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Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Bailey’

Ballplayers don’t come cheap, but the acquisition of Paul Byrd was just about the lowest-risk investment the front office could’ve possibly made.  He kept himself in shape during the offseason, and we signed him to a minor league contract.  If anything had gone wrong, we had flexibility and we had options, like trading for someone younger and better, and at least it wouldn’t have gone wrong at the Major League level, where right now that would have been extraordinarily inconvenient.  And trust me, things could’ve gone very wrong.  He could’ve injured himself early.  He could’ve pitched consistently horribly.  But as it happens, everything went right.

During his first outing in almost a year, Paul Byrd pitched six shutout innings of three-hit ball with three walks and a strikeouts.  He starts 2009 with an ERA of 0.00 and an undefeated record of 1-0.  And he did it all with just eighty-three pitches, the vast majority of which fit a mixture of cutters, sliders, and changeups, with a fastball here and there.  Pretty impressive for a non-knuckleballer who’s thirty-nine years old and hasn’t thrown a Major League pitch since the end of last season.

Delcarmen pitched the seventh.  Wagner pitched the eighth, and after striking out the side, the inning was over.  Not bad.  An auspicious start to Wagner’s Boston career.  Let’s hope it continues in that direction; for an example of the other direction, I refer you to Eric Gagne.  Saito pitched the ninth.

We had a nice spread yesterday.  We scored one run in each of the first four innings and three more in the seventh, making the final score a very decisive 7-0 to complete a sweep with the Jays.  Pedroia and V-Mart both doubled.  Youk went two for three with a double and three RBIs.  Gonzalez went three for two with an RBI of his own.  Baldelli went yard on Halladay to lead off the second with an RBI of his own (Bay had the day off).  And then two of our runs were unearned (the Jays can thank Shawn Camp for making the throwing error that scored both).  And that was pretty much the ballgame!

Wake will receive a cortisone shot today and could be back in action in a week.  And finally, today is the last day of August! And we all know what that means: September callups.  The first set will join the roster tomorrow, and the next on September 7 after Pawtucket’s season is over.  George Kottaras, Jed Lowrie, Junichi Tazawa, Brian Anderson, Josh Reddick, Jeff Bailey, Michael Bowden, and Hunter Jones will probably be on that list.  Especially Lowrie.  Being that he’s technically our starter, when his wrist is healthy, which is where Alex Gonzalez comes in.

It doesn’t get much better than that, folks.  A shutout, a sweep, a very clear display of our offensive prowess.  Last night’s contest had it all.  Just to keep tabs, last night extended our Wild Card lead to three and a half games, even though our rank in the division remains static.  (The Yankees won yesterday; again, I don’t know how I feel about that.)  We’re on the road now for a series with Tampa Bay, and Lester will take the hill opposite Andy Sonnanstine on Tuesday.  I never liked Tropicana Field; it’s an indoor ballpark with lots of strange angles which complicates the game in a way that’s very unnecessary.  But hey, the more comfortable we get playing there, the easier it’ll be each time.  Hopefully that’ll be the case this time around.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin
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We’re more than halfway through the season.  In fact, it’s already August, when more than the weather gets hot.  Each and every Major League club goes into playoff mode, but only a select few will get there.  There isn’t a doubt in my mind that we will most definitely be one of the few.  We’ve dominated our division.  Toronto started the season strong but has since slipped into fourth place and was seriously contemplating trading Roy Halladay to get some much-needed fresh blood into the clubhouse.  The Baltimore Orioles did the usual: fell to the bottom of the pack.  They’re twenty games out now, which is quite pathetic.  The Rays have been nonexistent in third place, even though somehow they just managed to sweep us in a two-game set, and we’ve been wiping the floor with the Yankees and are ready for another go-around.  It’s been fantastic.  We’re currently undefeated against New York.  Let me say that again.  We’re currently undefeated against New York.  Feels good, doesn’t it? So we start the two-month playoff rush in a decent place: two and a half games out and ready to rock and roll.  Not great but it could be worse.

