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Home » Monthly Archive » April 2010

April 28, 2010

Three-Headed Attack

This must have been the kind of win Theo Epstein imagined when he built the 2010 Red Sox: a superlative starter, a reliable reliever, and a shutdown closer combining forces to blank the opposition.

What was unexpected is the summoning of Darnell McDonald and his impact on the team. The minor league free agent blasted his way onto the major league scene on April 20 with a game-tying pinch-hit homer and walkoff RBI single and since then has been a solid contributor. He led off the sixth with a stand-up double to the left-center gap, advanced to third on Marco Scutaro’s ground ball single up the middle, and tagged up on Dustin Pedroia’s sacrifice fly to center. The outfielder also drove in the insurance run in the seventh.

Jon Lester’s seasonal pattern is a string of poor outings until a breakout game. His 7 inning, 1 hit, 2 walk, 11 strikeout performance might just be the switch that turns Lester from putrid to prodigious.

Daniel Bard surrendered the only other hit for the Blue Jays: a soaring double to center off the bat of Alex Gonzalez. Cito Gaston pinch hit each of the next three batters, replacing the bottom slots of the order with what he hoped would be more productive hitters. Each one of the trio, Adam Lind, Fred Lewis, and Travis Snider, struck out. Jonathan Papelbon hurled a perfect frame to notch his seventh save.

While Lester epitomized the dazzlingly dominant southpaw, his counterpart Brett Cecil was the definition of crafty lefty. Cecil’s fastball hovered between the high 80s to low 90s, neither over-powering nor puny. He neither walked (only Jason Varitek in the second) nor struck out (J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Beltre) many batters, but was just around the plate enough to induce four ground outs and eight fly outs.

One of the few fans in attendance to show any interest in the game was Geddy Lee. Jerry Remy mocked the folks in the luxury box next to the booth. When Pedroia sent a foul ball into the luxury box in the eighth there was no one to catch and drop it, as people in luxury boxes are wont to do. Instead, one of the baseball cognoscenti diverted his attention away from his cosmopolitan long enough to see the ball fly into the box. “That guy was sprinting for the baseball and it was in a chair,” noted Remy. “First time he’s looked at the field all night.”

I can’t decide whether that incident or the fourth-inning hunt for Jose Bautista’s foul ball in the almost entirely empty right field stands was more woeful. Then again, it is Canada and it is Stanley Cup season.

Game 22: April 28, 2010
WinRed Sox
2W: Jon Lester (1-2)
H: Daniel Bard (5)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (7)
2B: Bill Hall (1), Darnell McDonald (2), Kevin Youkilis (7), Adrian Beltre (5)
Blue Jays
0L: Brett Cecil (1-1)
2B: Vernon Wells (11), Alex Gonzalez (10)

April 27, 2010

Pitcher’s Jewel

Terry Francona must have been reaching for the Maalox in the first inning when Clay Buchholz allowed the leadoff hitter Fred Lewis to reach on a single up the middle. There was some measure of relief when his youthful starter secured the next two outs, but that was quickly shattered with the crack of Vernon Wells’s bat. The home team gained the early edge and Buchholz walked Lyle Overbay, the next batter, on five pitches.

Not the ideal beginning after a game that emptied both teams’ bullpens. If this game were to suddenly turn into anything resembling last night’s barnburner, Jonathan Van Every might have to toe the rubber as he did in a blowout last season. Seeing Buchholz labor through two-thirds of the lineup in the bottom half of first, I didn’t think he could endure to pitch the minimum for a decision.

But Buchholz not only lasted the minimum but turned in the best performance by a Red Sox starter this season. His line of 8 innings pitched, 7 hits, 1 earned run, 2 walks, and 4 strikeouts was only matched by his opponent Shaun Marcum’s 7 innings, 4 hits, 1 earned run, 3 bases on balls, and 5 punchouts.

Marcum’s only slip came in the top half of the second. He battled David Ortiz for nine pitches before relinquishing a free pass. Adrian Beltre and Jeremy Hermida singled consecutively, tying the game 1-1.

The tension in the air was only broken by the Celtics’ convincing defeat of the Heat, 96-86. The basketball team was putting on the finishing touches on their first-round dismissal of Miami just as the Red Sox commenced a rally in the eighth.

Dustin Pedroia (the second shortest player on the Red Sox as long as Fabio Castro is on the 25-man roster) and Victor Martinez knocked in back-to-back singles and J.D. Drew walked to load the bases. Cito Gaston called on right-hander Kevin Gregg and Francona had Mike Lowell pinch hit for Ortiz. Like having to move Tim Wakefield to the bullpen, it was one of those moves that was easy to accept intellectually but difficult to stomach emotionally.

The maneuver worked. Gregg walked Lowell on four pitches, pushing the winning run across the plate. The threshold was crossed literally and figuratively: the Ortiz/Lowell platoon is an inescapable reality.

Game 21: April 27, 2010
WinRed Sox
2W: Clay Buchholz (2-2)
S: Ramon Ramirez (1)
2B: J.D. Drew (3)
Blue Jays
1L: Scott Downs (0-3)
2B: Vernon Wells (10)

April 26, 2010

Pretty Ugly

Win is a win is a win is a win.

Even if it is a brutal back-and-forth affair that forced Terry Francona and Cito Gaston to all but empty their bullpens. Attendance at the Rogers Centre is so sparse that there were more pitchers tonight than fans in the stands.

Who can blame anyone that stayed away from this 25-run bout? Jason Varitek batted righty with the bases loaded in the third and lined a single up the middle to plate two runs, giving his personal pitcher Josh Beckett a 3-0 lead. In the very next inning the Red Sox backstop switched his batting stance but again had ducks on the pond. Bill Murray-like, Varitek lined a single to Vernon Wells and rendered the score 8-6.

For some relief from Beckett’s pitching I switched to the Bruins game as he was pulled in the fourth. I turned just in time to see David Krejci’s score his second goal of the game and lingered just long enough to witness Nathan Gerbe counter with a Sabres goal just 22 seconds later.

The teams turned the domed edifice into a kids’ playground with the merry-go-round of relievers and the see-saw of the score, all on the approved safety surface of the Rogers Centre. Home plate umpire Ed Hickox played the role of half-attentive playground attendant, failing to call Kevin Youkilis safe at home in the first on J.D. Drew’s ground ball to right.

It seemed like the kind of game in which the home team would eventually prevail by virtue of it batting last, but Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon held Toronto at bay for the final two innings.

Game 20: April 26, 2010
WinRed Sox
13W: Scott Schoeneweis (1-0)
H: Manny Delcarmen (1), Daniel Bard (4)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (6)
2B: Marco Scutaro (2), Adrian Beltre (4), Darnell McDonald (2), Dustin Pedroia (8)
Blue Jays
12L: Shawn Camp (1-1)
2B: Vernon Wells (9), John Buck (5), Lyle Overbay (5)
3B: Fred Lewis (1), Alex Gonzalez (1)
HR: Jose Bautista (4), Lyle Overbay (2)

April 25, 2010

Peck and Claw

The Orioles were swept in three of the five series they played before coming to Fenway and were on course for another wrenching defeat.

As Daisuke Matsuzaka is well on the path to recovery, a starting pitcher will have to step down from his spot. Because of his contract, his prior bullpen experience, and the need for Clay Buchholz to seize his opportunity to be a full-time starter, Tim Wakefield was the natural choice to be converted into a reliever. He left the mound with the lead, two outs, and a man on second. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, a fitting sendoff for the knuckleballer who has outlasted general managers, managers, and owners.

