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Posts Tagged ‘Interleague’

Well, we’re more or less right back to where we started.  We’re only half a game out of first place.  This past two-week stretch didn’t go nearly as well as I’d hoped; I thought that Interleague would power us way past the Yanks for good.  Apparently not.  But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s recap.

After we swept the Yankees, we played the Jays, who we also swept before heading into a day off.  We won the first game by a score of 5-1; Buchholz pitched a stellar outing and the first third of the lineup delivered in a big way.  We absolutely crushed them the following day, 16-4; Lackey’s mediocrity didn’t matter in the face of eighteen hits, five of which were for extra bases and two of which were three-run homers, one each for Tek and Papi.  The 14-1 series closer was just as decisive; Lester pitched eight innings of one-run ball, and we hit six doubles and four homers.

We completely failed to carry any of that momentum into our series opener with the Rays; if only we could have transferred some runs from those games to that one.  We were shut out, four-zip.  Beckett returned the following day to pitch a complete-game shutout, his finest performance of the season, hands down.  In fact, take away a ridiculous and nonsensical hit down the third-base line that was barely a hit at all, and he’d have had a perfect game.  Not a no-hitter.  A perfect game.  He did not issue a single walk during those nine innings.  He was absolutely remarkably brilliant.  It was the first one-hitter of his career, and in retrospect, that was one of the most infuriating hits I have ever witnessed in my entire baseball-watching life.  I really can’t stress that enough.  We ended up winning the series; Buchholz pitched a short but ultimately sweet five innings, and our four runs were enough to handle the Rays’ two.

We then went home to take on the Brewers.  We crushed, 10-4; Lackey, Gonzalez, and Papi delivered solid performances.  We lost the next day, 4-2; Lester just didn’t have it.  But we crushed in the rubber game, scoring four times as many runs to win it, 12-3; Wake pitched masterfully for eight innings.

Then the Padres came by and we crushed again, 14-5.  Andrew Miller started that one; he didn’t pick up the win, but he did have some flashes of brilliance.  We lost the series by dropping the last two.  First, we lost, 5-4; Aceves didn’t have it.  Then, we lost, 5-1; Lackey really didn’t have it.  He didn’t even make it through the fourth.

Then we had another off day, and we are now in Pittsburgh playing the Pirates.  On Friday, we lost again, 3-1.  Lester didn’t have it, and the lineup was obviously out of whack due to the fact that we were in a National League park, so the pitchers had to hit.  On Saturday, we lost again, 6-4, despite three long balls.  Thankfully we preserved a shred of dignity on Sunday with a win, 4-2, to close out the series.  Miller pitched decently, and we only had one extra-base hit; naturally it helped that the Pirates made four errors, since all but one of our runs were unearned.

Youk and Beckett got sick.  Drew has a bruised left eye.  Lowrie, Crawford, and Buchholz hit the DL.  Jenks is still on it.  Paps was given a two-game suspension as the resolution of the brawl earlier this month.  Gonzalez tallied his one thousandth career hit, a triple against the Brewers.  Ellsbury garnered American League Player of the Week honors.  Our nine-game hitting streak that ended with our series opener with the Rays was the longest winning streak in the Major Leagues to date.

When we won, we played really, really well.  It’s just that we shouldn’t have lost to those Interleague teams.  The health issues are concerning, but the best you can do is hope they’ll end quickly so that everything can return to normal and we can get back to steamrolling over the opposition.  Right now, we’re in a good place.  I don’t think we’ll be phased by any amount of health issues after what happened last year.  Would I have liked to head into Interleague firing on all cylinders? Obviously.  But at least we’d been playing easier teams.  Now, though, we’ve got the Phillies.  That series will obviously be pitched as a World Series preview.  More importantly, we’re just going to have to keep our heads down and play our game.  You have to win first in order to get to October.

