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Posts Tagged ‘Brian Anderson’

This week was basically all about options.  If we weren’t busy exercising somebody’s option, we were busy declining somebody else’s.  Hey, why not? They’re basically cheap locks; it’s a good way to keep a guy on board for minimal funds and minimal years.  That translates to flexibility, which is always a good thing.  Plus, it postpones contract negotiations, a solid strategy if you’ve got a lot on your plate during a particular offseason.

Case in point for that last one: Victor Martinez.  We exercised his option to bring him back as our starting catcher.  No surprise there.  And it’s no surprise that locking Victor Martinez for the long run is a top priority.  But that’s going to be a big project, so keeping him under contract until we can hammer out a new one is a good strategy.  The option effectively means that there’s no rush.  Expect Martinez to be back in a Boston uniform for the first of many years in 2011.  Although the arrival of Joe Mauer in the free agent market could potentially make that interesting.  It would probably play into our hands, being that Mauer will likely steal the show that year, leaving Martinez and us to take care of business.

Speaking of catchers, we declined our five-million-dollar option on Tek, but he picked up his three-million-dollar option, which includes another two million dollars’ worth of incentives, so our captain is coming back as a backup for three million dollars.  Not too bad, I’d say.  In terms of the role he plays on this team, there’s no better backup catcher out there for us, and being that he still has something left in the tank, it’s a pretty good deal.

Wakefield is coming back, folks.  Our deadline to pick up his option was Monday, and we agreed to a two-year deal with incentives that could boost the value of the contract up to ten million.  Within those two years, he’ll likely reach two hundred wins and 193 wins in a Red Sox uniform, a total that would break the current franchise record, held by both Roger Clemens and Cy Young.  Make no mistake: Wakefield would definitely be deserving.  How many other starting pitchers out there accept less money in favor of a tenure with a team that hadn’t won the World Series in almost a century, then voluntarily removed himself from the roster of the second World Series that team would go on to win because he felt he wouldn’t perform as well as another pitcher? Not many.  Believe that.

We declined our option on Alex Gonzalez, which was expected, but we’re still interested.  That’s also expected.  Jed Lowrie’s wrist sidelined him for essentially the entire season last year, and we need not just an everyday shortstop, but an everyday shortstop we can depend on.  That’s a luxury we haven’t had since Nomar wrote his one-way ticket out of town.  And with the improvement in offense he showed last year, Gonzalez would be a great fit.  Of course, what this gesture shows is that he’ll have to come at the right price.  Otherwise Theo won’t bite.

That’s basically all the news so far.  The GM meetings ended on Wednesday, so aside from these moves and Jeremy Hermida, we’ve been pretty quiet, but I don’t think that’ll last long.  Before the meetings ended, Theo met with John Lackey’s agent.  Smile, Red Sox Nation; Scott Boras is not John Lackey’s agent.  Free-agent negotiations with other teams start on Friday, so it’s likely he’ll be inundated with offers, but I could see us being a big player there.  We’re also supposedly interested in Dan Uggla; apparently there is potential in turning the second baseman into a left fielder.  Frankly, I don’t see that playing out.  Congratulations to Jason Bay, who won his first Silver Slugger! And that functions as even more of a reason for us to sign him.  I think we’ll focus our efforts there before we start turning infielders into outfielders.

In addition to options, the other big story at this point is arbitration.  We’ve got eight guys eligible: Casey Kotchman, now Jeremy Hermida, Ramon Ramirez, Fernando Cabrera, Brian Anderson, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, and, you guessed it, Jonathan Papelbon.  The arbitration process will probably be more or less smooth sailing for the utility guys and the no-doubts, the players who have clear bargaining power due to their consistently good performances.  I’d put Ramon Ramirez and Hideki Okajima in the latter category.  As far as Manny Delcarmen is concerned, his second half was just bad, so he’ll probably take some sort of cut.  Jonathan Papelbon will be quite the case; I’ll be very interested to see how that goes.  He obviously packs a lot of bargaining power, but there’s also no ignoring the fact that his walk total was up and his postseason performance was…well, let’s not go there.  Let’s just say he’s less able to pull off the I-should-be-paid-Mariano’s-salary routine this time around.  Especially because Daniel Bard is coming on strong and Billy Wagner has stated that he might be open to an arbitration offer that would bring him back to Boston next year.  Let’s face it: he wants a ring, and in this day and age ballplayers who want rings come to Boston.

