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Posts Tagged ‘Chone Figgins’

Mike Cameron was basically the only good thing that happened last night.  The rest of it was all bad.  It was all just really, really bad.

First, there was Dice-K.  Early in the game, his right elbow started to tighten up.  He went out to the mound, and he did not deliver a start similar to what he should us his last two outings.  He pitched to one batter in the fifth, failed to record an out, and was finally pulled.

So he only pitched four innings but threw eighty-two pitches.  He gave up three runs, only one earned (thank you, Lowrie and McDonald), on three hits.  He walked four.  He struck out four.  So as you can see, he was not on the way to pitching another fantastic outing.  He actually claims that he could have kept on pitching but that it was Tito’s decision to remove him.  A truly inspired decision, I might add.  He was officially pulled due to right elbow stiffness.

Albers came on and pitched two solid innings.  And then things started to get interesting.

Seattle scored two runs in the top of the first, but we got one back in the bottom of the second when Cameron walloped a home run on his first pitch of the night, an eighty-eight-mile-per-hour two-seam outside.  It was a home run right after Johnny Pesky’s own heart.  It wrapped right around that pole for a run.

McDonald led off the third with a walk, and Ellsbury grounded into a force out.  Pedroia flied out, Gonzalez singled, Ellsbury came home on a single by Youk, and Gonzalez came home on a single by Papi.

Cameron led off the fourth with another home run.  This one was on the third pitch of the at-bat, an eighty-mile-per-hour changeup down and away.  And there were no doubts about this one.  This one sailed all the way to the Monster seats.  So, note to opposing pitchers: do not throw pitches with speeds in the eighties range that are away to Mike Cameron.  This was his first multi-homer game since 2009.

So we scored four runs.  Those four runs were the only runs we would score.  We didn’t score a single run over the game’s last five innings.

This is the interesting part.  Jenks came on to pitch the seventh.  At that point, we were leading Seattle by one.  But Ichiro singled, Chone Figgins doubled, Milton Bradley struck out, and Suzuki scored on a groundout.  Justin Smoak walked.  Figgins scored on a double.  Adam Kennedy grounded out.  And that was it for Bobby Jenks.  Okajima and Bard did what they could to keep us in it after that.

Let’s think about this for a moment.  This is not a one time thing with Jenks.  Lately, every time he comes out, you know your lead is not safe.  I really hate to say this, but if he doesn’t do something soon, he’s going to become Eric Gagne, and we all know how that turned out.  In Jenks’s first ten games with us, his ERA is 8.64, opposing batters are hitting .324 against him, and he has allowed runs in four of his last six appearances.  All this after he was untouched in his first four appearances this season.  Now that is more than I can say for Gagne, so it’s just strange.  This is the longest struggle of his career.  Tito thinks it’s location, and I have to agree.  He doesn’t have a velocity or versatility problem.  He throws his pitches well.  He just doesn’t throw them precisely enough to hit his spots.  That’s a problem you can fix, which is a good sign, because to this day I have no idea what was going on with Gagne.

For a few seconds, it looked like Lowrie would come through in the ninth.  He hit what I was convinced was a home run until it turned out to be a fly ball because, as luck would have it, he hit it to the 420-foot mark, the deepest part of the park where the center fielder actually had room to corral it.  And them Cameron stepped up, and you know you were thinking that this could be the day he hits three.  So he hits one, and it’s sailing through the air, and you’re thinking that if this ball could just get out, we’ll get this thing in extra innings.  But no.  The ball ends up right in Ichiro’s glove.  Drew struck out looking to end it, 5-4.

So that was the first game of an eleven-game homestand.  Not really the type of opening, or should I say closing, you hope for.  We’ve lost three of our last four games and are now eleven and fourteen.  And we had Dice-K looking like Dice-K, Jenks looking like Jenks, and Drew looking like Drew when he struck out looking to end the 2008 ALCS.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Drew striking out looking the same way again.  Well, we have Lackey coming up.  My goal right now is just to get to .500.  That should not be that difficult.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin
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Buffalo Springfield and I were totally right.  I love being right when being right is a good thing.  Before yesterday’s game, Buchholz had gone through what Lester went through right after the All-Star break: a slump.  The two were strikingly similar.  Lester’s was four games and Buchholz’s was three, but in both situations you had young pitchers who’d been solid all year but who suddenly had to battle to make their signature pitches work, but to no avail.  Both of them even had utter shellackings to their credit.  The only difference is that it was entirely new experience for Lester, while Buchholz is very well acquainted with ugliness from his lost year of 2008.

