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Posts Tagged ‘James Shields’

Wow.  Talk about a close game.  That was a pitcher’s duel if I’ve ever seen it.  You don’t get any closer to a pitcher’s duel than a final score of 1-0.  That tells you that the match was as even as it could possibly get.  Unfortunately, we were on the losing end of the 1-0, but there were some substantial silver linings in this one.

Bard inevitably took the loss, but he pitched absolutely spectacularly.  He only used three pitches – a four-seam that got up to ninety-six miles per hour and that made you just dream about him returning to the closer’s role we’d penciled him into when Jonathan Papelbon walked, a changeup at ninety-three miles per hour, and a slider – but that was really the only aspect of his start that gave him away as someone who’s new at this.  Other than that, he looked absolutely spectacular.  He mixed those pitches really well, which is important if you don’t have a lot to work with, and we can give him credit for that, for keeping his release point pretty tight, and for overpowering hitters until the seventh inning.

Bard’s line wasn’t exactly identical to James Shields’s, number for number.  Bard lasted six and two-thirds innings to Shields’s eight and one third, Bard walked seven to Shields’s two, and obviously Bard gave up one run to Shields’s zero.  But Bard struck out seven to Shields’s five.  Bard was less efficient than Shields; he threw 111 pitches, sixty-three of which were strikes, while Shields threw 115 pitches, seventy-six of which were strikes, over more innings.  But obviously Bard completely held his own, and given the circumstances, I’d say that that’s exactly what we needed to see in order to truly believe that starting is something that he could, not simply do, and not simply do well, but do as well as we need him to do it.

Bard began his start auspiciously; he needed only eight pitches to get through the first.  He threw fifteen in the second and fourth, eighteen in the third, twenty-one in the fifth, ten in the sixth, and twenty-four in the seventh before he was pulled.  His first inning was one-two-three.  He hit a batter in the second.  He issued his second walk in the third but secured all three outs via the K.  His sixth was one-two-three as well.  In every inning that was not one-two-three, Bard issued at least one walk.

As you can imagine, he allowed his run in the seventh before he was pulled.  A groundout on two pitches and a strikeout on three provided two quick outs to open the inning, but then two walks and a single loaded the bases, and then Bard walked Evan Longoria on four pitches to score the winning run.  That was a hugely painful moment.  You could tell after the first walk that inning that he was struggling and tired, and to see him walk in what would prove to be the winning run was just heart-wrenching.  That one run cost us a four-game sweep and cost Bard what would have been, had the offense been able to muster two runs, which is not even a third of the runs that we’d scored in our two breakout games, a well-deserved win for Bard, his first of the year and as a starter.  It was absolutely, positively painful to watch.

Needless to say, he was replaced by Thomas after that, who finished the seventh and pitched through the eighth.  Albers pitched the ninth.  Both relievers obviously delivered shutout performances, and you could say that Bobby V. should have had the foresight to have gone to Albers before the bases were loaded.  In fact, you should say that.  Bobby V. said that after the game, and it’s the second such mistake he’s made this season.  Even Longoria was surprised to have been facing Bard and not a reliever at that point.  Apparently, Bobby V. wanted Bard to know that he trusts him to get out of a jam.  Well, I have to say, not extricating yourself from the jam successfully doesn’t really give anyone much to trust in after all.

At any rate, the offense was completely stymied.  We collected four hits to the Rays’ seven, and none of them were for extra bases.  Ross’s two-for-four performance was our only multi-hit game. The other two hits belonged to Gonzalez and Pedroia, who also walked.  Papi and Punto accounted for the other two walks we received.  We only had three chances with runners in scoring position and clearly did not take advantage of any of them.  We also grounded into two double plays.  Sweeney made a glittering catch in the second to end the inning; he dove and slid to make it, and it was very Ellsbury-esque.

Well, you know what they say: walks will haunt, and this one certainly haunted.  That one run felt like ten in those late innings when the bats were still silent.  Bard dazzled, and it certainly wasn’t helpful that, with two out and two men on in the ninth (Pedroia’s walk and Papi’s walk, which was intentional), Ross struck out.  I would go so far as to say that Ross’s called strikeout wasn’t his fault but the fault of home plate umpire Larry Vanover, whose three calls of strikes were incorrect, as they should have been rightly called balls.  It was one of the more infuriating umpire performances I’ve seen in a good, long while.  Ross has proven to be a great hitter; who knows? Maybe we would have been able to score those two runs after all.  To say that I was positively livid is an understatement.  The game truly ended on a sour note.

