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Home » Monthly Archive » October 2013

October 29, 2013

Pair of Aces

Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright faced off again, this time on Wainwright’s home field. Just as he did in Game 1 of this Fall Classic Wainwright surrendered a run in the first inning. But unlike that game Wainwright got back on track quickly.

Lester lasted 7⅔ innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. Only Matt Holliday tallied a run on him with a fourth-inning blast to center field. Lester made Cardinals hitters look almost as bad as he looked in his three at bats.

The Cardinals started a rally in the bottom of the third with David Freese’s leadoff gutshot single. Pete Kozma followed with a bunt that Lester chased down and barehanded. The lefty ace flipped to David Ortiz, who did his signature snappy snare and step off the bag.

Ortiz’s duende extended beyond his fielding. He paired with Dustin Pedroia with doubles in the first inning for an early lead. The single danced down the first base line with Allen Craig’s mitt nowhere near it. Ortiz was 3-for-4, increasing his World Series stats to historic proportions: .733/.750/1.267. His teammates call him Cooperstown, and he may eventually be the first designated hitter enshrined there.

While the bottom part of the Red Sox lineup has been lackluster at the plate they strung together baserunners when it mattered. Xander Bogaerts knocked a single up the middle with one out and Stephen Drew worked a base on balls in the seventh inning. David Ross was at the plate and Lester was in the on-deck circle. As sparkling as Lester’s pitching was, he failed to advance the runners on a bunt attempt in the fifth inning, wasting Bogaerts’s and Ross’s singles.

David Ross didn’t send the ball over the fences like Jonny Gomes, but his ground-rule double to left was still thrilling. The initial angle didn’t show where the ball landed but the replay showed it was mere inches from being foul.

It’s baseball, and something like Jose Lobaton’s home run could always happen somehow. But give Koji Uehara, a closer at the pinnacle of his craft, a two-run lead in the ninth and you can put an “S” on your scorecard in ink without fear of scratching it out.

The Cardinals’ charter was delayed for six hours due to mechanical problems. They could have used a more flightworthy craft, like the one the Best Fans in Baseball made and flew towards the mound in the seventh inning.

World Series Game 5: October 28, 2013
WinBoston Red Sox
3 W: Jon Lester (2-0)
S: Koji Uehara (2)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (2), David Ortiz (2), David Ross (1)
St. Louis Cardinals
1 L: Adam Wainwright (0-2)
2B: David Freese (1)
HR: Matt Holliday (2)

October 28, 2013

Holding On

David Ortiz rallied his teammates and delivered a speech akin to General George S. Patton’s speech to the Third Army. The events that followed in the game were like Patton Oswalt’s “Parks and Recreation” filibuster.

Oswalt mashed up Star Wars, the Avengers, and a myriad of other fandoms in his diatribe. John Farrell cobbled together a World Series victory with a last-minute lineup and a melange of arms.

Ortiz laid the groundwork in the fifth inning with a double scorched to the right-center gap. “Let’s go! ¡Vámonos!” he exhorted from the keystone sack. Jonny Gomes, who filled in for late scratch Shane Victorino, worked a walk after falling behind Lance Lynn in the count and Xander Bogaerts’s five-pitch at bat also granted him a free pass. With the bases loaded, Stephen Drew got enough loft on the ball and sacrificed in Ortiz to tie the game.

Clay Buchholz was throwing like Tom Brady. Despite his fastball hovering around 88 MPH, the starter gutted out 4 innings and only surrendered one unearned run. No one would be surprised if some point in the future Buchholz’s and Brady’s injuries are revealed to be much worse than was assumed. For the latter athlete, a greater share of the shock would be that the Patriots organization revealed anything about the quarterback.

At first the Boston batters didn’t seem to take Ortiz’s words to heart. Jacob Ellsbury and Daniel Nava didn’t get the ball out of the infield. It took Dustin Pedroia’s single to center to spark the rally. Mike Matheny decided not to use Randy Choate against Ortiz and Lynn ended up intentionally walking Ortiz.

Matheny then pulled Lynn in favor of Seth Maness, whose talent was inducing double plays to get out of jams. Although a double play wasn’t needed, Matheny hoped the reliever would dissipate the visitors’ threatening rally with an innocuous ground out.

Gomes was 0-for-9 up to that point. As endearing as his spirit, helmet, and goggles are, it seemed that his Farrell kept on running the platoon player out on the field more for his fashion choices and spunk than for his bat. But every so often a sinkerballer’s pitch doesn’t sink. That happened on the 2-2 pitch, which Gomes sent into the Red Sox bullpen.

Felix Doubront took over on the mound from Buchholz in the bottom of the fifth because Mike Carp hit for the pitcher in the top of the frame. The southpaw dazzled batters for 2⅔ innings, striking out three and walking none. Pinch hitter Shane Robinson chased him from the game in the seventh with a double to Gomes. It was a line drive that Nava might have been able to catch, highlighting that what Gomes may give you with his bat you might lose on his glove.

Farrell called on Craig Breslow for the lefty Matt Carpenter. The leadoff hitter singled to Nava, who made an excellent throw home. David Ross blocked the plate but Robinson stepped over Ross’s foot to bring his team within two runs of the Red Sox. Breslow gave nothing to Beltran to hit, setting up the Junichi Tazawa-Matt Holliday rematch.

This time Tazawa prevailed, inducing a ground out to Pedroia.

In Oswalt’s universe Tony Stark called on Moon Knight, Daredevil, Hercules, and the pantheon of gods from “The Clash of the Titans.” Farrell summoned what most Red Sox fans thought was a fictional creation up until this season: an effective John Lackey. The starter bridged the gap between Tazawa and Koji Uehara ably, only allowing a runner due to Bogaerts’s throwing error. Yadier Molina scorched what would have been a double had Bogaerts failed to make the stop before it capered down the left field line. In his haste and inexperience, however, Bogaerts threw wildly to first and Molina ended up at second anyway. Showing the need for steady defense, Lackey induced a pop out and a ground out to Drew.