Every year, Boston.com grades the team individually and overall at the All-Star break, with a little help from Tony Massarotti.  You can find Boston.com’s report card here.  I’ll be taking a break for about twelve days, but I’ll leave you with a report card of my own: a late-season grading of that team we all know and love.

Jason Varitek: A

Compare this year to last year.  So far this year, he’s hit thirteen home runs, batted in forty-four runs, scored thirty-seven runs, and has sixty-four hits.  Last year, he hit thirteen home runs, batted in forty-three runs, scored thirty-seven runs, and had ninety-three hits.  And this season isn’t even over yet.  So he’s significantly exceeded his numbers from last year in all of those categories, and he’s thirty-seven years old.  Experiencing a renaissance at the catcher’s position and at that age isn’t easy, but he worked closely with hitting coach Dave Magadan to make that happen with very positive results.  And we still get all of the goodness behind the plate; he’s got a 3.72 catcher’s ERA, the fourth-lowest in Major League Baseball.

Victor Martinez: A

Theo landed him at the trading deadline to add another big bat to the lineup.  Victor Martinez has done that and more, making an immediate impact and finding a groove right away.  He adds his .294 average, sixteen home runs, and seventy-three RBIs as well as a fielding percentage of upwards of .990 at first base.  He hasn’t made an error at catcher all season.  He plays first, he catches, he DHes; he does it all in the field and, as a switch-hitter who bats .307 from the left and a decent .258 from the right, at the plate.  A brilliant acquisition yet again by our general manager.

Kevin Youkilis: A

I have nothing to complain about here.  He consistently bats at or above .300 with a .422 on-base percentage and a .580 slugging percentage.  He’s hit twenty home runs this year, so his power numbers are up but not at the expense of his walks (fifty-six) or other hits.  That, plus his defense.  He moves between third and first like it’s the easiest thing in the world.  And these are his numbers with a stint on the DL and a slump during which he batted .194 over twenty-eight games.

Dustin Pedroia: A-

I give the kid an A.  Unlike many reigning MVPs, he’s not having a bad season the year after winning the award.  He’s batting above .300.  His power numbers are down, but he’s batted in forty-six runs and hit thirty-one doubles.  He’s second among Major League second basemen in runs and doubles, third in hits, fifth in walks, third in batting average, and fourth in on-base percentage.  Of course the top-notch fielding can’t be ignored, even though his .987 fielding percentage is low.  Still, he’s a dirt dog if I’ve ever seen one.

Mike Lowell: B

His 2007 season was outstanding.  His 2008 season, not as much.  His season this year will be a test of whether he can successfully rebound from his hip surgery.  He’s done that so far, posting a .296 batting average and .817 OPS, good for fifth in the American League among third basemen.  And after his three weeks on the DL in the first half, he’s really come on strong in the second.  We headed into the All-Star break thinking we needed another bat, and now we have one.  (Actually, we have two, since the acquisition of V-Mart.) As far as his fielding goes, the hip does prevent him from going the extra mile sometimes, but that’s rare enough.

Nick Green: B

Nick Green really stepped up to the plate.  Definitely an unsung hero of the team.  Jed Lowrie was out, and we were looking at a long stretch of errors from Julio Lugo.  Then some non-roster Spring Training invitee stepped in and lo and behold.  Lugo lost his job, and Green made the most of his opportunity to start.  His offense is his weakness, walkoff home run notwithstanding.

Jason Bay: A-

This man is phenomenal.  Theo Epstein hasn’t been able to lock him up yet, but he will.  Jason Bay is too good to let walk into the free agent market.  We’ll sign him.  Anyway, he does the usual.  He hits for average (the .252 is a little low but the .279 career gets the point across) and power (twenty-one home runs).  He fields (no errors at all this season).  He’s seventh in the American League in RBIs and first in walks with seventy-one.  He did go through a rather pronounced slump during which he batted .153 and struck out twenty-five times in seventeen games, but with a strong second half, which may be hampered by his right hamstring issue, he could be in the running for MVP along with Youkilis and Pedroia.