The game kicked off with an out for Buchholz, but a gem of a defensive play got the ball rolling (no pun intended).  A ball was hit that looked like it was headed for left field, but somehow Navarro used all his powers of timing to literally leap into the air as high as he could possibly go and snag the ball.  That may be the highest such leap I’ve seen in that situation.  He barely got his glove on it; he was holding the ball with the top of the glove, barely keeping it in there.  Not bad for a callup.  Not bad at all.

Fortunately, last night was Buchholz ending his slump, five days after his complete and total implosion in Oakland.  One thing we’ve learned this year is that starting pitching is absolutely crucial, so it was vitally important that he return to form as soon as possible.  And he most definitely returned to form.  He won for the sweep.  One run on four hits over seven innings with three walks and six K’s says he’s back.  And that one run was the result of his only mistake of the entire night.  Seriously.  He only threw one bad pitch his whole night, a fastball exactly in the middle of the strike zone, and Branyan hit it out, but other than that he was rock-solid.  And efficient; he needed only 109 pitches to crush.  His ERA is now down to 2.48.  He can also thank V-Mart for that, who in the second inning with runners on second and third fired to Beltre to pick off Kotchman.  It was perfectly executed.  Kotchman had absolutely no chance whatsoever.

Buchholz’s fastball was impressively vivacious.  He worked it up to ninety-six miles per hour, and on top of that he put some life on it.  He’s not known for heat, but he’s certainly very capable of it.  His changeup was excellent, and his slider and curveball were really sharp.  He threw twenty-seven pitches in the sixth, a game high, but bounced back in the seventh before he was relieved.

He was relieved by Okajima, who allowed two hits but no runs in the eighth.  Atchison pitched a perfect ninth.

The offense had given Buchholz room to work.  Beltre answered Branyan’s homer with one of his own.  It was huge.  It was an enormous missile to left, and we’re talking upper deck here.  It was a blast in every sense of the word, and you knew the ball was headed out the minute his knee hit the ground.  That’s his twenty-eighth of the year.  It was a changeup up and in, and believe me, it was duly clobbered.

In the sixth, Papi scored on Figgins’s fielding error.  Nava chopped one toward Figgins, so he tried to get behind it but ran out of time to position himself, and the ball went through his legs.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that that will always be a chilling phrase.  The bad news is that Papi later left the game with a stiff neck.  I can’t believe this.  I really can’t.  In the seventh, V-Mart doubled in two.  He’s been impressive against southpaws this year, now batting .402 with nine long balls and thirty RBIs in 132 at-bats.  In the eighth, Kalish tripled in one by barely sneaking the ball past Kotchman down the first base line.  And just like that, we won it, 5-1.  We swept a series!

I don’t care if anyone says that we’ve had a soft schedule recently; baseball is baseball, and we are playing it well.  I don’t know where this baseball is coming from.  This is the kind of baseball we’ve been waiting to play all season.  We started playing it right before we started dropping like flies, and somehow we have some sort of groove back.  It’s absolutely fantastic.  And it makes you think.  Listen, I’ve never been a naysayer, and keeping the faith always makes me optimistic, but even if you’re skeptical, you have to believe that something’s going on here.  We’re on a four-game winning streak, the Yankees are losing, we’re six games out, we have sixteen games left, and six of those are against New York.  I’m just saying.  We’re off today, and tomorrow we’re hosting the Jays at home.  Let’s see how we do.

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Last night was another “wow” contest.  That’s two in a row! Can you believe it? We are now officially on a three-game winning streak, and even though the season is winding down, we’re starting to climb back up. We’re now seven games out of first place.  Hey, it’s an improvement over nine.  All I’m saying is that you never know.

If the standings situation is a long shot, we made a statement to the contrary last night via the long ball.  We won, 9-6, so it wasn’t a true slugfest because the score wasn’t that lopsided, but scoring nine runs in a single game is a big deal for us.  We’ve struggled throughout the season to string hits as well as wins together; last night we did both.