The three-run lead, however, could not withstand the onslaught of team too long suppressed and frustrated. Baltimore put together two three-run innings to record its third win of the season.

Miguel Tejada rocked a two-run homer in the seventh to tie the game. Hideki Okajima was hanging out too close to the Orioles relievers out there in Williamsburg and learned some of their bad habits. Tejada’s swing was the culmination of his frustration of grounding out to Adrian Beltre three times; he thought for sure he could have at least reached on an error given Beltre’s initial misplays at the hot corner.

The Scotts, Atchison and Schoeneweis, combined for one-third of an inning of terrible. Atchison didn’t record an out and is likely on his way to Pawtucket when Matsuzaka returns. Schoeneweis allowed consecutive singles to rookie Rhyne Hughes and Matt Wieters, who together drove in three runs.

Although he was pitching poorly, Terry Francona thought that Schoeneweis was throwing well enough to get Julio Lugo out. The infielder popped out to third on a bunt attempt; he still knows just how to endear himself to the Fenway faithful.

The fans knew to stay for the remainder of the game because this is the porous Baltimore bullpen, after all. The local nine clawed their way back within a run, but were stopped by former Red Sox farmhand Cla Meredith. The submarine pitcher was jettisoned (along with Josh Bard) by Boston for Doug Mirabelli in 2006. Unlike Lugo, Meredith had his comeuppance against his former team, inducing the final two outs for the win.

Game 19: April 25, 2010 ∙ 10 innings
7W: Jim Johnson (1-1)
S: Cla Meredith (1)
2B: Rhyne Hughes (1), Nolan Reimold (4), Nick Markakis (8), Luke Scott (5)
HR: Miguel Tejada (3)
Red Sox
6BS: Hideki Okajima (1)
L: Scott Atchison (0-1)
2B: Mike Lowell (1), Dustin Pedroia (7), Kevin Youkilis (6), J.D. Drew (2)

Taking Flight

The Red Sox bashed their way to another victory last night with three home runs. I think it has less to do with a sudden offensive resurgence but rather the fact that Orioles relievers couldn’t throw a strike past Helen Keller.

Matt “Accelerant” Albers took the mound in the seventh, inheriting first and third with none out from starter Brian Matusz. Albers avoided pinch hitter David Ortiz’s bat when the slugger curiously laid off a fat fastball. Jeremy Hermida managed to swipe second on the strikeout, avoiding the double play. Marco Scutaro rendered the number of outs irrelevant, cleaning out a fastball inside for a three-run homer.

A visit to the mound didn’t improve the visitors’ situation; Albers proceeded to surrender a double to Dustin Pedroia and walk Victor Martinez. Kam “Methanol” Mickolio took over and did his best Albers impersonation, serving an inside meatball that Kevin Youkilis launched into the Monster seats for a four-run lead.

The local nine would need every one of those runs as Ramon Ramirez allowed Adam Jones to homer and Nick Markakis to double in the ninth. Jonathan “Pyrophoric” Papelbon toed the rubber and the next three Orioles singled to pull their team to within a run.

With runners on first and second and one out, Papelbon pulled himself together and struck out journeyman Ty Wigginton and rookie Rhyne Hughes. The Red Sox closer indulged in a celebration not unlike Joba Chamberlain when he finally secured his fifth save. Papelbon seemed to revel his increasing value in the free agent market rather than his team’s victory.

Game 18: April 24, 2010
6BS, L: Matt Albers (1, 0-3)
2B: Luke Scott (4), Nick Markakis (7)
HR: Ty Wigginton (6), Adam Jones (3)
WinRed Sox
7W: John Lackey (2-1)
H: Ramon Ramirez (1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (5)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (6)
HR: Jason Varitek (4), Marco Scutaro (2), Kevin Youkilis (3)

April 24, 2010

Walk This Way

Jon Lester seemed to have finally broken the early-season slump that plagues him every season. Although he didn’t get the W, his line of 5⅔ innings pitched, 4 hits, no earned runs, 4 walks, and 7 strikeouts is hopefully the sign that he will return his typical dominant self for the remainder of the season.

Not that facing the odious Orioles and coming away with a victory is much of an accomplishment. The Charm City cadre has the worst record in the league with just two wins to their credit. The Orioles are worse than the perennially putrid Pirates, who actually have a better winning percentage than the Red Sox.

There was a stunning synchronicity earlier this week as the Bruins won their third game and the Red Sox came back against the Rangers. It wasn’t to be last night as the Sabres took control of the match early. But the final seconds of the Celtics game ticked down as the Red Sox attempted to rally in the bottom of the seventh.

Rajon Rondo hustled for an offensive rebound and passed to Paul Pierce who sank a three for the lead, 98-95. Mark Hendrickson, a former NBA player, was on the mound when pinch hitter Darnell McDonald moved Adrian Beltre over with a sac bunt.

Dorell Wright countered with a three to tie the score with 1:30 remaining. Dwayne Wade aggravated his calf injury on a three attempt and was not on the court for the final possession of the game. During the Celtics time out with 11.7 seconds left, Matt Albers walked Bill Hall on four pitches.

As Paul Pierce lifted his arms in victory thanks to his last-second basket for the win, Marco Scutaro grounded into a double play. A verse for a Police song the juxtaposition of events was not.

Towards the end of the game Dave Tremblay was swapping out relievers as if it were September and a playoff stake were in the balance. Instead, it’s his future as the team’s skipper that is at stake. Will Ohman and Jim Johnson must not like having Tremblay as a manager; the duo took over from Matt Alberts in the eighth and notched more baserunners than outs. With two down and J.D. Drew at third Ohman intentionally walked Victor Martinez and then granted David Ortiz a free pass on four pitches.

With Beltre in the box ad hoc closer Jim Johnson couldn’t find the plate either. In five pitches the tie was broken and reliever Daniel Bard was relieved that his the game-tying two-run home run he allowed in the seventh was rendered moot.

There was a lot of talk out of the front office about run prevention but until tonight there was little evidence that the personnel acquired by them could carry out their agenda. Instead of flashing leather, however, it was lightning-fast flesh. To open the seventh, Beltre chased down Cesar Izturis’s bunt attempt, gripped it with his bare hand, and whipped the ball to first for the first out. Hall impressed in the ninth by precisely positioning himself to play Nick Markakis’s liner off the wall, snaring it with his throwing hand, and firing the ball to second to tally the second out of the inning.

Ortiz not only contributed the bases-loading walk but also his first home run of 2010. His Monster clout came in the second inning, so the designated hitter’s round-tripper was pivotal even though it didn’t come late and close. If the slugger and the lefty ace return to form after this game, Boston may well have three teams vying for championships this year.

Game 17: April 23, 2010
3L: Matt Albers (0-2)
2B: Nick Markakis (6), Matt Wieters (2)
HR: Adam Jones (2)
WinRed Sox
4H: Daniel Bard (3), Hideki Okajima (4)
BS, W: Manny Delcarmen (1, 1-1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (4)
HR: David Ortiz (1)

April 22, 2010

C.J. and the Heir

Despite the Red Sox lack of offense and eventual loss, this game showcased ace-in-the-making Clay Buchholz’s promise. Over six innings the slim starter allowed a mere three baserunners, permitting two singles and one base on balls.