Nick Green and Joey Gathright have opted to file for free agency rather than accept minor league assignments.  Green had back surgery at Mass. General on Monday, by the way, so he’s facing an uphill battle as far as market value goes.  Dice-K is going to begin his conditioning program early this year.  Thankfully.  Finally.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that we’re ready to see him ace this year.  Or at the very least spend more time on the roster than on the disabled list.  Theo and Tito are in the throes of their search for a bench coach, and they’ve narrowed it down to four: PawSox manager Ron Johnson, Lowell Spinners manager Gary DiSarcina, minor league field coordinator Rob Leary, and outfield and baserunning coordinator Tom Goodwin.  Promoting from within.  I like it.  Really, there’s no better way to ensure that a new member of the coaching staff knows the franchise and the players; many of the players currently on the team have played for these guys in their younger days.

We’re biding our time but staying in the loop.  I think there’s a potential for a serious blockbuster deal this offseason.  Whether it’s Lackey or Adrian Gonzalez or someone else, I don’t know.  I’ll leave that to the front office.  At this point, so much is kept under wraps that it’s hard to know exactly who we’re pursuing first or what our main focus will be.  But I will say that either of those guys would have a hugely positive impact on our team.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens, I guess.  It’s a long winter; the speculation keeps us going.  That’s just what the offseason is all about.

The Bruins played three games this week.  We shut out the Penguins, lost to the Panthers in a shootout, and lost to the Penguins in sudden death.  The Sabres lead us in the division by five points, but at least we’re ahead of the Habs.  The Pats beat the Dolphins.

 

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That went horribly.  That went horribly, and October is not the time for “horribly.” Lester took the loss.  He gave up three runs on four hits in six innings with four runs and five strikeouts.  I should mention that those three runs scored courtesy of a Torii Hunter home run.  By the way, Lester threw one hundred pitches.  In only six innings.  In October, one hundred pitches should be getting you through the seventh inning.

But wait, it gets worse.  Ramon Ramirez, Mr. Struggle-in-September, came to the mound and proceeded to pitch to three batters and allow two more runs without recording an out.  Saito and Bard were both solid.  Make no mistake: our bullpen is a huge advantage over any opponent we face.

The lineup did nothing.  We got four hits all night, none of which were for extra bases.  The final score was 5-0.  We need Ellsbury to give us something.

We made three errors.  Gonzalez, Bay, and Lowell, all throwing.  It reminds me of that game in October 2004 when we made more errors than we could count.  (On the bright side, October 2004 was, to make the understatement of the century, a really good October.)

And now let’s talk about the umpire, shall we? Let’s start with first-base umpire CB Bucknor.  As the similarity between his last name and a certain someone else’s during the 1986 World Series doesn’t make me uneasy enough.  Both of these calls involved Howie Kendrick at first.  And you can watch replays of both and see that Howie Kendrick was about as out as you can possibly be.  Question mark number one: with two out in the fourth, Kendrick hit a grounder up the middle, which Gonzalez fielded very schnazzily (it was a sliding catch; very nicely done) and fired to Youk at first.  But the throw was wide, so it pulled Youk off the bag.  So Youk applied the tag, but Bucknor called Kendrick safe.  Question mark number two: in the sixth, Kendrick grounded to Lowell, who fired high to first.  Youk jumped up to catch it but came back down on the bag about four feet before Kendrick got there.  And yet somehow Kendrick was safe? Tito had some words for Bucknor, and rightfully so.  Fortunately, neither of those plays cost us runs, the first one because Lester struck out Jeff Mathis to end the inning and the second because Jacoby Ellsbury made an absolutely spectacular diving catch of Chone Figgins’ fly to end the inning.  But that’s not the point.  I don’t want any more of this going forward.

Speaking of defense, it was awesome.  Everyone was spot-on, which was a sight for sore eyes, given all of our recent health concerns.  JD Drew got in on the action and gunned down Kendry Morales at the plate in the seventh.

Byrd is on the roster, and Delcarmen is off because of, you guessed it, the car accident.  Baldelli is also off, replaced by Brian Anderson and Joey Gathright.  The Billy Wagner trade is finally complete; the Mets picked up Chris Carter and first base prospect Eddie Lora.  Don Orsillo did a fantastic job, as always.

