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Dice-K has been awful this season.  To put it bluntly, every single one of his outings was an epic fail.  It was like watching a wreck, rewinding it, and replaying it over and over and over again.  Everything that could have possibly gone wrong, did.  It was absolutely downright horrible.  Two DL stints later, Dice-K was down in Florida catching up on all the Spring Training he missed while winning MVP in the World Baseball Classic, but it took three times as long because of all the fatigue that had accumulated in his shoulder.  After he graduated from that, he went down to the farms and had some good and bad outings.  The whole thing was pretty much a mixed bag, so when we found out that Dice-K was returning to the Major League rotation, we didn’t know what we were going to get.

Hold on to your hats, was my advice.  Be prepared to be blown away, or be prepared to turn them inside-out because we may be in desperate need of a rally.  But his first Major League start after his epic fail of an eight-start first half wouldn’t be about just one game.  It would be about his entire 2009 season.  To properly vindicate himself, he would need one seriously dominant, no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners outing.  An outing that left no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is back and back with a vengeance.  An outing that effectively proved that he went down to Florida, was a good soldier and trained properly, and is now the better for it.

Last night’s outing exceeded all expectations of whatever outstanding outing you could possibly imagine.  He pitched six impeccable shutout innings.  Three hits, three walks, and five strikeouts, including some very nice no-hit, one-two-three innings.  And all of it on ninety-three pitches, more than half of which were four-seams, and let me tell you: his fastball was on.  He added some sliders and cutters as well as other off-speeds to keep them guessing and topped out at ninety-three miles per hour and going down to about eighty.  His command was sound and he went after the hitters.  Given the circumstances in which this outing took place, I have absolutely nothing whatsoever to complain about.

Especially since Dice-K started against the Angels.  That’s a very important detail.  We’ll probably face the Angels in the ALDS.  We have facts on our side, namely the fact that the Angels can’t do anything against us in the ALDS, but it’s good to know that that’s still true.  Dice-K made a very strong case for his ability to sustain that tradition.  Not to mention the fact that this lightens the pressure on the staff considerably, now that there’s another starter in the mix.  Wakefield can relax a bit and let his back heal properly.

But for these same reasons, Dice-K’s next start may be even more important than this one, so he isn’t out of the woods yet.  For now, though, Red Sox Nation and I can let out a huge collective sigh of relief.

The final score was 4-1.  The relief corps was solid through Ramirez, Wagner, and Bard, who each got holds, but it hit a stumbling block when we got to Papelbon.  Only six of his twenty pitches weren’t strikes, but two hits and one run later, Dice-K’s shutout was ruined.  Again, not good.

Of course, you can’t win without offense.  Only three of the four runs were earned, but we can thank Bay and Ortiz for those.  And while we thank Ortiz, we can give him a standing ovation as well.  His two-run moon shot with two out in the eighth was his twenty-fourth of the season and the 270th of his career as a DH.  With that homer, he officially passed Frank Thomas in the record books.  David Ortiz has officially hit more home runs in his career than any other designated hitter in the history of the sport.  Congratulations! And the best part is that he’s not even finished.

Ellsbury went two for four and was caught stealing.  Ortiz finished two for four.  Drew tripled.

Youk was out of the lineup with lower back spasms that aren’t too serious.  V-Mart will be in Cleveland probably until tomorrow taking care of some personal matters, but he probably wouldn’t have played anyway after that collision with Gabe Gross at the plate.  Next season’s schedule has been released, and we’re opening and closing by hosting the Yanks at Fenway.  Excellent.  We start off by showing them who’s boss and end by reminding them in case they forgot.  We’re facing some of the National League’s elite during Interleague, which still shouldn’t be a problem because it’s still the National League.  I’m just not happy about the fact that we’re only at home for nine games in July next year.  That’ll be a challenge.

John Lackey really challenged us, I’ll admit.  Most of the game was a very close pitcher’s duel, and for a while the only difference between Lackey and Dice-K was a pair of hits Lackey allowed while Dice-K still hadn’t allowed any.  It was a great contest.  Anytime you see good pitchers get crafty and try to best each other in a battle of wits, so to speak, you witness not just the science but also the art of the game, and those are special.  The important thing is that Dice-K had himself a phenomenal outing; technically, the win was just icing on the cake.  But I’ll take it.  Believe me, I’ll take it.  Especially against the Angels less than a month away from October.  We were in good shape all along, but if Dice-K holds it together, things look even more promising.  Tonight it’s Joe Saunders at Paul Byrd.  That, I’m not so sure about.

In other news, the Patriots had themselves quite the comeback against the Bills on Monday, winning 25-24.  Obviously that probably wasn’t exactly what Tom Brady or Bill Belichick had in mind, but winning is never a bad way to start the season.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis
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