Friday, May 30, 2008

Game 57: Totally Necessary

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Baltimore Orioles 2

You hate to see a team lose a game because of costly errors. Stupid, unsightly errors (three in one inning!) and sloppy base running (Kevin Millar! Embedded Red Sox! Incidentally winning the game for us once again!) by the other team just make you feel like you've been cheated out of a hard-won victory, that the baseball gods, in their fickle fashion, have granted you something you don't deserve out of spite or caprice.

Who am I kidding? The way the Sox have been hitting lately, I'll take a win any way I can get, three unearned runs or no, particularly when the regulation portion of tonight's game - and its bevy of missed opportunities - are factored in. Eleven men left on base: that's the total of tonight's blown chances to score runs against an increasingly wily Daniel Cabrera, who's either finally gained effective control over his fastball, or is extracting his vengeance on me for dropping him from my fantasy team like a hot potato back in April.

Fortunately, the entirety of the pitching corp, from Beckett to Papelbon, pitched the like the pros we've all been pretty sure that they are. Beckett - with the exception of a wild sixth - was the strikeout pitcher we know and love, complete with misplaced pitch that wound up over the fence and six innings of two run lock down. Okajima was his charming self for an extremely helpful two innings, while Craig Hansen pitched a phenomenal inning and two-thirds where he not only kept men from scoring, but even killed off an inherited runner. It was like I'd died and gone to bullpen heaven.

Both sides will hope for long outings by their starters tomorrow, but what I'm hoping for even more is that by capitalizing on tonight's opportunities - even if the Orioles eventually had to offer them with double-dipping exaggerated courtesy on a silver platter (three errors in one inning!) - Boston's bats will finally wake up and score runs. It might well be totally necessary.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Game 56: Go East Young Men

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 0, Seattle Mariners 1

Ok that’s it. Let’s go back to the Atlantic shore people. Nothing to see here. Pack it in and call it a day. 1 out of 6 on the West coast is pitiful and I’m not even shocked. We suck on the road and that’s about all I can say.

Wake was great but wasted. Between his performance and the negative MRI on Dice-K’s arm that’s about all I can muster for a silver lining in this crap sandwich. What the hell happens to the bats when we cross the Rocky Mountains? They smell that Pacific ocean breeze and forget that they have to hit the ball. Put it in play damnit! 4 runs in 3 games against a team that is under .500 is not acceptable. This is bush league.

Ugh. Now we got a 3 game series with the Orioles who don’t seem to be the pushovers they were last season. I wonder if these count as home games because I know Sox Nation always represents in Baltimore. I can only hope.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Game 55: The West Coast Sucks

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, Seattle Mariners 4

The title of this post went through several iterations, from "I can't believe we're being shut out by Miguel Batista" to some version of "blue colored spheres" - a thinly-disguised innuendo, with a reference to the eight base runners that somehow only turned into three runs against a pitchers who gives up at least a run more on a regular basis - to "Angel Hernandez Is A Douchebag" - because what other umpire ejects a fielder for making a comment about a checked swing call, then throws out the fielder's manager because he can't understand why the umpire won't explain his reasoning. But in the end I settled for the present title, because if there's anything more disheartening than losing on a walk off to a bad team, it's doing so at 1:30 in the morning.

Why have West Coast games start so stupidly late, anyway, particularly against teams based on the East Coast? I realize the time difference means that it's now only 10:30 PM out there, allowing all of those happy Seattle fans to go to bed at a reasonable hour, but you know what? Make a compromise and start things early. There's no reason why the productivity of companies in cities from Boston to Cleveland to New York to Miami needs to suffer the day after a West Coast night game just because of an irrational refusal to start games at 8:30 or 9:00 PM Eastern. It would certainly make these losses a lot more bearable.

One silver lining: Manny moon shot number 499 couldn't have come at a better time. The boys on the offense may have blown an opportunity to score in the eighth, but at least they opened up the possibility for a comeback by capitalizing on an error and setting up Manny for a no-doubter in the sixth. I just realized the home run had an interesting secondary effect, too: Matsuzaka may not have been in line for the win, but by erasing the deficit he created, the Sox managed to keep his artificially-induced lossless streak intact. See, I'm just full of happy thoughts tonight. Now let's get game three out of the way so we can escape the land of midnight baseball.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Game 54: Battle of the Bulk

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Seattle Mariners 3

It’s no secret that the Red Sox have trouble playing on the road this year. Something about leaving Boston doesn’t seem to sit well with this team especially during the always dreadful west coast visit (see getting swept by the A’s for example). Another well known fact is the tradition of suck that has formed around Safeco Field. The Sox can’t win there and it defies all reason. The ONLY positive going into this series in Seattle is that this year the Mariners are awful and are stuck in a much worse funk then the Beantown crew. Hmmm, that might be enough…

The pitching match up in game one was two heavy weights (pun VERY much intended) Colon vs King Felix. These gargantuan gastropods matched each other pitch for pitch, out for out and bite for bite until Papi went deep in the 4th for the first run. Colon had trouble in the 5th and 6th innings but managed to pitch himself out of it with minimal damage. His line was a respectable 7 inning, 5H, 1ER, 1BB, 4K. Can’t complain about that when it comes from your morbidly overweight 5th starter. I will be damn near ecstatic if he can string together a few starts like these.

