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Posts Tagged ‘Jackie Robinson’

First of all, let me address yesterday’s tragic events.  I think I speak for everyone when I say that we hope for the safety and wellbeing of all who were affected by the tragedy at the finish line of the marathon yesterday.  Our minds and hearts are with you.

Patriots’ Day is always a fun day for baseball in Boston.  Jackie Robinson Day is always a fun day for baseball everywhere.  So when they coincide, it’s a great day to celebrate greatness in the game.  Thankfully, neither the weather nor the team disappointed.

First there was the incredible start from Dempster, easily his best start so far this year.  Seven innings, one run, two hits, two walks, ten strikeouts.  In fact, Dempster, really only made one mistake, which resulted in a solo shot with two out in the fourth.  That was about it.  And he managed to do it with only four pitches: both fastballs plus a deadly slider and a formidable splitter.  This was another quick game: three hours and three minutes.  Actually, it was yet another pitcher’s duel.  Uehara got a hold for his holding of our lead in the eighth, and Bailey, who was extremely lucky, picked up both the blown save and the win.  If you ask me, Dempster should have gotten the win on principle, but obviously that’s not how it works.

We scored first.  Ellsbury received eight straight fastballs during his first at-bat and tripled on the last one; he scored on a groundout by Victorino.  Both teams went down in order in the second and third.  Then the solo shot that Dempster relinquished tied it at one in the fourth.  But Salty put us back on top with a solo shot to lead off the fifth.  It came on the third pitch of his at-bat, a fastball at eighty-nine miles per hour, which promptly ended up beyond the right  field fence.  I suppose Dempster and his opponent really were matching each other pitch for pitch; Dempster gives up a solo shot, and then we hit one.

Both teams went down in order in the seventh, and the eighth proceeded without incident.  All indications pointed to us winning the game by a score of 2-1 until Bailey blew his save.  He gave up a single that may as well have been a double thanks to a steal; sure enough, that turned into the tying run when he gave up another single.  Fortunately, giving up the tying run is not the same as giving up the winning run.  But a porous reliever is still not what you want, especially when this guy was supposed to have been our closer.  Now we have two relievers on our staff who are closers by trade and who apparently can’t close.

Bailey was extremely fortunate that Pedroia walked and scored on a double off the Monster by Napoli in the ninth for yet another walkoff victory in just three days; the final score was 3-2, and we officially swept the Rays.  Without that quick fix, it is entirely possible that we may have lost the whole contest, and it would have been all Bailey’s fault.  That, plus the fact that Dempster’s start was as good as it gets, is why Dempster should have gotten the win.

Boston Globe Staff

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Between a rainout and the schedule, we had two days off.  I thought that would be a good thing.  Two days off to regroup, re-energize, re-focus, and re-find ourselves.  For some, it was exactly that.  For others, maybe they should just have no days off and they would play better.  I don’t know.  Either way, it was ugly.

The game was preceded by a ceremony honoring Jackie Robinson Day and, as is customary on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut, everyone wore Number Forty-Two.  It’s a day that really makes you stop and think about the true significance of the impact he really had.  Here’s to you, Jackie Robinson.  We salute you.

After the conclusion of the third inning, it looked like many of the predictions I’d been hearing that this series would be the one during which we’d finally turn it around would come true.  In the first, Adam Lind hit what looked like would be the end of us: a three-run shot.  The ball hit the top of the fence, but after that, the view was terrible.  First base umpire Paul Nauert initially thought that the ball landed to the left of the pole.  Luckily, thankfully, fortunately, and correctly, the call was overturned, and it was called a foul ball.  (That would be Lind’s last approach to anything close to an extra-base hit.  In the fourth, Lind hit a ball that was sailing over center field fast, but Ellsbury had that ball’s number all the way.  He made the catch on the run on the warning track in the triangle for the second out in the fourth.)

The offense didn’t do much of anything leading up to the third, but Pedroia took two balls and then walloped an eighty-eight mile-per-hour sinker into the first row of the Monster seats for a solo shot.  This after, in the top of the inning, he made a fantastic play to get an out at first with which Buchholz should have been very familiar; the running, rolling over, spinning around, and firing was almost exactly the same play that Pedroia made to preserve Buchholz’s no-hitter.  Pedroia, in case you didn’t already know, is officially the sparkplug of this team.  And then Gonzalez walked and Youk, for the first time since last July, after taking a ball and a strike, also walloped an eighty-eight mile-per-hour sinker out of the yard.  It landed several feet to the right of the 379-foot mark in center field.  Clearly it’s only a matter of time before he gets going, because that ball was hit with some major power.