It all started in the second when Lowrie clobbered a home run to left with Papi on base.  It was a changeup inside on a 2-1 count to make up for Beltre being thrown out at the plate.  The ball left the field in a hurry.  But Lowrie was just getting warmed up.  You look at the kid and power isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but this season he just added the art and science of home-run hitting to his arsenal of talent.

V-Mart hit an RBI single in the third, and Lowrie hit a solo shot to the same place in the third, but this time it was a fastball down the middle in a pitcher’s count.  This was his first multi-homer game ever.  I’m telling you, I don’t really know where that power comes from, but if you got it, rock it.

We didn’t score again until the eighth, but when we did, it was huge.  Big Papi, ladies and gentlemen! It was a far cry from the sixth, when he snapped his bat over his knee because he turned a prime pitch into a weak popup.  With two out and two on, he absolutely avenged himself on a ninety-six mile-per-hour fastball to the point where you knew the ball was out just by the sound of the ball-bat contact.  Ichiro just watched it.  That was his thirtieth home run of the year, making 2010 his sixth thirty-homer season with us, his first since 2007, tying him with Manny Ramirez on the franchise all-time list.  Ted Williams obviously leads with eight thirty-plus seasons.  It was ridiculous.  It was almost like the ball left the park of its own free will.

In the ninth, we added two for insurance; Patterson scored on a fielder’s choice and Reddick hit an RBI single.  Figgins hit an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, but it did not matter.  We had it locked.

V-Mart, Papi, and Lowrie all went two for four; Beltre went three for four.  Patterson and Kalish each stole bases.  And this was the first time since June 30 that our starting lineup included our captain.  Tek went 0 for 3 with a walk, but he threw out Figgins twice.  It’s so good to have him back.  And I don’t think it’s necessarily a coincidence that the team has been playing well of light right when the captain has returned.

When I saw we had it locked, I’m referring exclusively to the offense.  Dice-K most definitely did not have anything locked.  He left the game so unlocked, he practically invited a theft of the win.  Luckily, the offense provided ample insurance just in case, but it’s like I always say: that kind of thing should not be necessary.  If the offense scores a lot of runs, the game should end with a lopsided score because a good starting pitcher should always be able to win a game with three runs or less.  Dice-K didn’t do that.  He lasted six innings, gave up five runs on eight hits, walked four, and struck out three.  He helped Seattle snap their streak of scoring at most three runs in their last sixteen home games.  He gave up at least four earned runs for the sixth consecutive start.  He threw 105 pitches.  He relied on a great cutter, curveball, and fastball.  He mixed in a decent changeup and slider.  He ran into all kinds of trouble in half of his innings.  His best inning by far was the fourth, during which he only fired nine pitches.  But then he went right back and allowed two runs an inning later.  His release point was tight and his strike zone was packed, but he couldn’t hold the lead.

The bullpen also was not helpful.  Tito replaced Dice-K in the seventh with Okajima with Bowden with Hill, and you only stopped hanging onto the edge of your seat when Bard came on.  Hill got the win, Bard got a hold, and Paps gave us a scare when he allowed that run in the ninth but finally the game was over and we walked off with the W intact.  But this is what I mean.  None of that should have been necessary.  There should be absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone to be concerned when your team scores nine runs.  That should be a blowout, and if it’s not, the pitchers need a talking-to.

Drew will probably be back on Wednesday.

We got the win.  We inched up in the standings.  We believe.  And we look forward to the future.  Like tonight, when Buchholz is undoubtedly going to unleash a world of dominance for the sweep.  And like next year.  Next year’s schedule is out! We’re starting the season on April 1, unfortunately with a six-game road trip.  But the home opener is on a Friday, April 8, against the Yanks, followed by Tampa Bay, so that should be a blast.  We’ve got three days off in April before heading into a grueling May, which is mostly at home but with only one day off.  June will include our second trip to the Bronx with five days off as well as some good Interleague action; the Brewers and Padres will come to town, and we’ll visit the Pirates and Phillies.  We finish Interleague in Houston in July before a homestand leads us into the All-Star break, the game being in Phoenix this year.  We start things up again with a road trip followed by an easy homestand against Seattle and Kansas City.  In August, the Yankees will come to town twice and Tampa Bay once.  In September, we’ll face Tampa Bay away and at home, we’ll go to New York one more time, and we’ll finish the season on the road in Baltimore, the last game on September 28.  So some easy, some not so easy, but all in all it looks like a really good schedule.  We’ll see a lot of action in the AL East, so we’ll have chances to make dents directly.  We definitely have something to look forward to here.  In 2006, half the team fell apart, we didn’t even make the playoffs, we suffered through a winter during which everyone wondered when we’d next win the World Series, and lo and behold the very next year we were the best team in baseball.  So you have to figure that if the injuries this year were even worse than in 2006, next year we’ll be even stronger than we were in 2007.