Believe it or not, there are some silver linings to last night’s horror show.  First of all, we shouldn’t worry about Lester.  It’s the first game of the playoffs, we were away, he’s got some nerves.  Secondly, the outcome of last night might play directly into our hands.  To borrow some logic from hockey, Andy Brickley said yesterday on NESN that the Bruins’ bad loss to Washington was a necessity for us to remember who we are and how we play, and it facilitated our running wild all over the Hurricanes.  (Brickley said that before we lost to Anaheim, 6-1, which is eerily similar to our good score against Carolina and last night’s outcome against the Angels, but again, that’s not the point.) So last night, in many important ways, was a wake-up call.  It reminded us that October is not all fun and games.  You can’t just waltz into the playoffs and expect the series win to be handed to you on a silver platter.  You have to earn it the hard way, and sometimes, that means you won’t sweep.  So, okay.  The first game is over, the jitters are gone, we’re comfortable in the Angels’ park now.  The Angels is throwing Jered Weaver tonight, but forget that.  Tonight, Josh Beckett makes his first postseason start of 2009.  He threw a bit the other day and says he feels great.  This is what I was talking about when I said I liked the Thursday schedule.  We lost yesterday, but we’ve got another chance right away to remember who we are.  And there’s no pitcher out there who can make you remember faster in the postseason than Josh Beckett.

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The 2009 season is officially over.  It’s amazing how time flies when you’re having fun.  Seriously.  It was a great season.  Plenty of highs, plenty of lows, plenty to celebrate, plenty to scratch your head and have no idea what’s going on.  But now we have the second season on our hands: the postseason.  And with the approach of the postseason come the all-important roster decisions that must be made to give us the greatest ability to advance to the World Series.  This is what Terry Francona may have in mind, with a little help from the Portland Press-Herald.

As far as the pitching staff is concerned, there’s no surprise there: Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, and Dice-K, in that order.  Lester is starting first because, had it been the other way around, one of them would’ve been on normal rest and the other would’ve been on ten days’ rest.  Plus Lester had the better second half, plus Lester is the go-to man for Game 4 should we find ourselves in a hole.  Or we could use Beckett on four days’ rest for Game 4 and Lester on five for Game 5 since there’s an off day between the two, but I’m not a fan of that option.  Tito hasn’t announced the starter for Game 4 yet, though.

No surprises in the relief corps, either: Papelbon, Bard, Wagner, Okajima, and Ramirez.  Saito and Delcarmen will fill out the bullpen.  Wakefield has officially been scratched, Michael Bowden is still pretty new, and Byrd, while he could be a long reliever, wouldn’t necessarily be as effective.  Yes, Saito and Delcarmen (especially Delcarmen) have had their struggles, but that’s why it’s called the second season.  You take a rest, you put it behind you, and you record punchout after punchout.  If I need options for innings in October, I want Saito’s experience and Delcarmen’s power.  But Delcarmen’s health may eliminate him; after the car accident this weekend, his back and neck are pretty sore.

The catchers are obviously V-Mart and Tek. For the first time in a very long time, we don’t need a third catcher.  The third catcher was supposed to pinch-hit for the offensively challenged Tek and backup, but with V-Mart’s bat, that need is gone.  (Not to mention the fact that the role of a backup changes dramatically now that Wakefield isn’t in the mix.  Instead of having to concentrate on catching knuckleballs, the October backup catcher this year will have to concentrate on getting all the hits that Tek doesn’t.)

The infielders are obviously Youk, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Lowell, and Kotchman.  Nick Green’s back and leg will probably keep him off the roster, so Jed Lowrie and Chris Woodward will probably come on as utilities.  Jed Lowrie can hit in the clutch (I refer you to his grand slam on Sunday), and Woodward can flash leather, even if he can’t buy a hit.

The outfielders are obviously Bay, Ellsbury, Drew, and Baldelli, and you really can’t get much better than that.  We have three options with which to fill out the outfield: Joey Gathright, Josh Reddick, and Brian Anderson.  Brian Anderson is out; his speed, glove, and bat don’t compare to the other two.  Gathright has remarkable speed, but Reddick has a remarkable bat.  So you’re basically choosing between a clutch steal and a clutch hit.  Dave Roberts’s heroism wills all of Red Sox Nation to go with Gathright, but let’s remember that Dave Roberts’s steal only counted in the long run because Bill Mueller singled him home.  And it’s not like Reddick has no speed at all.  On the other hand, it’s not like Gathright has no bat at all, and it’s been Gathright who’s been seeing playing time recently as part of the reserve.  So I think Gathright is the answer.  And we may need him more than ever because of Baldelli’s hip injury.