In other news, for the first time since 1972, the Boston Bruins have brought the Stanley Cup to what with this championship has truly become, in every sense and on every front, Title Town.  On June 15, 2011, down to Game Seven, the Boston Bruins became the champions of the entire National Hockey League.  The final score was 4-0.  A thirty-seven-save shutout by Tim Thomas, winner of the 2011 Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophies.  Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron each scored two goals, the last of which was an empty-netter.  There was a victory parade.  There was an appearance on the Today Show and at Fenway Park.  But it really started to sink in when Zdeno Chara, winner of the Mark Messier Leadership Award, hoisted the cup.  He picked it up like it weighed nothing, and you knew every single Boston fan could see it, and not because he’s so tall.  To see that cup being held by a Bruin in Vancouver was just incredible.  It was at once unbelievable and thoroughly believable.  The glory-basking is epic.  It was one of the greatest moments in any Boston sports fan’s Boston sports life.  Congratulations to the 2010-2011 Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins! Welcome home to Title Town!

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So Aceves started, and it actually wasn’t that bad.  He only lasted five innings and in that time threw eighty-six pitches and hit two batters, one of which was really ugly; in the second, he hit Marlon Byrd just under the left eye.  Byrd walked off the field but was hospitalized and remained so overnight.  But he allowed only one run on three hits while walking two and striking out two.  And fifty-six of his pitches were strikes.  In terms of pitch count, he actually did better than Carlos Zambrano, who needed 122 pitches for five and two-thirds innings, and he’s a consistent starter.  Considering that Aceves really hasn’t been a consistent starter ever, his outing was actually pretty good.  It was his first start since making only one start in 2009.  So really not bad.  Not bad at all.  Quite admirable, actually.

Aceves allowed his only run in the third between two walks, a steal, and a double.  We recovered it in the fourth and put ourselves ahead on one swing.  Youk led off the inning with a single, extending his hitting streak to nine games, and Papi crushed his three hundredth home run in a Boston uniform.  It was a ninety-three-mile-per-hour fastball that ended up in the first row of the Monster seats.  And just like that, we were ahead, 2-1.  (I should mention that Youk was hit by a pitch in the fifth and that, after that, home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez warned both benches.  That was the seventy-second time he was hit in his career, which broke a franchise record previously held by Mo Vaughn.)

Wheeler, fresh off the DL, replaced Aceves for the sixth.  He had a one-two-three inning in the sixth and secured the first out in the seventh before Hill came on to finish it off.  Meanwhile, we added to our lead in the sixth when Crawford singled, moved to second on a walk by Tek, and scored on a single by Ellsbury.

So by the time the eighth inning rolled around, we were up by two, which was pretty impressive considering that Aceves was our starter, although I was surprised we didn’t do more with Zambrano.  Indeed, we left eleven on base and went one for ten with runners in scoring position.  We only went down in order twice, once in the third and once in the ninth, so we had opportunities.  We just didn’t use them.  And it came back to haunt us big time.

Bard was unavailable, so Albers came on for the eighth inning, and that right there was basically when everything fell apart.

Let me paint a picture for you.  Coming into this game, we had a chance not only to start Interleague off right and win the series but also to extend our winning streak to eight games and finally vault ourselves into first place after being in fifth just two weeks ago.  The Rays had already lost yesterday, so it was sure-fire.  All we needed to do was secure six outs and we would erase the abysmal start to our season.  That’s what this game meant.  That’s what this game could have accomplished.

So enter Albers.  He gave up two consecutive singles followed by a ten-pitch walk.  So the bases were loaded with nobody out.  Then he walked in a run on his twenty-eighth pitch of the inning.  He allowed two more when he gave up a double.  At that point the Cubs were ahead by one, so it was already pretty bad that our reliever just put us back in a hole.  But it would have been merciful if it had stopped there.  Alfonso Soriano hit an epically routine popup to shallow left field.  Lowrie went out to catch it.  He caught it.  Then he dropped it, so another run scored.

Albers was duly removed after that.  He threw thirty-one pitches and failed to record an out.  His ERA jumped from 1.56 all the way up to 4.15.  Less than one inning, and he inflated his ERA by 2.59.  That difference by itself would be an ERA he’d be lucky to have right now.  He took a blown save as well as the loss.

