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Posts Tagged ‘CC Sabathia’

Obviously, the first thing you notice about yesterday’s game after you notice the fact that we won and are now back in first (in a tie, but still) is that Lackey got the win.  He took on Sabathia.  It was Sabathia who got destroyed, and Lackey won.  If there’s anyone in that clubhouse who is entitled to a victory dance, besides the entire club and especially Ellsbury, it’s Lackey.

Six innings, three runs on six hits, two walks, and five strikeouts.  115 pitches, seventy-one for strikes.  What do you notice? Low efficiency but high innings, low walks, and especially no hits.  Lackey isn’t like Beckett; he doesn’t have a fastball he can use to overpower a hitter.  If Beckett makes a mistake, he hopes the sheer speed of the fastball will cover for it.  With the kind of repertoire he uses, if Lackey has nothing to cover up his mistakes.  He either locates or he doesn’t.  When he doesn’t, really, really bad things happen.  Yesterday, he was on the money.

His three most frequently-thrown pitches, the slider, cutter, and curveball, were all excellent.  They had everything: precision, execution, location, movement.  You name it, they had it.  He threw in some deadly changeups and an unusually potent fastball, and his mix was designed for dominance.  This, my friends, is a huge step in the right direction.  Whether it’s due to the arrival of Bedard or a natural progression toward positivity, I don’t know.  Probably some mixture of both.  Whatever it is, if he keeps it up, we’ll be in great shape.

His first inning was one-two-three and included a strikeout on a fastball.  He faced only one above the minimum in each of his next two innings.  The fourth was when he ran into trouble.  A single, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases.  A double play scored one, and a single scored another.  In the fifth, he allowed a single and hit another batter, and another single brought in his third run.  Lackey returned to cruise control for the sixth; he faced one above the minimum and posted a called strikeout on a changeup.

Fortunately for Lackey, the lineup was right there to back him up.  Sabathia stood no chance.  We went down in order the first two innings, but we made up for it later.

We scored twice in the third.  Crawford doubled off the Monster, Salty walked, and they both advanced on a sac fly by Scutaro.  Crawford scored on a sac fly by Ellsbury, and Salty scored on a double by Pedroia.  Then Lackey put us in a tie at two.

Then we exploded.

Youk led off the fourth with a double.  You never want to put a runner on base to start an inning; you definitely don’t want to put a runner in scoring position to start an inning, especially not within our lineup.  Papi struck out on three pitches, which was obviously anticlimactic.  Aviles, who started in the outfield yesterday for the first time in his career, singled Youk over to third, and he scored on a single by Crawford.  Salty popped out.  Scutaro singled in Aviles.

And then, with the count 2-0 and two men on base, Ellsbury was thinking fastball down the pipe.  Sabathia dealt a fastball down the pipe.  So Ellsbury did the only sensible thing one can really do in that situation: hit a home run.  It ended up in the right field seats.

At the time the score was 7-2, but even then the game wasn’t over. Aceves replaced Lackey in the seventh and mowed through his batters.  Bard replaced Aceves in the eighth and gave up a home run on a ninety-nine-mile-per-hour fastball.  But we meant business, and we answered that run with three in the bottom of the inning.

Reddick, who replaced Aviles in right, walked on ten pitches.  Reddick moved to third on a single by Crawford, who stole second. Salty walked to load the bases.  Scutaro popped out, but Ellsbury singled in two, and Salty scored on Pedroia’s sac fly.

Wheeler came on for the ninth.  Then we were done.  The final score was 10-4.

Crawford was perfect at the plate; he went four for four with an RBI and three runs.  Ellsbury went two for four with one run and six RBIs.  Six.  The man is a beast.  Youk and Gonzalez flashed some serious leather in the field.

There are now only two lefties in all of Major League Baseball who have hit home runs off Sabathia.  Both are in our lineup.  It’s Ellsbury and Gonzalez.  Sabathia is 0 and 4 against us in four starts this year.  The last pitcher to do that was Rodrigo Lopez of the Orioles in 2006; the last Yankees pitcher to do it was Pat Dobson in 1975.  In the last three of those four starts, Sabathia has given up at least six runs.

