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Posts Tagged ‘Howard Kendrick’

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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Dice-K’s start last night is a cause for hope.  He showed clear improvement from his previous start.  It was pretty much a clear flip of that start, when the badness came at the end of his outing.  Last night, he put us in a hole in the beginning but proceeded to settle down and keep us in the ballgame.  His outing was a little bit longer, a little more efficient, and a little more effective, and was sufficiently better to earn him the win.  If he keeps moving in this direction, he’ll be right solid eventually.

He gave up four runs in the top of the first on thirty-nine pitches, only the first two of which were located well.  To his credit, all were via small ball.  But he only needed eight pitches to get out of the second and at most fifteen in his next three innings.  He went one out past five innings, gave up five runs on five hits, walked three, and struck out three.  So his command still needs work.  He threw ninety-three pitches total.  His best was his two-seam, followed by his cutter and four-seam.  His slider and curveball were pretty good, but I’d work on that changeup.  His strike zone was pretty messy.  He threw very few pitches to the right; most balls were to the left of the strike zone and at the lower right corner.  The fact that his fastest pitches don’t have much movement could be a potential problem down the road, once batters have had a chance to check him out, so he might want to work on that too.  But like I said, all in all it was a good sign that he’s moving forward constructively, and we’ll have to be happy with this type of outing from him for a while.

Delcarmen got a hold after allowing a run.  Okajima pitched well, and Ramirez worked around two hits and a walk with three K’s.

But have no fear, the offense was here.  And it all started with V-Mart, who launched a two-run homer into the bullpen in right field.  A fastball up and away, and he buried it to end a streak of ninety homerless at-bats.  If he gets hot, he’ll be another piece to the puzzle; we’re depending on his offense this season in the absence of Jason Bay; Tek has actually borne the brunt of that in his starts, but if V-Mart can get hot too, that would be a tremendous asset to the lineup.

But we made this game in the fifth and sixth.  When V-Mart stepped up again, all bets were off.  He stroked a two-run double to start the inning.  Hermida followed that with a two-run single, and McDonald followed that with a one-run single.  End the fifth.  Napoli hit a two-run shot off Delcarmen in the top of the sixth, but Pedroia answered with a bases-loaded walk, followed by Beltre stroking an RBI single, with Lowell scoring on Kendrick’s fielding error and McDonald finishing it off by grounding into a fielder’s choice that allowed Drew to cross the plate.

So Pedroia and V-Mart finish two for four, and Beltre finished two for five.  McDonald also had a double to his credit.  We left ten on base, but we scored eleven runs on as many hits to make the final score 11-6, us.

I would also hereby like to give V-Mart credit for working on his D.  Entering last night’s contest, he’d thrown out a baserunner in three of his last five contests.  Pretty dramatic turnaround.  He’s obviously been putting in the work, so that’s a major E for Effort right there.

In case you’re wondering, yes, we did just sweep the Angels in a four-game series to vault us over the .500 mark.  I repeat: we just swept the Angels in a four-game set.  In case you were wondering.  And I’d much rather sweep the Angels than sweep the Orioles.  This was easily our best series of the season.  Looks like the pre-series team meeting paid off.  And now, the Evil Empire.  Josh Beckett gets another go at them tonight.  I want to win.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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One thing has become incredibly clear this week: as go the pitchers, so go the Red Sox.  With a team based on run prevention, we should have expected this.  Because if you don’t have effective starting pitching, it doesn’t matter how many runs you score; the opposition will score more.  And it just seems like, somehow and for some reason, the offense is much more comfortable hitting behind a pitcher who’s on.  The cuts look more robust, the at-bats look healthier.  We’ll have to wait and see if that remains to be true, but for now at least we’ve performed noticeably better with good starting pitching behind us.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, we should honor him who was honored: Nomar! The retirement ceremony for No. 5 took place before last night’s game, on May 5, 5/5.  I’m telling you, seeing him in that home jersey with that old No. 5 on the back was something else.  When he spoke with Don and Jerry in the booth, he said he cried after being traded; to tell you the truth, it seems in retrospect like he had no idea what he was doing when he wanted to be traded.  It seems like his resentment, the chip on his shoulder, the bad feelings, and the bitterness were the stuff of an immature player who acted on his momentary emotions.  Because I think he’s regretted it since.  You don’t go through all of these measures afterwards to return to the team you left if you didn’t wish you were with that team the whole time.

