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Posts Tagged ‘Camden Yards’

Twelve days ago, I predicted that the last twelve days would be the deciding twelve days.  I said that if we dug ourselves into an even bigger hole, we’d fall victim to a math problem, but if we managed to climb out of our then-manageable hole, we’d have something to work with.  And all I can say is that the current standings were like a huge bucket of freezing cold water.  There are no words to adequately describe the fury and depression induced by the current state of affairs expressed by the standings.  We are a full nine games out of first place.  We are a full eight and a half games out of the Wild Card.  And it’s the middle of September.  Now, I’ll never say that anything is impossible for us until that becomes the stone-cold reality, but all I’m saying is that this is a completely unmitigated disaster.  It’s so wrong.  And the worst part is that there’s no single identifiable cause of it all.  It just is, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  Between the injuries and, well, the injuries, it is what it is.  And that’s just about the worst possible situation you can be in at this time of year.

Let’s pick up where we left off.  What was supposed to be a booster for both standings and morale turned out to be a big disappointment.  We dropped the series opener to Baltimore, 2-5.  Beckett pitched a full seven innings, but he allowed three runs, two earned, on seven hits.  You can thank Scutaro for that unearned run; his sore right shoulder, specifically an inflamed rotator cuff, yielded a bad and costly throw.  Doubront allowed the final two Baltimore runes, both of them solo shots; turns out he had a strained pectoral muscle.  And anytime you lose to the worst team in the American League with a supposed ace on the mound, you know that’s a bad day right there.  We certainly had our opportunities, but we didn’t take advantage of any of them.  That loss made Beckett five and two lifetime in Camden Yards.  Also, Lowell got pretty incensed but somehow wasn’t ejected.  We won the second game, 9-6; it was conspicuously not Lester’s best work, but we’ll take any win we can get.  He gave up five runs on eight hits in six innings, but he walked only two while striking out ten.  He allowed four runs in the first inning alone, but you better believe we battled all the way back.  That game was all about the extra bases; three doubles and three well-hit home runs got the job done.  Home plate umpire Tom Hallion had to leave with one out left after sustaining an injury on a foul tip.  We won the series by taking the third game, 6-4.  Dice-K was mediocre at best but picked up the win anyway.  Paps made his thirty-fifth save, becoming the first closer to post thirty-five saves in each of his first five seasons.  The offense held up its end of the bargain as well; we scored five runs in the second inning and never looked back.  Beltre, of course, hit a home run.

Hurricane Earl postponed Manny Ramirez’s return to Fenway to Saturday, when we played a doubleheader against the Other Sox.  Ramirez apologized about the way he wrote his one-way ticket out of here, and Youk confirmed that he received an apology from him after their dugout tiff in June that year.  To put it simply, we got swept.  We lost both games of the twin bill by final scores of 1-3, and we lost the finale, 5-7.  The opener was just absolutely heartbreaking.  We took a two-run lead into the ninth only to have it evaporate completely in four walks.  He may have made history a few days before, but he blew this one big time, and that was not something we could afford to have done.  There was no way on this planet that we could possibly have afforded to have done that.  That was terrible and massively costly.  And what’s worse is that he threw forty-eight pitches in the process, which made him unavailable for the next few games.

