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Posts Tagged ‘Dan Johnson’

That was absolutely brutal.  I know of no other way to describe it.  Cue the anguish, because from here on out, things get mighty uncertain.

Technically, we’re not out of it yet.  Watching games like last night’s make you think that we’re out of it and there’s no point believing anymore, but actually there is.  There is a point in believing because of pitching gems like Lester’s and Buchholz’s, because of timely heroics at the plate, and because we’re Red Sox fans and no matter what happens, that’s just what we do.  We believe.  We believe until the math tells us that it’s not humanly possible to make the playoffs.  Then the devastation sets in.  But until then, we believe.

We still have a lot going for us.  We have guys in the lineup it’s still hard to get out, and we have a starting rotation that will be difficult for any team to match.  And when you line up your best pitchers with others who aren’t as good, theoretically that’s a recipe for winning.  Our problem has been our inability to hit and win consistently.  That’s kind of a huge problem.

We lost last night.  We lost the game, we lost the series, and we lost the opportunity to make large swaths of ground in the standings.  If we’d swept the Rays, which we could have done because we had leads in both of the games we lost, we would have been only two and a half games out.  If we were only two and a half games out, there would have been an incredibly substantial possibility that we would make the playoffs, especially given the games we have yet to play against the teams above us: we have three left against the Rays at home and six against the Yankees, three away and three at home.  If we were only two and a half back, those games would be something to look forward to with assurance.  Now they’re something to look forward to with apprehension.

There are thirty-one games left to play.  We would have to win a week’s worth of games and the Rays or Yankees would have to lose a week’s worth of games just for us to tie.  We have a better record than the Rangers, who are sitting comfortably on top of the AL West.  We are just one game behind the Twins, who lead the AL Central.  But we are not in either of those two divisions.  We are in the AL East, the toughest division of baseball.  And we’re still holding on and trying to make a run despite all the injuries we’ve had, which is admirable, and we can be proud of that.  So clearly we are very good.  But we need to do more.  We need to play better.  The offense has to back the pitchers.  The defense has to back the offense.  And the pitchers have to back everything.  The entire team needs to step up in a truly enormous way and either the Rays or the Yankees need to step down in a truly enormous way in order for us to make the playoffs.  That’s the cold, hard math.  The month of September begins in two days.  There’s nothing for us to do but wait and see what happens.  Anything is possible.  But some things are more possible than others.  They’re still completely possible, but they’re just less possible.  That’s all I’m saying.

Lackey was a fail.  His start began with such promise; he allowed one run through five.  Then came the three-spot in the sixth that tied it, and the Rays never looked back.  Lackey’s final line was five runs on nine hits with three walks and seven K’s in six and a third innings.  He threw 107 pitches, seventy for strikes.  He gave up two home runs, one on a fastball he left down the middle and one where he missed his location entirely because he used a slide step.  His fastball got up to ninety-three miles per hour, but believe it or not that wasn’t his fastest pitch; his cutter got up to ninety-four.  His cutter was his best pitch for strikes, followed by his slider, two-seam, curveball, four-seam, and changeup.  He was very aggressive, challenging hitters and pounding the zone.

After the second home run in the sixth, which tied it, things got really ugly.  There was a double, an intentional walk, an unintentional walk, and an RBI single by Johnson that would easily have scored another had it not been for V-Mart’s highly superior plate-blocking skills.  Okajima allowed an inherited runner to score.

Our offense didn’t do much.  In the fifth, Navarro and Scutaro hit two RBI singles.  In the sixth, Nava hit an RBI single.  That was all we could manage.  We had only two extra-base hits all night, both doubles, one for Lowell and one for Beltre, who is obviously playing through some pain as shown by his slight limp to second in the sixth.

We had a two run lead.  It was fun while it lasted.  It lasted for a while.  But then it disappeared.  And we ended up losing by two runs instead.  The final score was 3-5.

We claimed Mike Napoli off waivers.

We have today off to regroup.  Then we’re going to Baltimore, which should give us a boost.  In September, we alternate a week on the road with a week at home with a day off every week.  It’s a nice schedule; we’re playing some soft teams in addition to Tampa Bay and New York.  I’ll have to step away for the next twelve days, which is particularly unfortunate to an unimaginably epic degree because these are going to be the deciding twelve days.   If in twelve days we find ourselves in our current or a worse position, we fall victim to a math problem.  If in twelve days we find ourselves in a position better than our current one, we have something on our hands.  And I seriously, seriously hope that it’s the latter.

