his entrance in the territory he guarded for 16 seasons.

Gruff. Scowling. Laconic. None of those words described the man I saw take the field, stride towards home home plate, and deliver a moving speech. As planned, a host of former coaches, teammates, and mentors were announced and took their assigned seats. Johnny Pesky had the honor of unveiling his star pupil’s retired number to the world.

Perhaps the most poignant moment was an unrehearsed instant of affection. Nomar Garciaparra was stretching in foul territory in front of the visitors’ dugout and lingered there. He and Rice embraced each other, affirming their friendship and respect as fellow Red Sox first-round draft picks and superstars. Nomar held his friend so tightly, it seemed he wanted Rice to carry him back to the dugout he called home for seven and a half years.

Ted Williams to Carl Yastrzemski to Jim Rice, an unprecedented corner of history that will never be repeated.

For photographs, click here.


Game 98: July 27, 2009
L: Trevor Cahill (6-9)
41-57, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox8
W: Josh Beckett (12-4)
58-40, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: The Red Sox failed to score in the second, sixth, and eighth innings. Slackers. They got the early lead and kept it so they wouldn’t have to play the bottom of the ninth.

The drama between the Red Sox organization and Daisuke Matsuzaka seems more like one of Jim Rice’s soap operas than a meaningful meeting on of the minds. Through their proxy John Farrell the Red Sox contend that their training program is the right way to make all pitchers effective and Farrell stated that Matsuzaka slacked in the offseason. “In hindsight, there might not have been the work that he needed to put in on his own time during the offseason to build the foundation that every pitcher requires to withstand the workloads that a major league starting pitcher is going to go through here in the States,” said Farrell on WEEI.

The Japanese article chronicling Matsuzaka’s interactions with the club throws into sharp relief the vast divide between the pitcher’s approach to baseball and the Red Sox’s plan for him. Matsuzaka seems to believe that there is an essential physiological difference between Japanese and American pitchers.

I’m not terribly surprised by Matsuzaka’s opinions. Japan, like America, has people that believe strongly in its exceptionalism, but many Japanese believe that their differences are driven by inherent qualities in their race. Called nihonjinron, the disciples of this theory use many disciplines to explain the uniqueness of the country and its people. Scholarship (for want of a better word) in this vein does not start off with a question and then attempts to tease out an answer but rather begins with a set of answers in hand and seeks to explain everything about Japan’s history with those shibboleths.

Supporters to the theory of nihonjinron believe that Japan is one of kind because it is an isolated nation of islands, has a language and grammar unrelated to any other language, and is supposedly racially homogeneous. These particular facets are presented as the reasons for events in Japan’s history, from the fact that Japan was never colonized and then modernized with dizzying speed to its recovery from nuclear attacks to become an economic superpower. Some extreme theories go so far as to propose that the Japanese have been isolated so long that they evolved from a different line of primates than other people. So perhaps that is why Matsuzaka thinks that his shoulder should be treated differently from others in the Red Sox system.

How would both sides go about proving their respective points? The Red Sox would have to sift through data and find those pitchers of comparable age, size, and repertoire who have pitched as much as Matsuzaka and chart their career paths and injury history. The pitcher’s camp would need to provide evidence that the intensive throwing sessions enhance rather than diminish pitchers’ arms. Nolan Ryan and Leo Mazzone both incorporate some aspects of Matsuzaka’s approach. As much as I respect Farrell, he seems too hidebound to the Red Sox program to constructively negotiate with Matsuzaka to plan his future training.

It’s a shame to see such infighting. Battles should happen on the field, although Oakland didn’t put up much of a fight. Only Kurt Suzuki (a graduate of H.P. Baldwin High School, like me) and Eric Patterson drove in runs for the Anemics.

If Matsuzaka wants someone to emulate, Josh Beckett should be at the top of the list. It’s hard to argue with 7 innings pitched, 8 hits, 3 earned runs, 1 walk, and 10 strikeouts.

July 26, 2009


Game 97: July 26, 2009
W: David Hernandez (3-2)
42-55, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox2
L: John Smoltz (1-4)
57-40, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Six starts into the Smoltz Study results are disappointing. The veteran righty left the game in the fifth inning with 9 hits, 6 earned runs, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts, and a home run. Perhaps the 42-year old should have hung up his spikes and began his vigil for inclusion in the Hall of Fame instead of trying to get one more season out of his arm.

Nick Markakis arced a sacrifice fly to center just as Earl Weaver was acknowledged at the Hall of Fame. As is the modern-day custom, Markakis was congratulated for granting his team the first inning lead upon his return to the dugout. The Earl of Baltimore would have growled at the right fielder, “Next time could you score a run without making an out?”

At first, the induction of Jim Rice did not energize his team from afar. When his part of the ceremony began the Red Sox went down in order in the third. More evidence was added to the oft-cited argument that the Red Sox batters cannot hit rookie pitchers as David Hernandez kept Boston hitless until the fourth. Jacoby Ellsbury knocked a single off the second base sack at the same moment Rice acknowledged Tom Caron in his speech. As powerful as his bat was, his words were not strong enough to help his club complete the sweep against Baltimore.

Rice took his place amongst the immortals of baseball. Each member isn’t just an exemplar of excellence in the sport but also a representative of their era.

Bob Feller was a veteran of World War II and was the first player to enlist after Pearl Harbor. Hank Aaron was the last player from the Negro Leagues to make the majors and has recently asserted that players from the performance-enhancing drug era should have asterisks on their plaques. Willie Mays flew to St. Louis with President Barack Obama for the All-Star festivities and the president thanked Mays and his generation for presaging the desegregation of the country beyond the ballpark. Rice experienced integration of his school district but officials had cynically drawn the lines so that only he, not his sister, would be a student in the formerly all-white high school for his senior year. Rickey Henderson, Rice’s Hall of Fame classmate, named Muhammad Ali as his greatest hero.

Although Rice was amongst the first wave of players to enjoy the benefit of Andy Messersmith’s and Dave McNally’s dismantling of the reserve clause, he played with a single team for his entire career. Henderson debuted five years after Rice and was his polar opposite, making his way through nine clubhouses in his 27-year career.

As different as Rice and Henderson are, the both took their rightful place in a team of all-time greats.


Game 96: July 25, 2009
L: Jeremy Guthrie (7-9)
41-55, 5 game losing streak
WinRed Sox7
W: Jon Lester (9-7)
H: Daniel Bard (3)
57-39, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Don Orsillo honored Jim Rice with a snazzy navy pinstripe suit and polka dot tie. Gordon Edes tried to channel Vin Scully, but he doesn’t have Scully’s ability to weave his stories into the ebb and flow of the game. He told a few Rickey Henderson stories I hadn’t heard; all Edes’s anecdotes and more can be found here. The story I want to hear is what Melvin Mora heard after his dramatic catch of Jason Varitek’s fourth inning pop-up in foul ground. As the returned to his position he smirked. Not only does he have to get it from Boston fans in Camden Yards but the remarks escalate in Fenway.