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Making sense of the Beltre deal.  Which is not at all as easy as it sounds.

Let’s review, shall we?

Stage One: Theo Epstein looks to trade Mike Lowell to the Rangers for catching prospect Max Ramirez.  This makes sense.  Mike Lowell had a tough year last year, and it’s only going to get tougher.  It’s true that he showed flashes brilliance in the field, but that was in Anaheim, where the weather is nice and warm.  Not so in Boston.  In Boston, it’s either freezing cold or scorching hot.  Lowell would’ve flourished in Texas, with its mild climate and considerably less pressure-cooker-like atmosphere, and the Rangers’ catching prospect would’ve been put to good use in our system, where he would’ve been groomed to give Tek some days off.

Stage Two: The deal is called on account of Mike Lowell’s right thumb.  To emphasize, it was the thumb, not the hip.  Let me repeat: thumb, problem; hip, not so much.  This makes sense.  From Lowell’s performance toward the end of last season, it was clear that his hip was no longer a big issue.  (That is to say, it’s still an issue but not a focus.) Given the right atmosphere, environment, and amount of days off, all signs pointed to a fairly productive year, both at the plate and in the field.  This, however, was with the understanding that Lowell’s thumb was sprained, not injured.  After he failed the physical, what Texas basically had on their hands was a choice between keeping tMax Ramirez or trading him for a third baseman who, in addition to a well-established health concern, would need surgery.  And that wasn’t a gamble Texas was willing to make.  From their perspective, they didn’t want to chance having to start someone at the hot corner who was slated to make multiple trips to the DL, not to mention the fact that the hip affects Lowell’s defense more than his offense.  The thumb would affect Lowell’s defense as well as his offense.  Simply put, no thumb, no swing, no runs, no deal.

Stage Three: Mike Lowell’s surgery is a success.  Red Sox players, staff, fans, and writers welcome Mike Lowell back into the fold.  Red Sox Nation is urged to table our wishes for infielders named Adrian.  Lou Merloni writes a column urging us to separate Mike Lowell from the Edgar Renterias of the baseball world.  As in, when did Mike Lowell reach that point where he was dragging us down to the point where exploring other options became a necessity at all costs? (I mean that literally.  Moving Lowell would necessitate us eating a big chunk of his salary.) I mean, teams routinely field much worse than Mike Lowell.  Presumably, with additional days off in the form of Youk-Lowell shifting to Kotchman-Youk, Lowell would be able to minimize the effects of his hip on his range and maximize his plate appearances.  Recovery from his surgery is fairly brief, and only one or two weeks of Spring Training would be missed.  So not the end of the world.

Stage Four: In complete defiance of Scott Boras’s obsession with long-term contracts, Theo Epstein signs Adrian Beltre to a one-year deal.  Let’s walk through it. The deal is worth nine million dollars with a player option worth six million that will increase to ten million if he makes 640 plate appearances.  The deal was contingent on a physical, which Beltre passed, despite last season’s left shoulder issues.  The deal was a product of interest that’s been expressed since November.  And the deal is very consistent with Theo’s commitment to a major defensive upgrade.  He is expected to bat in the bottom third of the lineup.  (Ellsbury, Pedroia, V-Mart, Youk, Papi, Drew, Cameron, Beltre, Scutaro.  Bang.)

Stage Five: Theo Epstein trades Casey Kotchman to the Mariners for utility man Bill Hall, a prospect to be named later, and cash.  Kotchman is happy to reunite with good friend Chone Figgins.  Lou Merloni writes a column in which he changes his mind, citing the flexibility and ability that a one-year deal with Beltre gives us.

