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Posts Tagged ‘Dan Haren’

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the Jon Lester we are accustomed to seeing.  Finally.  It’s a testament to his ability that his April this year wasn’t that bad but still bad for him.  His outings this past April were outings that some number one starters on some teams would be lucky to have on a great day, but for Lester, those were some of the most mediocre outings we can expect from him all season.  He wasn’t his greatest, and yet he still stands now with a record of four and one and an ERA of 2.33.  And that’s how you know you’ve got an ace on your hands.

And if you still weren’t aware, his line last night clarifies it further.  He pitched seven innings of one-run ball.  He gave up six hits, walked only two, and struck out – wait for it – eleven.  Eleven batters.  Double-digit K’s for the fifteenth time in his career.  His first K of the day occurred in the first; he struck out Howard Kendrick on three pitches.  The third was a ninety-four-mile-per-hour cut fastball on which Kendrick swung but missed.  Lester opened the second with another swinging strikeout on three pitches, the last of which again was a cut fastball at ninety-four.  Lester achieved back-to-back K’s in the third, the first on five pitches ending with a cutter and the second on seven pitches also ending with a cutter.  He allowed his only walk of the day in the fourth but ended that inning with another strikeout, another on three pitches ending with a cutter.  He ended the fifth with a called strikeout on four pitches ending with the cutter.  The sixth was Lester’s only one-two-three inning; he opened and closed it with K’s, the first ending with a cutter and the second ending with a nasty curveball.  He opened the seventh with back-to-back K’s, the first ending in a cut fastball and the second ending in another curveball.  After allowing a single, he closed the seventh with a third K, ending with a cutter.

Yes.  I would say that this is the Lester we’ve been waiting for.  The one run he allowed came via the long ball in the second.  It was a solo shot on a fastball at ninety five.  But that was the only mistake he made.

I mean, Lester left nothing to be desired last night.  Okay, I would have liked his pickoff attempt to not result in an error, but still.  Over seven innings, he threw less than one hundred pitches.  He threw ninety-three, and sixty-six of them were strikes.  He threw about sixty cut fastballs.  About three quarters of them were strikes.  That’s ridiculous.  His curveball was deadly, and his changeup was literally unhittable; all of his changeups were thrown for strikes.  He even mixed in his sinker now and then.  It’s one thing to roll out your entire arsenal of pitches, but it’s quite another to do it effectively.  He did both exceptionally well.

He threw nineteen pitches in an inning twice, once in the third and once in the seventh.  His most impressive inning was the second.  He threw ten pitches.  All ten of them were strikes except one, the one taken yard for a home run.  His release point was as tight and consistent as I’ve seen it, and he packed the zone, largely staying away from the upper left corner.

It was a pitcher’s duel all the way, but Lester kept it going opposite Dan Haren.  Lester may have given up a run first, but we were the ones who came away with the win.

Neither team scored again until the sixth, and all your thinking is that this gem of an outing by Lester better not go to waste and that if all we need are at least two runs, we should be able to score them for our starter, even with Haren on the mound, even if he’s having a good day.  So that’s what we did.

It wasn’t flashy.  It wasn’t powerful.  It was just doing what needed to be done.  Ellsbury doubled and just barely came home on a single by Gonzalez, who came home on a single by Lowrie.  There you go.  Two runs.  You hope for more, but at least you’ve got a one-run lead.  We tacked on an insurance run in the seventh, when Crawford came home on a double by Salty.

That two-run lead was safe with Bard in the top of the eighth, but it was apparently unsatisfactory to Gonzalez, who wasn’t finished yet.  And then things got flashy and powerful.  He led off the eighth and unleashed on the second pitch of his at-bat, an eighty-nine-mile-per-hour two-seam he sent to the seats in right field.  That was his first home run in Fenway Park.  The first of many.

Papi wanted in, so he went back-to-back.  He also hit a solo shot, also on the second pitch of his at-bat, this one a seventy-nine-mile-per-hour slider, also to right field.  We know by now that his home runs tend to come in bunches, so we  can expect several more before he hits another quiet streak.  Then Lowrie stepped up to the plate, and we’re all thinking three-peat.  That did not happen.  He singled.  Then Drew struck out looking.  Then Scutaro stepped up, and he did not hit a home run on the second pitch of his at-bat.  He took that pitch for a ball and hit a home run on the third pitch of his at-bat instead! An eighty-seven-mile-per-hour changeup into the Monster seats and that had to withstand a review.

