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Home » Monthly Archive » May 2010

May 31, 2010

Eight is Enough

Josh Kantor, Fenway’s organist, has added “And She Was” by the Talking Heads to his repertoire since I last visited. He played “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by the Monkees; I would pay extra to hear him play “Everyday is Like Sunday” by the Smiths. One of my favorites and I think his too is “Day After Day” by Badfinger. It always reminds me of the NBA commercial about Kevin Garnett’s trade to the Celtics. At random times throughout the game a “Beat L.A.!” chant would erupt in the stands.

I hadn’t been to Fenway yet in 2010, so I checked out the renovations. The new concession space behind home plate is a tremendous addition. I don’t think the new bathrooms downstairs from the concourse behind home plate are ideal, but I like how the bridge to get to them has a television as well as a view of the ground floor concourse and one of the exits. If the 2012 All-Star game isn’t held at Fenway it will be Bud Selig’s greatest failure since turning a blind eye to steroids.

I tried a chicken burrito from the third base deck, one of the new concession stand offerings. It was surprisingly well made: I got a whiff of cilantro from the rice and they didn’t skimp on the chicken. Bobby Flay wouldn’t claim credit for it but Taco Bell would be hard-pressed to do better.

Since the Red Sox did not have a game on Memorial Day, both teams wore their white hats. Several veterans were honored in the pre-game ceremony; the applause and ovation they received may not have been as loud as the cheers for on-field events but it was nonetheless heartfelt.

Kansas City starter Gil Meche was placed on the disabled list and journeyman Bruce Chen was tapped to make a spot start. I was also at the game where Bruce Chen started in Pedro Martinez’s place for the Red Sox in 2003 against the Yankees. Although the Red Sox won that game, I prefer having Chen opposing my team rather than on it. He kept the local nine at bay for most of the four innings he pitched, only allowing the tying run by David Ortiz’s sacrifice fly in the third.

Brad Thompson took the mound in the fifth and the offensive floodgates opened. Mike Cameron’s first double of the game came with the count full and Bill Hall on first. The liner didn’t get to the wall but Cameron still had enough speed to beat out Willie Bloomquist’s throw to second. Marco Scutaro grounded out to Thompson to plate the go-ahead run, an effective if understated way to drive in a run. Ortiz did his sac fly and Scutaro better with a two-run missile to dead center.

The Red Sox had another three-run inning in the sixth. I was momentarily distracted by the balloon hat that drifted from the State Street Pavilion right as the ball cracked off Cameron’s bat. I thought it might have been a homer but the shot caromed off the wall for a two-run double. Scutaro knocked a single into right to drive in Cameron and knocked Thompson out of the game.

Jason Varitek rudely welcomed Dusty Hughes to the game with a leadoff homer in the eighth. With eight runs to the home team’s credit the crowd relaxed, soaking in the glow of a victory and enjoying the ease that only comes on a Sunday before a holiday. Two guys in my section pretended to play a game of Marco Polo but revised it by using the Red Sox shortstop’s moniker.

Game 52: May 30, 2010
1L: Brad Thompson (0-4)
2B: Alberto Callaspo (14), Mitch Maier (4)
WinRed Sox
8W: Clay Buchholz (6-2)
2B: Marco Scutaro – 2 (10), Mike Cameron – 2 (5)
HR: David Ortiz (11), Jason Varitek (7)

A Memorable Day

Along with the Stars and Stripes the New Hampshire flag flew above Fenway.

A plaque near the third base deck describing the significance of the bridge between Fenway and the Jeano Building.

The new concession stands behind home plate.

The Red Sox kept pace with the Yankees and Blue Jays and made up some ground on the Rays, who lost to the White Sox.

Jason Varitek made his way to the bullpen to warm up.

Bill Hall and Mike Cameron stretch along the first base line. I don’t think David Mellor appreciated the divot Cameron made to prop up his bat.

Jon Lester hurled effectively if not brilliantly.

Kansas City’s first base coach provides a caption for umpire Joe West.

Varitek wore camouflage armor in honor of US troops.

Tek’s tater trot.

The Red Sox celebrate a two-game winning streak without any traumatic injuries.

The box score.

May 30, 2010

One-Run Humdrum

It’s not like the Red Sox went into the tenth trailing 1-0 and won with a stunning grand slam off the bat of their star slugger. However, the celebration in the wake of such an electrifying event could have dire consequences; just ask the Angels’ Kendry Morales. You’ll have to wait until he gets out of surgery for his broken lower left leg, an injury he sustained landed awkwardly on home plate and into a circle of his teammates.

As tense as a run-of-the-mill one-run game like the one between Boston and Kansas City can be, it was nothing compared to Roy Halladay’s perfect outing against the Marlins which he won 1-0. In the outing prior to his perfecto Halladay was battered by the Red Sox for 8 hits and 6 earned runs. Halladay rebounded from that poor start with the 20th perfect game in MLB history. The 20-day gap between Dallas Braden’s and Halladay’s achievements was the shortest period of time between perfect games ever. No legs were broken in the Phillies’ celebratory mob.

The April version of this Red Sox team wouldn’t have won this game. An Adrian Beltre fielding error or Marco Scutaro throwing gaffe would have had Royals players skipping across home for the winning run. Or Jonathan Papelbon would groove one fastball too many and surrender the go-ahead score.

The Red Sox of May maintained the slim lead over seven innings. The lack of timely hitting in later innings was frustrating, such as squandering bases-loaded situations in the fifth and seventh.

Mike Lowell spelled Kevin Youkilis at first, a lineup move calculated to soothe the veteran player and avoid having Youkilis face Zack Greinke, against whom he is 1-for-10. Beltre led off the second with a rope to right and advanced to third on J.D. Drew’s wall-ball double. Down in the count 0-2, Lowell cut down on his swing to assure contact and drove in the only run of the game. The two-game losing streak was thus broken with a workaday win against a sub-.500 team.

Game 51: May 29, 2010
0L: Zack Greinke (1-6)
2B: David DeJesus (14), Jason Kendall (9)
WinRed Sox
1W: Clay Buchholz (7-3)
H: Daniel Bard (10)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (12)
2B: J.D. Drew (12), David Ortiz (9)

May 29, 2010

Royal Pain

Just as Tim Wakefield was chased from the game in the fourth inning by the pesky Royals Terry Francona was driven from his customary bench by the irksome Kevin Millar.

Millar whooped and hollered over the phone to his MLB Network colleagues when Victor Martinez powered a two-run home run into the home team’s bullpen. The four-bagger granted the Red Sox a somewhat comfortable 5-2 lead.

But no lead is safe in Fenway, and these days no lead is safe with Wakefield on the mound. Kansas City retaliated with no regard for human life in the top of the fourth, tying the game 5-5 on a wild pitch to Mitch Maier. Maier would take a base on balls to load the diamond and Yuniesky Betancourt improbably knocked the ball over the left field wall for a grand slam.

Betancourt, the middle infielder who bats in the eight hole. The shortstop with the .392 career slugging percentage. The slick fielder who had 34 homers since 2005.

In such a topsy-turvy game it stands to reason that the Red Sox’s best pitcher was a position player. Bill Hall pitched a perfect frame in the ninth and had one more out than Joe Nelson, the only other Boston pitcher not to allow a baserunner. Hall was touted for his versatility, but who knew he could play on the mound, too?

While the Red Sox were embarrassed on their home field a few Green Line stops away the Celtics secured a spot in the NBA Finals for the second time in three years. The new sports kings of the Hub defeated the Orlando Magic 96-84 to become the Eastern Conference champions. Just as Hall was a surprising contributor to the Red Sox games, the Celtics got a huge boost from the diminutive Nate Robinson. Doc Rivers stated that the reserve player would help them win a playoff game, and he did just that with his 13-point spark plug performance. Gino lives!

Game 50: May 28, 2010
12W: Kyle Davies (4-3)
2B: David DeJesus (13), Scott Podsednik (4), Alberto Callaspo (13)
HR: Yuniesky Betancourt (4), Mitch Maier (1)
Red Sox
5L: Tim Wakefield (1-3)
2B: Marco Scutaro (8), Victor Martinez (11)
HR: Victor Martinez (7)

May 27, 2010


Kevin Millar’s NESN debut started with a raucous jaunt down memory lane. He ran down the Yankees’ 2004 roster to Boston’s and at nearly every position the Bronxers had their Hub counterparts outmatched. The chunky slugger’s highlights (think home runs, not foiling) were spliced with his immortal rally karaoke video set to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” The montage closed with, of course, his leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth against Mariano Rivera in Game 4. While Millar’s name is out of place with Hall of Famers like Dennis Eckersley, Peter Gammons, and Jim Rice, his jocular presence will lighten the show and be a constant reminder of one of the most-loved teams in Boston sports history.