Converted reliever C.J. Wilson matched him inning for inning across those six innings, turning almost the exact same line but with an additional walk. Wilson’s outs came mostly on the ground (13 ground outs to 4 fly outs) while Buchholz racked up the whiffs (10 total).

Both pitchers wavered in the seventh, hitting an invisible wall of ineffectualness. For Wilson, perhaps it was because he hasn’t been stretched out as a starter. For Buchholz, it could be his lack of major league experience. For both, it may have been an early season lack of stamina.

The Rangers took advantage of Buchholz’s weakening and capitalized on Josh Hamilton’s seventh inning leadoff double. The Red Sox starter betrayed a bit of nervousness when he wildly launched the ball past Kevin Youkilis after fielding Andres Blanco’s bunt. J.D. Drew ran in all the way from right field to track down the ball near the tarp. Adrian Beltre failed to catch Drew’s throw and Blanco ended up at third base and the third run of the inning scored. Thanks to the Red Sox defense the ball traveled about five times as far around the field than Blanco’s original bunt.

As exciting as the prior two come-from-behind wins were, Buchholz’s first six innings were what the Red Sox front office had in mind when they constructed its pitching rotation at the expense of the lineup. If the players learn how to play better together as the season wears on and if the other starters live up to Buchholz’s example, the team philosophy of run prevention may just work.

Game 16: April 22, 2010
3W: C.J. Wilson (1-1)
H: Darren O’Day (2)
S: Darren Oliver (1)
2B: Elvis Andrus (2), Josh Hamilton (6), David Murphy (2)
Red Sox
0L: Clay Buchholz (0-2)
No extra base hits

April 21, 2010

Late Night Elation

Are the Red Sox a good team playing badly or a bad team playing well? Perhaps the team manufactures these dramatic late-inning wins so that they can draw Boston sports fans’ attention away from the playoff runs of the Bruins and the Celtics.

Like so many games this season Josh Beckett conceded the lead early. The Rangers have an outstanding Josh of their own in the form of the reinvigorated left fielder Hamilton. His walk in the first led to the visitors’ first score and he singled up the middle to drive in the third run in the second frame.

As he did in the opening game of the series Darnell McDonald provided the spark, this time by leading off the third inning with a walk. Bill Hall and Marco Scutaro then lined singles into right field to load the bases. With the count 2-2 J.D. Drew got under a hanging change-up and lofted the ball to right field, curling a home run around Pesky’s Pole. In the Nouveau Stade Fasciste the shot would have curved foul, but in Fenway it was a grand slam for the lead.

As Drew completed the circuit Bruins winger Milan Lucic and Sabres defenceman Craig Rivet scuffled on the ice and were both penalized with five for fighting. Boston’s stepchild knows how to get attention in the over-saturated sports market.

The Red Sox increased their lead with McDonald’s solo shot in the fifth and Mike Lowell’s RBI single to the base of the left field wall in the sixth. Beckett was in a groove, retiring eight batters in a row until the top of the seventh.

McDonald contributed to that string of outs with a 8-2 double play to end the fourth. The center fielder trotted towards Michael Young’s fly ball and used the momentum from his route to zip the ball home. Kevin Youkilis let the ball bounce by him rather than cut it off and the seconds it would have taken to do so proved to be the difference. Jason Varitek executed his signature home plate block maneuver and the inning ended. Replays showed that Julio Borbon may have gotten a hand in before the tag, but home plate umpire Brian O’Nora was anxious to finish the game and get back to the Bruins/Sabres match.

Hamilton isn’t a hockey fan, however, and his game-tying three-run blast in the seventh pushed the game into extra innings.

Just a week ago this game would have ended in a humiliating and historic manner for Boston, like a walk-off balk for the visitors to take the lead and an unassisted triple play to close the home-half of the inning.

The bullpen trio of Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon, and Hideki Okajima rescued the game with five innings of one-hit ball. While Okajima became the pitcher of record, Miroslav Satan scored the inning goal in overtime for the Bruins. They played “Dirty Water” in the Garden.

The Rangers countered with phenom Neftali Feliz, who wields triple-digit heat, but Dustin Nippert could not maintain the tie. Much like McDonald’s game-winning hit from the night before, Youkilis’s clout knocked off the left field wall. The Standells haven’t had this much airplay since 1966.

Game 15: April 21, 2010 ∙ 12 innings
7L: Dustin Nippert (0-2)
2B: Chris Davis (5), Vladimir Guerrero (2)
3B: Julio Borbon (1)
HR: Josh Hamilton (1)
WinRed Sox
8W: Hideki Okajima (2-1)
2B: Kevin Youkilis – 2 (5)
HR: J.D. Drew (2), Mike Lowell (1), Darnell McDonald (2)

April 20, 2010

Old McDonald From the Farm

What was the most memorable sound Darnell McDonald heard today?

Torey Lovullo telling him to pack up his gear because they want him in Boston. While waiting to board a flight from Rochester to Boston, the amplified yet still indistinct voices of airport personnel counting off seating zones so achingly slow (The ticket says row 11 with an aisle seat, why is it Zone 4?).

As the 1997 first-round draft pick made his way from triple-A to MLB for the fourth time in his career, what did he taste?

Bitterness at first, perhaps, thinking of that week in July 2007 that the Twins gave him a shot and he went 1-for-10 over the course of four games. Or the sweetness of 2009 when he finally made a big league roster out of Spring Training. He had the opportunity to stay in the Reds system, but McDonald signed with the Red Sox instead. For a career minor leaguer even the off-brand airline snacks must taste like a meal from a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Scents are supposed to evoke powerful memories, tied as it to a more primitive part of the brain, the limbic system.

The smells from the sausage vendor’s cart near the players’ entrance. The terpene tang of pine tar smells stronger in the big leagues, like a smelling salt urging the bat to wake up. But the odors of locker rooms from high school to Fenway are pretty much the same, whether the guys playing make minimum wage or millions: the air permeated with years of practice and repetition that it takes to be a success in a game of failure.

Yes, some things about baseball are the same be it Little League or the bigs. Yet there are sights one won’t see at the sandlot.

A name plate with “Darnell McDonald” and a Red Sox logo above a locker replete with crisp home whites (Fifty-four, hope nobody thinks I’m a reliever or something...). A knuckleballer who surpassed Cy Young with 2,728 and two-thirds innings pitched for the Red Sox. The tension between two All-Stars, one a struggling superstar designated hitter, the other a corner infielder striving for more playing time, which is immediately dissipated because they are above all teammates. Pinch-hitting and gazing at a wall 37 feet, 2 inches tall. A ball clearing that wall to tie the score 6-6.

McDonald didn’t get the silent treatment. The high fives, shoulder claps, and butt slaps McDonald got when he tied the score in the eighth were but a prelude.

Two men on, two out, the outfielder felt a fastball whiz by for a strike. It help him set his timing. Like the thousands of times he did before, through grade school, high school, all the endless minor league levels, he clutched his bat and unloaded.

The collective intake of breath before the thundering crash of the ball against the wall. The taste of a long-awaited victory. The smell of fresh-shorn turf as the first wave of celebrating teammates tackle you. The onslaught of more and more players rushing to join the pile on (Who is this guy? We were talking about tattoos just this afternoon at BP...). A warm congratulatory handshake from the skipper.

Welcome (back) to the majors, Darnell McDonald.

