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Farrell was officially named manager on Sunday.  Then, Bogar was fired and Torey Lovullo was hired as our new bench coach.

In terms of moves, nothing big has happened yet, obviously.  Mike Aviles was traded to Toronto for Farrell, so we are in shortstop limbo yet again.  Ben met with Shohei Otani, an eighteen-year-old Japanese phenom who, if acquired, will hopefully pan out exponentially better than Dice-K did.  And last but not least, the brass is negotiating a deal with Ross and with Papi.  The deal with Papi is probably going to be a long one, one that would most likely allow him to retire with us if he chooses to do so at that point.

In other news, the Pats beat the Jets in yet another close one, 29-26.

Reuters Photo

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I don’t know how Dice-K does it.  Most of the time he is just awful.  And then all of a sudden he executes a start like this that’s just awesome, and it makes you think that maybe you shouldn’t write him off juts yet.  Basically it’s so agonizing that he can’t just do this on a regular basis, and you can’t help thinking about what could possibly have gone wrong between Japan and where he is right now.

He pitched seven innings and gave up one run, which wasn’t even earned, on five hits while walking two and striking out six.  He threw 101 pitches, seventy-one of which were strikes, and by his standards that’s extremely efficient.  The lone run scored in the first; he started the game by allowing the first of his walks, which eventually turned into a run on a sac fly thanks en route to a missed catch by Pedroia, which allowed the runner to advance.

Dice-K had plenty of good relief behind him to keep the pitching momentum going.  Mortensen and Padilla combined for the eighth, and Bailey handled the ninth.  I guess this is him giving us a glimpse of what we should expect next season, when we hope he’ll be healthy at the start of it.

Although we only outhit the Royals by one, we outscored them by four.  Ellsbury single-handedly answered their run in the bottom of the first with a solo shot on his fourth pitch, the fourth straight four-seam he saw in that at-bat.  All four pitches were the exact same speed, too: ninety-two miles per hour.  He took the first two for balls, fouled the third, and went yard to right on the last.  And with Ellsbury’s second home run of the year, the game was tied at one.

But not for long.  We took the lead in the third and never looked back.  Podsednik and Pedroia hit back-to-back singles, and Ross singled them both in.  Ellsbury and Ross hit back-to-back doubles in the sixth that scored one, and Loney followed it with a second consecutive scoring play, a single that plated Ross.

And that’s a wrap! Literally nobody in the last four spots of the order produced a hit, a run, or an RBI.  Only one, Gomez, managed to reach base all night, and that was because he walked.  Meanwhile, three of the top five, Podsednik, Ellsbury, and Ross, went two for four.  Ross bounced both of his hits off the Monster, and his double just barely missed making it into the seats for a home run.  And with this win, Dice-K becomes one of only four Japanese pitchers to win fifty games.  Not bad for someone who hasn’t seen Major League action in about two months.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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You know that spring is just around the corner when Truck Day has come and gone.  Truck Day was yesterday, so that must mean we don’t have much longer to go.  It’s been a long, cold winter, folks, and we’ve been without baseball for way too long.  There have been some interesting decisions and some interesting non-decisions made this offseason; I don’t know how this season will turn out.  It may be better or worse than we expect.  All I know is that Pitchers and Catchers is coming – in fact, Lester is already down there – and soon we’ll be talking about Spring Training! Finally!

Speaking of Pitchers and Catchers, just so everyone knows what we’re getting into, apparently Bobby V. doesn’t believe in pitch counts.  He says that they’re completely arbitrary and cites his experience in Japan as evidence.  As Dice-K has amply informed everyone who will listen already, in Japan there essentially are no pitch counts.  But this is not Japan, these are not Japan’s players, this is not Japan’s six-man rotation, and this is not Japan’s schedule.  All I’m saying is that if something’s not broken, Bobby V. should not attempt to fix it.  Discarding the legitimacy of pitch counts is not a way to account for the fact that we still need two starters, and he seems to think that moving Bard and Aceves from the bullpen to the bench as starters wouldn’t be a big deal for either.  It probably wouldn’t be a big deal if it were done properly, but I don’t think discarding pitch counts completely constitutes “properly.” At most, Bobby V. should be approaching this issue on a case-by-case basis.  There may be some pitchers who are naturally inclined to throw more, and there may be some pitchers naturally inclined to throw less.  If the pitch count has to be ignored, it should be ignored in a situation where it’s within a pitcher’s natural comfort zone and ability to do so.  Otherwise he runs the risk of running all of our pitchers into the ground because a good pitcher will stay out there and compete for as long as he’s allowed to do so.  I don’t even want to think about all the games we would have lost if Tito didn’t pull people at the right time; I venture to guess that total would be more than the games we would have done by doing the exact same thing.

