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Posts Tagged ‘AJ Burnett’

Again with the ace having a bad night that any other pitcher would consider a good night.  Lester one-hit the Yankees while walking three and striking out six on seventy-three strikeouts.  What’s the badness? He allowed seven hits over five innings on 114 pitches.  That was it.  That was all there was to Lester’s outing.  His best pitches were his cut fastball and changeup.  His sinker and curveball were abysmal.  You might think that it would be difficult for a pitcher of Lester’s caliber to throw any pitch abysmally.  Trust me.  His sinker and even more so his curveball were abysmal.  And let’s not forget the fact that he actually needed fourty-four pitches in the first.  Fourty-four! To get through the first inning alone! That’s just absurd.  That’s almost half the number of pitches he should be throwing in the entire game!

You might also think that our lineup would be able to bury one run.  So the Yankees had an RBI double in the first.  So what? We’re the Yankees’ worst offensive nightmare.  Right?

Apparently not.  I think the lineup missed that memo.

I think Pedroia was feeling a little left out during the two-run shot festival that occurred on Wednesday, so he hit one on a cutter in the fourth to center.  It barely got out; it landed in the first row of seats just behind the wall.

At the time, that homer gave us a one-run lead.  Which, at the time, seemed like a five-run lead because it was clear that runs would be few and far between.  This explains the devastation when Aceves allowed two runs in the seventh, which earned him the loss in addition to his hold.  It all started with a fourteen-pitch walk.  That’s never a good way to start anything.  It was actually Bard who allowed, in practice, all three runs, only two of which were inherited.  Bard received a blown save.  Doubront and Wheeler finished the game.

So that home run was our only production of the night.  Pedroia also possessed the only multi-hit game and stolen base and one of only two extra-base hits.  The other extra-base hit was a double by Gonzalez, which he used to lead off the fourth and get on base before Pedroia’s homer.  We left seven on base and went two for six with runners in scoring position.  In total, we collected only six hits.  Our staff threw a combined total of 203 pitches.  All of which is to say that we lost, 4-2.

Comic relief included Youk teaching himself how to use a professional camera

The whole game can be summarized with a description of the bottom of the ninth inning.  After two walks and a single, the bases were loaded with two out for, of all batters, Gonzalez.  He hadn’t hit well in the game, so he was due.  Mariano Rivera gave him five straight cutters.  Ultimately he was called out on strikes.  There was a pitch that he thought was low.  Keeping in mind that he as one of the best eyes in the league and that he’s usually right about these things and that the pitch was low, he was called out on strikes.  Yup.

It was Lester opposite AJ Burnett, our lineup opposite theirs, with our home field advantage, and somehow we lost our first series of the season to the Yankees.  I don’t get it.  We have our last series with the Yanks at the end of the month.  It’s probable that that series will decide the division.  That’s all I’m saying.

Boston Globe Staff
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Last night wasn’t Wake’s finest hour.  Collectively, though, it was a pretty fine hour for the team as a whole.  Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the one and only possessor of first place in the AL East division.  We beat the Yankees again, so the worst we can do now is win the series.  The best we can do, of course, is sweep.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Last night had plenty to recap.

As I said, Wake wasn’t feeling it.  He gave up five runs on five hits while walking three and striking out three.  He threw ninety-one pitches, fifty-six for strikes.  He made his exit in the sixth, leaving behind one out and two on.  Aceves came on and loaded the bases.  Then he allowed an inherited runner to score.  At that point we had a three-run lead that was looking pretty shaky.  It took him six pitches, but Aceves finally got Derek Jeter to ground into a double play to end the inning.  Crisis averted.  He later gave up a run of his own in the bottom of the ninth.  Wake picked up the win, and Aceves picked up a three-and-two-thirds-inning save.  The final score was 11-6.  We are seven and one against the Yanks this year, we’ve won all of our last six contests against them, and we’ve won five of those six on enemy soil.  Not bad for a team that started out in last place.  And those two, Wake and Aceves, are model team players, given the way they’ve pitched in when Lackey and Dice-K were on the DL.  So the whole game was just a great one to watch.

