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John Lackey, ladies and gentlemen! I don’t know what happened.  I don’t know what he changed or what he didn’t.  I don’t know what snapped.  I don’t know.  Maybe it was just the tone set by the fact that he was in unbelievable shape during Spring Training.  Maybe, in the time-honored Boston tradition, it was just the beard.  But whatever it was, I’m glad it did.  The Lackey that we have seen lately is completely unlike the Lackey that we have been used to seeing.  If you ask me, it’s been long overdue.  I’m glad he’s back.

Lackey is pretty much back.  It’s phenomenal.  I mean, obviously it’s Interleague, so we do have an advantage anyway, but Lackey basically beasted the Padres.  He had a one-two-three first.  He gave up a double in the second, a single in the third, a double in the fourth, and a double and a single in the fifth.  He had a one-two-three sixth and allowed his only blemish in the seventh.  It was the first at-bat and 2-2 count thanks to four fouls.  He threw a cutter, two changeups, another cutter, two four-seams, and finally a curveball.  But he missed, and he gave up a solo shot.  He gave up a walk in the eighth, and that was it.

So, to sum up, Lackey tossed eight innings of one-run ball.  He gave up six innings, one walk, and six strikeouts.  That’s basically as good as it gets.  One more inning, and he would have gone the distance.  And he threw only 103 pitches.  That’s efficiency if I’ve ever seen it! I don’t know what Lackey did to change, but whatever it is, I like it.

We provided some backup in the fourth.  Papi singled, Napoli walked, Gomes struck out, and Salty walked to load the bases.  Snyder then hit a bases-clearing double but was out at third.  Gomes doubled to lead off the sixth and scored on a single by Iglesias.

Uehara had a one-two-three ninth, and that was it.  We won, 4-1.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis
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Honestly, it doesn’t get much more infuriating than that.  I’m just going to jump right in because it’s really tough to deal with it all.

Cook pitched decently.  He only lasted five innings, and he gave up three runs on seven hits while walking none and striking out two.  He went one-two-three in the first and second, and gave up a double in the third.  He gave up a solo shot to lead off the fourth followed by a single and then a two-run home run.  Following  two quick outs, he gave up a single, and then a fielding error put another runner on, but the inning ended there.  He allowed a single in the fifth and a double to lead off the sixth, at which point he was replaced by Hill, who was replaced by Aceves after three batters.

Meanwhile, we reduced our deficit from three runs to two; in the bottom of the fourth, Pedroia doubled with one out and scored on a single by Loney.

Aceves came out for the seventh and gave up a single followed by a two-run home run of his own, which made the score 5-1.  Two outs later, he gave up a double and was replaced by Carpenter, who ended the inning.  In the bottom of the seventh, we made another dent in the score.  Ross began the inning by striking out, but then Salty and Nava hit back-to-back doubles.  The Yanks sent out their third pitcher of the inning, and then Salty scored on a groundout by Gomez and Nava scored on a double by Aviles.  5-3.

Carpenter handled the eighth without incident baseball-wise but with incident drama-wise; when Bobby V. came out to the mound and Aceves saw Carpenter coming in, he walked to the other side of the mound to avoid Bobby V. when he left the field.  In terms of the bottom of the inning, we failed to score.  But it was not without further drama.

Ross ended the inning on a called strike; the at-bat featured seven pitches, all but one of them sliders, and the count had been full.  Ross and everyone else who had a pair of decently functioning eyes could see that that last supposed strike was actually a ball because it was low, and he let home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez know it immediately. So Marquez rejected him; it was only the second rejection in Ross’s career.  Several minutes later, Bobby V., who had separated Ross and Marquez, went back out there to have a talk with him that obviously got heated pretty quickly and was ejected for the sixth time this year, which sets the record for the most single-season ejections by any manager we’ve ever had in our long, illustrious history.  And at some point even third base coach Jerry Royster was ejected for some reason, so bench coach Tim Bogar was managing and coaching third at the same time at the end of it all.  The whole situation was just absurd and could have been neatly avoided had Marquez just done his job and saw reality.

Anyway, Miller and Padilla teamed up to shut out the Yanks in the top of the ninth, and the stage was set for another possible walkoff.  Salty’s leadoff at-bat was exactly the kind of at-bat you hope for most in those situations.  The count was full and he got an eighty-three mile-per-hour slide as his sixth pitch.  He’s a big guy, and he unleashed his formidable power on it and sent it out of the park to right field for a solo shot that only he could have powered out of the park.  We were now one run away with nobody out, and between Salty having made it look so easy and our last-minute heroics of the previous night, we were daring to believe that we could potentially pull it off again.