Uehara also didn’t have a clean inning. Another pinch hitter, Allen Craig, found the right field fence over Nava’s head. For hitters without the surname Molina it would have been a double but Craig’s ankle hindered him from reaching second. Kolten Wong pinch ran for Craig.

With the score 4-2, Wong’s run didn’t matter. With two outs, there was no reason for Mike Napoli to hold on the runner (he did say he was guarding the line). With Carlos Beltran at the plate, the runner’s top priority is to not make an out.

But this gallimaufry of circumstances ended the game improbably and historically: a pickoff.

World Series Game 4: October 27, 2013
WinBoston Red Sox
4 W: Felix Doubront (1-0)
H: Junichi Tazawa (1), John Lackey (1)
S: Koji Uehara (1)
2B: David Ortiz (1)
HR: Jonny Gomes (1)
St. Louis Cardinals
2 L: Lance Lynn (0-1)
2B: Yadier Molina (1), Shane Robinson (1)

October 27, 2013


There were two rules cited. The first was 7.06:

When obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal "Obstruction."
If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batterrunner [sic] is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction. Any preceding runners, forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction, shall advance without liability to be put out.
Rule 7.06(a) Comment: When a play is being made on an obstructed runner, the umpire shall signal obstruction in the same manner that he calls “Time,” with both hands overhead. The ball is immediately dead when this signal is given; however, should a thrown ball be in flight before the obstruction is called by the umpire, the runners are to be awarded such bases on wild throws as they would have been awarded had not obstruction occurred. On a play where a runner was trapped between second and third and obstructed by the third baseman going into third base while the throw is in flight from the shortstop, if such throw goes into the dugout the obstructed runner is to be awarded home base. Any other runners on base in this situation would also be awarded two bases from the base they last legally touched before obstruction was called.
(b) If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call “Time” and impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction.
Rule 7.06(b) Comment: Under 7.06(b) when the ball is not dead on obstruction and an obstructed runner advances beyond the base which, in the umpire’s judgment, he would have been awarded because of being obstructed, he does so at his own peril and may be tagged out. This is a judgment call.
NOTE: The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.

There is an additional comment in 2.00 Definition of Terms:

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.
Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered “in the act of fielding a ball.” It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the “act of fielding” the ball. For example: If an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.

Jim Joyce did not use the correct mechanics to call obstruction. If it was scenario (a), why didn’t he put both hands up in the air to signal that the ball was dead? Joyce pointed at third base and the play continued on as if it were scenario (b), which only applies if no play was being made on the obstructed runner.

The umpires’ press conference afterwards was a post hoc justification of the call. Crew chief John Hirschbeck stated here that since it was a bang-bang play at home that obviously Allen Craig would have made it without the obstruction. But that justification uses a mix of the (a) and (b) situations described above. It seems clear that (a) applied, so why even invoke the closeness of the play at the plate? While I am bothered by the hyper-technical application of the rule I believe it was the correct call. It is just infuriating that the umpires don't seem to understand the entirety of the rule.

If you read the rule regarding interference, one could hyper-technically rule that Craig interfered with Will Middlebrooks.

Any runner is out when --
(b) He intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball;
Rule 7.08(b) Comment: A runner who is adjudged to have hindered a fielder who is attempting to make a play on a batted ball is out whether it was intentional or not.
If, however, the runner has contact with a legally occupied base when he hinders the fielder, he shall not be called out unless, in the umpire’s judgment, such hindrance, whether it occurs on fair or foul territory, is intentional. If the umpire declares the hindrance intentional, the following penalty shall apply: With less than two out, the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter out. With two out, the umpire shall declare the batter out.

Craig’s pop-up slide wasn’t ruled interference, but it just as easily could have been judged as such.

Don’t even get me started about Dana DeMuth’s strike zone.

The controversial conclusion to this game unfortunately diminishes Dustin Pedroia and Daniel Nava’s excellent execution on the play. Pedroia fielded Jon Jay’s nubber perfectly and got Yadier Molina out at home. Nava dashed from left field to back up third base, fielded Saltalamacchia’s ill-advised throw (or is it Middlebrooks’s badly fielded attempt?) and fired a BB from foul territory straight home.

The call also took the heat off of John Farrell, who seemed ill-prepared to manage a game under National League rules. The Red Sox skipper failed to execute the double switch in the ninth and had Brandon Workman face Trevor Rosenthal. While Rosenthal has rendered major league batters as effective at the dish as pitchers, Farrell ended the game with Mike Napoli unused.

World Series Game 3: October 26, 2013
Boston Red Sox
4 L: Brandon Workman (0-1)
3B: Xander Bogaerts (1)
WinSt. Louis Cardinals
5 BS: Seth Maness (1)
H: Carlos Martinez (2)
BS, W: Trevor Rosenthal (1, 1-0)
2B: Matt Adams (1), Matt Holliday (1), Allen Craig (1)

October 26, 2013

Skull and Boneheads

The presence of 2004 champions Jason Varitek, Keith Foulke, Kevin Millar, Mike Timlin, Trot Nixon, Derek Lowe, and Pedro Martinez seemed to inspire the local nine.

As David Ortiz’s go-ahead two-run home run receded into that good night Fenway cheered in raucous exultation. The sixth-inning circuit clout put Ortiz ahead of Babe Ruth in postseason homers and tied the designated hitter with Carlos Beltran. The only active player from the 2004 Red Sox reminded the fans of the past and created new memories.

John Farrell pulled John Lackey in the next inning. The starter dispensed of Allen Craig in three pitches but then allowed a base on balls to David Freese and a frozen rope single off the bat of John Jay. The Red Sox skipper called on Craig Breslow to get out of the inning cleanly, but the southpaw reliever seemed unable to locate his pitches in the evening’s chill. Jarrod Saltalamacchia didn’t help by failing to get any runners out on a double steal. Breslow walked the nine-hole hitter Daniel Descalso to load the bases.

Matt Carpenter floated a can of corn to Jonny Gomes. Gomes’s throw was up the line and Saltalamacchia failed to block the ball. That gave Breslow, who was backing up home plate, the opportunity to field the ball. As his pitchers were missing the paint so did his throw to third miss Stephen Drew’s glove.

