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Posts Tagged ‘Jason Varitek’

Now that Spring Training is thoroughly underway, it’s high time for a status report.

Pitchers and catchers had physicals on February 11 and their first official team workout the following day.  Naturally, Buchholz just had to strain his right hamstring about ten minutes into the first pitchers’ fielding practice of the spring, but it turned out to be minor and he was back out there that Wednesday and had proceeded to long toss by that Friday and a forty-five-pitch side session that Monday.  Lackey lost a whopping seventeen pounds and is looking lean.  Don’t expect to see fireworks right away from Breslow or Doubront, who have been assigned to a more cautious training program.  Tim Wakefield was back at camp basically tutoring Steven Wright, the knuckleball’s next generation, and as we knew they would be, Pedro Martinez and Tek are also using their veteran skill to help out.  Mike Lowell is another surprise veteran guest.  And for some bizarre reason, when Aceves started throwing live batting practice, he insisted on lobbing the ball; I don’t really know what that was about.  Needless to say, he cleaned up his act.  Nieves and Farrell didn’t seem to know what was going on either, but Farrell sure was annoyed; as were we all.

The rest of the team reported on February 14.  Look for Victorino and Ellsbury to get a lot of practice in this spring.  Fenway’s right field is probably the most formidable in all of baseball, so it’ll be good for the two of them to nail down a routine.  Also look for Farrell to exercise considerable caution with Napoli, who started defensive drills at first on February 17; his hip MRI had come back clean, so he was given the green light.  Papi is not baserunning or conditioning with the team; he’s on his own specific running program that will slowly but steadily increase in intensity.  Middlebrooks’s broken wrist is officially history, as is Drew’s fractured ankle.  We acquired Mike Carp from Seattle for either a player to be named later or cash considerations.

We played our first exhibition on January 21; it was a double-header, first against Northeastern and then against Boston College, and we won, 3-0 and 11-1.  Only the relievers pitched; each got one inning, and Hanrahan debuted, successfully getting around two baserunners.  The regulars batted in the first game, while the minor leaguers got a turn in the second.

Grapefruit League play officially began on Saturday against the Rays.  We lost by one, and Lackey pitched only one inning, giving up a walk, a hit, a strikeout, and a run, but he looked pretty comfortable.  We played the Cards next, winning by two; Lester pitched two solid innings, Nava and Gomez both had multi-hit games, and Ciriaco batted in two runs.  Then we had a double-header with the Rays and Jays, splitting the day.  Aceves gave up two runs, two hits, and two walks over two innings, but Bard issued a walk and a strikeout in his scoreless inning, and Pedroia hit a solo shot.  The staff issued a solid performance in the afternoon, with a good amount of the offensive support not coming from the regulars.  Our following game against the Cards ended in the worst way: with a 15-4 loss.  Dempster pitched two solid innings, but the same can not be said of the remainder of the staff; Mortensen took the loss.  Ciriaco went two for two, and Iglesias hit a double.  We lost to Baltimore by two after that; Morales pitched his inning well, Hanrahan struck out two but walked one and allowed a run, and Tazawa was awarded a blown save as well as the loss.  Gomes hit a solo shot, and Ciriaco had himself another two hits, including a triple.  Middlebrooks had to leave the game with soreness in his wrist, but it turned out to be nothing, and he feels fine and returned.  Thank goodness, because I don’t know what we’d do if he were down for the count.  We’re not exactly deep at the corner there.  For his part, Gomes got personal with a wall and had to get stitches in his left knee as a result; this game really was not good to us.

On Thursday against the Bucs, Lackey upped the ante with two innings of work.  He gave up three runs with a walk, a strikeout, and a homer, but it seems like the more he goes out there, the more comfortable he seems.  And there’s no question about the fact that he’s throwing the ball well.  It was a 16-6 win, so the offense was also a highlight; the regulars were pretty quiet, and there were no extra-base hits, but we made a strong showing nonetheless.  It’s nice to know that the next generation can play some strong small ball.  Lester took a turn on Friday, pitching three innings of one-hit ball against the Orioles.  Pedroia went two for two and Drew hit a double en route to the win.  We eked out a victory against the Twins next; during 1.1 innings, Buchholz walked two, struck out two, and gave up one hit.  Aceves was awarded both a blown save and a win, and Sweeney went two for four.