It was the leadoff walk that plagued Daisuke Matsuzaka. Three times out of five the starter allowed the first baserunner to reach on a base on balls. In the fifth Matsuzaka lost all semblance of control, walking five batters (one with the bases loaded to plate a run) and uncorking a wild pitch that allowed a run to score. Of the three runs the Royals scored off Matsuzaka, only one came on a hit. The disappointing start was reminiscent of the pre-no-hit bid Matsuzaka, a memory Red Sox fans do not wish to revisit..

Had their starter not had control issues, the three runs the Red Sox scored would have sufficed for the win. Jason Varitek doubled over left fielder Scott Podsednik’s head to drive in J.D. Drew in the sixth. While Matsuzaka’s performance took some of the shine off the theory that Varitek brings out the best in the pitcher, Varitek’s continuing offensive production proves that the backstop’s value is not restricted to being Matsuzaka’s de facto personal pitcher.

Game 49: May 27, 2010
4W: Brian Bannister (4-3)
H: Robinson Tejeda (2), Blake Wood (3)
S: Joakim Soria (12)
2B: David DeJesus (12)
Red Sox
3L: Daisuke Matsuzaka (3-2)
2B: Jason Varitek (3)
HR: Bill Hall (3)

May 26, 2010

Three Feet High and Rising

The Red Sox are finally meeting the lofty expectations fans had of them, against the team with the best record in the majors no less. The visiting baseball squad swept their opponents and secured third place in the AL East, a heartening turnaround from an underperforming team whose record was hovering around .500. Given the pitching match-up it seemed to be a game that Boston had little chance of winning, but Matt Garza’s command was as straggly as his goatee.

The volatile Rays starter lasted just five innings with a disastrous line of 6 hits, 6 runs (all earned), 5 walks, 3 strikeouts, and 3 home runs. Prior to this game Garza had surrendered five home runs in 64⅔ innings pitched.

Heidi Watney visited the catwalk and roof of Tropicana Field in a foiled attempt to end it all because of the Celtics’ precipitous fall. Or it was a just a photo opportunity granted by someone on the Trop’s grounds crew wishing to be featured in a segment on “The Ultimate Red Sox Show,” or maybe something more lascivious.

Not only are the Celtics attempting to replicate the Bruins’ choke job by losing Game 5 113-92 but are sustaining concussions in the process. Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels were both felled by inadvertent blows to the head, severely depleting Doc Rivers’s options off the bench in Game 5 and possibly in the future. Add to the injury woes the potential for Kendrick Perkins to face a one-game suspension because of his accumulation of seven technical fouls in the postseason and you have a recipe for catastrophe.

Home cooking will hopefully cure the Celtics’ ills and sustain the Red Sox’s five-game winning streak. The roundballers return to the Hub for a Game 6 showdown on Friday and the baseballers begin a four-game series against the hapless Royals at Fenway on Thursday.

Game 48: May 26, 2010
WinRed Sox
11W: John Lackey (5-3)
2B: Darnell McDonald (5)
3B: Adrian Beltre (1)
HR: Adrian Beltre – 2 (5), David Ortiz (10)
3L: Matt Garza (5-3)
2B: Carl Crawford (15), Carlos Pena (6)
HR: Ben Zobrist (3)

May 25, 2010

Shields Down

Bob Davidson ejected Carl Crawford and Joe Maddon in the fifth inning after Crawford vehemently disagreed with a called strike. Crawford got close enough to graze the brim of his helmet against Davidson’s face. Maddon rushed to the scene to get give his piggy bank full of two cents. Take two of these and call me in the morning. If ejections last longer than four hours, contact your doctor.

Evan Longoria is a two-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, and Gold Glover. He is the lead in a New Era commercial where he goes through a Jason Bourne-like pursuit of a guy he thinks took his hat (“That’s not my cap!”). But before he was a star in the majors he allegedly sent a picture of a different cap to a woman on Facebook. That’s my cap!

Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon combined to one-hit the first-place Rays. Only Willy Aybar managed to find turf with his line drive single to center in the fourth. Lester’s five walks were offset by his nine strikeouts and superb fielding by Adrian Beltre at the hot corner.

The visitors’ only runs came with two outs in the third. J.D. Drew knocked a single to right through the shift and Kevin Youkilis walked on seven pitches. David Ortiz powered a double to the left field wall to plate his teammates.

Sparkling pitching, stellar defensive, and timely hitting: just like how the front office drew it up.

Game 47: May 25, 2010
WinRed Sox
2W: Jon Lester (5-2)
H: Manny Delcarmen (4), Daniel Bard (9)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (11)
2B: David Ortiz (8)
0L: James Shields (5-2)
No extra base hits

May 24, 2010

First Against First Place

Terry Francona is nowhere to be seen on the list of highest-paid coaches by Forbes. In fact, no MLB skipper is to be found in the top ten, which is populated by NFL and NBA honchos. Should Francona ever dine with Bill Belichick or Doc Rivers the latter two should offer to pay; with a nifty $7.5 million a year Belichick is second on the list and Rivers tenth with $5.5 million annually.

For $1.5 million less than Rivers Francona coaches about twice as many games during the regular season. The $3.5 million gap between the baseball manager and the grid iron guru could be attributed to Belichick’s trio of championships compared to Francona’s pair. The fundamental difference between the MLB and the other leagues is that football and basketball are flagship programs in collegiate athletics. The earning potential of these two sports enables a top coach for a major college’s marquee football or basketball program to earn a salary comparable to the median salaries of their pro sport counterparts.

Not so for baseball managers. Baseball talent requires years of seasoning that the NCAA monopoly has no patience for. While there are prospects that go the college route, there is a robust farm system feeds the need for major league talent.

If Francona turns around his team’s season as he seems to be doing, a case could be made that he should be earning the $7.5 million Joe Torre did in 2007 with the Yankees. Or the Red Sox new-found success could be attributed to the players finally fulfilling their lofty expectations.

Clay Buchholz has steadied himself to be the team’s co-ace in the wake of Josh Beckett’s injury woes, turning in an impressive six-inning performance against one of the top offenses in the league.

David Ortiz has rediscovered his groove, going 2-for-4 with a scorching line drive homer in the second inning.

Unlike other All-Star candidates at first base (I’m looking at you, Mark Teixeira), Kevin Youkilis has actually earned his votes, sporting a line of .321 batting average, .457 on-base percentage, and .622 slugging percentage. He leads the team with 10 home runs; his fourth-inning two-run longball broke his tie with Ortiz.

The Red Sox are at last achieving some measure of success because they are pitching, hitting, and fielding better. But as much as players have improved, Francona has put them in the position to succeed. Had he given up on Ortiz when the fans and media suggested he should have we would not be cheering his resurgence now.

As for the Celtics failing to sweep the Magic, Rivers’s gametime decisions, such as failing to call a timeout for the final possession or not cycling the ball to the hot-handed Ray Allen, were questionable. But no stratagems could overcome the disappointing showings by Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett, neither of whom showed the killer instinct in the final seconds of overtime in their 96-92 defeat. Please don’t Bruins 2004 Yankees this.

Game 46: May 24, 2010
WinRed Sox
6W: Clay Buchholz (6-3)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (15)
HR: David Ortiz (9), Kevin Youkilis (10)
1L: Wade Davis (4-4)
2B: Jason Bartlett (11)
HR: Carlos Pena (8)

May 23, 2010

Doc on Holiday

As if facing Roy Halladay four or five times a year when he was a Blue Jay wasn’t enough, he had to come up in the rotation during interleague when Boston faced its natural NL rival Philadelphia. Familiarity breeds contempt, and the acquaintance between Halladay and the Red Sox breeds runs.

Not only do pitchers like throwing at Kevin Youkilis but fielders, too. The first baseman arced the ball to center fielder Shane Victorino who let it ricochet out of his glove. Youkilis had a rough slide into the hot corner and his self-induced bumps were exacerbated by the relay throw cuffing him in the neck.

Weathering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune paid off when J.D. Drew drove Youkilis in for the first run of the game. Any additional runs would be a luxury against the perennial All-Star and former Cy Young winner.

In the fourth Adrian Beltre pounded a grounder towards Greg Dobbs with the bases loaded and one out for a tailor-made double play. Like Cristiano Ronaldo kicking the ball between Homer Simpson’s legs so did Beltre’s grounder go between Dobbs’s wickets. Two runs scored, an unusual luxury gifted from the Phillies’ ace.

Not satisfied with a three-run lead, the Phillies were like the Orlando Magic to the Red Sox’s Celtics in the sixth. Boston scored four runs, tipped off by a solo shot by Youkilis, continuing with a double by public enemy number one Drew, and finishing with singles by Beltre, Marco Scutaro, and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Chase Utley tripled off the top of the wall with one out in the home half of the sixth. He was stranded there when Youkilis scooped Beltre’s throw in the dirt for the final out, valiantly clutching the ball in at the heel of his glove while falling down and keeping his foot on the sack.