Not that he should have predicted that Breslow would attempt to be hero and fail so horrifically, but if Xander Bogaerts wants to earn his comparisons to Derek Jeter he could have back up Drew at third. St. Louis plated the tying and go-ahead runs on the two-error sequence.

Farrell stayed with Breslow after that harrowing play and Beltran drove in an insurance run with a well-struck single to right.

Two other Red Sox relievers proved equal to the task of stifling the Cardinals batters. But St. Louis rookie relievers Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal combined for three shutout innings with one hit, no walks, and six strikeouts. No doubt the young pitchers were aided by the presence of Yadier Molina, the Cardinals’ sole holdover from 2004, behind the plate.

World Series Game 2: October 24, 2013
WinSt. Louis Cardinals
4 W: Michael Wacha (1-0)
H: Carlos Martinez (1)
S: Trevor Rosenthal (1)
3B: Matt Holliday (1)
Boston Red Sox
2 L: John Lackey (0-1)
BS: Craig Breslow (1)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (1)
HR: David Ortiz (2)

October 24, 2013

Stop, Drop, and Roll

I thought I would see marriage equality for the entirety of the United States before I saw a group umpires convene to correct a blown call in the World Series.

There was Joe West’s crew huddling to reverse Randy Marsh’s safe call in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS when Alex Rodriguez slapped the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove. It was a Red Sox-Yankees game at Yankee Stadium, which some would say is as important as a World Series game. Indeed, it was such a pivotal call reversal that it caused Yankee fans to throw trash onto the field and the riot police to assume positions along the perimeter of the field.

Perhaps fearing such police action (Officer Steve Horgan, to arms!), John Hirschbeck’s crew congregated to discuss Dana DeMuth’s ruling on David Ortiz’s grounder to Matt Carpenter. The Cardinals second baseman gathered the ball easily enough but his toss to Pete Kozma clipped the shortstop’s glove. DeMuth called Dustin Pedroia out on the force as he assumed Kozma dropped the ball on the transfer. John Farrell asked the officials to discuss the play in case any of them had a different view of it.

Instant replay can’t come to baseball soon enough. Maybe then we can also enjoy the health and convenience benefits of indoor plumbing.

The Red Sox immediately capitalized on the corrected call. Mike Napoli emptied the bases with a line drive to the left-center gap.

Fenway Park was constructed when the populace’s growth was restricted by the concept of moderation in food consumption. Adam Wainwright, who stands at a towering 6'7", experienced this size difference when his head collided with the dugout roof. This concussive force may have hindered his communication facilities in the second inning, when he failed to notify his battery mate Yadier Molina that he planned to carry on the proud lively ball tradition of pitchers being complete namby-pambies when it comes to fielding.

The local nine loaded the bases with David Ross’s single over Carpenter’s leaping attempt and Shane Victorino reaching when Kozma booted a ground ball out. Pedroia increased Boston’s lead to 4-0 with a skittering single past David Freese.

Ortiz stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. Carlos Beltran was determined to be the subject of a highlight rather than the footnote, so determined that he unflinchingly smashed into the bullpen wall to make the catch. The Red Sox increased their lead to 5-0, which is a sight better than 8-0 in a single stroke. But the home team eventually scored those three runs and Beltran is day-to-day with bruised ribs.

There was much talk about The Cardinal Way, but it was the Red Sox who played with an overall awareness. In the fourth inning Jon Lester found himself in a bases-loaded jam with one out. Freese knocked the ball to Lester, who calmly gloved it and relayed it to Ross. Ross methodically hopped in front of the plate and threw to Napoli at first to complete a 1-2-3 double play. It was the first such double play since Game 4 of the 1973 World Series between the Mets and the Athletics.

Lester’s excellent outing (7⅔ innings pitched, 5 hits, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts) has been called into question with accusations of a foreign substance aiding him. Joe Torre stated that there have been no complaints from the Cardinals or officials so there is no issues.

World Series Game 1: October 23, 2013
St. Louis Cardinals
1 L: Adam Wainwright (0-1)
HR: Matt Holliday (1)
WinBoston Red Sox
8 W: Jon Lester (1-0)
2B: Mike Napoli (1), Daniel Nava (1)
HR: David Ortiz (1)

October 22, 2013

’Cause Every Little Thing is Gonna Be All Right

On a team of ragged, bewhiskered veterans, rookie Xander Bogaerts’s modest goatee doesn’t command a lot of attention. But his inclusion in the bottom part of the order has been pivotal to Boston’s American League Championship.

Where some seasoned players were hopelessly whiffing on Max Scherzer’s offerings Bogaerts stood patiently, working walks or extracting extra base hits. He led off the third inning with a base on balls and Jacoby Ellsbury followed his example. Unfortunately Shane Victorino popped out on a bunt attempt and Dustin Pedroia grounded into a double play to end the early threat. Before the inning-ending twin killing Pedroia mashed the ball over the Monster but replays showed that the ball was barely foul.

The Red Sox didn’t have a baserunner again until Bogaerts batted in the fifth. Scherzer handily induced fly ball outs off the bats of Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew, using only five pitches between them. Bogaerts not only laced the ball to deep to center for a stand-up double but did so with the count full. As before Ellsbury followed Bogaerts’s example, this time with a line drive hit of his own. The center fielder notched a single to right to get the local nine on the board first.

Clay Buchholz’s gas tank seems to only be able to carry him to the fifth inning. In the sixth Torii Hunter led off with a walk and Miguel Cabrera sent a single through the hole to left field. John Farrell decided to bring in Franklin Morales to face Prince Fielder, a decision that in hindsight was disastrous. Fielder saw four straight balls and the bases were loaded.

Farrell stayed with Morales to face the Tigers’ biggest offensive menace this series, Victor Martinez. The former Red Sox catcher singled off the left field wall with a hit that gave even Cabrera enough time to score from second and Fielder to advance to third base.