By the time Paps completely dropped the ball in the ninth inning, we had already amassed a six run lead that could withstand the two runs he allowed on three hits.  Because by that time, over half our lineup had posted multi-hit games; Gonzalez, Papi, Lowrie, and even Scutaro, who was in because Youk is sick, went two for four.  Crawford went two for three.  Of our twelve hits, five were for extra bases.  Of those five, two were doubles and three were dingers.  Three in a single inning.  It was phenomenal.  When Papi hit his home run, I thought for a second that it was a replay.  Three powerful, towering, rockets of shots.  Two solo shots and a two-runner, and they had their balls’ numbers all the way through.  It was awesome.

The message that our win over Felix Hernandez and our 6-0 record against the Angels send is that our lineup is perfectly capable of handling the game’s toughest pitchers (or at least the ones not already on our team).  We are now fourteen and fifteen.  For the first time this year, we are only one game below .500.  I would just advise to make way.  Because we’re on our way, and we’re coming.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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After the final out of the game, I thought two things.  First, I thought it looked and felt eerily similar to Game Seven of the 2008 ALCS, when Drew was at the plate with the game on the line, and he struck out looking.  No swing.  He just watched the ball go by.  And second, there was the classic, obligatory, and completely warranted “No!”

Lester got rocked.  Last night was not an example of his best work.  If you look up the word “ace” in the dictionary, you will usually see Lester’s picture, but last night it wasn’t there.  In six innings, he gave up four runs on eleven hits, a new career high, while walking two and striking out seven.  He threw 116 pitches, and two of those hits were home runs, both by Peralta.  The first one was hit on a changeup that Peralta dug out.  The second one was hit on a pitch that was absolutely disgusting.  The Tigers didn’t waste time either; they scored their first run in the first, no thanks to Cameron, whose glove provided a springboard for the RBI hit.

Lester’s cut fastball was sharp, but his offspeeds, his sinker, changeup, and curveball, weren’t working.  He didn’t really have one particularly bad inning; he threw at most twenty-one pitches in the fifth and at least thirteen in the sixth.  That’s not a huge disparity, and he was pretty consistent count-wise.  So that wasn’t the issue.  The issue was that the pitches he threw weren’t good.  He just didn’t have it.  He never settled in or found any sort of rhythm.  It happens sometimes.  It’s particularly inconvenient when you’re trying to dig yourself out of an enormous hole in order to get to the playoffs.  But it happens sometimes.  He took the loss for the third time since the All-Star break.

Believe it or not, that’s not even the point.  Sure, if Lester had been his usual dominant self we probably would’ve won the game.  But that is not the point.

The point is the offense, which did almost nothing for the first eight innings of the game.  Scutaro hit a solo shot in the fifth, but that was it.  After Scutaro’s shot, Youk bounced a hard liner off Galarraga’s right ankle, chasing him from the game.  This after hitting Dan Haren with a liner in the arm that chased him from the game.  It’s just ironic that Youk is probably one of the most frequently hit batsmen in the game.  Anyway, Papi walked after that, and V-Mart hit what looked like something for RBIs and possibly extra bases, but it was caught for a flyout in front of the Monster.  That’s a shame.  It was a tough play.

Ramirez pitched the seventh, with a little help from Patterson’s right-on-the-money throw home to get Boesch out at the plate, and Wakefield pitched the eighth after ten days of rest.  In accordance with his summer of milestones, he officially passed Eck to become the oldest Red Sox pitcher to pitch in a game.  He’ll turn forty-four on Monday and might not want to remember this appearance; the Tigers took two against him, one on a wild pitch.  Also, Youk’s missed tag was not helpful.  Kind of reminds me of a less terrible version of Mike Timlin’s thousandth appearance, during which he was horrible.

Now we get to the bottom of the ninth.  Valverde loaded the bases with three walks, and Big Papi hit a grand slam.  That’s four runs on one swing.  I felt like I was back in October 2004 again.  Bottom of the ninth, game on the line, bases loaded, Big Papi steps up and completely unloads them.  It was crazy.  It was a fastball middle-in and it wasn’t staying in the park.  It really doesn’t get much better than that.  The ball ended up in the first row of seats right in the heart of right field.  And just like that, the Tigers had only a one-run lead.

Beltre doubled to left.  Drew pinch-hit, intentionally walked, and made way for Hall to pinch-run.

Cameron stepped into the batter’s box.  At this point you’re thinking it’s not possible that we just came all the way back only to lose now.  It’s only one run; we have the tying and go-ahead runs already on base.  Cameron needs to do something here.

Instead, he did nothing.  He worked the count full and waited for a fastball but got a splitter instead and struck out looking.  Kind of like Drew in 2008.

Of all our wins this season, this one would have been the most improbable and therefore one of the biggest.  And Valverde was laboring.  He ended up throwing a career-high sixty pitches.  That’s an obscene number of pitches for a closer to throw.  He was really struggling.  And that mound slap at the end just made the whole thing worse.