Last but not least, we played the Evil Empire yesterday, losing, 5-2.  But hey, it’s Spring Training; the final score is never as important as the baseball being played.  Dempster pitched three one-hit innings with two strikeouts; Hanrahan blew his save and took the loss.  No one had a multi-hit game, but Salty doubled and Napoli hit a solo shot, which was quite the sight to see.  He cleared the sign in right center field 420 feet away.  It was huge.  I saw that, and it was so nice to really observe the reason why he’s here.

Bard will throw twenty or so pitches in a simulated game on Monday.  Papi has been running the bases a little bit but has felt sore.  Finally, Lucchino thinks our sellout streak will end soon; he cites April 10 as a possible end date.  I know there’s always a debate surrounding what the sellout streak has meant and whether it really means anything at all, but for a franchise like this with a fan base like ours, such a streak really shouldn’t be ending anytime soon.  That’s all I have to say about it.  And I’ll end with the beginning: Farrell’s opening address on February 15.  This was basically his opportunity to introduce himself and his philosophy to the team.  Even though many on the team know him and are familiar with the way he works, the gesture shows humility, collaboration, and the kind of professionalism that he urged members of the team to adopt.  The great thing is that, in many ways, Farrell is a product and holdover from the Francona era, but he’s still a fresh perspective, much-needed indeed after the debacle that was last season.  Farrell was compelling and inspiring.  He’s the man we should have had at the helm all along.  It just feels right, and it’s going to be a good year.

In other news, the Bruins beat the Jets, Bolts, Panthers, Isles, Sens, and Bolts again! Sadly, our winning streak came to an end with a 4-3 loss to the Habs.

AP Photo

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Not much has happened since our slog of a season ended, but what did happen should be surprising to anybody.

Our first order of business was dismissing Bobby Valentine, which we did last Thursday.  This is something that was entirely predictable, appropriate, and correct.  We all know that he shouldn’t even have been hired in the first place.  It was awful.  He just wasn’t a good fit for our clubhouse, and the whole situation with him at the helm was completely dysfunctional.  There’s no need to go into specifics, but suffice it to say that there is a certain degree of professionalism that I think players and fans alike expect from a manager and that Bobby Valentine’s conception of that degree differed from ours.  Anyway, look for John Farrell and Tim Bogar to be on the brass’s radar.  Other possibilities include Torey Lovullo, former Pawtucket manager and current Jays first base coach; Joe McEwing, Other Sox bench coach; Tim Wallach, Dodgers third base coach; Brad Ausmus; and last but not least, our very own Jason Varitek.  Onward and forward!

Our blockbuster deal with the Dodgers is finally done.  For Nick Punto, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez, we took on Rubby De La Rosa and Jerry Sands in addition to previously acquired James Loney, Ivan De Jesus, and Allen Webster.

Pedroia was nominated for the Hank Aaron Award.

In other news, the Pats beat the Broncos, 31-21, last week.

Boston Globe Staff/Aram Boghosian

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We played a two-game series against the Rays and got swept.

Tuesday’s game began auspiciously with us paying tribute to the 2004 team.  But it didn’t end well.  Buchholz pitched as decently as any of our other starters this year, but in terms of the way he’s been pitching lately, his start was mediocre at best.  He gave up five runs, four earned, on eight hits over six innings while walking two and striking out five.  In the second, he gave up two walks followed by a home run that score three.  And in the sixth, he gave up two straight singles and then another single two batters later that scored two runs, one of which was made possible by Nava’s fielding error, hence the unearned run.  Atchison pitched the seventh and to one batter in the eighth, Miller pitched the rest of the eighth, and Padilla pitched the ninth.

We got on the board in the second; we started the inning with two back-to-back singles followed by a flyout, and Valencia batted in our first run with a single.  We started the third with a strikeout and then hit two back-to-back singles again.  This inning possibly did us in, because if we’d been able to take full advantage of our opportunity there, it’s possible that perhaps we could have won in the end.  But a caught-stealing at third basically put a damper on things.  Pedroia doubled after that, and we scored on a balk.  And that was it.  The final score was 2-5.