His former teammates turned out, which was good to see.  Obviously all the guys on the current team were there.  Trot Nixon was there, complete with a standing ovation, along with Brian Daubach and Lou Merloni.  The brass was there.  And of course his family was there.  He didn’t do the batting ritual, but he did the next-best thing: he rubbed some dirt on his hands at shortstop, stood at the third-base side of the mound, and made one of his signature off-balance, side-arm throws to Tek for the first pitch.  That brought back a lot of memories.  How about those two three-homer games, or when he came back from that wrist injury only to go deep and bring home the go-ahead run?

So here’s to you, Nomar.  You finally found what you were looking for:

You might say it’s closure to a playing career, but the door is open because I feel like I’m back home.

What a player.  What a career.

And then of course we proceeded to honor him further with a win.

The final score was 3-1, and Lackey did indeed show his former ballclub who’s boss.  Seven innings of one-run, two-hit baseball with four K’s and only two walks.  That one run was a homer for Wood in the fifth on a pitch that was down because Lackey didn’t locate it, but that was it.  He threw only 103 pitches.  So in four of his first six starts, he’s allowed at most two runs.  He had some trouble in the early innings, including the obligatory bases-loaded jam through which he fortunately emerged unscathed.  He threw forty-two pitches over the first two innings; he threw sixty-two over the last five.  For the entire game, the Angels left three men on base.  Having scored only one run, that means two things: one, that they weren’t given opportunities to score, and two, that they couldn’t make good on the opportunities they managed to find.

He obviously threw mostly cutters, but his mix of pitches was good and he had good movement and velocity on all of them.  His cutter was fantastic.  His quickest inning was the third, in which he threw just nine pitches, followed by the seventh, in which threw ten.  As opposed to the second, in which he threw almost three times as many.  His strike zone was nice and even.  He didn’t throw too high up and limited throwing too low down.  He had some on the left and more on the right.  All in all, a very dominant outing.

Bard followed that with an equally dominant hold, retiring two of his three batters.  And Paps capped it all off with an equally dominant save, enjoying a one-two-three ninth and throwing nine of his ten pitches for strikes.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you close a ballgame.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is Jonathan Papelbon.

The offense was short but sweet.  Beltre’s single glanced off third base, and Wood was charged with an error for failing to catch it while Drew scored.  Papi hit a towering opposite-field home run over the Monster in the fourth.  Pineiro left the pitch up.  After that home run, I don’t want to hear anymore about his supposed slump.  He’s out of it.  It’s done.  Finished.  Leave the man to his business; he’s obviously off to a better start this year than it is last year, so no use turning up the pressure.  Besides, his timing has looked great lately.  And Beltre went deep in the eighth, his second in three games after going twenty-four without.  And he was as good in the field as he was at the plate; amidst pieces of broken bat, Beltre initiated a double play unfazed.  And he fired that ridiculous hop by Kendrick to first on time.

So Scutaro doubled, Pedroia went two for three with a walk, Ortiz went two for three with a walk, and Beltre went three for four.  How ‘bout that.  How about that.

Tonight we go for the sweep and a chance to bring our record above .500, which we desperately need.  Dice-K’s on the mound, so I’m not making any predictions, because as we all know, all bets are off with him.  But still, this is awesome.  We are in a position to sweep the Angels at home in our first series with them this year.  We’ve played baseball during this series that I’d love to see played for the rest of the season.  And we have good momentum going into our series with the Yankees.  I couldn’t have planned it better myself.

We buried the Flyers, 4-1.  I seriously can’t believe the kind of hockey we’re playing.  It’s incredible.  I have no idea where this came from.  All season, we try to play like this, we barely make the playoffs, and all of a sudden it comes out.  Excellent.  Just excellent.

AP Photo

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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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