Of all the ways to open a homestand, it doesn’t get much lower than this.  Your offense does nothing for most of the game, all of a sudden you’ve got life in the bottom of the ninth, you climb all the way back to within one run, the table is set, and the batter just looks.  It’s agonizing.  But I guess there’s nothing to do now but hope Dice-K gets something going today.  Every game now is a must-win.  So let’s win this one.

Getty Images

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That was a pure quality start from Josh Beckett. Two runs on five hits over eight innings pitched, two walks, eight strikeouts, no home runs. That was Beckett ’07. How do I know? Because in his last victory over the D-Backs a year ago, Beckett held them to two runs over eight innings. Unbelievable. When you see a start like that from him you can’t help feeling at peace with the universe. And Aardsma was his usual self and got the job done in the ninth. Unfortunately, Dan Haren was his usual self, too. Over seven innings, he allowed two hits, five strikeouts, one base on balls, and nothing else. Tony Pena gave up the run to Boston, and Brandon Lyons got the save.

The run resulted from a sac fly by JD Drew with the bases loaded. It’s good that he got the Sox on the board, and it’s fantastic that he’s mastered the right field corner. But there’s a nagging thought in the back of my mind that wishes he and the team could have done more in situations like that. We had our fair share of scoring chances; not many, but we had our fair share. The first hit of the night was actually a double by Tek, which snapped his hitless streak of twenty-plus at-bats. But we could do nothing with it. I guess you can chalk that up to Haren being Haren. He did start the All-Star Game for the American League last year.

The Red Sox have never defeated the D-Backs at home, and sadly they still haven’t…yet. And the really sad part is that we had a chance to tie it before Youkilis got hit below his right eye with a baseball being thrown around the horn between innings. He had to come out. With Sean Casey serving Game 1 of his three-game suspension (I refer you to the Rays brawl), Brandon Moss, who’s played some first base in Triple A, had to come in. But Moss isn’t a Major League-caliber first baseman, and he showed that pretty quickly when he controlled a line drive and bobbled it. He got the out at first, but a run scored because he couldn’t turn the customary double play. The bases were loaded at the time. So, the final score ended up being 2-1 instead of 1-1 by the time the ninth inning rolled around.

You always get that feeling of desperation in the bottom of the ninth when you’re losing by one run. And we’re a team that can turn it around pretty quickly. But we couldn’t do anything in last night’s ninth or in any other game-on-the-line ninth inning if we keep doing what we’re doing now, which is getting up there and hacking. We play a totally different offensive game in those situations. Sabermetrics, first place, and two World Series trophies will tell you that the key to success is being patient, taking your pitches, and working walks. The Red Sox farm system teaches prospects to be patient at the plate. It’s an integral part of Boston’s game…usually. The ninth inning comes, and it’s all out the window. Hacking in the ninth works for sluggers like Big Papi and Manny Ramirez, but all three batters can’t get up there and start taking cuts and expect to make something happen. When the Red Sox continue playing the Boston game in the ninth with the game on the line, we’ll win these types of contests.

In other news, Don Orsillo suffered a contusion in the broadcast booth when he was hit by a foul ball, distant fireworks kept going off in the right field direction, the Red Sox presented their employees with their World Series rings, and Randy Johnson is 44 years old and looks horrible. Oh, and Seattle was playing the Mets at Shea yesterday. It was Felix Hernandez against Johan Santana. Lo and behold, Hernandez hits a grand slam but has to leave the game with an ankle injury. Finally, another anti-Red Sox Nation article appeared in print. The disturbing part was that it was written by Daniel Rubin, a now-former Sox fan who claims he’s done with Red Sox Nation. The thrust of the article is basically that Red Sox Nation has lost something because the team is successful. It implies that Red Sox fans are now bandwagon fans. I’d say I’ve never heard anything more inaccurate in my life, but because of the sudden popularity of these articles I must say I have. It’s very sad. It’s almost like the new fashion is to condemn Boston fans because their teams are successful. Why shouldn’t we be happy when our teams win? Any true Red Sox fan knows that the personality of the fan base was not, as Rubin suggests, based on losing. All along it was based on bearing the team’s season whatever the outcome, win or lose. It was based on dedicating yourself to the team, not the team’s record. It was never about whining because we lost or whining because we won or whining because the outcome isn’t what you want it to be, which is what Rubin is doing, because he thinks that Sox fans aren’t Sox fans unless the Sox are losing. Newsflash: being a Red Sox fan is so much more than winning or losing, but Dan Rubin can’t seem to get past those. You don’t have the team in their blood if you focus on winning or losing so much that you forget yourself when confronted with either. If you can’t see that, we’re glad to see you go, buddy.

Josh Beckett, 6/23/2008

AP Photo

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