On Wednesday, Lester pitched six innings and allowed three runs on four hits while walking one and striking out five.  He was solid for most of it but unraveled at the end.  All three runs were scored via the home run.  He gave up a single in the fifth followed by two consecutive home runs.  Mortensen came on for the seventh and gave up a single, and then Hill came on and gave up another single; three at-bats later, Hill gave up an RBI double.  Melancon finished the seventh and pitched the eighth, and Breslow pitched the ninth.

We had actually scored first; Salty walked and scored on a single by Nava in the second.  And then Pedroia walked to lead off the sixth, stole second, moved to third on a single by Ross, and scored on a sac fly by Loney.  The final score was 2-4.

Wednesday’s game actually began auspiciously as well with us announcing the All-Fenway team comprised of our greats throughout our long and illustrious history, with plenty of old faces and plenty of new.  The starting lineup included Carlton Fisk, Jimmie Foxx, Pedroia, Wade Boggs, Nomar, Ted Williams, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans, Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove, Jonathan Papelbon, Papi, and Terry Francona.  The first reserves included Jason Varitek, Mo Vaughn, Bobby Doerr, Mike Lowell, Johnny Pesky, Yaz, Dom DiMaggio, Trot Nixon, Roger Clemens, Luis Tiant, Tim Wakefield, Dennis Eckersley, Dick Radatz, and Joe Cronin.  The second reserves included Rich Gedman, George Scott, Jerry Remy, Frank Malzone, Rico Petrocelli, Jim Rice, Reggie Smith, Tony Conigliaro, Babe Ruth, Smoky Joe Wood, Curt Schilling, Bill Lee, Jim Lonborg, and Dick Williams.  And, last but not least, the pinch hitter was Bernie Carbo and the pinch runner was none other than Dave Roberts.

Why before Wednesday’s game? Because Wednesday’s game was our last home game of the year.  It would have been nice to win it.  Instead we will finish the season with our worst record at home since 1965 and our first losing record at home since 1997: 34-47.  Now Fenway will soon be covered with snow, silent in the long, cold winter that lies ahead with only the bitter memory of losing as an aftertaste.

Sports Then And Now

 

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First of all, we honored Tek before the game for his fifteen years of service to this ballclub, city, and Nation at the plate, behind the plate, and in the clubhouse.  It was awesome.  The brass always does a nice job, and Tek of all people really, really deserved it.  He got emotional during his speech, but then again, who wouldn’t.  Papi gave him two Fenway seats, and Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz gave him the home plate from his last game.  He also threw a knuckleball to Wake for the first pitch.  It was just a really classy way to honor a really classy guy.  We miss you, Tek.  And we salute you.

If only we could have honored him further with a win.  Sadly, it was not to be.  Cook did not have a good night in the least.  He gave up five runs, only three of them earned, on four hits over six and one-third innings pitched.  He walked one and struck out one, and he threw eighty-six pitches.

He had fantastic innings in the first and second without incident.  He gave up a sac fly with the bases loaded in the third that scored one unearned run thanks to a fielding error by Ciriaco.  He again had stellar innings in the fourth and fifth.

And then the badness began in the sixth.  After securing two quick outs, Cook handed out a free pass on five pitches and then gave up a home run.  And then he gave up a solo shot to lead off the seventh.  After a groundout and another fielding error, this one by Middlebrooks, which put a man on base, Cook was replaced by Morales, who secured the second out and dished out a walk before he was replaced by Albers.  Albers gave up a single that scored two, both of which were scored by inherited runners, one from Cook and the other from Morales.

So there are those who say that two pitches caused Cook’s downfall last night.  I would beg to differ; clearly a home run could account for one run only, and it’s not like Cook gave up only two runs, both of which happened to be homers, in which case you could claim that he only made two mistakes.  That’s not what happened.  Cook gave up three earned runs and two unearned runs, and it wasn’t only because he gave up two home runs.  Of course, the issue of how to interpret the unearned runs is always interesting, but ultimately you have to hope that the starter is positioning the team so well that a couple of unearned runs won’t hurt it.  The pitcher can’t control what errors the fielders make, but he can largely control whether runners are on base and therefore score on those errors.  And those runners would have had to be there before the error, so in that sense the pitcher is responsible.  Then again, you have to expect the fielders to field correctly.  So it’s an interesting question.  Since errors are so unpredictable and can’t necessarily be helped, I’m going to say that Cook should have been able to do more to ensure that those errors didn’t cause runs to score.

