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Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Chen’

We’ve seen this so many times before.  The one bad inning can doom even the best of pitchers.  But there are a few reasons why I am simultaneously not willing and very willing to let that appease my frustration and disappointment with this one.

Beckett literally cruised through his first three innings.  He just cruised.  Fourteen pitches in the first, nine in the second, and ten in the third.  He faced the minimum in all three.  Then, everything collapsed in the fourth.  He issued two eight-pitch walks and then gave up a three-run shot on one of the more ineffectual fastballs I’ve seen him throw.  He got an out after that via a popup.  But then Jeff Francoeur reached on a fielding error by Sutton, and he scored on a double.  So Beckett gave up four runs, three of them earned.

After that, he just went right back to cruising as if nothing had happened.  He threw nine pitches in the fifth, fifteen in the sixth, and fourteen in the seventh.  In those three innings, he faced two above the minimum.  Take away that walk and single and the entire thirty-eight pitch disaster of a fourth, and Beckett has a perfect game.

So this is why the consideration of this situation is tricky.

It’s Beckett.  Beckett is back to being infallible this year.  Which leads me to my next point.  It’s the Royals.  If this were Miller who was doomed by a bad inning against the Royals, I could understand.  In fact, he was; he was doomed by several bad innings.  In the case of a fifth starter who wasn’t even originally supposed to be part of the rotation, I can see them maybe not having a good day against the Royals.  But this is Josh Beckett.  Even on the worst day of his worst year, he should be able to practically no-hit the Royals.  So between it being Beckett and it being the Royals, we should never have lost.  We scored three runs; given that scenario, three runs should have been enough.  Actually, one run should have been enough.

At the same time, it’s Beckett.  Contrary to our frequent belief, he is human.  His mistake wasn’t necessarily giving up the two walks before the home run; while it is rare for Beckett to walk anyone, walks by themselves are not harmful.  The reason why you don’t want to give up walks is because you don’t want to get tired, and you don’t want to pay for a mistake you may make later.  So Beckett’s fault was that he threw that fastball that resulted in a long ball.  If this had been almost any other team, we would also that Beckett made a mistake, we lost, and we’ll walk it off.  But because it’s the Royals, we are tempted to immediately attribute infallibility to even the worst of our pitchers.  Given the way this particular inning went down, though, I don’t think the fact that they were the Royals made any difference.  A mistake is a mistake; you can’t even get to Triple A unless you know what to do when a fastball comes down the pipe like that.  And the fact that he pitched after it the exact same way he pitched before it leads me to believe that it really was an isolated mistake he made that Billy Butler happened to spot.  Beckett said himself after the game that command was a constant problem.  If he pitches this well on an off day even to the Royals, I’m satisfied.

Beckett pitched a full seven innings, walked three, struck out eight, and threw 108 pitches, seventy-two for strikes.  Overall, he still pitched very well.  But he took the loss.  Morales and Albers combined for two scoreless innings to finish it off.

In light of all of that, the question then becomes, and rightly so, why the offense didn’t manage to score more than three runs.  Bruce Chen was as close to an ace the Royals pitching staff was going to get in this series, and we already pummeled him.  This game should have been locked by the time Butler stepped up to the plate in the fourth.

I could not believe that Ellsbury was out at first in the first inning.  He grounded to second.  Chris Getz had to range and fire mid-air to first while Ellsbury was hustling.  Somehow it was in time.

Anyway, Tek led off the third with a single, Navarro followed with a double, and both scored on a single by Ellsbury.  Pedroia led off the eighth with a home run on a fastball.  It was the sixth consecutive fastball he’d seen in that at-bat; the others skirted the strike zone, but that one was inside.  He put it in the Monster seats.  His hitting streak now stands at twenty-five games.  It was another laser.  And that was it for the lineup.  In the top of the ninth, Sutton made a great sliding catch, and Tek gunned down Getz at second, but except for Sutton’s single in the bottom of the inning, we proceeded to go down in order.  For a brief moment, when the ball came off of Crawford’s bat and started making its way to the right field stands in a hurry, I was totally thinking walkoff.  You were thinking it too.  But of course Francoeur made the catch on the warning track, literally inches from the stands.