The designated hitter will be David Ortiz.  Obviously.

And now for the lineup.  It’ll be Ellsbury, Pedroia, V-Mart, Youk, Ortiz, Bay, Drew, Lowell, and Gonzalez.  If it’s a righty.  If it’s a lefty, Baldelli will take Drew’s spot.  If Tek catches, that’s a whole different story, and Tito will have to do some serious finagling to accommodate that.  Look for Tek to be at the bottom of the order.

Speaking of the lineup, in response to “Second Shift,” Jeremy commented:

Boston may have the most well-rounded team heading into October however one thing I’ve noticed is that the offense struggles a lot versus good pitching. The line-up will pound a bad pitcher or a pitcher with an off night and the offense will explode. However, for most of the season there has been very little output against great pitching. And that has to be concerning. Because that’s what your likely going to face come playoff time.

Jeremy makes an excellent point.  Remember when we played the Tigers in June? We swept.  We didn’t face Justin Verlander.  Remember when we played the Royals in July? We took three out of four and didn’t face Zack Greinke.  We just played the Royals again and split a four-game set, and one of the games we lost was pitched by, you guessed it, Zack Greinke.  We’ve been very lucky this season with pitching schedules, but this luck is about to run out.  The teams you face in October are guaranteed to be the best of the best, and part of what makes them so good is their pitching.  There’ll be no escaping a Justin Verlander or a Zack Greinke in the postseason.  So I completely agree with Jeremy, but I don’t think it’ll affect the outcome of our October.  The ALDS is a big reason why.  Playing the Angels in the ALDS is kind of like a warm-up for the rest of the month, but it’s a warm-up that counts, so you get all the pressure of the October stage, including great pitching, with all the confidence of having a pretty good feeling that you’ll advance.  Now, you’ll notice that in both 2004 and 2007, the ALDS wasn’t enough to remind us who we are offensively, which is probably why it took moving ourselves to the brink of elimination and facing postseason death in the ALCS to remind us that, yes, we actually are capable of handling these arms.  Between the ALDS and half of the ALCS, we play a lot of games against quality pitchers, so by the time we’re almost out of the playoffs completely, we come roaring back and get ourselves to the World Series, where we obviously have no problem with the National League.  And let me tell you, it helps in the long run, because nobody wants to be the team that finishes the ALCS early and just sits around waiting for the Fall Classic.  I refer you to the Rockies in 2007.

We are exactly where we need to be to make this October count.  The Yankees played the month of September like they had something to prove.  And they did.  You don’t spend a quarter of a billion dollars on three players in the offseason and not win the division.  But at what cost, both literally and figuratively? It is entirely possible that the AL East is the kiss of death for New York; they’ve exhausted all of their resources.  I refer you to 2004, when they ramped it up big time in September specifically to win the division, which they did by a hair.  Then they lost steam in the ALCS, and look what happened.

Finally, I know some people have taken issue with Terry Francona’s approach to the final games of the season.  Let me put that issue to rest.  There are two possibilities to consider here.  The first is Angels Syndrome and the other is Yankees Syndrome.  In the first, you rest on your laurels for such a long time that you’re not prepared for the intensity and competition of the playoffs.  In the second, you use all your resources to accomplish a regular-season goal and run out of steam halfway through the playoffs.  Fortunately, we are not a victim of either, because we’ve only been resting on our laurels for about a week, and the rest was absolutely necessary given the health concerns of several of our starters.  And since the division was out of the question, we had no reason to burn out.  So I’m pretty happy, although my fandom revolts at this notion of being happy with the Wild Card.  But I’d rather get in with the Wild Card than not get in at all.  And I’d much rather get in with the Wild Card than resort to a one-game playoff.  Did you know that winners of one-game playoffs haven’t won the World Series since 1978? (Of course, we all know who played that playoff against who, and who went on to win the World Series that year.  Let’s just say it involved pinstripes.  I’d rather not talk about it.)

Regarding how the teams stack up, we’re pretty even, and most of the gaping holes are in our favor.  We’re much better at home than they are on the road, hit many more home runs, have a higher team slugging percentage and ERA, and our bullpen ERA is much higher.  We also had a better September, which is key.  We’ll need David Ortiz to handle Brian Fuentes, and we’ll need Bard to be in top form as a set-up man.  The Angels’ problem will be scoring runs, so if our starting rotation keeps us in it, we should be able to come away with a win.

So that’s it.  All we have to do now is wait.  Let’s start this party.