So in that sense, two pitches didn’t cause Cook’s downfall.  There were many other pitches he threw before those two that had a hand in the loss, even if he did only give up three earned runs.

Some of those other pitches were thrown by the Jays, because clearly we didn’t do much with them, and that didn’t help things.  Salty hit a mammoth three-run shot in the second that was totally awesome.  Gonzalez singled, Ross doubled, and Salty fouled off a slider and a fastball and took a slider for a ball before getting something down and in that he knew he would hit and unleashing on that one.  He sent that into the bullpen.

Padilla pitched the eighth, and Tazawa came on for the ninth.  He allowed a double, a sac bunt that moved the runner to third, and then a run on a fielder’s choice.  The final score was 7-3.  Only two of our five hits were for extra bases, and those five hits were distributed among five of our starting nine.  So there were no multi-hit games and there were not enough hit games.  We even walked only twice.

So here’s the kicker.  At the time, Salty’s home run gave us a three-run lead.  So all these questions of how you look at the unearned runs and how many pitches caused Cook’s downfall don’t have any impact on the fact that let a three-run lead slip through his fingers.  Admittedly, the offense should have done more.  But so should have Cook to preserve that lead.  And that’s why it was crushing, because philosophy aside, we had a lead and then we lost it, and at that point there’s really not much explaining to do.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki

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Happy one hundredth birthday, Fenway Park! It really his America’s Most Beloved Ballpark, and for good reason.  No other ballpark is this old or – let’s face it – this totally awesome.  When you watch a game there, you really have this overwhelming sense of the history that’s gone down, and you wonder what the walls would say if they could talk.  That park saw everything.  For hundred years, most of them culminating in postseason disappointment so profoundly gut-wrenching that your first instinct would be to think that somebody had to have planned it that way, this park bore witness to the lives and times of the players who played, the managers who managed, and the fans who supported, day in and day out, no matter how good or bad it got.  Standing like a sentinel right in the middle of Boston, it has seen everything that’s happened, both in and out of baseball, in that city in the last hundred years.  Think about that for a minute.  If the walls could talk, what would they say? In addition to the regular lot, this park has seen Major League baseball players, minor league baseball players, National League baseball players, college baseball players, high school baseball players, football players, hockey players, basketball players, soccer players, boxers, musicians, soldiers, fans from every walk of life, wins, losses, World Series, no-hitters, a five-hundred-foot home run, more than ten thousand home runs total, the tallest wall in any ballpark in the United States, the first foul ball screen ever used, the only in-play ladder in Major League Baseball, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s last political speech, and so much more.

This park is alive with character.  Every part of the park has a story: the Green Monster that now stands in place of Duffy’s Cliff, the Pesky Pole, the Fisk Pole, the retired numbers, Willamsburg, the bullpens.  Everything.  It’s small, and the seats don’t have cushions, and you can’t order gourmet food behind home plate.  But seriously, who wants to go to a baseball game just to feel like you’re watching the game on television or at a restaurant? No, you want to feel the park and to live the experience.  We’ve got the best fans in all of sport, I’d say, and we’ve got the best venue to match.

If April 20, 1912 was the day that Red Sox Nation and Fenway Park got married, then April 20, 2012 was the day that Red Sox Nation and Fenway Park renewed their vows.  I can’t even bear the thought that several years ago we almost lost Fenway Park forever, and I can bear the thought even less that there weren’t more people interested in saving it.  It’s truly a gem of a ballpark, and it’s one of every Red Sox fan’s favorite places in the whole world.

But what would a family affair be without a little token drama? Apparently all living uniformed personnel were invited, but apparently Theo wasn’t invited until Thursday and declined to go.  Curt Schilling, who has made no secret of his criticism of Bobby V., declined an invitation due to a commitment to his business.  It was speculated that Tito wouldn’t be there, but after all he was.  It’s really a shame that all this drama has to get in the way of such a great day in the history of what’s brought all these diverse people together.  I know it’s corny, but why can’t we all just get along, just for one day? Obviously we weren’t there for any of the drama, so we can’t really know how bad or not-so-bad it was, but anyway it would have been nice to have these individuals, who’ve been so crucial to bringing about what is (“is,” and hopefully not “was”) arguably a golden age in our club’s history.