The game started out innocently enough.  Ellsbury singled and scored when Gonzalez grounded out.  Youk walked after that.  And that’s right around the time when you start thinking about how totally awesome it would be if Papi hit a home run.  So that’s what he did.  He launched a two-run shot into right center field.  Papi had been fed a steady diet of pitches away to that point.  But then he got a great one right down the middle.  Why pitchers think they can throw fastballs down the middle right by us is beyond me.  He didn’t flip his bat this time, but trust me, he was thinking it, and he was thinking it loudly.

The game only got better from there.

Scutaro singled to open the second inning, stole second base, moved to third on a throwing error, and scored on a sac fly by Drew.  After AJ Burnett loaded the bases with an intentional walk in the fourth, Tek hit into the force out as planned, but a run still scored.  Ellsbury doubled in another after that, and Pedroia singled in another.  His hit just barely cleared Jeter’s glove.

Wake gave up a homer to A-Rod in the fourth, and they added three more runs in the fifth.  We got one of them back in the sixth; three walks were issued in the bottom of the sixth alone, and one of them scored a run.  Seriously, there are few things more humiliating than a pitcher walking in a run.

The Yankees added another run in the sixth.  And then nobody scored anymore until the ninth.  Going into the inning, the Yankees were down by only three, and that just didn’t seem like enough to hold them.  I think Crawford and Drew heard it too because they both hit home runs in that frame.  Crawford went first with a solo blast on a changeup down and in.  Scutaro doubled after that, so it was even better when who but JD Drew smashed a towering plast into the bullpen.  It was a good thing, too; Aceves would allow his run in the bottom of the inning, which would trim our lead.  But only by one.

We still won by five.  We’re still on the verge of increasing our first-place lead to two games.  And we scored eleven runs against the Yankees.  Life is most excellent.

In other news, the Stanley Cup finals is now even at two apiece.  The Bruins shutout the Canucks last night, four-zip.  Tim Thomas made thirty-eight saves en route.

AP Photo

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The first game of the series was finally rained out on Friday after a prolonged delay.  So we had a doubleheader yesterday.  I’m pretty sure that long delay on Friday had something to do with the fact that the Yankees did not want to have to play a doubleheader when they’re trying to keep themselves in top form for the postseason.  Yet another confirmation that Red Sox Nation has friends in very high places.

The first game was preceded by Thanks, Mike Night, a ceremony honoring Mikey Lowell, one of the classiest men the game has ever seen, ever.  Standing ovations, signs, a message printed on the Green Monster.  He had his family, his current and former teammates, and the Red Sox brass on hand.  He received a cooler of stone crabs from the Marlins, a hundred-thousand-dollar check from the Sox to his foundation, his very own third base from the field, and a number twenty-five Fenway seat.  And this is what he had to say to us:

You know, I’m kind of at a loss for words to kind of explain the emotions I’ve felt over the last five years with respect to the support and the positive responses I’ve gotten from Red Sox fans.  I think it’s your passion and your knowledge for baseball that I’ll truly miss, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget.  So I just want to thank God for allowing me the privilege and the opportunity to wear this jersey, to play in this ballpark, to represent the city of Boston and to share so many memories with all of you.  Thank you very much.

He really appreciated his time here.  He did a lot for us, and we’ll never forget that.  He wanted a home run, but he was perfectly content to end it with a base hit and tip his cap on his own terms, as Tito said.  And that’s exactly what he did.  At thirty-six years old, he retires with a .278 career batting average, 223 home runs, 952 RBIs, and 1,601 games played.  And from winning the 2007 World Series MVP Award to not complaining when he was demoted to the bench, he never complained.  We’ll miss you, buddy.

When the game did get underway, it was Wake with the ball.  Wake will most likely retire after next season.  Those are two class acts right there.  The only thing that both Lowell and Wakefield have ever done is do whatever was asked of them for this team, no matter what it was or how different it was from their expectations of what their roles would be like.  Wake’s retirement is going to be hard to take.  It seems like he’s been here forever, and it seemed like he would never leave.