As for King Felix (who looks even bigger this year), well he looked pretty good until the 8th when the Sox offense finally sprang to life. After a weekend of dormancy, the bats awoke with a medium vengeance and dropped 4 big runs on Seattle. Pedroia’s 2 out RBI double got things started and the Sox finally got a crooked number on the board.

The rare road win is nice, but I remain a bit pessimistic. I hate playing in Seattle, I hate the west coast start times, I hate how AWFUL Papelbon looked (2 runs in the 9th) and I hate the fact that the lineup is still having such a hard time hitting. I kinda want to get this series over with as soon as possible. Wins would be nice, but I’m not picky at this point.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Game 53: Road Blues

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, Oakland Athletics 6

Our team has a problem: much like their cross-town basketball cousins, the Red Sox can't seem to win on the road. points out that yesterday's loss makes seven road losses in a row, the most since 2001, when a team consisting of such luminaries as Offerman, Lansing, Bichette, Alcantara, Castillo, and Arrojo lost ten straight on the road at the end of the year under Joe Kerrigan, as a part of their traditional second half collapse into a second place finish with a record gasping for air just above the .500 mark. Point being: this year's Red Sox have no interest in being compared to their 2001 predecessors, and any point of comparison is a sign of trouble.

Signs of the problem seem to revolve around traditional matrices: slumping hitting, inconsistent pitching, etc. During the losing streak, Boston converted forty percent of their hits into runs; at home against Milwaukee and Kansas City, the percentage was seventy-two percent. Pitching shows the same discrepancies: on the road, sixty percent of hits surrendered turned into earned runs; at home, the number drops to forty percent. Throw in difficult ballparks in Oakland and Minnesota where Boston doesn't ever seem to do well and those differences seem to make sense, but then you look at Boston's overall 2008 home and away winning percentages, and all of the sudden there's a big problem staring you in a face: seventy percent at home, thirty-seven percent on the road. Not the stuff winners are made of.

Unfortunately, I don't see that differential improving any time soon: the next three games are against Seattle in Seattle, in a park they might as well rename "Safe to Assume You're Going to Lose Here Co" field for all of the luck Boston's had playing there. Looks like the road blues are bound to continue for another three games, at least.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Game 52: One Hit Wonder

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 0, Oakland Athletics 3

Justin Duchscherer. He was a reliever, right? Survey says yes. Funny, usually the progression goes the other way. I see he had a below-average year last year; perhaps in typical Oakland Athletics fashion, they decided that he'd have better luck starting than relieving. Anyway, it doesn't seem like such a bad choice: lifetime against the Sox, he's got a 1.91 ERA in a bit over 28 innings and twenty base runners during the same time period. This year, his ERA+ ballooned back to 198 after last year's dismal 85...basically, the guy's in his prime, and he's pitching like he knows it.

Yesterday, unfortunately, fit the pattern: one-hitting the Sox (thank you, Big Papi, for preventing the ignominy of no hitter) with a little help from Huston Street to turn the start of the West Coast trip into a two game losing streak. Duchscherer's excellent pitching did double damage, too, wasting an fine two run, nine strikeout performance by Beckett where he danced around seven hits but seemed much more consistent than his home run plagued outing a week ago.

This afternoon the A's try for the sweep and the Sox try not to be beaten, once again, at another aspect of their own game: offense two days ago, pitching yesterday...I guess it would be base stealing today. Jon Lester's pitching; I hear he's a bit of a golden boy now.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Game 51: Jacoby Ellsbury Is One Fast Mofo

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, Oakland Athletics 8

I made a decision at the start of this year that I was going to stop writing straight game recaps when I posted, and focus instead on some intriguing aspect of the game past that I felt I could expound upon at length. Save the game recaps for the mainstream media publications, who have all of the same facts, or for Robin, who makes them funny; I'm going for the more esoteric approach.

That means I won't be talking about the major aspects of tonights blowout; the parts that describe, in gory detail, how bad of a mauling the Athletics dealt, once again, to our beloved team, making me feel like early April had returned and everyone was still on jet lag shell shock. Not too surprisingly, really; before today, Wakefield gave up about 50 runs in about 80 innings when pitching in Oakland. Anyway, if you want to read about all of that - Wakefield's meltdown, Pedroia's home run, etc. - the recap's right here.

I'm more concerned with a footnote in today's stat line: CS: Ellsbury (2, 2nd base by Devine/Suzuki), which represents Ellsbury's second caught stealing in twenty-one tries in 2008. Not a particularly unique or even cheery piece of information, but here's what I find so fascinating about it: Ellsbury is so fast, he ran himself into a throwout. The line should read: CS: Ellsbury (2, 2nd base by Ellsbury). Suzuki and Devine? They just got lucky. Here's how it went down:

It's the top of the seventh, and the Sox have yet another sucker's rally running. Ellsbury's on first after an RBI single that scored Lugo, with Pedroia at the plate. Next pitch, Ellsbury goes, tearing off towards second like he's got winged feet. The throw is miles behind him; he's going so fast he could run back to first and do the whole trip over again with time to spare. In fact, he's going so damn fast, when he slides, he slides right past the base. A quick flip back with his trailing hand to try and keep contact before the tag, but there's a gap and Crosby gets him for the putout. Caught stealing, 1-2-6. And all because Jacoby Ellsbury is like uncontrolled lightening; one fast, fast mofo.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Game 50: The Closest Blowout Ever

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 11, Kansas City Royals 8

You know what’s NOT supposed to happen? A save situation in a game were your team hits 2 GRAND SLAMS. When 2 gannys are hit… saves should go out the window. Looks like someone forgot to tell that to the Boston Red Sox. Not only did Papelbon get the save here, but he let the tying run step to the plate before he could close it out.