Boston Globe Staff/Yoon S. Byun

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Beckett’s outing was okay.  Not bad, not great.  He allowed two runs in the first and two in the second before settling down to pitch three shutout frames.  He allowed seven hits over those five innings with three walks and five strikeouts, and he threw 98 pitches.  So his runs, hits, and walks were up while his strikeout count was down and his pitch count showed inefficiency.  But I still don’t worry about him.  This whole situation with these last few games is very strange.  We win the Wild Card on someone else’s loss, we give the starters all sorts of rest, and we wait.  I feel like that has to take some sort of toll on the psyche of a competitive workhorse like Beckett.  Not to mention the fact that his timing was out of whack because of the extended rest.  But putting that aside, the reason why I’m thrilled with his performance is his health.  The fact that he settled down and got through it means he’ll be in good shape by the time postseason play begins.

Byrd allowed two runs on three hits in the next three innings, which is why he’s not on the postseason roster.  Richardson did fine.

Aside from Beckett, pitching is so not the point here, though.  The offense is the point, and with a final score of 11-6, there was a lot of it.  But before we talk about that, some words on the lineup.  This is one of the most interesting and creative lineups I’ve seen this season.  Pedroia led off, followed by Bay, followed by V-Mart and Youk, and then Ortiz, Lowrie, Kotchman, Anderson, and Gathright.  Ellsbury got the day off, Lowell has a sore right thumb, and Drew has a left shoulder issue.

So, without further ado.  With a full count, Pedroia led off the ballgame with a home run.  High inside fastball, meet the head of the bat, and the ball clears the Monster completely.  And then came the monumental second inning.

When I say monumental, I mean monumental.  There’s really no other way to describe scoring seven runs in a single frame in the manner in which we scored them.  It all started when Anderson singled in Ortiz, which moved Kotchman to second and Lowrie to third.  Aaron Laffey balked, so Lowrie scored, Anderson moved to second, and Kotchman moved to third.  Pedroia was intentionally walked to load the bases.  Then Bay singled in Kotchman, and everyone moved up to load the bases again.

Then Victor Martinez stepped into the batter’s box.  He worked a three and one count, perfect for hitting.  He hit a ball over center field that looked like it might have just enough to get it out.  And it did.  Into the bullpen.  Four runs with one swing of the bat, and all of a sudden we were leading 8-4 on the back of Victor Martinez’s first-ever Major League career grand slam! Against his former team! And all because Andy Marte couldn’t catch that popup in front of our dugout.  That’s what I call making him pay.

Anderson hit a towering home run to Lansdowne Street in the third to score himself and Kotchman, and Dusty Brown hit a home run of his own in the bottom of the eighth to tack on the final run.  Almost cleared the Monster.  The ball made it into the last row and was barely contained inside the park.  Not bad for a first career long ball.

Gonzalez’s x-rays came back negative.  Baldelli will have an MRI tomorrow.  John Farrell officially requested to be removed from consideration for Cleveland’s managerial position.  Speaking of open managerial positions, JP Ricciardi was fired yesterday.  And Manny Delcarmen, after enduring a car accident yesterday, is fine.  He was driving in the left lane and the driver in the middle lost control and swerved into Delcarmen’s car, which veered to the left and hit the wall.  He was taken to Mass General, but other than a sore back, he’s good to go.

Well, the end is in sight.  This afternoon, we play our last game of the regular season.  I have to say, it’s been one interesting run.  Lots of ups, lots of downs, lots of ins and outs and heres and theres, but we’ve come to a good place, I think.  Buchholz gets the nod against Tomo Ohka, so this’ll be his final tune-up before the playoffs.  But I still can’t believe the regular season is already over.  It seems like Opening Day was rained out just yesterday, doesn’t it? Time flies when you’re having fun though, and the fun continues even after we put this one away.

In other news, the Bruins played an absolutely fantastic game last night.  Last night’s game was everything we wanted Opening Night to be and more.  The final score was 7-2, and it was most definitely a team effort.  It was the first time we had seven different goal scorers since the lockout.  And there were plenty of fights to go around as well.  An all-around well-played game.  Lots of tape-to-tape passing (Patrice Bergeron’s picture is next to the definition of “stick position” in the hockey dictionary), obviously lots of scoring (two of the goals were netted just seconds apart) and fighting (Sean Thornton threw at least ten punches before the referees got involved), and of course lots of saving (I have come to the conclusion that Tim Thomas is an acrobat).  We play next on Thursday in Anaheim.