The Red Sox broke out of their offensive funk, scoring more than five runs in a game for the first time since July 12, the last game before the All-Star break. In the first inning David Ortiz powered his 13th four-bagger of the season to the camera well in center with Dustin Pedroia and Jason Bay on base in the first inning for the early lead.

Earl Weaver would have approved of the first inning, but would have roundly condemned Jacoby Ellsbury for getting picked off of second base in the fourth inning. Again the Red Sox center fielder knocked the ball where he could have had an inside-the-parker. His fly ball double caromed off the base of the right field wall straight back to Nick Markakis.

Adam LaRoche made his Red Sox debut leading off the bottom half of the second inning. He took over the number 23 from Julio Lugo and his first three turns at bat reminded me of the tepid shortstop. Fans weren’t effusive in their welcome, perhaps thinking Lugo didn’t actually leave. In the eighth all doubt was dispelled with LaRoche’s two-run dinger into the Monster seats.

Mike Lowell, who led off the inning with a single, joins Kevin Youkilis as the two players who will have to adjust with LaRoche’s arrival. As Youkilis’s tendency is to fade in the second half, LaRoche’s to surge, and Lowell’s health is a question mark, the trio of corner infielders should form a symbiotic relationship that will carry the team to the postseason.

Perhaps foreseeing the potential for friction, LaRoche's locker is ensconced between Bay’s and J.D. Drew’s lockers so that the two former teammates can make him feel welcome in his third major league clubhouse. LaRoche didn’t get the silent treatment but enthusiastic congratulations after his homer. Ortiz was the first player at the dugout to give him a high five and a slap on the back and the rest of the club followed suit.

Already the LaRoche Experiment has demonstrated better results than 2007’s Gagne Gambit and may have a bigger impact than 2008’s Casey Corollary.

Jon Lester almost had his fifth double-digit strikeout game but notched nine punchouts despite Paul Nauert’s less than generous calls and the proliferation of beach balls in center field. Daniel Bard continued his apprenticeship in big league relief pitching by taking over in a high leverage situation: one out, a runner in scoring position, and the score 5-2. He induced a pop-out to third by the pesky Ty Wigginton and caused Mora to ground out weakly to second.

In the ninth, Ramon Ramirez surrendered singles to two hitters on the upswing, Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis. Had LaRoche not provided some cushion in the eighth Francona might have had to call on Jonathan Papelbon for the second night in the a row. With runners on second and third Adam Jones slashed at the 0-2 slider and flied out harmlessly to right.

The second game of the series was a solid outing on both sides of the ball. They played with a confidence that represented the true essence of the team, ridding themselves of the disappointment of their recent five-game skid.

July 25, 2009


Game 95: July 24, 2009
L: Brad Bergesen (6-5)
41-54, 4 game losing streak
WinRed Sox3
W: Brad Penny (7-4)
H: Manny Delcarmen (6)
H: Hideki Okajima (19)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (25)
56-39, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: The name Bergesen is a patronym of Birger, a given name in Swedish that means one who saves, protects, or helps. The Orioles starter did just that against the Red Sox until the fourth inning.

They began the first three innings with the lead runner on but in the fourth it finally paid off. J.D. Drew lined a single to the middle of the field and advanced to third on Mike Lowell’s line drive double to left. Brian Roberts tried to knock down Jason Varitek’s sharp grounder before it got into the infield but it evaded his outstretched (as much as the diminutive can stretch) arm. Nick Markakis had no play at home since Drew took a lead off third and was headed home when the ball got past Roberts. Lowell also jogged to third on the play

With the game tied, Jed Lowrie lofted the ball deep enough into right so that even Markakis couldn’t make a play on Lowell tagging up to give the Red Sox the lead for the first time since the first inning of the opening game against Texas.

The Red Sox capitalized on Kevin Youkilis’s leadoff base on balls in the fifth. David Ortiz moved the runner to third with a shift-shattering single to right. Youkilis smartly held at third on Jason Bay’s fly ball out to right, keeping him on base to score on Drew’s ground ball out. Had the Orioles played with any vigor they could have turned a double play, but their lackluster infield defense allowed the score to tick to 3-1.

When can you say that a hitter just missed a home run if it stayed inside the park instead of sneaking over the fence for a ground-rule double? When the batter is Jacoby Ellsbury and he drops a hit into Fenway’s triangle as he did in the sixth.

A quartet of young talent made a memorable play to close that inning. Dustin Pedroia lined a single just in front of Markakis. The Orioles right fielder attacked the ball and used the momentum from his run to power his throw to home. The massive Matt Wieters made the catch in front of the dish and used his huge frame to block Ellsbury from scoring. To his credit, the Red Sox center fielder forced Wieters back a few inches in the impact. I had expected Ellsbury to simply bounce off the backstop, as we have seen so many runners do against Varitek. Markakis leads the American League with 11 outfield assists.

The Charm City club is on its way to a 12th straight season with a losing record, but is on track to be a contender as their young players mature. The American League East is a beast of a division and it will only get tougher.

July 24, 2009


Game 94: July 22, 2009
Red Sox1
L: Clay Buchholz (1-1)
55-39, 5 game losing streak
W: Dustin Nippert (2-0)
S: Doug Mathis (1)
52-41, 4 game winning streak
Highlights: The Red Sox lost five games in the standings, were swept for the first time this season, and hold 24-25 record on the road. If this is Buchholz’s audition, he may not get the nod to stay on the roster when Tim Wakefield is ready to return. The slim pitcher didn’t pitch long enough to be part of the decision: 4 innings pitched, 6 hits, 3 earned runs, 2 walks, and 3 strikeouts.

Someone get the name of the kid that threw Nick Green’s home run ball from the berm in center to second base. He’s got a better arm than Jacoby Ellsbury, and might even do better in the batter’s box than the Red Sox ball hawk. Ellsbury went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. I’m dubious of the assertion that Ellsbury as leadoff hitter constitutes Boston’s best lineup because of his .335 on-base percentage. It seems that anyone they put in the top slot goes cold.

What better way to warm up than with a Kobe beef burger from Big Papi’s Grille in Framingham? Any restaurant that serves crème brulée is a must for me. I missed the grand opening yesterday but may take a jaunt down Route 9 for a little nosh.

Prior to the All-Star break there were concerns over the Red Sox bullpen, but with Daniel Bard’s ascendancy into the seventh-inning slot at least one part of the team has righted itself. A quartet of pitchers, Manny Delcarmen, Bard, Hideki Okajima, and Jonathan Papelbon held the home hitters scoreless, but the visitors couldn’t muster more than one run.

It might be refreshing to see the Rangers in the playoffs instead of the Angels, but with the latter team we know we’d get a sweep in the ALDS. This Texas club is the AL West’s equivalent of the 2009 Rays: a young team brimming with talent that doesn’t know its not supposed to be this successful.