How did this happen? The Sox led by 8 in this game so isn’t that pretty much an assured victory? Well nothing is assured when the pitching sucks this bad.

Dice-K was one out away from going 6 innings, walked a small village of batters, but still managed to get his record to 8-0. The bullpen (besides Lopez) was God awful. Hansen proved he isn’t good from much of anything while Aardsma was just as bad. One of the worst relief performances ever by a winning team. Ick. Just don’t do it again. Ok?

As I said before, the bats were tremendous. Drew and Lowell both went deep with the bases jacked. Reminded me a lot of Bill Mueller when he got his two Grand Slams in a game in 2003. An amazing feat.

All in all, the Sox squeaked by and somehow they were able sweep the Royals and the home stand. Not too shabby. Now the Sox take their MLB leading record and zoom over to Oakland where the games start at an ungodly hour. Thanks timezone shift... now I'm gonna get less sleep than normal.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Game 49: Through Thick and Thicker

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Kansas City Royals 3

This is a tough one. The Sox 6th win in a row, another good showing by the offense, and the return of Bartolo Colon. Let’s see how long I can go without making a fat joke.

Colon is best known for being the 2005 CY Young winner and then falling off the map. His arm injuries and wild streaks basically cost him his job during a contract year. Bad timing for any job… horrible if you’re a major league pitcher. In a league fraught with thin rotations, nobody wanted to take a flyer on Colon. He didn’t end up in Pawtucket because he wanted to eat fried seafood on Cape Cod, he wound up in AAA because he had nowhere else that would take him.

Watching him step on to the mound after his battle back from injuries and unemployment is inspiring. Ok, so it’s not “Cancer survivor pitches no-hitter” kind of inspiring, but you really only get one of those a week. To his credit, Bartolo stepped it up on Wednesday and brought some poise and heat from his award winning season. He hovered around 93-94 mph over 5 innings and only allowed 2 runs. Not too shabby for a 5th starter.

As I mentioned before, the offense was jumping again with multiple hits from Jacoby (including a solo hr), Pedroia and Tek (who looks like he’s still got some of the old pop too).

But the night belonged to Bartolo. I think he is a very good option as a split roll 5th starter. Once Buchholz gets off the DL, Colon and he will most likely be in oscillating jobs to save the Buch’s thin, young arm and Colon’s old and chunky one.

What a glut of pitching the Sox have right now. 6 Major league starters and Masterson waiting in the wings. Makes you wonder what they are going to do when Schilling wants to come back after the All-Star break.

Too many good pitchers? Now that’s a problem you hope to have. Just don‘t go rushing off to the trading tables… or you might end up with Wily Mo Pena.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Game 48: He's a Master, Son.

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 2, Kansas City Royals 1

Oh my puns, they are so clever. But seriously though, with the exception of one very iffy situation by Okajima, mastery was all over the pitching tonight. Masterson himself overcame the onus of having a hard act to follow, succeeding in (mostly) shutting down Kansas City in style, his funky three-quarterish arm angle delivery striking out five Royals while allowing three hits over six and a third innings. Control was a bit of a problem - witness the three wals, including the one that finally did him in - but Masterson is a ground ball pitcher, and through the ninety-one pitches he threw tonight, he got a lot of ground ball outs.

Masterson's cast of thousands relief crew did they jobs with reasonable adroitness, and Okajima's mini-meltdown in the eighth had one positive impact: Papelpon not only got to come in and do his thing to kill off the Royals' rally in the eighth, but do a full-on Cinco-Ocho freakout afterwards, looking like he was going to start breathing fire through the nostrils. Happy is the baseball fan with a lovable psychotic for a closer.

That wraps up two pretty special days of young pitchers making big splashes, but before I sign off for the evening, a word on Jason Varitek. As mentioned elsewhere, Varitek now owns the record for most no-hitters caught; a record underscored by Tek's success in coaching young pitchers to improve their games. Varitek has a direct hand in Josh Beckett's improvement last year, he called no-hitters for Buchholz and Lester, less than a year apart. Tonight he helped a young sinkerballer dominate the Royals. Are these the types of things we look for when we think Hall of Fame catcher? Is it still too early to tell, even after 11 years? Tell me your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Game 47: Entering Into History

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Kansas City Royals 0

For my bachelor party almost two years ago, my friends brought me up to Cooperstown, NY, to the Baseball Hall of Fame. A couple of things come instantly to mind from that trip: the exhibit on Manny Ramirez's uniform and how he wears it at the largest size allowed by regulations to give him better freedom of movement when he hits; Robin finding Joe Morgan's picture and flipping it off in tribute to all of Morgan's "skills" as a broadcaster; seeing the championship ring display, finding the one from 2004 and reliving the good times all over again. But the section I always think of first, the place that really brings everything that the Hall of Fame is about home to me is the wall of no hitter and perfect game balls, each with the date, the score of the game, and the picture of the man on whom fortune smiled to deliver a night of truly devastating pitching. Pedro's up there, and Derek Lowe; Hideo Nomo back when he was good, A.J. Burnett when he was a Marlin and David Wells when he was a Yankee. Nolan Ryan has seven - more than anyone else - and now, after tonight, the Sox have 18 - or 26, if you believe ESPN - which seems to be more than anyone else [Edit: now that I'm awake, I've realized that 26 is for Boston teams as a whole, going back to the 1870s. Robin's got it right: the Sox have 18, the Dodgers have 20].