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I’ve seen Lester better.  He had a quality start, which is awesome for any pitcher, but I’ve seen him better.  We all have.  He gave up three runs on ten hits over six innings, four strikeouts, no walks, and two home runs, both of which were lead-off solo shots.

Actually, when you look at his line, your first thoughts aren’t, “Good, another quality start,” or “Wow, he didn’t walk anybody,” or “I’m glad he threw only 102 pitches.” Rather, your first thoughts are, “Ten hits? Ten hits?! Since when does Jon Lester give up ten hits? And to the Orioles, no less!” and “His strikeout count was pretty low last night,” and “He gave up two home runs.  Interesting.  And not in a good way,” and “102 pitches only got him through six innings? Good move on Tito’s part to take him out after that batter in the seventh, because he could see some things weren’t quite right with this outing, one of them being efficiency, or lack thereof, if 102 pitches only got him through six innings.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but that’s what I was thinking.  It’s not that I’m unappreciative of Lester’s effort last night, which was very good.  It’s just that, the better and better a player becomes, and the more consistent the player becomes in his improvement, the more you expect that player to perform at a certain level.  So when that player performs at a lower, albeit still good, level, it’s surprising.  For example, if Josh Beckett had that exact line in one of his games, it would probably be an even more serious cause for concern this close to the playoffs.

The relievers, with the exception of Delcarmen, were good.  They combined, with the exception of Delcarmen, to pitch three more no-hit innings, which again would have been perfect if it weren’t for Ramirez’s walk.  Delcarmen, in case you’re wondering, came on to take care of the ninth.  He didn’t do that.  He allowed back-to-back home runs, walked two men, and didn’t retire a single batter.  Exit Delcarmen, enter Ramirez, end ballgame.  Red Sox win.  But before we leave the subject of the bullpen, I have to say that this is exactly why Tito is a managerial genius.  Nobody knows players better as a team than their manager, and Tito clearly revealed this when he put Delcarmen in to pitch the ninth.  It’s no secret that Delcarmen struggles a bit at the end of the season, which is why Tito put him in to pitch the ninth inning of a ballgame that was locked.  Even after he allowed the two home runs, the final score was 11-5.  This may not seem like a big deal, but you’d be surprised as to how many managers don’t account for that.

Well, a final score like that needs a lot of runs, so we have a lot to talk about.  And we had a little bit of everything.  Pedroia went two for six with two runs and a steal.  Youk plated one.  Ortiz doubled twice and batted in a run.  Lowell had a great night, going three for four with two RBIs.  Josh Reddick hit a two-run shot off Hernandez with two out in the second, and it was a nice piece of hitting for a September call up.  And by nice I mean huge, because it cleared the flagpoles in right field.  And then, the eighth inning.  The crown jewel, if you will, of the night’s offensive accomplishments.  JD Drew is the man of the hour here.  He would finish the night three for five with a double, two runs, and four RBIs.  With two on, two out in the inning, and a full count, he sent a ball that was a little up in the zone to the left field seats.  One swing of the bat and three more Red Sox runs on the board.  Beautiful.  Just beautiful.  And as if that weren’t enough, Brian Anderson got in on the action by going back-to-back and hitting a solo shot beyond the center field wall in his first at-bat of the game.  That was the last RBI we’d record, but believe me, that was enough.

The defense was on as well.  Gonzalez, Pedroia, Youk, Lowrie, and Kotchman had three double plays between them.

A question that has recently come to the forefront is whether V-Mart will catch Beckett in the playoffs.  Since this question was posed, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that Tek would be behind the dish for Beckett in October.  Tek is always behind the dish for Beckett.  The one time V-Mart caught Beckett, he allowed seven runs, which may or may not have to do with the fact that V-Mart was catching.  It is true, though, that a starter and catcher get into a groove faster when they’ve worked closely with each other for a long time.  While I do acknowledge that our lineup is more powerful with V-Mart starting at catcher, I don’t think I’d feel very comfortable with the battery.  I’d rather go without a few runs and have Beckett so on that we won’t need them than need the runs because Beckett’s wavering.

So Lowell tied the game, Youk batted in the go-ahead run, and after that we just kind of ran away with it.  It was pretty nice.  We’re playing the Orioles, so we know the game will have a positive outcome, so we can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show, watching it for baseball’s sake and the love of the game.  When you know you’re going to win, it takes some of the edge and intensity off, and you can notice nuances and finer points of play.  It’s quite pleasant.  And lucky for us, the fun continues.  Today we have our last game in Camden Yards and our last against Baltimore this season.  Dice-K will take on Jason Berken and will look to build on the success of his previous outing.