Speaking of pitchers, Roy Oswalt is still on the market, and we have indeed made it an offer.  The offer itself is acceptable, but someone from his camp has stated that, geographically, he just doesn’t want to be in Boston and would rather play in places like Texas or St. Louis which, as I’m sure is readily recognizable, are warmer and potentially National League and therefore more pitcher-friendly.  As they say, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.  But if you can’t take the cold, don’t even think about coming into the kitchen in the first place.

Last but not least, congratulations to Kevin Youkilis, who apparently is engaged to Tom Brady’s sister, Julie.  Two great Boston sports franchises unite.

In other news, the Super Bowl was obviously a painful disappointment, quite literally in fact.  I can’t believe it.  I just can’t believe it.  During the offseason, this Patriots team was touted as the Patriots team that differed from other Patriots teams in recent years due to its defense.  It’s no secret that, while the Patriots have had a good defense, the defense has been just that: good.  Not great, and certainly not extraordinary like the offense.  This team was supposed to be a step in the right direction of addressing that issue.  When we barely squeaked by the Ravens, we knew the Super Bowl was going to be a close game.  And it was.  I personally just never thought it would be close not in our favor and that we would lose, 21-17.  It was 2008 all over again: the Giants’ defense was better than ours, and it matched evenly against our offense, which meant that they were able to make more plays.  Honestly, I still thought we had a chance even after that last touchdown.  There was less than a minute on the clock, but that would have been enough for a successful drive downfield had we not been put in a position where we had to waste time getting another first down after that string of three unsuccessful attempts, the last of which was a sack.  It was painful to watch, and it forced Brady to have to deliver a Hail Mary that would have won the whole game instantly, right then and there, had it been caught.  And it almost was.  But it wasn’t, and that’s how wins and losses are determined, isn’t it.  And it’s not like it’s all the defense’s fault either.  They did well, given the circumstances, especially on the Giants’ third down.  The offense also made its fair share of small mistakes that added up big time.  It seemed like a million of Brady’s passes were just a little off this way or that way or that this one fumbled or that one should totally have caught it, and that would have given us the points necessary such that the fact that the defense allowed the twenty-one points wouldn’t have mattered.  We all know Wes Welker should have made that catch with his eyes closed – he led the NFL with 122c catches – but obviously it’s ridiculous to attribute an entire loss to only one play.  In the end, we made it to the Super Bowl, we kept it a close game, and Brady set a Super Bowl record for consecutive completions.  We lost, and it was crushing and devastating and, as I said, painful.  But we’ll be back.  If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that we’ll be back for sure.  And the B’s beat the Caps and Predators and dropped a 6-0 shutout to the Sabres.

Boston Globe Staff/Steve Silva

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That’s it! I think he’s got it! I think Dice-K’s previous start really was the turning point we all hoped it would be! Technically, we should wait until his next start to be absolutely sure, but all signs point to goodness.  And the solution to his inconsistency was, more or less, as we suspected it might have been, under our noses all along.  A pitcher fires too many pitches because he’s inefficient, but why is he inefficient? In Dice-K’s case, he was inefficient because he was pitching around batters instead of to batters.  He was being too careful.  That meant that walks were coming back to haunt him, and he left games early.  We know this was his problem because every time he’d get himself into a jam, he’d be able to get himself right out.  So the stuff was there, and quality was never at issue.  During his previous time out, he had something to prove so he pounded the zone and achieved an excellent result.  This time out, he did the same thing.  And voila.

Ironically, I remember that this was a topic of discussion during Dice-K’s first two seasons with us that sort of faded into the background when his injuries and the controversy over his training burst onto the scene.  His inefficiency specifically due to lack of aggression had been discussed, but I guess it took a back seat to everything else that was going on.  It took a completely horrendous display of careful pitching to remind him that batters will hit the ball anyway, so why not just go for it.

Last night marked Dice-K’s 150th career win, and he picked up the game ball for his daughter.  He pitched eight shutout innings, needing 112 pitches to do so.  His pitch count didn’t even reach one hundred until the eighth inning, when he walked one, induced a double play, and got a looking strikeout.  His pitch counts would regularly reach 140 when he played in Japan, so he was ready to get back out there and finish off what he started, but of course Tito sent Bard out, who ironically gave up a home run.