Many love baseball for the excitement of the big hit, the powerful smash over the wall, the crooked number inning with runners pilling across the plate so quickly you'd think the bases were on fire. I do not deny these moments their
ability to move us fans into transports of delight, but what I love most about baseball is the pitching: the strategy of pitch selection, the psychology of the guessing game between batter, pitcher, and catcher, the tension of a duel between the man on the mound and the man at the plate. The addition of the no hitter possibility makes these pitching moments that much more precious, adding in the dimension of necessarily superb defense, of a team uniting behind its pitcher to guarantee a moment in history.

Tonight's game had all of these rarefied elements, combined together into one noble gas that burned with a stark beauty upon the cold earth of the baseball field. At the plate, Manny battled Luke Hochevar with the bases loaded and home run number 499 looming large, fouling off pitch after pitch before settling for a walk, while every starter but Lugo found a way to get on base. In the field Jacoby Ellsbury saved the day with a second spectacular diving catch in as many days, delivered as effortlessly as his stolen base advance from first to second to third in two plays, channeling Rickey Henderson all the way.
And astride the mound, befitting his stature as the star of the game, stood Jon Lester like a giant, flinging away the doubts about his abilities - doubts for which I now humbly apologize - and delivering strikeouts by the handful. It was one hell of a way to make an entrance into history.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Game 46: Can I Get a Witness? Beating the Weather with Big Bats

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 11, Milwaukee Brewers 7

I love going to Fenway. I love the air, the atmosphere and the food (mmm sausage and peppers). Most of all, I love a win (and in this case a sweep) when I get to watch from the bleacher. Just like heaven.

With ominous clouds and a healthy wind blowing out all game, I expected to see some power, but this was insane. Beckett did not have his best stuff. 6 hits (4 HRs) and 6 earned over 7 innings. He did have 9Ks but MAN it was not pretty. Ryan Braun had two MONSER monster shots and the Prince Fielder homer landed in the Brewers bullpen (right in front of us) hitting the back wall with a huge THUMP. I really really hope Beckett isn’t settling back into his long ball problem he had back in 2006.

Fortunately, the Sox hitters were hotter. Ortiz had 2 homers, Pedroia went deep and so did Youk. Sox had base runners all day and failed to score in only the 2nd and 8th innings. They were rolling from the beginning and didn’t stop until the score hit double digits. By the 8th inning the rain started to fall and we were hoping that things would hurry up. I assume that the Francona heard my grumblings and sent in Papelbon in a non save situation to nail down the sweep.

I besides the Beckett disaster, the other low point of this game was Jacoby Ellsbury. He did have a hit and 2 RBI… but his consecutive steal streak was broken. He got caught for the first time in his career snapping his 25 attempt streak. Oh well… all good things must come to an end.

Games 44 and 45: Welcome Back, Kapler

Game 44: Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Milwaukee Brewers 3
Game 45: Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Milwaukee Brewers 6

Two days after the beatdown in Baltimore, the BoSox returned the fray finally sporting what they'd needed for days: a full complement of players and staff. Drew was back, Coco was back, Francona was back, and the Sox celebrated their return - and the return of beloved utility player made manager made starter Gabe Kapler - with an old fashioned run scoring slug fest, scoring five of their twelve runs with multi-score home runs from Papi (Game 1) and Lowell (Game 2). Dice-K pitched well, Wakefield pitched well enough, the bullpen was the bullpen, and Mike Timlin surprised us all by getting the Brew Crew on three ground balls to end the nightcap. All well and good, and certainly enough to get the Sox back on track and in the running back into the AL East.

What wasn't so good: the defense. In game one, Youkilis finally committed an error...but he was playing third, not first, so the streak stands. In game two, things got ugly, with a Lowell throwing error and fielding errors by Cora and Lopez to remind us that eight straight hours of baseball isn't really a good idea. Of course, Boston's putrid defense - which led to an odd situation where Craig Hansen loaded the bases and blew a save without it (for once) being entirely his fault - looked positively rot free compared to that of Milwaukee: five errors over the two games.

Still, for all of the shaky relief and shakier defense, the Sox accomplished the oh-so-difficult task of taking two in a double header, and come into today poised for their first interleague sweep in 2008. As long as the bats keep going, there shouldn't be any reason why Boston shouldn't win today, right?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Game 43: Manny Ramirez, Fielding Superstar

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 3, Baltimore Orioles 6

Last night, while I was brooding over the results of this ridiculous game and wondering how I was going to write yet another post on how our bullpen is terrible and needs to be beaten with sticks, a sign out of the heavens (or off the TV) appeared: the clip of Manny's ultra rare 9 to 6 to 3 double play showed up on the local ABC news sports recap.

A sign, you say? How so? Remember that I live in Brooklyn, NY, far away from the confines of non-playoff New England sports news, where there are four baseball teams: the Yankees and the Mets and whoever they're playing that night. Showing a clip from a Red Sox game vacillates between the irrelevant and the indignant for most people down here - or so I would think. However, perhaps because he's a native son (of sorts), or because there really are more Red Sox fans down here than one would suspect, or maybe just because the play was so damn spectacular for anyone - let alone a guy whose slugging-first reputation proceeds him - to catch, there it was, in all its glory, on the small screen in New York City, giving me a sign.

