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Posts Tagged ‘Carolina Hurricanes’

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now on the home stretch of home stretches.  Truck Day is two days away.  Tuesday, February 8, the equipment goes down, and we have a week until the pitchers are catchers are off.  No matter how much snow is on the ground, spring is definitely now in the air.  I mean, it’s Truck Day.  It’s the light at the end of the cold, wintry tunnel.  I see that eighteen-wheeler pulling out of the players’ parking lot on Van Ness and I know I’ve only got a number of weeks until Opening Day.  Two more days.  Just two more days.  We’ve made it this far.  We got this.

And now, a word on the brass.  In October, a handful of executives went on a Listening Tour of New England, where they basically drove around listening to fans air their grievances.  On Monday, they sat down for a Q&A session to listen to more airing of grievances.  But here’s the kicker: they actually listen.  We have more Saturday day games and additional food options as a result, and we do not (I repeat: we do not) have tiered ticket pricing.  (That’s where the brass charges more for Yankee games than they do for Jays games, for example.  Not that it would matter.  Who really gets their tickets at face-value these days anyway.  But still, it’s the gesture that counts.) It just seems like there’s always a new reason to be proud of being a Sox fan.  Having a brass that actually cares is a big one.

Did I mention that Tuesday is Truck Day? I’ll mention it again: Tuesday is Truck Day! Finally!

In other news, the Bruins did crush, in multiple ways and at multiple times.  We bullied our way to a win over Carolina on Tuesday, 3-2.  But that wasn’t nearly as exciting as our game with the Stars on Thursday.  Which we won, by a 6-3 beating of a final score.  But wait; it gets better.  Let’s consider the first half of the  first period by itself.  In total, that half of a period featured forty-four penalty minutes, four fights, four goals, one shot off the post, one pulled goalie, and one replaced glass panel.  One second into the game, Greg Campbell had it out with Steve Ott.  One second into the next faceoff, Shawn Thornton had it out with Krys Barch.  Two seconds into the next faceoff, Adam McQuaid had it out with Brian Sutherby.  Thirty-five seconds into the game, Lucic scored.  Forty-five seconds after that, Bergeron scored.  So Andrew Raycroft was pulled for Kari Lehtonen.  And three minutes and fifty-one seconds into the game, Ference had it out with Adam Burrish.  Bergeron scored his second and final goal of the game nine minutes and thirty-five seconds into it.  And that was the first half of the first period.  Yeah.  It was awesome.  That is something I can’t say about our game yesterday, which we lost to the Sharks, despite having outshot them, twenty-six to eighteen.  We play the Habs on Wednesday.  Let’s win.

Let’s Go Red Sox
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We have a less than a month until pitchers and catchers report.  This is the home stretch, people.  Less than a month.  It’s been a long winter.  It’s been too long a winter.  And like I said, the last few weeks are the most difficult, but we got this.  We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Only a few more weeks and then before you know it, it’s Spring Training followed by Opening Day.  I’m psyched.

Meanwhile, Marco Scutaro is officially our starting shortstop.  This is not surprising.  But it’s not like Lowrie isn’t going to get any playing time.  Trust me on that.

Theo avoided arbitration yet again.  Also not surprising.  Paps and Ellsbury each have one-year contracts for twelve million dollars and $2.4 million, respectively.  This is the third time we’ve signed Paps to a one-year deal, and I think that speaks to his wavering performance.  Three years ago he was golden, two years ago his walks were up, and last year just wasn’t a good year for no particularly apparent reason.  It’s going to be really interesting when he becomes a free agent for the first time.  I have no predictions for that because Paps hasn’t given us much reliability to work with.  This is a contract year, but so was last year.  He has some competition from Bard, but he did also last year.  The only impactful external difference is Bobby Jenks, who represents more competition and more insurance.  Or maybe Paps will just return to form after making various adjustments and working on various pitches, which is obviously preferable because that would show some future value we can more easily project.

As far as Ellsbury is concerned, that’s a steal.  That’s as good a bargain as you’re going to get.  He played in eighteen games last season due to his injury, so that’s a pretty hefty raise from his previous salary of slightly less than half a million.  So don’t get used to it.  He’s a good player with a ton of worth, and if he stays healthy and has a good year this year, $2.4 million will seem like peanuts compared to what we’re going to have to shell out to keep him here.