Before we get to the confusing part, let’s take a moment to celebrate what we’re getting.  Beltre put up barely decent numbers at Safeco and Dodger Stadium, so coming to a park that’s friendly to right-handed power hitters promises a nice statistical boost.  Home numbers: .253 average, .311 on-base percentage, .416 slugging percentage.  Road numbers: .287, .338, .488, respectively.  Now, check out the similarity between that latter series and Lowell’s career stats: .280, .343, .468, respectively.  And just to leave no stone unturned, in 162 games Lowell hits on average forty doubles, twenty-three home runs, and ninety-eight RBIs.  Compare that to Beltre’s average thirty-nine doubles, twenty-six homers and ninety-nine RBIs in 162 road games.  Coincidence? I think not.  Also, the deal, coupled with the Kotchman transaction, will have minimal impact on our finances.  And it kept Boras off our backs because, after said statistical boost, Beltre’s marketing value will increase substantially.  The brevity of the contract keeps the Major League option open for our top prospects.  So our defense goes through the roof, our pitching is way too solid for words, our offense will in all likelihood defy expectations, our top prospects stay in our organization, and we maintain flexibility, both financially and baseball-wise.

But in light of Lowell’s remainder with us, the fourth and fifth stages of this saga aren’t easy to explain.  After Lowell-to-Texas failed, everyone more or less accepted the fact that Lowell would be the face of Fenway’s third base in 2010.  That thought process was fueled by the fact that we’ve had our foot in Beltre’s door since November; we wanted to trade Lowell to make room for Beltre, so as soon as Lowell wasn’t going anywhere, it seemed pretty obvious that neither was Beltre.  Then we suddenly signed Beltre and made room for him by shipping Kotchman across the country.  What’s unclear to me is the effect this will have on Lowell’s role.  Will playing time be split fifty-fifty, sixty-forty, or eighty-twenty? It’s a Crisp-y situation; once it became apparent that Ellsbury was about to start in center field, Coco Crisp was allowed to walk, and rightly so.  Coco Crisp is a starter, not a benchwarmer.  Same with Lowell, but also with Beltre.  What do you do when you have two starters, one of whom was explicitly acquired to replace the other before the other left the picture, a state of affairs that received extra emphasis when Kotchman was shipped off? With all eyes on Beltre, what is Lowell’s fate in 2010?

That’s actually a fairly easy question to answer.  We’ll either move him or we won’t.  If we don’t, he’d contribute in the field when he’s called upon and wouldn’t when he isn’t.  And he’d see a good amount of time at the plate as a pinch-hitter.  The upside of this is that it builds in much-needed rest time for Lowell and gives us a considerable upgrade in defense and age in Beltre.  And one thing that we can’t altogether rule out if we keep Lowell is the possibility that Beltre may turn out to be a chip for Adrian Gonzalez come the trading deadline.  It would be swapping one corner infielder for another, but Youk’s versatility would allow us to do that.  Besides, when you’re talking about someone like Adrian Gonzalez, you trade first and maneuver later.

Our last piece of big news is our outfield situation.  Ellsbury has officially been moved to left in order to make more room for Cameron in center.  This is way better than having Ellsbury in center than Cameron in left, even though having Ellsbury in left is a complete waste of his talents.  Whatever; when Cameron leaves Boston, Ellsbury goes back to center.  Meanwhile, it’s a wise choice.  Cameron’s only start in left was in 2000, and he hasn’t been in either corner since that nasty collision he had with Carlos Beltran back in ’05.  Meanwhile, Ellsbury is young, skilled, adaptable, and flexible.  He’s so good that he could handle any of the three outfield positions.  In fact, the relative ease of playing left as opposed to center decreases his risk of injury, and the decrease in covered territory could translate to an increased application of his abilities to the basepaths.  Basically, it comes down to the fact that Ellsbury would be infinitely better in left than Cameron but would be less better, though still better, than Cameron in center, while Cameron’s performance in left would presumably be abysmal to his performance in center.

Loose ends for the week: Josh Beckett will be gold this year because he’s up for contract, Papi will be feeling the offensive pressure (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it means a really good workout regimen), and Randy Johnson finally retired.  Also, congratulations to three New Haven County, Connecticut communities that successfully pressured Cablevision into adding NESN to its basic lineup in those markets.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Rangers, beat the Sens, got smoked by the Blackhawks, and lost to the Rangers again.  The Patriots continue to power through the loss of Wes Welker as the postseason starts tomorrow with a confrontation with the Ravens.