But we’ll worry about that next year.  In the present, he did not pitch well at all.  He only lasted five innings, he gave up five runs on seven hits, he walked three, and he struck out six.  He threw ninety-four pitches, sixty-four of which were strikes.  All three of his pitches – the knuckleball, curveball, and fastball – were effectively thrown for strikes, and his zone was packed, but he just didn’t have it.  It’s hard to explain the cause of a knuckleballer’s bad day because nobody really knows anything that goes on with a knuckleball, but there are days when he’s on and days when he’s off, and yesterday he was off.  He was set to throw the sixth, but Tito took him out before the inning started so everyone could salute him.  He definitely deserved that after what he’s been through this year.

Meanwhile, Lowell smacked a double off the Monster to bat in two runs in his very first at-bat of the game, which was obviously incredibly appropriate.  Lowell scored on Nava’s single in the third and hit a single of his own in the fifth in what would be his last Major League at-bat.  He finished his final game two for two with a double, a single, and a walk.  And I’m telling you, when he walked off that field, Major League Baseball lost a prince among men.

In the seventh, Anderson, who replaced Lowell, scored on a wild pitch.  In the eighth, Patterson scored on another wild pitch.  And at that point it was tied at five.  The bullpen had done an excellent job holding the fort.  Tito pretty much used everybody: Hill, Bowden, Richardson, Coello, Bard, and then Paps.  And that’s where it got ugly.

Paps took the loss by allowing an unearned run in the tenth, only because you can’t give a loss to a position player.  It wasn’t at all his fault.  It was Hall’s fault.  Paps had cornered Jeter into hitting a dribbler to the right of the mound.  When Paps went for it, it went past him.  No big deal.  That’s why you have infielders to cover you.  The problem was that Hall tried and failed miserably to barehand it.  He reached for it, and it just wasn’t there.  It looked like he was reaching for air.  Gardner scored, and that was the end of it.

But make no mistake; just desserts would be coming in the nightcap.  Dice-K had the ball, but it wasn’t his best night either.  He also only lasted five innings.  He gave up four runs, only two of which were earned, on three hits while walking five and striking out six with 104 pitches, only fifty-seven of which were strikes.  His two-seam and curveball were missing something.  His cutter, changeup, four-seam, and slider were good.  But his command wasn’t there, and he threw thirty pitches in the first inning alone, so you knew it was going to be a short, or should I say long, night for him.  He finishes the 2010 season, his fourth with us, nine and six with a 4.69 ERA in twenty-five starts.

Atchison allowed two more runs after that, and Okajima and Manuel pitched well, with Manuel getting the win.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

All the regulars had the night off.  Anderson hit an RBI single in the first.  Lopez homered in the third.  Nava scored on Burnett’s fielding error in the fourth.  Kalish scored on Navarro’s sac fly in the sixth.  Nava hit an RBI single and Kalish scored on a bases-loaded walk in the eighth.  (It was Cash on eleven pitches for his first RBI since being reacquired on July 1.) And we were all tied up again at six.

At that point I’m thinking we need to win this one.  That’s all there is to it.  We just need to win.

In the bottom of the tenth, Hall clubbed a double off the Monster.  He moved to third on Cash’s sac bunt.  Then Patterson singled to center field with one out.  Hall scored.  It was a walkoff.  There was chasing and mobbing and general celebrating because we beat the Evil Empire and made it that much harder for them to win the division.  But more importantly, we won.  We won this one for ourselves.  And you know what? It felt good.

On the injury front, we have more of them.  Honestly, at this point it’s just rubbing salt in it.  Scutaro is out for the rest of the season, which at this point consists of one game and one game only, due to an inflamed right rotator cuff.  Buchholz is also out for the rest of the season with lower back stiffness.  Beltre has been out of the series completely, but that’s because he went home to California for the birth of his third child.  Congratulations to the Beltre family! Beltre, by the way, has a ten-million-dollar player option, but I would be extremely surprised if he exercises that.  He’s not going to.  He’s going to become a free agent.