He was removed in favor of Franklin Morales, who ironically was just as bad.  He allowed another run by giving up a double to Jeff Baker on his first pitch of the game.  At that point the Cubs had twice as many runs as we did, but a three-run deficit is still manageable.  But again, it would have been merciful even if it had stopped there.  In an all-too-brief flash of brilliance, Morales struck out Koyie Hill on three pitches but went right back to his old form after that when he allowed a walk.  Then it got even more ugly, if that were possible.  Darwin Barney flied out to Drew, who fired the ball back into the infield.  Salty caught the ball but the Cubs were a mess.  Soriano, who’d been on third, and Baker, who’d been on second, were both running.  So they were both doubled up.  Salty threw to third to start the rundown at the plate, but his throw went just over Youk’s glove.  Soriano scored easily.  Crawford came in and corralled the ball and fired to Morales, who had moved next to home plate, but it was off target.  Baker scored as well.  And just to add insult to injury, Morales allowed another double, which brought in another run.

The only other member of the bullpen available after Albers was used was Paps.  Tito didn’t go to Paps.  He went to Morales.  He’s the manager of the team and he made that decision.  Obviously Morales would have to make his debut at some point, but it wasn’t a situation where we were leading by ten runs or something.  Even in Interleague, it was a close game.  He probably didn’t go to Paps because he figured that, if we managed to tie the game after Albers came out, all he’d have for the extra innings was Morales and nobody behind him.  And Paps is the one you really want in those situations.  So, again, he had no choice, really.  But it was ugly.  It  was ugly, ugly, ugly, and we have a lot of work to do to make up for it today.

Twelve batters were sent up in that frame alone.  That’s the entire lineup plus another third of it.  An eight-run eighth inning.  Only five of those runs were earned.  Of course Morales had a one-two-three ninth inning.  That was a total disaster.  It was one of the ugliest losses I’d ever seen.  It was thoroughly disgusting, and I can’t believe it came at the hands of the Cubs, of all teams.  Talk about your one ruinous bad inning.  That was the mother of ruinous bad innings.  No repetition of our 1918 glory, not even with the throwback uniforms.  No pitching.  No fielding.  No winning.  No first place, no winning streak, no sweep.  We lost, 9-3.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Lightning, 5-3.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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Last night was another “wow” contest.  That’s two in a row! Can you believe it? We are now officially on a three-game winning streak, and even though the season is winding down, we’re starting to climb back up. We’re now seven games out of first place.  Hey, it’s an improvement over nine.  All I’m saying is that you never know.

If the standings situation is a long shot, we made a statement to the contrary last night via the long ball.  We won, 9-6, so it wasn’t a true slugfest because the score wasn’t that lopsided, but scoring nine runs in a single game is a big deal for us.  We’ve struggled throughout the season to string hits as well as wins together; last night we did both.

It all started in the second when Lowrie clobbered a home run to left with Papi on base.  It was a changeup inside on a 2-1 count to make up for Beltre being thrown out at the plate.  The ball left the field in a hurry.  But Lowrie was just getting warmed up.  You look at the kid and power isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but this season he just added the art and science of home-run hitting to his arsenal of talent.

V-Mart hit an RBI single in the third, and Lowrie hit a solo shot to the same place in the third, but this time it was a fastball down the middle in a pitcher’s count.  This was his first multi-homer game ever.  I’m telling you, I don’t really know where that power comes from, but if you got it, rock it.

We didn’t score again until the eighth, but when we did, it was huge.  Big Papi, ladies and gentlemen! It was a far cry from the sixth, when he snapped his bat over his knee because he turned a prime pitch into a weak popup.  With two out and two on, he absolutely avenged himself on a ninety-six mile-per-hour fastball to the point where you knew the ball was out just by the sound of the ball-bat contact.  Ichiro just watched it.  That was his thirtieth home run of the year, making 2010 his sixth thirty-homer season with us, his first since 2007, tying him with Manny Ramirez on the franchise all-time list.  Ted Williams obviously leads with eight thirty-plus seasons.  It was ridiculous.  It was almost like the ball left the park of its own free will.

In the ninth, we added two for insurance; Patterson scored on a fielder’s choice and Reddick hit an RBI single.  Figgins hit an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, but it did not matter.  We had it locked.