Gonzalez and Sutton both went two for four for the only multi-hit performances of the game.  Navarro’s double and Pedroia’s homer were our only extra-base hits.  We left six on base and went one for four with runners in scoring position.

Therefore, the lack of offensive production was what made this an embarrassing loss.  We all thought we had this series swept before the Royals even got here.  Instead, we split the four games.  Well, on to Chicago and better days and betterness in general.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki

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Wow.  So much awesomeness in this game.  Where to start? The beginning.

Lackey.  Lackey picked up his fourth consecutive win.  He was shaky at first; I didn’t know if he would make it through.  In the first, he made a mistake; he gave up a three-run shot, and I was thinking back to our pathetic loss to open the series and how much I really did not want to see a repeat performance, ever.  But he settled down after that.  He allowed another home run in the fifth, a solo shot, but that was it for the rest of his night.

All told, he tossed five and two-thirds innings.  He gave up four runs on eleven hits, but only three of those runs were earned; Youk, who returned to the lineup a day ahead of schedule, made a fielding error, which never happens.  Just to be clear, I don’t think he made a fielding error because he returned to the lineup a day ahead of schedule.  Anyway, Lackey walked only one and struck out three.  Objectively, his start wasn’t great, but we’ll take anything we can get from him as long as he gets on the path to long-term consistent success.  With the two-seam, four-seam, and cutter working as well as they did last night, he should have no problem getting there, although his changeup, slider, and curveball may prove to be stumbling blocks; although they’re excellent, they need to hit their spots more consistently.  One mistake and you could have a night like the one Lackey just had where you allow two home runs.  Granted, one of those was on a fastball, but still.  Worth mentioning was his third inning: three up, three down, nine pitches.  Done.  Williams and Wheeler finished the game.  Nobody earned a save because, trust me, it was nowhere near a save situation.

The offense all began with back-to-back home runs by Ellsbury and Pedroia.  That was as good an indication as any of the explosive run barrage that was to follow.  Ellsbury hit his on the second pitch he saw last night.  It was a sinker, and he bounced it off the Pesky Pole.  It was a laser after Pedroia’s own heart.  He saw that ball as clear as day, and it got out in a hurry.  Pedroia, on the other hand, duked it out with Bruce Chen.  He hit his home run on his seventh pitch, an inside fastball.  Don was right; that ball had more than enough to get out of the park.  On Monday night, he was a homer shy of the cycle, and late in the game he actually almost hit one out.  So what does he do during his first time up last night? He hits one out beyond the shadow of a doubt.  It was a laser in every sense of the word.  To the Monster in a hurry.  Pedroia’s hitting streak now stands at twenty-four games, the longest of any Red Sox second baseman ever.

The bases were loaded for Ellsbury in the second.  Ellsbury walked, Pedroia hit a sac fly, and Gonzalez grounded out.  All of that brought in three more.

But we really blew the game wide open in the fourth.  McDonald doubled and scored on a single by Navarro.  Then Ellsbury grounded into a force out and stood at first.  Pedroia singled and Ellsbury tried to score but was thrown out at the plate.  Gonzalez and Youk then singled.  So the bases were loaded for Papi.

When the table is set, Big Papi knows how to feast.

It was the fifth pitch of the at-bat.  So far, Papi had received a fastball, two sinkers, and a slider.  The count was 3-1.  Chen dealt another slider belt-high.  And the ball ended up in the seats behind the bullpen.  Big Papi hit his tenth grand slam and batted in his thousandth run for Boston.  The only other players who have batted in a thousand runs for Boston are Yaz, Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dwight Evans, and Jim Rice; Papi now finds himself among the headiest company.  Think about it.  They spent their whole careers here; he’s reached that milestone in his ninth year.  That’s a big accomplishment.  And it was against a southpaw.  The ball was absolutely crushed.  He unleashed massive power and just skinned it.  Big Papi hit a grand slam.