Game 14: April 20, 2010
6H: Darren O’Day (1)
BS: Darren Oliver (1)
L: Frank Francisco (2-3)
2B: Joaquin Arias (2), Nelson Cruz (3)
WinRed Sox
7W: Jonathan Papelbon (1-1)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (5), Josh Reddick (1), Jason Varitek (2)
HR: Jeremy Hermida (3), Darnell McDonald (1)

April 19, 2010

Swept Under the Rug

The Red Sox failed to win a single game against the visiting Rays in their four-game series. A glance over their team statistics compared to the rest of the American League reveals the squad’s flaws.

Boston batters found themselves in the middle to bottom in several key metrics:

  • The Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians are tied for ninth with a paltry .313 on-base percentage.
  • They fare better in the power department, taking the sixth slot between the Rays and Angels with a .426 slugging percentage.
  • With 50 runs scored, the Red Sox are tenth, only bettering the Rangers, Mariners, Indians, and Orioles.

The front office’s stated goal was to emphasize run prevention over run production. Thus far the team’s pitching staff not successfully carried out this strategy:

  • 12th in WHIP: 1.44
  • 11th in slugging percentage against: .445
  • 9th in on-base percentage against: .337 (just a sliver worse than the Orioles’ .336)
  • 12th in strikeout to walk ratio: 1.47
  • Next to last in strikeouts per nine innings: 5.72

Unlike past teams that had a balance between hitting and pitching, the 2010’s languid offense cannot chip away at the leads the starters have been spotting the opposition. As my friend and baseball sage noted, pitching and defense can’t manufacture comebacks. The next two series against cellar dwellers Texas and Baltimore will hopefully nullify the need for late-inning rallies (words I never thought I would write regarding the Red Sox).

As for Patriots Day game specifics, my lasting memory will be Jeremy Hermida’s two-run homer in the seventh. It was too little, too late, and it ignominiously knocked a Red Sox fan in the noggin after it cleared the right field fence.

Game 13: April 19, 2010
8W: Jeff Niemann (1-0)
2B: Jeff Bartlett (3), Reid Brignac (2), Pat Burrell (4), Evan Longoria (3)
3B: Jeff Bartlett (1)
HR: B.J. Upton (4)
Red Sox
2L: John Lackey (1-1)
2B: J.D. Drew (1)
HR: Jeremy Hermida (2)

April 18, 2010

Matt Painting

Matt Garza’s pitching evoked Pedro Martinez circa 2000. Although Ubaldo Jimenez has been the young right-handed pitcher of note because of his recent no-hitter, Garza has made himself an early candidate to win the American League Cy Young. The Rays ace’s accomplishments have flown under the radar even though his heater lights up the gun in the mid-90s as he paints the black like a latter-day Velazquez (the painter, not the Red Sox infielder).

Perhaps because his first two eight-inning performances were against the lowly Orioles Garza’s dominance has been ignored. Baltimore’s hitters only managed 10 hits, 2 earned runs, and 5 bases on balls over the 16 innings they faced Garza. The Charm City squad currently sports a record of 2-11, so it is expected that they would have difficulties against mediocre pitchers let alone a hurler of Garza’s caliber.

Therefore taking the mound in Fenway would be a true test for Garza despite the Red Sox’s failure to play up to expectations. The fireballer carried a perfect game into the fourth. Garza was none too pleased that Dioner Navarro wasn’t in place behind the plate when he was ready, but the backstop was the last out of the top half of the inning. Garza finally allowed a base on balls to Marco Scutaro, the home team’s leadoff batter and first baserunner. Given Garza’s fiery demeanor, it is likely he allowed Navarro’s delay to rattle him.

Even with perfection thwarted, Garza still had the opportunity to match Jimenez’s accomplishment. The local nine complied; Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew struck out in the fifth and Adrian Beltre seemed on his way to whiffing to end the inning. But with the count 2-2, the third baseman got a hold of a fastball and banked it off the left field wall.

Unaccustomed to the physics of Fenway, Beltre thought he had a double but was instead thrown out at second. Or maybe he was distracted by the snakes in the grass.

On the defensive side Jon Lester was similarly snakebit. After surrendering a two-run homer to B.J. Upton he gave up a ground-rule double to Willy Aybar. With none out, Navarro tapped the ball to Lester, who contemplated an attempt to erase the lead runner only to find third base vacant. That moment of distraction made Lester rush the throw to Youkilis and the skewed toss pulled the first baseman off the bag. The gaffe permitted old friend Gabe Kapler to drive in a run with a fielder’s choice to short.

Beltre’s ersatz double and Lester’s phantom out are but microcosms of their squad’s early season woes. No season was lost before the Boston Marathon was contested, and as we’ve all heard ad infinitum it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Game 12: April 18, 2010
7W: Matt Garza (3-0)
2B: Willy Aybar (1), Evan Longoria (2)
HR: Carlos Pena (4), B.J. Upton (3)
Red Sox
1L: Jon Lester (0-2)
2B: Adrian Beltre (3), Mike Cameron (3)

Defense is Difference

I’m no sabermetrician but I developed a few formulae that summarize last night’s game.

6 (Total Tampa Bay runs) - 4 (unearned runs) < 5 (Total Boston runs)

Marco Scutaro (first inning at bat) - bat = Happy kid in the stands

Mike Cameron one-out double (third inning) + Ben Zobrist (catch of Jeremy Hermida’s fly ball to right) ≠ Redemption

Victor Martinez (leadoff single in the fourth) + David Ortiz (double off the left field wall) = 0 runs

James Shields + 121 pitches + third start of the season + Joe Maddon = Dusty Baker

7th inning rally (Dustin Pedroia two-run HR + Kevin Youkilis solo HR) < Unearned runs from Cameron’s 1st inning error

39 degrees + 37,022 fans + rain + loss ≠ “Dirty Water”

Game 11: April 17, 2010
6W: James Shields (1-0)
H: Randy Choate (1)
H: Dan Wheeler (2)
S: Rafael Soriano (4)
2B: Pat Burrell (1), John Jaso – 2 (2)
HR: Evan Longoria (3)
Red Sox
5L: Clay Buchholz (1-1)
2B: Mike Cameron (2), David Ortiz (5), Dustin Pedroia (4)
HR: Dustin Pedroia (5), Marco Scutaro (1), Kevin Youkilis (2)

April 17, 2010

Delayed Delivery

The last thing Tim Bogar wanted was his name to be uttered in the same breath as Wendell Kim and Dale Sveum. With the score knotted at one run a piece in the bottom of the sixth, Kevin Youkilis on first, no outs, and the crowd feverishly chanting “Papi,” Bogar sent his first baseman home on David Ortiz’s ringing double down the left field line.

Return to sender, address unknown. No such number, no such zone.

Fortunately other deliveries went well. Josh Beckett has steadily improved since his season-opening clunker, turning in a sparking 7 innings pitched, 4 hits, 1 earned run, 1 base on balls, and 8 strikeouts. Jonathan Papelbon not only pitched a near-perfect ninth before the game was suspended (only allowing a single runner to reach on a walk), but he and his wife Ashley welcomed their second child (Gunner Robert weighed 8 pounds, 8 ounces and measured 21 inches, or a tad bigger than Mike Cameron’s kidney stone must have felt).

Ortiz led off the ninth tonight and the chants returned. He nearly won the game with a fly ball to the right that had the distance but was pulled foul. In the eleventh he took the box again, this time with the bases loaded and none out. Fangraphs hasn’t updated this game yet, but the Red Sox’s win probability must have been in the mid-90s in this inning.