Jacoby Ellsbury: A

Whatever issues he may have had at the plate last year have been solved.  Ellsbury batted .287 in April, then .308 in May, then .313 in June.  He’s now batting .301.  With six home runs and thirty-five RBIs.  He’s gotten really comfortable at the top of the order, and there’s that whole stolen bases thing.  Since the start of last season, only Carl Crawford has more thefts.  And that steal of home against Andy Pettitte will be playing on highlight reels for the rest of the decade.  This speed translates perfectly from the basepaths to center field, where he makes the most difficult and convoluted catches look like walks in the park.

JD Drew: B

Theo Epstein knew exactly what he was getting when he signed Drew to a five-year, $14 million-per-season contract.  He’s batting .248.  With an on-base percentage of .365.  Consistently.  That’s the key.  You always know what you’ll get with Drew: nothing great, but nothing too bad, either.  And get this: the Red Sox are fourth in the American League in OPS in right field.  He’s put those numbers to good use in the leadoff spot, and the one-two punch of him and Pedroia has become something to be feared by opposing pitchers.  With Ellsbury fitting perfectly into that leadoff role now, he finds himself batting lower in the order, but his consistency remains intact.  He mans right field well, which isn’t something you can say for everyone who plays the position in Fenway Park.

David Ortiz: B+

I never thought I’d give that grade to David Ortiz, but you can blame it on his horrendous first two months.  His lowest point was June 2, when he batted .186 with one home run, eighteen RBIs, and an OPS of just .566 in forty-seven games.  Ugh.  But then, what a turnaround.  I want everyone who said he was done to take a good, long look at the following numbers: in his next thirty-four games, he led the team in home runs with eleven, RBIs with 29, and OPS with 1.011.  That, my friends, is Big Papi.  So far he’s batted .225 with fifteen home runs, so the numbers continue to climb.  With a solid second half, the season might not turn out to be so bad for him.

George Kottaras: B-

Let’s remember why he’s here.  He’s here to catch Tim Wakefield.  He’s not here to hit or to take the reins from Jason Varitek; those two responsibilities fall squarely on the shoulders of Victor Martinez.  He’s here to catch knuckleballs every fifth day and give the captain an extra day of rest if he needs it.  And he’s done a great job of that.  Less than ten passed balls and a 5.08 catcher’s ERA.  As far as offense goes, there really isn’t any, but again, that’s not the point.

Jeff Bailey: C

Again, we knew what we were getting here.  Key players were out with injuries, and we needed someone to fill in.  He’s significantly better against lefties (.400) than righties (.111), and the defense is fine enough (no errors).  He wasn’t staying in the Majors anyway, so it’s not a big deal.

Rocco Baldelli: A-

He was signed to provide backup in right field and to handle southpaws.  He hasn’t seen much playing time because of his health concerns, but he’s still batting .261.  Something he’s not usually credited with is a really strong arm.  He practically won the game for us when Lester dueled with Kansas City’s Brian Bannister on July 10; Ellsbury had been ejected for throwing equipment in frustration when called out at the plate, so Rocco Baldelli came in.  He gunned down a Royal at second, something Ellsbury probably would’ve have been able to pull off.  That was key.

Josh Beckett: A

Obviously.  Quite simply, he is an ace.  He is one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever seen.  He had a 7.22 ERA to start June, but look at him now.  In his last thirteen starts before the All-Star break, he’s 9-1 with a 2.14 ERA.  Currently, he’s thirteen and four with a 3.27 ERA that just keeps dropping.  This is shaping up to be a Cy Young year.  Again.  Hopefully they’ll get it right this time.

Jon Lester: A

It’s almost the exact same story.  His rough patch was about two weeks longer than Beckett’s, but his turnaround was just as rapid and just as dramatic.  He is now the best southpaw in all of Major League Baseball.  In the middle of May, he was looking at a 6.51 ERA.  In his ten starts before the All-Star break, he was 6-2 with a 2.01 ERA.  He’s now nine and seven with a 3.79 ERA, but don’t let that fool you.  Theo knew what he had here.  Who needs Johan Santana when you have Lester.