Ellsbury and Pedroia led off the sixth with a double and a single, respectively, so Gonzalez brought in another run with a single.  The Royals picked up another run in the eighth, but Gonzalez got it back in the bottom of the inning with another RBI single.

McDonald and Navarro went two for four.  Gonzalez went three for five.  Ellsbury and Pedroia both went three for four.  Five extra-base hits: two doubles and three homers.

And that’s how we came to win, 12-5.  That, my friends, is how it’s done.

Grand Slam

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We did indeed split the series.  We split the series with a final game that reminded the Royals of who they are, who we are, and the fact that teams like ours don’t make a habit of losing to teams like theirs.  That’s pretty harsh, but it’s tough to sugarcoat an 8-1 beating.  What I just said with words, the team said with bats yesterday.  That’s the kind of score you expect when we take on the Royals.

And now for the compulsory but true statement of the fact that, whenever Lester pitches for the Royals, Red Sox Nation remembers one thing and one thing only: his no-hitter.  What a game.

Lester was right on.  Seven solid innings of one-run ball with four hits, four walks, and five K’s.  That would be his sixth straight win and the seventh time in his last eight starts that he’s allowed two or less earned runs.  Believe it or not, he did all of that without having his best stuff, as he said.  That’s indicated by considering the four walks and five K’s together; separately, they’re not bad numbers, but he usually throws less walks and more strikes, so there were obviously times that he tried but failed to locate, which resulted in minor inefficiency.  However, clearly this wasn’t a big deal; he tossed seven, high quality frames with a respectable pitch total.  The only thing it does is beg the question of how deep he would’ve been able to go had he relinquished less free passes in favor of more trips back to the dugout.

He worked that cut fastball up in speed, topping out at about ninety-six miles per hour.  He didn’t throw them for strikes as often as usual, but all but two of his other pitches made up for that.  His changeup and sinker were thrown perfectly.  But his slider and curveball weren’t so hot.  He threw a total of almost fifty pitches in the second and third innings but noticeably improved as the game progressed, needing only seven to get through the fifth.  He stayed away from below and the bottom half of the right of the strike zone but used the whole zone for strikes.  And when I say the whole zone, I mean the whole zone.  When he did locate pitches, you better believe he located pitches.  A pitcher who uses the entire strike zone is like a batter who hits to all fields; he can throw anywhere and still get his K.

Fortunately, I can not say the same for Bruce Chen.  That was his first start for the Royals, and he left after four innings.  I’d say that was a good meeting between him and the Sox, wouldn’t you? Not to mention the fact that our bats got pretty well acquainted with their bullpen after his exit.  Our bullpen had better luck; Delcarmen and Nelson pitched two solid frames.

And now for the eight runs, which we scored with the help of twice as many hits as Kansas City, who scored their run in the top of the second.  But in the third, Cameron walked, Scutaro doubled, and Papi hit a sac fly that brought Cameron home.

In the fifth, Hall singled, Cameron doubled, Scutaro hit a fielder’s choice grounder to the pitcher to score Hall, and then we have Papi’s absolutely massive swing that resulted in a two-run blast of a home run to center field.  If you want to talk about the return of swagger in this team, that conversation starts and ends with David Ortiz.  This month we have witnessed the complete return of not just David Ortiz but Big Papi as well.  For example, and this is perfect, before the game he talked to a friend in the stands:

I said, ‘What are you doing here today?’ He said, ‘Just waiting for you to go deep.’ So I said, ‘Alright, coming up.’

Nuff ced.

In the sixth, with two out, Tek singled, Hall singled, Cameron smacked a double off the Monster to score both of them, and Scutaro singled to score him.