In other news, Patriots at Jets this afternoon.

SittingStill.net

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Smile, Red Sox Nation; it’s officially September! And there are a whole lot of reasons to love September baseball.  First of all, it’s cooler.  August in Boston is oppressively hot, and the fall brings a second wind for the fans but also the players.  It’s easier to relax and focus when you’re not drenched in sweat and struggling to breathe the humid and muggy air.  Secondly, it’s exciting.  Every game this month takes on a whole new meaning, and that meaning can bring the best or the worst out of a ballclub.  After such a long season, the rejuvenation that September brings makes a player want to put his entire skill set on display.  Especially because it’s so close to the offseason, when free agents are courted and extension contracts are signed.  And last but not least, it’s only a month away from October! September helps to decide who gets there and who doesn’t, who’s likely to go deep and who isn’t, who’s in the best position and who isn’t.  During the month of September, fans of teams across the country watch their rivals in the standings as much as they watch their own clubs.  And for us, that includes the Rangers and the Yankees, with whom we have a series at the end of the month that could either make or break the division for us.

So, in light of all that, it’s important to begin September on the right foot.  Which is exactly what we did last night.  Against the Rays.  In the Trop.  Which makes it even better.

We’ll start with pitching.  Look at a box score of last night’s game.  Look down at the pitching.  It’s so comical that I actually laughed out loud.  They used eight pitchers to our four! That’s just absurd.  But I digress.  Lester was nothing short of brilliant.  Two runs on seven hits over six innings with two walks and nine strikeouts.  (He was pulled after six because he’s had a sore groin recently and Tito was being cautious.  Good move.) I really like the fact that he’s consistently recording around ten K’s per game now.  In fact, he has now surpassed Bruce Hurst’s record, set in 1987, for most strikeouts by a southpaw in a single season.  Hurst had 190; Lester now has 196, and the season isn’t even over.  He gave up a home run to Carlos Pena to lead off the fourth, but it happens.

Wagner was again spectacular.  It may be early to tell yet, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s clear to me that Billy Wagner is most definitely not Eric Gagne.  So far, he’s faced seven batters and retired six, five with strikeouts.  (Meanwhile, the Mets’ disabled list is worth a little under $90 million.) Okajima, not so much.  He pitched to five batters in the eighth inning without recording a single out while instead allowing two runs on four hits and a walk.  Not very 2007 of him, if you ask me.  Paps earned his thirty-third save, a two-inning, twenty-eight-pitch effort (twenty of those were strikes, by the way) which included escaping a bases-loaded situation.  I knew in the long run he’d give us nothing to worry about.  Paps always buckles down.  Yet another reason to love September baseball.

As for the other main attraction, the offense, we were all over it.  The final score was 8-4, so we scored runs and more to spare.  We scored a run in every inning except the first, third, and seventh, and we scored three runs in the fourth.  Ellsbury went two for six with a triple, two RBIs, and one of his best plays of the season.  In the top of the eighth with the bases loaded, Ellsbury snagged a hard-hit fly on the slide and fired into the infield.  No runs scored.  That’s what I call a play of the game.  V-Mart went two for four.  Lowell went two for three with a double, an RBI, and a throw across the diamond to end the first that would make you wonder whether there really was something wrong with his hip.  Every member of the lineup reached base.  Even Pedroia, who failed to record a hit, walked twice.  Gonzalez made a throwing error, but I’ll take our one error over Tampa Bay’s three any day.

Three home runs last night: Drew, Bay, and Youk.  The usual suspects.  Fourth inning, 1-0 count, man on second, and Drew buries a ball about a third of the way up the right field stands.  Fifth inning, 1-2 count, nobody on, and I thought Bay was trying to remove the cover from the ball.  That was a very loud crack of the bat, and the ball went around the left field pole for the home run.  Eighth inning, 1-1 count, nobody on, and Youk gets it out of left field by inches.  That, my friends, is power.

One more reason to love September: callups.  We’ve added five to our roster: outfielder Joey Gathright, George Kottaras, infielder Chris Woodward, Junichi Tazawa, and outfielder Brian Anderson.  Expect Jed Lowrie and Dice-K’s to also join the roster within the coming days.