Tim Wakefield: A

He’s eleven and three with a 4.31 ERA.  He’s an All-Star.  He carried a no-no bid into the eighth inning on the road against the A’s this year.  By the way, did I mention he’s forty-two years old? He’s the longest-tenured member of the club, and all he does is consistently give us quality innings and put us in a position to win.  It’s not his fault if he doesn’t get any run support.

Daizuke Matsuzaka: F

Fail.  Epic fail.  Without a doubt, this is the lowest grade I gave this year.  Eight starts, 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA.  The Sox’s record is 2-6 in those starts.  Awful.  Just awful.  And we can thank Bud Selig and the World Baseball Classic for that.  Dice-K went hard during the Classic and basically blew his season along with his shoulder.  He finally seems to be receptive to adapting to the Major League way of doing things (but only after airing his grievances), and after a stint on the DL, he’s now down in Fort Myers basically catching up on all the Spring Training he missed while pitching for Japan.  Just a big, huge, epic fail.

Brad Penny: C

He’s a number five starter.  He never pitches less than five innings, and he never pitches more than six.  He usually gives up about three runs per outing.  And he does this every single time he starts.  Consistency has been the name of his game, but it’s withered considerably in the second half.  He’s been struggling lately.

John Smoltz: C

Two and four with a 7.12 ERA isn’t the John Smoltz I was expecting, but then I stepped back and remembered why we signed him.  We signed him for October.  He has more wins in the postseason than any other pitcher, and he’s here to bring some of that success to us.  We can weather regular-season spottiness if it means some major Ws in the postseason, but the problem is that it just doesn’t seem like he’s peaking at all.  If the goal is to peak late, we should see glimmers of brilliance this month.  Maybe we will, starting tonight.  It doesn’t look likely, though.

Ramon Ramirez: A

The bullpen’s unsung hero.  Theo’s trade of Coco Crisp for this man was genius.  During his sixteen-game rough patch in the first half, his ERA was 5.02, and we all know it wasn’t pleasant to watch him during that stretch.  But he’s gotten better.  And he’s one of the best overall.  His ERA is 2.28, and less than ten relievers in the Majors have an ERA lower than his.  One of them being Jonathan Papelbon.

Daniel Bard: A

Daniel Bard has a long way to go, but he’s getting there fast.  As his confidence grows, so does Terry Francona’s.  He’s using him more and more, and Bard is stepping up and delivering.  A 2.25 ERA, and keep in mind that what you are seeing here is our setup man of the future.  Who tops out at one hundred miles per hour.  Imagine that.  The one-two punch of Bard and Papelbon.  Unhittable.

Takashi Saito: C

He was supposed to be our third-day closer, but with the bullpen being the best in baseball and all, he hasn’t really been used that consistently.  Actually, he’s mostly used when we’re losing.  If the bullpen stays healthy, we don’t really need him that much.  He’s been decent; 3.32 ERA.  But we have better.

Manny Delcarmen: B

He’s a workhorse who gets the job done and keeps the ERA low at 3.05.  Delcarmen is consistent, healthy, and can handle more than one inning of work if necessary.

Hideki Okajima: A

We keep talking about his epic season in 2007 while he’s having one of those right under our noses.  Since the start of that season, he’s been among the top ten relievers in the game in ERA.  A 2.98 ERA is not something to be taken for granted.  He’s a fantastic setup man.

Javier Lopez: D

He had a horrible start to the season and was optioned to the minor leagues.  Tito used him when he shouldn’t have been used: against righties.  But now the bullpen is having some trouble handling lefties, and he’s improved in the minors.  If he’s able to works his way back up, we could be all too ready to welcome him back.