The shot off the wall was enough to prompt Farrell to call on Brandon Workman to replace Morales. Along with Martinez, Jhonny Peralta was the other potent bat in Detroit’s lineup, but the method that bought him this puissance caused him to serve a 50-game suspension. With runners at the corners the visitors seemed poised to take a commanding lead.

But when Peralta tapped the ball to Pedroia and he faked as if he were going home with the ball, Fielder stopped instead of continuing home. Martinez was on his way to second so Pedroia tagged him and then tossed the ball to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Fielder, who has been a flop at the dish, also flopped on his way back to third.

Peralta reached second during the rigamarole and Jim Leyland had Don Kelly pinch run for him. The Tigers skipper wanted to manufacture a run with the ruins he had left, but Alex Avila struck out looking to end the rally.

Workman toed the rubber in the seventh to face the bottom part of the order. Omar Infante was dispatched with a can of corn to center but Austin Jackson singled to his counterpart. In another Detroit baserunning blunder Jackson was picked off by Workman. But the rookie reliever called to mind the 2007 Tigers pitching staff and their errors with his next two batters. He over eagerly chased down Iglesias’s grounder, deflecting it just enough to slow it down and allow the shortstop to reach first. Unlike Scherzer he failed to field a bunt properly and Hunter singled.

Junichi Tazawa is probably too modest to have a “Property of Junichi Tazawa” t-shirts made for Cabrera, but he should consider it. He gained a co-owner when Drew made a rally-killing play on Cabrera’s grounder up the middle.

Gomes just missed a home run with his leadoff at bat in the seventh and had to be content as he could be with a wall-ball double. Scherzer struck out Drew but couldn’t faze the unflappable Bogaerts, who earned a base on balls with the count full.

Just as Farrell made a questionable pitching call so did Leyland. Perhaps Scherzer could have gotten the next two outs, but he decided to have southpaw Drew Smyly face Ellsbury. Iglesias, who is usually a walking highlight reel, bobbled Ellsbury’s grounder up the middle.

Victorino faced Jose Veras with ducks on the pond. The right fielder’s failed bunt attempt in the third seemed to erase that stratagem from the playbook. Given his recent futility the most fans were hoping for was a hit by pitch. “Don’t worry about a thing,” they sang, but they were thinking, “Don’t ground into a double play.”

Instead Victorino powered a grand slam into the Monster seats that matched hits by the master of clutch, David Ortiz.

Koji Uehara earned the ALCS Most Valuable Player accolade, and even admitted that he came close to hurling, and not in the poetic sense of throwing the baseball.

Ortiz censored himself in his speech. While fans like me nitpick Farrell’s decisions, Ortiz spoke of the manager with deep admiration and respect, a sentiment echoed by a panel of baseball managers. The Sporting News named Farrell the American League Manager of the Year.

ALCS Game 6: October 19, 2013
Detroit Tigers
2 L: Max Scherzer (0-1)
BS: Jose Veras (1)
No extra base hits
WinBoston Red Sox
5 BS: Franklin Morales (1)
W: Junichi Tazawa (1-0)
H: Craig Breslow (3)
S: Koji Uehara (3)
2B: Xander Bogaerts (3), Jonny Gomes (1)
HR: Shane Victorino (1)

October 19, 2013

Five Alive

The Red Sox nearly allowed the local nine to score first. Tom Brookens sent but then tried to stop Miguel Cabrera too late on Jhonny Peralta’s two-out single to left field. Cabrera came in hard enough to knock off David Ross’s mask but instead of scoring the first run he was the third out.

Unlike every previous game in the series the Red Sox scored early in the game. Mike Napoli absolutely clobbered Anibal Sanchez’s 3-1 fastball into dead center for a solo home run in the second inning.

Next Jonny Gomes reached on Cabrera’s error on a grounder that took an unexpected bounce and went through the third baseman’s wickets. While much has been made of Cabrera’s defensive woes, I don’t think many third basemen would have been able to knock down that ball because of the bizarre bounce. I do believe that many would have been able to back up their own error; Cabrera needed Jose Iglesias to chase down the ball.

Stephen Drew’s offensive dry spell continued with a three-pitch strikeout; he was 0-for-4 for the night. Xander Bogaerts’s addition to the lineup has given the bottom of the order the punch it had been lacking. The rookie, who again replaced Will Middlebrooks at third, floated a double to left and Gomes advanced to third base.

Another replacement player, Ross, added to the run total with a double to the base of the left field wall. Bogaerts should have positioned himself halfway between second and third when he saw that the ball was behind left fielder Peralta and scored, but instead he tagged up. The mistake wasn’t terribly costly as he scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s infield single, which caromed off of Sanchez and bounded to Omar Infante. Ross advanced to third on the infield hit.

Shane Victorino knocked the ball to Infante, who came home with the ball to cut down Ross. Ross repaid the hit he got from Cabrera at home with a hard charge into Alex Avila, who was replaced in the fourth inning by Brayan Pena.

Napoli lofted a ground-rule double to left in the third inning with one out. He ended up scoring a run on a wild pitch to Drew. There should have been another run for the visitors but for Iglesias’s inspired catch of David Ortiz’s floater to shallow left field.

Iglesias was foiled by a defensive gem by Jon Lester in the fifth. The southpaw bobbled the bunt attempt but kept in pursuit of the ball. He gloved it and from his glove flipped it to Napoli for the out.

The Tigers came within a run of the Red Sox for a riveting, tense contest. Double plays in the fourth, sixth, and seventh turned by Boston’s infield helped tame the threat.

To staunch Detroit’s multi-inning rally Koji Uehara was called upon to earn a five-out save. He did so by striking out two and allowing no hits or walks. Ortiz hoisted up the closer on his shoulder again in celebration, but I really wish they would do the Roarin’ Butt-Face Jam together. Big Papi could teach Koji how to do it.