The game tonight decides who leaves the series in first place.  Beckett is pitching tonight.  This should be fun.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin
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The one bad inning rears its ugly head yet again.  Take away that sixth inning, and we clearly win.  The truth is, though, that that sixth inning wasn’t even that bad.  Three runs? We should be able to score twice that in our sleep.  We were up against Bartolo Colon, who wasn’t having the best outing of his life, either.  So you can look at it in one of two ways: either Lester shouldn’t have allowed those run at all or we should have been able to score more, especially off the bullpen since Colon left early.  The reality, as usual, is a mixture of both.

Lester cruised through five.  The first inning was his second-most efficient at eleven pitches; he posted two K’s in that inning.  The second inning was his second-least efficient at twenty-three pitches; he allowed two baserunners, one single and one four-pitch walk.  He opened and closed it with strikeouts, the first on three pitches.  He faced the minimum in the third, his most efficient inning at ten pitches.  He faced the minimum with two strikeouts again in the fourth.  He allowed a walk but faced the minimum again in the fifth, thanks to a double play.

And then the sixth.  It started with an eight pitch walk.  You never, ever want to begin an inning by allowing a runner on base.  It doesn’t matter how the runner gets there.  You just do not want to pitch the rest of the inning with a runner on base.  What if you make a mistake? Lester was about to find out.

He allowed two consecutive singles after that, which resulted in the first run.  It could have stopped there.  But Lester issued another walk, which loaded the bases.  A double play put two outs on the board but scored another run.  A double then allowed the third run before a groundout ended it.  He threw thirty-five pitches in that inning.  And that was the last we saw of Lester last night.

All told, he allowed three runs on six hits over five innings while walking four and striking out seven.  He threw 108 pitches, sixty-four for strikes.  What you notice first is obviously the high walk total, and the Yankees eventually made him pay.  What you also notice is that his cut fastball was by no means at its best last night.  He threw it well most of the time, but it didn’t have that nastiness to it that it usually does.  When you watched it, you just didn’t get the same lights-out feeling you get when you watch it on an on night.  His curveball and sinker didn’t help much either, and he hardly threw any changeups for strikes.  And whatever problems were plaguing him last night didn’t manifest themselves until the sixth, when he just lost everything.  He took the loss.

What the bullpen lacked on Thursday, they made up for on Friday.  Because we lost, they don’t have anything to show for it.  But it was a masterful display of collective control and dominance.  Albers, Williams, Aceves.  Three scoreless innings.

The final score was 3-2.  In the second, Reddick singled, and Scutaro grounded into a force out and scored on a double by Ellsbury.  Papi hit a solo shot in the fourth.  I guess that hug he got from Steven Tyler before the game paid off.  It was a six-pitch at-bat, and all six pitches were fastballs, only one of which was a two-seam.  The count was 1-2, and he sent the ball over the bullpen into right field.  That was not a good at-bat for Papi.  His first pitch was a called strike, then the ball, and then he just fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch.  He did not look happy.  So he packed a whole lot of angry into that swing.

The fifth inning was just terrible.  With two out and the bases loaded, the Yankees made a pitching change and Gonzalez stepped up to the plate.  For the Yankees, that’s supposed to be a recipe for disaster.  You have a new reliever stepping into a pressure cooker and facing a hitter you just epically do not ever want to face in that situation because he’ll make you pay for any mistake you make, no matter how small you think it is.  At all costs, he will get at least one runner across the plate.  If Gonzalez had plated one, then given what happened in the sixth the game would have been tied, and we would have sorted it out in the late or extra innings.  (Of course you never know because even something small changes the game completely, but you know what I mean.) But he struck out.  He struck out swinging on three pitches.  I couldn’t believe it.  It was awful.

After that, Crawford doubled in the sixth and Papi singled in the ninth, but that was it for us.

Reddick and Crawford both went two for four; Crawford also had that spectacular diving catch in left that ended the third.  Salty caught two thieves and has improved dramatically on that front.