It’s hard not to cheer for a team that ends an inning with a hug between outfielders. Nelson Cruz backhanded a fliner off Dustin Pedroia’s bat and was on a collision course with either the wall or Josh Hamilton. The Rangers center fielder embraced his teammate to slow their momentum and they made their way back to the dugout grinning goofily.

I wish I knew how to quit you!

July 22, 2009


Game 93: July 21, 2009
Red Sox2
L: Josh Beckett (11-4)
55-38, 4 game losing streak
W: Tommy Hunter (2-1)
H: Jason Jennings (10)
H: Darren O’Day (12)
S: C.J. Wilson (9)
51-41, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: Last night the Yankees won and the Red Sox lost, dropping Boston from the top spot in the AL East for the first time since June 8.

Weak ground outs to the infield. Line drives that find outfielders’ gloves. Dribblers that turn into double plays. Boneheaded baserunning. Fly ball outs to the warning track. Runners stranded in scoring position. Pitching well enough to win but still losing.

Sadly, I could copy and paste these events and just insert different players’ names and I would accurately summarize the past four losses.

Today there are new names that will hopefully used in conjunction with phrases like timely hitting, three-run shot for the lead, and heads-up running on the basepaths.

The Red Sox traded Sea Dogs’ shortstop Argenis Diaz and Drive’s right-handed starter Hunter Strickland for Adam LaRoche. Strickland was selected in the 18th round of the 2007 amateur draft and Diaz signed as an international free agent in 2003. With the recent signings of shortstops Jose Iglesias from Cuba and Jose Vinicio from the Dominican Republic, Diaz was surplus to be spun for a piece for the stretch run.

The other acquisition from the Pirates, Jason Bay, worked out spectacularly. LaRoche may not meet the level of production of the left fielder, but he may provide an upgrade over Mark Kotsay with his higher slugging and reputation as a second-half player. Will LaRoche be a member of the Yawkey Way Rescue Squad, and if so, how will his bat play off the bench?

A few hours after acquiring LaRoche the Red Sox announced a deal that sent Julio Lugo and cash considerations to St. Louis for Chris Duncan and a player to be named later. Duncan was optioned to triple-A prior to the trade, so he likely won’t be called up until rosters expand on September 1.

Here’s to caps hastily Photoshopped onto traded players’ heads and the end of the Red Sox longest losing streak since last June.

July 21, 2009


Game 92: July 20, 2009
Red Sox3
L: John Smoltz (1-3)
55-37, 3 game losing streak
W: Kevin Millwood (9-7)
S: C.J. Wilson (8)
50-41, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Last night In the race for the lead in the AL East the Yankees caught up with the Red Sox. But there is another kind of race to be discussed. Today is the 50th anniversary of the day the last segregated major league team in baseball integrated. Pumpsie Green was called up from the Minneapolis Millers to the Boston Red Sox more than 12 years after Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

I watched NESN’s documentary on Jim Rice that featured a surprisingly forthright segment on the anti-busing riots in Boston, which exploded around the time of Rice’s major league debut. Rice had already experienced integration in his hometown of Anderson, South Carolina in his senior year of high school. When the boundaries were drawn to desegregate the school district, Rice’s residence was placed such that he had to transfer from Westside High School to formerly all-white T.L. Hanna High School.

Who drew those lines, I wonder? Clearly it was white school district officials who wanted the best athlete the town had ever produced playing for Hanna High. Since that they had to sully their pristine hallways with “those kinds of people,” might as well get the two-sport standout in the bargain.

So Rice saw the cynical side of desegregation, the side where the powers-that-be gerrymandered the playing field not to ensure equal educational opportunities or to encourage the intermingling of peoples but to enrich their already privileged position.

It wasn’t likely that a 21-year old rookie would put his neck on the line for such an incendiary issue. He saw how Boston treated all-time great Bill Russell, who as recently as a few days ago stated that there has been no reconciliation between him and the city.

Rice witnessed Tommy Harper get fired from the Red Sox in 1985 and then successfully file a discrimination suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Red Sox tacitly supported a segregated organization, the Winter Haven Elks Club, by passing out guest passes to white players, coaches, and officials only.

Twenty-five years later, however, such bigotry against African-Americans has greatly abated. Americans elected its first minority president with Barack Obama. But we still have a long, long way to go.

Just ask Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who was arrested by a Cambridge police officer for “loud and tumultuous behavior in a public space.” I would be loud and tumultuous too if I had just showed a law enforcement official my state-issued driver’s license and a Harvard University identification card and was still questioned in my own home.

July 19, 2009


Game 91: July 19, 2009
Red Sox1
L: Jon Lester (8-7)
55-36, 2 game losing streak
WinBlue Jays3
W: Roy Halladay (11-3)46-47, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: A few days ago I asserted that we didn't need Halladay. Today he made a resounding case for the Cy Young award, but I still maintain that what the Red Sox need for the stretch run is another bat. Four complete games, ERA under three, and 113 strikeouts are nice, but don’t put runs on the board.

Against any other pitcher Jon Lester likely would have notched his ninth win, but Roy Halladay stifled Boston’s rotation for nine innings, allowing six hits and one earned run while striking out seven. The Red Sox got to Halladay early with Dustin Pedroia bouncing a single off the pitcher and Kevin Youkilis following up with a bounding double past Scott Rolen.

David Ortiz sac flined (half fly, half liner) to right to drive in Pedroia. That was the beginning and end of the story on the offensive side of the ball for the visitors.

Rod Barajas, Blue Jays catcher and multi-year winner of Best Porn Star Name, drove in all three of the home team’s runs. His second inning double drove in two hitters that Lester walked and in the sixth he sacrificed in Lyle Overbay.

On the defensive side the Red Sox had a couple of gems. Jason Varitek sprinted to the threshold of the Blue Jays’ dugout to snare Kevin Millar’s foul pop up on the slide.

With a runner at the keystone sack and two out, Rolen fouled a pitch off that seemed destined to bounce into the left field stands. Jason Bay dashed into foul territory, gloved the ball, and jounced off the wall without dropping the ball, all while deftly avoiding the outstretched arms of a few Blue Jays fans.

For the first time Jim Kaat or I can remember umpire’s interference was called. Under the definition for interference the MLB rulebook states:

(c) Umpire’s interference occurs (1) When an umpire hinders, impedes or prevents a catcher’s throw attempting to prevent a stolen base, or (2) When a fair ball touches an umpire on fair territory before passing a fielder.

If there is any interference, the rules say, “In the event the batter-runner has not reached first base, all runners shall return to the base last occupied at the time of the pitch.”

In the sixth, Eric Cooper ruled that he had thwarted Varitek’s throw to second to gun down Alex Rios and sent the outfielder back to first. Lester politely declined to note that that Varitek’s tosses across the diamond typically appear hindered or impeded. The rare invocation was rendered moot when Rios purloined second a few pitches later.

At least the Milk Room Mustang Little League team got to learn a little-used rule.