If you haven't seen the catch yet, go watch it. Marvel at how the ball left Kevin Millar's bat, how it looked like a sure thing home run until it got to left field. Watch Manny, his dreadlocks flying, tracking that ball at a dead run. Watch him reach out, snag that ball on an exaggerated curve and hold on like it was most natural thing in the world. Then watch him, with the unique flair we've
come to know and love from Manny (particularly in the past two years) take this play from really special to super-freakin'-memorable (and more than worthy of becoming the sole focus of a blog post) by letting him momentum take him to the wall and then up the wall where he high fives a guy in a Red Sox shirt.

Oh, and then he throws the ball back into the infield, where Cora and Youkilis combine to nail Aubrey Huff and end the Orioles' half of the inning.
That's a level of cool so unbelievable that the only comparison I can think of is if in one those old Bird versus Jordan commercials, one of them had used a random fan to help ricochet the ball on its way to the net.

So enjoy your day off, fellas (Lord knows you need it); I'll be thinking back to that catch all day and grinning when I think of the sequence: off the bat, in the glove, off the fan, off the shortstop, nothing but out.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Game 42: Blame the Umpire

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 4, Baltimore Orioles 5

A disclaimer: I'm not usually one for blaming external circumstances on the failings of my team. Generally, if they did poorly, I'm happy to call them out in the vitriol that is the province of the self-righteous fan, stewing in his (or her) impotence at the reality of trying to influence events from the sidelines.

All of that aside, tonight's contest was so poorly umpired by home plate umpire Laz "Rockit" Diaz that I have no choice but to place the blame for this ill-inspired disaster at his feet. Maybe rub his nose in it, too, for good measure. Diaz's strike zone wobbled - for both teams, mind you - as much as a guy driving home from the bar at 2 AM on a Saturday morning after about fifteen too many. He pissed off Varitek, who had a few words with Diaz after a called strike three to start out of the fourth, even though Tek - consummate professional that he is - would know full well not to risk calls for his pitcher by complaining to the umpire.
He even ejected David Ortiz after Ortiz had the audacity to argue the worst check swing call I've ever seen, killing a rally that might have won the Sox the game. This guy sucked.

Astute box score watchers among you might point out that the Sox left ten men on base, that half of those men were stranded in scoring position, and that no team wins ballgames by squandering runs. You might also point out that Josh Beckett pitched like crap mixed with dookie and gave up eleven hits, or that Drew left the game (and the series) with a strained wrist after trying to land 200 pounds on one hand, or that Coco Crisp retired early with an upset stomach (bad crab cakes?). In pointing these things out, you might ask why I'm not blaming the players who didn't perform. I'll tell you.

Baseball works on consistency: consistent mechanics, consistent velocities, consistent defense, consistently seeing the ball in a certain way. Lock in consistency and you'll get a perfect game, a 5 for 5 game, a 20+ game winner, a batting title. True consistency is perfection and 99% of baseball is athletes trying to achieve that perfection through the achievement of consistency. Lose your consistency as a batter from poor concentration and you'll have a bad night at the plate; maybe even go into a slump. Do it as a pitcher and you'll leave a pitch out over the plate, get shelled, maybe get demoted to the bullpen or off the team. Lack consistency as a defense and you'll get Derek Lowe through most of 2004: afraid to use his sinker because he couldn't trust the guys behind him to do their jobs.

But be inconsistent as an umpire and you're creating the biggest granddaddy problem of them all: no one knows how to pick their pitches. Will that borderline pitch be a ball or a strike? Should I swing here, or should I let it go by? Suddenly, players have no past data to rely on, they make mistakes, opportunities are squandered, pressure builds on pitchers to make even more perfect placement, and all of the sudden you blow a three run lead and can't seem to string the hits together to come back. For tonight's game, the Orioles had the better time of it and they won, but by his actions, Laz Diaz made sure this contest wasn't about Baltimore versus Boston; it was about his poor performance behind the plate. And for that, he should be sorry.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Games 39, 40, and 41: Dome Divers

Final Scores: Boston Red Sox 5, Minnesota Twins 2
Boston Red Sox 8, Minnesota Twins 9
Boston Red Sox 3, Minnesota Twins 7

The Boston Red Sox have NEVER played well in Minnesota but now it looks like Eric and I aren’t the only ones leaving the weekend with a hangover. Maybe it’s something about that trash bag that sucks all hope out of the Beantown crew. The results are usually ugly, but there were some bright spots in this 1 for 4 stretch in the land of 10,000 lakes.

Although Dice-K got the win (his 6th) the victory on Saturday was a redemption of sorts for Papelbon. After 2 consecutive blown saves, Paps got a gimme save and did so with gusto. A nice bounce back for the most valuable arm in the bullpen. Also back to back shots from Lowrie and Coco. Wow that’s even hard to type.

Sunday was a big tease. After going down big early (Wake looked awful), the Sox kept it close even with Manny on the bench nursing his hammy. So why did he pinch hit in a clutch situation in the late inning (only to line out)? No clue. Sox fell short in the 9th. Not pretty, but a good showing for the return of Cora. Lugo sat as Cora got some big hits and so great plays with the glove. No win to show for it though.