Jonathan Papelbon: B

Many of his saves have been sloppy.  The one-two-three inning that’s been his trademark in the past hasn’t been as common this year.  But that’s changing.  Here’s the thing.  Papelbon has to be used every so often whether we need him or not because he needs to get his work in.  But when you put your closer in again where the team is leading, he doesn’t get the same high-pressure, adrenaline-rush-inducing sensation, and he relaxes.  And when he relaxes, he can’t sustain that fierce competitiveness.  I think Papelbon’s experienced that this year, which incidentally is a credit to our lineup.  The point is that recently, in close games, the one-two-three inning has resurfaced and seems to be appearing more and more often.  Numbers-wise, his problem is walks.  He’s giving up many more walks this year than he did last year.

Terry Francona: A

Again, obviously.  We’re almost leading the division again.  We’re set to appear in October again.  We’ll win the World Series again.  All with Terry Francona at the helm.  This is the first year of his three-year contract extension, and he’s the first Boston manager to begin a sixth season in about sixty years.  Sixty years.  Finally.  And rightfully so.  There are a lot of different personalities floating around in that clubhouse, and they all blend together seamlessly without a hitch.  A lot of that has to do with Tito.  Now that the revolving door for manager has closed, it’s time to seal the one at shortstop, too.

Theo Epstein: A

The man is a genius.  In Theo we trust, and he always comes through.  He’s made two major mistakes that I can recall: Eric Gagne and Julio Lugo, and so far that’s been it.  And even those weren’t that bad in the long run.  He went after bargain pitchers this offseason, and it paid off; we have one of the best rotations and definitely the best bullpen in the game.  All we need to do is work on hitting for the long-term and we’ll be all set.  Theo Epstein is someone Red Sox Nation and I can trust to do that.

The Boston Red Sox Overall: B+

We’re heading into August and we are poised to go on a tear.  The postseason is approaching.  Expect us to win it all.  We have what has to be the deepest team in Major League Baseball.  We have hitting.  We have pitching.  We have fielding.  We have the wherewithal to bring another World Series trophy to the city of Boston.  And we will.  Because we can.

Boston Globe Staf/Jim Davis

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I am so embarrassed.  I don’t think I’ve ever been more humiliated as a sports fan in my entire life.  We went down in the 2003 ALCS (still painful for me to talk about), but that was in Game 7 and we put up a fight.  Same in 2008.  The Bruins didn’t play well in the beginning of the playoff series in Carolina but came back to force a Game 7, which we lost, but again, we put up a fight.  We’re lost close ones, sure, and not-so-close ones.  And of course we’ve given up leads in the past.

But this.  This has got to be the biggest lead squandered by the bullpen.  The bullpen.  The bullpen that’s supposed to be the best in the Majors.  At least that’s what the numbers say.  But that is most definitely not what Masterson, Delcarmen, Okajima, Saito, and Papelbon said yesterday.  This was, without question, the biggest implosion of the bullpen of 2009.  And probably of 2008.  And probably of 2007.  And so on and so forth.  For the first time in twenty years, they teamed up to blow a nine-run lead.  The largest comeback by a last-place team over a first-place team in baseball history.  Talk about infuriating.  I need a moment.

John Smoltz gave an excellent start.  This was the start we’d all been waiting for.  Short but sweet.  Four innings, one run on three hits with a walk and two strikeouts.  Not too bad.  When he left, the score was 9-1 in our favor.

Enter Masterson.  Two innings and five batters later, the score was 10-6 (we scored one in the top of the seventh).  Masterson cruised through the fifth and sixth but pitched to five men in the seventh and failed to record an out.  Enter Delcarmen.  He didn’t allow a run.  How refreshing.  Enter Okajima.  Five runs, four of them earned, to tie the score at 10-10.  Saito allowed the final run and took the loss.  Papelbon earned a blown save.  And so it goes.  I can’t even talk about it.  I think I’m going to let this one speak for itself.