ALCS Game 5: October 17, 2013
WinBoston Red Sox
4 W: Jon Lester (1-1)
H: Junichi Tazawa (2), Craig Breslow (2)
S: Koji Uehara (2)
2B: Xander Bogaerts (2), David Ross (1), Mike Napoli (2)
HR: Napoli (2)
Detroit Tigers
3 L: Anibal Sanchez (1-1)
No extra base hits

October 17, 2013

Shaken and Stirred

The bad news: Jake Peavy was hammered for seven earned runs in a mere three innings of work. He gave up five hits and three bases on balls. One of the walks was to Austin Jackson with the bases loaded. Yes, the Austin Jackson who was an out machine until Jim Leyland shook up his lineup and had the center fielder batting eighth.

Wily Leyland must have known that Jackson’s numbers against Peavy were outstanding: in 32 plate appearances the outfielder’s slash stats are .345/.406/.992. Leyland’s shake-up was well-timed to coincide with a favorable match-up for his struggling player.

The good news: Despite losing the Red Sox batters tallied 12 hits, which is equal to the number of hits they had for the first three games combined. While Leyland shuffled his leadoff hitter lower into the order, John Farrell stuck with Jacoby Ellsbury long enough for it to pay dividends. Ellsbury busted out with a 4-for-5 showing, a run scored, and a run batted in.

Farrell’s patience with Will Middlebrooks may have given out at last. The Red Sox skipper gave Xander Bogaerts a try in Middlebrooks’s slot last night and the rookie laced a ground-rule double to right in his only at bat. In tonight’s game Bogaerts is playing third.

Time to wake up from the siesta.

ALCS Game 4: October 16, 2013
Boston Red Sox
3 L: Jake Peavy (0-1)
2B: Mike Napoli (1), Jacoby Ellsbury (1), Shane Victorino (1), Xander Bogaerts (1)
3B: Ellsbury (1)
WinDetroit Tigers
7 W: Doug Fister (1-0)
2B: Torii Hunter (2), Omar Infante (1)

October 16, 2013

Light ’Em Up Up Up

Although John Lackey was visibly annoyed that a 17-minute power outage prevented him from taking the mound for the bottom of the second that frustration channeled itself into spectacular pitching. In the first inning Lackey gave up two singles but for his remaining 5⅔ innings he only surrendered a double to Jhonny Peralta in the sixth and a single to Victor Martinez in the seventh.

Lackey outdueled Justin Verlander, of all pitchers. If there were a proposition bet on such an occurrence someone would be a billionaire. Verlander didn’t permit a hit until fifth inning when Jonny Gomes tapped a two-out single to Peralta. In the sixth Jacoby Ellsbury also managed a single off the Tigers’ ace but didn’t advance past second.

Mike Napoli dispensed with single-base bleeders and bloops and bopped a one-out home to left field with the count full. It was the only run in a tense contest.

Craig Breslow was summoned in the bottom of the seventh to take care of the final out with Martinez, a runner he inherited from Lackey, on first. Alex Avila took a called strike but Breslow failed to get the next four pitches in the zone. Omar Infante didn’t display such patience and ended the frame by grounded out to his counterpart at second base.

Breslow sat former teammate Jose Iglesias with three pitches but allowed speedy Austin Jackson to reach on a base on balls. Junichi Tazawa took over for Breslow but got into a jam when Torii Hunter laced a liner to left that allowed Jackson to race to third.

John Farrell trusted Tazawa to face Miguel Cabrera with runners at the corners and one out. Cabrera, the destroyer of worlds, who could change the face of the game with a single swing. Tazawa dismissed him in four pitches, three of which Cabrera failed to make contact.

Farrell then called on Koji Uehara for a four-out save. Prince Fielder was dispatched with assassin-sharp efficiency: two fastballs he failed to get into play and a splitter that Fielder’s bat kissed for a foul tip.

Martinez led off the ninth and Jim Leyland sent in Hernan Perez as a pinch runner. Perez didn’t have a chance to advance as Peralta grounded into a nifty 6-4-3 double play. What Uehara did to Avila was so filthy it wouldn’t make the cut into the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie adaptation.

David Ortiz (who may be seeing a lot more of Phil Coke rather than Joaquin Benoit in the late innings of the upcoming games) picked up Uehara and carried him on his shoulder during the post-game celebration like they were trudging off to a slumber party. Good morning, good afternoon, good night.

ALCS Game 3: October 15, 2013
WinBoston Red Sox
1 W: John Lackey (1-0)
H: Craig Breslow (1), Junichi Tazawa (1)
S: Koji Uehara (1-0)
HR: Mike Napoli (1)
Detroit Tigers
0 L: Justin Verlander (0-1)
2B: Jhonny Peralta (3)

October 14, 2013

Fateful Eighth

Boston made up for the lack of offense with defensive dazzlers. In the third Stephen Drew made a catch in shallow center of Don Kelly’s soft fly ball that wasn’t as spectacular as his play from the first game of the series but still stopped the leadoff batter from reaching base.

The next batter, Austin Jackson, was robbed of a hit when Pedroia doggedly pursued the ball and tackled it before it broke for the outfield. With Jackson charging down the first base line Pedroia knew he had to get rid of the ball quickly so he fired it from his knees. Mike Carp extended far, as long as Mike Napoli’s beard, to glove the ball for the out.

The no-hitter ended earlier in this game than in the first game of this series, mercifully. With two down in the sixth Shane Victorino slapped a single into shallow left field, a less painful way to get on base than a Max Scherzer fastball. That put Victorino in the position to score the Red Sox’s first run of the series. Dustin Pedroia sent a fly ball to left that glanced off the wall for an RBI double. David Ortiz struck out to end the frame. The score was 5-1 and the win expectancy percentage 5.9, a seemingly unbridgeable divide given how exceptionally Scherzer pitched: 7 innings, 2 hits, 1 earned run, 2 walks, 13 strikeouts.

Then Ortiz clouted yet another one of his prodigious home runs. This one was a grand slam, the first game-tying grand slam hit in the eighth inning or later. Because Jim Leyland was switching pitchers faster than Taylor Swift changes boyfriends every run was charged against a different pitcher. Jose Veras was responsible for Will Middlebrooks scalding a double to the left field corner, Drew Smyly allowed Jacoby Ellsbury to reach on a walk, Al Alburquerque allowed Pedroia to single, and Joaquin Benoit surrendered the line drive homer off Ortiz’s bat.