The Rays came to town on Monday, when we gave off such a flash of brilliance that I’m convinced everyone forgot about the standings completely as they witnessed the performance of what is undoubtedly a team with the caliber of a World Series champion.  And that’s what makes the results of the last twelve days so hard to bear.  This is a team that could have won it all, but then we just didn’t.  Having about half your lineup out for the season makes it hard.  But Monday was awesome.  We did everything right in that game and won it by the fantastically lopsided score of 12-5.  Lester owned.  Papi went two for three with a double and a homer; Beltre and Kalish also homered.  It was simply awesome.  That’s all I can say about it.  In the midst of profound mediocrity and inconsistency, it was a very welcome breath of fresh air.  But the series that began with such promise didn’t end that way.  In fact, Tampa Bay would mete out almost exact revenge the following night while doing us two better as they whipped us, 5-14.  It was as devastating as the previous night was elating.  Seriously.  I am convinced that the outcomes of those two games, combined with the way the season’s been going, has made Red Sox Nation bipolar.  Dice-K was absolutely awful.  I can find nothing positive to say about his performance, or rather lack thereof.  He allowed eight runs on as many hits in less than five innings while walking four and striking out four.  He allowed two homers.  And the bullpen was no help at all.  So although we collected three doubles and a homer of our own, courtesy of McDonald, we ended up right back where we started the series.  It was like our own romp didn’t even happen at all.  Until the following night, when we reenacted our first romp, just to remind the Rays who they were dealing with and just to make us even more bipolar.  We won, 11-5.  Instead of pitching Buchholz on three days’ rest for the first time in his career, Wakefield started, picked up the win to become the oldest Red Sox player to do so, and incidentally is also the recipient of Boston’s nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award.  And rightly so.  We smashed five (count ‘em: five!) home runs, two by Scutaro, who also had a double to his credit.  Beltre batted in his 1,001st career run.  It was sensational.  And it made you think about what the season would have been like and where we would be now if we’d just played like that all along.

We took that momentum right through our day off and squandered it during our first game against Oakland.  That’s pretty much the story of the entire season: we’d win a game, or maybe two in a row, and we’d build some momentum but then we’d drop it like a hot potato.  That’s corny, but that’s pretty much what we’ve been doing since April.  The A’s shut us out.  Then the A’s beat us by a run.  Tonight the A’s will try to sweep us, and I really don’t think we should let that happen.  (Note the sarcasm.)

Odds and ends: Hermida was released from the PawSox, and we traded Delcarmen to the Rockies because, even though he’s great and has a lot of potential, it never comes to fruition consistently.  You can have a guy with all the potential in the world, but if he doesn’t convert it on a regular basis, you’d be better off with a guy who’s at least consistently decent.  And it wasn’t like Delcarmen was that amazing anyway.  Doubront eclipsed him and became Tito’s go-to man in high-pressure middle-inning situations.  We picked up cash considerations and minor league righty Chris Balcom-Miller.  Pedroia has officially undergone surgery, so his season is officially over.  No surprise there.  Lowell is committed to playing through a fractured rib.  That’s a big deal.  This guy is tough as nails.  That and he’s retiring at the end of the year, so he doesn’t have an entire career to jeopardize.  We moved Cameron to the sixty-day DL to make room for righty Matt Fox, who we claimed off waivers from the Twins.  Buchholz was August’s American League Pitcher of the Month.  Tek is back in action.

So that’s it.  That’s that.  It’s cruel.  It’s just cruel.  Nobody played with more heart and hustle this year than we did, considering the fact that we spent the entire season as the walking wounded.  Technically, we’re not eliminated yet.  But you know it’s a bad sign when you’re down to technicalities and magic numbers.  A really bad sign.  It’s painful.  It’s really painful.  It’s really, really painful.  And it feels like a second version of 2006, only a lot worse.  It’s terrible and horrible and I really just can’t even talk about it.  Seriously.

Reuters Photo

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Daniel Nava, ladies and gentlemen! What an at-bat! The kid comes up here because of all the injuries we’ve got, he’s never played in the Majors before, and he just makes an impact right away.  Seriously.  He just won us a ballgame, folks.  Daniel Nava.  How ‘bout that.

That was his first pinch at-bat.  And it was a huge success.  Barely.

Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we? Tim Wakefield.  Tim Wakefield goes eight innings, gives up two runs on seven hits, one on a home run and one on a single, and walks one and strikes out four.  Those were the only two runs that Baltimore would score.  He threw ninety-seven pitches.  Ninety-seven pitches in eight innings.  That’s pretty much the pinnacle of efficiency.  You can’t get much stingier than that.  His knuckleball was as lively as I’ve ever seen it.  He needed a game high of nineteen pitches to get through the fourth inning, but he needed only eight to get through the first, setting the tone that this won’t be easy for the O’s, and sixth, maintaining his movement and concentration throughout his appearance.  In that first inning, six of the eight pitches were strikes.  In the sixth, all eight were strikes.  Sixty-eight percent of his total pitches were strikes.  And it shows on his strike zone; the zone was packed with not much outside it.  It was a completely dominant outing.  Tim Wakefield made the Baltimore Orioles look like the worst team in baseball.  (Oh, wait.) It was his first win at home this year, and it made history.  He’s been doing that a lot lately.  Wake has now made more starts at Fenway Park than any other pitcher in history with 201.  In fact, it’s the most starts in one ballpark by any pitcher, period.  It would’ve been a complete game, too, had Nava not stepped in.