But the humiliation in this case is completely one-sided.  The lineup didn’t do anything wrong.  Once you give a pitcher a nine-run lead, you’re completely in the clear.  If that’s not run support, I don’t know what is.  So when I say I feel humiliated, it’s not because the lineup didn’t score another run at the end of it all, force extra innings, and win it because, again, we scored one in the seventh and put up a fight.  We didn’t just shut down after scoring nine.  So the lineup has nothing to be ashamed of, and neither do we.  It’s the bullpen that embarrassed Red Sox Nation last night.  The lineup was perfectly fine.  Lugo went two for two, scored twice, and stole a base.  Pedroia went two for six with a run and three RBIs.  Youk went three for five with two runs, three RBIs, a two-run home run, and a lead among AL first basemen in the All-Star voting.  Bay was again completely cold, and with Lowell headed to the DL (Bailey was in the lineup last night), now is not the time.  Ortiz went two for four with a walk and an RBI.  Tek walked.  Baldelli hit.  Ellsbury was fantastic, going three for five with two RBIs, one being himself on a beautifully hit solo shot to lead off the fourth.  Bailey went three for four with three runs.  Not bad for a second-stringer.  Even while batting .500 with runners in scoring position, we still managed to leave twelve men on base, just to give you an idea of how epic last night’s offense was.

So this has nothing whatsoever to do with the offense.  Laying blame in baseball is tough, but the bullpen takes the rap for this one all the way.  I’m telling you, I was convinced, absolutely convinced like I’m sure everyone was, that we had this in the bag.  Smoltz wouldn’t be eligible for the win, but definitely score one for the team.  And then the badness happened.  It was sickening.  It was abysmal.  I actually thought I wouldn’t be able to continue watching.  In the bullpen, we are exponentially better than our performance last night.  But everyone knows that.  Best bullpen in the Major Leagues.  Apparently, yesterday they took the day off.  I guess nobody got the memo.

So, there you have it.  In all its ugly glory.  Our lead over the Yankees has been reduced to a mere two and a half games.  That’s not enough.  Whatever.  We need to move forward.  It’s clear that the Yankees still haven’t bounced back from the 2004 playoffs, and it’s important that this not become the bullpen’s 2004 of 2009.  I don’t think it will.  This afternoon, it’ll be Beckett at Brad Bergesen, and we need Beckett to go deep into this one, firstly to give the bullpen a rest because they were out there for a long shift last night and secondly to show them how it’s done in case  they forgot in that sorry excuse of six innings.  Hey, like I say, if you’re a diehard fan, sometimes you find yourself in a position where you need to give your team a little tough love.

AP Photo

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That was Beckett’s 100th career start in a Red Sox uniform, and he did not disappoint.  After pitcher’s milestones like this I sometimes think of Mike Timlin’s 1000th appearance, and that isn’t something he’ll want to remember at all.  But this was nothing like that.  This is something Beckett will recall for years.  This, my friends, was a gem.  Plain and simple.  Seven full innings, only tree hits, only one run on a solo shot by Joe Crede in the second, four walks, eight strikeouts.  He started the game with four consecutive K’s, had a one-two-three fifth, and retired eleven in a row before walking Morneau in the sixth.  He tied his second-highest K count by throwing 69 of 111 pitches for strikes.  Like the Twins actually expected to beat Beckett anyway.  Please, with the way he’s been pitching? No chance.  If the Twins were going to do anything, it would’ve been in the fourth; after Crede hit his jack, Beckett gave up back-to-back walks.  But he stayed with it, regained his control, and was air-tight for the rest of his outing.  If doesn’t prove he’s back, I don’t know what does.  Okajima got a hold, and Paps got a save, and this time it wasn’t half bad.  Brian Buscher struck out via swing and a miss to end it.

Jason Varitek was solely responsible for our first two runs, and the long ball was solely responsible for plating them.  The captain hit two leadoff home runs last night, one in the fifth and one in the seventh.  Both of them were beautiful swings.  Both were never going to stay inside the park.  And both are reasons why it’s realistic to consider Varitek in the All-Star voting this year.  That second homer ended up in the second tier of seats.  Power.

