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Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Valentine’

That, my friends, was incredible.

In keeping with the recent close-game tradition, we were really biting our nails in this one.  It was close.  It was really close.  It was almost really close in the worst way.  Fortunately, we handled ourselves well.

We scored two runs in the second; Gonzalez singled, Ross struck out, Salty walked, Middlebrooks struck out, and Sweeney doubled in two.  But we really have to thank the pitchers for carrying us, because pitching, not hitting, is how you get through games in which you score only two runs in the second inning.

Doubront gave up nothing through six.  The Yanks finally got to him in the seventh when he made a mistake and gave up a solo shot to lead off the inning.  One single and one strikeout later, he was relieved by Albers.  Albers gave up a single and was relieved by Miller.  Miller pitched the rest of the seventh and then secured the first two outs of the eighth before allowing a double.  Then he was relieved by Aceves, who blew his save completely by giving up an RBI single that tied the game.

It was beyond infuriating.  Here we’d managed to take a one-run lead to the ninth, and the pitcher who blows the lead is the closer.  It’s the closer’s exact job description to specifically not blow leads like that.  Actually, it’s the closer’s exact job description to specifically not blow leads like that, ever.  And there he was, allowing RBI singles like somebody told him to do it.

Anyway, he got through the ninth and ended up pitching the tenth.  The offense fortunately bailed him and the entire team out.  In the top of the tenth, Salty walked, and Bobby V. and Beckett were both ejected by two different umpires for maintaining that Middlebrooks got hit.  The umpires thought he was faking it, but Middlebrooks was hit in the wrist, and you could clearly see afterwards that his wrist was bruised.  I mean, he was trying to bunt; it’s natural for his wrist to be in the line of fire.  If it wasn’t hit by the baseball, what was it hit with? I’d really like to know.  The irony is that home plate umpire Brian O’Nora went down with Middlebrooks on that pitch because he was hit by it as well.  So he should have known what it felt like.  To claim that all you have to do is listen for the sound of impact of the pitch on the batter is nothing short of absurd.

Anyway, Middlebrooks ended up singling after that and was out on a force out by Sweeney.  Ciriaco was the big hero yet again, delivering a single in the clutch that scored one run.  Just enough to get the W.

The final score was 3-2.  All told, Doubront gave up one run on four hits over six and one-third innings while walking five and striking out eight.  Aceves received both a blown save and the win.  Gonzalez and Ellsbury each had two hits, and Salty was the only member of the lineup who went hitless, although he did walk twice.

If you have to beat the Yanks, one of the best scenarios in which to do it is a late-inning situation on their soil.  That really gives them a taste of their own medicine.  It was beyond awesome.  It was awesome, awesome, awesome.

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Well, we’ve made it through the first half, but I can’t say I’m pleased with where we are.  The only thing I could say is that I’m glad it’s not worse than it is, but that really, really doesn’t say much.  We’re suffering from inconsistency, injuries, and just a general lack of that spark we’ve tended to see in our winning teams in recent years.  These are underlying, pervasive problems that can’t just be fixed by a trade or a snap of the fingers.  Changes have to come from within, but it’s hard to pinpoint a solution when the sources of the problems are hard to pinpoint themselves.  Either way, we know what we have to do to improve: win consistently.

As I do every year, I’ve graded the entire team at the halfway point:

Kelly Shoppach: B

As backup catchers go, Shoppach is pretty good.  In thirty-one games, he’s made only two errors and four passed balls.  His catcher’s ERA is 3.76, which anyone on our pitching staff these days would be lucky to have.  He has also hit ten doubles and four home runs, and his batting average is .269, which isn’t bad for a backup catcher, either.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: B

Salty is working out much better than we expected power-wise.  He ranks first among all Major League catchers in home runs with seventeen, which I don’t think is something many people predicted.  But all but one of those were hit from the left side, which is something he needs to work on.  He also needs to work on his fielding, which is supposed to be one of a catcher’s strong suits.  His fielding percentage is .987, which is high but, in my opinion, not high enough.  He’s made six errors and passed five balls; I’m looking for something closer to zero errors and zero passed balls.  His catcher’s ERA is 4.45, which is decent, and he’s come a long way as far as forging relationships with the pitchers and calling good games is concerned.

Adrian Gonzalez: C

I am not afraid to say that Gonzalez so far has been a huge disappointment.  He is nowhere near the powerhouse he was last season, and I was fully expecting this season to exceed last season.  He is second among Major League first basemen in doubles with twenty-seven and eighth in RBIs with forty-five, but he’s not even in the top twenty in home runs.  With only six, he’s actually last among all first basemen in the American League.  His fielding, however, is as solid as ever.  He’s made only one error, so his fielding percentage is .999.  But offensively we need much, much more from him.  The team is struggling, but he was not supposed to be one of the reasons why.

Dustin Pedroia: C

It’s always tough to grade a player who’s been plagued with injuries because you have to assume that the injuries weren’t his fault, and you have to try to compare his performance given the injuries with what you expect his ideal performance to be given the injuries.  The truth is that Pedroia is struggling across the board offensively.  Doubles, home runs, walks, on-base percentage; you name it, he’s not performing as well as he could be in it, even given the injuries.  His fielding, like Gonzalez, is as solid as ever with a percentage of .997.  But like Gonzalez, Pedroia was not supposed to be one of the reasons why the team is struggling.  He’s a phenomenal leader both on and off the field, but we also need him to lead the charge offensively and help the team win on a more consistent basis.