By the way, a note on Bobby V., since we’re already talking about bad decisions he’s made.  You an add to that list of bad decisions a comment he made on television that claimed that Youk is not as committed physically and emotionally to the game as he has been in the past.  Youk found out about it from his agent, and then the two spoke directly, and apparently Bobby V. apologized and said that the comment was taken out of context.  There are several things wrong with this incident.  First of all, a manager should not criticize his players in public.  Secondly, if a player is criticized, he should not be the last to know.  Thirdly, a manager should not say things that can prove to be detrimental if taken out of context.  Red Sox Nation has seen how committed Youk is, how much of a dirt dog and a team player he is and how passionate he is about the game and this team.  Red Sox Nation has also had occasion to see the positive effects of a manager’s leadership style that emphasizes privacy and discretion.  Bobby V. would indeed do well to learn from this incident.

In other news, the B’s beat the Caps, 4-3.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Rare these days is the joy, wonder, set of unique challenges, and exhaustion that is the doubleheader.  It’s awesome.  It basically erases all the rest the team got during our off day on Monday, but it’s awesome.

We won the opener.  James Shields may have pitched a complete game, but Lester pitched the better game.  The final score was 3-1; the differences in those pitchers’ lines were those two runs and two more strikeouts for Lester.  But it was enough.  Lester gave up one run on three hits while walking one and striking out eight.  He threw 113 pitches (one less than Shields, which made him less efficient), sixty-five of which were strikes (fifteen less than Shields).  Nasty cut fastball, devastating changeup, excellent sinker, and decent curveball.  So the point is that, from the perspective of the lines, the two pitchers were evenly matched; it was the lineups that were not.  What the line doesn’t tell you is that Lester threw seventy-nine pitches through his first four innings, which was crucial due to the fact that the team had to work overtime yesterday.  He made up for it in the fifth: in and out with only six pitches.

Lester allowed a double on his fifth pitch of the game; the runner scored on a groundout.  We, on the other hand, did a little bit more at the plate.

I emphasize “a little bit more.” We basically won that game on one swing of the bat.  Reddick and Aviles both singled in the third, and Ellsbury put up our half of the final score with a home run on a changeup in a 1-1 count.  The ball ended up somewhere behind the bullpen.  Shields had been throwing a lot of changeups, so it was only a matter of time before someone figured it out and made him pay.  This one was down and over the middle.

And that was pretty much it.  Neither team put together an opportunity to speak of after that.  Bard.  Paps, who can thank Pedroia for a spectacular leaping catch on outfield grass for the third out.  Done.  The Rays may have had five opportunities with runners in scoring position to our one, but all that matters is that we capitalized on that one, and they didn’t capitalize on any.

Despite a gem of a highlight, we lost the nightcap.  Bedard pitched well; he’s improving on all fronts with each start, which is obviously excellent.  He gave up three runs, only one of which was earned.  You can thank Lowrie for that.  Lowrie was in for Youk last night.

Bedard gave up seven hits while walking none and striking out six.  He gave up a solo shot in the fifth; it was a fastball, the first pitch of the at-bat with two outs in the inning.  He threw 102 pitches, seventy-two of which were strikes.  He was working with some fantastic stuff; his fastballs, changeup, curveball, and cutter (of which he threw less than a handful, and that’s being generous) were all really great.  He threw thirty-six pitches in the second, when he allowed his two unearned runs, but like Lester, he made up for it with an incredibly skimpy inning: only seven pitches in the fourth.

Tek led off the third with a Pesky-style dinger on a fastball.  Ellsbury did almost the exact same thing in the sixth: same pitch (two-seam), same count (1-0), and same spot (leading off the inning), but into the bullpen.

The bad part was that that was all we did offensively, which was terrible because the bullpen imploded in the eighth.  Albers allowed a single, a force out, another single, and an RBI single.  Then Morales came in.  Then Ben Zobrist stole third, and then he stole home.  Meanwhile, BJ Upton stole second base, and another single brought him home.  It was horribly ugly.  Then Wheeler pitched a scoreless inning and we lost, 6-2.

However, as I said, there was one silver lining to the nightcap: we made our first triple play since July 8, 1994 (unassisted by John Valentin against the Mariners, in case you were wondering) and our eleventh since 1954! Man, it was awesome.  It was the top of the fourth.  There were no outs with runners on first and second.  Sean Rodriguez stood at the plate with a 1-0 count.  Bedard dealt a curveball.  Rodriguez hit the ball practically into Lowrie’s glove.  He touched third on one step and fired to Pedroia for the out at second, who fired to Gonzalez for the out at first.  Five-four-three.  Acumen, precision, speed.  Inning over.  I guess Lowrie just really, really, really wanted to make up for that error.  It was epic.