Anyway, here are the details.  There was an introduction that basically said that the constant throughout history is baseball, and the constant throughout baseball is Fenway, and the constant throughout us disparate fans is this team.  Then John Williams conducted the Boston Pops in playing “Fanfare for Fenway,” his new composition.  There was the national anthem.  There was the flyover, which always gets me.  Then there was a steady stream of past players in their uniforms; they all congregated in the parts of the field that they played.  Most of the who’s-who as well as the unknowns of Red Sox history was there, those that could barely walk and those who recently retired.  It was really just beautiful to see generations of players represented before generations of fans.  You could acutely feel that you were witnessing history not only by bearing witness to the occasion but also by remembering that each and every one of those players had borne witness to Red Sox Nation.  (Incidentally, the whole procession received continuous applause and a standing ovation.  Terry Francona’s applause and name-chanting was deafeningly thunderous, as it should have been.  Nomar, Pedro, Yaz, and Pesky also received substantial thunder.  And also Wake, Tek, Bobby Doerr, Jerry Remy, Jim Rice, Kevin Millar, and a host of others too numerous to name.) Then there was a toast with grape juice, supplied at every seat for every fan of every age, led by Pedro and Millar, which as you can imagine was highly, highly entertaining and completely brought you back to 2004.  It was literally the largest toast in one venue, as in a new world record.  But hey, that’s the strength of Red Sox Nation for you.

The first pitch was thrown from the row of seats behind the first base dugout by the mayor of Boston, just like it was one hundred years ago.  This year, Thomas Menino was joined by Caroline Kennedy and Thomas Fitzgerald, two descendants of 1912 Boston’s Mayor John Fitzgerald.

I have to say, the throwback uniforms were a real treat.  How fortuitous that the schedule allowed us to play the exact same team, too.  I have to admit, even though the score a hundred years ago was 7-6 in eleven innings, I was hoping for a big more of a thrashing, as close as a close game would have been to the original may have been.  Ultimately, a win to preserve the history would have been very much appreciated and appropriate.

Sadly, a win was not to be.  Buchholz allowed home run after home run after home run.  Now that he and Beckett have both allowed five home runs in one game this season, the 2012 club becomes one of only three teams in Major League history to carry two starters who have given up five home runs each in one game in one season.  (Incidentally, one of the other two was the 2009 club, and Buchholz and Beckett were both at fault then too.) He gave up six runs, five earned (you can thank Pedroia for dropping a routine popup, a rare sight indeed), on nine hits, five of which were home runs.  All of the home runs were solo shots, and three of them led off innings.  He only allowed one other extra-base hit, a double.  He lasted six innings, walked two, and struck out two.

Buchholz used four pitches: a four-seam, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup.  His four-seam got up to ninety-five miles per hour and was his most abundant and effective pitch; he threw it for strikes more than eighty percent of the time.  The others were thrown for strikes less than sixty percent of the time, which is unfortunate since the majority of his pitches category-wise were off-speeds.

Atchison pitched the seventh, Thomas and Tazawa teamed up for the eighth, and Tazawa pitched the ninth.

We got on the board in the second when Papi homered to the Green Monster.  The ball, a fastball, bounced off of the very top of the wall and was ruled a double before it came under review and was rightly overturned.  In the fifth, a pair of doubles by Ross and Aviles scored another run.  That was all we managed.  Don’t even think for  second that you weren’t thinking that the stage may have been set for something truly epic: a recreation of the original final score.  Our final score ended up being 6-2, but just imagine if we could have somehow scored four more runs to tie it, gone to the eleventh inning, and then scored one more run?

It seemed like every single one of our rallies was killed before it got started.  Aviles and Papi each had two hits for the only multi-hit performances of the day.  In addition to the home run and those two doubles, we hit two more, and that was it for extra bases.  Not one member of our lineup walked.  Repko made a decidedly Ellsbury-esque catch.  I hope Bobby V. paid attention to the “We Want Tito” chant in the ninth; we have the lowest team ERA in the Majors and are now on a four-game losing streak overall and a four-game home losing streak for the first time since 2010 with a record of four and nine.