This could be the trip that kick starts the team into contention or it could be a deceptive temporary reprieve. Perhaps the American League should consider abolishing the designated hitter rule; the Red Sox are playing .667 ball without it and .524 with it. Being a former position player Tim Wakefield is handy enough with the bat and the National League format did garner him his first win in 2010. The Red Sox would be at worst a second place team in any of the divisions in the senior circuit.

Game 45: May 23, 2010
WinRed Sox
8W: Tim Wakefield (1-2)
2B: J.D. Drew (11), Victor Martinez (10)
3B: Kevin Youkilis (3)
HR: Kevin Youkilis (9)
3L: Roy Halladay (6-3)
2B: Shane Victorino (6), Juan Castro (4), Jayson Werth (22), Raul Ibanez (9)
3B: Chase Utley (1)
HR: Ross Gload (2)

May 22, 2010

One-Hit Wonder

Daisuke Matsuzaka must be walking on sunshine after his near no-hitter, an eight-inning gem in which he only surrendered a handful of baserunners. The pitcher allowed the pair of Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez to reach first base twice on bases on balls but also struck out five.

Had Matsuzaka had a 無安打 [Japanese for no-hitter, pronounced muanda], it would have been the fifth no-hitter caught by Jason Varitek. Instead, it was his seventh one-hitter. There is something about Varitek’s ability to bring out the best in his pitching, but that value was attenuated over recent seasons by his offensive decline. The balance between his backstop brilliance and part-time position has finally been struck in 2010. He got knocked down, but he got up again.

The most memorable Red Sox one-hitter was Pedro Martinez’s 17-strikeout domination of the Yankees on September 10, 1999. Three years ago on June 7 Curt Schilling carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning. One out away from history he shook off Varitek and Shannon Stewart rapped a single to right. Jon Lester one-hit the Royals on July 18, 2006 and would battle back from cancer to no-hit Kansas City in 2008.

In the first inning Dustin Pedroia made a superb leaping grab of Chase Utley’s line drive that seemed destined for the right-center gap. Pedroia reached into his glove before he even landed; those crucial milliseconds enabled him to double Polanco off first. That play’s name should be Mickey it was so fine.

Polanco led off the fourth with a walk and Utley barely missed a home run to left. Jeremy Hermida tracked the ball mere inches from the wall to make the catch. It was too early to do the safety dance, but it preserved the visitors’ one-run lead and held the Phillies 無得点 [pronounced mutokuten, scoreless in Japanese].

[One might think this would be the perfect place to mention the Vapors, but that would be as tasteless as Fox turning its cameras on the Philadelphia fans stereotypically bowing.]

Terry Francona replaced David Ortiz with Kevin Youkilis at first in the eighth, but the designated hitter shone defensively in the sixth. Ortiz circled to scoop up Shane Victorino’s grounder and tossed to first just in time for Matsuzaka to glove the ball and tap the bag before the runner. Don’t touch first please, I cannot stand the way you tease.

Somewhat lost in the glare of the potential no-hitter was Matsuzaka’s all-around performance. He executed a perfect sacrifice bunt in the fifth with Ryan Howard playing up the first base line. Marco Scutaro was poised on second trying to get 90 feet closer to home as Matsuzaka aimed the ball towards the left side of the infield. Kyle Kendrick rushed to gather the ball but his only play was to first. The trio of J.D. Drew, Ortiz, and Adrian Beltre followed up with two-out RBI hits for a four-run canto. The starter also fielded his position well, particularly when he snared Jayson Werth’s ringing comebacker to close the seventh. Matsuzaka led off the third with a bloop single to shallow center.

That blooper was not unlike the hit that shattered Matsuzaka’s no-hit bid. Ibanez led off the eighth frame with his second base on balls in the game. Carlos Ruiz fired the ball hard to third, but Beltre showed why he garnered two Gold Gloves, snagging the ball, picking himself up off the turf, and hurling across the diamond to double Ibanez off first. Juan Castro lifted the ball over the infield, just high enough, just fast enough, and at just the right trajectory to elude Scutaro’s reach.

In this game of inches the Red Sox continue to inch up the standings. Everyone’s a superhero. Everyone’s a Captain Kirk.

Game 44: May 22, 2010
WinRed Sox
5W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (3-1)
2B: Adrian Beltre – 2 (13), Marco Scutaro (7), David Ortiz (7)
0L: Kyle Kendrick (2-2)
No extra base hits

There’s a Lot, a Lot of Culture Here

It’s been around five years and the first thing I think of when I hear “Philadelphia” is that “it‘s a baby New York” and cheesesteak, cheesesteak, cheesesteak from the endlessly played Southwest Airlines commercial. It used to be the rousing horns of the Rocky theme or the stirring strings of “Philadelphia Freedom,” but now it’s a corporate message with public access production values.

With his monstrous five-year, $125 million contract Ryan Howard could buy and sell all the culture of the Delaware Valley metropolitan area. The first baseman tied the game in the fourth with an opposite field homer. Much to the delight of Philadelphians J.D. Drew lost track of his counterpart Jayson Werth’s fly ball in the twilight sky. Citizens Bank Park is a bandbox, but who knew one could double in shallow right? In the eighth Drew would rob Greg Dobbs of an extra base hit with running interception on the warning track.

Mauian Shane Victorino lined a single to left to plate Werth for the go-ahead run. Werth added to the lead with a two-run homer to the upper deck in the fifth, one of those moonshots that would be a home run in most other parks.

Boston’s only run came in the first inning. Victor Martinez’s two-out four-bagger would have been a double, maybe a single off the wall in Fenway, depending on how well the outfielder played it.

Refusing to sign with the Phillies may have been one of the best things for Drew. Although terrible for baseball and awful that it benefited Scott Boras, the pockmark on the face of baseball, it proved a boon for Drew. Just ask Donovan McNabb, who was booed when he was drafted after Tim Couch but before Ricky Williams. He toiled for a decade under the harsh gaze of fans who would only grudgingly recognize him as an outstanding player. Luckily for him he was traded from the City of Not-So Brotherly Love to another team within the division, which is tremendous motivation to show his former organization that there’s still gas left in the tank and that the tank is attached to a car that won’t have its tires slashed if he has an off night.

There’s a lot, a lot of culture there, all right, but it’s all in the vomitus spewed from its fans’ mouths.

Game 43: May 21, 2010
Red Sox
1L: John Lackey (4-3)
2B: Adrian Beltre (12)
HR: Victor Martinez (6)
5W: Cole Hamels (5-3)
S: J.C. Romero (2)
2B: Raul Ibanez (8), Jayson Werth (21)
HR: Ryan Howard (8), Jayson Werth (9)

May 20, 2010

He’s So Nine

The right-left combination of Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester called to mind Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in their heyday. Lester topped Buchholz’s eight-inning showing with a complete game and magnificent line: 6 hits, 2 runs (1 earned), no walks, and 9 strikeouts. The two-pronged, sustained pitching forays were exactly what the Red Sox needed after the skirmishes in the Bronx left the bullpen decimated.

Francisco Liriano shut down the Red Sox on April 15, but the Red Sox batters demanded a tax rebate this time around. Liriano hadn’t allowed a home run until he faced Adrian Beltre in the second. The Red Sox third baseman lofted the ball into Boston’s bullpen for the first run of the game. Kevin Youkilis quickly tallied the second four-bagger off Liriano in the third inning with two on and two out. The umpiring crew didn’t need instant replay on the shot to dead center.

Angel Sanchez, the shortstop who was called up to relieve Marco Scutaro and take Scott Schoeneweis’s place on the roster, must have been amazed watching his fellow infielder Dustin Pedroia doggedly chase down balls. The former MVP and Gold Glover dashed into shallow center to jump and snare Delmon Young’s liner for the final out of the fifth. Nick Punto probably thought he had a gutshot single up the middle in the sixth, but Pedroia scampered to the ball, executing his patented “sliding catch and pivot to first” for the second out of the inning.

Mike Lowell, who recently went to the press with his disappointment with his role (or lack thereof) on the team, went 0-for-4 and left three on base. Will he next proclaim to the media throng that his dearth of production is due to lack of regular playing time?

In consecutive games the Red Sox showed that fourth place in the AL East can compete against the class of the AL Central. The Twins came into Fenway leading their division but leave tied with the Tigers. The AL East has four teams playing above .500 while the other two divisions have two apiece. The Red Sox’s next trip has them in traveling to Philadelphia to see how they match up against the Phillies, who top the NL East standings.

Game 42: May 20, 2010
2L: Francisco Liriano (4-3)
2B: Justin Morneau (10), Michael Cuddyer (7)
WinRed Sox
6W: Jon Lester (4-3)
2B: Victor Martinez (9), Kevin Youkilis (11), Adrian Beltre (11)
HR: Adrian Beltre (3), Kevin Youkilis (8)

May 19, 2010

Buchhing the Trend

Along with the rain, Clay Buchholz’s eight-inning performance washed away the bitterness of the series split in the Bronx. The Red Sox starter methodically dismantled one of the best offenses in the American League:

  • Second in OBP: .356
  • Second in batting average: .274
  • Fourth in slugging: .426
  • Tied for first with the Yankees in walks: 169
  • But just seventh in homers with 38
That Buchholz limited the damage to a mere run was impressive, as was the rest of his line: 5 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, and 7 strikeouts. He also picked off Nick Punto to end the third, an accomplishment that will remain in the history books even though replay showed Punto’ s fingers touching first before the tag.