But we didn’t.  Nava flied out, Gomez grounded out, and Aviles reached on a fielding error.  Ellsbury could have put the whole thing away right then and there.  But he grounded out instead.

So we lost, 5-4.  But no one can say we didn’t put up a fight.  Because we did, both literally and figuratively.  We manufactured our own runs and pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps in the face of a deficit and dared to call a ball, a ball.  We just kept going at it all night long, but we came up just short in the end.  It’s just so infuriating.  I mean, I have to think that we’ve lost this way to plenty of other teams this year since clearly we’re in the business of losing every way to every other team this year, but to do it against the Yankees is particularly brutal.  We were almost there; we just needed one more run to tie it, and we could take care of them in extras.  And we couldn’t get it done.  It’s the story of our 2012 baseball lives.

On a more cheerful note, we have next year’s schedule, so assuming that we’re optimistic, it’s a reminder of something to look forward to.  The season starts for us on April 1 in the Bronx; we follow Opening Day with a day off and then conclude the three-game series.  We then head off to Toronto for three games, and then we head home for our home opener against Baltimore, which is followed by another day off.  We then finish our series with Baltimore and play the Rays before spending three games in Cleveland and going back home to face the Royals, A’s, and newly-AL Astros.  Then we have a day off and we go back to Toronto and then to Arlington, our first full series of May.  The Twins and Jays comprise another homestand, followed by a day off and another road trip against the Rays, Twins, and Other Sox.  Then back home we’ve got the Tribe and the Phillies, followed by a series at Philadelphia and then the Bronx, followed by a day off.  That takes us to June, our first full series of which is at home against the Rangers and then the Angels.  Then we head off to Toronto and Baltimore before another day off and coming home to face the Rays.  Then we head off to Detriot before another day off and another homestand featuring the Rockies, the Jays, a day off, and the Padres in July.  Then it’s off to the West Coast for the Angels, Mariners, and A’s before the All-Star break.  When play resumes, we host the Yanks and Rays before a trip to Baltimore and a day off.  The west then comes to us as we host the Mariners and D-Backs at home, which brings us to August.  We then travel to Houston and Kansas City before taking a day off and traveling to Toronto.  We host the Yanks at home after that, followed by a trip to San Francisco, a day off, a trip to Los Angeles for the Blue Sox, another day off, and then a homestand featuring the Orioles, Other Sox, and Tigers, which brings us to September.  We go to the Bronx after that, take a day off, go to Tampa Bay, and return home for the Yanks, a day off, the Orioles, the Jays, and another day off.  Then we go to Colorado for two games, take a day off, and go to Baltimore for the last series of the season.  So we’ve got at least three days off every month except one: May, our most packed month, when we only have one day off.  But it’s a good schedule.  It’s interesting that Interleague is sort of spread out this year instead of being clustered in June.  It’s often a tough schedule, and we have to play some worthy opponents, but if all goes according to plan, we’ll be able to hold our own next year.

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Better.  Much, much better.  I would have preferred a more lopsided score in our favor, but a win is a win and this will do.  Our pitching staff held its own for the most part, but unlike Friday’s game, the offense brought it yesterday.  You can tell a lot from a game’s final score.  If it’s a one-sided slugfest, you thank the offense and the pitching.  If it’s a close slugfest, you thank the offense and not the pitching.  If it’s a pitcher’s duel, obviously you thank the pitcher and not the offense.  And if it’s a close game in general, you pretty much almost always thank the offense.  All of this barring special circumstances, of course.

Yesterday we won, 7-5.  Let’s start with the five.  Unfortunately Lester was responsible for all but one of them; it was the first time he’d allowed at least one run after three previous starts in Philly.  He gave up eight hits, walked three, and struck out one, and he pitched six innings.  He threw ninety pitches, fifty-nine of which were strikes.  If he’d gone maybe one more full inning, I would have said that he was pretty efficient.  He allowed his first run in the third via a single-double combination.  He allowed all the rest in the fourth; he hit his first batter in the inning on a 2-1 count and then induced a groundout but allowed a single followed by a home run after that on a 1-1 count.  The pitch was a sinker.  The tough thing about home runs is that they’re such an isolated phenomenon.  A pitcher doesn’t give up a home run because he’s having a bad night; a pitcher gives up a home run because he makes one single, isolated mistake that the particular hitter he’s pitching to just happens to pick up on at that one moment in time.  And even though the rest of Lester’s outing was mediocre and not his best work by any means, that’s what happened.  Incidentally, he also made a throwing error in the fourth.