Dice-K gave up four hits and only two walks while striking out five, his first coming in the fifth.  His pitch of choice? The cut fastball, rather than the slider.  He threw the lowest amount of sliders last night since he started throwing them at all, thanks to V-Mart who got into rhythm with him and called for what was working.  His cutter was exceptional.  Front door, back door, you name it, he threw it for a strike.  And not just any strike; a first-pitch strike.  After seeing him throw so many balls, his strike zone last night was a thing of beauty.  He used all parts except the upper and lower right corners; when he did throw a ball, chances are it was around the upper left corner.  Other than that, he used all parts of it.  About sixty-three percent of his pitches were strikes in total.  He stayed ahead of the batters and kept counts low while keeping the pace of the game up.  He varied his speed, mixed his pitches (his two-seam was also thrown well), and maintained good movement on everything.  He did not throw more than nineteen pitches in any inning and needed as few as nine to finish the second.  Mostly he threw between ten and fifteen pitches in a given frame.

In short, he brought it.  He was on his game.  The Dice-K we saw last night is the Dice-K we’ve been waiting for.  And although all evidence points to this Dice-K being the Dice-K we see from now on, I would recommend at least waiting until his next start to see if he’s really found his groove.  I think he has.  He’s a pitcher; he’s tried so many different solutions and knows when one works.  And now that he works well with V-Mart, I think he could really get rolling here.

So the final score was 4-1.  If you ask me, it should have been way more lopsided than that.  We left ten men on base, seven against Carmona.  We had runners on base in every inning Carmona pitched.  Five of our eight hits were for extra bases, but none of them were timed well enough to lock it up completely.  We manufactured all four runs ourselves.  Combined with Dice-K’s stellar performance, it was enough to cause Carmona’s fourth consecutive loss.

Scutaro scored on Youk’s sac fly in the first.  Reddick scored on Papi’s fielder’s choice groundout in the third.  Scutaro scored on V-Mart’s sac fly in the seventh; the bases were loaded with nobody out and that was all he could manage, but it’s still a run and I’ll take it.  As Tito said, if you put up only one run in a frame, but repeatedly, it adds up to a win.  Something similar occurred in the eighth; Beltre led off the inning with a double and moved to third on a wild pitch, scoring on Hall’s single.  But the rally stopped short when Scutaro grounded out and Pedroia struck out.

Scutaro went three for four with a career-high three doubles, extending his hitting streak to six games.  V-Mart went two for four with a double.  He even caught a theft in the fifth!

Apparently, the pitching staff is taking guitar lessons together just for fun.  That’s some good team bonding right there.  Bonser joined the bullpen yesterday because Paps has been placed on the bereavement/family medical leave list, which means he’ll be out for three games.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I offer him and his family condolences and best wishes for a speedy recovery.  Meanwhile, look for Bard in the closer’s role.  In the First-Year Player Draft, we selected second baseman Kolbrin Vitek twentieth overall, outfielder Bryce Brentz thirty-sixth overall, and pitcher Anthony Ranaudo at thirty-ninth overall.  Two big bats and a pitcher on the first day; not bad!

I didn’t think I’d be able to say this anytime soon, but I’m actually looking forward to Dice-K’s next start.  I’m anxious to see whether this turnaround and new pitching style is for real.  If it is, I would recommend that the league watch out because, as we have seen, when Dice-K is on, he’s good.  He’s really good.  So I really hope that the Dice-K we’ve seen in his previous two starts as well as his no-no bid is the Dice-K who’s here to stay.  Meanwhile, we have four starts we need to win, starting tonight with Wakefield at Huff, as Wakefield looks to redeem himself from his last two starts.

AP Photo

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Wow.

I repeat: wow.

My first claim of the day: Victor Martinez should never catch Daisuke Matsuzaka ever again.  Make like Matsuzaka is Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek is Doug Mirabelli, and put Jason Varitek in there every fifth day.  I think that at this point we have more than established the fact that the disparity between Dice-K’s performances with V-Mart behind the dish and with Tek behind the dish is occurring for a reason.  Dice-K’s performances with Tek behind the dish are vastly superior, and when I say vastly I mean vastly.  So that’s the end of it.  That’s your answer right there.

As for the game itself last night, one more time: wow.  That’s the only word I’ve got to describe what I saw last night.  That entire game was absolutely incredible.  I’m not even sure I actually believe what I saw with my own eyes.  That was the best I’ve seen Dice-K pitch, ever.  Really, I was speechless.

To put it simply, Dice-K had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning.  You know you thought he had it in the bag when he somehow grabbed Werth’s would-be line drive in the seventh.  Tek even said that that was the hardest-hit ball caught by a pitcher he’d ever seen, ever.  I’m not really sure how he was able to snare that.  That was pure intuition right there; he just put his glove it in exactly the right position and the ball found it.  You know you thought there was no way it wasn’t going down when Beltre dove to catch Ruiz’s would-be line drive and fired to first in time for the out and the double-up of Ibanez in the eighth.  Because you know that most no-hitters are accompanied by at least one amazing play in the field.