Mike Aviles: B

Our woes at shortstop for the most part continue.  Why we can’t get a shortstop in there who can hit as well as he fields is completely beyond me.  Aviles is making a valiant effort, but it’s not enough.  First of all, his fielding percentage is .982.  He has made seven errors.  I understand that shortstop is the most difficult position defensively, but that’s also why you need an amazing fielder to man it.  Aviles is a great fielder.  He is not an amazing fielder.  He’s not an amazing hitter, either.  He has a .260 average and .283 on-base percentage.  He’s hit twenty-two doubles, no triples, and nine home runs with forty-four RBIs and twelve walks.  Not the best shortstop material.

Will Middlebrooks: B

Middlebrooks has some big shoes to fill, so he has to go through a process of proving himself.  I will say that he’s off to a fantastic start offensively.  His performance at the plate has been phenomenal, and it’s been truly wonderful to witness the fruits of our labor on the farm in growing a power hitter ourselves.  In forty-eight games, he has fifty-one hits, eleven of which are doubles and ten of which are home runs.  He has a .298 average and a .335 on-base percentage thanks to nine walks, so he could walk more.  His performance in the field, not so much.  He has a fielding percentage of .935 and has made seven errors.  Third base is a tough place to play as well, and he needs to work on it to round out his game.

Nick Punto: B

Think about what Punto is for.  Punto is a utility infielder.  He’s supposed to be able to play any position decently well and to hit decently well.  He is not supposed to be truly outstanding at everything infield, and we’re lucky if he’s outstanding at one thing infield.  So the criteria he’d have to meet for an A is lower than it is for a starter.  Still, as utility infielders go, it’s not like he’s been that great.  His average is .212; only six of his twenty-one hits were for extra bases, and he has only eight RBIs.  And he’s played forty-nine games, which is about more than a quarter of the whole season, so it’s not like he’s had hardly any playing time.  His performance in the field is much stronger than his performance at the plate, but it still could be better.

Ryan Sweeney: C

I was on the fence about a C or a D.  But then I realized that I was only going to give him a D because Josh Reddick would have been so much better, and that wouldn’t be fair.  It’s not Sweeney’s fault that he’s in right field and not Reddick; that’s Ben’s fault, and we’ll get to that later.  Anyway, Sweeney’s .283 average is respectable.  His seventeen doubles, two triples, and zero home runs are not.  Neither are his nine walks.  His two errors in right are alright, but errors made in the outfield tend to be costly because the ball is farther away from the infield, so those two errors could probably count for more.

Cody Ross: B

Ross has been good but not great.  His thirteen home runs from the right side of the plate are a much-needed edition to our lineup, and his twenty-four walks show patience at the plate.  He also has fourteen doubles and forty RBIs to his credit, and he has yet to make an error in the field.  I’d say he’s been better than expected, but he could be better still; his .264 average and .345 on-base percentage leave much to be desired.

Daniel Nava: A

If you told me during Spring Training that Nava would play fifty-two games by the All-Star break and bat.275 with an on-base percentage of .388, I would have been extremely skeptical.  But that’s what happened.  And he has forty-seven hits to his credit, seventeen of which are doubles and three of which are homers.  He has also walked twenty-six times and has made only one error.  For a utility outfielder that has suddenly found himself in the limelight thanks to injuries, he’s been handling himself very well.

Ryan Kalish: C

In short, he’s still a kid and he needs work, in the sense that he needs to be worked, in terms of playing time, and to be worked on, in terms of training time.  He’s played eighteen games this year and has hit only two extra-base hits, both of them doubles.  He has walked only twice and batted in only five runs.  And he has made two errors, and between the fact that that’s over the course of only eighteen games and the fact that outfield errors are costly, that’s a lot.

David Ortiz: A

Nobody on this team deserves an A more than Big Papi.  He ranks tenth in the Majors in doubles with twenty-five, fifth in slugging percentage with .607, and is tied for seventh in homers with twenty-two.  Among DHs, he ranks first, first, and third in those categories.  Simply put, the man’s job is to hit for extra bases.  That’s what he does.  He’s been doing it from day one this year, and he has continued to do it consistently.  He’s just hit the four hundredth home run of his career, and he looks like he’s in line to hit many, many more.  This season, the team seems to have two constants: inconsistency and Big Papi.

Offense Overall: B

As a team, we are sixth in the Majors in average with .268, eighth in on-base percentage with .329, and fourth in slugging percentage with .441.  We are second in runs with 432, third in hits with 302, first in doubles with 208, eighth in home runs with 99, and third with RBIs with 409.  And yet somehow we fail to win consistently.  It’s because we don’t score runs consistently.  Sometimes we score a little, and sometimes we score a lot.  And of course it also has to do with the pitching, which we’ll get to later.  But like I always say, just like the pitching staff’s job is to make sure that we win regardless of what the offense does or doesn’t do, so it is the offense’s job to make sure we win regardless of what the pitching staff does or doesn’t do.

Defense Overall: B

We are sixth in the Majors in fielding with a percentage of .986.  It could be much, much better.  I guess we can chalk it up to several players in key defensive positions having had to get used to Fenway, but that shouldn’t have taken the entire first half of the season.