Game 90: July 18, 2009
Red Sox2
L: Brad Penny (6-4)
55-35, 1 game losing streak
WinBlue Jays6
W: Marc Rzepczynski (1-1)45-47, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: Unsurprisingly, Rzepczynski is the first major league player with a surname that begins with the letters “Rz;” the letter combination is a voiced retroflex fricative that has no English equivalent. What is surprising is that the rookie contained the potent Red Sox lineup to a single run over six innings. “Zep,” as he is called, gave up four hits and four walks but struck out four. Fo’, fo’, fo’.

Jim “Kitty” Kaat had retired from broadcasting in 2006 but returned to the booth after his wife’s death in 2007. He used to work for YES but distinguished himself from former colleagues such as Michael Kay by providing insightful commentary. Don Orsillo tried to bait Kitty a bit by bringing up Derek Jeter’s leaning into pitches, but Kaat came right back with Kevin Youkilis’s proclivity to do the same.

In the third a pitch ricocheted off the knob of Youkilis’s bat and he tried to convince Laz Diaz that the ball hit him. Diaz wouldn’t have any of it, so the All-Star settled for a ground-rule double. Youkilis was called out on a swinging strike in the fifth and looked for some sympathy from Jed Lowrie, who misplaced his copy of The Care and Feeding of a Temperamental Hitter. Later in the game microphones picked up Diaz admonishing Youkilis for complaining about his calls. Given Diaz’s wandering zone and Youkilis’s prickly personality, both sides had something to bellyache about.

Kaat brutally observed that Daisuke Matsuzaka is the highest-paid long man in the bigs and compared him to Marc Rzepczynski. What does that make Brad Penny, who has only gotten past the sixth inning three times in 18 starts with the Red Sox?

The Blue Jays’ starter with the alphabet soup surname started off 18 of the 25 batters he faced with pitches outside of the strike zone, and yet the Boston batters failed to convert any bases on balls into runs. Only Rocco Baldelli managed to drive in a run with his second-inning single to right. Jason Bay dashed home, Mike Lowell flashed speed (for him) and advanced to third, and Baldelli slipped into second on the throw.

Imagine the first pitch out of your hands landing into the bullpen you just left. Not only that, but the guy that jacked it had a grand total of two at bats since April 12. That’s what happened to Jesse Carlson in the seventh.

In his first game back Lowrie homered, a missile to left from the right-handed side of the plate. In 22 at bats Lowrie had as many homers as Julio Lugo did in 109. Even though the Lowrie Era commenced with a loss, Lowrie in the lineup improves the team for the rest of the season and beyond.

July 18, 2009


Game 89: July 17, 2009
WinRed Sox4
W: Clay Buchholz (1-0)
H: Daniel Bard (2)
H: Hideki Okajima (18)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (24)
55-34, 4 game winning streak
Blue Jays1
L: Ricky Romero (7-4)
44-47, 3 game losing streak
Highlights: Perhaps these alternate road uniforms and Hanging Sox caps will look cool in retrospect, like the Toronto throwback powder blues. Until then, Fridays on the road look more like Fort Myers in February.

To kick off the second half the season the Red Sox front office kicked Julio Lugo off the 25-man roster. Designating the spotty shortstop for assignment freed up a spot for Mike Lowell, who was removed from the disabled list. Clay Buchholz made his long-awaited but brief return to the majors; Aaron Bates was optioned to Pawtucket to make room for the promising starter.

The Boston club has so much depth in its organization that it can shuffle players and not resort to deadline deals to improve itself. Theo Epstein and company also proved they are neither stubborn nor prideful about a mistake. Rather than continuing to run Lugo on the field to satiate his ego or attempt to resuscitate an ebbing career, Epstein fell on his sword and admitted his error. The signing blunder will likely cost the team the rest of the $9M Lugo is owed this year and $9M in 2010.

Buchholz wasn’t stellar in his return but was at least competent: 5⅔ innings, 4 hits, 1 earned run, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts. Ricky Romero, who was drafted 36 picks ahead of Buchholz in 2005, vacillated between dominance and docility: 4⅓ innings, 5 hits, 4 earned runs, 5 bases on balls, 8 strikeouts, 1 home run. How these two draft classmates will develop and contribute to their major league affiliates offers a much more compelling storyline than the tales of failed free agent signings.

J.P. Ricciardi was once heralded as Billy Beane’s successor, and they are similar in that neither has experienced success in the playoffs. In fact, Ricciardi’s teams have never made the playoffs. With the success of the Rays, the Blue Jays’ general manager can no longer point to being an AL East team as the barrier to making the playoffs. But he has at least one thing in common with Epstein: having to cut ties with a big ticket free agent. He released closer B.J. Ryan earlier this month, at least conceding that Ryan’s production fell far short of expectations.

It’s a delicate situation, holding out hope for a veteran player to come around. The Red Sox were patient with David Ortiz, and that patience is now paying dividends. The designated hitter knocked in two runs in the fifth with an opposite-field blast that just missed clearing the left field wall.

Ortiz’s runs added to the lead garnered by Kevin Youkilis’s first inning blast. The two-run clout will hopefully break the dual-corner infielder’s J-month slump (.244 BA, .393 OBP, .467 slugging in June, .213 BA, .302 OBP, .511 slugging in July thus far).

The only thing that would have finished off Epstein’s All-Star break moves with a flourish would be extending Jason Bay’s contract. Sadly that did not come to pass. I would really hate to boo Bay when and if he dons the pinstripes, but that is a distinct possibility. Perhaps his father, a Red Sox fan, will talk some sense into him.

July 13, 2009


Game 88: July 12, 2009
L: Bruce Chen (0-4)
37-51, 3 game losing streak
WinRed Sox6
W: Josh Beckett (11-3)
54-34, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: In 2004, the Red Sox were 48-38 at the break with a .558 winning percentage; after the break they increased their win rate by 10% and went 50-26. They were 8-8 in the games after the All-Star game to the trade deadline, a mediocre showing that prompted the trade of Nomar Garciaparra. In 2007, Boston went 53-34 for a .609 winning percentage but dropped to .573 with a record of 43-32 after the Midsummer Classic. That season the Red Sox traded Joel Pineiro to the Cardinals for a player to be named later and acquired Eric Gagne to shore up the bullpen.

As my grandpa would say in pidgin, “If no stay broke, no fix um.”

The only weak spot that needs shoring up, in my opinion, is the hot corner due to Mike Lowell’s questionable hip. Kevin Youkilis fills in nicely, but that leaves Mark Kotsay, the Pawtucket first baseman du jour, and Rocco Baldelli (as a last resort) covering first base, a position that is a premium offensive spot for most teams.

There’s no need to trade Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Lars Anderson, Jose Iglesias, Theo Epstein’s son, and a player to be named later for one and a half seasons of Roy Halladay. J.P. Ricciardi may not be the most successful general manager but he isn’t dim enough to trade his most valuable asset to a team in his division, no matter what the return is. On the other side of the table, Epstein is a successful general manager and he isn’t desperate or foolish enough to meet Ricciardi’s demands.