Sadly, however, that lead wouldn’t last.  The Jays got two runs back in the fifth and one in the sixth to tie it.  And now would be the time to talk about the pitching.

Buchholz didn’t have his best stuff.  Surprise, surprise.  His final line was three runs on three hits over five innings with three strikes and five walks.  Yes, five walks.  That matches a career high.  That’s more walks than he’s supposed to give up in a whole season.  Two of those walks turned into runs.  As I said, and every sabermetrician will tell you the same, walks will haunt.  Walks bring runners home on hits that otherwise wouldn’t be a big deal.

The five walks were only a manifestation in the books of Buchholz’s problem overall: a lack of command.  That’s where walks come from.  He threw ninety-nine pitches, only forty-six of which were strikes.  He was totally erratic.  He varied his speed, but it was a fail because he had to throw incredibly lame offspeeds to do so.  As he said himself, he’d try to throw one pitch and it would go one way out of the strike zone, and then he’d try to throw the exact same pitch and it would go the completely opposite way out of the strike zone.  In terms of strikes, his most effective pitch was his cutter, and only threw that for strikes sixty percent of the time.  So all of his other pitchers were thrown for strikes even less than that.  He had particular trouble with his other two offspeeds, the curveball and changeup.  His fastballs weren’t so effective either.  He only got up to ninety-four miles per hour.  A plot of his strike zone will show you that he was in out, around, and all over the lower right corner of the zone, and he threw several pitches high.  It wasn’t good.  Anytime you have a starter known for offspeeds, he has to command, because offspeeds are only as good as their execution, which produces the proper location.  If he wasn’t releasing the ball well or couldn’t find the strike zone, he wasn’t going to win.

He didn’t lose either.  He didn’t receive a decision.  Two batters into the sixth, he was lifted in favor of Alfredo Aceves, who induced a double play but then allowed his second inherited runner to score.  So he received a blown save for his trouble.  But that was nowhere near the worst of it.  Because Bobby Jenks came on after that and finished us off.

Jenks faced six batters in the seventh and recorded only one out, a swinging strikeout on four pitches.  If only that flash of brilliance permeated the rest of the frame.  Two line drives to Crawford for two runs, one run on a wild pitch, and a fourth run on another line drive to Crawford.  Those four runs are a career high; those four hits tie a career high.  It was brutal.  Single after single after single.  Run after run after run.  And suddenly our power third inning was completely erased and, not only were we no longer tied, but we were back to losing.  Jenks so far has been great, so maybe he’s allowed one majorly huge inning of badness.  It just came at the worst time because we lost the game right there.  Which is why he got the loss.

Doubront pitched the rest of the inning with ease.  Wheeler came on in the next inning, promptly sent down his three batters, and made way for the offense.

We looked like we were going to come back.  We were down by four, and we looked like we knew that we could overcome it.  Gonzalez grounded out.  Youk and Papi walked consecutively.  Drew struck out swinging.  And Lowrie, who came in to pinch-hit for Salty, singled in a run.  Scutaro doubled in two more.  And Ellsbury stood at the plate.  You could cut the suspense with a knife.  One more run would tie it, and any more would put us out in front.  And then we would make it happen in the ninth for the win.  So what did Ellsbury do? He flied out to right field on his first pitch.

Paps came on for the ninth; he walked one but, thanks to a groundout and a double play, faced the minimum.  In the bottom of the ninth, a strikeout and two groundouts ended it.  We lost, 7-6.

A note on the weather.  It was freezing outside.  Buchholz mentioned it after the game.  Did that have anything to do with his lack of performance? Only he would know.  Should it have anything to do with it? Not in the least.  First of all, we’re not the Rockies and this isn’t Denver.  If the Rockies can play all year long in Denver, we can play all year long in Boston, and we don’t even need a humidor.  Secondly, this is a team of guys that make their career here.  That means dealing with the bitter cold as well as the brutal heat.  Buchholz came up through the farms.  He’s been pitching in Boston for several years already.  Every once in a while, you have to deal with particularly uncomfortable conditions, but hey, that’s baseball in Boston.  Besides, Wheeler came over from the Rays, who play in Florida, and I didn’t see him having a problem.