And now we move to the offense.  (The Nava hit is coming, trust me.) It’s good to have JD Drew back in action.  He opened the scoring with a home run just over the Green Monster.  He did it again three innings later to tie the score.  Those were beautiful swings.  Just beautiful.  When you see a hitter like that yank the ball into left field with some punch, it’s absolutely stunning.  Those were his ninth and tenth long balls of the year and the seventeenth multihomer game of his career and second of the year, the first coming also against the Orioles but in Fenway South on April 30. With so many guys out, he’s come up big.  He’s hit three long balls in his last four starts, and he’s batted .353 with five long balls in his last thirteen games.  We needed that.  We continue to need that.

Okay.  The moment has arrived.  With the score tied and two out with Scutaro on second in the eighth inning, Nava stood in for Patterson.  With the count 2-1, he managed to get his bat on the ball and bloop it into right field for a single.  It was a fastball, and he just made contact and that was it.  It snuck into fair territory; somehow it found some space and fell in there a few inches from the third base line.  Scutaro flew home.  Paps closed out the ninth, and we won, 3-2!

It wasn’t the prettiest pinch at-bat I’ve ever seen, but few pinch at-bats can rightly be called pretty.  The important thing is that he got the job done.  In fact, given his age and inexperience, this type of at-bat, where he got something he just couldn’t work with but managed to do something with it anyway, says a lot about his instincts as a ballplayer.  He’s a good kid to have around.

One last thing: Kevin Cash caught Wake.  We acquired him from the Astros on Thursday.  Why? Because the injury list lengthens yet again.  At this point it’s just morbidly comical.  On Wednesday, a foul tip by Carl Crawford caught Tek’s right foot.  It’s broken.  So he’s out with almost the same injury Pedroia has.  So we called in Cash.  Not only did he catch Wakefield really well, but he also gunned down Adam Jones on the run to second.  It was like he never left.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the injury report.  Cameron was out yesterday with abdominal soreness; it’s unclear how serious it is.  I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see McDonald avoid that collision with Patterson in the first.  We can’t afford to lose any more outfielders.  And Delcarmen, surprise surprise, is on the fifteen-day DL for a strained right forearm.  That’s fine with me.  He’s a pitcher, so even if he weren’t on the DL, I wouldn’t want him in there if he weren’t one hundred percent.

And with all of that, we still manage to win ballgames, and we still manage to keep afloat in the standings, which is yet another understatement, because as of now, we’re only half a game out of first! Tonight, we have Lester on the mound facing Jeremy Guthrie.  Think about it.  Lester’s starting.  We can get it done tonight.  After everything we’ve been through this season, we can hoist ourselves up to first place tonight.  I’m psyched.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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We almost completed the sweep.  Almost! The entire game was a manifestation of suspense.  The two teams went back and forth, trading runs and keeping pace until finally we had to resort to extra innings and the concluding badness.

We stranded eleven baserunners; the Orioles stranded thirteen.  But we notched eight hits while they notched nine, resulting in three runs for us and four runs for them.  The difference-maker occurred in the bottom of the eleventh.  Markakis hit a walkoff single.  It was terrible.  We are now one and seven in extra-inning games.  In theory, you want to win in regulation and not have to go there, but all I’m saying is that if you have to go there, I’d like to win there too.

Here’s how we got there.  We scored two in the top of the second when V-Mart hit a home run on a high fastball 378 feet into the seats in left center field.  So when I say hit, I mean really hit.  You could tell immediately that it was going out.  Between V-Mart and Tek, our catchers have fifteen long balls, the most in the American League.

The Orioles took back those two runs in the bottom of the inning with small ball.