We are eight and two against the Yankees this year but are now in second place for the first time since July 6.  We can solve that problem today and tomorrow.  Lackey takes on Sabathia this afternoon.  Hold onto your hats.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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This is fun.  I like this.  I like how playing in Yankee Stadium is no big deal anymore.  Actually, with the way we’ve been performing there recently, it feels kind of like Fenway.  I mean, except for the fact that Fenway is so much better in every conceivable way, of course.  I just mean we’re ruling it as if it were Fenway.  We have now swept the Evil Empire on their home turf in less than a month’s time.  In this series, we scored twenty-five runs to their ten.  Yankee fans must be in a world of hurt right now.  Cool.

Beckett totally dominated.  Seven full innings, two runs on four hits, two walks, six strikeouts.  104 pitches, sixty-five for strikes.  Lethal cutter.  Lethal two-seam.  Excellent curveball.  The rest of his pitches on the whole weren’t at the level of those three, but they were still effective.  Beckett didn’t record his first strikeout until the third inning, when he rang up Mark Teixeira with a curveball.  He would record a second strikeout with his curveball later on.  Two other strikeouts were ultimately achieved using the changeup, and one each with the four-seam and the cutter.  The two runs he allowed came in the first; he drilled Derek Jeter, and then Curtis Granderson went yard.  But Beckett went on lockdown after that, and that was it.  It was his fifth win of the season, three of which have come opposite CC Sabathia.

May I say that I derived an immense amount of pleasure from observing the complete and total meltdown of the Sabathia’s entire baseball universe in the seventh inning.  Right through the seventh, the game was every bit a pitcher’s duel that the Yankees were in the process of winning by two runs, and we had yet to score.  Our best opportunity came in the second with two men on base.  The seventh inning erased all those zeroes that came before it.  In the seventh inning alone, we scored seven runs.

Papi singled to lead it off and scored on a triple by Lowrie.  Crawford grounded out for the first out of the frame.  Then Cameron promptly doubled to bring Lowrie home.  Tek singled, and Ellsbury singled to bring in Cameron.  Scutaro lined out for the second out of the frame.  Then Gonzalez singled and brought Tek home.  Then Sabathia left, and David Robertson came in.  Ellsbury scored on a single by Youk, and Gonzalez and Youk scored on a double by Papi.  Eight of our twelve total hits were made in that inning alone.

Scutaro doubled and scored on a double by Gonzalez in the top of the ninth; the Yanks got that run back in the bottom of the inning.  But we won, 8-3.  No home runs.  Nothing too flashy.  Just hit after hit after hit in an incredibly huge inning.  That one bad inning is pretty bitter medicine, isn’t it.

We are the first team this year to beat the Yanks in six consecutive games, something we haven’t done on the road since 1912.  And we did it even with a rain delay of three hours and twenty-seven minutes.  In other words, by the time the game could have been over already, which is a fair statement to make considering the fact that the game itself lasted three hours and eleven minutes, we were just getting started.  But it was worth the wait.  I’ll be taking a break for about two weeks; we’re two games in first, and I expect that, within that time, our first-place lead will widen considerably.  If we keep playing like we played during this series, that’s as good as guaranteed.

In other news, from a Bruins perspective, no other time to take a break could possibly be worse.

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Things did not start out too well for either pitcher.  We threatened in the first; Ellsbury was hit by a pitch and Pedroia singled.  (Despite the fact that Ellsbury has taken some bumps and bruises lately, he’s still fine.) Then CC Sabathia put up three consecutive swinging strikes.  Similarly, Beckett allowed two consecutive singles before securing two swinging strikes and a groundout.

Both Sabathia and Beckett settled down after that; nobody scored until the fifth.  With the bases loaded, Ellsbury smacked a double that brought in two.  That was it until the seventh, when we put up a four-spot.  Cameron led off the inning with a walk and scored on a single by Tek.  Two batters later, Pedroia singled and Gonzalez walloped a massive three-run shot into the seats behind the bullpen in right field.  It was a high fastball, and he had that ball’s number right from the beginning.  It was a blast to watch, both literally and figuratively.  He assumed his stance earlier, so he had more space over the plate.  By doing so, he had more room on the inside, which mean that Sabathia couldn’t pitch inside, which he had been wont to do with lefties.  Gonzalez has now hit five home runs in four consecutive games.  His longest home run streak, which he two years ago today, is five.  Coincidence? I think not.  It was his ninth of the season and eighth this month.  Even with two out, that pitch never stood a chance.  He is just on fire.  Right now, I would say he’s probably the hitter to beat in all of Major League Baseball.  You would never have known it from his two at-bats before that, but he smoked that ball all the way.