Jon Lester: C

Lester has not pitched well at all.  In fact, his numbers are unfortunately similar to Beckett’s.  Why must our aces struggle at the same time? Why must our aces struggle at all? These are some of the big questions for which the team does not seem to have any answers whatsoever.  He has a 4.49 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP.  In eighteen starts, he is 5-6 with fifty-six earned runs, thirty walks, and eleven home runs.  Those numbers put him in the basement of the American League, which is not where a pitcher like Lester is expected to be.

Josh Beckett: C

Like Lester, Beckett has not pitched well at all.  In fact, his numbers are unfortunately similar to Lester’s.  He has a 4.43 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP.  In fourteen starts, he is 4-7  with forty-four earned runs, twenty-two walks, and nine home runs.  He also has the lowest average strikeout total per nine innings of his career at 6.5.  And this is the mighty Josh Beckett that should have won the Cy Young in 2007? He’s like a completely different pitcher now.

Clay Buchholz: C

Buchholz has actually been terrible this year.  He has started fourteen games and is eight and two, but he has a 5.53 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP with fifty-three earned runs, fifteen home runs, and thirty-four walks.  In 86.1 innings pitched, he has given up ninety-nine hits.  It’s a miracle that he has more wins than losses, and how he managed to rack up so many wins is a mystery.  Yet another disappointment.

Daniel Bard: D

I’m honestly sorry to give Bard a D, but it’s the grade he deserves.  He was made a starter partly because his superiors wanted him to be a starter and partly also because he wanted to be a starter.  But the truth of the matter is that he has no business being a starter.  If something isn’t broken, nobody should try to fix it, and Bard was on the road to a fantastic career as a closer.  We needed him as a closer.  And instead he became this mediocre pitcher stripped of his dignity.  He started ten games and had an ERA of 5.24 and a WHIP of 1.62.  In fifty-five innings pitched, he gave up fifty-two hits, thirty-two earned runs, six homers, and thirty-seven walks.  His record was 5-6.  Let it be stated here that Bard is much more effective as a setup man or closer.  And the fact that that actually has to be stated is an embarrassment.  It should have been evident.

Felix Doubront: B

I don’t think anyone predicted in Spring Training that Doubront would become our best starter.  Then again, as we have seen, this season has been full of surprises, most of them unpleasant, so Doubront was a breath of fresh air.  Not that that says much.  In any other season, if Lester and Beckett and Buchholz pitched to their abilities, Doubront would be at the middle or bottom of the rotation at best.  Anyway, his ERA is currently 4.41, and his WHIP is 1.38.  He has started seventeen games and has a record of 9-4.  In ninety-six innings pitched, he’s given up forty-seven earned runs, fifteen homers, and thirty-five walks.

Aaron Cook: B

Compared to how we thought he was going to work out, Cook was actually a pleasant surprise as well.  Again, that doesn’t say much, but given his health when he joined the team, it does say a lot about his determination and commitment.  Plus he pitched that absolute gem a few starts ago, which can not be overlooked, especially since he’s made only four starts this season so far.  He has a 4.37 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, which is decent under his circumstances.  And we need the extra starter anyway.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: D

I’ve been thinking that Dice-K is a problem with no solution.

Matt Albers: B

Albers has not been outstanding, but he has been pretty great.  He certainly has made a valiant effort to turn it around from last season and has a nice 2.38 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP.  In thirty-four innings, he’s given up thirteen runs on twenty-six hits with twenty strikeouts.  He’s pitched in thirty-two games and has blown only three saves.  It should be zero, but this is not the team with which to be picky.

Andrew Miller: B

Again, not outstanding but pretty great.  2.75 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 19.2 innings pitched.  Six runs on thirteen hits and no blown saves.  If he continues pitching as well as he has so far, he will have the best season of his career numbers-wise.  Granted, he spent most of his career as a starter, but he’s found this new role in which he has a chance to be really successful for a team that really needs him.

Scott Atchison: A

Here’s someone who’s outstanding.  Atchison is probably our best reliever so far.  His ERA is a low 1.79, and his WHIP is a low .99, and that’s over 45.1 innings pitched.  He’s given up only nine runs on thirty-six hits while walking nine and striking out thirty-three.  He has also given up only two home runs.  Outstanding.

Vicente Padilla: C

As a setup man, he hasn’t done as well as I would have liked.  His 3.94 ERA and 1.38 WHIP are actually terrible for a setup man, but somehow he gets through it.  In thirty-two innings, he’s given up fourteen earned runs on thirty-five hits while striking out only nine.  He’s blown two saves.  Now, a setup man is a setup man; he’s supposed to put the closer in a position where the closer can close, and he’s supposed to keep the team in a position where the team can win.  That means not blowing any saves and not giving up any runs, and if you do give up runs, giving up the bare minimum of runs.  I don’t feel he’s done that.

Franklin Morales: B

Another thing that I don’t think anyone predicted at Spring Training was Morales’s versatility.  He is both a reliever and a starter, and he is effective in both roles.  He is 1-2 with eight holds and no blown saves, and he has an ERA of 3.50 and a WHIP of 1.17.  He has made four starts and pitched 46.1 innings total, and he has given up eighteen earned runs on forty-one hits while walking thirteen.  Between all the injuries we’ve had, without Morales to fill in and start, we’d be in a very bad place.

Mark Melancon: D

Melancon doesn’t do much.  Somehow it’s happened that he and Mortensen tend to appear in games together, but he hasn’t really made much of an impact.  And that’s probably because he can’t be trusted, so he doesn’t get that much playing time.  He has a 7.04 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP and has pitched 15.1 innings.  He’s given up twelve earned runs on eighteen hits.