For all his accomplishments, Halladay has no postseason track record. Josh Beckett does.The way he pitched yesterday, Beckett looked as if he could start all five games of the ALDS (three, if the Angels win their division). For his 100th win, the fireballer went the distance and gave his bullpen a long break. The All-Star threw a mere 94 pitches, yielding three hits, no walks, and seven strikeouts.

Kansas City didn’t knock a ball in play until the fourth inning with David DeJesus’s double down the first base line. The ball girl on the right side of the field did her best to fool first base umpire Bill Miller into thinking the ball was foul by trying to field the ball.

Dustin Pedroia, Youkilis, Baldelli, and Aaron Bates all had multiple hits. Bates’s bat came to life after a slow start: the first baseman went 3-for-4 with two doubles.

Not playing everyday has dulled Baldelli’s baserunning skills. The platoon player charged for home on Jacoby Ellsbury’s nubber to the pitcher and became the second out of the second inning instead of a run. At least he drew the play out long enough for Bates to advance to third base.

Recall that Baldelli turned an odd 8-4 double play in the second game of the series to kill a Royals rally. The outfielder had the tables turned on him in the bottom of the eighth when he tagged up on Nick Green’s fly ball to center and was out at third before Jason Bay came home.

Playing against the hapless Royals for four games has started to rub off on the Red Sox. The All-Star break came just in time.

July 12, 2009


Game 87: July 11, 2009
L: Gil Meche (4-9)
37-50, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox15W: John Smoltz (1-2)
H: Hideki Okajima (17)
H: Daniel Bard (1)
53-34, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: U! G! L! Y! You ain’t got no alibi! You ugly! Hey, hey! You ugly! Last night’s slugfest stood in stark contrast to Friday evening’s pitchers’ duel, but it was a win nonetheless. There were some beautiful moments for the rookies, however. Aaron Bates notched his first big league hit, an RBI ground ball single up the middle in the eighth inning. Daniel Bard was the only effective arm out of the bullpen: the lanky right-hander entered the seventh with two men on and none out courtesy of Hideki Okajima. Bard struck out the first two batters and induced a ground ball out to keep the Royals at bay.

Tony Peña, Jr. demonstrated early in the game why Trey Hillman needs to switch him out for a defensive replacement if the game is winnable. With runners on first and second with one out the shortstop fielded a room service double play ground ball off the bat of Jason Bay smoothly enough. However, Peña’s throw flew wide of Billy Butler’s glove, which allowed Kevin Youkilis to score, advanced David Ortiz to third, and let the inning continue.

Jacoby Ellsbury flied out to left and Jose Guillen must have assumed that the infield had gotten an out on the previous play for he put his head down and started to run off the field. Guillen suddenly realized that was the second out and tried to make his trot seem as if he were building up momentum for a throw to home. Ortiz easily tagged up for the third run of the inning.

Before Jason Varitek mercifully struck out to end the inning Bay had swiped second and advanced to third on Miguel Olivo’s throwing error.

The Red Sox scored three more runs in the second inning with two outs on the board. Gil Meche was tantalizingly close to getting out of the inning unscathed but J.D. Drew doubled to the left-center gap on 0-2 curveball that didn’t break far enough to fool Drew. Dustin Pedroia, who had tripled in the first, smoked a double that bounced to the wall to plate Drew.

Most impressive of all the runs was Youkilis’s second-inning dinger. The shot cleared the wall and dropped into the bed of a pickup truck parked across Lansdowne. That truck then pulled out and is on its way to San Diego, California, a 3,038-mile trip that will shatter Dave Parker’s Charleston to Columbus clout. Youkilis’s eighth inning four-bagger merely cleared the left field wall.

In the fourth with two men out, Meche left the game due to with back spasms. Lest you think Meche was malingering, I checked on WebMD: in pitchers age 30-35 back spasms can spontaneously occur at the sight of the rejuvenated Ortiz taking hacks in the on-deck circle.

Meche missed his chance to be part of two historical events. Ortiz smacked a two-run homer over the Red Sox bullpen off Ron Mahay. It was the designated hitter’s 1,000 hit as a Red Sox player and he is the 30th member of the club to reach this milestone. Then in the sixth Drew argued a call with home plate umpire Todd Tichenor, which was Drew’s first showing of displeasure at an official since his major league debut.

Imagine Dennis “Disco Denny” Eckersley circa 1978, bronzed, shirt unbuttoned with chains on display, hair feathered, tagging along with Reggie Jackson to get into Studio 54. Did he do lines with Andy Warhol, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Jerry Hall? Or maybe his substance of choice was LSD with Timothy Leary? I tend to think the latter as Eckersley mentioned that looking at this game’s scorecard was like acid.

What a mental trip John Smoltz took during the course of this game. He must have hit the showers after his five innings with the score a comfy 9-1 and then came out just time to see part of the visitors’ five-run rally in the sixth. I’ve heard of rookie hazing, but the team seems to be putting Smoltz through some sort of initiation as The New Guy.

“Oh, I guess The New Guy expects us to hold huge leads.” “Yeah, must be nice for The New Guy to join a contending team and get all those runs.” “Ha, just kidding, Smoltzie, we like you. See, we scored 15 runs for you!”

July 11, 2009


Game 86: July 10, 2009
Royals0L: Brian Bannister (6-7)
37-49, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox1W: Jon Lester (8-6)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (23)
52-34, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: The Royals took the suspense out of a perfect game bid with leadoff batter David DeJesus walking in the first inning and there was no no-hitter to hope for with Mark Teahen’s infield single to short in the second inning. But on the other side of the country another southpaw, the Giants’ Jonathan Sanchez, threw his team’s first no-hitter since September 29, 1976. John Montefusco no-hit the Braves in Fulton County Stadium with Atlanta’s Jerry Royster’s fourth-inning walk keeping The Count from a perfect game.

Derryl Cousins doesn’t seem to be the ornery type but in the fifth inning he ejected Jacoby Ellsbury faster than, well, an Ellsbury trying to score from third. Replays showed that the Red Sox center fielder eluded Miguel Olivo’s tag. But what was Mark Kotsay, who doesn’t have the best wheels since returning from the disabled list due to a calf injury, doing running for second?

Ellsbury implied that Kotsay was supposed to be caught in a rundown so that he could score, but that claim is unlikely given Terry Francona’s aversion to sacrificing outs, particularly with two outs remaining in the inning.

Home plate umpire Cousins unintentionally helped the local nine by ejecting Ellsbury. In the seventh center field substitute Rocco Baldelli cleanly fielded Olivo’s fly ball on the warning track and hurled the ball to Dustin Pedroia on one hop. The relay was on target and nailed Mark Teahen at the keystone sack. The 8-4 double play, a twin killing Ellsbury would be unlikely to execute, staunched the incipient Royals rally.