So we went one and one on the day. We turned a triple play.  We lost, which obviously isn’t good.  But come on.  A triple play! Epic.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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I think we just found our team identity.  It’s one of resilience and never-say-die.  I think we all kind of figured this out over the last few days, when core members of our A team started dropping like flies but from the outcomes of the games we’ve played, you’d never know it.  That says something.  That says that you can never count us out, not in a game when we’re behind, and not in a season when we’re battered and bent and walking on our last legs.  We always find a way to keep on going.

Take last night, for example.  Theoretically, roster depletion pointed toward a loss.  There was no score through the top of the fifth.  It was shaping up to be one serious pitcher’s duel.  Shields and Lackey matched each other, pitch for pitch.

But everything changed on the first pitch of Papi’s at-bat in the fifth inning.  Shields gave him a ninety-two mile-per-hour fastball, which was exactly what Papi was looking for.  And with one swing of the bat, he gave us a three run lead.  The ball ended up somewhere in the right field seats.  Maddon paid a visit to Shields before the at-bat, and Shields said he wanted to pitch to Papi.  His strategy was going to be to sort of pitch around him but not intentionally walk him.  He wanted to throw the fastball about a foot above the plate to give him a glimpse.  It ended up coming right down the middle.  Afterwards, Shields had no idea how it got there.  But it clearly didn’t stay there for long.  Papi is now batting .400 with three homers and eleven RBIs off of Shields.

After that, we blew the game wide open.  In the sixth, a two-RBI single by Tek and an RBI single by Nava increased our lead to five.  In the seventh, Tek hit a sac fly and Hall, in for Pedroia, smacked a hanging breaking ball for a two-run homer into the Monster seats.

Beltre didn’t collect any RBIs, but he did go four for four, stroking two doubles and scoring two runs.  He’s now batting a robust .500 against the Rays this year with two homers and seven RBIs.

We ended up winning, 8-5.  That’s our seventh consecutive win at home , our longest home winning streak since we won nine in April last year.  We’re twenty-six and nine at home, the best home record in the American League.  Yes.

John Lackey was the other big part of that win.  Like I said, the game was scoreless through four and a half, which mean that our starting pitcher was on.  Lackey delivered one of his best outings of the year.  He tossed seven frames, tossing at least six for the fourteenth time this year, a team high.  His last five starts were quality starts, during which he’s 3-0 with a 3.48 ERA.  He gave up only one run on eight hits, walked only two, and struck out three with 108 pitches.  All of his pitches were thrown really well, and it’s no coincidence that, as a pitcher adds solid pitches to his repertoire, he wins more often.  The fastball, the cutter, the slider, the curveball; you name it, he threw it for a strike.  Especially helpful was his ability to plant his fastball on both sides of the plate.  He needed twenty pitches at most and nine at least in a single inning, and most of his pitches were concentrated in the upper three-quarters of the zone.  He had just the right amount of movement on his stuff; not too much, so it stayed in the zone, but not too little either.  Yes, he allowed eight hits, but at this point I think it’s safe to say that that’s kind of his thing.  He’s a power pitcher, so he pitches for contact.  If he keeps the runners from scoring and he keeps his pitch count reasonable and he goes deep in the game, I don’t think we have to worry about it.  Also, has learned that, no matter how much you try to pitch around it or wish it away, the Green Monster stays put.  That knowledge helps too.

But the man behind the wizard last night was obviously Tek.  By his own admission, Lackey said that Tek’s game plan was perfect.  He didn’t shake him off once during his entire seven innings.  We laud pitchers for their mix of pitches, good locations, and changes in speed, but it’s really the catcher who facilitates all of that.  We’ve known for a really long time that Tek is one of the best catchers in the game; last night was just a reminder why.

Okajima and Atchison allowed two runs each (a pinch-hit homer and a single, respectively).  That kind of thing always bothers me, because I can’t help thinking what would’ve happened had they done that without such a substantial lead.  Luckily, we didn’t have that problem, but we can’t afford a porous ‘pen.  Bard and Richardson pitched well.  Paps got his save.