And that was the final score right there.  6-0.  We win.  Ellsbury went two for four; Pedroia went three for four with a steal.  Joe Girardi was ejected, and Jorge Posada took a mental health day that may or may not have coincided with a bad back day yesterday.  He claimed it had nothing to do with the fact that he was dropped to the number nine spot.  Oh, the drama.

So obviously the other really awesome part of the game was that zero.  Beckett was phenomenal.  Six shutout innings.  Four hits, two walks, nine strikeouts.  (Incidentally, he also struck out nine during the complete game he pitched in the 2003 World Series, also against the Yankees.  Coincidence? I think not.) 105 pitches, sixty-five for strikes.  He wasn’t able to use the two-seam as effectively as he wanted to, especially against lefties, but he worked a filthy changeup, and his cutter and four-seam were comparably unhittable.  He even threw in some nasty curveballs.  But that changeup and that cutter were just absolutely filthy.  He may have thrown twenty-one pitches in his first inning, but he threw only nine in his last.

As I said, he notched two K’s in the first, the last of which was a three-pitch strikeout of Robinson Cano put away with the changeup.  His second inning was one-two-three but he didn’t strike out anybody.  He notched two more swinging strikeouts in the third to open and end the inning, both ending with cutters.  The fourth was also one-two-three and featured back-to-back K’s, the first a swing and a miss on a cutter and the second a called strikeout on a cutter.  The fifth opened and ended with two five-pitch swinging strikeouts, the first on the curveball and the second on the changeup.  The sixth was one-two-three and began when A-Rod struck out on a cutter.  Beckett just mowed through the lineup.  He was dominant.  He was not somebody you wanted to mess with.  The Yankee lineup didn’t mess with him.  He got the win.  The only complaint anyone could possibly have with his outing is that he was slightly inefficient; had his work been more streamlined, he could have pitched at least another inning.  But in his two starts against New York this year, he has pitched fourteen shutout innings, given up only six hits, and struck out nineteen batters.  In general, he is currently nursing a shutout streak of eighteen and a third innings.  And his ERA is 1.75.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Albers pitched the seventh and eighth.  Hill pitched the ninth.  Done.

That was awesome.  It was just awesome.  We did everything the Yankees didn’t.  We manufactured runs.  We hit for power.  We also just out-pitched them completely.  So it’s pretty simple.  The worst we can do now is win the series.  But obviously what we really want to do is sweep.  The way the pitching matchups worked out, I’d say that’s a good possibility.

In other news, the Bruins dropped the first game of the series with the Lightning, 5-2.  Ouch.

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Wow.  Just, wow.   I mean, what? But in a good way.

Yes, I am completely aware that that made absolutely no sense.  It’s just hard not to be too pumped for words after last night’s game.  It was epic.  Not only were we at home, but we won.  Not only did we win, but we won against the Yankees.  Not only did we win against the Yankees, but we won against the Yankees because Josh Beckett came home again.  Everything about that game was immensely satisfying.

The phrase you’re going to hear in almost every article you read about last night’s game is “vintage Beckett.” What does that mean? That means he made a start the likes of which he hasn’t made since 2009, when he went seventeen and six with a 3.86 ERA.  Before 2009, he hadn’t made a start like this since 2007, the year CC Sabathia stole his Cy Young.  I guess he’s on some sort of strange two-year cycle.  Last night, he had his revenge.  Last night, he looked every bit like a Cy Young winner, and he stole the W from Sabathia.

Beckett was wolf-like in his ruthlessness and his ability to detect fear in opposing batters.  He shook of Tek, not because they weren’t on the same page, but because he had the number of every hitter he faced, and he knew exactly what he needed to do to get them out.  And once Tek realized that letting him command his own game would not result in a ridiculous amount of runs, he let him.  The results speak for themselves.

Eight shutout innings.  Two hits.  One walk.  Ten strikeouts.  103 pitches.  Sixty-eight strikes.