Benoit shouldn’t blame himself. It’s October. It’s Ortiz.

One of John Farrell’s lineup changes didn’t pay dividends until the ninth frame. Jonny Gomes led off the inning with a single between Miguel Cabrera and Jose Iglesias. A third baseman with more than fall-down range could have made the play. To compensate for Cabrera’s lack of mobility Iglesias had to shade towards third base. It was remarkable that he made it to the ball but instead of holding the ball he tried to make a web gem of his own. Prince Fielder didn’t do his middle infielder any favors by failing to stop the ball from flying into the photographers’ well, permitting Gomes to take second. What could have been an out turned into a runner in scoring position.

Rick Porcello had to pitch from the stretch to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The catcher fouled off a pitch that Fielder couldn’t wrest away from fans in the first row. At least they were friendly; 19 seconds in shows the kid nearest the play waving at Fielder. Steve Horgan, the Boston police officer who celebrated Ortiz’s grand slam, got his fifteen minutes of fame. I want to know more about waving boy or animated sign woman.

Next Porcello uncorked a wild pitch and Gomes bolted to third. Saltalamacchia went down low and sent a scorching grounder past Iglesias to plate the game-winning run. He could have kept on running all the way to Detroit the way his teammates rushed after him.

Earlier in the day there were similar goings-on at Foxborough. Like Ortiz, rumors of the demise of Tom Brady’s skills were greatly exaggerated.

ALCS Game 2: October 13, 2013
Detroit Tigers
5 H: Al Alburquerque (2)
BS: Joaquin Benoit (1)
L: Rick Porcello (0-1)
2B: Victor Martinez – 2 (2), Prince Fielder (1)
HR: Miguel Cabrera (1), Alex Avila (1)
WinBoston Red Sox
6 W: Koji Uehara (1-0)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (1), Will Middlebrooks (1)
HR: David Ortiz (1)

October 13, 2013

Their Bats Don’t Know What You Did in the Dark

Anibal Sanchez reminded the Red Sox front office why they signed him as an amateur free agent in 2001. The starter came to Detroit circuitously: Boston traded him to the Marlins as part of the Josh Beckett/Mike Lowell trade on November 24, 2005 and he was later shipped to the Tigers with Omar Infante on July 23, 2012. It’s easy to be overshadowed when your rotation mates are Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, but last night Sanchez stole the show with a gutty six-inning, no-hit performance. Although he walked six batters he also struck out 12.

In the first inning Sanchez added a feat to his resume that Scherzer and Verlander would be hard-pressed to duplicate. He joined Orval “Big Groundhog” Overall as the only pitchers to have struck out four batters in one inning in the postseason.

The Red Sox and Tigers were two outs away from making postseason history by being the first team to be part of a combined no-hitter. But Daniel Nava stood in against Joaquin Benoit and fouled off four pitches before finally straightening one out and sending it to shallow center for Boston’s first and only hit of the evening.

Sanchez and the rest of Detroit’s twirlers didn’t discuss Joe West’s strike zone with him but several Red Sox batters and Jon Lester did. After completing his half of the first Lester approached West about a pitch that he thought had Victor Martinez struck out. “I’m not showing you up, I promise you. I just get excited.” The strike zone maps from Brooks Baseball show that West wasn’t entirely terrible, but it is likely that the calls that he missed came in key situations.

ALCS Game 1: October 12, 2013
WinDetroit Tigers
1 W: Anibal Sanchez (1-0)
H: Al Alburquerque (1), Jose Veras (1), Drew Smyly (1)
S: Joaquin Benoit (1)
2B: Jhonny Peralta – 2 (2), Torii Hunter (1)
Boston Red Sox
0 L: Jon Lester (0-1)
No extra base hits

October 12, 2013

Nine Pitchers Pitching

Eight bases on balls. Seven umpires umpiring. Six pitchers in the bullpen. No gold rings.

Four catwalk rings. Three runs scored. Two saves for Koji Uehara. And an ALCS ticket for the Red Sox.

Joe Maddon swapped out pitchers faster and more often than Lady Gaga changes costumes. Jeremy Hellickson, who had been a much-vaunted prospect in Tampa Bay’s system, was tapped to start the game. He began promisingly by sitting the first three batters without incident. In the second frame, however, the wheels came off quickly. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli walked on four pitches each and Daniel Nava lined a single to right field.

Rather than seeing how the Tampa Bay “RAYS”ed hurler would perform with the bases loaded and none out Maddon pulled Hellickson in favor of Jamey Wright. Maddon proved what a brilliant tactic this was when Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out and Stephen Drew lined into an improbable double play. Just like he drew it up.

Maddon’s luck ran out in the seventh inning. He would have preferred a shut down frame after his team had finally scored when David DeJesus drove in Yunel Escobar. But the Red Sox skipper made a move that, unlike Maddon’s rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, truly changed the course of the contest.

John Farrell pinch hit Xander Bogaerts for Stephen Drew and the rookie came through with a six-pitch walk with one out. Jake McGee was distracted by the presence of the dynamic shortstop on first base but managed to strike out Will Middlebrooks. Jacoby Ellsbury got a hold of Peralta’s fastball and sent it to Wil Myers’s territory with enough loft to allow Bogaerts to get to third.

Maddon immediately countered by calling on Joel Peralta. If McGee was distracted by Bogaerts, Peralta proved to be petrified of Ellsbury. His first pitch to Shane Victorino was a wild one that plated Bogaerts and allowed Ellsbury to dash to third. Victorino then tapped the ball to Escobar in what should have been an out but turned into an infield single and go-ahead run.

Bogaerts also sparked the production of an insurance run in the ninth by leading off the stanza with a six-pitch base on balls. This time Fernando Rodney supplied a galley-west pitch to Ellsbury on which Bogaerts advanced to second. Ellsbury didn’t swing the bat once and walked. Victorino was on his way to a base on balls but Rodney got the count full only to hit the outfielder to load the bases. It was the fourth time Victorino was hit by a pitch in the ALDS, tying him with Miguel Cairo (2004) and Carlos Ruiz (2010) for most plunks in the postseason.