I would just like to note that our payroll for 2011 will be somewhere around $163 million total, which is close to what it was last season.  It’s all about responsibility and financial flexibility.  And only Theo would be able to maintain both of those and still make two major signings, one with a large contract and the other hopefully with a similar one pending.

In other news, the Bruins played back-to-back games with the Canes earlier this week.  We won both.  First, we shut them out, seven-zip.  It was awesome.  They had no chance whatsoever.  Then we beat them again, 3-2.  Then we lost to the Sabres, 2-4.  Then we beat the Avs, 6-2.  Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand each scored twice.  Barring that one loss, I’d say it was a good week.  For hockey, at least.  Because finally, last but not least, the Patriots.  Let’s get this over with.  The Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs by the Jets.  There will be no Super Bowl this year because we scored only two touchdowns en route to a 21-28 loss.  For the first one, Brady threw a two-yard pass and then went for a two-point conversion, and that was it.  The rest we accomplished with field goals.  And there were sacks.  There was an interception.  He set a league record of 335 passes this season without an interception, and yet somehow there was an interception.  We had the best record in the entire NFL, and we lost our third straight postseason game.  I hate to say this, but it felt a lot like the Pats-Giants Super Bowl, where we spent the entire season basically steamrolling over everybody, but when the final moment came, our ridiculously good offense was matched up against a defense that was just as good, and our defense didn’t match up as well to their offense.  That’s kind of what happened here.  It was just surreal and incredibly disappointing.  I had us winning the Super Bowl before the game even started.  Well, what can you do? As we like to say, there’s always next year.

AP Photo

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Now that’s the Josh Beckett I’m talking about! (And hopefully that’s the one who signed the contract extension.) Last night, Josh Beckett made the Royals look like, well, the Royals.

Three runs on nine hits with a walk and four K’s over seven innings.  I would’ve liked to see less hits and runs allowed, but after his Opening Day performance, I will take what I can get and I will like it.  That was his longest outing yet at Kauffman Stadium.  Essentially he cruised.  He got in trouble once, in the seventh, when there were runners at the corners with nobody out.  But he was able to exchange a run for a double play, which reminded all of us how nice it is to have stability at shortstop.  Also in the seventh, Beckett almost went down.  DeJesus hit a line drive up the middle that hit Beckett in the in the back of the head.  That was so scary, for an instant I didn’t even notice that a run was scoring; I just wanted to see Beckett still standing.  But he was pitching so well that, if the seventh had been an easy inning, we probably would’ve seen him come back out for the eighth.

Overall, he essentially cruised.  He had a stretch where he retired seven in a row.  He threw seventy-three pitches through the first six innings.  That’s a really low pitch count.  And his stuff was so much better yesterday than it was on Opening Day.  Unlike that performance, during which he relied too heavily on his fastball, he used all of his pitches effectively last night, mixed and located them well, and threw them for strikes.  And he had some really nice movement on his fastballs.  He’ll take the win.  Say hello to the first decision for a starter this season.

By the way, I agree with Jerry Remy; Podsednik’s swing in the third inning was awful.  That was just disgusting.  That was a desperate grasp of a swing.  If you look up the word “pathetic” in the dictionary, you see a picture of that swing.  He was looking to make any kind of contact whatsoever, but not only was he being defensive, he was also way out in front.  Very ugly.  That’s what a Beckett cut fastball does.

The final score was 8-3, and there you have your offense.  One of the things I loved about last night’s game was that it afforded no opportunity for naysayers to refute the offense’s skill based on Kansas City’s usual pitching.  Usually Kansas City is terrible.  It’s one of those teams you look forward to playing so you can beat up on them and gain a boost in the standings.  Not so last night, because last night Greinke was on the mound.  He’s no walk in the park; he throws any pitch in any count, including that slider of his.  And yet we still took him for four runs, enough to give us the lead by the time Beckett left.  (Presumably, as the season continues, those four runs would’ve represented a more significant lead, provided the starter doesn’t allow almost the same amount.) And not only that; Francona also called out the reserves, so Tek, Lowell, and Hermida started.  And none of them disappointed.