So we split the day.  We worked a lot; the last time we played two extra-inning games on the same day was July 17, 1966 against the Kansas City Athletics.  There was no way we were going to spend eight hours and eighteen minutes playing baseball in one day and not win in the end.

Now we’re down to it.  The last game of the season.  This afternoon at 1:30PM.  Our last stand.  Our last chance to make an impression, go out with a bang, exit with dignity, and leave our mark on 2010.  Lackey’s got the ball.  Let’s finish this right.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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There are a couple of reasons why our loss yesterday technically isn’t the end of the world.  The first is that we won the first game, so we’re no better off than we were heading into the series, which is good considering it could be worse. The second is that the Rays also lost, so there’s that.

Either way, we still lost to the Evil Empire in the Bronx when we needed to win.  And I loathed that experience just as much as I enjoyed winning on Friday.

Lackey was not helpful.  His scouting report always says he’s a big-game pitcher, and Tito always says that on a day he starts we’ll still be in the game in the seventh inning because of him.  Technically we were because we were only down by three, but in my book a big-game pitcher and one who keeps you in the game in the seventh inning when you’re the Red Sox and playing the Yankees in the Bronx will either have you with a lead, a tie, or a one-run deficit if that’s true.  We had each of those over the course of the game and Lackey couldn’t hold on to any of them.

He gave up five runs on eight hits in six innings.  He walked three, struck out seven, and took the loss.  He threw 116 pitches, sixty-nine of which were strikes.  He started the second by giving up a walk and eventually the lead by allowing the bottom half of the order to tie it.  He allowed four consecutive two-out hits in the fifth that broke the tie for good, throwing a total of thirty-one pitches in the inning.  And may I say that Drew was not helpful either; Cano’s bloop hit fell right in front of him, and I can only assume the sun prevented him from seeing it properly because there’s otherwise no excuse for why he didn’t catch that ball.  There was also the throwing error by V-Mart in the sixth that was aimed for Scutaro to prevent the steal of second, but it bounced off Scutaro’s glove and ended up in the outfield, allowing the lead runner to advance to third and eventually to home plate.

In the beginning of the game, Lackey threw his fastball more often, but eventually he abandoned that plan because his fastball wasn’t that great.  His curveball was his stellar pitch, followed by his changeup and slider.  Not coincidentally, his next-most abundant pitch, his cutter, was mediocre.  He mixed his pitches well and put good movement on them.

But he let the game slip through his fingers.  When we play the Yankees, everything has to be working: run prevention as well as run production.  Yesterday, we basically had neither.

The game began with such promise.  We were the first to get on the board when V-Mart hit a solo shot in the second to left, right after FOX’s commentators finished expounding on the fact that V-Mart has lit up lefties this season.  The count was 3-1, so he was sitting on an inside fastball, and that’s exactly what he got.  It was V-Mart’s first homer in sixty-seven at-bats and couldn’t have come at a better time.

Then Beltre extended his hitting streak to thirteen games with a double and scored Lowell’s subsequent double.

And that was it for us for the rest of the game.  We lost it, 2-5.  Sabathia’s velocity was noticeably low, but of course the problem is that when that happens to him, he just switches to finesse.  If we won, we could have been four games out of first and three and a half out of the Wild Card.  But we didn’t.  We lost.

And I’ll tell you another thing.  Jerry Layne’s strike zone was way too wide.  Papi showed a lot of composure out there, because some of those supposed strikes were miles off the plate.  And that bothers me.  An umpire is supposed to be invisible, and the action of the game is supposed to unfold in front of him.  Jerry Layne was very visible, and instead the action was unfolding around him.  That’s not good.  If he wants to impact the action that much, he should put on a uniform and play, in which case I doubt he’d be very happy with his own strike zone.

I should mention that Delcarmen and Doubront were both excellent in relief.  I should also mention that we did in fact acquire Delgado.  As predicted, we signed him to minor league deal, which he can waive if we don’t put him on the Major League roster by September 1.  And last but not least, Ellsbury wasn’t in the lineup today because it was a scheduled day off against a lefty, not because his diving catch on Friday injured him again.  Kalish sat for the same reason.