Monday night was the return of Casey and the return of the inconsistent Buchholz. Manny got his 498th round tripper, but that was the extent of the offence. Buchholz gave up some big runs early and the Sox never came close to recovering. Lets get out from under the dome before anyone gets smothered.

The biggest stories of the weekend are the moves and shakes in the bullpen. Bryan Corey was traded to San Diego for a player to be named later. I only hope the PTBNL isn’t Bryan Corey.

Also, I am sad to report that the Sox have parted ways with a man I have gotten some great laughs from over the last 2 seasons. Like a psychotic on lithium, the Red Sox have gotten a lot less crazy… Julian Tavarez has been designated for assignment in preparation for a trade to Colorado. No more balls being rolled to first base, no more Freddy Kruger jokes, no more human sacrifice scares. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. Sigh… at least I can take solace in the fact that he was a terrible pitcher. Yep, I feel better already.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Gone Drinkin'

You may notice a lack of updates this weekend, or a multi-game summary post: that's because Robin and I (and DC, for that matter) have both driven out the wild ends of western New York, to Lake Ontario, to celebrate our dear friend Eric's bachelor party, where we will use excuses like "brewery tour" as reasons to drink to excess and make asses out of ourselves. The more knowledgeable among you might wonder why we're driving all the way out there when you know that Eric lives in Brooklyn, but there are some mysteries, cosmic in nature, that defy all knowledge and understanding.

Because we can't afford the technology to clone ourselves, we'll be back on Sunday with a summary post of the weekend's baseball doings. With any luck, those baseball doings won't cause us to want to drink further. Go Sox!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Game 38: The Blame Game

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Minnesota Twins 7

I've been cursing at Julio Lugo the whole game, ever since he picked up error number eleven by dropping yet another ground ball to short and missing the opportunity to gun down Carlos Gomez for what would have been the third out. In my head - particularly if they lost, I thought, although I had no qualms about ripping Lugo's fielding again no matter what the final score - the two runs that scored that inning should have been added to Lugo's total, not the Red Sox, making the score an unusual (if all too correct) Red Sox 2, Twins 2, Julio Lugo 2.

Unfortunately, while it's never as easy as it seems to assign goatitude to a particular player, no matter how much he's done to deserve it, Boston played tonight's game so poorly that I must calm my irrational impulses to murder the shortstop in prose and spread the blame to his teammates, where, as we'll see, it most definitely belongs.

Let's start with Lester, who added a new touch to his repertoire of suck: rather than walk everyone, he gave them hits (and then runs) instead. How he managed to survive more than five innings is a mystery for the ages, but after two straight quality outings, Lester returned quickly to his evil ways. And Lord knows [he]'s got to change. Fortunately for him, he avoided the stigma of a loss thanks to the one solid element of tonight's contest: the non-closing relief. Aardsma and Okajima, my hat's off to you: you kept Minnesota off the base paths and off the scoreboard for the better part of three innings, and while Papelbon couldn't seal the deal, your efforts made his appearance possible. Would that everyone else had been like you two tonight.

Like, say, the offense. Sure, they managed to chase the Boof after four innings plus by pounding his pitches back into the Stone Age, but though his backup allowed five hits and two walks over the next five innings, the Sox couldn't mount an effective bombardment program and score some badly-needed runs. Instead, they left 11 men on base, including an almost criminal 7 men in scoring position, setting up the tragic circumstances where a utility player knocks in the winning, walk-off (just to twist the knife a little further) runs off one of the best closers in baseball.

So, as you can see, Lugo's not the only goat left staked out in front of the T-Rex pen after tonight's game: from top to bottom, nearly everyone played their crappy part to create another Metrodome loss. Halle-frickin'-lujah; I'm going to bed.

Game 37: Josh and Kevin are TIGER HUNTERS!

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Detroit Tigers 1

Call Beckett and Youk the big game hunters. Never letting the sharp toothed beast out of their sight, these two warriors looked into the eyes of a ferocious animal… and the big cat blinked.

After the mauling the Sox took in the last frame yesterday (with Lugo providing the bait), the Sox bounced back with a game and series victory. Beckett earned his 4th victory with a powerful 7 inning 8K performance. Other than the 2 out hit parade (it was weird, like his focus left him after he got two outs in an inning) he dominated the Tigers offence. I hate the fact that our shortstop sucks (and boy does he suck) but starts like these from Beckett remind me that I would still do the Hanley Ramirez trade any day. At least I keep telling myself that.

As for the bats, they were lead by the hottest hitting hand in the land. Kevin Youkilis has been on FIRE as of late and provided another 2 run bomb in this match up. He is now up to 7 dingers (tied for 2nd in the AL) and 27 RBI (4th in the AL). Oh and he’s 2nd in the AL in OPS and Slugging and he and Manny are tied for 1st in extra base hits. So just in case you’re wondering… yeah he’s hitting pretty well.