Kevin P. Casey
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That was just crushing.  It had all the markings of a devastating loss: good performances from everyone that weren’t enough, a lead we maintained for a good while before dropping it, a walkoff in extras, and an outcome that was the direct result not from any one major mistake but from several small and insignificant mistakes that on any other day would have been small and insignificant.  That’s pretty much the best recipe for a real disappointment that you’re ever going to get.  And if you needed a picture to go with that recipe, you’d make a freeze frame of Johnson’s home run to go with it.

Pitching-wise, Buchholz delivered.  As far as the Rays were concerned, he was still zoned.  The Rays had absolutely nothing against him.  He tossed seven frames plus one out, gave up one earned run on four hits, walked two, and struck out five.  He allowed a solo shot to Upton in the eighth that chased him, but even that wasn’t technically his fault.  Buchholz threw a curveball, a pitch Upton hadn’t seen all night.  It’s not like we’re talking fastball down the middle.  Buchholz threw 110 pitches, sixty-seven for strikes.  He worked his fastball up to ninety-four miles per hour.  His curveball was real sharp.  But his changeup and slider weren’t that great.  Nevertheless, he pitched very well, no-hitting the Rays into the fourth and aggressively challenging them.  In fact, he has Kalish to thank for that because Kalish made one of those plays you associate with the preservation of a no-hitter.  With a runner on first and one out, Upton hit what looked like an RBI triple but ended up being a fly ball when Kalish made an absolutely phenomenal diving catch, complete with somersault.  That is making highlight reels for the next year.  That was incredible.

The real problem was the unearned run he gave up in the seventh.  Buchholz attempted a pickoff, but the throw somehow ended up in our bullpen, allowing Pena to move from first to third.  Pena wasn’t even a threat to steal there.  And as if the situation couldn’t possibly have gotten any worse, Joyce followed that with a foul ball to right.  Drew lit out for the Rays’ bullpen to “catch” it.  He said after the game that he had absolutely no intention whatsoever of catching it; he was just going to let it drop, which is what you’re supposed to do with a runner ninety feet away with less than two outs and the game on the line, because if the ball is caught, it becomes a sac fly and a run scores.  So according to Drew, he was fully committed to not catching that ball.  And it seemed like the ball itself was going to help him out because it was shaping up to be a very difficult play, had he wanted to make it.  But somehow he ended up in position, casually stuck out his glove, and the ball landed in it.  And after he caught it, he was in one of the worst possible throwing positions in which you can find yourself in the outfield, and that’s how we were tied at one.  Seriously, I don’t really know what to make of it.  It was all very bizarre.  I mean, why would you purposefully catch that? It kind of looked like he didn’t expect to find the ball in his glove, but we have no way to know for sure.  But we do know that it ended Buchholz’s twenty-six-inning shutout streak.

Meanwhile, Beltre had hit a sac fly in the fourth to give Buchholz a one-run lead.  V-Mart’s solo shot in the eighth had given him another one-run lead.  That home run was huge, and I was exceedingly pleased to hear Red Sox Nation, Florida Chapter giving some hearty vocal representation.  It’s awesome to flood parks on the road.  Feels like home.  It was a fastball at the letters that he hooked out.  It was a very solid swing.  So he can do it all from both sides of the plate.

Doubront and Bard pitched perfectly.  It was Atchison who allowed the final blow.  To be completely honest with you, when he walked on the mound, I didn’t have a good feeling about it at all.  Johnson hit a home run on a fastball down the middle that was supposed to be inside.  And we had to watch something we all despise: a walkoff celebration at our expense against a division rival.  It was terrible.  I started having flashbacks of September 2008 when we were at home in a similar but better situation, fighting for October with the game on the line, and it was Johnson who took Paps deep for a walkoff.  And it’s just as horrible now, in fact probably more so, than it was then.  The final score was 3-2, most definitely not in our favor.

