Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Game 82: Five and Twenty

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 7, Texas Rangers 4

Five: the number of quality starts in a row for the Stopper. Although battery-mate Doug Mirabelli did not have his typical quality start, going 0 - 4 with four strikeouts, Wakefield made up for the difference with eight innings of work, giving up four runs on eight hits, walking one and striking out five. He kept the Rangers shut out until the fifth and saved the beleaguered bullpen, which is probably praying for the All Star Break like a junkie prays for a fix, from any real work: only stalwart Mike Timlin needed to make an appearance for the ninth and even then needed only six pitches to close out the game and get his second save of the year. Timlin was helped by a tremendous catch by Johnny Damon, who got the second out of the ninth by reaching, catching and then rolling over his shoulder, robbing rightfielder Gary Matthews of a single.

Twenty: Manny's 20th career grand slam and Big Papi's 20th homerun of the season. Along with a Bill Mueller solo shot, these homeruns were all the scoring the Sox did in the game - very appropriate for a Texas ballgame - and all the power needed to keep Boston on top throughout the game.

The fireworks started right in the first - Johnny Damon hit a bloop single to extend his hitting streak to 21 games. Renteria struck out, but Big Papi launched a bomb over the center field wall, about 400 feet away from home plate, to put the Sox up 2 - 0. In the third, Damon, Renteria and Ortiz loaded the bases for Manny, who smashed his 22nd homerun of the year over the right field wall, above the reaching hand of Gary Matthews. In a classic Manny moment, Ramirez walked halfway down to first until he was sure the ball had gone out, then did his celebratory jump and started his homerun trot. His 20th grand slam puts him second on the all time list, behind Lou Gehrig at 23. Two batters later, Bill Mueller knocked Texas starter Chris Young out of the game with a solo shot, putting the Sox up 7 - 0.

Who Loves Ya?

Let me take a moment to say how much I love David Ortiz's homerun swing. It's not pretty; in fact it always looks to me like he's going to trip as he's swinging and fall flat on his face instead of trotting triumphantly around the bases. Somehow instead he drops all his weight into his swing and balls fly over fences at tremendous speed, all the better because you're not always sure if he just hit a homerun or missed and popped up. Big Papi's homerun swing is like the swing for the common man; no finesse, no tricks...just pure crushing. And I love it.

One oddity for the Sox last night was the inconsistency of the offense, which is probably why the score wasn't even higher in favor of Boston. The top four hitters (Damon, Renteria, Ortiz and Ramirez) plus Mueller, who batted sixth, were 7 - 18 with five walks. Nixon (batted fifth) and the bottom of the order (Olerud, Mirabelli and Bellhorn) were 0 - 16 with seven strikeouts.

Curt Schilling is most likely not going to be back before the All Star Break. Terry Francona feels that Schilling is not ready to come back to the rotation and described the pre-All Star Break deadline as being Schilling's personal goal, rather than the goal of the front office. Although Schilling says that he and Francona are still meeting with Theo to figure out what's going to happen, it sounds like at least one,
if not several more rehab starts in Pawtucket are in order. On one hand, of course, no Schilling is bad and it puts off fixing some of the bullpen problems. On the other hand, better to have him later, completely healthy and ready to dominate than to lose him for the season.

Terry Francona has ordered Keith Foulke back to Boston to have MRIs done on both knees. Citing chronic problems in Foulke's left knee and pain caused by favoring the right knee, Francona said he made the decision for Foulke because of the closer's refusal to admit to the pain himself. In other words, we just lost another pitcher to Matt Mantei syndrome. In Foulke's case, a decision about whether or not to put him on the DL will wait until after the results of the MRI come in. Robin and I were discussing this last night; he suspects some sort of face-saving ploy, much like the Sox did with BK Kim last year - put him on the DL until he gets his head figured out. My feeling is that this injury is for real: it would explain the mystery visit to Alabama earlier this season, Francona didn't DL either Manny or Millar when they were doing poorly and when a good pitcher suddenly drops in performance, it tends to be because he's hurt.

On a related note, the Sox now have no closer. Mike Timlin seems to be the heir apparent, but Francona doesn't want to waste his best setup man by forcing him into the closer role. At the same time, Francona doesn't want to end up with a closer by committee - and neither does any Sox fan who remembers the 2003 season. The Sox have the option of calling up Jon Papelbon from Pawtucket; David Wells has also offered himself for the position, which would solve the rotation problem and the closer problem simultaneously...but only once Schilling comes back from the DL. I like the idea of Wells as a closer partially from a practical standpoint - he's got some relief experience, although it's from the beginning of his career with Toronto and as Robin pointed out, he's a control pitcher who doesn't walk many people - but also because he's offering to make the switch. Fans appreciate loyalty and willingness to do what's best for the team.

Honest Abe makes another bid tonight for win number 10 and get past the shakiness from his last start against Toronto. He'll be going up against Chan Ho Park at 8:05 in the rubber game of the series. GO SOX!!!

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