To lead off the fourth Denard Span checked his swing and got enough wood on the ball so that it jotted down the third base line, kissed the corner of the left field stands, and skipped down the left field down for an improbable double. Joe Mauer humpbacked a double to right to notch a fluke run for the visitors.

David Ortiz responded with a two-run homer in the fourth that would have remained an RBI triple were it not for instant replay review by the umpires. The umpire crew seemed loathe to initiate a review until the crowd chanted “home run” and Terry Francona made his case. The review took a surprisingly long time; they could have gone to Jerry Remy’s for a Remy Burger in the amount of time they were off the field.

Bill Hall tacked on an insurance run in the sixth; his ground ball single to left was the third single in the row surrendered by Scott Baker. This run proved the difference as Daniel Bard gave up a run to Joe Mauer in the ninth when the catcher plated Span on a ground out to first. Well played, Mauer.

From the “baseball is just a business” department, Scott Schoeneweis was designated for assignment the day before the anniversary of his wife's death. I love this game and this team, but I’d rather drop five games in a row than see such shoddy treatment of a person.

Game 41: May 19, 2010
2L: Scott Baker (4-4)
2B: Denard Span (7), Joe Mauer (11)
WinRed Sox
3W: Clay Buchholz (5-3)
S: Daniel Bard (1)
HR: David Ortiz (8)

Jeremy Spoke in Class Today

The 59-minute delay of the first pitch and a shattering defeat the night before left the Red Sox with more time to stew in their misery. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Victor Martinez are in couples therapy (in a start with Jason Varitek Matsuzaka pitched one run over seven innings but with Martinez he has allowed 21 hits and 18 earned runs over 14⅔ innings) and Mike Lowell is seeking a divorce from the Red Sox (he vented his frustration to the media), but on the field Boston battled back from a five-run deficit for their first win at Nouveau Stade Fascist this season.

Josh Beckett weathered his second consecutive poor start against the Yankees, lasting just 4⅔ innings with a line of 5 hits, 5 runs (3 earned), 3 walks, and 6 strikeouts. He was pulled in the fifth inning due to injury and the Yankees played the game under protest because they believed the starter didn’t seem to be injured. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the Yankees have doctors and trainers who can diagnose ailments from a distance on their payroll; they can pay for anyone.

The visitors had little success against C.C. Sabathia; over seven innings the only run scored was Kevin Youkilis’s sixth inning solo shot. After Marco Scutaro reached base on Alex Rodriguez’s error to start the eighth set-up man Joba Chamberlain seemed out of sorts. Dustin Pedroia singled to right and J.D. Drew doubled to plate the first run of the inning. With runners on second and third and none out Youkilis lobbed a broken bat bloop to right to bring his team within a run. Chamberlain probably regretted not going with his first instinct to plunk his nemesis.

David Ortiz just missed a two-run homer, his fly ball glancing off the top of the wall in right to ricochet to Brett Gardner. Youkilis galloped across the plate for the tying run but Ortiz was out at second. The designated hitter tarried a bit out of the box in his attempt to discern if the ball he struck was a can of corn or a home run, as the difference between the two in Yankee Stadium is ever so slight.

Mariano Rivera was summoned to hold the tie and give his team a chance to score in the home half of the ninth. Lowell pinch hit for Bill Hall and this time he didn’t have to complain about being pinch run for since he grounded harmlessly out to third.

Darnell McDonald notched his only hit of the night; a liner to center off one of the greatest relievers ever is another memory McDonald can add to his major league scrapbook as he won’t be on the team much longer with the impending returns of Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury. Marcus Thames trotted in to field what should have been the second out of the inning on Scutaro’s fly ball to shallow right, but instead it dropped to the field.

Jeremy Hermida, who replaced Drew in the eighth, lined the ball over the head of Randy Winn in left, plating the go-ahead and insurance runs. Rivera observed Winn’s retreating back as he pursued the ball to the wall, wondering just as Jerry Remy did why the outfielders were playing so shallow.

Even though Daniel Bard is pitching better than Jonathan Papelbon and only threw two pitches, Terry Francona went to Papelbon to close out the game. Papelbon did so, but not without a bit of drama with Rodriguez reaching on a fielding error by Scutaro and scoring on a double by Robinson Cano. The victory, however, was attenuated by last night’s debacle and clubhouse turmoil. A battle was won, but internal wars seem to be raging.

Right around the time Bard was securing a win for which he only faced a single batter, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Vince Carter missed two three throws with 30.6 seconds left. J.J. Reddick then advanced the ball prior to calling timeout, which meant he had to inbound from half-court instead of from a spot of Orlando’s choosing. The Celtics held off the Magic 95-93 and take a 2-0 series lead back to the Garden.

Game 40: May 18, 2010
WinRed Sox
7W: Daniel Bard (1-1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (10)
2B: J.D. Drew (10), Jeremy Hermida (6)
HR: Kevin Youkilis (7)
6L: Mariano Rivera (0-1)
2B: Brett Gardner (4), Robinson Cano – 2 (10)
HR: Juan Miranda (1)

May 17, 2010

Pitch Slapped

As the NESN camera panned over the ruins of Ancienne Stade Fasciste Tom Caron said the sight made him kind of sad. “I’m not sad at all,” commented Dennis Eckersley. “I gave up so many bombs in that place.”

Eckersley is not alone. While Phil Hughes and Chan Ho Park surrendered two homers apiece and Boone Logan one, it was Jonathan Papelbon who relinquished two pivotal clouts in the bottom of the ninth.

Alex Rodriguez tied the game with a blast to center field with one on and one out. Fastball after fastball after fastball, Papelbon still somehow got Robinson Cano out.

With two out, Francisco Cervelli was hit by a pitch. Marcus Thames could have closed his eyes and still won the game because it was obvious that Papelbon was going to throw his questionable heat.

Perhaps being in the ambit of Mariano Rivera made Papelbon think he could throw the same pitch over and over and over again and find success. What Papelbon forgot was that his fastball is straighter than John Hodgman.

What would it take to erase the memory of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s atrocious start? I would have settled for J.D. Drew’s three-run homer in the fifth to bring the Red Sox within a run, or Victor Martinez’s go-ahead, leadoff four-bagger in the sixth, or Kevin Youkilis’s eighth-inning, two-run insurance longball, or Martinez’s other solo shot right after Youkilis’s.

Papelbon had another method to make us forget Matsuzaka’s outing: losing dramatically and infuriatingly in the ninth. This tactic kindly spared Red Sox fans of yet another torturous extra-innings loss. This is what makes Papelbon a fan favorite.

Game 39: May 17, 2010
Red Sox
9H: Daniel Bard (8)
BS, L: Jonathan Papelbon (1, 1-3)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (14)
HR: David Ortiz (7), J.D. Drew (6), Victor Martinez – 2 (5), Kevin Youkilis (6)
11H: Boone Logan (4)
BS: Chan Ho Park (2)
W: Javier Vazquez (2-4)
2B: Francisco Cervelli (3), Mark Teixeira (8), Marcus Thames (4)
HR: Alex Rodriguez (5), Marcus Thames (2)

May 16, 2010

Twist the Sinews of Thy Heart

Window pane plaid did not become Tom Caron, but fortunately the Jim Rice-like threads did not come with Rice’s lesser broadcasting talents. Caron hosted the Barrington Marlins for NESN’s Little League Sunday and he asked Jerry Remy if he had any advice for the kids. Remy quipped that the major league Marlins don’t pay much so try not to play for them.

John Lackey didn’t lack for heart but fell short in execution. To save the bullpen he pitched for a season-high 123 pitches in a losing effort. Over 7 innings Lackey allowed 9 hits, 5 earned runs, 4 walks, and 4 strikeouts. He surrendered only one extra base hit, but it was to light-hitting shortstop Ramon Santiago for a two-run homer. It was Santiago’s first circuit clout of 2010.

Boston’s offense never quite clicked. Jonathan Van Every and Jeremy Hermida paired up for doubles in the third to plate a run, but it was the only run the visitors scored. The Red Sox were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Remy remarked that the Red Sox came out a little flat. I think it’s because the heart (and mouth) of the team, Dustin Pedroia, was out of the lineup due to a tweaked knee. The second baseman injured it attempting to avoid Gerald Laird’s tag a home in the middle game of the series.

The heart of the Celtics was challenged when they faced off against the Orlando Magic in the first game of the Eastern Conference finals. The Magic might be their stoutest challengers in the playoffs thus far. While the Cavaliers were a superstar-centric team the Magic is (are?) a more well-rounded squad. However, where Cleveland fans have a modicum of dignity Orlando fans have only bluster. The Floridians were armed with noise-making paddles, the woeful successors to Thunderstix.