Joe Maddon fastidiously arranged his defense, calling in Ben Zobrist to overload the right side of the infield with Reid Brignac and Carlos Pena, arrayed Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett on the left, and pulled in the two outfielders. The unorthodox alignment worked twice: Ortiz grounded out to Pena and the Rays got the force at home for the first out, and Adrian Beltre grounded out to Evan Longoria for a 5-3 double play.

While Boston’s offense sputtered Daniel Bard carried forward his colleagues’ impressive performances. The set-up ace took the mound in the top of the tenth and dazzled for two perfect innings.

The final delivery came off Pat Burrell’s bat courtesy of Manny Delcarmen. It was like the parcel Detective David Mills received at the end of “Seven” but less shocking, given the horror that Delcarmen’s pitching inspires.

Game 10: April 16 and 17, 2010 ∙ 12 innings
3W: Lance Cormier (2-0)
S: Rafael Soriano (3)
2B: Reid Brignac (1)
HR: Pat Burrell (1)
Red Sox
1L: Manny Delcarmen (0-1)
2B: David Ortiz (4), Jason Varitek (1)
HR: Jason Varitek (3)

April 15, 2010

Crazy Eights

Eight unanswered runs, eight punchouts by their starter — the Twins wrapped up the inaugural series at their new park with a resounding victory.

When the home team’s lead widened to four runs in the fifth inning it was as if the switch controlling the Red Sox players’ competitive drive was flicked to the off position. Early in the game the Boston squad played with a purpose. In the second inning Marco Scutaro chased down a ball that had eluded Adrian Beltre’s glove, far from the area a shortstop would normally patrol. Scutaro turned and fired to first to convert Michael Cuddyer’s potential base hit to an out.

By the time sixth inning rolled around such defensive crispness abandoned the visitors. J.J. Hardy reached on Beltre’s first error the season, an errant throw that pulled Kevin Youkilis off the bag. Nick Punto roped a single to left and Denard Span followed with a line drive of his own to right.

J.D. Drew returned the ball to the infield in time for his team to erase the greedy Punto from the basepaths but Victor Martinez inexplicably threw to the keystone sack instead of third. Although Span was credited with a double on the scoresheet, those tidy figures belie the Red Sox defense’s disarray.

With both Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury shelved due to injury Bill Hall was pressed into service in the outfield. His second-inning fielding error on Hardy’s ground ball to center allowed Jim Thome and his piano to score from third, Jason Kubel to motor from first to third, and Hardy to continue on to second base.

While the Red Sox didn’t do much to honor the 42 on their backs, the Twins were outstanding on both sides of the ball. Jackie Robinson would be proud.

Game 9: April 15, 2010
Red Sox
0L: Tim Wakefield (0-1)
2B: Victor Martinez (4)
8W: Francisco Liriano (1-0)
2B: Orlando Hudson (3), Nick Punto – 2 (2), Denard Span – 2 (3)
HR: Michael Cuddyer (2)

April 14, 2010

Right On Target

Target Field’s façade is adorned by dolomitic limestone from Mankato. Limestone is made primarily of the remains of marine life, but the addition of dolomite makes the Minnesotan stone stronger and gives its a distinctive hue. Calcite and dolomite particles are deposited in layers and compressed. The process takes the better part of 500 millenia, much like Kevin Slowey’s pitching.

Much of the Human Rain Delay’s tarrying came as the result of actual rain. Tediously cleaning his cleats of mud did not keep the basepaths clear of Red Sox runners. Slowey surrendered a run in three of the five innings he pitched and he had only a single 1-2-3 inning.

The first run notched was avoidable but Delmon Young somehow avoided any contact with Dustin Pedroia’s liner and the ball skipped all the way to the wall. The Twins left fielder got caught playing the ball in between, committing neither to a diving attempt nor backing up to stop the ball from getting past him. Perhaps he was blinded by the Red Sox second baseman’s laser show. While Young chased the ball down replacement leadoff hitter Marco Scutaro scurried home all the way from first for the first run of the game.

John Lackey had three less strikeouts to Slowey’s five, allowed seven hits, and walked four batters, yet still earned his first win in a Red Sox uniform. Twin twin killings of Twins in the first and second innings kept the home team off the board despite having the leadoff runners reach in both frames.

The Red Sox have an embarrassment of riches in the outfield. No, not J.D. Drew’s contract but the tandem of 26-year olds in left field. Jacoby Ellsbury has streaking speed, Jeremy Hermida has hot and cold streaks. The former’s calling card is stolen bases, the latter’s is his as yet unfulfilled promise of power. Sun Life Stadium’s dimensions stymied Hermida’s production, so Fenway Park’s petite perimeters could make Hermida the hitter he was supposed to be. Since switching over to the American League and seeing more time due to Ellsbury’s bruised ribs Hermida has some nifty numbers: .357 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, and .786 slugging percentage.

Pedroia would be quick to point out that his OBP is .410, that he is slugging .818, and that he leads the team in home runs.

Game 8: April 14, 2010
WinRed Sox
6W: John Lackey (1-0)
H: Hideki Okajima (3)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (3)
2B: Adrian Beltre (2), Jeremy Hermida (3), David Ortiz (3), Dustin Pedroia (3)
HR: Dustin Pedroia (4)
3L: Kevin Slowey (1-1)
2B: Delmon Young – 2 (2)
HR: Michael Cuddyer (1)

April 12, 2010

Minnesota Nice

Baseball as it is meant to played has returned to Minneapolis. The city sits just south of the 45th parallel north, the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole. Perhaps it’s not the ideal latitude for an open-air park, but a dirt field with tires for bases would have surpassed the Metrodome as a baseball park. And now the professional baseball players in Minnesota can claim themselves tougher than their football-playing counterparts since they play their games at the mercy of the elements... at least until it rains or snows too hard. Sometimes it snows in April.

The Twins organization celebrated nearly every first in Target Field, eminent to insignificant. Just as the Twins’ first hit (Orlando Hudson’s first-inning line drive single to left), first home player’s run (Hudson crossing home on Jason Kubel’s single), and home run (Kubel again, a leadoff blast to the right field stands in the seventh) were feted, so was the first attendee, first beer purchased, and first meat on a stick ordered.

Nine-hole hitter Nick Punto’s contribution to the crates of memorabilia was not only the cleats he used to tally the first stolen base but also the belt he broke sliding into the keystone sack. Did he get that belt from Target?

Joe Mauer could help Punto buy a belt-making factory thanks to the eight-year, $184 million dollar deal he signed before the start of the season. While my Red Sox fan self would have liked to see the backstop lured away from his organization to Fenway, the greater good of baseball was served when a mid-sized franchise could anchor its personnel with a player of Mauer’s caliber.

I cannot help but think of the parallels between Mauer and another elite catcher who had the good luck to play for the team closest to his hometown and heart. But instead of a dysfunctional front office whose general manager passive-aggressively failed to mail a contract to Carlton Fisk in time, the Minnesota Twins understand that Mauer is the crux of squad and rewarded him handsomely.

If Mauer’s career continues the same arc, an engraver may have to find a way to make sideburns in bronze flattering.

Game 7: April 12, 2010
Red Sox
2L: Jon Lester (0-1)
2B: Jeremy Hermida (2), David Ortiz (2), Dustin Pedroia (2), Kevin Youkilis (3)
5W: Carl Pavano (2-0)
H: Brian Duensing (1)
S: Jon Rauch (5)
2B: Joe Mauer (2)
HR: Jason Kubel (2)

April 11, 2010

Hall’s Well That Ends Well

Clay Buchholz’s first start of the season wasn’t particularly sharp: 5 innings pitched, 7 hits, 3 runs (2 earned), 2 walks, and 1 strikeout. The leadoff batter in each inning reached base so the slim starter was in damage control mode for most of the afternoon. Unlike the home team starter Gil Meche, Buchholz didn’t let his opposition get hits in bunches.