Alfredo Aceves: C

Let’s not forget that Aceves began the season abysmally, and we were all wondering how in the world we would be expected to continue the season with a closer like that.  Well, we didn’t, because Aceves pulled it together and turned it around.  And now his ERA is 4.33 and his WHIP is 1.19.  I mean, that’s actually terrible for a closer, especially in light of what we’ve been used to in recent years, but it could have been a lot worse.  Still, objectively speaking, we need him to be better.  He’s pitched 43.2 innings and has given up twenty-one earned runs on thirty-eight hits.  He also has four blown saves.

Pitching Overall: D

It should come as no surprise to anyone that our team ERA of 4.22 is one of the worst in the Major Leagues.  So is our strikeout total, our batting average against, our earned run total, and our loss total.  Our pitching staff is absolutely terrible this year and must somehow be fixed.  However, a distinction must be made between the rotation and the relief corps.  The latter is performing much better than the former.  On the one hand, we expect our relievers to ideally not allow any runs.  On the other hand, this is baseball, and runs are allowed, and the relief corps can not be expected to constantly clean up the messes made by the starters.  It drags the relief corps down when they give up runs that end up costing the team games because the offense doesn’t hit or score and the starters don’t limit the damage.

Bobby Valentine: C

There are those who say that Bobby V. is not effective here because the brass won’t let him be himself.  There are those who say that Bobby V. is not effective here because the brass lets him be too much of himself.  And there are those who say that Bobby V. is not the problem and that the team is the problem.  Well, I’m not in the clubhouse or the front office, so I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.  But I do know that Bobby V. is in a class by himself.  His managerial style is not one that Boston has had in a long time, certainly not in recent years.  It is a style that our players and many of our new guys are not familiar with.  It is a style that is not always the most adaptable and that probably expects more adaptation than it itself makes.  And it is a style that takes some getting used to.  This style affects his conduct both on and off the field; it affects how he makes strategic decisions before, during, and after games and it affects how he interacts with the players and the media.  And based on what I have seen, based on the decisions that he has made and the things that he has said, I don’t think that that getting-used-to process is over.

Ben Cherington: C

Let’s see.  Andrew Bailey is still on the DL, Reddick is having a pretty good year, and Bard is not a starter.  Whether the Youkilis trade was warranted remains to be seen.  I trust Ben because Theo Epstein trained him and because in the past he’s shown that he has a very intelligent and strategic mind when it comes to sabermetrics and the ins and outs of being a good general manager for a team like ours.  And he’s had only one off season and one half of a season so far at the helm, so the sample size is small.  So I clearly will be giving him the benefit of the doubt.  But I just hope that his long-term vision for the team is not compromised by any sort of impulse from anywhere to find quick fixes that may help us in the short run but will damage our future.

Team Overall: D

I don’t really know what else to say.  If I sound crushed and exasperated and frustrated, it’s because I am.  And I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that we all are.  At the All-Star break, we’re at .500, tied for fourth (or last) place with Toronto and nine and a half games out of first place, which is where the Yanks are.  We can’t win as a team, we can’t win consistently, we can’t score runs consistently, we can’t pitch well consistently.  We can’t do much of anything consistently.  We have all these problems and no solutions.  We need to pull it together in an enormously huge way and have a truly phenomenal second half if we want to avoid the consequences of having a second half just like our first half.

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On June 12, we beat the Marlins, 2-1, in an obviously close game.  Buchholz was a big part of that; he pitched seven innings and gave up only one run on five hits, while walking one and striking out two.  One of those five hits was a solo shot in the seventh.  Padilla received a hold for the seventh, and Aceves got the save in the ninth.  We scored both of our runs via small ball in the seventh; Youk grounded out, Middlebrooks singled, Gonzalez flied out, Shoppach doubled in Middlebrooks, and Aviles singled in Shoppach.  We completed our series against the Marlins with a win as lopsided as that one was close, winning by a final score of 10-2.  Doubront delivered unquestionably his best start of the season, pitching a full seven innings and giving up two runs on three hits while walking one and striking out nine.  One of those three hits was a solo shot with two out in the sixth.  Padilla, Miller, and Albers combined to pitch the rest of the game.  And our hits were really busy; Aviles scored on a groundout in the third, Papi homered in the fourth, three consecutive singles and a sac fly in the sixth yielded two more, and we put up a six-spot in the eighth, when we sent eleven batters to the plate! Punto doubled, four straight singles yielded three runs, Middlebrooks got hit, Salty scored another with a sac fly, Sweeney lined out, and two straight singles scored our last run.

On June15, we started our series against the Cubs, and I am both relieved and pleased to say that Dice-K had himself a phenomenal start! He pitched six innings and gave up three runs on four hits while walking three and striking out three.  He threw ninety-three pitches, sixty-two of which were strikes.  Atchison and Melancon finished the game on the mound.  But we were shut out and lost, 3-0.  We had better luck in the next game, which we won, 4-3.  Lester went six and two-thirds innings and allowed three runs on seven hits while walking one and striking out eight; he gave up a two-run shot with one out in the seventh.  Salty homered with Papi on in the fourth, Middlebrooks singled in another run in the sixth, and then Podsednik singled in our final run in the seventh.  We ended up winning the rubber game by a final score of 7-4.  Beckett was out with inflammation in his right shoulder, so all those times I called for the bullpen to start rather than the starter finally paid off.  Morales pitched five innings and gave up two runs on four hits while walking none and striking out five; all in all, I’d say he was spectacular given the circumstances, including the fact that it was his first start since 2009.  He threw eighty pitches.  Albers then received a blown save for giving up the tying run; Miller, Melancon, and Atchison held the fort until Aceves allowed a run in the ninth.  In the first, Pedroia doubled and Papi singled for two, Papi led off the fourth with a solo shot, we scored three in the seventh on a single and two sacrifices, and we scored one in the eighth on a force out.