Lester handed the ball to Padilla for the seventh and eighth, when the fifth run was scored.  Padilla recorded the first out in the eighth but also gave up two singles before Hill took the ball.  Hill induced a groundout for the second out and then gave the ball to Aceves.  And Aceves allowed a single that brought home the inherited runner.  Aceves pitched the ninth as well for the save.

Fortunately, as I said, thanks to the offense we were able to come out on top, and we did so with four less hits than the Phillies.  Aviles did not waste any time seeing to that.  He sent the fifth pitch of the game into the bleachers in left center field.  It got out of there in a hurry.  It was the first time he’d ever hit a home run to begin a game in his career.  We added two runs in the second; Salty singled, Sweeney doubled, Salty scored and Nava reached base on a missed catch, and Sweeney scored when Lester grounded into a double play.  (There’s nothing like an American League pitcher making an easy out to remind you that it’s Interleague.  Another way you know it’s Interleague is when your Gold Glove first baseman ends up playing right field to make room for your DH at first, although I must say that Gonzalez did a fine job; his sliding catch in the third was a tough play for any starting outfielder to make.  Speaking of stellar catches, how about Sweeney’s diving catch just feet in front of the scoreboard to end the seventh? Mighty stellar.  That catch prevented at least two runs from scoring and was absolutely integral to our victory.) We turned on more power in the fourth, when Middlebrooks and Salty smacked back-to-back jacks to lead it off, both balls ending up in right center field.  Both swings were right on the money.  Both balls left the park really fast.  Both shots were awesome.

Not to be outdone, Papi crushed a two-run shot in the fifth (Pedroia had singled to start the inning) on the first pitch of his at-bat, a sinker.  He sent that to straightaway center field.  It was a classic Papi swing: strong, powerful, precise, and fast.  He snapped the bat back, and the ball lofted out.

So this time we hit four home runs, and we did what you’re supposed to do when you hit four home runs: we won.  And now it feels like Interleague.

SB Nation Boston

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When I envisioned the start of Interleague play, I obviously envisioned us winning.  I mean, we’re an American League team.  We should be cleaning up with National League teams.  Except that the Phillies are the Phillies, and when a National League team has an American League closer that you yourself trained, it represents a special set of circumstances that’s mighty difficult.

Bard only lasted five innings; he gave up five runs on three hits, including a solo shot in the fifth, and he walked five and struck out three.  He threw ninety-four pitches.  He was wild and inefficient, and despite the fact that our pitchers collectively have pitched well in our last few games, with the exceptions of Lester and Beckett they haven’t pitched long.  If we continue like this, the bullpen may as well start every game and the starter may as well come out in relief.  Seriously.  Except that the bullpen didn’t really stem the flow yesterday; Albers pitched two shutout innings, but then Morales gave up a solo shot in the eighth.

Aviles hit a home run to put us on the board in the third.  It landed just a few feet inside the pole in left.  Our second run was plated by a sac fly in the fourth.  Ross hit a solo shot of his own in the sixth, also just inside the pole in left.  Not wanting to be left out of the action and finally delivering on his promise to go deep, Gonzalez let rip a solo shot in the eighth on a slider down and in, the second pitch of his at-bat.  This one ended up in right field; it was his third of the year, and I hope he turns it around and has many, many, many more.

And, to put a cap on the evening, Bobby V. was ejected in the ninth.  Byrd grounded out to short, and Bobby V. argued that Byrd should have been safe because the throw pulled Ty Wigginton off the mound.  First base umpire Gary Darling even lost his gum in the argument, which was a decidedly an undignified moment.  Honestly, if you slow it down and look at the play, you can see that Wigginton came off the bag.  It was close, I will admit, but if you look at it and examine it, he came off the bag.

And the fact that Jonathan Papelbon of all people got the save in the ninth did not help anything in the least.