Kotsay grounded a single up the middle to kick off the eighth and Francona, noting his utility man’s mobility issues, pinch ran Aaron Bates. This late in the game warranted giving up an out to get the runner into scoring position, and Nick Green successfully bunted Bates to second.

The combination of a former MVP in the box and a runner on second perturbed Brian Bannister. He sent a pitch to the backstop and Bates was 90 feet from breaking the scoreless tie. Pedroia was all over Bannister’s middle-middle change-up, caroming it off the middle of the left field wall for the singular run of the game.

NESN mistakenly cut to commercial in the sixth; someone in the booth failed to notice that Kevin Youkilis reached on Willie Bloomquist’s throwing error with two out. Luckily for them they didn’t miss the entirety of David Ortiz’s at bat, which was a strikeout anyway. Imagine the endless stream of complaints had they failed to capture Papi’s 301st blast.

As Bill Cosby said, “I’m trying to watch the game, you’re bothering me.”

Disco Denny: the Lost Bee Gee?


Game 85: July 9, 2009
W: Luke Hochevar (5-3)
H: John Bale (7)
H: Juan Cruz (6)
S: Joakim Soria (14)
37-48, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox6
H: Manny Delcarmen (5)
BS, L: Justin Masterson (1, 3-3)
51-34, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: David Ortiz’s 300th homer skidded along the top of the wall and dropped back onto the field. Too bad a fan didn’t catch it, then we could explore the vagaries of human nature: would they attempt to negotiate a price or accept other memorabilia? Then again, with Jose Guillen’s questionable character, Ortiz probably had to hand over a few game-used bats and a signed jersey to get his home run ball.

In his 12-year career, Jose Guillen has been on 10 teams. Mike Scioscia suspended Guillen and excluded him from the playoff roster in 2004 for “inappropriate conduct.” Not that the Red Sox need help against the Angels when it comes to the postseason, but the suspension made it even easier for Boston in the ALDS. Guillen’s name surfaced in the Mitchell Report and is an associate of Angel Presinal, who is banned from major league clubhouses.

If the Red Sox fall short of winning the division by one game, remember this night. Remember how a team with a losing record rallied twice to surge ahead of the local nine.

Remember how Brad Penny surrendered sequential singles to start the fourth, how Miguel Olivo and Alberto Callaspo drove in runs, and how another run scored on Jason Varitek’s errant throw to second.

Remember how the Red Sox as a team left six on base.

Remember that the bullpen, though solid, is not infallible.

What was most frustrating was that a such a winnable game was lost. Dustin Pedroia was 3-for-5 and launched a homer in the fifth, Daniel Bard pitched 1⅓ perfect innings and struck out three, but other key players fell short in pivotal situations.

David Ortiz was in tune with the the Fenway crowd: he stepped out of the box in the top of the eighth so that they could complete “Sweet Caroline” a cappella. Usually when Papi or Kevin Youkilis lead off the eighth cheers for them drown out the refrain of “so good.”

The pairing of Dennis Eckersley and Don Orsillo provided more comedic gold. A signed proclaimed that someone’s grandmother thinks Don Orsillo is cute. “That’s very flattering,” stated Orsillo.

“That’s how good you’re going,” replied Eckersley. In the bottom half of the fourth Eck went on to ruin the Aflac trivia question. Not that anyone wouldn’t know that Bo Jackson was the last Royal to get the most All-Star votes.

Bo knows hardball.

July 9, 2009


Game 84: July 8, 2009
L: Trevor Cahill (5-8)
35-48, 2 game losing streak
WinRed Sox5
W: Tim Wakefield (11-3)
H: Manny Delcarmen (4)
H: Hideki Okajima (16)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (22)
51-33, 2 game winning streak
Highlights: Documentarian Ken Burns appeared on the pre-game show and talked about how his watershed series Baseball is going into extras. The Tenth Inning will chronicle the sport from 1994 to 2008. Although he was born in Brooklyn, he currently lives in New Hampshire and spoke as if Boston is his favorite team. The episode will explore 2004, bookended by the 1994 strike and the closing of Yankee Stadium.

The spirit of 2004 returned in the bottom of the sixth. David Ortiz crushed Trevor Cahill’s middle-in offering to the gap between the right field grandstand and the bleachers to break the 1-1 tie. As Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis crossed home plate and lingered there to high-five Ortiz, visions of 2004 and 2007 shimmered in my mind like the flashbulbs that glint with the designated hitter’s at bats. Sometime in the last few weeks the cheers for Papi changed in timbre from desperate encouragement to delighted enjoyment.

Ortiz’s contributions didn’t end there. In the seventh, his ground out to Mark Ellis plated the run that proved to be the difference in the game.

Jonathan Papelbon vacillates between brilliant and appalling game to game, inning to inning. This season the “A” on Oakland’s caps better stands for “anemic” than “athletic,” but you couldn’t tell that the way the got to the Red Sox closer. Adam Kennedy led off with a base on balls and Orlando Cabrera followed up with a single to left that had enough altitude to advance Kennedy to third.

Oakland’s puny production prompted them to trade for Scott Hairston. The move paid off quickly: the center fielder pinch ran in the first game and scored a run, homered in the second game, and lofted a sacrifice fly in last night’s game, pulling his team to within a run. The wind was Papelbon’s friend, keeping Hairston’s fly ball in play.

Not wanting to risk the lead to the gusts, Papelbon went after Matt Holliday for the swinging strikeout. Kurt Suzuki mustered a single up the middle, putting two men on with two out. Jack Cust, the poor man’s Adam Dunn, struck out on five pitches.

Tim Wakefield will be flying to St. Louis in style. Last night he cemented his All-Star credentials if anyone had any doubt of his worthiness of the honor; he was the first American League pitcher to 11 wins and struck out a season-high eight batters. Oakland shortstop Cabrera wasn’t inventing a new handshake in the opponents’ dugout, he was demonstrating how Wakefield’s elusive pitch darts through the zone.

Add two more Eckisms to the list. A “dewdrop in” (or is it “do drop in”?) is curveball that is way off-speed and has to be accompanied by a sound effect: “doot.” “Powder river” is a synonym for gas, an overpowering fastball.

July 8, 2009


Game 83: July 7, 2009
L: Dana Eveland (1-3)
35-47, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox5
W: Josh Beckett (10-3)
H: Hideki Okajima (15)
H: Justin Masterson (6)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (21)
50-33, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: On July 18, 2006 Beckett signed a 3-year, $30M extension, a personnel move that has paid huge dividends. Since then he’s been selected as an All-Star twice, won the ALCS MVP once, and anchored the rotation for two playoff runs. Any other starter would consider this an outstanding performance but his 6⅔ innings with 6 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, and 4 strikeouts had Beckett yelling at himself in the dugout.

If only Jason Bay would sign a mid-season deal like Josh Beckett did two years ago. The left fielder blasted his 20th home run just to the left of the stanchion furthest from home plate to tie the game. The solid slugger is on pace for 40 home runs and 142 RBIs. Not only is he the engine of the Red Sox offense but he can even steal a base or two, as he did in the third and seventh innings.