Seeing Lowell and Tek start was a sight for sore eyes.  You’re talking about one of the game’s classiest guys, who said he’ll probably retire after this season to spend more time with his family, by the way, and one of the game’s greatest team leaders, both on and off the field.  It was good to see them, period, and it was good to see them playing so well.  Both of them looked like they haven’t lost a step.  Lowell was great in the field; he made a nifty play in the fourth when a ball hit by Butler propelled his gloved hand behind him, so he turned a three-sixty and fired to first.  Also, to make room for Hermida in left, Ellsbury started the game in center.  That was great to see, and it’s good that he’ll have chances this season to return to that position, being that his skill set was made for it and all.

Okay.  Basically, in the fifth inning, Hermida and Tek went yard back-to-back.  Those were hit on hanging curveballs.  As a side note, the most home runs Hermida ever hit in a season was eighteen in 2007, but his first at-bat ever with the Marlins was a grand slam.  His second at-at bat with Boston is apparently a home run.  Then in the seventh, Ellsbury took advantage of that huge gap in right center and doubled in Scutaro, and Pedroia flied in Ellsbury, which broke Greinke and he left.  Then in the eighth, Youk went yard.  Then in the ninth, Tek went yard on a changeup; On May 20, 2001, Tek had a three-homer game at Kauffman Stadium.  Say hello to April 10, 2010.  The man still packs.  Then, Pedroia went yard with Ellsbury on base, and that game was done.  We couldn’t do anything to the Royals bullpen two nights ago.  Not so last night.  Honestly, who in his right mind throws a fastball middle-in to Pedroia.  Eight runs.  Done.  Point being, the B team brings it big.

Ellsbury finished the night three for five.  There’s your leadoff hitter! And Scutaro stole a base.  Funny; Greinke hit Pedroia in the fifth and Scutaro in the seventh.  Greinke is known for his control.  I’m not saying he did it on purpose; I’m just saying it’s interesting.  Good thing that was after Beckett left.  Otherwise, I think it’s safe to say we would’ve had some sort of retaliation.

In other news, Dice-K had a great outing for Pawtucket during which he threw forty-three of seventy-three pitches for strikes and topped out at ninety-three miles per hour.  He walked one, struck out three, and hit two over five shutout innings.  Most importantly, he felt great during all of them.  And congratulations to Boston College for shutting out Wisconsin to win its fourth NCAA hockey title!

So the bench proved itself, Beckett was sharp, our starter earned a decision, and our bullpen was flawless.  That’s the way to be.  The Royals lineup isn’t the hardest to contain, but you have to start somewhere.  Maybe this is what we needed to get the ball rolling.  It does wonders for your confidence, not to mention the standings.  After Buchholz’s start tonight, we’ll have officially completed one rotation of our starters.  He’ll start opposite Meche.  Let’s take this series.

The Bruins lost to the Caps in overtime (way to force the issue!), beat the Sabres, and finally clinched a playoff spot yesterday! They beat Carolina (oh, the irony) thanks to some short-hand goals and a heads-up play by Patrice Bergeron.  At one point, the puck careened off Wheeler’s stick toward our empty net, but Bergeron scooped it out in the nick of time, when it was mere centimeters from the goal line.  The final score was 4-2.  It’s certainly been an interesting season; Savard was injured, Lucic was injured, and basically each of our defensemen was injured.  And key players from last year couldn’t find their form this year.  We had an early three-goal lead, which we of course squandered.  But the important thing is that we’re in.  Tomorrow we have another game with the Caps and that’s it before the playoffs.  Who knows? Maybe everything will come together.

Fire Brand of the American League

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And lo and behold, Theo completes the streak.  Hermida signed for one year and a little over $3.3 million.  So that’s eight years without arbitration.  A happy organization with happy players produces a good team, so you can chalk a lot of the guys’ satisfaction with the front office up to the fact that they haven’t been in a position where they have to defend themselves against their own team.

Tickets went on sale yesterday! Which means that by now everything is probably sold out.  But on the bright side, that means that pitchers and catchers is right around the corner! It’s been a long winter, but hang in there; not too much longer.