Now add in the 2 RBI for Tek and the solid relief from Hansen and MDC (finally some luck there) and this striped monster is put down. The Red Sox win the season series against the Tigers 5-2. So after the awful start Detroit has had, it makes you think: maybe this team that was amazing (on paper) isn’t that scary after all. Maybe they are just big pussy cats.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Game 36: The Hell Game

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 9, Detroit Tigers 10

Honestly, I am such a ball of rage and fury right now that I can’t form real sentences. I’m gonna have to do this in bullet point form:

-Sox hot young arm vs Tigers junk ball pitcher. Trap game? Worse…
-Lowrie fell flat on his face running out of the box. Ugly start rookie.
-Buchholz hit like a no-armed prize fighter. Early and often.
-Sox bounce back. Keeping it close.
-I keep thinking Tigers have Andres Galarraga. But he’s retired… and doesn’t pitch.
-I hate Polanco. He kills us.
-YOUK! 2 homers?! That’s 3 in 2 days if you’re counting at home.
-Tavarez should be benched for any softball pitcher from any girls college.
-No way we can win this. Lopez and Aardsma warming. Forfeit to prevent any injuries?
-Tigers bullpen is awful. These guys miss the tank when pumping gas.
-This umpire needs a white cane. He strikezone is an amorphous blob.
-Ellsbury will never be caught stealing. He should rob banks.
-I can’t believe we are only down by 3 this could be…
-Love this Tigers bullpen!
-Pedroia! Pinch hit go-ahead single! What a come back! What a game!
-Oki in trouble… strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out! WHAT A PLAY!
-Jim Leyland could have a stroke tonight.
-Can’t score off Todd Jones? I can’t believe he still plays this game.
-Papelbon in… game over…
-Wait what?
-Oh no
-Oh no
-9th inning error (Lugo’s 10th on the year) cost us the lead. I want his freaking head.
-Lugo needs to be dropped in South Boston in full uniform. He wouldn’t make it 5 steps.
-Papelbon vs Polanco… oh no.
-Yep… Polanco kills us.
-First blown save and loss of the year for Papelbon. I’m sick.
-Check the box score. No earned runs for Papelbon. Lugo can die in a fire.
-How did they lose this??? HOW??
-I am switching between white knuckle rage and nausea. I can’t stand it.
-F*** you Lugo.
-Papelbon is just as mad… he’s ballistic in the clubhouse. Can’t blame him.
-Buchholz maybe hurt ankle? Great…
-I need to throw up. I only wish it was in Lugo’s hat. Somebody break his knees.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Game 35: Firing On All Cylinders

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Detroit Tigers 0

You know what I love? A near-perfect game; a game where literally the only thing I can think to nitpick is one harmless error by Dustin Pedroia that did nothing except raise Wakefield's pitch count by a pitch or two. Let's gloat, shall we:

Tim Wakefield, showing classic knuckleball style on the mound. The floater looked devastating to try and hit, and it showed in the stat line, too: six strikeouts, two hits, no walks; all over the course of eight quick-running (a National League-worthy two hours and twenty-one minutes) innings and a paltry 98 pitches. So much of Wakefield's pitching ability for a night defines itself on the complex measures of atmospherics - it's the random element that makes him so exciting to watch - but even so, tonight was special, like the way he pitched during phenomenal start in 2007. Such works of art are to be enjoyed, but would it be greedy to ask for the creation of as many as possible? I think not.

An offense charge lead by J.D. Drew and continued source of hitting and catching delight Kevin Cash, who went three for four with the second of two RBI whacks that drove in three runs in the second inning. Then throw in the highlight of the run-scoring night: back to back long bombers by Papi and Manny, who celebrated career dinger number 497 in style by greeting the first pitch of reliever Freddy Dolsi with a blast that landed in the hedges on the center field wall. It makes for a wonderful baseball ending, doesn't it?

Game 34: I See Your Two Walks And Raise You...A Bunch

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 6, Detroit Tigers 3

Did I read that box score correctly? Eight walks from one pitcher over the course of five innings lead to a single, solitary run? Is Dice-K channeling the Houdini aspect of Jon Lester's pitching career? Or, to take it from another angle: how badly must the Tigers' hitting feel right now, leaving eleven men on base? Either way, you could say that Boston's winningest pitcher of the 2008 season "lacked control" last night; that he "got away with murder" and was "extremely lucky," and invoke the same amount of understatement that you would get (to be topical) by saying that
Cinco de Mayo is a "drinking holiday."

Fortunately, last night has to be an aberration: we all know by now that Dice-K is an effective strikeout pitcher down to the marrow of his bones, and he's already been sick, which I feel should - in all fairness - grant him a reprieve from physical problems for the near future. What's not an aberration is the amount of run support Matsuzaka continues to receive when he's on the mound: the 2008 average of 5.63 runs per game lining up nicely with the 5.06 average from 2007. Not that the Sox needed all six runs they scored last night, and really - to come to the point of it - with a 2.43 ERA so far on the season, not that Dice-K needs all of the run support he gets, but if giving up eight walks and getting away with it tells us anything, it's that even on bad nights it won't be Boston's bats that add a number to the loss column.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Game 33: A Sweep For A Sweep

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Tampa Bay Rays 3

You may remember last week when the Sox were struggling against a frisky Rays team that held them to 5 runs in the series and had a “We are the real deal” swagger. Well payback is a bitch.

The Red Sox capped off this three game sweep with a gutsy big bat game backed by another great start from Jon Lester. He still threw a lot of pitches early, but you have to love the turnaround this guy has had. I was calling for his head early in April… and he now seems to be a decent part of the rotation. Refreshing.