In the eighth, Tek let loose a homer into the Monster seats.

So as you can see, the eight runs were really a team effort.  Everyone contributed.  The bottom third of the lineup especially did its part, going seven for eleven with two doubles, a home run, two RBIs, and five runs.  When you have the bottom of the lineup step up like that, it takes a lot of pressure off the rest of it and lets the guys who usually do the offensive work relax a bit and swing easy.  For Mike Cameron, yesterday’s game was huge.  He went two for three with two doubles and two RBIs for his best performance in a Boston uniform.  Those were his first two RBIs in a Boston uniform; the last Sox player to have a streak longer than Cameron’s fifteen games with no RBIs was Ivan Calderon with seventeen games in 1993.  Also, the fact that he came up with that performance in a day game he started after a night game confirms his recovery from his injury.

Dustin Pedroia got the day off yesterday for the second time in two weeks.  He’s very quietly going through one of the worst slumps of his career.  In his last thirty-seven at-bats, he’s managed just five hits, three of which were in one game.  While May has brought a change for the better in everyone else, May has brought a change for the worse in Pedroia, who’s batted .213 with two homers and seven RBIs in that month.  Despite posting a .302 career average, he’s batting .255 on this season.  One thing we can say about Pedroia that’s not always true of other slumping position players is that he’s played an integral role in several victories through his defensive valor in the field.  So he obviously needs the mental break, which couldn’t have come at a better time because we have the day off tomorrow.  He’s too good not to snap out of it soon.

In other news, Kendry Morales fractured his lower leg while celebrating his walkoff home run.  That’s morbidly ironic.

Let’s take a look back at the month of May, shall we? We began it by getting swept by the Orioles, the worst team in baseball, in Baltimore.  But then May got underway, and since we have a day off today, we now finish the month with an eighteen and eleven record in that time.  We’re ten and four during our last fourteen games.  We’ve either won or split each of our last five series.  We’re twenty-nine and twenty-three overall and five and a half games out of first place.  Of course, a recap of the month of May wouldn’t be complete without delving further into the improvements of the two guys who made the contrast so clear: Jon Lester and David Ortiz.  For his part, Jon Lester finished April with a record of one and two and an ERA of 4.71.  He is now six and two with an ERA of 2.97, and anytime you have a starter with an ERA below 3.00, it’s a reason to be happy.  Big Papi batted .143 with one home run and four RBIs in April; he batted .363 with ten home runs and twenty-seven RBIs in May, his first ten-dinger month since August 2006, a season during which he hit fifty-four of them total.

Now, onward and upward to June, when we look to build on our stellar May performance, starting with Lackey (pun intended) on Tuesday night when the A’s come to town.  Here’s to being bigger and better!

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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That’s exactly what we needed.  Not to mention the fact that that’s exactly what the bullpen needed.  A good, old-fashioned pitcher’s duel.  We haven’t seen one of those in a while.  But you can’t get more duel-esque than the game last night.  The final score was decided by one run in the most literal sense: it was 1-0.

In our favor.  Buchholz amazed once again.  He threw seven shutout innings, gave up only four hits, walked four, and struck out four, all with 108 pitches.  All four of his strikeouts were swinging, and Maier accounted for half of them.  He improves to seven and three with a 2.73 ERA.  At this rate, he’s a contender not only for a spot on the All-Star team but also for the Cy Young.  He threw his fastball and changeup well, as per usual, and added an effective slider to his repertoire.  His curveball still needs work.  He threw a minimum of eleven pitches and a maximum of twenty-four in an inning.  He had speed variation.  He had a tight release point, which we haven’t seen from our starters in our previous two games.  He had a consistent and even strike zone, using all parts of it.  When he did leave the zone, it was usually to the right of or below it.