Bay might be a bit preoccupied with the upcoming Midsummer Classic festivities, but hopefully he and his agent Joe Urbon will find a couple of hours with Theo Epstein to finalize a contract.

I thought Tina Cervasio had awkward interview moments, but Heidi Watney topped her predecessor by asking Aaron Bates, “I saw you go shake Josh Beckett's hand after the game. He can sometimes not be the friendliest guy of the bunch. What was that like?”

Bates paused, probably hoping that Ashton Kutcher would come out from behind a potted plant. But no, that was an actual question. Bates fielded it as well as he picked Nick Green’s throw to complete the put out of Scott Hairston to lead off the fourth inning, answering in a way that portrayed his teammate in nothing but a positive light.

The rookie first baseman has a good mitt and isn’t a public relations disaster. Now all he has to do is hit: Bates is 0-for-6 with 4 strikeouts in two games.

The bullpen brigade of the Yawkey Way Rescue Squad played its part. Hideki Okajima bailed Beckett out of a two-on, two-out jam to end the seventh and Justin Masterson chipped in with a perfect eighth. Kurt Suzuki dropped a single on Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth, but the All-Star closer punched out the the side.

Like Bay himself, this win wasn’t an exhilarating, dramatic spectacle. Solid, well-balanced, steady: things fans yearn for after seeing what our former left fielder is up to in Queens.

July 7, 2009


Game 82: July 6, 2009
W: Brett Anderson (5-7)
35-46, 2 game winning streak
Red Sox0
L: John Smoltz (0-2)
49-33, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Rookie Anderson went the distance against makeshift lineup, allowing just two singles and two bases on balls while striking out nine. The Athletics’ premier southpaw prospect called to mind Jon Lester with his poise and repertoire. The Athletics seem to have a Big Four the making with Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Vin Mazzaro on the cusp of domination.

When is a win a loss?

When a town has the chance to say “welcome back” to a homegrown superstar it never had the chance to say “goodbye” to.

When that superstar was traded in a deadline deal to remedy the fatal flaw that kept his team from playoff contention.

When a heart-breaking loss set the front office on a course to continually evaluate its team with steely reserve and make those gut-wrenching moves that pay off in a championship.

If the Red Sox had won it all in 2003, it’s possible that today I would be bickering about Pedro Martinez sitting on the disabled list in the last year of his five-year, $60M contract. Or I would be bemoaning the loss of Derek Lowe in 2008, my clamoring for Theo Epstein to have given the sinkerballer a five-year deal instead of Martinez having fallen on deaf ears. Instead of writing of Nomar Garciaparra’s five-year absence from Boston, I would be complaining about him sucking up a roster spot with Kevin Youkilis or Hanley Ramirez or Jed Lowrie losing time.

The ALCS Game 7 loss in 2003 was a cataclysmic event that a forced the baseball operations team to unflinchingly assess its managers and players. With preternatural determination Epstein sought out the materials to rebuild his team. He brought in the bricks that bolstered the pitching staff, Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke, and the mortar to fill in the holes, Mark Bellhorn, Pokey Reese, and David McCarty.

The off-season tinkering wasn’t enough. In July, a massive rebuilding of the team happened in a matter of hours. With the Red Sox on the road in Minnesota word came that Epstein engineered a four-way trade that sent the face of the franchise to the Cubs and brought Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz to the Hub. It was a loss that led to monumental, historic wins.

Garciaparra is a ballplayer with a soul of a poet. He talked about the left field wall and how it is dimpled like a golf ball. He has dents there along with other baseball greats and he wistfully wondered whose impressions are next to his. There’s a place in Fenway where a hitter’s impact is signified by absence.

Along with the deep appreciation by the fans, perhaps that is why Garciaparra felt, still feels, such a part of Boston. Fenway is a throwback ballpark and the former shortstop is a throwback player, more comfortable with a bat in his hand than a microphone in his face. Despite all the renovations, the park still has spots where it is run down, and goodness knows Garciaparra has had more than his share of injuries. Four Yawkey Way is not the place for niceties as Nomar is not a man for soundbites. But nowhere else does a prolonged ovation mean more, especially for Number Five.

Nomar won last night, not just because his team won.

July 5, 2009


Game 81: July 5, 2009
BS, L: Miguel Batista (2, 5-3)
42-39, 1 game losing streak
WinRed Sox8
W: Justin Masterson (3-2)
49-32, 1 game winning streak
Highlights: David Ortiz gave Tim Wakefield a huge hug right in the middle of the pitcher’s in-game interview. Wakefield became the second-oldest player to make an All-Star team; in 1953 46-year old Satchel Paige represented the St. Louis Browns.

Terry Francona obviously does not consult the promotional calendar when he makes his lineups. It was Rhode Island Day at Fenway and Rocco Baldelli, one of four active major leaguers born in Little Rhody*, rode pine. Francona was probably too embroiled in his plan to wind Tim Wakefield up about the All-Star Game. The skipper tried to play a joke on his veteran pitcher by calling him into the office after he had distributed everyone else’s All-Star gear; but “cheesed up” very quickly. The man has been waiting almost two decades, Tito!

The burning issue in Rhode Island at the moment is whether or not to drop “Providence Plantations” from its official name. The place name had nothing to do with plantations in the sense used in the South; rather, the state’s connection to slavery came from merchants who profited from the trafficking of people.

I think omitting the name erases the true history of the state. How are we supposed to learn about northern states’ complicity in the slave trade, which is the actual and far more damning sin, if relict words from that period are sanitized?

I was heartened to see that John W. Henry had service men and women as his guests at the park. The gesture of major leaguers wearing red caps with the stars and stripes in the logo is simply that: a gesture. The players participate in a kids’ game for millions of dollars playing while men and women in real uniforms risk their lives for far less.

In addition to Wakefield, the Red Sox will send Jason Bay (third time), Dustin Pedroia (second), Josh Beckett (second), Jonathan Papelbon (fourth), and Kevin Youkilis (second) to St. Louis. Time to fire up the Dassault Mystere Falcon 900 again. At least it will be a quicker trip than the flight to San Francisco in 2007.

After a disappointing homecoming, the Red Sox recovered with a comeback victory. David Ortiz tied the game in the seventh with two on and two out. Don Wakamatsu had foiled Ortiz in the middle game of the series but this time the over-loaded right side of the field couldn’t stop a sharp grounder from finding a hole in the defense.

Mark Lowe replaced Miguel Batista after the latter surrendered the lead. Lowe was far less effective from the stretch in a high leverage situation: he walked Bay to load the bases and then Jacoby Ellsbury, who pushed over Pedroia for the go-ahead run.

Mark Kotsay then singled to right to plate two more runs. This multi-faceted fielder is fast becoming a favorite of mine with his professional at bats, timely hitting, positional flexibility, and defensive prowess. I may soon be adding a Kotsay player t-shirt to the wardrobe.

