Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Houston Astros 1
The positive for Dice-K: no runs and two hits in his second start back, which is like a 10,000 percent improvement over what he did last time. The negative: three walks, only four strikeouts, and a cap at 87 pitches, with a caveat: with a three run lead going into the fifth, you'd have to figure that Francona felt it was better to risk the lead over his pitcher's arm. Type of strategy I approve of, so I'm not going to complain. My fantasy team's pitching staff also approves.
What remains a bit odd to me is that there's no long relief; the Sox blew through the relief corps last night instead. Except for Okajima, everybody pitched well, so no harm done last night, but either there's a deal in the making for a long arm to absorb middle innings for nights like last night, or - here's my moment of inspiration for the week - the Sox are bucking conventional wisdom and keeping a higher quality set of arms on staff to spread around innings when necessary and give Francona more tools on a regular basis, when the team needs to put out a fire.
Here's why I think that idea makes sense: in addition to needing to sacrifice an arm in the bullpen to carry an extra bat on the bench as a substitute for Papi's injured arm, the Sox have a starting staff that averages a fraction of a percent under six innings, which means they're less likely to need long relievers. Instead, they need pitchers to make it through the seventh, eighth, and ninth, which means power arms that can get people out but generally can't last longer than an inning. As a result, stocking up on those types of pitchers - and I think we can agree that Hansen and Delcarmen qualify - makes more sense than having long relief on hand.