Fire Brand of the American League

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Finally, it starts to get interesting.

Pitching is Theo’s top priority at the Winter Meetings.  It looks like we’re shifting our focus from Roy Halladay to John Lackey.  That’s very good news.  I don’t want to give up both Clay Buchholz and Casey Kelly for a pitcher who is, in all likelihood, past his prime.  Yes, it’s possible he could be another Randy Johnson, who won four straight Cy Youngs after turning thirty-five, or Curt Schilling, who was a Cy Young runner-up three times after turning thirty-three.  But it’s also possible that he just won’t deliver or that he’ll become a medical liability or, worse yet, the dreaded combination of both.  (See Randy Johnson in pinstripes.  Talk about disasters.) And if you compare the two, Roy Halladay doesn’t even enjoy a complete edge in the numbers.  In his career, he started and won more games, struck out more batters, and had a lower ERA, OPP AVG, and WHIP.  But Lackey’s gone the distance more often (which translates to durability, one of Lackey’s strongest assets) and has allowed fewer earned runs, home runs, bases on balls, and hit batters.  And we land Lackey this offseason, it would be through a signing, not a trade, so we wouldn’t have to mortgage our future.  Besides, we theoretically have some money left over from our decision to not pick up Alex Gonzalez’s option.

Supposedly, we’re also seriously pursuing Rich Harden.  I like that less.  He’s got a 3.39 career ERA with 783 strikeouts and a record of fifty and twenty-nine, but he’s never thrown two hundred innings in a season and has only made more than twenty-six starts once.  Durability? Not so much.  But he’d be a good bargain option, arguably a better one than Smoltz or Penny, because he’s pitched in the American League.

Speaking of pitching, the Braves cleaned out two of our peripheral relievers.  Wagner signed a one-year deal worth seven million dollars to close for them.  I would’ve liked to see him come back to Boston, but he did give us fair warning that he wanted to close, and we don’t exactly have a vacancy in that position.  One day later, the Braves signed Saito also, to a one year deal worth just over three million plus incentives.  I’m not too torn up about it.

Say hello to the latest shortstop to don a Boston uniform: Marco Scutaro.  If I sound cynical, it’s because I am.  He’s wearing Number 16; the last Boston shortstop to wear Number 16 was Edgar Renteria, so here’s hoping this time around will work out a little bit better.  Let’s not kid ourselves: he’s a veteran.  He’s a career .265 hitter with fifty home runs, 294 RBIs, and 297 walks to his credit.  But he’s thirty-four years old.  There’s a reason why the deal was only for two years.  It’s worth eleven million dollars plus a dual option.  Things that made this possible: the draft pick we’re getting from the Braves that will offset the one we have to give to the Jays, another undisclosed team pushing hard for Scutaro that forced the issue, and Scurato has reached that point in his career when he really wants a ring.  (Ironically, Alex Gonzalez signed a one-year deal with the Jays earlier, worth close to three million plus an option.) Either way, we now have a shortstop who is not Dustin Pedroia.

That needs to be cleared up once and for all.  Dustin Pedroia said he would be willing to play shortstop if the team needed him to.  But the team wasn’t about to let that happen.  Trust me.  You don’t move a Gold Glove second baseman to short because you don’t want to spend some money.  You don’t do that for a number of reasons.  Not the least of which is the fact that it doesn’t solve anything.  Fine; you move your second baseman to short.  Now you need a second baseman.  Sure, the market for second basemen is more fluid than that for shortstops, but not when you’re talking about second basemen as good as Dustin Pedroia.  Also, the caliber of Pedroia’s defense at short would be comparable to, if not worse than, any career shortstop on the market, with the obvious exception of Julio Lugo.  Thirdly, shortstop is no defensive walk in the park.  It’s the most difficult infield position.  And that means it carries a higher probability of injury, especially for someone who’s not used to it.  So we would have lost valuable playing time from him, both in the field and at the plate, had he made the switch.  Would he have been capable of doing so? Absolutely.  If anyone could, Dustin Pedroia could.  If there’s one ballplayer who embodies the don’t-tell-me-I-can’t-‘cause-I’ll-show-you-I-can attitude, it’s him.  Not to mention the fact that in 2003 he was the NCAA National Defensive Player of the Year at short.  And he’s actually in a better position to play shortstop at the Major League level now than he was when he first came up, due to his offseason workouts and in-season conditioning that have made him lighter and faster.  But even though he’d use his baseball acumen to compensate, his range would leave much to be desired.  And sometimes, in pressure situations in that part of the field, the range of the shortstop is what it comes down to.  It would have put considerable pressure on Mike Lowell to improve his range as compensation, that’s for sure.  So while I’m not doubting Pedroia’s ability to make the switch, I don’t think it would be a good for him or the team in the long run.  The team wasn’t actually serious about that possibility anyway.  Ultimately, Theo never would have allowed it.  Thankfully, it’s a moot point now either way.