We showed some promise in the sixth.  With Pedroia on first and nobody out, Papi appeared to sneak a line drive down the first base line.  But it was on its way to foul territory and bounced off Wigginton’s glove, which was in fair territory, so it was ruled foul.  Then Papi struck out.  But we had our revenge; Matusz loaded the bases with two consecutive walks before leaving the game.  Too bad we couldn’t make him pay.

They gained another in the eighth, and you can thank Delcarmen for that.  He lost control because he had a tight lower back.  Although you can thank Jones for an out; he attempted a sac bunt, but it was hit too hard and right back to Delcarmen, who barehanded it on two hops and fired to second.  Ramirez came in and ended the inning with two flyouts, the second of which culminated in a fantastic long-distance running basket catch by Cameron.  We answered in the ninth and forced extras; Cameron singled to lead off the inning and moved to second on McDonald’s sac bunt and third on Scutaro’s single.  Cameron scored on Pedroia’s sac fly, hit to the deepest, most distant part of the entire park.  If that ball had been hit any farther, it would’ve been out.  Meanwhile, Scutaro stood at second for Papi, who launched one that ended up being a fly to right that ended the inning.

Scutaro and, especially rare, Pedroia of all people each made an error.  Pedroia also stole second base for his fourth theft this year.  V-Mart provided the only multi-hit game, going two for three with a walk.  Cameron returned to the lineup to start in center field but won’t be playing every day.  Beltre was back in the lineup.  Hermida was not back in the lineup but was available if necessary.

Papelbon pitched an inning of relief, firing twenty-one pitches, twelve of which were strikes.  Then Okajima came on and pitched an inning and, when he came back out for his next one, the final damage occurred.  A walk, a sac bunt, and the walkoff single.  And that was that.  What’s sad is that the walkoff single was hit by a batter who, until that point, had been 0 for 14.  It wasn’t a terribly bad pitch; Markakis just softly tapped it in there.  It was terrible.  He picked up the loss, and most deservedly so.  Of all the batters, of all the teams, and of all the times.  Really? We were so close to sweeping! And it’s Baltimore; it’s not like sweeping should be that difficult!

By the way, apparently the Orioles know how to win in extras; they’ve won five of their seven extra-inning games.  Who knew? Their problem, obviously, is that they’re so bad that they usually don’t see extras.  They just lose in regulation.

Last but not least, John Lackey’s performance.  We as a workhorse all right, as promised.  He fired 124 pitches in seven innings.  That’s a lot of pitches, so, yeah, we can talk about inefficiency.  Only seventy of them were strikes.  His curveball was his best pitch for strikes, followed by his cutter and then his four-seam, not coincidentally the pitches he threw most often.  His slider was decent.  His two-seam and changeup were just bad.  He needed a minimum of nine pitches to clear the fourth and a maximum of twenty-nine pitches to clear the second.  That’s a lot, especially for an early inning.  Strike zone was very concentrated on the left, with a fair share of balls thrown outside it on that side.  It is therefore not surprising that he only struck out two batters.  His speed variation was good but could’ve been better.  His movement was good.  He gave up two runs and three walks.

If he can handle the high pitch count, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.  I’m concerned that, as the season progresses, he’ll get tired, and then there is the other obvious concern that, if he doesn’t go deep into ballgames, the bullpen will have to step in earlier than usual, which will make them tired.  To make matters worse, Dice-K is starting tonight, and I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what to expect from him.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  We can at least take heart that we’re playing the Indians, who may not be as bad as Baltimore, but they’re still pretty bad.

Reuters Photo

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So the Orioles fired Dave Trembley, hired Juan Samuel for the interim, and asked us to welcome him last night in his first game as skipper of this sorely misguided team.  We gave him a welcome, alright.  A nice slugfest blowout of a welcome.  Note to all other Major League Baseball teams: don’t play us if you want to ensure that a debut goes well, because if you play us, it won’t.

The story of last night’s theatrics starts and ends with Buchholz, literally.  He pitched a complete game (third in his career) shutout (second in his career) and got the win, giving up five hits and only one walk while striking out two.  That was his career-high eighth win and the ninth in his winning streak on the road.  It’s the first time in his career that he’s won five straight.  That’s the second-longest streak in the history of the franchise, right behind Clemens’s twelve from September 20, 1987 through July 4, 1988.  He joins heady company; only four pitchers in the history of the franchise have won at least eight consecutive starts on the road: Buchholz, Clemens, Lefty Grove, and Babe Ruth, and Buchholz and Clemens are tied for second.  For now.