V-Mart, Papi, and Lowrie all went two for four; Beltre went three for four.  Patterson and Kalish each stole bases.  And this was the first time since June 30 that our starting lineup included our captain.  Tek went 0 for 3 with a walk, but he threw out Figgins twice.  It’s so good to have him back.  And I don’t think it’s necessarily a coincidence that the team has been playing well of light right when the captain has returned.

When I saw we had it locked, I’m referring exclusively to the offense.  Dice-K most definitely did not have anything locked.  He left the game so unlocked, he practically invited a theft of the win.  Luckily, the offense provided ample insurance just in case, but it’s like I always say: that kind of thing should not be necessary.  If the offense scores a lot of runs, the game should end with a lopsided score because a good starting pitcher should always be able to win a game with three runs or less.  Dice-K didn’t do that.  He lasted six innings, gave up five runs on eight hits, walked four, and struck out three.  He helped Seattle snap their streak of scoring at most three runs in their last sixteen home games.  He gave up at least four earned runs for the sixth consecutive start.  He threw 105 pitches.  He relied on a great cutter, curveball, and fastball.  He mixed in a decent changeup and slider.  He ran into all kinds of trouble in half of his innings.  His best inning by far was the fourth, during which he only fired nine pitches.  But then he went right back and allowed two runs an inning later.  His release point was tight and his strike zone was packed, but he couldn’t hold the lead.

The bullpen also was not helpful.  Tito replaced Dice-K in the seventh with Okajima with Bowden with Hill, and you only stopped hanging onto the edge of your seat when Bard came on.  Hill got the win, Bard got a hold, and Paps gave us a scare when he allowed that run in the ninth but finally the game was over and we walked off with the W intact.  But this is what I mean.  None of that should have been necessary.  There should be absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone to be concerned when your team scores nine runs.  That should be a blowout, and if it’s not, the pitchers need a talking-to.

Drew will probably be back on Wednesday.

We got the win.  We inched up in the standings.  We believe.  And we look forward to the future.  Like tonight, when Buchholz is undoubtedly going to unleash a world of dominance for the sweep.  And like next year.  Next year’s schedule is out! We’re starting the season on April 1, unfortunately with a six-game road trip.  But the home opener is on a Friday, April 8, against the Yanks, followed by Tampa Bay, so that should be a blast.  We’ve got three days off in April before heading into a grueling May, which is mostly at home but with only one day off.  June will include our second trip to the Bronx with five days off as well as some good Interleague action; the Brewers and Padres will come to town, and we’ll visit the Pirates and Phillies.  We finish Interleague in Houston in July before a homestand leads us into the All-Star break, the game being in Phoenix this year.  We start things up again with a road trip followed by an easy homestand against Seattle and Kansas City.  In August, the Yankees will come to town twice and Tampa Bay once.  In September, we’ll face Tampa Bay away and at home, we’ll go to New York one more time, and we’ll finish the season on the road in Baltimore, the last game on September 28.  So some easy, some not so easy, but all in all it looks like a really good schedule.  We’ll see a lot of action in the AL East, so we’ll have chances to make dents directly.  We definitely have something to look forward to here.  In 2006, half the team fell apart, we didn’t even make the playoffs, we suffered through a winter during which everyone wondered when we’d next win the World Series, and lo and behold the very next year we were the best team in baseball.  So you have to figure that if the injuries this year were even worse than in 2006, next year we’ll be even stronger than we were in 2007.

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There’s the reminder of good pitching that we’ve been looking for! You can always count on Lester for one of those.  I mean, that wasn’t just good pitching.  That was great pitching.  That was outstanding pitching.  That was you-have-absolutely-no-chance pitching.

Dude went the distance for the second time this season and sixth time in his career.  That’s what I call taking one for the bullpen, although for him it really wasn’t that hard.  He had, as he is wont to have, the right stuff.  103 pitches in nine innings.  One run on five hits.  One run. Nine strikeouts.  His ERA is now down to 2.86.  Ridiculous.