But like I said, it could be so much worse, so we should at least be thankful we won the first game, but it just feels like a waste.  The day was scripted for a win.  The Rays lost, we won the night before, we had a big-game pitcher on the mound who would take us into the seventh inning, V-Mart hits a home run, Lowell bats one in, and then it just stopped.  I can’t adequately express my frustration.  I mean, it seriously just stopped.  Sabathia locked, Lackey unlocked, and that was the end of it.

We’re throwing Beckett against Burnett tonight.  We need to get this one.

AP Photo

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After last night’s complete turn of the tables, I have only one thing to ask: can I get an order of “Hah!” with a side of “What now!” and some “That’s right!” for dessert?

Ladies and gentlemen, 9-3 is your official final score.  In our favor.  I repeat: in our favor.  We scored three times as many runs as they did on three more hits than they had.  In other words, we were just better.  Period.

Lester got the well-deserved win and essentially confirmed my hypothesis that, as goes the pitching, so go the Red Sox.  His performance was absolutely excellent and resembled what, in the offseason, we all expected to see from each of our starters come April.  Two runs on four hits over seven innings with two walks and seven K’s for his fourth consecutive quality start.  In those past four starts, Lester is undefeated with a 0.98 ERA with thirty K’s in almost as many innings.  Those two runs were a result of two solo shots in the fourth inning to the Monster.  His cut fastball was as good as I’ve ever seen it.  His sinker, slider, and changeup were all good to go, but his curveball still needs work.  He had fantastic movement on all of his pitches.  I mean, it’s tough to beat a pitcher whose fastballs are faster the more they move.  He only needed eight pitches each to end his first two innings and eleven to end his last.  He essentially didn’t throw any pitches down out of the zone, and he stayed away from above and to the right of it, obviously concentrating on the left half.  He threw only 102 pitches and continues to get that pitch count down.  That was a fantastic start.  It set the tone for the rest of the game.

Delcarmen’s struggles have returned; he allowed a run on three hits and two walks.  Wake was solid for an inning; no hits or walks with one strikeout.

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for: a complete and total recap of the indescribably satisfying scoring of the nine runs.

We started the game with an unearned run in the second; with two out, Hermida scored on Thames’s fielding error.  Youk said that that was essentially a double in his book; Hermida’s offensive theatrics were yet to come.

We scored five times in the third.  Youk walked to load the bases, and Drew sacrificed Scutaro home.  Papi hit a ground-rule double to bring in Pedroia.  Beltre doubled in Papi and Youk.  And Hermida singled in Beltre.  Youk doubled in Pedroia in the fourth by landing the ball in the left-field corner.  And Hermida smashed a two-run home run into our bullpen in the fifth to give Burnett a little something extra to remember.  So I would have liked to see how happy New York would have been with a rain delay after this game got on record.  Although, as we know, it wouldn’t have mattered because we would have won anyway.  Nine runs.  We were outscored, 24-6, in the first two games of this series, but to New York I say, “How do you like us now?”

Drew went two for three, and Beltre and Hermida both went two for four.  We left only six on base, so score one, or rather score nine, for converting opportunities.  Scutaro made a nice play in the field, stealing a base hit from Cervelli.

Thus, the struggles of AJ Burnett at Fenway continue.  Before last night, Burnett was undefeated with an ERA less than 2.00.  After last night, well, let’s just say that things are a little different.  He was fine starting here in a Jays uniform, but with those pinstripes on he’s never won at Fenway and has an ERA over 12.00.  That’s what he gets for becoming a Yankee.  Before the game, you could tell that he was tense, the bad kind of tense, and tense pitchers with tense arms don’t deliver.  I’m so glad that all of our pitchers are the exact opposite: they feed off the pressure of rivalry showdowns.

By the way, Girardi was ejected in the fourth for arguing balls and strikes with the home plate umpire.  He should really know better.

Congratulations to Tito for passing Bill Carrigan to stand alone in third place on the list of most games managed in franchise history with one thousand and four.