So two hours and fifty minutes, two injuries (Salty had to get stitches on his left year after getting hit in the in the fifth,and Ross had to get x-rays after fouling a ball off his left food in the eighth), four runs, eight hits (two more than Philly), three home runs , six runs, and one Papelbon save later, we lost by two.  And that’s how we started Interleague play.  Losing at the hands of a closer who reminded us just how much we’re going to miss him.  I’m so frustrated, I don’t even know what else to say.

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I can not believe this.  We just whipped the Jays big time, and yesterday we couldn’t buy a run when we needed it most.  That’s the nature of the game, I guess.  But it’s brutal.

Lackey delivered one of his finer performances of the season.  He opened the sixth by allowing a single, which quickly turned into a man on third after a steal and a throwing error by Tek.  After he got his second batter to fly out, he was pulled in favor of Morales.  Lackey only gave up two runs on seven hits while walking only one and striking out four.  He threw 115 pitches, seventy-nine of which were strikes.  The velocity was up on his fastball, and his slider was especially deadly.  He also threw a decent curveball and a handful or so of changeups into the mix.

Meanwhile, the offense was more or less doing its job.  Lackey gave up his two runs in the first on thirty-one pitches; we tied the game at two in the second.  Two singles plus a fielding error yielded one run, and a groundout yielded the other.

We moved ahead in the third; Ellsbury led it off with a triple and scored on a sac fly by Scutaro.  We picked up some insurance in the sixth when Gonzalez led it off with a dinger into the bullpen on the first pitch he saw, a fastball.  He left the game in the next inning with a tight left calf.

Meanwhile, Morales had finished off a scoreless sixth, and Aceves finished off a scoreless seventh.  And then we had to give the ball to Bard, who is in the process of showing everyone why he may not be ready to close just yet.  I don’t know what’s going on with him.  I don’t know why he’s suddenly ruining ballgames.

It all started with a five-pitch walk.  Bard followed that with a four-pitch walk.  And right then and there I knew that something would go horribly wrong.  Any pitcher who starts an inning with nine pitches, only one of which is a strike, is in for a long night.  And any fastball pitcher who is clearly having trouble with mechanics on the mound is in for a really long night.

Anyway, he made a throwing error on a sac bunt that resulted in a bases-loaded situation with nobody out.  When he gave up his first run on a groundout, technically it was unearned, but it was unearned because he made the error, so it’s still his responsibility anyway.  He then gave up a single that scored two more runs.  After that, he induced a double play.  Paps pitched a scoreless ninth for naught, Frank Francisco for some reason saw fit not to give up a home run today, and we lost, 5-4.

At that point, of course, it didn’t matter that we saved a run at home in the sixth with a textbook play at the plate that Tek somehow completed despite a forceful collision.  This is the third straight appearance in which he’s given up at least one run.  Since September 5, so in just over one week, Bard’s ERA has inflated by a whole point.  Not a fraction of a point.  A whole point.  It went from 2.10 to 3.10.  Good things included Papi’s nomination for the 2011 Roberto Clemente Award and Wake being honored for his two hundredth win.  Bad things included Bard.

On a different note, next season’s schedule is out.  The theme? Division rivalry, as usual.  We start in Detroit on April 5 and play the Jays in Toronto before our home opener with the Rays, followed by the Rangers and Yanks.  We’ve got three days off scattered among those series before another road trip.  The first two weeks of May will be easy; we’re back home for the A’s and O’s, away for the Royals, and then back home for the Indians and Mariners before going on the road for the Rays and Phillies.  We get a break with the Orioles before one of two days off in May, and then we’re home for the Rays and Tigers.  We’ve got three days off in a pretty easy July, when Interleague is in full swing.  We play the Yanks at home before the All-Star Game that should obviously have been scheduled in Boston but is in Kansas City instead for some bizarre and unfathomable reason, and then we play the Rays on the road.  Then we’re back at home for about a week before dealing with the Rangers and Yanks on the road again.  We play the Rangers and Yanks again in August, but we also play the O’s and Royals.  We’ve got a series with the Yanks and two with the Rays in September, and we end the season in New York in October.  All in all, lots of division rival games, but they’re mixed in with some easier teams, there’s a nice balance of home and away.  And Fenway Park turns one hundred years old! Sounds pretty good to me!

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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Smile, Red Sox Nation! We made it to the All-Star break! At the traditional halfway mark of the season, we’re sitting on top of the American League East, one game ahead of the Yankees.  We’re much more battered and bent than I thought we would be, and the standings don’t reflect the kind of dominance I thought we’d surely be exhibiting by now.  But given the way we started the season, I have absolutely no right to complain.  Instead, I’ll be thrilled we’ve made it this far, even if we didn’t make it this far in one piece.