*The other three are Chris Ianetta, Paul Konerko, and Dan Wheeler.


Game 80: July 4, 2009
3W: Roy Corcoran (2-0)
S: David Aardsma (17)

42-38, 3 game winning streak
Red Sox2L: Takashi Saito (2-2)
48-32, 2 game losing streak
Highlights: Jason Varitek hit a right-handed homer in the second inning with Rocco Baldelli on base. It was the only bright spot for Boston’s offense yesterday afternoon; the Red Sox batters were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and as a team left seven men stranded.

Boston’s woeful production could be attributed to lineup tinkering by Terry Francona. Julio Lugo, Rocco Baldelli, and Jeff Bailey got the nod because southpaw Garrett Olson was on the hump. They combined to go 0-6 with two walks.

Credit should go to Mariners starter Olson, who pitched 6⅓ innings with 4 hits, 2 earned runs, 4 walks, and 5 strikeouts. The relief tandem of Roy Corcoran and David Aardsma shut down the local nine for the rest of the game. So this is what it feels like to face a shutdown bullpen. I prefer it when we do this to other teams.

As he does on holidays, Jason Varitek was sheathed in catcher’s gear that represented the occasion. Sean Casey, who was in the booth covering for Dennis Eckersley, said he looked like Captain America, naturally.

Casey was a natural in the booth. He talked about the 1999 All-Star Game. Ten years have passed, making Casey’s recollections sound like an ancient Greek returned to life to speak of his stories. The entire team gravitated to Ted Williams as if he were Homer, the venerable teller of their shared epic. Zeus had nothing on Pedro Martinez, who may as well have been hurling lightning as he struck out Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire.

In 2004 Casey also made attended the Midsummer Classic and was visited by another old sports god: Muhammad Ali visited the clubhouses and threw out the first pitch. I only wish Don Orsillo had asked Casey if Mike Piazza tipped off AL batters to Roger Clemens’s pitches.

Orsillo did ask about Casey’ role in last year’s donnybrook between the Red Sox and the Rays on June 5. I can only paraphrase the loquacious former first baseman: “I went flying out there like Braveheart. I went flying out there at Shields. I dropped a macho man elbow off the top rope, an Atomic Elbow onto the mound. That was an expensive elbow.”

“You don’t have to tell me about brawls, Big Dog,” echoed Orsillo knowingly.

Casey jested, “I do see you getting suspended, especially if it’s about burgers.”

The Mayor should write a memoir about his baseball career sooner than later. The food-related anecdotes alone would take up half the chapters. The Red Sox players’ trip to Japan must be chronicled and would include a detailed account of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s friend’s restaurant where the team dined on beef tongue.

The holiday reminded Casey that just a year ago Coco Crisp tried his mouth at competitive hot dog eating. Crisp fell a little short of the likes of Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi: he managed two.

July 4, 2009


Game 79: July 3, 2009 ∙ 11 innings
H: Sean White (9)
BS: Shawn Kelley (2)
W: Chris Jakubauskas (5-5)
S: Mark Lowe (1)

41-38, 2 game winning streak
Red Sox6L: Ramon Ramirez (5-3)
48-31, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: The Red Sox almost mounted an extra innings comeback but fell one run short. Seattle proved that their record is not a fluke of playing in a weaker division and that they can hold their own against the class of the American League East. Tim Wakefield didn’t figure into the decision but did last eight innings so that the bullpen was not severely overtaxed in the extra innings contest. Just as Martin Scorsese won the Academy Award for The Departed rather than for Raging Bull or Goodfellas, Wakefield should be tapped to go to this year’s All-Star Game. It’s not his best year, but in his best years he happened to be up against other pitchers with outstanding first halves of the season.

In honor of the upcoming Cheezburger Night at Safeco, I have interpreted last night’s game in the style of lolcats.










July 3, 2009


Game 78: July 1, 2009 ∙ 11 innings
WinRed Sox6W: Ramon Ramirez (5-2)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (20)
48-30, 1 game winning streak
Orioles5BS: George Sherrill (3)
L: Danys Baez (4-2)

35-43, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: Joe Castiglione summed it up best: snoozer early, grinder late. Josh Beckett gave up runs in four of the seven innings he pitched, including a pair of leadoff homers in the second and fourth innings. Beckett was outpitched by greenhorn Brad Bergesen; the right-handed starter gave up only one run over eight innings of work and struck out six.

How hard is it to not yell when at work listening to the outcome of the rubber game? I found out this past Wednesday. I thought I had to go to a couple of meetings that afternoon, but after lunch Outlook cancellation notices came quick and fast. Coincidence?

The ninth inning comeback started with Dustin Pedroia’s five-pitch base on balls proffered by Jim Johnson. Since being dropped down to the two-hole the second baseman has returned to All-Star form, hopefully in time for voters to send him to the Midsummer Classic for the second year in a row.

By the numbers, Ian Kinsler and Aaron Hill are more deserving, but who will talk smack to senior circuit opposition if those milquetoasts go to St. Louis instead of Pedroia? Pedroia is so good he got credited for a tag of Felix Pie even though the ball was in his bare hand. Is that what they mean by slick fielding?

Kevin Youkilis homered after Pedroia’s free pass to cut his team’s deficit to two runs. Youkilis was in a back-and-forth battle with Mark Teixeira to make the All-Star team’s roster, but let the record show that Youkilis has produced irrespective of his spot in the lineup while Teixeira needed Alex Rodriguez’s protection to jump start his season.

In relief of Johnson, George Sherrill mowed down Jason Bay (who garnered a platinum sombrero but was perhaps distracted by studying for his citizenship exam) and David Ortiz with laughable ease. If two of Boston’s best sluggers were sent to the dugout on just four pitches a piece, what chance did lower half of the lineup have?

A pretty good one, it turned out. Jacoby Ellsbury looped a single into center field and Jeff Bailey (recalled in the wake of Mike Lowell’s trip to the disabled list) and Jason Varitek both worked walks to load the bases. Varitek may have swung at ball four, but first plate umpire Mike Winters ruled the move a check swing.

Terry Francona swapped out Nick Green for Rocco Baldelli and had Julio Lugo pinch run for Varitek. Both moves led to the Red Sox come-from-behind extra innings win.

I think that Baldelli’s and Lugo’s bench player status helped then in key game situations. Without a large number of at bats, opponents don’t have the data to optimize their defensive alignments or plan their pitching strategy. Baldelli snuck a single by the glove of Robert Andino for two runs to tie the game in the ninth. Lugo drove in Ellsbury in the eleventh with a grounder through the hole for what would be the winning run.

The bullpen absolved itself of its abominable performance in the middle game of the series with four innings of perfection. Jonathan Papelbon notched his 133rd career save and established a new club record. The pitcher who may eventually supplant him, Daniel Bard, had the defining outing of his career thus far: with the score knotted at 5-5 the fireballer kept the Orioles off the bases for two innings.

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