In short, that was an absolutely excellent game.  Absolutely excellent.  We needed that win.  We needed it for the standings, we needed it for momentum, and we needed it for morale.  We weren’t about to go out like we did in the first two.  No, sir.  That is not how we play in Boston.  We sure gave New York something to think about.  And we gave ourselves something to celebrate.  It was awesome.  It was just…awesome.  Looking ahead, the Jays are coming to town tonight.  We’re two and a half games behind them, so a sweep would move us up to third place.  It all starts tonight with Lackey.  And on May 17, the rivalry makes another showdown, this one a two-game set in the Bronx.  Hopefully that series will be better.  I’d love to sweep them at home.

Boston Globe Staff/Bill Greene

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So yesterday I called for a win.  A win is not what we got.  A win is epically not what we got.  A win is so far from what we got, the entire team forgot what winning meant and had to look it up in the dictionary before preparing for tonight.  In short, yesterday’s game was exactly like Friday’s game with one important difference: it was worse.

The final score was 14-3; the Yanks scored four more runs and we recorded one less hit.  Cue the frustration and despair.  Times ten.

Buchholz was not on.  You could tell after the first at-bat that this was going to be a long afternoon.  He gave up five earned runs on nine hits over nine hits, including a home run, with five walks and one strikeout.  He threw ninety-four pitches.  He managed to keep his ERA under four because he’s been doing well up to this point, but wow.  He had absolutely no command whatsoever.  His fastball topped out at about ninety-six miles per hour, which was good, and it was decently effective for strikes, but he’s an off-speed pitcher.  And none of his off-speed pitches were very effective, period.  As far as location is concerned, there pretty much wasn’t any.  He focused on the left half of the zone, with many of his pitches ending up outside it or below it.  Five walks in five innings.  He threw almost as many balls as strikes.  He threw at least twelve pitches in every inning he pitched, throwing a game high of twenty-six in the fifth.  But his least effective inning was definitely the fourth, when less than half of his pitches were strikes.  So that was pretty much his entire problem: he lost his command completely.  And when that happens, between the walks and the hits, you’re going to relinquish a good amount of runs.  He took the loss.

Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there.  Delcarmen had a decent inning.  Ramirez threw three pitches, the second of which was hit out by Teixeira and the third of which was a ball to A-Rod.  He failed to record an out.  Turns out he had a right triceps strain.  Fortunately, it’s not very bad.  Not that he’s been pitching especially well this season but we need all the relievers we can get.  Schoeneweis allowed four runs on three hits with three walks and two K’s.  Bard allowed one run on two hits with a walk en route to recording an out.  Which meant that we exhausted almost the entire bullpen, and why waste a perfectly good arm at the end of a slaughter, so Van Every took the hill and tossed an inning.  He gave up two runs on two hits with one strikeout and is the proud owner of an ERA of 2.00, which is better than most of our relievers.  But that strikeout was one of the highlights of the game.  Think about it: some Yankee got struck out by a backup outfielder.  Ouch.

Again, there wasn’t much offense to speak of.  In the third, McDonald went deep to center, and V-Mart hit one into the Monster seats with Pedroia aboard.  The end.  Those were our only extra-base hits.  Youk went two for three with a walk; that was our only multi-hit game.  In another show of squandered opportunities, we left nine on base.  Lowell was in the lineup because Sabathia is a lefty, but he didn’t do much.  Tek is sore but won’t miss time.  He didn’t do much either.

With the exception of Beltre’s throwing error, we had some flashes of brilliance in the field.  McDonald recorded two assists, we turned three double plays, and we had some nice throws home.  That was the only silver lining to the whole affair that I could find.

To be honest, I thought that rain delay would give us a break.  It lasted for at least an hour and chased Sabathia, so I thought we’d just have our way with the Yanks’ bullpen.  That did not happen.  Before the delay, we were losing, 6-3, and after the delay, they just piled it on.  Seriously.  Two more in the seventh, four more in the eighth, and two more in the ninth.  By the time the bottom of the ninth rolled around, all you wanted was to make it stop because the site of seeing so many Yankees cross the plate was just excruciating.  Teixeira alone brought five of them home and went deep three times.  Teixeira, who came into the game batting only .181 with two home runs, had his way with us.  It was disgusting.  The first time up, he grounded into a double play.  The next time up was a completely different story.  (So was the fastball that was fired out of position.)