In keeping with tradition, I’ve graded the entire team on their performance up to the All-Star break, as I do every year.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: B

He’s batting .251 with twenty-four RBIs.  He has a slugging percentage of .437; he’s hit twelve doubles, two triples, and six home runs.  He’s had ten passed balls, forty-nine stolen bases, and only sixteen caught-stealings.  His fielding percentage is .997.  He has a wicked arm.  He’s new to the club, and he’s a starter.  Given who he is as a player as well as his position, we expect him to hit fairly well and nail runners.  For the most part, he’s done the first but still needs work on the second.

Jason Varitek: A

Tek’s grade tends to be pretty consistent year-to-year.  Part of that has to do with the fact that we don’t expect as much from him as we used to.  Now that he’s technically no longer a starter, that’s even more true.  As he ages, his value to the team lies less and less in his ability to perform as a player and more and more in his ability to perform as a father figure and team leader.  And in the latter department, he excels to the utmost.  And he’s still top-notch with the pitchers and defensively, even if we consider him an out that gets easier with every passing year.

Kevin Youkilis: A

Over the course of these past few games, he’s really boosted his average, which is now up to .285.  He has forty-nine walks, which ties him for ninth in the American League.  He has twenty-six doubles, which ties him for third in the American League.  He has sixty-three RBIs, which ties him for sixth in the American League.  His average wasn’t too high before this last hot streak of his, but he’s certainly been contributing.  His fielding percentage is .967, which for him is a little low.

Dustin Pedroia: A

Earlier in the season, he was in the middle of one of the longest slumps of his still-young career.  He was getting skittish in two-strike counts, and the high inside fastball was giving him a bit of trouble.  Now, all of that is in the distant past.  His OPS is .837; his OPS over the course of the last seven days is 1.142.  As with Youk, he’s boosted his average a lot recently.  He’s now up to .284.  His fielding percentage is .990.  Even if you look at the big picture with the slump, he contributes.  If he’s not hitting, he’s walking and playing good D.  And if he is hitting, he’s still doing those things.

Marco Scutaro: B

As with Salty, consider what we expect from Scutaro.  Given the fact that our shortstops haven’t exactly been the highlight of our lineups in recent years, we expect him to hit decently but play fantastic D.  With a .259 average, six doubles, and three home runs, he has hit fairly decently, although he should be batting in more than fourteen runs.  His fielding percentage is .977; for a shortstop, I expect more.  It’s the most challenging infield position; we’re halfway through the season, and he’s already made four errors.  Last year, he made eighteen errors.  If he makes another four errors during the second half, that already would be a huge improvement.  But our standards are higher than that.  Besides, what if those four errors cost us four ballgames? We can’t afford that.

Adrian Gonzalez: A

Anyone who gives this man less than an A must have the wrong Gonzalez.  He has done everything we ever expected him to do.  He leads the American League in batting average, hits, doubles, and RBIs (ironically enough, Adrian Beltre is right behind him).  He’s third in runs and on-base percentage, fourth in at-bats, fifth in fielding percentage, and tenth in home runs.  The only thing he doesn’t do is steal bases, but we have Ellsbury and Crawford for that.  Collectively, those numbers tell us that he’s a powerful, durable, and beautifully well-rounded player capable of doing damage in any situation.  In short, he is worth every single bit of his contract.

Jed Lowrie: A

It’s not his fault he’s injured.  Before that, he was swinging a hot bat and playing well in the field.

Yamaico Navarro: B

Not great at the plate but literally flawless in the field.  He’s only been filling in temporarily anyway.

Drew Sutton: B

Sutton may be on the roster for the same reasons as Navarro, but he’s the exact opposite: not great in the field but outstanding at the plate.

JD Drew: B

Same old, same old.  Perfection in the field, mediocrity at the plate.  It’s really sad that that hasn’t changed.  Although I should mention that his highest monthly average of the season, 2.69, occurred in April, when everyone else’s monthly averages were probably at their worst.