At any rate, one hundred years of Fenway Park have come and gone, so here’s to the next hundred.  Here’s to a happy birthday to America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.  Fenway Park, all that you’ve seen and all that you mean, we forever salute you!

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Caps, 2-1.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki

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That’s the game that we were all hoping we’d play.  Fenway was a sight for sore eyes; something about the players being introduced at the home opener just makes you feel refreshed and ready, and after the start to the season we’ve had, we needed that.  And the final score was a sight for sore eyes, too.  12-2.  Now that’s what I call taking care of business on your first day home.  Ladies and gentlemen, here’s hoping that yesterday was the first day of the rest of our baseball lives!

First things first.  The opening ceremonies were as fitting and fantastically done as ever.  Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek threw the first pitch, as they should have.  It was so great to see them back there received with the standing ovation that they clearly deserved.  Dwight Evans caught Wakefield’s pitch, and Jim Rice caught Varitek’s, which was especially fitting since Rice was our captain before Varitek played.  Needless to say, the pitches were thrown quite well (I was hoping Wakefield would deliver a knuckleball, but apparently Evans warned him against that beforehand), and there were plenty of hugs to go around afterwards.  All in all, it was a supremely feel-good event.  In the bottom of the second, Wakefield and Varitek joined the NESN booth for the first time ever; apparently they’d never been to that part of the park before.  Wakefield was right when he said that it was a special day that the two of them shared together; opening the hundredth season of baseball at Fenway was a task that was absolutely fitting for them to complete.  And we’ll see them again this year; during the season each of them will be honored with their own day.  We certainly haven’t seen the last of Varitek, who will probably re-join the organization in some sort of professional capacity.  Their comments on the start to the season we’ve had were interesting to hear, and ultimately it was just a pleasure to have them back.  It really was.

Beckett pitched like an ace.  These are now back-to-back gems by our two best starters; it’s a good sign, and it’s some solid momentum that we can build from.  Beckett pitched eight innings and gave up only one run on five hits, two of which were doubles, and that was it for extra bases.  He walked one and struck out one, the eleventh time in his career that he posted only one strikeout but the first time in his career that he posted a win with only one strikeout.  That one strikeout came against Carlos Pena with one out in the eighth; it took him six pitches, and the clincher was a curveball going seventy-four miles per hour that resulted in a missed swing.  Beckett threw ninety-four pitches, sixty-one of which were strikes, so he was right on pace.

He brought his fastball up to ninety-two miles per hour, and they were good, but the real stars of his arsenal were the cutter and the changeup.  Almost all of his cutters were thrown for strikes, and a little less than half of all of his pitches were changeups, which he threw for strikes almost two-thirds of the time.  Other than that, he also introduced a curveball that was pretty good.  So he pitched like an ace, but not necessarily like the ace we’ve seen him be in most of his gem starts.  This was less about dominating and overpowering the hitters and more about getting around them with craftiness and finesse.  It was a side of Beckett that we rarely get to see, but nevertheless it was obviously an effective side of Beckett and one that speaks to his overall skill and versatility as a pitcher.

Regarding efficiency, as I said, he was pretty much on the ball.  He wasn’t remarkably efficient, but he wasn’t inefficient, either.  Around a hundred pitches is where you should be by the time the ninth inning starts, and there are plenty of pitching staffs out there whose aces are lucky if they can make it to the sixth or seventh around a hundred pitches.  He threw at most seventeen pitches in one inning, and he did that twice, once in the first and again in the fourth.  He threw sixteen in the second and thirteen in the eighth.  Other than that, he threw nine in the sixth, eight in the third, and seven in the fifth and seventh.

Beckett allowed his lone run in the second pretty quickly; the inning started with a single, and the next hit was one of the two doubles he gave up, which scored Ben Zobrist.  But then he ended the inning with three straight groundouts, and under his watch, it was the end of the scoring for the Tampa Bay Rays.  (Incidentally, Zobrist also scored Beckett’s only walk, in addition to his only run.) Three of his innings were one-two-three: the third, the fifth, and the eighth.