That was his first double-digit strikeout total since July 27, 2009.  Back problems? What back problems? Shoulder problems? What shoulder problems? He went out there and he attacked the strike zone like a strike-throwing machine.  He pulled out some nasty stuff.  His fastball was formidable, topping out at ninety-four miles per hour and in for a strike about eighty percent of the time.  His curveball was unhittable and perfectly located.  His cutter was sharp.  His two-seam put away Mark Teixeira.  But his changeup was the real evidence of his return to form.  His arm was so alive that he threw his changeup at an average speed of eighty-eight and a top speed of ninety.  Most pitchers in the Major Leagues are lucky to throw a fastball at that speed.  And the hitters could do absolutely nothing with it.

He threw nineteen pitches in the first inning and only improved from there.  During his last two innings, he needed just eight pitches to secure the three outs.  His speeds varied.  His release point tightened as the game went on.  The strike zone? Peppered.  This was, without a doubt, one of the best starts I have ever seen from him.  Ever.

Fortunately, it didn’t go to waste.  We loaded the bases in the third with nobody out.  Then there was a double play that scored a run.  Then second base umpire Mark Wagner retracted the run and called the post-double play runners back to their bases because Youk apparently “interfered” with the play.  Basically, Youk obstructed Jeter’s ability to field when he slid into second.  But that slide is a slide you see all the time.  It was one of those that prompts a jump by whoever’s covering second in order to clear the bag in time.  It’s a very obscure rule; since this sort of thing happens almost every day, nobody really enforces the rule.  In this particular situation, we fortunately didn’t have to be livid for long.  Cameron managed to eke out an infield hit, and Pedroia came home.

And guess what? Beckett held that lead.  The score was 1-0, and Beckett held it.  He held it through numerous terribly frustrating abandonments of men on base and of prime opportunities squandered in such an irksome fashion that it reminded you that on Saturday we went one for seventeen with runners in scoring position.  But then who should come up big with the bases loaded in the seventh but Marco Scutaro, who smacked a ninety-three mile-per-hour four-seam for a two-run double that looked so natural and so confident that it made you wonder, for that moment, what he was doing batting ninth, until you remembered that placing a hitter who has moments reminiscent of a leadoff man in the ninth spot lengthens your innings because it means you’ve got basically two leadoff hitters in a row.  The ball ended up in left and rolled all the way to the Monster.  Now would be a good time to mention that he’s nine for sixteen with the bases loaded over the course of his Boston career.  Who knew?

And Beckett held that lead until the eighth, when Papi increased it with a one-run double on an eighty-three mile-per-hour slider that was perhaps one of the most powerfully hit doubles Fenway has ever had the pleasure of witnessing.  It bounced off the very top of the wall in right-center field.  As in, pretty much exactly at the 420-foot mark.  We’re talking inches away from a home run.

So Scutaro went two for two, Papi went two for four, and Pedroia went three for four last night and nine for thirteen in the series.  He read Yankees pitching like a book this weekend.  Paps didn’t necessarily come on during a save opportunity, but the moment was just as suspenseful.  He handled it beautifully.  Three up, three down.  Two strikeouts.  Twelve pitches.  Done.  4-0.

The only bad news is that Sabathia drilled Gonzalez’s hands on an inside pitch in the fifth.  The ball landed squarely on his left pinky and ring finger.  He took his base and, instead of squeezing his batting gloves in both hands, as some baserunners are wont to do to create some extra cushioning to avoid injury, he held both of his gloves in his right hand.  He didn’t swing especially hard after that, but he did stay in the game, and after the game he said he felt fine.  We dodged one serious bullet right there.  Now would be a good time to mention the fact that more batters have been hit during our games with the Yankees than have been hit in games between any other two teams.

Two more counts of good news: the infield at Fenway is brand new, so bounces are truer and fielding is cleaner.  But let’s not forget to tell everyone that, so we don’t have situations like Lowrie had where he expected the ball to bounce as it would on the old infield when instead it actually bounced correctly.  And we signed Buchholz to a four-year extension.  In its most basic form, it’s worth thirty million dollars, but it includes two club options that together are worth about twenty-seven million.  For a pitcher of that caliber, that’s a steal.

Yes, we left sixteen men on base.  Yes, we only went three for fourteen with runners in scoring position.  But we win the series! It’s amazing how different your perception of those things becomes when you win.  But that’s natural, because if you win, at least in the short term it really doesn’t matter.  All that matters is the three, not the fourteen.  The long term is a different story, but we haven’t seen this club get into any sort of groove that would indicate that the lineup won’t be able to produce with runners in scoring position in the long term.