Jacoby Ellsbury: A

Given last year’s injury and the fact that his season was therefore cut way too short, Ellsbury has had some catching up to do.  Not only has he caught up to our expectations; he has surpassed them.  He leads the American League in stolen bases.  He’s fifth in at-bats and average, sixth in runs, third in hits, and tied with Youk for third in doubles.  He’s set a new career high in home runs so far this year, and we still have half a season left to play.  Also worth mentioning is the fact that, over the course of the last seven days, Ellsbury has batted .467.  In the field, he has five assists, a new career high, and has yet to make an error.

Carl Crawford: C

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t thinking about his contract when I gave Crawford this grade.  But the truth is that he deserves it.  The contract is simply a manifestation of the expectations that both the organization and therefore the fans have of Crawford, who has proven that he can meet and even surpass those high expectations.  So far, he’s done nothing of the kind.  Before he made his way onto the DL, he batted below .250, failed to post home runs in the double-digits, and walked and stole bases less than ten times each.  He also made two errors.  He was supposed to excel in every single one of those categories.  He was supposed to be the left-handed Adrian Gonzalez who could run.  So far, not so much.

Darnell McDonald: B

He said it himself: he’s not contributing at the level he could or should.  The added playing time helped him last year; thankfully, we have more guys healthy, so he doesn’t have as much playing time this year.  But the art of the bench player is the ability to perform when necessary, playing time or no playing time.

Josh Reddick: A

He’s just as good as we’ve ever seen him.  He performs whenever we need him; he practices the art of the bench player.  Obviously, that’s because one day he won’t be a bench player; he’ll be a starter.  In the meantime, he’s a great kid to have around.

David Ortiz: A

It’s pretty simple.  He’s batting above .300 and slugging about .575 with twenty-three doubles, nineteen home runs, and fifty-five RBIs.  He’s not supposed to field; as a designated hitter, he’s supposed to slug.  And that’s what he’s doing, and he’s doing it well.

Offense Overall: B

The team leads the Major Leagues in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.  Despite this and the fact that there are a good number of players performing well on an individual level, the offense as a whole doesn’t get an A because it’s streaky.  Sometimes we’ll average about seven runs a game during a stretch; sometimes we’ll be lucky to score at all.  The mark of a good, solid offense is not to sometimes average seven runs a game; the mark of a good, solid offense is to do so consistently throughout the season.  That’s not something we’ve seen yet.  Until we do, we’ll just be a lineup with great hitters in it, not necessarily a consistently great lineup.

Defense Overall: C

We lead the Major Leagues in errors with forty-four, and we’re sixth in fielding percentage with .987.  That’s not good.

Josh Beckett: A

Beckett this season has been a model of consistency in the most positive of ways.   2.27 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, eight and three record, and ninety-four strikeouts and only seven home runs.  He’s a changed man from last year; this year, he’s found his former self.

Jon Lester: A

I’m going to give him an A because his numbers are fine enough, but I expect more from him.  His ERA is 3.31; it should be under three.  His WHIP is 1.21; it should be under one.  He’s given up fourteen home runs; it should be less than ten.  But he has ten wins by the All-Star break, which means he could have twenty by season’s end, and he has more than one hundred strikeouts.  Excellent, but not as excellent as I thought he’d be.

Clay Buchholz: B

Before he was injured, he wasn’t as great as he could have been.  Unlike Lester, his numbers aren’t that sufficiently good as to warrant a better grade even though he hasn’t performed to expectations.  He has a 3.48 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP, a record of six and three, only sixty strikeouts, ten home runs, and thirty-one walks.  He’ll need to work hard in the second half in order to return to form.

John Lackey: C

Lackey’s most recent start was the only start this year in which I felt we were seeing the Lackey we signed.  During all the other starts, we saw some pitcher we’d never even think of signing.  His ERA is 6.84, and his record is six and eight.  But you don’t need the numbers to tell you how inconsistent, spotty, and unpredictable his outings are and how porous and lacking in command he’s been.  It’s gotten to the point where him being on the DL is a good thing.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: D

I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that I’ve had just about enough of this.  We’ve been waiting and waiting for years now for him to show us even a small glimpse of the greatness he exhibited in Japan.  Well, guess what.  We’re still waiting.  And now he’s done for the season because he needs Tommy John surgery.  This could go one of two ways: either he won’t recover well at all and he’ll be even worse afterwards or he’ll make a spectacular recovery and it’ll turn out that the surgery corrected mechanical issues that were the root of the problem all along.  Either way, no matter how you slice and dice it, he didn’t pitch well this season.  You don’t need numbers to tell you that either.