Dustin Pedroia lofted a sacrifice fly to Myers to plate Bogaerts. With a two-run lead all that remained was for Koji Uehara to contend with the Rays’ hottest and best hitters. There was no repeat of the Lobaton incident; instead it was a baker’s dozen pitches of pure dominance.

Jake Peavy didn’t stay on the mound long enough to be part of the decision but in his 5⅔ innings the Rays could only cobble together a single run while he struck them out three times and surrendered five hits. The Red Sox pitchers didn’t allow a single free pass. “From the No. 1 guy to the 25th guy, we have one common goal, and that’s to end up on top,” said the starter. When the Red Sox celebrated they didn’t swim in their hosts’ pool.

The Red Sox were loose during the off days. They made a memorable appearance on MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk.” Jonny Gomes was anointed the Kevin Millar of the bunch. Gomes deadpanned, “I sure hope that's not a jab.”

ALDS Game 4: October 8, 2013
WinBoston Red Sox
3 W: Craig Breslow (1-0)
H: Junichi Tazawa (2)
S: Koji Uehara (2)
No extra base hits
Tampa Bay Rays
1 H, L: Jake McGee (1, 0-1)
BS: Joel Peralta (1)
2B: Yunel Escobar (2)

October 8, 2013

Splash Down

An unlikely catcher clubbed an improbable home run off an implausible ace closer. Jose Lobaton signed as an amateur free agent with the San Diego Padres in 2002 and toiled in their system until 2009, when he finally made his major league debut on July 5. He was designated for assignment 23 days later and claimed by the Rays. In August of this year he single-handedly defeated the Blue Jays twice with a walk-off triple and home run. Last night’s solo shot into the Tropicana Field’s fish tank was the catcher’s most stunning effort to date.

Koji Uehara spent his prime years with the Yomiuri Giants. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles in 2009 as a starter but by 2010 was converted into a reliever. On July 30, 2011 the Orioles traded Uehara to the Texas Rangers for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter. He signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox and found himself in the closer’s role after Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan had season-ending injuries. Once this list on Stat Geek Baseball is updated to include 2013, Uehara may find himself in the company of Mariano Rivera, Dennis Eckersley, and Dan Quisenberry.

The confluence of implausibilities allowed the Rays to stave off elimination for another day.

But for Evan Longoria’s and Lobaton’s circuit clouts performance was poor from every quarter; the venue itself, the umpires, and the Red Sox. The appalling structure and its arcane “ground” rules came into play in the fourth frame.

Batted ball strikes catwalk, light or suspended object over fair territory:
  • Batted ball that strikes either of the lower two catwalks, lights or suspended objects in fair territory: HOME RUN.
  • Batted ball that is not judged a home run and remains on a catwalk, light or suspended object: TWO BASES.
  • Batted ball that is not judged a home run and strikes a catwalk, light or suspended object in fair territory shall be judged fair or foul in relation to where it strikes the ground or is touched by a fielder. If caught by fielder, batter is out and runners advance at own risk.
Batted ball strikes catwalk, light or suspended object over foul territory: DEAD BALL

Two of Ben Zobrist’s pop-ups ended up being dead balls even though Jarrod Saltalamacchia caught the second one. Zobrist ended up walking and Clay Buchholz expended 34 pitches while having to escape a bases-loaded jam.

The umpires missed two calls, although neither led to runs being scored. Quintin Berry appeared to be out on his swipe of second base in the eighth but Mike Winters called him safe. In the ninth Jacoby Ellsbury was called safe at third by Larry Vanover but replays showed that Longoria tagged him. Perhaps the officiating crew was making up for Jerry Meals’s blown call back in July.

One of the Red Sox’s runs was greatly aided by the Rays’ blunders on defense. In the fifth with one down Ellsbury rocketed the ball off James Loney’s glove, allowing the speedy center fielder to reach second. Next Yunel Escobar bobbled Shane Victorino’s batted ball, setting up runners at the corners. Alex Cobb then uncorked a wild pitch to Dustin Pedroia and Ellsbury scored.

In the bottom of the eighth the defensive unease seemed to transfer to the Red Sox. Loney worked a leadoff base on balls and Sam Fuld pinch ran for him. Franklin Morales charged Desmond Jenning’s bunt but so did Mike Napoli. Pedroia was late to cover first so Jennings reached safely. Morales induced Matt Joyce to pop out on a bunt that Saltalamacchia neatly gloved, one bright spot in a stanza of slipups.

Brandon Workman toed the rubber and got Escobar to shoot a grounder to Drew, who could have initiated a double play if Pedroia hadn’t also tried to field the ball. Delmon Young grounded out to Napoli, who didn’t throw home. The Rays took the lead, 4-3.

Boston battled back to tie the game in the top of the ninth. Rookie Xander Bogaerts notched a postseason run by virtue of pinch running for Will Middlebrooks.

But then Lobaton homered, absolving Joe Maddon of any blame for losing the designated hitter slot.

Rumors that a Red Sox fan threw a live ray onto the field were debunked by Rays officials. But the visiting fans remained resolute. The determination on the face of the woman holding the “Red Sox Wicked Awesome” sign is tangible. I have no doubt the team’s perseverance is of at least equal measure.

ALDS Game 3: October 7, 2013
Boston Red Sox
4 L: Koji Uehara (0-1)
2B: Jacoby Ellsbury (2)
WinTampa Bay Rays
5 BS, W: Fernando Rodney (1, 1-0)
2B: James Loney (2), David DeJesus (1)
HR: Evan Longoria (1), Jose Lobaton (1)

October 7, 2013

David Played and it Pleased the Lord

But David Price didn’t care for David Ortiz’s music, did he? Ortiz enjoyed his first ever two-home run game in the postseason. He became the oldest player to hit two homers in the postseason. Price hadn’t allowed more than one home run to a southpaw during the entire regular season.