His cut fastball was a thing of beauty.  He topped it out at ninety-three miles per hour.  His sinker, changeup, and curveball were excellent.  With the exception of the slider, of which he only threw one, the vast majority of all his pitches were thrown for strikes.  Really, he had a seventy-four percent strike rate for his pitch total.  That’s obscenely high.  Three-quarters of his pitches were thrown for strikes.  No wonder he was so efficient.

He threw a game-high of sixteen pitches in the sixth.  For a lot of pitchers in the Majors, that’s the least number of pitches they throw in a game.  He packed up the ninth in only six pitches.  Only six! That’s what I call taking care of business.

Beyond that, he pretty much had everything going.  The tight release point, the mix of pitches, the speed variation, the excellent movement.  He used every pitch in any count.  He was fearless.  You name it, he had it.  Including the win, of course.  He totally stole the show from Lincecum.  By the time Lester finished the ninth, Lincecum had been watching from the dugout for six innings.  You read right.  Tim Lincecum, the gem of the National League, the winner of the Cy Young Award, was removed after the third after throwing seventy-nine pitches.  If Lincecum thought he’d be able to go out there and hold his own opposite Lester, he had quite another thing coming.

The final score was 5-1, and we scored four of our runs against Lincecum alone.  Starting with Papi’s home run in the first.  I’ve heard it called a water shot, because essentially that’s what it was.  It was arguably the farthest, most powerful home run that David Ortiz has ever hit in his career.  It sailed over the infield, over the outfield, and right into McCovey Cove, the body of water behind the right field stands.  Two outs, full count, an eighty-six mile-per-hour split-fingered fastball up in the zone and he gave a kayaker a nice memnto.  It was the seventy-second time someone hit a ball in there in the history of AT&T Park, the twentieth time by a visitor.  It was Papi’s sixteenth long ball of the season, and man, was it long.  Right field is 365 feet, and then you have the stands, and then the water.  So yeah.  That was a long home run.

In the second, Lester helped his own cause by scoring V-Mart on a well-hit sac fly, followed by an RBI single by Scutaro.  Speaking of V-Mart, as if our injury list couldn’t possibly get any worse, guess who’s out for the count? He fractured his left thumb and left the game in the bottom of the fourth inning.  Great.  Just great.  This just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it.  Well, then.  We’ll have to step it up even more, won’t we.

In the third, Youk singled, Drew walked, Hall singled in Youk, and Lincecum left.  And Beltre ended the run-scoring in the ninth the way Papi started it, with a long ball of his own, this one hit deep to left field.  This one barely cleared the fence, but like I said, in these expansive parks even that takes some power.  And he only came into the game for defense.  Nicely done.

So that’s what I was talking about.  If our pitching staff ramps up the run prevention and the lineup contributes, we can still win without the guys on the DL.  Although of course we wish them all a speedy recovery.  Like, a really speedy recovery.  Meanwhile, we can celebrate.  Not only did we win the game, but we won the series, we finished Interleague thirteen and five, and we snapped our tie with the Rays! Ladies and gentlemen, we now officially own second place and are two games out of first.  Tomorrow night, the fun begins; we take on the Rays and widen the gap in a two-game set at Fenway.  It’ll be Shields and Lackey followed by Dice-K and Garza.  We have a chance here to put ourselves out in front in the standings.  Let’s make the most of it.

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If Justin Masterson sought revenge, he found it.  Yes, sir; he found it.  The final score was 11-0 and most definitely not in our favor.  Masterson, in a complete role reversal with Buchholz, pitched a two-hit, complete game shutout.  How’s that for revenge.

Trust me, though; that’s not the norm for him.  Theo got the better end of the deal in that trade.  He sure was nasty on the mound last night, but I think that has a whole lot to do with the fact that he played with this team and knows the core of this lineup very well.  Naturally he’ll pitch well against us.  But that wasn’t the norm for him.  This was just one game.  In this one game, he may have maintained velocity throughout, practiced speed and location variation, thrown sliders under the hands, handled the lefties, and turned on his sinker and two-seam.  But he by no means does any of that routinely.  He’s two and twelve since the trade.  He’s two and five on the season with a 4.74 ERA (lowered by last night’s performance from five and change), slightly higher than the league average and nowhere near the league leader.  His WHIP is 1.64.  Meanwhile, V-Mart is two points shy of batting .300, slightly lower than the league leader, with eight homers, twenty-nine runs, and thirty RBIs.  We may have lost last night, but I call that a good trade.