Meanwhile, the game did not begin auspiciously for our offense, as we went down in order in the first.  We put two on base in the second, but three straight outs erased that threat.  We first got on board in the third: Shoppach got hit, Ellsbury doubled, and Pedroia walked on five pitches to load the bases.  Then we put up three straight scoring plays: Gonzalez singled, Youk hit a sac fly, and Papi singled.  It was small ball, but it was effective small ball.  McDonald re-loaded the bases by also walking on five pitches, but Ross ended the inning by grounding into a double play.  Still, that was three runs right there.

We added one in the fourth; Aviles began the inning by grounding out, but then Shoppach doubled and scored on a single by Ellsbury.  (Speaking of the fourth, Ross made a fantastic diving catch to prevent a base hit and secure the first out in the top of the inning.) We went down in order in the fifth again, and we had two baserunners again erased in the sixth and one erased in the seventh.

Now, at that point, the score was 4-1, and with the way Beckett was pitching, that lead alone would have held up fine.  Honestly, if that had remained the score, Bobby V. would have let Beckett stay in there and finish it up.  He’s a beast against the Rays; he’s got four wins and is undefeated in six starts with a 0.84 ERA going back to September 12, 2009.  As it turned out, Melancon came out to pitch the ninth.  He faced four batters.  Three of them represented outs, but between the first and second one was a solo shot to right on a 2-1 fastball.  Those two runs were the only runs that the Rays would have scored.  In plenty of other scenarios, which unfortunately we have seen first-hand this year, that may have cost us the game.  Fortunately, Melancon made that one isolated mistake and recovered.  So if we had only scored four runs, in this particular game we would’ve been fine.

But we didn’t only score four runs.  We exploded majorly in the eighth.  It was fantastic.  It was like a whole new team up there.  Almost every batter in that inning contributed to the run total in one way or another, and it was just a string of well-orchestrated scoring plays.  It really looked and felt like the team was playing like a team.

It all began with a pitching change; Joel Peralta replaced Wade Davis.  What a cold, cold greeting we gave him.  McDonald opened the inning with a very patient at-bat that concluded with a double.  Then Ross walked, and McDonald moved to third on a wild pitch.  Then Aviles walked to load the bases.  Then Shoppach doubled and scored two.  Then Sweeney singled and scored two.  Then Pedroia and Gonzalez singled back-to-back to reload the bases.  Then Youk singled and scored two.  Then Papi doubled and scored one.  Then McDonald got hit to reload the bases.  Then Ross hit a sac fly that scored one.  Then Aviles singled to reload the bases.  And then Shoppach and Sweeney provided the last two outs.  So, before Ross hit his sac fly, we sent ten men to the plate with nobody out in the inning, and our first out of the inning was still a scoring play.  We scored eight runs in the eighth inning alone.

We posted sixteen hits to their six.  We posted five extra-base hits to their three, even though ours were all doubles and they had a homer.  We left ten on base to their five, but – are you ready for this? – we went ten for seventeen with runners in scoring position to their 0 for 5.  Ten for seventeen.

Youk and Papi both went two for four, the latter with a double, and Gonzalez went two for three.  But the man of the hour, who went three for four with two doubles, was Kelly Shoppach.  Not bad for a catcher.  Not bad at all.  All told, we had five multi-hit games.

There was only one downside to the game, and unfortunately it was extremely significant.  Ellsbury went two for three but left in the bottom of the fourth with an injured right shoulder.  Right after his RBI single that inning, Pedroia grounded into a double play to end it, and Reid Brignac landed on the shoulder at second base after he threw to first.  Hard.  It looked bad; he grabbed it and stood up with some difficulty.  He walked off the field holding his arm pretty delicately.  Make no mistake, folks: this is a complete and total disaster in every conceivable way.  The incident quieted Fenway pretty quickly, and rightly so.  He was examined after the game, but there is no definite word yet on his condition; you can be sure, though, that he’ll be temporarily replaced for at least five or six weeks.

So the team does indeed start to celebrate Fenway’s one hundredth birthday with a win! It was a win for Fenway, a win for Red Sox Nation, and a win for the team, and we all badly needed it.  And so we should feel happy about that.  But we should also be aware of the fact that we hope we didn’t just trade in a win in the short term for a win in the long term; in other words, we hope that Ellsbury isn’t injured for the long term as a result of what occurred in this game.  Seriously.  This is an extremely, extremely big deal.