Tim Wakefield: A

His ERA is in excess of four, and his WHIP is 1.27.  But technically his job is no longer to be a starter who can put the team in a position to win every fifth day.  His job is now to come in for an inning or two when necessary and keep the team in a position to win, and sometimes, when a starter is injured, to put the team in a position to win.  He is on the verge of making history with his long career, and age doesn’t seem to affect him at all.  He’s like the Benjamin Button of baseball.  He’s the ultimate team player; he answers the call of duty and he doesn’t complain.  Sometimes his knuckleball doesn’t dance like it should and he has a terrible night out.  But overall, when we need him to do something, he just does it.  It sounds simple enough, but not every ballplayer can do it.

Alfredo Aceves: A

Aceves has gone above and beyond.  He went from being a question mark during Spring Training to starting material.  He has an ERA of 3.41 and a WHIP of 1.22.  He has a record of four and one with one save.  How many pitchers can say that, after both starting and pitching in relief for half a season, they have a winning record as well as a save? Not many.  He can pretty much do it all, and that’s not even what he signed up for.  He can start, he can provide reliable middle relief, and he can close too.  I don’t think anyone expect him to be the versatile pitcher that the circumstances of the injuries to our staff have demanded he become.  But he rose to the occasion and continues to impress every time out

Matt Albers: A

Here’s another guy who continues to impress.  Again, during Spring Training, I don’t think anyone could have envisioned the dominant reliever he’d turn out to be.  He’s been as solid as solid gets.  2.55 ERA, thirty-for strikeouts, and almost two innings pitched per appearance.  So he’s both dependable and durable, arguably the two most important characteristics of a good reliever.  And with the way some of our starters have been pitching, if not for Albers we’d have been in desperate need of a good reliever.

Scott Atchison: B

He’s been better.  Like Morales, he’s a pitcher, and we need pitchers, so we’ll take what we can get and we’ll have to like it.  But to be honest I never like the look of a 4.70 ERA or a 1.43 WHIP.

Rich Hill: A

He’s appeared in nine games and thrown eight innings.  His ERA is zero.  That’s pretty good.

Andrew Miller: B

Yet another Spring Training question mark of whom we’ve seen much more than we ever thought he would.  He’s pitched decently.  For what we were expecting, he’s not great but not too bad.

Franklin Morales: B

Morales came into the fold when we were desperate for pitchers, period.  He hasn’t been outstanding, but he’s a pitcher, and given our circumstances that’s been good enough for us.

Dan Wheeler: B

His WHIP and his ERA are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The good news is that he has an ERA of zero when pitching in day games.  So all we have to do is use him in relief during the day, and we’re guaranteed success.

Bobby Jenks: D

So far, Jenks is an epic fail.  Enough said.

Daniel Bard: A

Bard’s ERA is 2.05, and his WHIP is 0.80.  His ERA was zero for all of June as well as July to date.  Of the seventeen teams he’s faced in his career, he has an ERA of zero against twelve, including the Rays and the Phillies.  He has faced only five batters after throwing fifteen pitches.  Not too shabby.

Jonathan Papelbon: B

If only Paps were as consistent as Bard.  His ERA is almost four, and his WHIP is much too large for a closer.  And yet somehow he has twenty saves to his credit and has blown just one.  He’s on pace to lower his walk total from last year’s, which is definitely a good sign.  But as long as I have to hold my breath whenever he comes out of the bullpen, I won’t be able to give him an A.

Pitching Overall: B

Giving the pitching staff an overall rating is very complicated and in some ways not even fair.  The reason why it’s fair for the lineup and not for the pitching staff is because the pitching staff doesn’t have a responsibility to perform well as a unit in the same game.  Each pitcher has his time to shine; if he has it, great, and if he doesn’t it’s on him.  Ellsbury’s ability to get himself into scoring position may be contingent on what the hitter before him does, but Beckett’s abiltiy to secure a win has nothing to do with the fact that Jenks can’t hold it down.  But in keeping with tradition, I’ll grade the pitching staff on the whole.  Such a grade must reflect the entire staff, which unfortunately includes some very sad cases.

Terry Francona: A

Arguably one of the best managers in club history.  Certainly one of the best managers active in the game today.  It’s a travesty that he didn’t win Manager of the Year last year.  The way he manages all the personalities in this club and maneuvers through injuries, he’s Manager of the Year every year in my book.