His ERA is now 2.39.  His ERA during his eight road wins is 1.22.  That’s ridiculous.  I can’t believe that.  It just keeps getting lower and lower.  I know I’ve said this before, but that’s a closer’s ERA.  This kid just continues to amaze.  He’s so confident.  He’s so dominant.  He throws any pitch in any count.  It’s remarkable.  Watching that game made me think back to his no-hitter, also against the Orioles.  You know you were thinking about it too.  Maybe he just has this team’s number.  Or maybe he’s just that good.  I have a feeling it’s a good mixture of both.

He was extremely stingy, throwing only 101 pitches.  A big part of that was his use of the double play (last night we turned two), his incredibly low walk total, and his profuse use of the first-pitch strike.  Last night, Buchholz recorded eight first-pitch outs.  After Izturis singled in the third, he retired twelve consecutive batters.

His changeup was absolutely nasty.  Really, all of his pitches were thrown well; his slider and fastball were spectacular, while his curveball continues to improve.  He needed a game high of nineteen pitches to clear the first.  He needed a game low of only six pitches to clear both the fourth and sixth.  Six pitches.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a pitcher complete a frame with only six pitches.  That’s absurd.

He threw 66 strikes, and his strike zone was beautiful.  He threw to all parts of it.  If he threw a ball, chances were it was to the left or at the upper left corner, but there really weren’t many of those.  Speed variation? Check.  Tossed salad? Check.  Movement? Check.

Wow factor? Check.  Absolutely.

The final score was 11-0, and as Buchholz said, having a lead that huge gives a pitcher the opportunity to pound the zone, be aggressive and creative, and experiment to get batters out.  So the offense most certainly did its part.

Tillman started the game by loading the bases with nobody out by giving up a single to Scutaro and walking Pedroia and Papi back-to-back.  Scutaro scored on a groundout by V-Mart, and with two outs Drew doubled in two.  Hermida led off the second with a double, moved ahead on a single by Hall, and scored on a single by Pedroia.  Thus, Samuel made his first call to the bullpen as the manager of a Major League Baseball team; he removed his starter after he gave up four runs in less than two innings.  Welcome to the big show.

We were just getting started.  Cue the long balls; we had three of them.  In the fourth, Hall struck out by reached on a passed ball, Scutaro singled, and with two out Youk went yard high and long to send everyone home for the eleventh time this year.  He buried a 1-0 fastball up into the seats out in left field.  Not wanting to feel left out, Beltre did the same with nobody on base an inning later on a breaking ball.  Complete with that really compact swing of his where he puts his whole back into it such that he ends up kneeling on his back leg during the follow-through.  Not wanting to feel left out either, Scutaro did the same to lead off the eighth on an inside hanging breaking ball.  In the ninth, Beltre doubled in V-Mart, and then Drew scored on McDonald’s groundout.

Pedroia went two for four.  Beltre, Drew, and Youk went two for five.  V-Mart went three for four.  Scutaro went three for six.  We recorded sixteen hits.  We scored five of our runs with two outs.  In short, we delivered a good, old-fashioned Boston beatdown.  We had a brief scare when Hermida collided with Beltre on Markakis’s popup (thankfully, Scutaro pulled out of the chase early), but they’re okay.  Hermida left with a left forearm contusion, and Beltre has a bruised left knee, but that’s all.  Thankfully.  The last thing we need is yet another outfielder on the DL as a result of a collision.

Tonight’s the second game of the series; Lester will take on Guthrie to secure at least the series win.  I’m looking forward to this.  Hopefully, Lester will turn in a performance just as dominant but from the other side of the mound.  We’re currently four and a half games out of first and continue to surge.  Life is good.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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This season, we’ve had losses come from pitchers.  We’ve had losses come from the bullpen.  And we’ve had losses come from a complete lack of offense.  But not until last night did we have a loss with blame that falls directly on…the third base coach?

Stay tuned.