The first Royals run crossed the plate when Bill Hall pursued a fly ball too far into the outfield, nearly running into Jacoby Ellsbury. Don’t blame Hall; he just thought it was time for his turn to take left. In the ninth Hall shifted from short to right and Marco Scutaro manned the hole.

Hall’s versatility came into play later in the ninth when Ellsbury again crossed paths with an infielder. This time Adrian Beltre ran out hard, chasing Mitch Maier’s pop fly in foul territory while Ellsbury charged in, honing in on the same target. As Ellsbury slid Beltre’s knee hit the left fielder in the rib cage. Ellsbury was removed from the game, J.D. Drew (who was all limbered up thanks to Scutaro’s massage) took over in right, and Hill shifted from right to left.

Terry Francona should text Theo Epstein a note of thanks for having the foresight to roster a player like Hall. Although he went 0-for-3, he did notch a base on balls and played in three different positions in the course a game.

As for the miscommunication between infielders and outfielders, it is as much about Ellsbury learning how to play left as it is about new players like Beltre and Hall learning about Ellsbury’s speed and range. Since Ellsbury primarily played center, he was used to having to cover much more territory and only having to call off other outfielders.

For the second game in a row the Red Sox scored eight runs. Dustin Pedroia’s home run and Beltre’s two-run double to the right-center gap padded their lead to five runs in the fourth, but the visiting team has their own version of Robinson Tejeda in Ramon Ramirez.

Ramirez toed the rubber in the eighth and was granted an opportunity to build on the confidence he gained from his flawless inning on Saturday. Instead he relinquished consecutive singles and capped off his showing by conceding a three-run homer off the bat of Jose Guillen. With a single swing the home team’s run total doubled and Francona had to call upon bullpen aces Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon to secure the victory.

Even more disheartening than Ramirez’s setback was David Ortiz’s four-strikeout performance. Hopefully Pedroia selected some inspirational post-game to raise the designated hitter’s spirits; some Notorious B.I.G. or bachata, perhaps.

Game 6: April 11, 2010
WinRed Sox
8W: Clay Buchholz (1-0)
H: Daniel Bard (2)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (2)
2B: Adrian Beltre (1), Jacoby Ellsbury (4), Jeremy Hermida (1), Victor Martinez (3)
HR: Dustin Pedroia (3)
6L: Gil Meche (0-1)
2B: Jason Kendall (2)
HR: Jose Guillen – 2 (2)

April 10, 2010

Fountains of Pain

Kauffman Stadium is an aesthetic delight: the upper deck is an elegant crescent, the stadium lights are a dainty diadem, and the outfield fountains mirror its home city’s sobriquet: the City of Fountains.

It was all the more stunning with Red Sox batters launching home runs into its stands. Five fans now have horsehide souvenirs, two of them particularly rare as they were hit off Zack Greinke.

For the first time this season Terry Francona retooled the lineup, figuring that hardly anyone has success against Greinke so he might as well start anyone. Victor Martinez slotted in as designated hitter, Mike Lowell manned the hot corner, Jeremy Hermida fielded left, Jacoby Ellsbury slid over to center, and Jason Varitek took over as backstop.

The newly active players seized the opportunity and ran with it. For Hermida and Varitek that meant running all the way to home plate — twice for the catcher. Lowell wasn’t as productive at the plate (1-for-4) but played his position well. The Red Sox bench players would likely be starters in other cities. Conventional wisdom says that a deep bench is a luxury, but for a team in the American League East whose ultimate goal is to win the World Series outstanding backup players are a necessity. The question is, how long can Francona placate the personalities on his team?

Josh Beckett improved upon his opening night showing significantly: 7 innings pitched, 9 hits, 3 earned runs, 1 base on balls, and 4 strikeouts. David DeJesus’s comebacker in the seventh glanced off the back of his head as it screamed to center field, but Beckett stayed on the mound and secured the last out of the inning. He seemed more upset by Chris Getz scoring on the play than nearly having his cranium crushed. If there is anyone that deserves a four-year, $68 million contract extension it is Beckett.

I’m all for a great comeback story, but count me in the officially sick of Rick Ankiel camp. As the Boston bench players displayed, nobody plays harder than a man fighting for a job. Every Ankiel at bat and path to a fly ball is meant to show St. Louis that they made a mistake in jettisoning him. The center fielder gave his team the early lead in the first, robbed Martinez of extra bases in the fourth, and arced a double to right that J.D. Drew gloved but couldn’t grasp in the bottom of the fourth. While I respect Mike Cameron, I wonder why Theo Epstein didn’t go after Ankiel instead.

Game 5: April 10, 2010
WinRed Sox
8W: Josh Beckett (1-0)
H: Hideki Okajima (2)
2B: Jacoby Ellsbury (3)
HR: Jeremy Hermida (1), Dustin Pedroia (2), Jason Varitek – 2 (2), Kevin Youkilis (1)
3L: Zack Greinke (0-1)
2B: Rick Ankiel (3), Alberto Callaspo (1), Jose Guillen (2), Scott Podsednik (1)

Sigh, Young Pitcher

Much of the Royals’ lineup is an amalgam of other teams’ discards: Scott Podsednik roams the left side the outfield and inexplicably bats second with his 340 OBP; Rick Ankiel patrols center field hoping the massive Crown Vision screen is securely anchored; and Jason Kendall calls the pitches behind the dish. Yet this collection of castoffs denied Tim Wakefield, the oldest pitcher to have ever made a start for the Red Sox, his first win of 2010.

Boston confined all of its damage to a single inning. Kevin Youkilis led off the fourth with a single through the hole and David Ortiz advanced the runner to third with his opposite field double. Adrian Beltre continued to impress by grounding out to second to plate Youkilis and advance Ortiz.

J.D. Drew outdid his teammates with an immense home run to dead center. The ball cleared three walls to land at the base of the Crown Vision, whose distinctive pointed bottom indicated, “Drew hit a massive bomb here.”

Three runs seemed enough for a win because of Red Sox luck, a touch of defense, and Wakefield’s effectiveness.

The Royals had a chance to score in the fourth but for Ankiel squandering his double by getting caught off second on Jose Guillen’s tapper to short. Guillen was destined to notch his team’s first run of the season on Kendall’s fly ball to center. Mike Cameron couldn’t snare the ball with an over the shoulder catch but gamely got it back into play by hitting cutoff man Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia fired a perfect one-hop throw to Victor Martinez’s glove to get the final out and keep the local nine scoreless.

So what if Boston came away empty the bases loaded in the third? The knuckleballer kept the home team scoreless for five innings and lasted seven innings total, longer than all the other Red Sox starters thus far.

Wakefield tallied two outs on a mere six pitches in the bottom of the sixth, but with the floater in play the course of the game can be erratic as the pitch’s trajectory. Billy Butler and Ankiel launched consecutive home runs to shave the visitors’ lead to a single run.

Boston’s lead should have been increased in the seventh when Robinson Tejeda took the mound. The reliever walked three consecutive batters, but leadoff batter Drew was erased when he was caught stealing. Neither Jacoby Ellsbury nor Pedroia mustered hits against Kyle Farnsworth.