This win would have been tremendous.  We would have shortened our deficit to three and a half games.  But no.  Now we’re back to five and a half games.  It’s like our win on Friday didn’t even happen.  Lackey gets the ball tonight and we must win.  That is non-negotiable.  We don’t have a choice.  We’re fighting a war to get into the playoffs, and every game is like a battle.  We can’t afford to lose this battle because we don’t want to lose the war.  So let’s not lose.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Every once in a while, playing extra innings is good.  It reminds you why you fight so hard during the average nine-inning contest, and it puts the bullpen to work, so everyone gets some work in and you see what you’re working with.  And last night’s game was a great game for us.  It wasn’t like some ridiculous pitcher’s mistake forced us into extras and then we lost.  We went into extras for all the right reasons, and that’s good for the team every once in a while.  It strengthens the resolve to complete the mission.  As for the loss part, as soon as Mike Timlin stepped on the mound we all knew it was coming.  Why Tito didn’t just go with Chris Smith from the get-go instead of having him warm in the ‘pen behind Timlin is something I’ll never know.

A long game means a lot to talk about.  Let’s start with Beckett, who’s so back it’s not even funny.  I’m serious.  It’s gotten back to that point where you watch the game, you see that No. 19,  and you know you’re in good hands and you can lock it up as a win.  I can say that despite last night because even though we lost last night he did his job, and he did it well.  He’s been on a short leash lately with his pitch count because of his stint on the DL, which I think is smart, but even pitching six innings, which is a bit of a short outing for Beckett, he pitched his usual.  One run on six hits, walking two and fanning seven.  He got off to a great start, using five pitches in a one-two-three first inning, and he didn’t even give up his first walk until the fifth.

I can safely say that, just as I was never more disappointed in Pap than on Tuesday night, I’ve never been more proud of the bullpen than I was last night.  Last night’s relief was nothing short of spectacular.  Every reliever, with the exception of Mike Timlin who lost it a long time ago, brought his A-game.  Okajima pitched a perfect inning, and it’s safe to say he’s back.  Masterson pitched two innings and got himself out of a real situation, one out with bases loaded, and he got the two outs he needed, no problem.  It was just awesome.  Delcarmen pitched two perfect innings, and it was nice to see him do that, given the consistency problems that he had in the first half of the season and part of the second.  And Lopez; what to say about Lopez? He’s been our greatest this year.  He’s had everything: consistency, confusing delivery, good command, and the ability to continually throw strikes.  And his 2.1 innings were perfect.  Enter Mike Timlin, who gave up a three-run shot to Carlos Pena in the top of the fourteenth.  He picked up the loss.  What a surprise.  And as it turned out a Rays fan caught the ball.  How about that? A Rays fan in Fenway Park.  Now I’ve seen it all.

Pedroia batted in our first run in the third to tie the game, and Youkilis batted in our second in the bottom of the fourteenth.  We lost, 2-4, but we didn’t go down easily.  In the late innings we had our chances to score, which unfortunately we couldn’t convert, so it wasn’t only Timlin’s fault.  And even in our half of the fourteenth inning we had the bases loaded and we were ready to strike, but as they say the rest is history.  Even with all that playing time, only two members of the lineup had multi-hit games: Pedroia went two for four with a walk, and Lowrie went two for five with a walk.  Pedroia’s like nitro-glycerin; if you’re the opposition, you don’t want to be around when that kind of power is unleashed.  Watching him uncork that swing of his is beautiful baseball.  And he can do some running, too; in the third, Ortiz popped foul but Pedroia already went from second to the plate, so he just cut across the grass to get back to second.  Other highlights include Ellsbury’s spectacular diving catch in center field, and this was it, I mean I saw that ball and thought there was no play.  The kid’s a miracle worker out there.  And I think it should be mentioned that he was blatantly safe at first in the ninth inning.  If the umpires made the right call, the bases would’ve been loaded, and there probably would’ve been a walk off.  Just saying.  Ortiz actually hit a sac bunt in the twelfth inning for the first time since April 14, 2001; I kid you not.  Bay was held hitless, snapping a five-game hitting streak and a three-game home run streak.  And as for Lowell, he was the victim of what I perceived as blatant unfairness.  Lowell pops foul down the third base line, Dan Johnson goes into the slide to catch it, a fan reaches over and catches it instead, and the umpires call fan interference.  As if Johnson would’ve been able to make that play; Lowell clearly was not out.  Varitek was successful in a hit-and-run, and I loved watching that because I remember a few weeks ago when if you put Tek in a hit-and-run the runner would be out.  Cash came in in the later innings and showed off his arm; he gunned down Bartlett at second when Iwamura failed to make contact on his own hit-and-run.  Finally, Chris Carter came through with a pinch-hit single.  He’s now three for four in the majors, with all three of those hits coming against Tampa Bay.