Wakefield didn’t exactly put us in an ideal position to win.  He gave up six runs, four in the fourth inning, on eight hits over six innings with no walks and four strikeouts.  He gave up two home runs, both to Suzuki.  All of six pitches were not knuckleballs, and he did throw the knuckleball for strikes.  Even when he got in trouble in the fourth, he only needed twenty-one pitches to finish the inning, and we’ve seen pitchers need many more than that.  So it wasn’t his best work, but it wasn’t his worst either.  He used mostly the middle of the strike zone, staying away from the edges, unless of course he threw a ball, in which case chances were that it wouldn’t end up to the right of the zone.  He took the loss.

Wakefield, like all the rest of us, was under the impression that we’d score a lot of runs in the game.  We did.  Just not enough.  Which brings us back to the third-base coach.  Again, stay tuned.

The bullpen didn’t exactly stop the bleeding.  Ramirez allowed a run.  Okajima didn’t allow a run.  But Delcarmen made up for him, allowing two on two homers, thus ending a streak of fantastic appearances.  But that’s what happens when you hang a changeup.  Atchison didn’t allow a run but did give up a hit and a walk.

The offense kept us in the game.  Beltre singled in V-Mart in the first.  Hall scored on Scutaro’s groundout in the second and again on Scutaro’s sac fly in the fourth.  Hermida hit a homer into the A’s bullpen for two runs in the sixth.  It was basically a really high and really well-hit fly ball.  That’s his fifth of the year, all against righties, and it brought us within a run.

Papi scored on Hall’s groundout in the seventh.  Scutaro brought himself home with a dinger onto the Monster ledge in the eighth.  But you knew it was over when, later in that inning, Papi stood in with two on, two out, and a two-run deficit and struck out on a 2-2 fastball.

Hall went four for five with four RBIs, a career high.  Hermida went three for five.  And of course the usual suspects made their presences known: V-Mart and Pedroia both went two for four (two doubles for Perdroia!), and Youk went three for five.  So we recorded eighteen hits but left eleven men on base and went only three for nineteen with runners in scoring position.  It was a real battle; we traded runs, we brought ourselves within a run twice, but ultimately we fell short.  The final score was 9-8.  So we had our opportunities.  Which brings us to the moment you’ve all been waiting for.

We had two runners thrown out at the plate with nobody out in the third and fourth frames.  Both of them were not one hundred percent, and Tim Bogar knew it, but he sent them anyway.  First, V-Mart was told to attempt scoring from first on a double by Youk.  Then, McDonald hustled to beat the throw for an infield single and jammed his right knee on the dive back during a pickoff attempt.  He was then told to attempt scoring from second on a single by Hermida.  In other words, those would have been close calls with any runner, but with runners not in top form, it’s better to play conservative and hold the runner for the next hit.  So the reason why I feel comfortable saying that the loss falls on the shoulders of Bogar is because, had those two runners scored, and from the way we were hitting we can assume they probably would have, especially with nobody out at the time, we probably would’ve won, even with poor performances by our starter and bullpen.  The final score was 9-8, so it really did go down to the final out.  This is Bogar’s first season as a third-base coach and, as he said, I think it just comes down to him having a bad day.  Our reflex is to assume that coaches never have bad days, but that’s not the case.  It’s  so unusual because they’re always so good, and you know they’re good because they’re always in the background, never giving you a reason to talk about them.  So when there is one, it’s pretty strange.  Also infuriating.  It’s one thing if people actually directly involved in the game cause a loss.  But I can’t stand it when an umpire or a coach facilitates a loss because they’re not even playing.  It’s like they’re taking the team out of the contest before it even got started.  Not to mention the fact that Bogar could’ve caused V-Mart and McDonald further damage.  Terrible stuff.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull a comeback like we did in the first two games of the series.  We didn’t sweep, but at least we won it.  We can at least be thankful that we lost the game but played our game well, even if Beltre did make an error.  Even through the loss, the confidence and personality of the team shone through, and that says a lot.  We’re now tied with Toronto for third, but I have a feeling we’ll break that tie and advance soon enough.  We’re off to Fenway South to play three against the Orioles.  Then we’ve got four in Cleveland.  Should be a fun week.