There is, however, a dark shroud of depression hanging over Opening Day.  Literally, that dark shroud is ESPN.  Figuratively, it’s the actual darkness of night.  Because guess what: since this year’s Opening Day at Fenway Park means the Yankees are coming to town, ESPN decided to make it Opening Night instead.  That’s right.  There will be no Opening Day in New England this year.  No day-long holiday in Boston.  No young kids running around taking it all in.  No sunshine to illuminate the field or warm you up.  No Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy.  Instead, we’ve got a whole day before the game starts.  We’ve got kids who have to stay home because it’s a school night.  We’ve got lights.  And we’ve got Joe Morgan.  It’s incredible; the first game of the season hasn’t even started, and the Yankees have already ruined it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love night games, but for Opening Day it just isn’t the same.

Lastly, let’s get this whole Bay thing over with once and for all.  Here’s the deal.  Remember that offer we made after the All-Star break, a four-year deal worth sixty million? Bay initially rejected it but then changed his mind.  But during the physical, the Red Sox didn’t like the look of Bay’s knees and shoulder, so they revised the deal: the third and fourth years would now depend on health and productivity, and Bay would have to have minor knee surgery in the offseason.  Bay acquired a second opinion that stated that surgery wasn’t necessary.  He and the Red Sox requested a third opinion, which yielded the same observation.  The insurance company’s doctor also vouched for Bay’s durability.  At the Winter Meetings, the Red Sox revised the deal again: they guaranteed the first three years but requested injury protection for the fourth year such that if Bay became injured because of pre-existing conditions identified by the club, they could void the fourth year.  The Red Sox also asked Bay to pay a large part of his insurance policy.  Bay refused, and we all know what happened after that.

This sounds a lot more sinister than it actually is.  First of all, the fact that Bay passed the Mets’ physical with flying colors doesn’t say much.  This is the same team that signed Pedro Martinez to a long-term contract after Thomas Gill, team doctor for both the Red Sox and Patriots, specifically told the Red Sox front office not to do that because his breakdown was imminent.  And lo and behold.  Secondly, what’s wrong with the Red Sox seeking protection for their investment? People are seizing on the fact that the Red Sox wanted Bay to have surgery on something that wasn’t bothering him, but after other opinions were produced, they revised that and simply asked for protection.  That’s it.  Gill insisted that such a protection be built into JD Drew’s contract, and Scott Boras agreed to it.  Scott Boras agreed to it.  If Scott Boras agreed to it, it must have been the world’s most just demand, because any team would be hard-pressed to get Scott Boras to agree to anything.  Lackey also agreed to an injury protection clause.  (His is a little different; if he ever has elbow surgery while under contract, the Sox can bring him back for a sixth year at Major League minimum wage.) And the Sox will probably build something like that into Beckett’s and Papelbon’s future contracts.  Look, if we’re looking to pay Bay millions of dollars, I think we have a right to ensure that those millions of dollars won’t be a complete and total waste as soon as Bay steps or slides or falls the wrong way.  The wear and tear alone is a cause for concern, and that’s yet another reason not to trust the Mets’ medical opinion.  Bay passed their physical with flying colors on his way to play left at Citi Field? That’s like stepping into a time warp; playing left at Citi Field will break you down twice as fast.  Besides, if Bay is so sure of his health, why didn’t he just take this most recent version of the deal and sign a new one when the time came? If he’d remained a specimen of health, the fourth year wouldn’t have been voided, and all would’ve been as per usual.  So that seems kind of fishy to me.  All we can do is wait to see if the Red Sox were right, but if in the future Bay does prove the Red Sox correct, rest assured that Red Sox Nation will most definitely be there to say, “We told you so.” Okay, maybe we won’t say it, but we will think it, and we will think it loudly.

The Bruins are something I don’t even want to discuss.  We are in dire straits right now.  Dire straits.  The Canes absolutely crushed us last weekend, and we lost to the Sabres on Friday and the Kings yesterday in overtime.  We have fifty-five points, good for ninth in the Eastern Conference.  The Thrashers and Habs both have fifty-six.  If we don’t firmly cement ourselves into a playoff berth soon, the playoffs will quickly cease to be an option at all.