In the din of Amway Arena, the Magic battled back from a double-digit deficit and cut it to a basket in the fourth quarter. The three highest scorers for the Celtics were Ray Allen (25), Paul Pierce (22), and Rasheed Wallace (13 off the bench). Rajon Rondo tallied eight assists while his counterpart Jameer Nelson had only two. In fact, no Magic player had more than two assists; the total for their team was 10 while the Celtics had 21. It was the extra pass and the extra heart that helped the Celtrics prevail in hostile territory, 92-88.

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
Game 38: May 16, 2010
Red Sox
1L: John Lackey (4-2)
2B: Jonathan Van Every (1), Jeremy Hermida (5)
5W: Armando Galarraga (1-0)
H: Jeremy Bonderman (1)
HR: Ramon Santiago (1)

Eponymous Boesch

Rookie outfielder Brennan Boesch powered the Tigers’ comeback with a 4-for-6 showing, turning what was a garden of earthly delights for the Red Sox into a patch of hellish horrors. With the score 6-1 in the sixth and victory seemingly in Jon Lester’s talented left hand, Boesch knocked in two runs with a bases-clearing triple to the right-center gap. Brandon Inge sacrificed Boesch and Detroit was back in the game, 6-4.

In the eighth the Tigers clawed their way to a tie. Hideki Okajima allowed a leadoff homer to Magglio Ordonez. Miguel Cabrera walked in an impressive eight-pitch at bat and advanced to second on Boesch’s ground ball single past a diving Dustin Pedroia. Inge smoked a double to left to plate Cabrera for the tying run.

The visitors squandered a scoring chance in the eleventh inning. Kevin Youkilis, who reached base five times on bases on balls, walked to start the inning. David Ortiz dropped a single into shallow left that Adam Everett gave up on and Johnny Damon failed to catch in a head-first slide. With two on and none out Adrian Beltre struck out swinging and J.D. Drew grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.

Drew otherwise had a productive day; it was his ground-rule double to deep center in the third that granted his team the 3-0 lead. He also made an outstanding play on Cabrera’s pop out in foul territory; his slide took him along the periphery of the stands and his glove was perfectly positioned to nab the ball and spare the pitcher from having to throw another pitch to a fearsome hitter.

Although Red Sox batters combined for a dozen walks, it was Ramon Ramirez’s walk that proved pivotal. With the bases loaded and two out Ramirez walked Ramon Santiago on four pitches to push across the winning run.

Game 37: May 15, 2010 ∙ 12 innings
Red Sox
6BS: Hideki Okajima (2)
L: Manny Delcarmen (1-2)
2B: J.D. Drew (9), Adrian Beltre (10)
HR: Bill Hall (3)
7W: Jose Valverde (1-1)
2B: Adam Everett (4), Brandon Inge (12), Brennan Boesch (8)
3B: Brennan Boesch (2)
HR: Magglio Ordonez (5)

May 14, 2010

Detroit Rocked City

Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz put on a laser show in the first inning, firing home runs over the vastness of Comerica Park. Hit Tracker listed Pedroia’s two-run homer at a respectable 391 feet but Ortiz’s three-run blast measured a whopping 459 feet.

Max Scherzer’s mis-matched eyes weren’t the result of exposure to the Red Sox batters’ spectacle of light but simply heterochromia. Brennan Boesch was so dazzled by the Red Sox second baseman’s display he ran into the outfield fence chasing it down; the rookie was rudely awakened to the fact that the dimensions of Fifth Third Field aren’t quite the same as its big league counterpart.

Get up
Everybody’s gonna move their feet
Get down
Everybody’s gonna leave their seat
You gotta lose your mind in Detroit Rock City

In case there was any doubt about Ortiz’s first-inning four-bagger, the designated hitter sent a souvenir to the right field stands to lead off the fourth inning for an encore.

Clay Buchholz weathered a rocky first inning. He allowed leadoff batter and Rookie of the Year candidate Austin Jackson to reach on a free pass and allowed a two-run single off Boesch’s bat for a run to score. The starter collected his bearings as the innings wore on, allowing no other runners to score and three hits in total. Buchholz’s five walks outnumbered his three strikeouts, so his pitching repertoire, including his mid-90s heater, could be labeled as effectively wild.

Movin’ fast, doin’ 95
Hit top speed but I'm still movin’ much too slow
I feel so good, I'm so alive
I hear my song playin’ on the radio
It goes

Get up
Everybody’s gonna move their feet
Get down
Everybody’s gonna leave their seat

In Boston, no longer will comebacks in seven-game series be solely associated with the 2004 Red Sox. The Bruins allowed a 3-0 goal lead in Game 7 evaporate just as they had squandered a 3-0 game lead in the series. The collapse could be traced to the injury of David Krejci in Game 3, but they were so close to victory that there is no single point of failure. They faced the challenge of their careers and fell short.

Twelve o’clock, I gotta rock
There’s a truck ahead, lights starin’ at my eyes
Oh my God, no time to turn
I got to laugh ’cause I know I’m gonna die
Game 36: May 14, 2010
WinRed Sox
7W: Clay Buchholz (4-3)
2B: Kevin Youkilis (10)
HR: Dustin Pedroia (8), David Ortiz – 2 (6), Bill Hall (2)
2L: Max Scherzer (1-4)
No extra base hits

May 12, 2010

I Would Walk Two-Thousand Miles

The controversy over home plate umpire Dale Scott’s wide zone made me wonder how many of Tim Wakefield’s 2,002 strikeouts were granted by the benefit of an umpire’s urgency to catch a plane, void his bladder, have a nosh, or, since this is a knuckleballer we’re talking about, just the plain inability to track the fluttering pitch.

With fifteen years with the Red Sox under his belt and forty-three years showing in his beard, Wakefield is the picture of amenability and longevity. Need a long reliever? A spot start? A closer? A starter? Well, you know he’s gonna be, he’s gonna be the man who’s on the mound for you.

The crisp afternoon air reflected the brisk play of the starters. Wakefield and Shaun Marcum switched off 1-2-3 innings until the bottom of the second. Kevin Youkilis led off the bottom half of that inning with a leadoff walk. That was the last base on balls to be called in the Red Sox’s favor. Since a baserunner led to scoring opportunities and therefore lengthier at bats, umpire Scott immediately reverted to calling pitches half a foot off the black strikes. J.D. Drew had particular reason to complain as he had two called strikes against him, but batters that struck out swinging were prompted to flail at anything near the plate because of Scott’s generous zone.

David Ortiz vociferously objected to being called out on a fastball that was outside of the 02215 zip code. Scott didn’t eject Ortiz but was in his rights to do so, but when Terry Francona came out to dispute a called first strike against Adrian Beltre the Red Sox skipper got the hook faster than Brandon Morrow. The two-out, bottom of the ninth ejection was largely a symbolic protest for an entire game of poor calls at the plate.

I wanted the Red Sox to score and tie not just because I’m a fan of the team but I wanted to see the game go just as many innings as it took for the umpiring crew to miss whatever appointment they had. Since the Red Sox have an off day tomorrow anyway it wouldn’t have put them too out of sorts.

Despite the disappointing loss, Boston’s 10-game homestand resulted in seven wins. They are above .500 and made up one game in the gap between them and third-place Toronto.

It doesn’t seem like much to brag about, but it’s a much better result than the Bruins’ recent spate of losses. This Friday the Bruins might become the flip side of the 2004 Red Sox and lose a seven-game series after taking a three-game lead.

Game 35: May 12, 2010
WinBlue Jays
3W: Shaun Marcum (2-1)
H: Scott Downs (9)
S: Kevin Gregg (10)
2B: Lyle Overbay (7), Travis Snider (10)
HR: Travis Snider (5)
Red Sox
2L: Tim Wakefield (0-2)
2B: J.D. Drew (8)

May 11, 2010

Take These Broken Wings

And learn to flutter up the AL East standings over the molting Blue Jays. Toronto shed their early winning plumage in favor of the subdued hues of mediocrity they sport when playing the Red Sox. The Blue Jays have yet to defeat Boston this season but have been doing so well against the rest of the league that they remain a half a game ahead of the Red Sox in the standings.

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched like the phenom he was promised to be when John W. Henry placed the highest posting fee ever for a Nippon Professional Baseball player. The starter struck out nine, walked none, gave up three hits, and gave up a single run over seven innings. Even Matsuzaka’s most vocal critic Jerry Remy admitted he enjoyed the starter’s improved, aggressive approach to batters.

Blue Jays starter Dana Eveland carried on the tradition established by Brandon Morrow and walked more batters than he struck out. In the second inning Jason Varitek hit the sole home run off Eveland; playing part-time may have been difficult for the catcher to accept but the role has benefited him and his team immensely.