But that would explain our earlier interest in Placido Polanco.  After the Tigers declined to offer him arbitration, we made a call or two.  But like I said, we don’t need a second baseman, and even if we did, he was all but off-limits.  The Phillies have since closed the deal.  So much for Chone Figgins, who ended up signing a four-year deal with Seattle.

Last but not least, we extended arbitration to Bay earlier this week.  (We declined offers to Baldelli and Byrd.) That means that, even if he signs with someone else, we get compensatory draft picks.  So the saga continues.

Congratulations to Joe Castiglione, Dave O’Brien, and Jerry Remy for landing on the ballot for the Hall of Fame’s Frick Award, honoring the baseball’s best announcers.  They definitely deserve it.

We beat the Lightning and the Leafs.  Not so much the Habs.  We lost, 1-5, to Montreal.  Ugh.  That was just an awful game to watch.  Even with that loss, though, we’re in first place in the Northeast! Finally! One point ahead of the Sabres, but I’ll take it.  But the most significant B’s news this week has nothing to do with wins and losses.  Marc Savard signed a seven-year extension.  Ladies and gentlemen, that could very well be the highlight of the regular season.  It’s going to have a hugely positive impact it’s going to have on our future.  There is arguably no other center in the league who is as multi-faceted and deeply talented as Marc Savard.  Things aren’t as cheerful on the football front.  Talk about awful games to watch.  The Saints defeated us, 38-17.  Yeah.  Awful.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Clay Buchholz pitched a gem.  There was nothing more we could’ve asked for from our third starter.  He’s twenty-five years old.  He’d never made a postseason start in his life.  He came off a bad year, spent the beginning of this season in Triple-A, and was only able to officially join the rotation because the starting depth we started the season with didn’t last.  John Smoltz failed, Brad Penny struggled, Tim Wakefield started having health issues, Dice-K had to complete Spring Training in the middle of the season.  But Clay Buchholz earned a spot in our rotation, and he earned yesterday’s postseason start.  And he made the most of it.  Two runs on six hits with a walk and three strikeouts.  He pitched to three batters in the sixth before leaving the bases loaded for Daniel Bard, but there were too many things right with his outing to let that spoil it in retrospect.

Buchholz showed maturity and composure beyond his years.  He didn’t think too much; John Farrell and Jason Varitek sat down with Victor Martinez before the game and laid out a game plan, and Buchholz just trusted his batterymate and executed.  And when I say executed, I mean executed.  He had excellent movement on all of his pitches.  He threw with conviction.  At ninety-five pitches, his efficiency was decent.  A solo shot by Kendry Morales was his only blemish until he balked and Bard let one of his inherited runners score.  Although we were lucky it was only one; Bard induced a double play and then quickly got out of the inning.  It could have been much worse, and that speaks to Bard’s potential.  But that balk was the only time during his start that he showed his age.  The baserunners rattled him a bit, and he became distracted.  But that was one valiant effort, and one we can be proud of.

Wagner allowed two runs.  The irony is that one of the reasons he decided to come to Boston was to earn a World Series ring, and he sure didn’t help his team’s cause with that performance.  He only recorded two outs.

