Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Game 111: Tony G.

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 11, Texas Rangers 6

Ladies and gentlement, let me introduce to you Boston's newest sensation: Tony Graffanino. He can play defense (no errors since he joined the Sox), he can hit (.306 AVG, climbing from .298 when the Sox acquired him), he doesn't strike out (only twelve Ks since joining the Sox on July 20) and he's making a big bid to be Boston's second baseman for the rest of the season, if not beyond. Last night, he was one of the parts of the lineup, going three for three with three runs and four RBI, scoring from second on an infield single, scoring from third on a close pass ball and hitting a big three run home run in the fifth that made the difference in the game. Oh and lest I forget, Texas walked him intentionally. Yeah, I'd say he's doing pretty well.

When playing for a manager like Tito, known for his loyalty to his players, Graffanino's enormous efforts to win the job may be the thing that makes the difference. It hasn't hurt that Bellhorn hasn't had much luck recovering his swing in Pawtucket, although I have a feeling the Sox will still give Mark a chance when he comes off the DL.

The Man cranks the homer that made the difference

The rest of the offense wasn't quiet either: Ortiz hit home run number twenty-six in the first, helping to limit Texas starter Rodriguez to 2/3rds of an inning, the Sox took advantage of six walks and did some clever base running (for once) to score runs. Roberto Petagine went two for three with an RBI and Johnny Damon extended his hit streak to eleven games. Manny Ramirez hit so well last week that the MLB named him player of the week for the third time this year. Nothing like a little trade-deadline stress to get you going.

Meanwhile, Wade Miller had another poor outing - 104 pitches in four and a 1/3rd innings, surrendering five runs (four earned - Petagine committed the Sox' ninth error in the past five games. Eight runs have scored off of those nine runs) and admitted afterwards he felt tightness in his shoulder that may have interfered with his control, especially in the first inning, when the Rangers scored three runs on fifty pitches. Miller did go on to add that the tightness is nothing serious, or he wouldn't be out there pitching. For a fifth starter, he's ok - his main problem is that he doesn't get enough innings. He does get an average of 6.7 runs per game in run support in the games where he pitches (which has saved him from a loss decision more than a few times), but 2005 is clearly not Miller's year for strong pitching.

My friend Micah and I had a discussion last year about the value of the fifth starter. We didn't research it heavily, but came to the quick conclusion that all a team needs to do well on the pitching side is to have a dominating first and second starter. If starter number three is particularly good, it's a bonus - numbers four and five just need to eat innings. Match that with a powerful offense and you should have enough to get you to the playoffs. If your first three guys can pitch well on short rest, you can power your way to the championship. For the 2005 Sox, then, having Miller as the fifth starter is a bit problematic: he's got the run support, but he can't pitch the innings. Miller's personal record may be four and four, but the Sox have a (slim) winning record when he's on the mound: nine and seven. Most of those losses came in a month long stretch between June and July when the Sox lost four in a row with Miller pitching - since then they've won his last three outings and their run support went up a run. If we're looking at the equivalent of a 2005 Wade Miller hot streak, I'll take it - especially if Boston keeps winning with him on the mound.

After Miller came out in the fifth, Gonzo came on and did surprisingly well, getting an inning-ending double play to kill a Rangers' rally and going on to pitch an additional scoreless two innings with two hits and a strike out. Timlin and Bradford come out to finish the final two innings, Timlin giving up a rare run on a baserunner of his own creation.

Off the base paths, there was a flurry of activity as well - almost as if the trade deadline had never happened: Bill Mueller came out of the lineup after suffering back spasms during batting practice. Although the Sox list Mueller as day to day, Francona decided he didn't want to replay the throwing antics of the last series. Accordingly, the Sox called Kevin Youkilis back up from Pawtucket, leading to this amusing mental picture:
As for Youkilis, he had completed batting practice with Pawtucket upon being informed of his promotion. Driving in his uniform, Youkilis left Pawtucket at roughly 5:40 p.m. and arrived at Fenway at 6:30 p.m., fearing he'd be late when he hit traffic after exiting the Mass Pike in Copley Square. Among those blocking Youkilis' path? The duck boats.

To make room for Youkilis, the Sox DFA'ed Jose Cruz, Jr., trusting in the combination of Millar, the Hebrew Hammer and Adam Stern to fill the offensive and defense hole left by Trot Nixon's injury. Cruz was three for twelve with no RBI in his time in Boston.

Also on the trade docket: Boston picked up Mike Remlinger, DFA'ed by the Cubs on August 5, trading minor-league pitcher Olivo Astacio in exchange. Although he's a lefty, Remlinger has had much more success against right-handed hitters in the past two years, which is fine...except RedSox.com is touting him as an Alan Embree successor. Embree, when he was good, was an effective pitcher from both sides (with nearly similar stats, especially opposing batting averages, in 2004), while Remlinger sounds like a left-handed version of Chad Bradford. ESPN does mention in their announcement that Remlinger was "one of the more reliable and durable lefty setup men in recent years," but that doesn't account for the discrepancies in OBA. However, there's a rumor going around that the Sox also picked up Ricky Bottalico from the Brewers, who DFA'ed him on July 28, a righty who, surprise, surprise, has Embree-in-2004 style stats over the past three years, although he has a bigger discrepancy between the number of lefties and righties faced than Embree did. Allen at Joy of Sox pegs Bottalico and Remlinger to replace Delcarmen (to Pawtucket) and Gonzo (DFA) in the bullpen, which would make Bottalico the long reliever and Remlinger the setup man. I'd like to see some confirmation of the rumor one way or another, but it would be a shame to lose Little Manny.

Keith Foulke and Trot Nixon both worked out yesterday, Tony Massaroti describing Foulke's workout as "uneventful." Nixon is still working off a tee and does not have a timetable for his return, but feels much better overall. John Olerud's hamstrings are also feeling much better, but there's no word on when he'll be back or what will happen to Petagine when Olerud returns.

Game two tonight: Honest Abe versus Joaquin Benoit (another converted reliever) at 7:05. GO SOX!!!

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