We played the Marlins again starting on Monday, this time at home, and this time we swept them.  The first game’s score was 7-5; Buchholz gave up five runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out three.  Albers, Miller, and Padilla performed well in middle relief, and Aceves picked up the save.  Papi hit a two-run shot in the first, Shoppach hit a two-run shot in the second, Ross hit a solo shot in the fourth, Gonzalez hit a sac fly in the fifth, and Middlebrooks doubled another in in the sixth.  The second game was a 15-5 blowout.  Doubront gave up four runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out four; Mortensen gave up one run, and Melancon pitched a shutout inning.  Aviles hit a three-run shot in the second to start the scoring.  Ross hit a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double in the third for three more runs.  We blew it wide open in the fourth; Kalish singled in one, Papi smacked a grand slam, and Salty hit a solo shot! Punto scored on a wild pitch in the fifth, and Middlebrooks hit a two-run shot in the eighth.  We barely won a nailbiter to complete the sweep.  Dice-K gave up four runs on four hits over five and a third innings; he walked one and struck out four.  Miller gave up one run, and it was Atchison who picked up the win and Aceves the save.  We got on the board in the fourth when a single and a sac fly brought in two, and we tied it up in the fifth with a single.  Then they led by two until the eighth, when Middlebrooks hit a two-run shot and Nava singled in a third run.  After Aceves’s performance, we had the sweep in hand.

After the Marlins, we hosted the Braves.  We lost on Friday, 4-1, but it wasn’t for lack of starting pitching.  Lester pitched seven innings and gave up three runs on ten hits while walking one and striking out five.  This time it was Melancon who allowed a run while Mortensen recorded the game’s last out successfully.  We scored our only run in the eighth on a double by Nava.  We won on Saturday, 8-4; Morales started again and was fantastic.  He gave up three runs, two earned, on seven hits over six innings while walking one and striking out eight; he threw eighty-six pitches.  Atchison, Miller, Padilla, and Aceves all appeared in relief.  Gonzalez singled in one and Middlebrooks doubled in another in the first, Pedroia doubled in two in the second, Middlebrooks homered in the third, Ross doubled in another in the fifth, and Nava singled in two in the seventh.  We ended up winning the series yesterday with a final score of 9-4.  Cook started in place of Buchholz, who was hospitalized due to a gastrointestinal problem.  Cook gave up three runs, two earned, on six hits over five innings.  He walked none and struck out none.  Albers allowed another run in relief; other than that, Miller, Atchison, and Melancon performed well and took care of the rest of the game.  Ross hit a three-run shot in the fourth, followed by a solo shot by Gonzalez.  Middlebrooks brought another one in with a sac fly in the fifth, followed by another home run by Ross, this one for two runs.  Nava doubled in another run in the sixth, and Youk tripled in our final run in the seventh.

It turned out that that run would be the last that Youk would bring home and third base would be the last base that Youk would defend and that game would be the last that Youk would play in a Boston uniform.  He was traded yesterday with cash to cover the remainder of this year’s salary before that at-bat to the Other Sox for utility man Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart, who the team has been scouting apparently since his college days.

Even before the at-bat, the crowd knew it was probably their last time seeing this phenomenal player playing for them; they had already given him a well-deserved standing ovation before his first at-bat in the second, and Youk had already returned it with a tip of his helmet.  In classic dirt-dog fashion, Youk legged out that triple, admittedly with a little help from the Braves, and went into the slide, and the standing ovation that he received afterwards was huge, thunderous, and extremely well-deserved.  Punto came out to pinch-run, since Ben didn’t want him injured, and after an emotional hug, as the two have been friends for years and years through Athletes Performance in Arizona, Youk returned to the dugout.  He tipped his helmet and was greeted by everyone at the entrance for more hugs and then emerged for a curtain call for both the crowd and his teammates, initiated by none other than Big Papi himself.

On the day, Youk went two for four with the triple and the one RBI.  Obviously, he also walked once and was involved in a controversial defensive play in the third during which there was some concern that he may have sustained an injury but flashed his characteristic leather throughout.  Also obviously though, there is more to a player than his final at-bat for a ballclub.  Youk was more to us than a triple and some good plays at third.  We picked him in the eighth round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2001 and raised him ourselves on the farm, and his first year in the Majors culminated in a World Series ring, our first in eighty-six years; with this trade, Papi is now the only member of that team still playing for us today.  Three years later, he added another in 2007.  He finishes his career in Boston with a batting average of .287, an on-base percentage of .388, 728 strikeouts, twenty-six stolen bases in forty attempts, and 961 hits.  Of those, 239 were doubles, seventeen were triples, and 133 were homers.  He batted in 564 runs and scored 594.  He played in 953 games and accumulated 3,352 at-bats.  Last but not least offensively, two of the stats for which he is most renowned throughout Major League Baseball, he walked 494 times and was hit by eighty-six pitches.  Now that’s a combination of eyes and patience if I’ve ever seen it.