In other news, Raymond Bourke was in the crowd last night, the Angels clinched the AL West last night (we all knew that was coming, too), and Pap showed a lot of maturity during this series.  After the Crisp-Bartlett brawl, he dished out a lot of talk of unfinished business, but he handled himself, which I think was wise because we need him to be available, not suspended, this time of year.

So, as for the series of the whole, we weren’t swept which is good, we’re only 2.5 games out which is good, and we have the day off today which is great.  And Jerry Remy made a good point: Tuesday’s loss was a bigger win for the Rays than it was a loss for us.  We can bounce back from that and from this series.  Look at our season; we’ve been doing nothing but.  The injuries, the trades, it’s all required a superhuman amount of resilience, but we’ve been able to weather it and actually be the better for it.  Toronto lost last night to the White Sox which takes some of the wind out of their sails, because up until that point they’d been enjoying a September surge.  Their pitching is largely responsible for that surge so we’ll have to hit all our spots when we start things off with them tomorrow.  Even though I would’ve loved nothing more than to sweep the Rays and show them who’s boss, there will be plenty of time for that in October.  We’re going to have a good run.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been more disappointed in Jonathan Papelbon.  This was his fifth blown save of the season, and what a blown save it was, too.  A win last night would’ve put us on top of the AL East, a position we should’ve held all season long.  And let’s face it: the only reason why the Rays have been in first is their pitching.  The top half of their order strikes out a lot, and they don’t sacrifice.  So that has to be it.  And last night pitching proved to be the end of us.  Dice-K pitched his usual five, giving up three runs on eight hits with four walks and five Ks.  Lopez was perfect.  Delcarmen was perfect.  Okajima, who’s been getting back to his old form, was perfect.  But Papelbon; Papelbon, to say the least, was far from perfect.

We did everything we could.  After Pedroia scored the game’s first run, Mikey Lowell hit a solo home run in the fourth and was the only member of the lineup to have a multi-hit game (he went two for four).  We were still losing by a run when Jason Bay came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning with one man on and two men out.  And he crushed that ball out of the park for a two-run shot that gave us a one-run lead.  They don’t call it the Bay State for nothing.  He came through despite his bad numbers against Dan Wheeler, and right after Don Orsillo mentioned he might hit a homer, too.  Bay’s hit three home runs in his last three games and a total of seven for Boston, but this third one was by far the most important.

Now, you would think that with a one-run lead and Pap coming to the mound it’d be locked up.  But no.  Prior to this latest appearance, he hadn’t given up an earned run in his last eighteen games, even though he’s had some problems with his splitter.  Well, Dan Johnson steps up and hits a solo shot with none out, but the damage didn’t stop there.  All in all Pap gave up two runs on three hits in the ninth.  We lost by a score of 5-4, even though in the bottom of the ninth Ellsbury pinch-ran for Kotsay and made it to third base on a steal and an errant throw.  That was probably the most painful and most crucial loss of the season thus far.  It’s possible that this game could cost us the home field advantage, if you know what I mean.  And given the difference in our records on the road and at home, that could be a problem.

Maybe I’m overreacting.  Everything is different in the postseason; it’s a whole other season with its own special brand of challenges and issues, and we usually thrive under the pressure.  Everyone just turns it up to a level reserved for October, especially the pitchers.  Pap let us down here, but he’s never been known to let us down when it really counts.  Of course, first we have to get to where it really counts, and that will be difficult if your closer is suddenly porous and inefficient.  What more can I say?

In other news, Papi’s day off yesterday, while inconveniently timed because it’s obvious we could’ve used his bat, has absolutely nothing to do with his wrist.  Dustin Pedroia, our resident MVP, is first in the American League in batting average, runs, and hits, and he’s first in the Major Leagues in runs and hits.  Finally, Warren Buffett threw out the first pitch last night, and as it turns out he’s a Red Sox fan.

Well, we’ve got a tough road ahead of us.  The Blue Jays haven’t been shy about spoiling other clubs’ attempts to make it to October.  We should know; we had a run-in with them last September that almost cost us the division.  And it’s been their staff that’s been responsible for their recent surge, so our pitching will have to be spot-on for that series.  In the meantime, we’ve still got one more with the Rays, and it’ll be Josh Beckett against Sonnanstine.  Beckett’s last start was outstanding, but this isn’t the Rangers we’re talking about.  This, in some strange twist of fate, is the first-place Tampa Bay Rays, so whatever worked for him in Texas has to work here for us to at least come away from here poised for a division win.

AP Photo

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