Theo Epstein: A

Jenks and Dice-K (and Lugo and Gagne, while we’re at it) were fails, but you can’t blame him for trying.  Crawford can’t be judged yet.  Besides, for Gonzalez alone, he gets an A.  That deal is one of his masterpieces.

Team Overall: B

It’s hard to argue with the fact that we lead in so many offensive categories as well as in the American League East.  Why the B? Because we’re only in first place by one game and we’re already halfway through the season.  Granted, we’re pretty injured, and it’s hard to conquer when your staff is on the DL.  But in the grand scheme of things, many of those injuries have been fairly recent.  Nobody was injured in April.  There’s no way we should have had the start to the season that we did.  We should have been running away with the division last month, if that late.  It’s all well and good to build some momentum during Interleague and take four games from the Orioles, but any team can do that.  Our team is better than being satisfied with sweeping Baltimore.  We should be sweeping New York and Philadelphia.  We have two and a half months to get our act together and show everyone why we’ll be winning the World Series this October.  So let’s get on with it already.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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I don’t think I’m alone in not knowing what to think.  One start we’re talking about the fact that Lackey may need Tommy John surgery and the next start we’re talking about the fact that the only thing Lackey needs is a repeat performance of the one he just delivered.  It’s a totally confusing situation.  Due to the way he’s pitched so far this season, I have absolutely no idea where last night’s outing came from.

It begs all kinds of interesting questions, like where was it before, and why specifically last night, and what made it happen, and what can we do to make sure it happens consistently from now on, and is it a health issue, and can it really be a health issue that’s that severe if was able to overcome whatever it was, and is this the Lackey we should expect to see or was it just supposed to be a pleasant surprise, and all sorts of other inquiries that probably have to go unanswered until the team figures it all out first.  Lackey insists that his arm felt the same last night as it did during his previous start, so honestly I just have no idea.  As with Dice-K, it’s possible that they’re not entirely sure what’s going on either.  I’m just saying it’s possible.

He pitched six and two-thirds innings.  And they were shutout innings, too.  For once, he got the win and deserved every bit of it and the standing ovation he got when he was taken out.  He allowed only three hits and walked only one.  He struck out seven.  He threw 106 pitches, sixty-nine of which were strikes.  He executed all five of his pitches with precision and skill.  The fastball, the changeup, the curveball, the cutter, and the slider were all deadly coming out of his hand.  He used each and every one of them to lock down at least one strikeout.  He reached his highest inning pitch count in the fifth with twenty-one.  He was taken out after securing two outs in the seventh but giving up a hit and hitting a batter for the second time in the process.  He was dominant.  He basically went on autopilot and cruised.  It was awesome.  I think we all knew he had it in him somewhere.  The question again becomes where it came from.  Like I said, I have no idea.  But this outing just lowered his ERA opposite Baltimore to 2.89, meaning that he pitches better against Baltimore than he does against any other team.  (Technically that doesn’t say much, but still.)

We didn’t score until the fifth.  Alfredo Simon’s command and control had been consistently weakening as the game progressed, and at that point we just broke through for good.  Scutaro flied out to begin the inning.  Then Ellsbury tripled.  Pedroia reached base and advanced to second on a fielder’s choice while Ellsbury was out at home.  Gonzalez was intentionally walked, and then Youk knocked a double off the Monster, which brought in Pedroia and moved Gonzalez to third.  Papi was intentionally walked despite the fact that he grounded into a double play with the bases loaded and one out in the first, and both Gonzalez and Youk scored on a rocket of a double by Reddick.  Salty grounded out to end the inning.  Pedroia later led off the seventh with a double and scored on a double by Youk.

Ellsbury went three for four and was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle.  Youk and Reddick also each went three for four.  Pedroia only had one hit on the day, but it was enough to extend his hitting streak to eleven games.

Bard finished off the seventh and took care of the eighth.  Since we scored that fourth run, Paps didn’t find himself in a save situation but pitched solidly anyway.  It’s been way too long since we’ve had a starter go deep enough to allow those two to work their usual shifts.  The final score was 4-0.

We’re on a five-game winning streak, we’ve won nine of our last ten games, and we’re in first place.  Just recently when we were in the middle of a bad run during Interleague, who would have thought we’d be hammering the Orioles to secure a first-place lead before the All-Star break? Baseball is quite a game.  Life is good.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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