I know I’ve said this before, but Buchholz just continues to impress, which makes it more and more true every fifth day: we’re seeing an ace grow right before our eyes.  Seriously.  Every time he starts, we’re watching the natural maturation of a pitcher with some of the best off-speed stuff in the league.  His confidence has soared.  You can see that he’s simplified and slowed down the game and he’s able to hit his spots.  He gets craftier and craftier with each start, which is the usual progression for an off-speed pitcher.  Point being, we’re never trading him, because if you think he’s good now, wait until he hits his prime.  Yeah.  The kid’s got stuff.  That’s all I’ve got to say, literally.  Every start he makes these days just speaks for itself.  If you just sit down and watch this kid, you’ll see it right away.

Of course, Buchholz was not without his jams, but he maintained his composure and focus and escaped from all of them unscathed.  Besides, they weren’t that bad as jams go.  The Royals had two on with nobody out in the third, but Buchholz induced a double play.  Beltre corralled a very hard-hit ball to make it happen.  Then Podsednik opened the sixth with a single and tried to steal second, but V-Mart showed that hard work pays off when he gunned him down, even with his contusion.  He barely made an adequate throw; it bounced, but Pedroia came up with it.  That caught-stealing was crucial; had it been successful, Podesdnik probably would’ve scored on DeJesus’s following double.

Our only run, and the game’s only run, was basically a product of a managerial decision.  For the third time this year, Tito gave Youk the day off and penciled in Lowell to start at first for only the second time in his career.  It made sense offensively; Youk is one for ten against Greinke, while Lowell is four for seven.

Beltre opened the second with a single, and Drew’s double moved both runners into scoring position.  Beltre scored on who but Mike Lowell’s fielder’s choice groundout to second base.

We only collected five hits in the game, only two of which were for extra bases (Drew’s double as well as Papi’s) but we still did our best to make Greinke work.  He fired 115 pitches while pitching one inning less than Buchholz.  We left ten on base, so we had our chances, most notably with the bases loaded and Drew at the plate with a full count, but Greinke came back with a fastball on his hands.  You also had Papi standing at the plate with a full count, but Greinke gave him that breaking ball of his, and he couldn’t lay off.  Fortunatley, Buchholz just proved to be better.

We had a brief scare in the eighth, when Bard came on in relief.  The tying run stood at third.  Aviles struck out on a slider.  Then DeJesus hit a ground ball up the middle.  But Pedroia flashed serious leather and saved the game by making a backhanded diving catch and firing to first in time.  A truly excellent play.  As Pedroia himself said, his job is only half hitting.  The other half is defense.  One of his distinguishing qualities as a player is that both are at such a high level.  He has only one error so far this year; his fielding percentage is .996.

Paps picked up his twelfth save with a one-two-three ninth, short but sweet with only twelve pitches.

Bad news on the Beckett front: his side session didn’t go so well.  His rehab has been slowed and his return date is now indefinite due to further pain in his lower back.  That’s obviously really bad news, but I’d much rather have him on the DL where he can recuperate for however long it takes than to have him in the rotation making terrible start after terrible start.  We saw enough of that from everybody in April.

So thanks to quality pitching and defense, the bullpen gets a breather and we get the well-deserved win.  Pitcher’s duels are fun to watch.  Like I said, we haven’t had many this season that are true duels between the starters, duking it out with power and finesse with one run deciding the fate of the whole thing.  And it’s especially fun when you’ve got a kid on the mound who’s rapidly distinguishing himself as one of the best.  We hope to split this afternoon when Lester takes on Chen for the final game of this series.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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That was the start we’d all been waiting for.  It wasn’t as long as we’d hoped, but we’ll take it.  John Smoltz pitched beautifully.  Granted, that’s not hard to do against the Royals, but it’s a start.  After seeing some of his other starts up to this point, it’s most definitely a start.  Five innings, a run on four hits, a walk, seven strikeouts.  He cruised.  He was all over it.  Obviously he was a little inefficient if he threw ninety-seven pitches in only five innings, but a win is a win is a win, and we’ll start with the first win and go from there.