In addition to his offense, the second aspect to Youk’s incredible game as his fielding, and this was where his versatility really shone.  Youk was a fixture at the corners.  Both of them.  It is fitting that he ended his Boston career at the bag where he began it, but he will be remembered as someone who routinely crossed the diamond without a word or a hiccup.  His fielding percentage at third in 362 games and 320 starts is .966; his fielding percentage at first in 594 games and 546 starts is .997.  In his career thus far, he has also played second base, left field, and right field and has made 986 assists, 4,788 putouts, and only forty-four errors.

There are all sorts of comparisons to be made between his stats and those of other greats the game has seen, but he was such a unique player that he shines in his own right, which brings me to the third and final aspect of Youk’s game, which was his character and leadership off the field.  As is the case so often for veterans who have played here, he was an extremely classy player.  He gave everything he had for every single at-bat at the plate and every single play in the field; he was completely invested in the well-being of the team, as evidenced by his visible and often physical expressions of frustration at his recent lack of production.  Every extra-base hit he legged out, every diving play he made, every walk he worked, and every batting helmet he threw were all the result of a fierce desire to see this team succeed.  He was a terrific mentor to the younger guys, including his replacement even as he was conscious of the fact that he was being replaced, and had a fierce, determined, and committed will.  He earned every All-Star vote he ever received and represented us three times as someone who really embodied the spirit of what it means to play here.  He was committed to his teammates as well, as evidenced in their extremely heartfelt goodbyes.  Pedroia said he loves the guy, as do well all.

We all knew this was coming.  Youk was being sidelined by Middlebrooks constantly, and the lineup was all convoluted to try to fit him in, and he didn’t exactly get along with Bobby V., and the rumors were steady.  But putting all of that aside, it speaks volumes about the type of player but also the type of guy that Youk was that after a big win that gave us the best record we’ve had all year, the mood in the clubhouse was sad, somber, and serious.  Youk helped us win two World Series championships and gave his all to this team, this city, and this game.  To say that he will be missed is an extreme understatement.  Youk, we salute you.

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We lost to the Nationals.  The Nationals are like the Orioles: historically terrible but somehow good this year, at least for now.  Seriously, what is up with this baseball season?

Doubront, who has been arguably our most consistent starter this year, had a bad day.  To be precise, it was probably his worst start of the year.  He only pitched four innings and threw eighty-two pitches.  So you know it wasn’t his best work.  He gave up six runs on eight hits while walking two and striking out one.  He gave up three runs in the third via small ball and three more in the fourth via small ball plus a long ball.

He just didn’t throw well.  His four-seam, changeup, and cutter were weak; his two-seam was phenomenal and his curveball was fantastic, but he threw roughly the same amount of the former three as the latter two, and when half a starting pitcher’s pitches are off, it’s not always good enough that half of them are on.  As with his pitches, half his game was good and half was bad; he threw fifteen pitches in the first, thirteen in the second, thirty in the third, and twenty-four in the fourth.  He’d thrown a whole game’s worth of pitches before half the game was over.

And then Albers came in and pitched the fifth and most of the sixth, when Hill took over with two out and allowed his inherited runner to score.  Hill was then replaced by Atchison with two out in the seventh.  Atchison pitched through the eighth, and Miller pitched the ninth.

We scored in the second; Papi walked, Sweeney singled, and both came home on a double by Aviles.  Gonzalez led off the eighth with a solo shot on a sinker, the fourth pitch in the at-bat, which he rocketed to straightaway center.  In the third, he was robbed of what looked every bit like a beautiful solo shot into the bullpen in the third with one out by Xavier Nady, who reached into the bullpen for it.  But he got all of this one in the eighth for the two hundredth homer of his career.  He totally just golfed it out of there.  He made sure nobody could catch that.  And lastly, Punto walked in the ninth, advanced to second on fielding indifference, and scored on a double by Nava.

We had the bases loaded in the sixth with one out but nothing materialized.  That isn’t to say that the incident was not without its drama.  Youk was called out on strikes to end the inning and argued balls and strikes with home plate umpire Doug Eddings.  Youk was angry, heated, and vocal and was summarily ejected.  He did not go down quietly.  Bobby V. came out to talk to Eddings and looked like he had no idea what was going on.  Honestly, the pitch was low.  Youk should never have struck out; he should have walked, and had he walked, not only would the bases have still been loaded, but we would have scored another run.  The pitch was low.  And it’s easy to know that the pitch was low because, when the catcher caught it, he elevated his glove so it would look like it wasn’t low.  The whole thing was shamefully ridiculous; it’s not about whether we would have gone on to win or lose because of that one run; it’s about the fact that it’s the players’ jobs to play and the umpires’ jobs to umpire, not to interfere.

Anyway, we had two on in the seventh with two out and nothing materialized.  The innings I’ve mentioned were all the innings in which we had at least one runner on base.  So in every inning during which we did not have a runner on base, we went down in order.

So we lost, 7-4.  Nava and Gonzalez each went two for five.  Defensive highlights include a tricky catch by Sweeney for the first out of the third, during which he ran and then slid down at just the right time for it; an almost identical catch by Sweeney to his other side for the second out of the seventh; and a tricky catch by Salty for the first out of the fifth, during which he reached into the crowd on the third base side.

Mostly, though, we just lost.