Carlton Fisk was on hand to witness the destruction.  So were many Yankee fans, more Yankee fans than I remember seeing a Sox-Yanks game at Fenway in recent memory.  That’s an insult to Red Sox Nation.  There’s no way we should be able to pack the house so full that there’s hardly room for anyone else.  We’ve been doing it for years.  That’s why the team has historically played so well at home.  Usually opposing cheers from the crowd aren’t even audible.  It was painful to hear, “Let’s go Yankees.” Just painful.  The whole thing in every way was just…painful.

Say goodbye to .500.  They’ve taken four of five from us this season, and the worst part is that all five of those have been at home.  Getting beaten at home by the Yanks is the worst.  On the bright side, I don’t think this will last.  The Yanks are too old and too hurt to be too good for too long.  But before we come to that point of their demise, we need to end our own demise.  Starting with tonight.  Lester will get the start opposite Burnett, and if there is one team by which we absolutely can not afford to be swept, it’s the New York Yankees.  We absolutely need this win.  This is our arch-enemy; a win tonight would galvanize the team and raise the morale a bit.  That’s important, considering they haven’t been able to sustain an ounce of momentum all season long.  We can’t keep playing like this, where we’re gold in one series and Baltimore-esque the next.  We need to snap out of it.  Starting with tonight: a strong, solid, and deep performance by Lester and a strong, solid, and deep showing of the bats will set the tone for the following week.

Plunking Gomez

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The offseason started.  We waited.  The offseason progressed.  We waited.  Our free agents filed.  We waited some more.  The GM meetings ended, and still we waited.  The Winter Meetings started, and we waited.  Things looked bleak.  Were we destined for waiting through the entire offseason? Would we open 2010 without a single big addition? Was Theo Epstein all talk but no game?

Not a chance.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the newest member of the Boston Red Sox: John Lackey! Five years and eighty-five million dollars later, we signed the dude who helped usher us out of the playoffs.  But that’s okay with me.  I’d much rather be on the throwing end of the first-pitch-strike machine than on the receiving end.

This is good.  This is very good.  Think about it: a Lester-Beckett-Lackey starting rotation.  That rotation, my friends, will win championships for sure.  Seriously.  Put those three names in a sentence and you’re talking about what is perhaps the most formidable starting rotation in all of Major League Baseball.

Let’s talk about the contract, because we need to get this out of the way.  Eighty-five dollars is a lot of money to spend on a pitcher, but it’s not something we haven’t done before.  We spent at least that amount on Dice-K, between the “right-to-talk” fee and his salary.  The difference is that there’s no negotiating fee here; it’s all going in Lackey’s pocket.  He’ll earn seventeen million per season.  Make no mistake: that’s a lot.  And I know what you’re thinking: now we’ll have to deal with the pulling of the payroll card.  And you’d be right.  But here’s the kicker: technically that card can’t be pulled.  Looking at 2009, the Yankees obviously had the highest payroll.  We weren’t even second or third.  We were fourth, behind the Mets and Cubbies.  And if you look at the disparity between our payroll and the Yanks’, it’s quite considerable.  And even after we start sending Lackey’s paychecks, that’ll still hold.  But wait; there’s more.  Look at the top twenty-five player salaries for last season.  You’ve got A-Rod at the top making thirty-three million (which is ridiculous, by the way), followed by Manny Ramirez, followed by Derek Jeter, followed by Mark Teixeira.  The Yankees are represented six times on that list; the other teams are the Dodgers, Mets, Astros, Tigers, Cubs, Angels, Giants, Braves, Rockies, Mariners, and Phillies.  You will notice that Boston does not appear once on that list.  Not once.  John Lackey will change that, but he won’t even make the top ten.  He’d be somewhere around thirteenth, maybe fourteenth.  Which puts us in league with teams like the Giants, Mariners, Rockies, and Phillies.  Not necessarily the names that first come to mind when you think of big spenders.  All this is to say that just because we’re going to have someone on that list doesn’t mean we’re like the Yankees, even though there will be plenty of people out there who would like to make that claim.  (By the way, just in case someone also tries to convince you that this is exactly like New York signing AJ Burnett for five years and roughly eighty-two million, I would urge you to remember that AJ Burnett was not, is not, and never will be John Lackey.  There is a huge difference, one that will be made painfully obvious to New York in due time.) It just means our general manager is a genius, because not only is this pitcher actually good, but we get him without shipping all our top prospects off to Anaheim.  Thanks, Theo! In you we trust.