With Ortiz no longer available in the eighth due to his sixth inning tantrum, Jeremy Hermida made his Red Sox debut. The platoon player produced, knocking in a single to right. Even if Ortiz had been available, I fear he would have struck out against Juan Cruz just as Youkilis and Martinez did. Home plate Mike Estabrook must have a different strategy to speed up games: ejecting players who fuss about the strike zone. If only these umpires would share with the players and managers their initiatives rather than blasting teams for being “pathetic and embarrassing.” Right, Joe West?

Normally effective reliever Hideki Okajima allowed David DeJesus to lance a leadoff double to left in the eighth. DeJesus was sacrificed bunted to the hot corner and Daniel Bard was brought in to halt the nascent rally. Walking Alberto Callaspo wasn’t ideal but at least set up the double play as long as the defense could keep pinch runner Willie Bloomquist from swiping second. Bard struck out Butler but Bloomquist reached second safely.

While Ankiel’s 4-for-4 evening was impressive, his game-winning hit was a broken bat bloop that simply landed where they weren’t.

The Fox Sports Kansas City broadcast team even beat Remy and Orsillo in the anecdote department. The home broadcast showed a female Red Sox who had accidentally spilled a half a beer on a cameraman last season. She was in the same spot in this game and the camera caught her while taking a call that was obviously from a friend that said they saw her on television. She spilled her beer again. No cameramen were harmed in the filming of this game, unless NESN crew got a glimpse of what Remy was (or was not) wearing behind the desk.

Game 4: April 9, 2010
Red Sox
3H: Hideki Okajima (1)
BS, L: Daniel Bard (2, 0-1)
2B: Jacoby Ellsbury (2), David Ortiz (1)
HR: J.D. Drew (1)
4W: John Parrish (0-1)
S: Joakim Soria (1)
2B: Rick Ankiel (2), David DeJesus (1), Jason Kendall (1)
HR: Rick Ankiel (1), Billy Butler (1)

April 7, 2010

Closer But No Cigar

What could be better than a pitchers’ duel? A pitchers’ duel that the Red Sox win. John Lackey was solid for six innings with an admirable if not spectacular line of 3 hits, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts, and 40 showings of his commercial with Don Orsillo.

What’s a rotary? Something almost as perilous as having Jonathan Papelbon as your fireman.

The closer hurled a perfect ninth and was summoned to maintain the tie in the tenth. Instead, Curtis Granderson jumped all over Papelbon’s fat fastball and gave his team its first lead of the game. The center fielder’s home run got out of the park faster than Dennis Drinkwater.

The ALDS meltdown supposedly motivated Papelbon to get into tiptop shape mentally and physically for this season. After the leadoff homer he gathered himself to strike out Nick Swisher but then quickly came undone. He walked nine-hole hitter Brett Gardner and then was sufficiently distracted by the speed threat on first that he walked Derek Jeter as well. Rather than continuing to tax Papelbon’s arm on what he probably determined was a losing effort, Terry Francona called on Scott Atchison to finish out the game.

Papelbon was not alone in carrying the blame for the loss: Daniel Bard relinquished the game-tying run in the seventh on an ill-advised pitch. Swisher was behind the count 0-2 with Jorge Posada plodding about second base. Instead of continuing to challenge Swisher with fastballs Bard tried to throw off Swisher’s timing with a purported change-up. The reliever’s change-up is so fast that MLB Gameday didn’t even register it as such.

As Bard needs to develop a feel for his off-speed pitch so does the umpiring crew need to learn how to interpret the pitchers’ intent. In a tight game, neither Andy Pettitte nor Lackey would have intentionally hit batters. Kevin Youkilis was hit with two out and a runner on with the score 1-0 in the Red Sox favor in the fifth. Jeter was hit to lead off the sixth with the count 2-2. But home plate umpire Paul Schrieber still saw fit to warn the dugouts when there clearly was no intent.

While Remy and Orsillo were engaging as usual, it would have been fun to listen in on a few innings of the ESPN broadcast. I heard from my friend who lives outside of the Boston territory that the trio of Dave O’Brien, Nomar Garciaparra, and Rick Sutcliffe were particularly astute and amusing. Jason Varitek sent Garciaparra a pair of batting gloves and the retiree obligingly recreated his well-known habit. Hopefully the former shortstop returned the favor by advising Varitek to retire.

Speaking of people that should retire, Peter Wolf and Steven Tyler visited the booth in the fourth. When the camera cut back to the field I expected to see red caps with blue brims, pullover uniform tops, Bill Lee on the mound, and Carlton Fisk behind the plate.

Despite his haggard appearance, Tyler is probably still getting more action from groupies than Mike Lowell is on this team. Not that I think Lowell could have turned the series around, but the third baseman would be an everyday player on many teams. I think he is not long for this team.

The 2010 team is learning how to play together while I’m trying to learn to like the new players. Lackey is one of those players I strongly disliked when he opposed Boston, but I have somewhat conquered my knee-jerk distaste for him.

In contrast, Granderson was a player that I liked, but it is now so easy to feel animus towards him because of his uniform. Like the Yankees logo on the Prudential Center (even though it’s a hoax), it’s just not right that wonderful things wear that club’s symbol.

Game 3: April 7, 2010 ∙ 10 innings
W: Chan Ho Park (1-1)
S: Mariano Rivera (2)
2B: Jorge Posada (2)
HR: Curtis Granderson (2)
Red Sox
1H: Scott Schoeneweis (1)
BS: Daniel Bard (1)
L: Jonathan Papelbon (0-1)
2B: Mike Cameron (1)
Dustin Pedroia (1)

April 6, 2010

Coming Up Short

When Mike Cameron reached first on Derek Jeter’s off-target toss to Mark Teixeira in the sixth it seemed that the home team’s luck had turned around. The Yankees shortstop had robbed Jacoby Ellsbury in the prior inning with a leaping snare and Adrian Beltre for the first out of the sixth with a lunging grab.

But nine-hole hitter Marco Scutaro didn’t capitalize on the miscue. He tapped out to Alex Rodriguez for the force at the keystone sack.

Scutaro made a similar blunder in the eighth, but his mistake put ducks on the pond. With the bases loaded Hideki Okajima surrendered a walk to Nick Johnson, who amazingly didn’t injure himself taking his base and pushing the winning run across the plate. The new shortstop also killed an incipient rally with a 6-4-3 double play to conclude the fourth inning.

Marco. Rhymes with Julio. Scutaro... Lugo. Coincidence? It must be, because Scutaro kept the ember of hope alight with his one-out double off the wall in the ninth. But as he has done more often than not Mariano Rivera methodically dispatched the next two batters for the save. He sauntered off the mound with his usual calm.

For Joba Chamberlain had done all of the celebrating for him. For the entire population of the Bronx, in fact, with his spastic gyrations in the eighth. He acted as if he had whiffed Albert Pujols with the bases loaded in the seventh game of the World Series when he struck out Beltre and J.D. Drew. If Chamberlain had his druthers he probably would have tried to nail Kevin Youkilis at second with what he would later explain away as a mere pickoff throw.