Three of our five hits were for extra bases, but we left six on base and went two for eight with runners in scoring position.  Nobody posted a multi-hit game, although Youk and Papi both walked twice.  Crawford did absolutely nothing; no walks, no hits, nothing.  So I would say that, no, right now, at this particular moment in time, he is not currently in the process of earning his contract.  Gonzalez, however, is a different story.  Not only is he earning his trade, but he is also earning his contract, an extension that was announced yesterday.  We signed him for seven years and $154 million.  Money-wise, it’s the ninth largest contract in Major League history, largest of our current ownership, and second largest in club history, right behind the Manny Ramirez deal of 2000, which exceeded this one by six million dollars.  I will be the first to admit that I’ve never been the biggest fan of contracts that are large in either money or years because it decreases the financial and strategic flexibility of the club, but when it’s done shrewdly, it can be effective.  This contract provides us with stability at not one but two key positions, because now Youk knows he can get comfortable at third.  And so far, overall, Gonzalez has been hitting, and he’s been hitting in a particular style that shows us that he’s going to be successful here.  Let’s also remember that we’re not the Yankees.  We don’t hand out this kind of money or these types of contracts very lightly.  In Theo we trust.  And as soon as Crawford starts hitting and stealing, we’ll see returns on that too.

The bottom line is that we lost yesterday.  The good news is that we lost by only one run, which means we were right back in it.  The bad news is that we lost by only one run, which means that we only needed one more and we couldn’t get it, not even with our lineup.  We had sub-par starting pitching, and we didn’t always have the greatest hitting, but this one is on the bullpen.  Aceves allowed his inherited runner to score, but that’s only one.  That could have been the difference-maker.  Instead, Bobby Jenks comes in and starts throwing like a pitching machine.

But we need to remember something.  We may be two and ten, and we may be in last place in our division.  But we’re five games out of first with 150 games to play.  We’ve seen so much worse.  We’ve been five games out of first with less than thirty games to play.  And I still stand by my assertion that a lineup, pitching staff, and bullpen like ours absolutely can not be good only on paper and not in practice.  We will turn it around, and when we do, I would suggest that the rest of Major League Baseball take notice.  It’s the meantime before that turnaround that’s going to be tough.  Next up: Beckett and hopefully a repeat performance of his last start.

In other news, the Bruins were shutout by the Habs in our first playoff contest.  Never a great way to start.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Another close call lost. That’s two in a row, and now we’re going to Tropicana Field in second place. Only half a game behind, but not necessarily where you want to start out against the Rays. Josh Beckett certainly did his part, no question. He pitched seven innings and allowed only two runs on eight hits. With the exception of the fact that one of those runs came on a solo home run, it sounds like Beckett’s his old self again. He struck out four and walked one. Welcome back, buddy!

The offense did a nice job of answering opposing runs. Dustin Pedroia, who is now batting .304, hit a solo homer in the third to tie it at 1-1. Manny Ramirez hit a solo homer in the seventh to tie it at 2-2. The difference was Mark Loretta’s RBI, which came while David Aardsma was on the mound and which put the Astros ahead, 3-2. The hits column was also close; Houston out-hit us, 10-9. And the speed was going, too; Lugo and Pedroia both recorded thefts, making Pedroia 9 for 9 on the season so far.

There’s no reason to deny that these next two series are very important. With the All-Star break coming up, we should conclude the first half of the season on a high note for us and on a low note for the Rays, who could be on their way to dropping out. They’re a young team; they can’t keep this up for all of 2008. And the Yankees of course should be put in their place. So we’ve got some work to do.

In other news, the Red Sox received a threat by mail from Memphis, Tennessee. The suspect is believed to have come originally from Baltimore, and the threat targets African-American and Latino players, mentioning at least two by name. That’s just a disgrace. It’s been 61 years since Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut, and 53 years since Roberto Clemente’s. Grow up and be a man. Enough already.

Dustin Pedroia, 6/29/2008

AP Photo

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