We have some good news on the injury front.  V-Mart was placed on the fifteen-day DL and Pedroia will miss six weeks, but neither they nor Buchholz will need surgery! What a relief.  Seriously.  Once surgery enters the conversation, you’re talking about a whole different ballgame, both literally and figuratively.

And finally, the standings.  I’m telling you; the good news just keeps rolling in! Not only did the Rays obviously lose and we obviously won last night, but the Yankees also lost, which means that we’re more securely not in third but less securely not in first! We’re only one game out! We could find ourselves tied for first tomorrow morning! Depending, of course, on which Dice-K shows up tonight.  Hopefully, we get the Dice-K that’ll go deep and win.  But with the fight the offense has shown recently, it’s heartening to think that it could still bail the pitcher out if it really needed to.  We hope that’s not necessary, but I’m just saying.  It’s impressive that, with so many injuries to key guys, we still have that ability.  So, yeah.  At 7:00PM tonight, it goes down.  Let’s do this.

Boston Globe Staff/Jonathan Wiggs

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There’s the reminder of good pitching that we’ve been looking for! You can always count on Lester for one of those.  I mean, that wasn’t just good pitching.  That was great pitching.  That was outstanding pitching.  That was you-have-absolutely-no-chance pitching.

Dude went the distance for the second time this season and sixth time in his career.  That’s what I call taking one for the bullpen, although for him it really wasn’t that hard.  He had, as he is wont to have, the right stuff.  103 pitches in nine innings.  One run on five hits.  One run. Nine strikeouts.  His ERA is now down to 2.86.  Ridiculous.

His cut fastball was a thing of beauty.  He topped it out at ninety-three miles per hour.  His sinker, changeup, and curveball were excellent.  With the exception of the slider, of which he only threw one, the vast majority of all his pitches were thrown for strikes.  Really, he had a seventy-four percent strike rate for his pitch total.  That’s obscenely high.  Three-quarters of his pitches were thrown for strikes.  No wonder he was so efficient.

He threw a game-high of sixteen pitches in the sixth.  For a lot of pitchers in the Majors, that’s the least number of pitches they throw in a game.  He packed up the ninth in only six pitches.  Only six! That’s what I call taking care of business.

Beyond that, he pretty much had everything going.  The tight release point, the mix of pitches, the speed variation, the excellent movement.  He used every pitch in any count.  He was fearless.  You name it, he had it.  Including the win, of course.  He totally stole the show from Lincecum.  By the time Lester finished the ninth, Lincecum had been watching from the dugout for six innings.  You read right.  Tim Lincecum, the gem of the National League, the winner of the Cy Young Award, was removed after the third after throwing seventy-nine pitches.  If Lincecum thought he’d be able to go out there and hold his own opposite Lester, he had quite another thing coming.

The final score was 5-1, and we scored four of our runs against Lincecum alone.  Starting with Papi’s home run in the first.  I’ve heard it called a water shot, because essentially that’s what it was.  It was arguably the farthest, most powerful home run that David Ortiz has ever hit in his career.  It sailed over the infield, over the outfield, and right into McCovey Cove, the body of water behind the right field stands.  Two outs, full count, an eighty-six mile-per-hour split-fingered fastball up in the zone and he gave a kayaker a nice memnto.  It was the seventy-second time someone hit a ball in there in the history of AT&T Park, the twentieth time by a visitor.  It was Papi’s sixteenth long ball of the season, and man, was it long.  Right field is 365 feet, and then you have the stands, and then the water.  So yeah.  That was a long home run.

In the second, Lester helped his own cause by scoring V-Mart on a well-hit sac fly, followed by an RBI single by Scutaro.  Speaking of V-Mart, as if our injury list couldn’t possibly get any worse, guess who’s out for the count? He fractured his left thumb and left the game in the bottom of the fourth inning.  Great.  Just great.  This just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it.  Well, then.  We’ll have to step it up even more, won’t we.

In the third, Youk singled, Drew walked, Hall singled in Youk, and Lincecum left.  And Beltre ended the run-scoring in the ninth the way Papi started it, with a long ball of his own, this one hit deep to left field.  This one barely cleared the fence, but like I said, in these expansive parks even that takes some power.  And he only came into the game for defense.  Nicely done.

So that’s what I was talking about.  If our pitching staff ramps up the run prevention and the lineup contributes, we can still win without the guys on the DL.  Although of course we wish them all a speedy recovery.  Like, a really speedy recovery.  Meanwhile, we can celebrate.  Not only did we win the game, but we won the series, we finished Interleague thirteen and five, and we snapped our tie with the Rays! Ladies and gentlemen, we now officially own second place and are two games out of first.  Tomorrow night, the fun begins; we take on the Rays and widen the gap in a two-game set at Fenway.  It’ll be Shields and Lackey followed by Dice-K and Garza.  We have a chance here to put ourselves out in front in the standings.  Let’s make the most of it.