I was thoroughly convinced that we were going to win this game.  I thought we had this one locked.  Why? Because we looked like ourselves.  We felt like ourselves.  Without the consistent first-pitch strike, our hitters were able to be patient at the plate, to take pitches, to wear the pitcher out, to work counts, and to hit the ball.  Ellsbury had the first hit of the game (and yet another sparkling diving catch), and Pedroia, the team’s emotional leader, batted in our first two runs with a double.  V-Mart singled in Pedroia to complete a three-run third.  Drew clobbered a two-run home run to center field that made me think of his grand slam in October 2007.  So we had a four-run lead, we had momentum, we had the shadows and quirks of Fenway Park, which was all part of what made it so brutal.  And we tacked on an insurance run in the eighth; Ortiz had his first, and soon to be only, hit of the series and was replaced by pinch-runner Joey Gathright, who promptly stole second and scored on a single by Lowell.  And that run came in handy after Wagner’s mess of an appearance.

Which brings me to our closer.  A Mr. Jonathan Papelbon.  If you thought Wagner’s appearance was a mess, if you thought Papelbon’s work during the regular season was shoddy, if you thought his unusually high amount of walks would get him in trouble, then yesterday’s outing officially vindicated you.  Jonathan Papelbon lost this game for us.  I mean, you can make the argument that if the lineup scored ten runs, we wouldn’t have had to worry about our pitching, but you can never expect any lineup to score ten runs in the postseason because theoretically you’re up against the league’s best pitching.

Papelbon, after not having allowed a run in twenty-six posteason innings (the equivalent of almost three complete games!), allowed three.  On four hits.  And two walks.  No strikeouts.  He threw thirty-two pitches and was one strike away from securing the win three different times.  He ended the eighth with a pickoff, so with two out and bases empty in the ninth, Red Sox Nation and I were feeling good.  We were thinking, “Paps is the master.  This game is over.” Apparently, Paps never got that memo.  Erick Aybar stroked a single up the middle.  Chone Figgins, who we managed to contain up until that point, about which we were very happy because of his speed on the basepaths, walked.  Bobby Abreu singled in a run, shrinking our lead to one.  Then we walked Torii Hunter intentionally to load the bases.  Then Vladimir Guerrero singled in two.  After batting in only one run in his previous nineteen postseason games, he had to deliver in the top of the ninth at Fenway Park in elimination Game Three of the 2009 ALDS.

Okajima pitched the last out.  So Buchholz got a no-decision, Bard and Wagner each got holds, and Papelbon got a blown save and a loss.  He deserves it.  That’s the understatement of the century.

The final score was 7-6.  We are now thirteen and four in elimination games under Terry Francona.

We looked primed for Game Four.  We even had Dave Henderson throw out the ceremonial first pitch for good luck.  No one can forget his spin-jump on the way to first after he hit that epic two-run homer in the ninth inning of Game Five of the 1986 ALCS.  Against, you guessed it, the Angels.  We were set.  We were back at home, our young stud was well on his way to his first-ever postseason victory, we were finally hitting, and we had a game plan: put Dice-K in the bullpen, bring Jon Lester back on short rest, force a Game Five, win that, win the ALCS, and sweep in the World Series, as usual.

That didn’t happen.  The dream is over.  Baseball season is over.  The postseason, which only lasted three games, is over.  In an ALDS performance that nobody, least of all Red Sox Nation, anticipated, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim swept us.  We were completely silenced during our first two games, and just when we started to get back into our groove, our closer, the rock of our bullpen, pulled the entire month of October out from under us.  Words can not adequately express the anger and frustration I currently feel toward Jonathan Papelbon.  Seriously.  This is like JD Drew striking out looking in Game Seven of the 2008 ALCS, but worse, because we never had a chance to put up the kind of fight we knew we could.  We barely even got started.  Before the game, Dustin Pedroia echoed in the clubhouse what each and every member of Red Sox Nation said all weekend: we’re not ready for the season to end.

I completely agreed with Jerry Remy; I too thought this team had the stuff to go all the way.  Instead, we didn’t even make it past the first round.  As always, it’s been a great ride.  There were injuries, hitting streaks, brawls, comebacks, walk-offs, extra-inning losses, struggles, trades, promotions, demotions, slumps, saves, shutouts, slugfests, dives, slides, steals; you name it, we did it at least once and often multiple times.  But it didn’t happen for us this year.  I saw it with my own eyes, and I still can’t quite believe it.  But if there’s one thing we’ve learned as Red Sox fans, it’s the wholehearted belief in next year.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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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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