AP Photo

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Last night’s game wasn’t disappointing only because we lost.  Of course, a loss will be disappointing.  But this particular loss carried added weight in light of the skid that was our month of April because everything that we’d been doing wrong during our losing streak, we did last night.  It was a total regression.

John Lackey’s outing was one of only a few bright spots.  He pitched seven innings, gave up two earned runs on six hits, walked three, and struck out six on 120 pitches.  I’m still waiting for that pitch count to go down.  I think that’s the highest pitch count we’ve had so far this season.  He topped out at only ninety-two miles per hour.  Both of his fastballs as well as his changeup weren’t very effective.  Luckily, the majority of his pitches were sliders, cutters, and curves, which were excellent.  He threw a lot of pitches down and in, but his command was decent.  Overall, with the exception of the fact that the Orioles started the game with three straight hits which gave them a two-run lead after the first, I’d say that that was a glimpse of what we’d been looking for from him all along.  All he has to do is get that pitch count down, and he’ll be all set.

I can not in good faith say that about the rest of the team.  The rest of the team was too busy embodying our losing streak last night to warrant such an overall compliment.   Last night was our chance to rise over .500 for the first time since Opening Day.  That did not happen.  Thus, I hate to say this, but it’s only fitting that we end this month with this particular kind of loss.

Bard blew the save when Tejada homered to tie it; a 1-0 pitch over the middle.  Ramirez took the loss.  He gave up a double to Jones, and Okajima came on after they intentionally walked Markakis.  He struck out Wieters.  Maybe there was something to be said for his three days of rest, even if it was only one out.  After all, what is a good relief outing but the ability to string together a slew of single outs? Delcarmen came on, and Tejada hit is 1-2 breaking ball, which he left up over the plate, up the middle for a two-out, walkoff single.

The final score was 4-5; we lost in ten.

Drew homered twice, once in the second on something down the middle over the wall in left center and once on a high fastball in the eighth all the way through center field.  Cue the end of Drew’s April blues, which would be another bright spot.  I mean, those were good swings.  That first one was kind of an adaptive swing; he went with the pitch instead of trying to pull it, like he usually does.  Pedroia hit a rare opposite-field jack of his own that barely cleared the wall in right in the sixth, his sixth of the season.  The only run of ours that did not come via the long ball was also courtesy of Pedroia, who singled in McDonald in the seventh.  So, just like during our losing streak, we didn’t convert opportunities.  All three of those homers were solo shots.  We drew ten walks but ended up having left eleven on base.

Which brings us to point of failure number two: we were sloppy in the field.  And by “we,” I of course mean Adrian Beltre who, ironically enough, was acquired for his supposed defensive ability.  We’ve seen this all month.  Actually, it started with McDonald in the third; he bobbled a single by Tejada.  Then, Lackey walked Scott.  Then, Wigginton hit a grounder that Beltre should’ve fielded cleanly, but he threw too low and it resulted in an unearned run.  Beltre needs to thank Atkins for ending it; the bases were loaded, but Atkins hit into a double play that got Lackey out of that jam.  There was also the matter of the killed rally in the seventh; Beltre supposedly interfered on Hermida’s grounder.  A review of the footage will tell you that he had the bag; no doubt about that.  But his left hand caught Wigginton’s foot, which caused him to throw in the dirt.  However, it was clear that the double play would’ve have happened anyway.  And this yet again fuels the fire of debate over instant replay.  He was also caught stealing, by the way.

Nomar will be honored at Fenway with a pre-game ceremony on Wednesday, on Cinco de Mayo.  Perfect! And cue the well-deserved massive standing ovation.

We’re now six games out.  Considering that, before last night, we’d lost three of our four extra-inning contests, we theoretically should’ve seen this coming.  On the bright side, April is now officially over, and we can move on.  Again, we hope.  I think May will bring better things, starting of course with Dice-K.  The moment we’ve all been waiting for has now arrived.  Dice-K will start tonight in Fenway South.  But don’t necessarily expect him to go too deep because, like I said, they’ll probably want to bring him back slowly but surely.  Thankfully, his first start is coming against Baltimore, which should help ease him back into it.  After last night’s despairing loss, a win from Dice-K would be just the ticket.

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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.

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