As far as the loss itself is concerned, you may think from the score that Buchholz had a complete fail.  That wasn’t the case.  Buchholz did not by any means have a complete fail.  Buchholz was mediocre – he had command issues early in the game – but he still, as a very good pitcher is wont to do, pitched well enough on his off night to win under other circumstances, like when the offense is actually productive.  He pitched seven innings, gave up three runs on three hits, walked four, and struck out one but took the loss.  He fired 109 pitches, twenty-seven of which came in the first.  He settled down after that, needing only seven pitches for the second, following that with ten to twenty pitches in each of his next four frames, and finishing with a game low of six in the seventh.

In his first four innings, only his fastball was working for strikes; he’d throw an offspeed but it would be down, the batter wouldn’t chase, and he’d have to go back to his fastball.  Seeing that his offspeed stuff just wasn’t happening, he relied on his fastball more and more, started missing location, and then came the walks.  He said after the game that, had he not walked anyone, the game might still be going on.  He’s probably right.  So his outing was unusual for him in that he spent the night as a fastball pitcher.  He did top out at ninety-five miles per hour, but his usual speed variation just wasn’t there.  He used roughly all parts of the strike zone when he did throw strikes, and he used all parts of the strike zone boundaries when he threw balls.

So last night was definitely not his best work, but if that’s what an off night for him looks like, I’ll most definitely take it.  That would be a pitcher’s best night on some other teams.  We just have higher standards in Boston.  But my point is that he wasn’t the one who dropped the ball.  The bullpen did.

Bonser gave up four runs on two hits and two walks without recording an out.  Nelson gave up a grand slam; four runs on five hits, three walks, and one swing.  Eight runs in a single inning.  It was awful.  I absolutely can not stand bullpen meltdowns.  If a starter melts down, it’s his own mess and his own responsibility.  If a bullpen melts down, it takes everything the starter and the offense has put together and squanders it.  It’s like taking something someone has worked on really hard and just throwing it away when they were counting on you to protect it.   Think about it.  The game could have been a respectable 3-0 loss.  But no.  For Bonser, that wasn’t the first step he wanted to take on his road back to the Majors after shoulder surgery.  He says his shoulder felt fine; he was just “over-amped.” Whatever it was, he was terrible.

The offense.  This is going to be easy.  Too easy.  V-Mart singled.  Drew singled.  Youk walked.  Hermida, in his return to the lineup, walked.  Done.  Nobody got past first base.

Also, some unfortunate slump updates.  So far Pedroia is 0 for 11 in the series, and he’s 17 for 101, an average of .168, in his last twenty-five games.  Papi is 1 for his last 23.  Neither one of these slumps is cause for concern.  Both are too good to remain in them long; that’s been proven.

Delcarmen is feeling better and ready to go.  Papelbon will remain unavailable until at least tomorrow.

Yesterday, the organization unveiled a bronze statue of The Teammates a few yards from the statue of Ted Williams.  The statue, sculpted by Antonio Tobias Mendez, is based on David Halberstam’s book of that title about the road trip that Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, and Dom DiMaggio took to visit Williams on his deathbed.  This is a great tribute to lifelong friendship between these guys but also to the Red Sox organization, an organization that breeds such friendship between all its players.  Nicely done.

It was good to see an old friend, but it wasn’t good to lose to an old friend.  Especially, as I said, via the infamous bullpen implosion.  That was not supposed to be part of the plan.  However, as always, we’ll bounce back.  Tonight we have Lester at Talbot to finish off this series and hopefully win it rather than split it, and on Friday we return to Interleague for series with the Phillies, D-Backs, Dodgers, Rockies, and Giants.  That’s plenty of games against National League teams, so plenty of opportunities for wins.  I’ll be taking a break of about ten days.  We’re in a great place right now.  Who knows? In ten days, we could find ourselves in first place!

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