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Posts Tagged ‘Erick Aybar’

The Jays series and this series so far have constituted the best all-around baseball we’ve played all season.  Granted, the season is only a month old, but we’ve seen some badness in that month, and it’s good to actually know for sure that we’ve got the goodness in us.  Because playing well against Toronto is all well and good, but let’s face it: they’re not exactly the cream of the crop.  Playing well enough against the Angels to hold a moderate lead while limiting their run production is a completely different story.

Turns out we can do that too.  Who knew?

Jon Lester is officially gold.  As April goes, so goes Jon Lester.  You would never have seen him pitching like this last month.  Never.  It’s almost like there’s some kind of baseball black magic over him that commands him not to get good until May.  Whatever it is, he’s over it.  The man picked up the win in a very solid, eight-inning effort during which he fired 120 pitches, seventy-six of which were strikes.  He gave up only five hits and two walks.  He struck out five.  And the best part? He one-hit the Angels through eight.  He topped out at ninety-six.  His strike zone was even, and he put that nice cutter movement on his fastball like he always does.  The more vertical movement he puts on his pitches, the faster they go, and he had his fastball under control last night.  It was like watching a master at work.

Except in the top of the eighth.  With the game tied at one, the bases were loaded with one out.  But Abreu hit a grounder to Pedroia.  Pedroia was playing in, so when Aybar stopped between first and second, he fell, and Pedroia applied the tag and fired to first while falling forward in time for the double play.  That was huge.  Play of the game right there.  Scutaro ranging across his body in mid-air to fire across the diamond to first instead of to second was a nice show of skill, but that double play was pure clutch.  Dustin Pedroia in the field, ladies and gentlemen!

Paps in relief pitched a clean inning with two K’s.  Who knew that, either.

Okay.  The final score was 5-1, so like I said, the lead was modest.  And you can thank the reserves for almost all of those runs.  In the first, Scutaro led everything off with a double off the wall.  Pedroia sacrificed him to third, and he scored when V-Mart grounded into a double play.  (V-Mart’s been working hard on his throwing.  He had a nice streak of throwing out seven consecutive baserunners before Napoli stole third.) And we stayed tied at one until our four-run eighth.  It’s not like we didn’t have opportunities, though; we left five men on base in the first three innings.  That’s a result of Santana’s strong performance, not our ineptitude.  We know that because he finally started to crack in the eighth; he walked V-Mart on four pitches, and the minute he was relieved in favor of Jepsen, we started rolling out the runs.  Youk walked and Drew singled to load the bases.  Papi did nothing with that opportunity, hitting a grounder right at Kendrick.  But Beltre loaded them again, and Hermida then promptly sent everyone home with a double off the wall on a 2-2 fastball; there was nothing Rivera could have done with that.  And Lowell doubled in Hermida, and that was all we needed to secure the W.

Interesting: Lowell was red-hot on Monday, but Tito benched him in favor of Papi.  Then he pinch-hit Lowell for McDonald last night, and look what he does.  If I were Tito I’d think about finding some way to keep him in there.

Scutaro had a fantastic night, going three for five with two doubles.  Pedroia doubled.  Drew went two for four, and Hermida finished two for four.

So two very different ballgames.  In the series opener, we proved we could slug with the best of them.  Last night, we played run prevention.  I’m not sure what Lackey has in mind for tonight but I hope it’s good.

The Baseball Chronicle

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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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