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Naturally, it was going to be Bard who kept us from sweeping.  Bard was absolutely horrible.  It was a miracle that he didn’t give up even more runs in an even shorter period of time.  I’m telling you, it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a starting pitcher look that lost and with that extensive a lack of command or control.  He couldn’t find the strike zone even if we paid him to.  Oh, wait.  We do pay him to, and he still couldn’t do it.

He only lasted one and two-thirds innings, so obviously Bobby V. shouldn’t even have bothered to start him; he should have just rolled out the bullpen for the whole thing, since that’s basically what he ended up doing.  He allowed five runs on just one hit.  That was the game right there.  The Jays didn’t score any more runs, just those five.  He also walked six and struck out two.  He threw fifty-five pitches.

If you thought that all but one of those runs could be accounted for by a grand slam, you’d be wrong.  Bard wishes he gave up a grand slam.  Instead, he walked the first two batters he faced on five pitches each and then allowed a home run on the eighth pitch of the at-bat.  He then walked another batter, this one on four pitches, and somehow then induced a double play and a flyout to end the inning.

The second inning was more of the same.  He walked a batter on four pitches and the next one on six pitches.  Then, he somehow, by some miracle, posted two three-pitch strikeouts.  But then he hit a batter, walked in another run on six pitches, and then hit another batter, which brought in another run.

And that was when he was removed.  Because there’s a difference between having a bad day because you’re allowing lots of hits and having a bad day because you’re not even making the opposing batters hit the ball at all; you’re just delivering free passes to them on a silver platter.  We’ve seen plenty of pitchers this season have plenty of bad days because they’ve given up plenty of hits and home runs, but I don’t think we’ve seen a start quite like this.  I can’t even say that the Jays took batting practice off of Bard because he didn’t give them anything to swing at.  He just let them get on base.  That wasn’t even baseball; that, both literally and figuratively, was a walk in the park.

Morales finished the second inning as well as the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth.  Atchison pitched the seventh, and Hill pitched the eighth.

So while the Jays were having their nice walk in the park, we were doing a whole lot of nothing.  Just like Bard, but at the plate also.  Like the Jays, we ended the game with six hits, but unlike the Jays, we also ended the game with only one run.  And that was courtesy of Shoppach, who hit a nice opposite-field solo shot with two out in the fifth.  It landed behind the fence in right center field.  It was a fastball, the third pitch of the at-bat.  Our only other extra-base hit was a double by Gonzalez.  Aviles had our only multi-hit performance; he went two for four.  By the way, the whole team drew a grand total of one walk.  Nava was the one who worked it, and in case you were curious, he didn’t hit anything all night.

So the relief corps deserves an absolutely incredibly hard-earned and well-deserved bat on the back and round of applause for their effective, hard work, which perhaps would have won us the ballgame if it provided the ballgame’s only pitching, but all in all it was a brutally embarrassing and humiliating game by all accounts.

I’ll give you one last anecdote to drive home how truly horrific to the point of otherworldly this game was.  Youk got hit in the sixth.  The pitch hit him in his left shoulder and then appeared to ricochet slightly off his helmet.  Youk pointed to his belt to show where the pitch should have been located.  But neither Youk nor Drew Hutchinson even made a move, and neither bench emptied.  Because the benches probably understood what Hutchinson should have understood before he hit Youk.  Now, I’m not saying that Hutchinson did it on purpose.  I’m not even saying that Hutchinson tried to do it on purpose.  But I am saying that Hutchinson very possibly did it on purpose and that, if indeed Hutchinson did it on purpose, it was almost certainly as a retaliatory measure.  But first of all he should have hit lower because you never want to aim a baseball anywhere near someone’s head, and secondly, he should have realized that it was completely unnecessary because Bard wasn’t hitting the Jays on purpose.  Bard, in fact, was just that bad.

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Wow.  Wow, wow, wow.  To say that last night was awesome would be the understatement of the century.

What a thrill! Jarrod Saltalamacchia, ladies and gentlemen! We haven’t seen a walkoff in a really long time; it was our first walkoff win this year and only our tenth comeback win of the year.  It was Salty’s first walkoff homer, and it was just what we needed to lift our spirits.  I hope the spirit-lift lasts, but in the meantime, we can bask in our own glory.  Because it was awesome in every way.

Just because Salty hit a walkoff doesn’t mean that our pitching staff didn’t pull its weight.  Beckett delivered a very, very quality start.  He gave up two runs on four hits over seven innings while walking none and striking out five.  He threw ninety-one pitches, sixty-nine of which were strikes.  Good command, good control, good variation of speeds, good heat, good, good, good.  He was masterful.  He looked like the ace we always expect him to be.  It was fantastic.

Even though his line was better in every other respect than that of David Price, Beckett did give up one more run than Price did, and that’s what put us in the position of needing a walkoff.  But what kept us in that position were shutout innings from Miller and Hill.  Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, Beckett didn’t get the win; Hill got it.  But you could argue that both deserved it because without quality appearances from both the starter and the bullpen, the team would have lost, which we know from way too much experience this year.

Meanwhile, the offense did a whole lot of nothing until the sixth inning, but we were actually the first to get on the board.  We didn’t even put up much of a fight in those innings either.  In the sixth, Pedroia walked, Papi singled, Youk lined out, and Pedroia tried to score on a single by Gonzalez but was thrown out at the plate.  Middlebrooks then singled in Papi for our first run.  Then, in the top of the seventh, our one-run lead was promptly erased.  Beckett gave up two consecutive singles to start it off, and then two runs scored via a sac fly followed by another single.