Wow.  Josh Beckett, man.  Josh Beckett.  Welcome back.  It’s good to see you.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Devils.  An anticlimactic way to end an awesome season.  Which isn’t over yet.  Our first playoff game is Thursday against the Habs.  I’m psyched.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Awards season has come and gone and left disappointment and injustice in its wake.  Seriously.  I can’t even talk about it.  This goes beyond even Sabathia stealing Beckett’s Cy Young and Guerrero stealing Papi’s Silver Slugger.  This time, it’s personal.

Lester and Buchholz both finished in the top six in the AL Cy Young voting, but both ultimately lost to Felix Hernandez, who won it with his numbers alone since the Mariners didn’t offer any help of any sort at any time.  And if a Cy Young were awarded to best one-two punch, Lester and Buchholz would totally sweep that vote.

A new award was introduced this year: the Commissioner’s Award for Philanthropic Excellence.  We won it, and I can’t think of any team more deserving.  The Red Sox Foundation now gets ten thousand dollars.  I have to say, if any award is worth winning, this one is obviously most definitely up there.

So, obviously, that’s not where the disappointment and injustice come in, although I will say that both Lester and Buchholz were spectacular this past year, and I’d be very surprised if neither wins at least one Cy Young in each of their careers.  No.  All of that comes in here: Tito did not win Manager of the Year; cue the disappointment.  Furthermore, he finished fourth in the voting; cue the injustice.  We won eighty-nine games last year with half our starting lineup ending up being out for the season, more than 136 different batting orders, and a majority of our starters out of Spring Training on the DL by the end of it.  And you’re telling me that’s not Manager of the Year material right there? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a very long time.  All three managers who finished ahead of Tito, perhaps not coincidentally, had teams that ended up in the playoffs.  But that’s not supposed to be what this is about.  Putting a team in the playoffs doesn’t necessarily indicate a good manager; it indicates a good team with a good schedule.  And I can’t even begin to tell you how utterly frustrated I am with any system that could possibly have resulted in this outcome.  Tony La Russa even said in print that it should unquestionably be Tito as AL Manager of the Year.  And not only does he not get it, but he finishes fourth? That is complete insanity if I’ve ever seen it, ever.

That’s a pretty bold statement, but it’s true.  The three managers who finished ahead of him were Ron Gardenhire, Ron Washington, and Joe Maddon, all worthy opponents and all perennial appearance-makers in votes for this award.  All of them obviously had to deal with major injuries to major players at inopportune times this past year, Gardenhire much more than the other two.  And they all get their usual credit for maintaining stability in the clubhouse, handling big personalities, and just generally being good at what they do.  But only one of them did it with some of the biggest of the big personalities in one of the most pressurized of cookers called Major League Baseball teams every single day for an entire season during which the team, on any given day, looked entirely different.  It’s incredibly difficult to sustain morale in that kind of competition environment with that kind of scenario going on, and yet Tito made it look like a walk in the park (pun intended).  Maddon arguably had it easiest of the four, following by Washington.  So we’re talking Tito and Gardenhire, but at least Gardenhire had more peace and quiet in which to conduct his business and less potential clubhouse drama to worry about.  We’re talking about the man who managed a minor league baseball team that had Michael Jordan on its roster, and don’t even get me started on Manny Ramirez.  Obviously, neither of those two episodes had bearing on this year, but they’re just great testimonies to his managerial abilities.

All I’m saying is that Tito will have another spectacular year this coming year, and even then he probably won’t have any Manager of the Year award to show for it, but one of the reasons he deserves such an award is that he doesn’t do any of what he does with the award in mind.  He does it anyway, day in and day out, injuries or no injuries.  So here’s to you, Tito.  We all know who the real Manager of the Year is.