The final score was 15-9, and the other eight runs had nothing to do with John Smoltz.  He was gone by the time any of that took place.  Masterson  allowed the first five.  I don’t know what’s happened to the kid.  Maybe this switching back and forth between starter and reliever is taking its toll.  Maybe he’s too young for his current workload.  Maybe he just needs a day off.  I don’t know.  But somebody needs to do some evaluating before we find out halfway into the second half that there’s actually something wrong with him and he needs a stint on the DL.  Delcarmen wasn’t bad.  Okajima allowed another run and pitched to three batters while at last recording the final out of the sixth inning.  Bard allowed two runs, neither of which were earned; Aaron Bates had a missed catch.  Welcome to the big leagues.  Saito had a good ninth.  Finally it was over, with the win  still intact by a margin of six.  That’s six more than what it should’ve been, if you ask me, given who we were playing and who was on the mound, namely the best bullpen in the game versus not Zack Greinke.

But we get to be happy about the offense.  We definitely get to be happy about the offense.  Our hitting disappeared on the homestand, which was very unusual because Fenway is where we like to bat around.  Before our wins on Friday and yesterday, we were batting just .213.  That’s a collective .013 points above the Mendoza Line.  That’s awful.  But not so after Friday, and most definitely not so after last night.  We’ll just go down the line, because with fifteen runs we have a whole lot to cover.  Including four long balls.  We scored in every inning except the fifth and sixth, and in every inning in which we scored except the third, we scored multiple runs.  Oh, yeah.  We took care of business.

Drew hit an RBI double, scored a run, and walked.  Pedroia hit a double and a triple, batting one in in the process, and scoring once.  Youk had an absolutely monster night, going three for four with a walk, four RBIs, and four runs.  Youk accounted for two of the four long balls.  Two home runs on the night, numbers fifteen and sixteen on the year.  I’m telling you, when Youk gets hot, he gets hot.  Second inning, middle-middle fastball, and it landed in a parking lot on Lansdowne Street.  Cleared the wall completely to score himself and Pedroia.  Perfect.  Then the eighth inning and a solo blast hit very deeply into the far right of the Green Monster.  Incredible.  It was just incredible.  Ortiz got in on the action as well with a two-run shot of his own into the seats behind our bullpen.  A three and one fastball is not something you want to throw to Big Papi now that he’s found his stroke.  He would also score again and walk twice.  Bay doubled and scored but struck out three times.  I’m looking forward to getting back to the days when that does not happen.  The good news is that he’s in the process of getting out of his slump.  He’s had a few good days here, a few good days there, so he’s in that sort of gray area between hot and not.  He’ll get there.  He did steal second last night.  Ellsbury hit, walked, scored, stole, and batted one in.  Tek walked, scored three times, and accounted for the fourth long ball, which whipped around the Pesky Pole.  He’s already got thirteen on the year.  That ties his season total from last year.  Wow.  And to finish, Kotsay walked twice, Bates collected his first Major League RBI, and Green batted in two.

Every member of the lineup reached base at least once.  Not the starting lineup.  The lineup, period.  Everyone reached base.  All but two members of the lineup batted in at least one run.  All but one member of the lineup scored at least one run.  That’s a lot of runs.  Seriously.  A whole lot of runs.  But we needed that, just like we need this break.

And we extend our lead over the Yanks to two games in the process.  We’re playing .609 ball, which is still good for the best record in the American League, but we have a long way to go to catch the Dodgers for best record in the Majors.  Bruce Chen at Beckett, and all we have to do is win this one and cruise into the All-Star break on a high note.  Speaking of which, Youk has declined an invitation to the home run derby to spend more time with his son.  Bay already stated back in May that he wouldn’t be participating after he didn’t hit any in the 2005 derby.  But you know what, everyone has his reasons.  And Youk’s reason is definitely a good one.

We Did It…

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