Darnell McDonald had a smashing debut but has cooled considerably in May. He broke out of an 0-for-12 skid with an RBI double in the fourth, joining Varitek, J.D. Drew, Bill Hall, and Kevin Youkilis with RBIs in this game. To harp on a much plucked upon theme, Theo Epstein composed the team to win games in this manner: modest contributions from the lineup chiming in with just enough runs to support a virtuoso pitching staff.

Although the Bruins failed Monday night to put away the Flyers in a disheartening manner, as the Red Sox ensured a series win against the Blue Jays the Celtics trounced the Cavaliers 120-88. The Celtics secured a 3-2 lead in the series, but as I didn’t believe in Varitek’s reinvigorated career I am dubious about the resuscitation of the Celtics’ playoff hopes.

Game 34: May 11, 2010
Blue Jays
1L: Dana Eveland (3-2)
2B: John Buck (10), Fred Lewis (10)
WinRed Sox
6W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (2-1)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (13), Darnell McDonald (4)
HR: Jason Varitek (6)

May 10, 2010

To Morrow, Tomorrow, I Love You, Tomorrow

You’re only a walk away.

Brandon Morrow couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat (and other cliches) while John Lackey nearly squandered a three-run lead in the fifth. It was a game that neither team deserved to win, but the rules of the game dictate that a squad must win, no matter how unworthy the method.

Alex Gonzalez contributed to that lead with a second-inning shot that appeared to clear the left field wall but was ruled a double by replay. Scoring-wise the umpires’ ruling was rendered moot as he was driven in by John Buck, but the shortstop has one less home run to his already impressive total of 10 longballs.

Blue Jays pitchers passed out seven free passes; the crowd at Fenway must have been annoyed hearing clips of “Walk This Way” over and over again. The base on balls epidemic reached its height in the home half of the second: the idiom “batted around” didn’t quite apply as six of the baserunners reached by walking.

Dustin Pedroia walked with the bases loaded to bring his team within a run. Aaron Hill contributed to the fiasco with a throwing error on a tailor-made double play ball off the bat of Victor Martinez; Hill’s Nick Green-like missile allowed two runs to score. David Ortiz plated a run with a two-out single to right. At the end of second Toronto’s two-run lead was converted into a two-run lead for the local nine.

All the outstanding pitching performances came from both teams’ bullpens. From the fifth inning forward Rommie Lewis and Casey Janssen held Boston batters to two hits and no walks. If Cito Gaston had a quicker hook on Morrow (it was only 1 and two-third innings but seemed like many more) this game could have easily gone the other way. Red Sox relievers Hideki Okajima, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon responded to the challenge and held the one-run lead.

It was too chilly to reunite the bullpen band so the relief corps has to find other ways to while away the hours. While Ramon Ramirez repeatedly tossed a baseball into his glove Tim Wakefield swiped Ramirez’s hand warmer. Being a nice guy and therefore a terrible prankster he gave it back moments later.

Game 33: May 10, 2010
Blue Jays
6L: Brandon Morrow (2-3)
2B: Alex Gonzalez (13), John Buck (9)
HR: Jose Bautista (7)
WinRed Sox
7W: John Lackey (4-1)
H: Hideki Okajima (5), Daniel Bard (7)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (9)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (12)

May 9, 2010

Feudal Societies

Jon Lester and Rajon Rondo have similar miens: unperturbed, humble, and focused. Some would mistake their subdued manner with a lack of intensity, but I perceive them to have that quiet confidence that smolders through their in-game accomplishments and not through post-game interviews or on-field shenanigans.

Rondo notched his fourth career playoff triple-double (29 points, 18 rebounds, 13 assists) in his team’s 97-87 victory over the Cleveland LeBrons. The Celtics’ team trajectory seems to be comparable to the Red Sox’s state of affairs: an aging roster that is a few years removed from a championship that is good enough to make the playoffs annually with younger players like Rondo waiting in the wings to usher in a new wave of championships.

If there are questions whether or not the Red Sox will make the postseason, it won’t be because of the reinvigorated Lester. The southpaw shed himself of his April woes and staunched the formidable Yankees offense with a 7 inning, 4 hit, 2 earned run, 2 walk, 7 strikeout performance.

The third-inning five-run offensive onslaught by the Red Sox demonstrated that the team can string together hits. Leadoff hitter Marco Scutaro walked and advanced to third on Dustin Pedroia’s scorching ground ball double off the left field stands. Although Victor Martinez disappointingly grounded out to A.J. Burnett, Kevin Youkilis got a free pass to load the bases and J.D. Drew sacrificed to deep left-center.

With two out David Ortiz starched an unlucky ground-rule double to right; if the ball had gotten into the jet stream it would have cleared the fences, if it were a little lower it would have caromed about the right field curve and two runs would have scored.

Adrian Beltre took a different tack and lined to the left-center gap, plating Youkilis and Ortiz. Jeremy Hermida capped off the scoring with an RBI single looped to shallow left.

Unlike Fox, ESPN had no moment of silence for Ernie Harwell and Robin Roberts. The Sunday Night Baseball team is more tolerable with Orel Hershiser and Jon Miller keeping Joe Morgan somewhat in check, but we were still treated to a seemingly endless treatise on Robinson Cano’s greatness in the sixth inning. Cano grounded into a double play to end the inning.

Game 32: May 9, 2010
3L: A.J. Burnett (4-1)
HR: Nick Swisher (7), Alex Rodriguez (3)
WinRed Sox
9W: Jon Lester (3-2)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (11), David Ortiz (6), Adrian Beltre – 2 (9), Kevin Youkilis (9)
HR: Jeremy Hermida (4)

May 8, 2010

Fatboy Versus Slim

How badly could a game have gone to prefer that it ended in the fifth inning with the score 6-3 in favor of the Yankees instead of playing out the full nine?

How about Mark Teixeira, who chose the Yankees over the Red Sox, blasting two more home runs in the late innings? Not that the third longball should count since it came off Jonathan Van Every. How about the fact that Terry Francona even sent Van Every to the mound, the first position player to pitch in a Red Sox/Yankees game ever?

The concept of run prevention was assiduously applied, but not to Yankees’ offense. The local nine scored in a single inning. Darnell McDonald, one of the few bright chapters in the otherwise dreary tome of the Red Sox’s season thus far, knocked a solo homer with one out in the third. C.C. Sabathia then induced a fly ball out off the bat of Marco Scutaro.

With two out in the inning and a slim one-run lead, Sabathia sought revenge for his teammates who were hit by Josh Beckett in the series opener. Sabathia ignored the fact that no one in their right minds thought Beckett was intentionally hitting Yankees, not even the hair-trigger umpires who dole out illogical warnings regularly.

Dustin Pedroia took a pitch in the back and calmly made his way to first. If only Fox had its act together and had a mic on Pedroia, because you could tell he was making his feelings known to Ron Johnson, Teixeira, the Red Sox bat boy, and anyone else within earshot. Victor Martinez retaliated in the proper way: a two-run shot over the left field wall to give his team a 3-2 lead. It was the local nine’s only lead in the series so far.

Tim McCarver rhapsodized that the Yankees’ signing of Sabathia was “shrewd.” Brian Cashman is as shrewd as a john who knows what street to cruise for prostitutes. The Fox broadcasters were silent for much of the third inning in honor of Ernie Harwell and Robin Roberts. Major League Baseball should seriously consider allowing viewers the option to view and listen to the game in such a manner. The legion of fans that would pay not to hear Joe Buck and McCarver just might be greater than the amount MLB receives from Fox for broadcast rights.

Game 31: May 8, 2010
14W: Alfredo Aceves (3-0)
H: Boone Logan (3)
2B: Ramiro Pena (1), Derek Jeter (6)
HR: Mark Teixeira – 3 (5)
Red Sox
3L: Clay Buchholz (3-3)
HR: Darnell McDonald (3), Victor Martinez (3)

May 7, 2010

Triple Frown

Just four days ago the Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox all won on a single day. Hub sports fans had little to celebrate tonight with all three teams losing.

Only the Bruins put up much of a fight, battling back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the match in the third period. Finnish flyers winger Ville Leino broke the tie at the 14:20 mark but veteran forward Mark Recchi scored with 32 seconds remaining to force the game into overtime.

Recently returned Simon Gagne scored the winning goal with 5:20 remaining in extra time. Gagnes mean nothing good for Boston teams.

The real heroes on the field and in reality were the 82nd Airborne Division All American Freefall team. Three paratroopers descended from a C-130 Hercules cruising at 3,000 feet altitude with a speed of 120 miles per hour, the approximate terminal velocity of a person with arms and legs extended. They carried baseballs signed by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The aerial event raised awareness for the The Home Base charity, an organization formed by the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital to aid soldiers returning from war with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries.