Game 2: April 6, 2010
Neither A.J. Burnett nor Jon Lester went deep into the game, both only lasting five innings. I would have wanted to leave the field early too: over frustration with first base umpire Paul Schrieber’s blown call in the top of the fifth. With runners at every station and none out Teixeira grounded into what should have been a 5-4-3 twin killing but was instead ruled safe. The visitors went on to take the lead that inning on Robinson Cano’s sacrifice fly. Victor Martinez was a force batting third: he homered to break the third to break the 1-1 tie and tied the game in the fifth with a lofty double off the wall. The umpires didn’t have to go to the replay booth to confirm those hits.
W: Alfredo Aceves (1-0)
H: Damaso Marte (1)
H: Joba Chamberlain (1)
S: Mariano Rivera (1)
Red Sox4L: Hideki Okajima (1-1)1-1

April 5, 2010

Opening Delights, Opening Frights

The one, the only Pedro Martinez throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, hugging Johnny Pesky, and double pointing to Big Papi did much to wash away the schmaltz of last night’s festivities.

Many would point to Josh Sacco’s Miracle speech as exhibit one in the case against melodrama, but I think charged words foretelling the dissolution of an evil empire issuing forth from a cherub-like face was in its way subversive. Some fire in the belly of children who are fed pablum that passes for education programming is a welcome thing. That Sacco’s utterance of a somewhat risque word probably compelled dozens of dowdy biddies to pen letters expressing their stern opprobrium also delighted me.

I’m not sure whose camp I fall in with respect to fireworks; I love pyrotechnics but they are a spectacle in and of themselves, and furthermore baseball requires no further adornment. They were part of the presentation of the national anthem sung by Keri Hilson, who just days before forgot the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” With everyone ohh-ing and ahh-ing any slips by Ms. Hilson would be missed.

Steven Tyler slogged through “God Bless America” with one gangly arm slung around a young girl. It was just chummy enough to make one wonder who the lass was, but when she opened her mouth to harmonize it was clear that she was Tyler’s daughter. Not Liv, of course, but Chelsea.

Speaking of big mouths, Curt Schilling has joined ESPN Boston. He, Nomar Garciaparra, Karl Ravech, and Bobby Valentine sat behind a desk ridiculously placed in the foul territory near first. Red Light looked somewhat awkward behind the luminous monstrosity, but certainly when there are less people taking attention away from him he’ll be much more comfortable.

LeBron James schmoozed with and was schmoozed upon in John Henry’s box. It wasn’t enough for His Highness to get the regular luxury boxes. All so he could watch his favorite baseball team (Yankees) while he checked his Blackberry for any offseason updates on his most beloved football team (Cowboys).

In the middle of the eighth, Neil Diamond groggily emerged from the hot tub time machine fresh from a jaunt through Kings County circa 1957. The singer was proudly attired in the fashion of the mid-50s and, since he was always a man to wear his convictions on his back, his blazer blared, “Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn.” After leading a stirring rendition of “Sweet Caroline” (even Nick Swisher joined in), Diamond lurched back to the time machine, setting the course for a time when his music was relevant.

Wait, so the hot tub time machine not only travels through time but spans the gap between parallel dimensions?

April 4, 2010

Screw ’Em!

The best performance in the opening game by a Josh wasn’t turned in by Beckett but rather came from a five-year old boy flown up from Tennessee named Josh Sacco. Sacco’s recreation of Herb Brooks’s speech to the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team is a YouTube sensation. He was even summoned to Vancouver to fire up the 2010 men’s team before its final match against the Canadians. The Red Sox cottoned to Sacco’s exhortations better than the hockey players did, coming back twice to defeat the Yankees in their home opener at Fenway.

With unbridled gusto Sacco bellowed into the microphone, “I’m sick and tired hearing about what a great baseball team the Yankees have!” For five innings they were nauseatingly great: C.C. Sabathia kept the scoring to two runs, Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson (in his first at bat as a Yankee) blasted back-to-back homers in the second, and Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter justified their slap-hitting tactics with RBI singles in the fourth.

The Bronx Bromides didn’t look so great in the seventh. Perhaps they were distressed by the sight of Steven Tyler’s reanimated cadaver wailing a tune that somewhat resembled “God Bless America.” Or maybe they were too preoccupied figuring out if Tyler’s girlfriend was younger than his daughter. Sufficiently distracted, feisty tyke Sacco took matters into his own hands and drilled a two-run longball over the left field wall to tie the game 7-7.

Oh, that was Dustin Pedroia.

After the equalizer Kevin Youkilis scraped the Monster for double off Chan Ho Park, who was pulled in favor of Damaso Marte. The lefty-lefty match-up fizzled when Marte uncorked a wild pitch to David Ortiz and Posada failed to snag a high fastball. Youkilis bustled over home plate for the go-ahead run without Ortiz’s bat touching the ball.

As Sacco roared: “Screw ’em!”

Game 1: April 4, 2010
While newly-minted Yankee Curtis Granderson made a splash with a solo four-bagger, the Red Sox newcomers’ debuts were solid. Scott Schoeneweis cleaned up Josh Beckett’s fifth-inning mess by striking out Granderson with two out and two on. Adrian Beltre had a sacrifice fly in the second and knocked in the first tying run with an RBI single in the sixth. Mike Cameron walked once, singled twice, and was the recipient of the first blown call of the 2010 season: the center fielder was called out by Angel Hernandez when he strayed too far from first base on Marco Scutaro’s line out to third. Scutaro had the same line as Cameron but knocked in a run in the fifth.
BS: David Robertson (1)
BS, L: Chan Ho Park (1, 0-1)
WinRed Sox9W: Hideki Okajima (1-0)
H: Daniel Bard (1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (1)

Planet Baseball

I could spend hours playing with Google Translate. Unlike Babel Fish, which uses a rules-based approach licensed from SYSTRAN, Google uses statistical machine translation refined by Franz Josef Och.

These languages either use “baseball” or don’t have the word in Google Translate yet: Afrikaans, Czech, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Malay, Maltese, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Swahili, Swedish, and Welsh.

Albanian: Bejsbol
Arabic: البيسبول
Belarusian: Бейсбол (byejsbol)
Catalan: Beisbol
Chinese: 棒球 (bàngqiú)
Croatian: Bejzbol
Dutch: Amerikaans balspel
Estonian: Pesapall
Filipino: Beisbol
Galician: Béisbol
Greek: Μπέιζμπολ (béizmpol)
Haitian Creole: Bezbòl
Hebrew: כדור בסיס
Hindi: बेसबॉल (bēsabŏla)
Japanese: 野球 (yakyū)
Korean: 야구 (yagu)
Latvian: Beisbols
Lithuanian: Beisbolas
Macedonian: Бејзбол (beJzbol)
Persian: بیس بال
Portuguese: Beisebol
Russian: Бейсбол (byeĭsbol)
Serbian: Бејзбол (beJzbol)
Spanish: Béisbol
Thai: กีฬาเบสบอล (Kīḷā besbxl)
Turkish: Beysbol
Ukrainian: Бейсбол (beўsbol)
Vietnamese: Bóng chày
Yiddish: בייסבאָל

Google failed to return “Honkbal” for the Dutch translation while Babel Fish and Bling Translator (a competing statistical machine translation system developed Microsoft) displayed the correct result. But Google had more languages than Bling, even though they bloated the list somewhat by separating Croatian, Serbian, and Macedonian. In Bling, these mutually intelligible languages appear under the rubric Bulgarian. Google also offers a feature to show romanization for those scripts that do not use the Latin alphabet.

In a year where all eyes will turn to South Africa for the flash and glamor of the World Cup, our little sport will chug along for the next seven months like a Molina on the basepaths.

Bud Selig urged teams, most notably the Red Sox and the Yankees, to speed up their games. But perfection, they say, can’t be rushed.

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