Panoramio

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One week and three signings later, Theo Epstein is still arbitration-free! Do you know how hard a streak that is to maintain in this day and age? I’m telling you, that’s truly impressive.  On Tuesday, we agreed to terms with Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, and none other than the notable quotable himself: Jonathan Papelbon.

Paps got his raise, alright.  For the second straight season, we signed him to a one-year deal.  Except this one is worth $9.35 million.  You read right.  $9.35 million.  That’s a $3.1 million raise.  I don’t even want to imagine what his raise would’ve been had he not completely bombed Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS.  With this raise, he’s a relief pitcher being paid the salary of a position player.  The question is, does he deserve it?

Last season, K-Rod made about $9.2 million and posted an ERA of 3.71.  Joe Nathan made about $11.3 million and posted an ERA of 2.10.  Jonathan Papelbon made $6.25 million and posted an ERA of 1.85.  That’s lower than K-Rod’s and lower than Nathan’s who both made more than he did.  So what if Paps is younger? He’s better.  So, at least on paper, that’s a point in favor of the raise.

Now, it was painfully obvious to us that, even with that low ERA, Paps had an off-year last year.  Why? He walked more batters than usual.  More walks means more pitches means fatigue means less sharp means more blown saves.  But this is not a situation where we have a closer who has a meltdown for no apparent reason.  We know exactly what the problem was, which means we can fix it, which means that Paps’s inferior performance last year wasn’t permanent.  That’s another point in favor of the raise.

Short-term deals are better for the team and worse for the player, so it’s interesting that Paps hasn’t wanted a big contract.  I suspect that’s because he wants to keep Theo on his toes.  If every year is a contract year and Paps continually proves himself, he puts the onus on Theo to make the next movie.  Presumably, Theo would have no choice but to give him a raise every year, thus allowing him to earn more than he might have if he just agreed to one static figure.  From Theo’s perspective, this isn’t going to last long; he can only appease Paps for so many years until he’s eligible for free agency, and then all bets are off.  Meanwhile, Theo very neatly avoided arbitration; in Paps’s case, that was more crucial than ever, and no doubt the fat raise had something to do with it.  I would rather have given Paps a substantial raise and avoided arbitration than have gone through that ordeal with him.  Here’s why.

We also know that Paps is, as I said, a notable quotable.  The man isn’t quiet.  When there’s an opportunity to voice an opinion, you can bet he’ll be first in line, and you can bet that whatever he says will turn heads.  Putting him in a situation where he has to prove he’s worthy of the raise while Theo tries to prove that he isn’t is a horrible, horrible idea.  Given who Paps is, it would severely damage his relationship with the organization and the club.  As someone who relies so much on excited energy and jolts of adrenaline to get his job done, that could significantly impact his performance on the field, not to mention the performance of the whole club.  Case in point: Manny Ramirez.  That’s yet another point in favor of the raise.

But like I said, this won’t last forever, another point in favor.  Word on the street is that, when Paps hits free agency, he’ll take the first train out of Boston to wherever he finds the most green.  But there are some things that would provide serious and humbling deterrents to that course of action.  First of all, because he’s a notable quotable, he’s not a closer who can fit in anywhere.  Here, he came up through the system and the fans love the guy.  Elsewhere, with the possible exception of L.A., his antics might alienate him from his teammates and fan base.  Troubles off the field yield troubles on the field; again, I refer you to Manny Ramirez.  Point being, he might not be as successful elsewhere.

Also, we can expect that before Paps hits the market, he and Theo will have a talk, man to man.  During that talk Theo will say something like, “You and I both know you’re an elite closer.  You’ve had your fun throwing your weight around and making us jack up your paychecks by living on a year-to-year basis.  But now we’re not going to pay you more than you’re worth.  If you want to pull a Jason Bay and make a demand, chase it at all costs, and end up in a situation that’s not as sweet as you thought, go ahead.  But good luck winning a ring and being tolerated elsewhere.” And during this conversation, a very promising closer of the future named Daniel Bard will undoubtedly be on hand, just so that Papelbon knows that Theo isn’t playing games.  Because Papelbon needs to acknowledge, once and for all, that we’ve got another closer waiting in the wings, if necessary.  Papelbon may be good, and he may be great, but he’s not the only great.