They spiraled earthwards, resembling the Red Sox’s regular season thus far and the Celtics playoff run. Boston’s basketball team trails the series against the Cavaliers 2-1, and since David Stern’s desire for a Kobe Bryant and LeBron James face-off in the finals is greater than Alex Rodriguez’s lust for blond starlets, I expect NBA referees to ease Cleveland’s way to the next round.

Josh Beckett, who is supposed to be Boston’s ace and opening day starter, reverted to April form, lasting a mere 5⅓ innings with 9 hits, 9 earned runs, 3 walks, and 8 strikeouts. In contrast, Phil Hughes is the Yankees fifth starter and ended the evening with a 4-0 record, 7 innings pitched, 2 earned runs, 1 base on balls, and 7 strikeouts.

If only Tuuka Rask could pitch.

Game 30: May 7, 2010
10W: Phil Hughes (4-0)
2B: Alex Rodriguez (7)
HR: Nick Swisher (6)
Red Sox
3L: Josh Beckett (1-1)
2B: J.D. Drew (7)

May 6, 2010

Winds of Change

The Angels jumped to an early lead due to Daisuke Matsuzaka’ first inning wildness. The starter walked three batters, allowed two hits, and inflated his pitch count to 39 pitches; when he finally struck out Mike Napoli to end the inning the visitors had put up four runs.

Victor Martinez halved the deficit in the third with a wind-aided two-run homer into the Red Sox bullpen. If Mike Timlin were still around he probably wouldn’t have gotten up to catch the ball with a towel since the fly ball didn’t seem to have a chance to clear the bullpen fence.

The fifth inning was as bad for Scott Kazmir as the first was for Matsuzaka. The Red Sox batted around and tallied five runs in honor of Nomar Garciparra. Oh, that was yesterday’s game.

Marco Scutaro and Dustin Pedroia singled and doubled respectively with well-hit shots to the outfield. Martinez’s double wasn’t struck particularly hard but it skipped along the first base line long enough to plate two runs to tie the score 4-4.

In the midst of the rally, Erick Aybar tried to fake his way into a triple play by dropping Mike Lowell’s liner with runners at first and second but James Hoye wasn’t having it. Aybar continued the act long enough to make me think he wanted a shot at an Oscar nomination. Lowell tried this a couple of years ago but eventually conceded his ruse with a grin.

Terry Francona pulled Bill Hall in favor of Jeremy Hermida with ducks on the pond and two out, a move that paid immediate dividends. Two runs scored on Hermida’s single up the middle and another run on Darnell McDonald’s line drive double to center.

Francona had the quick hook on his starter; after Juan Rivera’s sixth-inning double Matsuzaka was removed from the game and Manny Delcarmen took over. Matsuzaka received rather warm applause given his line: 5⅓ innings pitched, 5 hits, 5 earned runs, 3 walks, and 3 strikeouts.

Just as the Red Sox catcher benefited from the evening’s gales so did Napoli. The visiting backstop’s body language after his swing was resignation at a can of corn to right field, but the jet stream from left to right carried the ball into the home bullpen. After the two-run shot the Angels were within a run of the opposition. Manny Delcarmen stood with hands on his hips, seeming to say, ‘So much for home field advantage.’

Pedroia made his way around the bases in the home half of the sixth by way of a single, a stolen base, a ground out, and finally to home after Brian Stokes walked the bases loaded and then walked J.D. Drew. The diminutive second baseman almost didn’t make hit home when a shot foul smoked by Lowell zipped by him, but Pedroia evaded the ball with a skateboard aerial-like move.

In the midst of the four-run rally by the local nine Howie Kendrick booted Hermida’s ground ball in his attempt to start the double play then opted to get the easy out at first. But in his haste to pivot to first he fell down awkwardly and the throw ended up just a few feet away from him. Mike Scioscia’s pining for Chone Figgins was all but palpable; his look of disgusted scorn said, “Chone would have turned that.”

While the Angels are not playing like the contending team of the past seasons, this four-game series sweep might be proof that Red Sox are no longer the disappointing team of April.

Game 29: May 6, 2010
6L: Scott Kazmir (2-2)
2B: Howie Kendrick (6), Bobby Abreu (10), Juan Rivera (6), Erick Aybar (6)
HR: Mike Napoli (1)
WinRed Sox
11W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-1)
H: Manny Delcarmen (3)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (10), Victor Martinez (6), Darnell McDonald (3)
3B: Kevin Youkilis (2)
HR: Victor Martinez (2)

May 5, 2010

Happy Cinco de Nomar

On May 5, the day number five Nomar Garciaparra was feted, the Red Sox returned to a .500 winning percentage.

The Red Sox gave Garciaparra two Fenway wooden chairs number 5 (of course) and 6 (for his mentor Johnny Pesky). He also received a watch, a rather cliched retirement gift idea for such a singular player. Current Red Sox players Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Tim Wakefield came out to hug him and former players Lou Merloni, Brian Daubach, and Trot Nixon made it to Fenway to be part of the celebration.

The video retrospective documented the shortstop’s glove adjustments and toe taps. Before he threw out the first pitch he dashed to the infield and pocketed a handful of infield dirt. His pitch to Jason Varitek was delivered with his signature twist and side arm angle.

At last the team’s philosophy of run prevention is playing out as planned. John Lackey delivered seven innings of two-hit baseball with two bases on balls and four strikeouts. The only run marring his line was Brandon Wood’s solo homer in the fifth. I hope when Lackey left the mound he looked over in Mike Scioscia’s direction and said, “This is mine.”

Woods’s home run was atonement for his second-inning misplay. With J.D. Drew at the keystone sack by way of a leadoff base on balls and a single off the bat of David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre tapped the ball towards Wood. The Angels third baseman tried to coordinate his footwork to catch and then tag third but failed to even glove the ball. It skipped past him to hit the left field stands, leaving Erick Aybar to chase it down while Drew scored the first run of the game.

Ortiz, the bane of Joel Pineiro’s existence, lofted a longball into the Monster seats for the lead in the fifth. Adrian Beltre tacked on an insurance four-bagger in the eighth, but Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon didn’t need the cushion.

Another one of Boston’s teams, the Bruins, were on a business trip to the City of Taserly Love and successfully negotiated a 4-1 win-lose deal with the Flyers. The Bruins have another match in Philadelphia this Friday; with any luck they will make it through the next few days untased.

(This column’s title is courtesy of a clever fan at today’s game whose sign I saw on NESN.)

Game 28: May 5, 2010
1L: Joel Pineiro (2-4)
HR: Brandon Wood (2)
WinRed Sox
3W: John Lackey (3-1)
H: Daniel Bard (6)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (8)
2B: Marco Scutaro (6)
HR: David Ortiz (4), Adrian Beltre (2)

May 4, 2010

Angel in the Outfield

Gauging the trajectory of a fly ball with a thirty-seven foot, two inch wall getting closer with every stride isn’t easy. Just ask Juan Rivera, left fielder for the Angels. His home field is a fairly conventional one; in Anaheim the only opportunity for distraction is if he imagines himself traversing the boulders in center field or refines his plans for a raft accurate to the scale of the fountains to send some Lego minifigs to their certain doom.

Rivera ran a puzzled path to Jeremy Hermida’s fly ball to the warning track in the eighth. Even Lastings Milledge, who had a horrific experience in left a few years ago, was dumbfounded by Rivera’s route. The bases emptied as Rivera filled with shame. The three Red Sox runs broke the 1-1 stalemate.

Boston capitalized on a bases-loaded situation after Anaheim squandered the same in the top half of the eighth. After his hitters strung together consecutive singles Mike Scioscia couldn’t help himself and put in the call to Brandon Wood to sacrifice bunt the runners over.

Somewhere in that gentle night Earl Weaver had not so gentle words on that strategy. Sure enough, Bobby Abreu grounded out to Dustin Pedroia who chased down Erick Aybar for the second out and shoveled the ball to Kevin Youkilis for the final out.

That was not the only notable double play, however. David Ortiz grounded into twin killings in two crucial situations. He ended a potential early offensive strike in the third inning, wasting Victor Martinez’s leadoff single. In the eighth he tapped a 2-0 pitch to Howie Kendrick with the bases loaded and none out.

Even with Jon Lester’s return to ace form (8 innings pitched, 5 hits, 1 earned run, 2 walked, 5 strikeouts), NESN will find another topic to vent their discontent. Night after night NESN puts up polls designed to milk the manufactured designated hitter controversy between Mike Lowell and Ortiz. The tedium is only broken up by a Daisuke Matsuzaka start, which will inevitably prompt a Matsuzaka versus Tim Wakefield survey.

I’m not calling upon NESN to trumpet every Red Sox player in a YES-like fashion with hagiographic overtones, but to pander to every negative story makes me think that Dan Shaugnessy is moonlighting for the television station. Perhaps Heidi Watney was not the only NESN employee suffering from a concussion, as someone in the station has forgotten what it means to cover the team fairly.