In other news, the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Bruins have officially begin, and on a high note at that.  We beat the Caps, 1-0! As I said, I’m really thinking repeat.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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Tek officially retired on Thursday; we all knew this was coming, so I’ve already written the tribute, although there are a few things I’d like to add.  First, after initially doing so, he has since come to regret autographing photos of the A-Rod fight because he doesn’t want to condone that kind of behavior, which speaks volumes about his sportsmanship, professionalism, and awareness of his status as a role model.  Second, Scott Boras reportedly did not allow other teams to make formal offers to Tek due to his knowledge of Tek’s allegiance to us; I’d expect that, for Boras, this must be some kind of first.  Third, here’s a neat article containing the comments of some of New England’s who’s-who of sports journalism when we first picked up Tek; boy, does it take you back.  Fourth, Tek was very thankful in his retirement announcement; he thanked everyone.  He thanked his coaches, teammates, and fans as well as the brass and his family.  Here’s a quote:

As I walk away from this game, I can look at the man in the mirror and be proud I gave everything I could to this game, this organization, my teammates.  Once again, I just want to say thank you.

But he won’t be leaving the game completely; he’ll be taking up a position within the organization, which I think is an excellent move.  To be a good catcher, one must inherently possess the ability to maintain a working knowledge of all aspects of the game, not just his own position.  This plus the fact that he was a captain for seven of the fifteen seasons he played here make him an obvious choice for hire.

What’s funny is that a fan took a video during a clubhouse tour on Truck Day and saw that Tek’s nameplate had already been taken down.  Lucchino’s explanation for this was weak, and so the fan already knew what would happen.  What I liked best about this story is that the fan specifically didn’t post the video until after Tek made his decision.

Bobby V. has banned alcohol in the clubhouse and on charter flights returning to Boston.  Tito then claimed that this was a PR move, which it isn’t since Bobby V. is known for having similarly banned beer in his previous managerial stints.  First of all, it’s very unlike Tito to get involved in drama.  Secondly, why are we still talking about this? Last season is last season; it’s done and over.  Can’t we just move on already?

Maybe that’s what Bobby V. was trying to do when he put down Derek Jeter and praised Tek for the A-Rod fight this week.  It certainly did draw attention.  Obviously I agree with what he said; it’s just a little unusual to hear it coming from a manager.  There’s a reason why there are fans and managers and why fans are usually not managers and managers are usually not fans.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m one of the biggest Yankee-haters out there, but I still want a manager who focuses less on the TV cameras and more on the baseball.

In the interest of not discussing drama anymore, let’s move to the Spring Training schedule, which officially started yesterday when we played Northeastern and Boston College in a doubleheader.  Today, the Major League action begins with the start of a two-game series against the Twins.  We’ve got the O’s on Tuesday, the Jays on Wednesday, and the Cards on Thursday.  Then the Pirates and Rays, and we’re done for the week.

Here are some highlights from the results.  We swept the college doubleheader as well as the two games against the Twins with scores of 8-3 and 10-2.  Lester pitched two shutout innings against Northeastern.  Beckett pitched two scoreless innings; he walked two, struck out none, and was caught by Salty, yet another indicator of the end of an era.  In the 10-2 win, Buccholz pitched two scoreless innings; he walked two and hit one but struck out two and extricated himself from two sticky situations.  Of his thirty-six pitches, twenty were strikes.  He looks healthy and says he feels healthy.  Ryan Sweeney picked up and RBI, and Papi hit his first homer of Spring Training, a solo shot.

Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association have agreed to expand the playoffs, effective this season.  Each league will not send not one but two Wild Card teams to the playoffs; the two teams will have to go at it in a single elimination game.  This is the first playoff expansion since 1994, and it creates the largest playoffs in the history of the Majors.  It’ll certainly boost ratings and nail-biting, that’s for sure.  It presents a double-edged sword.  If this system had been in place earlier, we would have made the playoffs in the last two years.  On the other hand, I don’t want to make the playoffs because the bar is continually set lower by a policy of increased inclusivity, and there’s always the chance that that other team is going to beat you before you get anywhere.

In other news, the B’s lost to the Sens, Isles, and Rangers but beat the Devils and signed Marty Turco.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Photo/Chris Lee

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