The GM meetings have also come and gone, hopefully having greased the skids for the Winter Meetings next month.  Cue the rumors.  We are one of three teams in hot pursuit of Carl Crawford, and we might trade Paps.  The former is true; the latter couldn’t be more false.  Lou Merloni is all in favor of taking the plunge, making the trade for some elite relievers, and giving Bard the closer’s job.  I don’t think that’s prudent at this point.  When Paps first burst onto the scene, he looked a lot like Bard: a new phenom nobody had seen and everybody loved because his fastball found triple-digit speeds.  If we give the ball to Bard too early, we could have another Paps on our hands.  Paps had a bad year this past year, but let’s see how he does this coming year before we just give away our closer in favor of a young guy who isn’t yet tried-and-true in that role on a regular basis.

And finally, last but totally not least, we have some news from Bud Selig, who is obviously trying to make waves before he retires.  He wants to add another Wild Card to each league in order to expand the playoffs from eight teams to ten.  I mean, what? I guess the Wild Card teams would play each other to determine the Wild Card champion, and then everything would return to business as usual? And then the Wild Card champion would of course be able to sell untold amounts of shirts, hats, and other merchandise? He wants to implement this change by next season, which convinces me that he’s doing this to leave his mark.  Rob Manfred, executive vice president for labor relations of Major League Baseball, basically said that’s not in the cards (pun intended) due to collective bargaining issues.  Michael Weiner, the head of the player’s union, says the players aren’t necessarily opposed to the potential change, but the union hasn’t been approached formally yet.

I am not in favor.  Selig claims that eight is a fair number of total teams, and so is ten; therefore, why not ten? I would counter that with the age-old adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The playoffs are a whole month long with eight teams as it is, and baseball should not be played in November.  Also, how would you approach the scenario of one of these newly added Wild Card teams winning the World Series? It’s similar to the steroids issue.  Does the juiced player who breaks a record go into the books with or without an asterisk, or does he not go into the books at all? Similarly, this new team wouldn’t even have made the playoffs under the old system, so do we really consider them World Series champions or don’t we? Granted, the current organization of the playoffs isn’t that old; expansion was voted on and passed in 1993.  But because this format is so new, let’s let it get its footing first.  There are those who point out that expansion would have gotten us into the playoffs this year.  But then we’d have more levels of competition to clear once we get there, so it’s not necessarily all that helpful.  Like I said, there’s been no indication so far that it needs fixing by the addition of two teams.  This is Selig wanting to make waves, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been having some nice talks with the networks about it too.  I’m just saying that I think he’s proposing this change for all the wrong reasons, and there are no clear benefits from a baseball standpoint.

Also, Selig’s second in command and right-hand man, Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball’s Chief Operating Officer, resigned last month.  What’s up with that.

We claimed Taylor Buchholz.  Yes, he is Clay’s cousin.

In other news, the B’s shut out the Devils and Panthers this week, with the help of Lucic’s hat trick in the latter, and bested the Rangers by one goal.  We lost to the Kings yesterday by one goal, but it was in overtime, so we still get a point.  The Pats beat the Steelers last week.  In Pittsburgh.  39-26.  It was nothing short of awesome.

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Congratulations to Beltre for winning a Silver Slugger! He most definitely deserved it.  I wish I could say the same for Vlad Guerrero, who won it instead of Big Papi, which is ridiculous.  Guerrero hit .300 with twenty-nine homers, 115 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .496.  Sounds great.  Until you consider the fact that he only hit nine homers after the All-Star break and posted a measly OPS of .748.  Papi hit thirty-two homers and posted a slugging percentage of .529 and OPS of .899.  Notice that all of Papi’s numbers are higher than Vlad’s.  Theoretically, this should result in his fifth Silver Slugger at DH, but for some absurd and unknown reason, it didn’t.  He and Josh Beckett can commiserate this offseason, because that’s just not right.

Pedroia’s rehab is progressing ahead of schedule.  I’m not surprised by that.  I am relieved, not just for the team and for Red Sox Nation but also for Pedroia, who’s been itching to play for months now.

Ladies and gentlemen, the stove is finally starting to heat up.  Finally.  We have confirmed official contact with Werth’s agent.  We are supposedly interested in Zack Greinke and Justin Duchsherer.  We have statements from Theo about his commitment to re-sign Beltre and V-Mart, with the obvious emphasis on V-Mart.  Meanwhile, Peter Gammons is convinced that Theo is going to move on without V-Mart because he says the Sox are sure Salty can handle the job.  I’m going to take Theo’s word on this instead.