And you saw Lester and Buchholz sitting there and knowing exactly what was going on inside Dice-K”s head.  You saw them sitting with Lackey and Beckett and thinking about what they were thinking when they were that deep into this same thing.

Dice-K was four outs away.  Only for outs away from the mobbing by the teammates; the mad cheering by Red Sox Nation, Philadelphia Chapter; the turning of a corner; and the making of history.  Only for outs away.

But Juan Castro ruined everything and dashed all hopes and convictions when he blooped a single over the reaching glove of Marco Scutaro with only one out left in the eighth inning.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this.  I am convinced that Scutaro could’ve caught that.  Technically, by the rules of baseball, that can’t be considered an error, but I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that it counts for the biggest unofficial error of his career.  He had that.  He just needed to time his leap better.  And we know that’s possible because several starters on our roster do it all the time like it’s a walk in the park (pun intended).  He needed to be maybe a foot more to the right and leap a few seconds later.  So, in short, yes, Marco Scutaro wrecked Dice-K’s no-hitter.

It was crushing.  It was absolutely crushing.  Dice-K has had his fair share of struggles, and with the entire country of Japan watching, it would’ve been magical to see him accomplish that feat.  It also would’ve been a great morale booster for the entire team; we’ve seen what no-hitters can do.  They put life in a team that’s just witnessed, like I said, the magic and the history of it all.  Of all the pitchers in Major League Baseball, he needed that no-hitter.  Of all the teams in Major League Baseball, we needed that no-hitter.

Sadly, and that’s the understatement of the century, it was not to be.  Crushing.

But all you can do is move on.  And that’s exactly what Dice-K did, and what impressed me immensely.  We know from personal experience that, after a pitcher gives up a no-no bid, they have the tendency to unravel completely; that’s when the opposing offense attacks and that’s when you might lose everything.  Dice-K ensured that that didn’t happen as simply and easily as getting Gload to fly out to right field.  But that says a lot about his composure on the mound.  If Dice-K can turn it around permanently, he’d have the potential to be an ideal pitcher for the postseason, where every pitch counts and you can’t afford to get skittish after one mistake.

It was kind of strange as no-no bids go because it was low on strikeouts and comparatively high on pitches.  He struck out only five, two looking, with a very even strike zone and threw 112 pitches, which again was more than Lester needed to get through an entire game.  But even during his best starts during stretches of brilliance, he’d pull this Houdini act and use this uncanny ability of his to remain perfectly calm with runners on base and get himself out of all kinds of jams that he’d personally cause.  Yet another fine quality of a postseason pitcher.  So historically we know that he’s not exactly the epitome of efficiency, but we also know from his career in Japan that throwing large amounts of pitches doesn’t scare him.  He doesn’t mind it.  And if it works, it works.

His mix of pitches was exquisite.  He threw mostly four-seams, topping out at ninety-four miles per hour.  He threw his two-seam at ninety-five.  He located his slider and curveball perfectly and mixed in some cutters and changeups at exactly the right moments.  His fastball, slider, and changeup were the best I’d ever seen them.  All of them had movement, and all of them had life.  A no-hitter is all about being crafty and keeping the lineup guessing.  That’s hard to do the third or fourth time around, but he did it, and it’s no small feat, especially against, as I said, an opponent like Philly.

He needed a game low of eight pitches to clear an inning, and used as few twice, in the sixth and seventh.  He needed nineteen pitches to clear the eighth.  There’s been a general trend in his starts of improving as the game goes on.  And yet another reason why he’d pitch well in the postseason.  The whole outing was just a huge begging of the question of, “What if?”

Bard cleaned up the ninth.  Together they one-hit the Phillies through nine.

The final score was 5-0.  Papi scored on Hermida’s sac fly in the fourth, hustling hard to beat the tag by Ruiz at the plate.  Scutaro opened the fifth with a double, and Dice-K bunted him to third.  Ellsbury walked.  Drew singled in Scutaro, Papi doubled in Ellsbury, and Beltre doubled in Drew and Papi.  Drew and Beltre both went two for four.  Ellsbury started in center, which was a sight for sore eyes, and Papi started at first.

Ultimately, we just have to focus on the win.  We set out to win, and we won.  We won our way, with run prevention.  Of course, that’s easier said than done.  But a win is most definitely better than nothing; we need all the wins we can get.  On the other hand, we also need all the magic we can get.  But there are yet many games to be played.  Starting this afternoon with Wake taking on Halladay.

AP Photo

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