Ortiz’s second circuit clout was so high and to the right that the designated hitter stood at home plate waiting to see if it foul. Price interpreted that act as showboating.

Price was so perturbed that he took his annoyance to Twitter. He posted his resume and called TBS broadcasters Keith Olbermann, Dick Hayhurst, and Tom Verducci “nerds.” Price had enough wit not to include Pedro Martinez or Gary Sheffield in the fray.

Rookie Wil Myers took his hardships at Fenway better than his teammate. When he gloved a routine fly ball off the bat of Shane Victorino in the fifth inning the crowd cheered him raucously. He blushed and smiled as he loped back to spot in the outfield. Like his manager Joe Maddon he tried to be optimistic despite the two defeats in the Hub, tweeting that he looked forward to hearing the chanting of his name again.

Koji Uehara was unstoppable in the ninth. He three six straight strikes to Matt Joyce and Jose Lobaton. The closer was on his way to an “immaculate inning” — nine pitches, nine strikes, three outs. Myers fell behind 0-2 on called strikes but then managed to make contact on the third pitch to foil what could have been Uehara’s most perfect inning. Myers ended up grounding out to Mike Napoli, but at this point most batters consider making contact off Uehara is a success.

The contact Uehara most enjoys? The high five.

ALDS Game 2: October 5, 2013
Tampa Bay Rays
4 L: David Price (0-1)
2B: Yunel Escobar (1), James Loney (1)
WinBoston Red Sox
7 W: John Lackey (2-0)
H: Craig Breslow (1), Junichi Tazawa (1)
S: Koji Uehara (1)
2B: David Ross (1), Jacoby Ellsbury (1), Dustin Pedroia (1)
3B: Stephen Drew (1)
HR: David Ortiz – 2 (2)

October 5, 2013

My Errs

Yesterday’s game proved Yogi Berra’s quote: “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”

Jon Lester took the mound fueled on pure adrenaline. In the first inning he struck out the side with 14 pitches. In the second inning Lester sat the first two batters handily enough, striking out Evan Longoria and inducing a pop out off the bat of Delmon Young. He had Sean Rodriguez struck out but for Chris Guccione calling the third strike a ball. Lester’s next pitch turned into a souvenir for a fortunate fan and a 1-0 lead for the visitors.

The Rays added to their lead in the top of the fourth with Ben Zobrist’s solo home run. Lester then surrendered a base on balls and a single but left the mound with no further damage.

Dustin Pedroia immediately responded to the visitors’ attack with a leadoff single up the middle. David Ortiz then lofted what looked to be a can of corn to right field. Wil Myers drifted back and called off Desmond Jennings but peeled off at the last second.

Myers told Buster Olney that no one called him off but that he saw Jennings in his peripheral vision and thought that the center fielder was going to glove the ball. For the remainder of the game Myers was serenaded by the Fenway faithful, who thoughtfully reminded him what his surname is just in case he forgot.

Ortiz’s ball bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double. Former Ray Jonny Gomes doubled off the Monster to tie the game.

John Smoltz criticized sophomore pitcher Matt Moore’s route to first base on Stephen Drew’s tapper to James Loney. The veteran hurler noted that Moore didn’t go for the corner of the first base sack, which allowed Drew to reach safely and Gomes to score from second.

The Red Sox ended up batting around in the fourth. Will Middlebrooks doubled off the wall and Rodriguez over-pursued the ball; instead of letting the carom come to him he wasted precious seconds chasing after it, allowing Drew to score. Shane Victorino sent a bounding single to right field to plate Middlebrooks. Pedroia grounded out to his counterpart to end the offensive onslaught.

Every Red Sox batter had at least one hit and one run scored (the first time this has happened in the playoffs since 1936) in what ended as a 12-2 blowout. John Lackey watched on as the score rolled into double-digits and hoped that his teammates would save some for his tilt against David Price in the second game.

ALDS Game 1: October 4, 2013
Tampa Bay Rays
2 L: Matt Moore (0-1)
3B: Kelly Johnson (1)
HR: Sean Rodriguez (1), Ben Zobrist (1)
WinBoston Red Sox
12 W: Jon Lester (1-0)
2B: David Ortiz (1), Jonny Gomes (1), Will Middlebrooks (1), Mike Napoli (1), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (1)

October 2, 2013

From Worst to First

It has finally sunk in. This team has proven it can succeed and has done so in a spectacular fashion. Last season their record was 69-93 and now they have bettered that ratio to 97-65. They fell a bit short of their Pythagorean winning percentage of 100-62 but still hold the best record in the American League.

I don’t want to put down in stark black and white what I hope for from this team in the playoffs. I bought a locker room hat and hope to add more to my collection.

Ryan Dempster lost his place in the rotation but found a new job as the lineup announcer. He should stick to repairing telephones.

Jacoby Ellsbury contributed immediately with a leadoff homer in the first inning. His time out of the lineup hasn’t thrown off his timing and hopefully the break between this final game and the American League Division Series will enable rest and not engender rust.

Allen Webster started in place of John Lackey when the Red Sox found themselves in the catbird seat with Oakland’s loss to the Mariners on Saturday. The rookie battled through a tough first frame where he walked three batters but escaped unscathed. His next two innings were perfect and John Farrell made sure to speak with Webster about his outing.

The Red Sox lost in regulation while the Yankees took 14 innings to beat the Houston Astros. Playoff teams ran through the newest team in the American League like a recessive gene but New York had to empty its bullpen. Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera celebrated their retirement one final time.

The Red Sox are grooming future arms while the Yankees are feting past aces, a perfect distillation of these two teams’ trajectories.

Game 162: September 29, 2013
Boston Red Sox
6 L: Rubby De La Rosa (0-2)
2B: Mike Napoli (38), Mike Carp (18)
HR: Jacoby Ellsbury (9), Quintin Berry (1)
WinBaltimore Orioles
7 W: T.J. McFarland (4-1)
H: Jason Hammel (1)
S: Jim Johnson (50)
2B: J.J. Hardy (27), Nate McLouth (31), Brian Roberts (12), Ryan Flaherty (11), Nick Markakis (24)

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