Perhaps the ultimate free agent, or at least the one everyone’s talking about these days, is Cliff Lee.  Everyone thought Lee is going to be a Yankee for sure.  Nothing would please me less, but I don’t think that’s as likely as people think.  He’s thirty-two years old, and if New York decides to give him a Sabathia-like contract with heaps of money and, less intelligently, heaps of years, I will lose negative respect for their organization, because trust me, there isn’t any there to begin with now.  My next guess would be the Angels, but they’ve already set their sights on Carl Crawford, although that could change since the Giants proved that, yes, you can win with pitching.  (Which only confirms the fact that we’re going to win the World Series this year, by the way.  Just sayin’.) Detroit could be an option since they’ve made payroll room.  The most likely competitor for New York right now appears to be the Rangers, who are in hot pursuit, and offers could come in from the Phillies and Brewers as well.

The Mets won’t spend this offseason, the Cubs want youth, the Reds are in the process of offering Arroyo an extension, and I’m so sorry to say this, but I don’t think we’re going to be in the mix for this one.  A sizeable chunk of our payroll is currently devoted to our starting rotation, and on top of that we just don’t have the space for Lee right now.  So it makes sense to leave him alone.  Otherwise, we basically wouldn’t be able to do anything else.  Lee is absolutely awesome, so again, it hurts to say so, but we’re making the right move here.

An interesting question to ask is whether the acquisition of Lackey kept us from Lee.  I think the answer would have to be yes, but I think we’ll get more bang for our buck with Lackey than we would have with Lee.  Lackey is a competitive workhorse.  He absorbs innings like a sponge.  We need a guy like that in there, especially if we’ve got another guy on whom you can’t necessarily depend to go deep.  (That would be Dice-K.) Lackey complements that, and that way the bullpen knows it’s going to have a light night for each overtime it works.  Depending on how this season goes, I’d be ready to say we made the right decision.  That’s the key right there.  Lee is a competitive workhorse too, and he also absorbs innings like a sponge.  But he won’t be absorbing anyone’s innings like anything unless they’re ready to fork over substantial coin and years.  Provided that my predictions about Lackey returning to top form his sophomore season come true, Lackey is the better option because he’ll probably end up being cheaper than both.  I have a feeling that Lee’s next contract is going to be huge.  So Lackey gives us more flexibility that way.  Sure, Lee arguably would be better, but like I said, if Lackey is back to his stellar self as of now, the difference in quality won’t be that large; meanwhile, we spend less money and don’t have to commit the better part of an entire decade.

We traded Dustin Richardson to the Marlins for Andrew Miller.  The Jays just hired PawSox manager Torey Lovullo as their new first base coach.  Our minor league infield coordinator, Gary DiSarcina, is now the assistant to the Angels’ general manager.  DeMarlo Hale will interview with the Mets for their managerial position.  The disadvantage of having a top-flight staff is that everyone wants a piece.  Hopefully for us, this goes nowhere.

In a spectacular combination of divine intervention and rational thought, ESPN will not renew the contracts of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan.  Oh, happy day.  Twenty-one years of suffering through commentary that was anything but insightful and unbiased is officially over.  Dan Shulman will replace Miller.  At this point, anything is an improvement.

In other news, the Bruins started the week with a victory over the Penguins, 7-4.  Seven goals in a single game.  Wow.  Then we just had to lose to the Habs, 3-1.  Yesterday’s game didn’t bode too well either; the Sens shut us out, 2-0.  Those were not the same Senators we shut out, 4-0.  That was a completely different team.  On behalf of Bruins fans everywhere, I’d like to extend condolences to the family of Pat Burns, who coached us in the late ’90s.  Last Sunday, the Pats delivered one of the absolute worst performances I have ever had the misfortune of seeing.  We lost, 34-14, to none other than the Cleveland Browns.  The Cleveland Browns! I was seeing Super Bowl glory, and then all of a sudden we lost by twenty points to the Cleveland Browns? To make matters worse, Stephen Gostkowski will probably be out for two games with a quad strain.  The only silver lining I can possibly muster in this situation is that the Pats have a tendency to bounce back from big losses in a big way.  Right on time for us to play the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

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