Obviously we know that both teams kept quiet until the bottom of the ninth with one out.  The stage was set.  A new pitcher, Fernando Rodney, came on.  Nava walked on eight pitches, and then Punto came in to hit for Shoppach.  He hit a sac fly, moving Nava to second.  (It was fitting, by the way, that Nava was about to score the tying run since it was partially Nava’s fault that the Rays were one run ahead of us; he threw to the plate on the sac fly that tied the game, which ended up moving the runner still on base to second, which then enabled another run to score.) Little did Punto know that that would not be necessary.

It was Byrd’s turn to bat, but Bobby V. had other plans.  He put Salty in.

And Salty took a ninety-seven mile-per-hour fastball for a strike and then smacked a ninety-six mile-per-hour fastball, the second pitch of the at-bat, out of the park.  It didn’t even land in the bullpen.  It landed beyond the bullpen.

The crowd was deafening.  The ball was lofting.  The record is back at .500.  The final score was 3-2.

Clearly Carlton Fisk’s presence during the pregame ceremony was inspirational.  It was one of those things where you were least expecting it because you knew that you needed it most.  And all of a sudden you knew that you had it.  A home run to put us over the top, to slam the door on the game without the Rays having a chance to answer back.  As soon as you heard the bat and the ball make contact, you knew that it was going out.  And it did.  And the team mobbed Salty at the plate, which the team apparently calls “the shredder,” because it was he, after all, who brought the pepper.

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We are finally back at .500.  It certainly took us long enough.  When a team reaches any sort of milestone, the typical questions is always, “How does it feel?” For this one, the answer is easy.  It feels really, really long overdue.  I mean, come on.  It’s just .500.  All that means is that you’ve won as many games as you’ve lost.  It’s almost two months into the year and we have yet to win more games than we’ve lost.  That says something about our team.  And what it says isn’t good.

Still, reaching .500 is better than not reaching .500, so the fact that it’s pathetic that it took us so long to get here again shouldn’t technically detract from our celebrating it.

Bard was on the mound and delivered a mediocrely decent start.  He lasted five and one-third innings and gave up two runs on five hits while walking four and striking out two.  He gave up his first run in the first, when he loaded the bases with two singles and a walk separated only by a flyout; he was luck to escape that situation with only one run scored on a sac fly.  And then he gave up a home run to start the second inning.

But something really has to be done about his efficiency if he’s going to remain a starter, because he can’t go on pitching for just five innings.  It means that the bullpen has to work overtime every fifth day, it means that it erodes his durability in the long run, and it means that the opposing team gets to see more of his stuff.  He threw ninety pitches in his five-plus innings.  Of particular embarrassment were his two back-to-back walks in the fourth, which illustrates another obvious problem with pitching inefficiently: it puts runners on base, which you really don’t need when you’re trying to win a ballgame.  How he managed to conclude his start with only two runs allowed is amazing.

Fortunately, those two runs didn’t get us down in either the short term or the long term.  We loaded the basis ourselves in the top of the fourth in the same way: two singles and a walk.  And we scored our run in that situation the same way they score theirs: on a play that resulted in an out.  In our case, since we didn’t previously have any outs that inning, Youk scored on a double play by Podsednik, who started for the first time since 2010.  We then scored again in the third to tie the game at two; Pedroia singled, and Youk walked two outs later.  Then Middlebrooks doubled in Pedroia, and Youk was out at the plate to end the inning.

Neither team scored again until the sixth, when Nava launched a solo shot to right with two out.  It was a slider down and in, and he was all over it.  He had that ball’s number; you could tell by the speed with which it left the park.  It gave us our first, and fortunately not our last, lead of the night.  Then Podsednik singled, and then Shoppach launched a long ball of his own, this one to left.  It was one of those line-drive home runs, also getting out of the park in a hurry.

So at that point, we were up by three.  Bard began the sixth with a five-pitch strikeout and was then replaced by Miller.  Ironically enough, it was Miller who melted down after that, not Bard.  Miller got a strikeout but then walked a batter and gave up a home run, which shrunk our lead to one.  Hill came on in the seventh and got the first two outs, and Padilla got the third.

After Nava flied out to begin the eighth, Podsednik went yard to right center field on an inside slider, the second pitch of the at-bat.  This one was a little more lofty; it took a little more time to get out, but a home run is a home run, and when the ball goes out, the ball goes out.  And it’s a good thing, too, because the Orioles weren’t finished.  Padilla allowed a walk and a double to begin the eighth before recording the first out via strikeout, and then he allowed one run via a sac fly.  But he’s lucky that it wasn’t more than one run, and he can thank Lin for that.  It looked like it was going to land right in the gap between Gonzalez and Lin, right in right center field.  Lin ran to that territory, dove, and caught it.  It was a decidedly Ellsbury-esque catch, and we can only assume that it save the game.  That catch at least saved the game from being tied; if the game were tied, who knows what would have happened?

Needless to say, Bobby V. put Aceves in after that.  Aceves finished the eighth and took care of the ninth, and we won, 6-5.  Five of our batters had multi-hit performances, all of them two hits each.  We posted one less than twice as many hits as Baltimore with thirteen, and yet we only won by one run.  That may have had something to do with the fact that we were only one for seven with runners in scoring position.  Still, we had four extra-base hits, three of which were long balls, ironically enough all hit by the bottom third of the order; the bottom third of the order hasn’t hit three home runs since 2003.  But as long as we got the W, and as long as we’re at least at .500, we can feel great.

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