This directly affects our ability to sign Jason Bay.  It means we don’t have the ability to sign Jason Bay.  Once it became obvious that he was looking for an offer we just couldn’t provide, we diverted our attention, and finances, elsewhere.  Basically, we took the money we would’ve used to re-sign Bay and used it to land Lackey.  Who will play left field? Mike Cameron, who signed a two-year deal worth about fifteen million, which would probably have amounted to less than one year’s worth of Bay’s salary.  So Cameron and Lackey were basically a package deal.  We spent so much money on Lackey, we didn’t even have enough left over to sign Holliday, so we had to make do.  And I personally would rather have Lackey and Cameron than Bay for five years.  There are two ways to win: pitching and offense.  Right now the Sox have both.  Without Bay, our offense will take a hit, but Lackey will make up for that in pitching.

Besides, Cameron has his advantages.  He’s ridiculously consistent; no matter what team he’s on or league he’s in, he’ll give you around twenty homers, eighty RBIs, a .250-ish average, and an OPS in the neighborhood of .800.  And he’s patient; he saw 3.96 pitches per plate appearance last year, almost identical to Bay’s 3.99.  He may not steal as often as he used to, but he’s still better than Bay on the basepaths.  And let’s not forget one of his most significant assets: his defense.  Cameron is a phenomenal outfielder.  While it is true that he’s played out his career in center (three Gold Gloves in that position), ability is ability, and if we move him to left, I think he’ll adapt nicely.  Either way, we need the defense.  Let’s face it: we weren’t exactly excelling in that area last year, and I don’t think I need to remind anyone the significance of good defense in our win in 2004.  I’m just saying.  Defense, at this point, seems to be the name of our offensive game.

Incidentally, Roy Halladay is also off the market, gone to Philly just like he probably would have had JP Ricciardi been able to hammer out a deal at the trade deadline.  Cliff Lee goes to Seattle to complete the deal.  Also, the Lowell trade is currently stalling due to Lowell’s thumb injury.  Really? The thumb injury? The hip isn’t the issue; it’s the thumb that’s holding up the deal? It’s not even an injury; it’s a sprain! And he started all three games of the ALDS with it! Along this vein, talks with Adrian Gonzalez yielded nothing; the Padres don’t want to deal him before the season starts.  Rest assured, however, that if they decide to shop him, calls will be made.  Meanwhile, it turns out that Beltre wouldn’t be such a bad alternative.  His defense is solid as a rock, not to mention the fact that his production on the road is through the roof compared to Lowell’s.  And finally, the 2010 season starts with and in Boston.  The first game of the season will take place on April 4 at Fenway; we’ll play the Yanks.  This is going to be epic, even if the schedule won’t be.  We have a game on Sunday night, then two days off, then the rest of that series with New York in Boston and then it’s off to Kansas City (who has the All-Star Game in 2012 which, try as I might, I just can’t seem to forget).  To make matters worse, it’ll be broadcast on ESPN2.  I would be so much more annoyed if I weren’t so psyched that we’re inching closer and closer to next season.  You know baseball’s around the corner when you started talking about opening schedules.

The Bruins lost to the Flyers yesterday.  Great.  We’re now four points behind the Sabres.  On the upside, the Pats bested the Panthers with a cool 20-10 score.  On a different note, I’ll be taking a break for about two weeks.  Aside from the Flyers game, life is good in Boston sports.  Life is most definitely good.

Sox Tea Party

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