Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Game 1: Mistakes Were Made

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Oakland Athletics 5

After the game ended, ESPN 2 had a phone conversation with a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, asking her if she thought if both teams played well. She took this enormous softball and whiffed it completely, pointing out one flaw (I believe she said something about Matsuzaka's first few innings) in a veritable sea of pretty ugly mess-ups. I mean, hey, I'm glad we won, but I'm still looking the gift horse in the mouth by pointing out all of the terrible things both teams did. Call it Opening Day jitters, call it needing time to gel as a team, call it the effects of an early ending to Spring Training, here are the big flaws of Game 1:

Daisuke's first two innings: Matsuzaka's fastball was a thing of beauty today, which was a good thing, because his breaking ball had about as much break as a speeding car on an icy New England road. In what quickly became my - and every other Red Sox fan's - early morning nightmare, Dice-K threw fifty pitches in two innings, struggling as pitch after pitch sailed way out of the strike zone. It's a wonder Jason Varitek caught most of them, but it's even more of a wonder that the A's couldn't take advantage of what seemed to be an enormously palatable situation, scoring a meager two runs through Matsuzaka's meltdown.

The upside: Dice-K settled down in the third inning and translated his fastball and an off speed pitch into a pretty deadly combination that shut down the last seven A's he faced. If that's the Dice-K we're going to see more consistently, then John Farrell's a genius and much of the AL's hitting is in trouble.

Land of the Rising Double Play: While the A's were busy drawing five walks against Dice-K, the Sox were hitting into double plays - or near misses. The official total was two, but that doesn't take into account third baseman Jack Hannahan's dropped ball, or the near miss where the A's just couldn't get the ball to first fast enough.

The upside: Those double plays - particularly the ones that the A's failed to develop - were all rockets. Once Boston figured out how to hit Blanton, they knocked him out pretty quickly.

The closers (nearly) blow it: Jonathan Papelbon. Huston Street. Two of the game's premiere closers, both looking like the ugly side of Todd Jones on the mound today. Street's home run to surprise hero Moss spelled the begnning of the end for the A's, while Papelbon had us all on the ropes in the bottom of the tenth with three hits, a walk, and the winning run in scoring position. Dishonorable mention to Kyle Snyder, who blew up Matsuzaka's partially resuscitated coming home party by surrendering Oakland runs number three and four via the long ball.

The upside: The Okie-Dokie wasn't the perfect kill pitch it's been in the past, but congrats to Okajima for stealing Dice-K's thunder and becoming the first Japanese pitcher to win a Major League game in Japan. All you trivia buffs better remember that one for the trivia night twenty years from now.

Walking Papi to Pitch to Manny: Really? Were Street's odds against righties (or Manny) that good that it was worth taking the risk that Manny would do exactly what he ended up doing and smashing a double a foot short of going out? I know clutch hitting doesn't exist in a consistently measurable fashion, but that still seems like a really ugly bet.

The upside: We heard a few times during the broadcast about Manny's off-season conditioning programming in Arizona. Clearly one effect of his Winter training is that he's able to watch deep fly balls and still make it to second base standing up.

J.D. Drew's back seizing up: The mistake here was mine for expecting otherwise, particularly after Drew had rocked homers in both exhibition games. According to the official organ, it's unclear whether or not Drew will play tomorrow, and there's no real need for him to play again until April 1 when regular play resumes. Fingers crossed, this will be a temporary setback at the start of a breakout season.

The upside: Brandon Moss! The scratch starter making good and joining the elite few (Joey Hamilton! Charles Thomas!) who've hit their first regular season home run in a game outside the US or Canada is the stuff of underdog legend, even if Moss is one of Boston's top prospects.