I guess what I’m saying is that the raise was a sort of necessary annoyance.  It was exorbitant, to be sure, but there was no getting around it, given the circumstances.  In the future, the circumstances will change and permit us to avoid it.  All we have to do is hold out until then and see if Papelbon has learned anything along the way.  And if he hasn’t, no one would be able to say we didn’t try our hardest to keep him on board.  I for one am not too thrilled about the raise; he’s going to have to do a lot to earn it.  But the fact that I think he will earn it with flying colors makes it easier to bear.

Jeremy Hermida has yet to reach agreement; he wants $3.85 million, but we’re offering 2.95.  I have to say, I’m a big fan of the 2.95.  It would be just sad if Theo avoided arbitration with the likes of Paps only to have to enter into it with Hermida.

Jose Offerman, manager of the Dominican Winter League Licey Tigers, was banned from the league for life after punching umpire Daniel Rayburn.  He came onto the field to argue about an ejection made by Jayson Bradley, the plate umpire, and things got out of hand pretty quickly.  Now, I understand that sometimes the game can get dicey; you see something you don’t like, your temper flares up, and whatnot.  Fine.  But you do not, and when I say “ do not” I mean “do not,” punch an umpire.  I just reread that and it sounds so ridiculous, but it’s true.  You just don’t.  Rayburn, Bradley, and fellow crew members Justin Vogel and Barry Larson all resigned from the league and left the country within hours of reporting the incident.  Offerman could see battery charges if Rayburn pursues this further.

We’ve all heard Mark McGwire’s long-overdue confession.  And we’ve all heard reactions from pretty much everybody.  But I like Carlton Fisk’s the best, and not just because he’s Carlton Fisk.  This is what said to the Chicago Tribune in response to McGwire’s claim that steroids didn’t help him hit those seventy homers in ’98:

“That’s a crock.  There’s a reason they call it performance-enhancing drugs. That’s what it does – performance enhancement. You can be good, but it’s going to make you better…Some guys who went that route got their five-year, $35 million contracts and now are off into the sunset somewhere. Because once they can’t use [steroids] anymore, they can’t play anymore.  And steroids, during that time, probably did as much to escalate players’ salaries as did free agency, as did arbitration, and all of that stuff. It did more than just put home runs up on the board or money in the guys’ pocket.”

Not only is the man well-spoken and to-the-point, but he’s also one hundred percent correct.  Ultimately, McGwire’s claim can be shattered by sheer science, by the physics of the impact that steroids have on home runs.

Roger Tobin, a professor of physics and the chairman of the physics department at Tufts University, wrote a paper called, “On the potential of a chemical Bonds: Possible effects of steroids on home run production in baseball.” The long and short of this paper is the following.  Anabolic androgenic steroids increase lean muscle mass, which increases the hitter’s force on the bat, which increases the work that the bat performs on the ball, which results in a three percent increase in bat speed.  That doesn’t seem like much, but consider the fact that home runs are infrequent and determined by a defined either/or threshold: it’s a home run if it goes over the fence; if it doesn’t, it isn’t.  Requiring a ten percent home run rate, that is, a rate of one out of every ten balls hit going over the fence (derived as a baseline from the pre-steroid era), using the bound that less than five percent of home runs are longer than 460 feet, and combining those two things with physical analysis, Tobin proves that, for an elite slugger like Mark McGwire, that small increase in bat speed would in fact lead to a thirty to seventy percent increase in home run rate.  Bang.

Point being that, no matter what he claims, Mark McGwire’s performance was enhanced significantly.  And I personally would never, under any circumstances, offer a user a standing ovation for a confession more than ten years late.  But that’s just me.  If St. Louis wants to give their new coach a standing ovation and maybe even get him to suit up and play, that’s their business.

The Bruins lost to the Sens and Blue Jackets, and we lost our must-win against the Sens yesterday.  We don’t play the Sens anymore this season, and we drop to fourth place in the division and ninth in the conference, which means that, if it stays like that, we’re not going to the playoffs.  And to add insult to injury, guess who we’re playing this evening: the Canes.  Great.

Dinosaurs Never Existed

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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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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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