And once again the bats showed up. Big hits from Manny and Youk and some killer speed from Lugo, Coco and of course Jacoby Ellsbury. The Sox completed 2 double steals in this game and Jacoby was part of both of them. Everyone on the NESN broadcast is looking around and asking when the last time that happened… and nobody has a clue. Sox and speed is such a foreign concept.

So now the Sox start a big 10 game road trip. The sweep is a great way to leave Fenway and I hope they are able to take that momentum with them.

Out Damn Outfielders! OUT!

This is getting crazy. First, Coco starts the season with a sore knee. Then Jacoby sits with a stiff groin. Then Drew misses a week with a tight quad.

NOW Brandon Moss (see the HERO of Friday’s game) had to have an emergency appendectomy on Saturday. That’s right: our back up back up outfielder almost died.

This is really out there. We are getting to the point where I think the Red Sox should make Osama bin Laden the starting centerfielder so he will immediately spontaneously combust.

Stay healthy out there guys.

Game 32: The 91 Million Dollar Offense

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 12, Tampa Bay Devil Rays 4

Coaches meeting in the Red Sox clubhouse, May 1, 2008:

Terry Francona: This has to stop. We've scored eight runs in five games. Farrell, your boys are doin' a heck of a job, but we're all gonna go gray if we keep playin' these nail biters. Dave, you called this meeting, what you got for us?

Hitting Coach Dave Magadan: The Red Sox offense, run scorers. A team barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild them. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's most explosive offense. The Red Sox will be that team. Better than they were before. Better, stronger, faster.

Other coaches: [expectant looks]

Dave Magadan: [sigh] And yes, no HGH or steroids involved. Jeez you guys, how stupid do you think I am?


Ok, so it probably didn't happen like that. In fact, I'm willing to bet that if anything, the Sox suddenly shot out of their mini slump over the past two games because they faced the same two pitchers two times in a row, and unlike Buchholz (who now knows better) and Beckett (who, in his awesomeness, could care less), those two pitchers didn't adjust their game to stay ahead of Boston's hitting. I'd say it's likely that if the run scoring continues today, it won't be anywhere close to the same pace as the past few days, what with the Sox facing an old nemesis (Kazmir), a sweep on the line, etc.

But you know what? Who cares! Less than a week after Rays fans were toting big yellow brooms to Tropicana Field, their team is facing a counter-sweep and a reminder that - while they're still very good, and while I continue to stand by my pick of third in the AL East - they're not quite the top of the heap just yet. Let's make Kazmir sorry he decided to come off the DL today, and give 'em the brooms!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Game 31: Teach Your Children Well

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Tampa Bay Rays 3

Hey, the kids are alright! This was a game almost completely dominated by the Sox young guys. Sure they stayed up past their bed time (thanks to a 2hr+ rain delay) but they had that youthful energy going all night.

Buchholz (age 23) was pretty good over 5 innings. He threw a few too many pitches (hurt by the 4 walks) but his stuff was very very good (6 K). Buchholz would have had a much different line if it wasn’t for a huge defensive play from Brandon Moss (age 24). Moss got the start for the ailing Coco and Drew and made the most of it by throwing out Carl Crawford at home. The kids got a cannon.

As good as the pitching and defense was, the real news is the return of the bats. Finally the Sox lumber-slumber was disturbed in a big way. They put up a crooked number in the 4th for what seemed like the first time in a month. The big inning was an amalgam of young players making big hits. Moss hit his second homer of the year, Pedroia (age 24) had an RBI double and Jacoby (age 24) stole second and scored (he still hasn’t been caught in the majors). Not bad for a group of guys that could combine their ages and still be younger than Curt Schilling.

A great win capped off by Papelbon (an ancient 28) closing the door with 7 pitches (all strikes) polishing off the Rays. We needed this after the sweep last week in Florida. We can’t be losing 4 in a row to Tampa Bay… that’s a level of humiliation that I’m not ready to accept.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Game 30: The Good, The Bad and The Mediocre

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 0, Toronto Blue Jays 3

Another Thursday, another post from DC. His words follow:

The Good: The defense was top notch for both teams tonight. Both pitchers were helped out tremendously throughout the game as the guys in the field consistently pulled them out of jams. Together, the defenses turned 3 double plays and Coco saved a run by gunning down Eckstein at home. Each defensive effort included a spectacular, potentially game-saving play as well. For the Sox, Manny made a spectacular catch to end a bases loaded threat in the forth and keeping it a one run ball game. Unfortunately, the following inning, Aaron Hill dove to snag a line drive and double up a Sox runner which ended what turned out to be the Sox only real threat of the night.

The Bad: What is it with our offense?! No runs on 3 hits? 3 runs in an entire 3 game series against a division team? Somebody needs to remind these guys that the goal is to hit the little white ball with the stick of wood and then touch all 4 of the white squares spread throughout the field. That’s how you score runs. Seriously, the entire offense seems out of whack right now. There isn’t one guy who gives you that “Oh, he’s absolutely getting a hit here” feeling when he comes up to bat.

The Mediocre: The pitching tonight was bad on both sides. AJ Burnett wasn’t bad, surrendering only 3 hits in 7.2 innings, but he did manage to walk as many batters as he struck out. On the flip side, Wake didn’t have his sharpest outing and couldn’t get a single strikeout. However, he only allowed 3 runs on 6 hits and once again ate up 7 innings. Basically, Wake did his typical thing: scattered some hits, ate up some innings, kept his team in the game and got the loss due to a completely inept looking offense.