Game 27: May 4, 2010
1L: Kevin Jepsen (0-1)
2B: Torii Hunter (11), Mike Napoli (3)
WinRed Sox
5W: Jon Lester (2-2)
2B: Marco Scutaro – 2 (5), J.D. Drew (6), Dustin Pedroia (9), Jeremy Hermida (4), Mike Lowell (5)

May 3, 2010

Triple Crown

Mike Lowell, whose last name is shared by a city in Massachusetts, hit three doubles. All three Boston area teams, the Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox, won their respective games tonight. Lowell’s doubles cosmically aligned with the fact the hockey and basketball teams played the second games of their respective series.

Just like how today’s team meeting cured all the club’s ills.

Terry Francona is a savvy skipper; it’s no accident that the meeting was called the afternoon before his best starter took the mound. Clay Buchholz didn’t have a dazzling outing (5⅔ innings pitched, 8 hits, 4 earned runs, 3 walks, and 2 strikeouts), but with the Red Sox bats knocking in the most runs in a game this season Don Orsillo could have started and they would have won. He does Pilates.

The left field wall served as target practice for Red Sox batters. Bill Hall and Adrian Beltre both clouted their first home runs as Red Sox players and Beltre got the silent treatment in the dugout. Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia added to their homer totals and are the class of Red Sox sluggers; the former is tied for second in team homers while the latter is in the lead (and doesn’t let any of his teammates forget it).

I was switching channels faster than a teenager who discovered the PIN for the adult cable channels. Milan Lucic knocked in the go-ahead goal against the Flyers with 2:57 left in regulation. As “Dirty Water” played in the Garden, the Pride of Hyde Park Manny Delcarmen took the mound at Fenway. As Scott Schoeneweis struggled through the final three outs the Celtics outlasted newly-crowned NBA MVP LeBron James for a 104-86 victory.

The only subdued note of the evening was Orsillo announcing that Dave Roberts is undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There are so many cancer survivors associated with the team: Lowell, Larry Lucchino, Jerry Remy, Jon Lester, and Shonda Schilling. Since the disease was diagnosed at an early stage, the prognosis for Roberts is extremely optimistic. There was no more gracious roleplayer on the 2004 squad. Stolen base or not, this is a man to root for.

Game 26: May 3, 2010
8L: Joe Saunders (1-5)
2B: Maicer Izturis (3), Erick Aybar (5), Ryan Budde (1)
WinRed Sox
17W: Clay Buchholz (3-2)
H: Manny Delcarmen (2)
2B: Mike Lowell – 3 (4), Victor Martinez (5), Kevin Youkilis (8), J.D. Drew (5), Adrian Beltre (7)
HR: Kevin Youkilis (5), Bill Hall (1), Adrian Beltre (1), Dustin Pedroia (7)

May 2, 2010

For the Birds

Yesterday’s home run derby at Camden Yards was only carried forward to today’s game by Jason Varitek and J.D. Drew. Their two solo shots were the only runs the Red Sox managed as the team went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

Josh Beckett snapped out of his April funk with one of his best starts of the season: 7 innings pitched, 6 hits, 2 earned runs, no walks, and 6 strikeouts. It was a welcome change from Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield’s almost criminal performance the night before. Indeed, in one dugout shot from a NESN camera Matsuzaka was sitting next to a uniformed police officer.

Other individuals who could be found guilty of malfeasance:

  • With runners in scoring position, David Ortiz has a .136 batting average, .175 on-base percentage, and .182 slugging.
  • Similarly, Victor Martinez has poor numbers with runners in scoring position: .211, .318, .368. Not the percentages a manager would like from the three-hole.
  • Drew isn’t doing as badly as Ortiz or Martinez with runners in scoring position (.267, .350, .733), but he is only batting .214 and his OBP is a paltry .306.
  • Hideki Okajima is sporting a hefty 2.13 WHIP and has just 5 strikeouts compared to 4 walks in 8 innings.

And yet eight innings is not a reasonable sample size. Twenty-five games a season does not make. But what is frustrating is to watch the widening gap between Boston and the pair of teams leading the AL East, Tampa Bay and New York, especially as a result of a sweep by the cellar-dwelling Orioles.

While I don’t put a lot of stock into what most of what Jim Rice says in terms of baseball analysis, his insights into the everyday life of the locker room could well be accurate. In the post-game show he said that players tend to play to the level of their competition. Perhaps Boston did subconsciously underestimate Baltimore and will rile themselves up for the upcoming series against the Angels, Yankees, and Blue Jays.

Or better yet, maybe those teams will take the fourth-place, sub-500 Red Sox for granted.

Game 25: May 2, 2010 ∙ 10 innings
Red Sox
2L: Jonathan Papelbon (1-2)
HR: Jason Varitek (5), J.D. Drew (5)
3W: Matt Albers (2-3)
2B: Rhyne Hughes (2), Matt Wieters (3), Ty Wigginton (4)

May 1, 2010

Batting Practice in Baltimore

Daisuke Matsuzaka returned to the major league mound with decidedly mixed results. After he allowed Nick Markakis to drive in Adam Jones in the first inning he didn’t allow another hit until 12 batters later. Ty Wigginton’s fifth-inning line drive home run blasted opened the Orioles’ offensive floodgates.

Terry Francona probably should have started warming a pitcher at that moment, but Matsuzaka faced the next seven batters, only managed one out, and surrendered a three-run homer to Matt Wieters. By the time Tim Wakefield was ready to relieve Matsuzaka six runs had scored.

Wakefield’s sixth inning eerily resembled Matsuzaka’s. The knuckleballer allowed Wigginton to launch a solo shot and Nick Markakis lofted a home run over the daunting scoreboard in right with two runners on.

Although Boston’s pitching proved lacking, David Ortiz’s two home runs are hopeful harbingers of the slugger’s return to form. For a team whose calling cards were supposed to be pitching and defense, the Red Sox have been benefiting from production from unexpected corners, such as Jonathan Van Every’s third-inning solo four-bagger.

In top of the seventh Victor Martinez drove in two runs and Kevin Youkilis smacked a two-run homer to left. The four-run rally coincided with the Celtics taking an 11-point lead into halftime against the Cavaliers.

But neither the Red Sox nor the Celtics would join the Bruins in victory. In the end Matsuzaka’s return was a overshadowed by another Boston athlete’s homecoming. Marc Savard, who hadn’t been on the ice since March 7 because of a concussion, scored the winning goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in sudden death overtime.

Game 24: May 1, 2010
Red Sox
9L: Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-1)
2B: J.D. Drew (4), Adrian Beltre (6), Marco Scutaro (3)
HR: David Ortiz – 2 (3), Jonathan Van Every (1), Kevin Youkilis (4)
12W: Brad Bergesen (1-2)
H: Mark Hendrickson (2), Alberto Castillo (1), Cla Meredith (2)
S: Alfredo Simon (2)
2B: Miguel Tejada (4)
HR: Ty Wigginton – 2 (8), Matt Wieters (2), Nick Markakis (2), Luke Scott (3)

Harm City

Adrian Beltre can’t blame the snakes in the grass at Fenway for his poor play at Camden Yards. The third baseman compounded Darnell McDonald’s initial error on Miguel Tejada’s liner to lead off the home half of the fourth by misplaying Ty Wigginton’s sharp grounder. With none out and two on, Beltre played the bounding ball to the side to facilitate a double play but the sphere shot past him. Tejada scored the first run of the game; when he crossed the plate the camera caught John Lackey yelling a profanity as the pitcher backed up home.

That unearned run was the difference in yet another extra innings one-run affair.

On the offensive side of the ball Beltre had a 3-for-5 showing but neither scored nor drove in a run. He led off the fifth with a single but was the final out when he slid past second base on Marco Scutaro’s strikeout. The Red Sox third baseman also led off the seventh with a single but second umpire Chad Fairchild ruled that Beltre interfered with Wigginton’s attempted double play. Replays showed that Beltre reached up while slithering over the keystone sack, but the maneuver was nothing outré. It was just baseball.

“I wish they called them like that when I was playing,” remarked Jerry Remy.

J.D. Drew’s launched two homers, one in the second to bring his team within a run and another in the eighth to put his team ahead, 4-3. With the Orioles’ offensive incompetence and the Red Sox relief acuity, the visitors seemed well on their way to a victory.

Tejada responded by sending Daniel Bard’s inside fastball into the stands in the bottom of the eighth. The corner infielder also knocked in the winning run with a grounder up the middle.

Even though Boston isn’t playing great, it could be worse. The club could be at the end of April celebrating its fifth win of the season as if it were a walk-off win in Game 7 of the World Series.

Game 23: April 30, 2010 ∙ 10 innings
Red Sox
4BS: Daniel Bard (3)
L: Ramon Ramirez (0-1)
HR: J.D. Drew – 2 (4), Dustin Pedroia (6)
5H: Will Ohman (4), Jason Berken (1)
BS: Jim Johnson (3)
W: Matt Albers (1-3)
2B: Nick Markakis (10), Adam Jones (4)
HR: Miguel Tejada (4)

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