AP Photo

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Don’t look now, but the season just got underway.

We’re seven and a half games out with two more games to play in this series against the first-place team.  We’re one and a half out of third and two out of second with no signs of slowing down.  Let’s face it: the baseball we’ve played during this stretch of difficult schedule is the baseball we’d been waiting for all along.  And it’s no coincidence that we broke out against the best of the best, because deep down we were always one of them.  Now that that’s come to the surface, I have one thing and one thing only to say to the rest of Major League Baseball: watch out.

We are doing things right now that I haven’t seen this team do since last year.  We’re mixing every facet of the game perfectly.  We’re getting solid starts backed by solid defense and fueled by solid offense.  When all three go at once, so go the Red Sox, and in a big way.  Last night was case in point.

Clay Buchholz took on the team with the best record in all of Major League Baseball and not only won but won decisively.  He’s the first Sox pitcher since Clemens in 1992 and 1993 to rack up eight consecutive wins on the road.  His outing was a little shorter than it could’ve been because he encountered some early jams that inflated his pitch count to 108; for example, the Rays loaded the bases with one out in the first (he escaped via the double play) and threw his highest inning pitch totals in the first three frames.  But his six innings were still quality; he gave up only one run on a solo shot, walked only one, and struck out eight.

He tossed his usual salad, but his fastball had a nice bite, coming in at ninety-six miles per hour.  His curveball is still not as effective as it could be – for some reason the curveball and the changeup have been off for our pitchers – but the rest of his pitches, the ones he threw most often, were located really well.  He threw almost nothing above the zone or to the upper right corner.

Keeping in mind of course that he’s technically just our fifth starter, the point being that he’s not pitching like it.  His composure on the mound was impressive; one of the things that had held him back in the past was his immaturity in pressurized situations.  But the Buchholz we have on our hands now is very definitively past that.  He struggled early but stayed focused and improved as the game went on.  He did well and was rewarded with the win.

Okajima and Bard handled the last three innings perfectly.

The final score was 6-1, so it was all us.  Incidentally, no run scored for either team after the fourth.  Papi put us on the board with literally a shot off the bat in the second.  It was a line drive home run, and you could tell from the minute that ball left the bat that it was gone.  It was the second pitch of his at-bat and there was just no way the ball was staying inside the park.  It got out of there in a hurry.

We officially broke Davis in the third, when his command quit completely.  He threw forty pitches and gave up four runs in that frame alone, all with two out and all with the bases loaded.  Drew drew (pun intended) a bases-loaded walk and Beltre and Hermida both singled.  And the guys just kept moving on down until they got home.  Unfortunately, we even left the bases loaded at the end of the inning.

Also unfortunately, V-Mart had to exit in the bottom of the third inning with a contusion on his toe that he received in the bottom of the second when Bartlett fouled something off his foot.  V-Mart drew a four-pitch walk in the third but limped to take his base and was replaced by Tek, who caught the rest of the game.  He’ll skip his start tonight but isn’t expected to stay out long.

The barrage continued in the fourth, when Youk unleashed some serious power for a two-run shot into the left field seats that was also unquestionably going out.  That would be his tenth of the season to raise his batting average to .321.  Believe it or not, he’s not the best hitter on the team.  Very quietly, Beltre has himself a hot .335.

Papi went two for four, Belte went three for four, and Pedroia, who’d been 0 for 19 heading into the game, his longest hitless streak since that drought last June, went three for five.  We accumulated twice as many hits as the Rays.

Ellsbury didn’t do much at the plate, but he did well in center.  Tonight that comes to an end with Mike Cameron’s return.  Although, if you ask me, Tito should leave the outfield alone for now because Hermida is shining at the plate.

So how about this now: we’ve won six of our last seven games and are on a three game winning streak.  We’re seventeen and ten since April 26 but fourteen and seven since May 3.  All against baseball’s best teams, like I said.  That’s not an accident.  That’s what’s been dormant up to this point.  The team we’ve seen lately looks like a completely different team, one that’s finally come together.  This is the real Red Sox, and I sure hope the league is ready.  The fun continues tonight with Lester at Shields.

Boston Globe Staff/Yoon S. Byun

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