Jerry Remy will provide color commentary only for home games for the rest of this season.  Another cautious and good move.  It seems that A-Rod has actually altered his batting stance to imitate that of Albert Pujols.  He thinks this is going to turn him into a clutch hitter.  I’m serious.  Apparently, a ballplayer’s psyche and natural style has nothing whatsoever to do with it; the entire skill is solely dependent on the stance.  Yeah, right.

It’s Beckett at Matt Garza tonight.  We should watch for his command in the lower half of the strike zone, as I said, but I hope that this outing will be the start of a string of good ones that lasts through the end of October.  And speaking of October (or should I say Soxtober), you can’t imagine how psyched I am.  Seriously.  It’s the second season, and it’s just around the corner!

On a football note, we say goodbye and good luck to Tedy Bruschi, who announced his retirement on Monday.  He spent thirteen seasons with the Patriots during the team’s most successful era, and he was integral to molding the team into the powerhouse it is today.  Bruschi had strength, but he also had heart, and it was the mixture of both of these that made him, as Bill Belichick said, the “perfect player.” Belichick actually got emotional while making his statement, and as much as he’s usually a rock, that’s something I believe because, yes, Tedy Bruschi was that important to the Patriots.  He was a professional.  He was such a mainstay on defense.  He was talented, and not only because he helped lead New England to three Super Bowl championships.  And because of all of that, he will be missed.  So goodbye, Tedy Bruschi, and good luck.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Ballplayers don’t come cheap, but the acquisition of Paul Byrd was just about the lowest-risk investment the front office could’ve possibly made.  He kept himself in shape during the offseason, and we signed him to a minor league contract.  If anything had gone wrong, we had flexibility and we had options, like trading for someone younger and better, and at least it wouldn’t have gone wrong at the Major League level, where right now that would have been extraordinarily inconvenient.  And trust me, things could’ve gone very wrong.  He could’ve injured himself early.  He could’ve pitched consistently horribly.  But as it happens, everything went right.

During his first outing in almost a year, Paul Byrd pitched six shutout innings of three-hit ball with three walks and a strikeouts.  He starts 2009 with an ERA of 0.00 and an undefeated record of 1-0.  And he did it all with just eighty-three pitches, the vast majority of which fit a mixture of cutters, sliders, and changeups, with a fastball here and there.  Pretty impressive for a non-knuckleballer who’s thirty-nine years old and hasn’t thrown a Major League pitch since the end of last season.

Delcarmen pitched the seventh.  Wagner pitched the eighth, and after striking out the side, the inning was over.  Not bad.  An auspicious start to Wagner’s Boston career.  Let’s hope it continues in that direction; for an example of the other direction, I refer you to Eric Gagne.  Saito pitched the ninth.

We had a nice spread yesterday.  We scored one run in each of the first four innings and three more in the seventh, making the final score a very decisive 7-0 to complete a sweep with the Jays.  Pedroia and V-Mart both doubled.  Youk went two for three with a double and three RBIs.  Gonzalez went three for two with an RBI of his own.  Baldelli went yard on Halladay to lead off the second with an RBI of his own (Bay had the day off).  And then two of our runs were unearned (the Jays can thank Shawn Camp for making the throwing error that scored both).  And that was pretty much the ballgame!

Wake will receive a cortisone shot today and could be back in action in a week.  And finally, today is the last day of August! And we all know what that means: September callups.  The first set will join the roster tomorrow, and the next on September 7 after Pawtucket’s season is over.  George Kottaras, Jed Lowrie, Junichi Tazawa, Brian Anderson, Josh Reddick, Jeff Bailey, Michael Bowden, and Hunter Jones will probably be on that list.  Especially Lowrie.  Being that he’s technically our starter, when his wrist is healthy, which is where Alex Gonzalez comes in.

It doesn’t get much better than that, folks.  A shutout, a sweep, a very clear display of our offensive prowess.  Last night’s contest had it all.  Just to keep tabs, last night extended our Wild Card lead to three and a half games, even though our rank in the division remains static.  (The Yankees won yesterday; again, I don’t know how I feel about that.)  We’re on the road now for a series with Tampa Bay, and Lester will take the hill opposite Andy Sonnanstine on Tuesday.  I never liked Tropicana Field; it’s an indoor ballpark with lots of strange angles which complicates the game in a way that’s very unnecessary.  But hey, the more comfortable we get playing there, the easier it’ll be each time.  Hopefully that’ll be the case this time around.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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