Ellsbury snapped his hitting streak at twenty-two games.  During the streak, he batted .340.  Pedroia was batting .462 heading into last night but then went hitless in the final game of the series.  Jason Bay got the day off.  Hey, if he’s eighth in the Majors in runs, sixth in home runs, second in RBIs, and sixth in walks, he earned it.  Drew went hitless but almost had himself a triple in the sixth, had Span not outran it and hauled it in for an out.  Youk had a hit and a beautiful diving catch on a right-handed line drive.  That’s a tough play for a first baseman to make, and it almost looked like the ball took him off his feet, but he made the catch and ended the inning.  Ortiz didn’t do well.  In the sixth he struck out swinging and was furious.  Early in the at-bat, he broke his bat and got a new one, and after the at-bat, he broke that one across his knee in the dugout.  So we know he has strength and power; all he has to do is use it on a baseball.  As angry and frustrated as we are about his slump, you better believe he’s that much more angry and frustrated.  And it’s not just the lack of home runs.  During the first month or so of the season, he wasn’t seeing the fastball.  He’d be late or get under it or something.

And then we have our third run scored by Bailey in the seventh.  Pedroia hit a sac fly to Kubel, who threw the ball to Redmond at home, but home plate umpire Todd Tichenor called Bailey safe.  Redmond disagreed so he got in Tichenor’s face, at which point Tichenor threw him and Gardenhire, who came out to protest, out of the game.  To be fair, Redmond didn’t swear or touch the umpire, but he was livid and you could see it.  Same with Gardenhire, which was unusual because he’s so mild-mannered.  Then in our half of the frame, Beckett was noticeably frustrated that a close pitch that’d been called mostly for a strike earlier had been called a ball.  Beckett was showing a little bit of body language, so Tek turned around to talk to Tichenor and keep Beckett out of it, at which point Tichenor threw him and Francona, who came out to protest, out of the game.  Wow.  You don’t see that too often.  It was like Tichenor was hitting for the circuit in umpire terms.  And I have to say it was completely uncalled for to toss either Tek or Francona.  Tek wasn’t expressing himself angrily; not only was there no swearing or touching, but there wasn’t even harsh language, angry gestures, or unsportsmanlike conduct.  There was a conspicuous difference between Redmond’s and Tek’s behavior, and his ejection of Tek disregarded that completely.  As for Francona, he came out to defend his catcher who shouldn’t have been ejected in the first place.  There was no way he wasn’t going out there to say something about this absurd action.  So that was just ridiculous.  It was a farce.

I’ll say something about Anthony Swarzak.  I give him credit for limiting us to three runs and, for six frames, seriously engaging Beckett in a pitcher’s duel in only his second career start.  Ultimately we won but from the way we were playing, that was to be expected.  We made Swarzak work, and that’s key because he’s a young guy who hasn’t reached his maximum endurance.  Long at-bats made him throw more pitches, which tired him out and which allowed us to see more of him and adapt to him quickly and effectively.  It’s the classic situation of not having much luck against a starter, so you wear him out and wait him out, and eventually he’ll break, you’ll figure him out, and/or you’ll get into the bullpen.  The other thing is that he had to watch Beckett every half-inning from the dugout.  That’s not necessarily a good thing.  For a young kid to watch a pitcher like that work can put incredible pressure on him to match that pitcher fastball for fastball.  And that just wasn’t going to happen.

Ron Coomer partnered with Don Orsillo in the booth last night.  Apparently Coomer played for Tito when he managed Double-A which, according to the good man himself, makes him feel old.  Small world.  Tito even managed Michael Jordan in 1994.

And just like that, we’ve played our last game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.  It’s been a great ride.  Next year, the Twins will have a new park, outdoors, with real grass.  I’m a purist in that regard, because I’m not a fan of turf.  When someone slides into a base, I want to see dirt stains, and when an outfielder dives for a catch, I want to see grass stains.  But leaving an old park is a difficult thing to do.  Especially when you’ve played well there, and that goes for the Twins and Red Sox.  Unfortunately for the Twins and fortunately for the Red Sox, our last contest in the Metrodome ended with us showing them who’s boss.  Not that I’m complaining.

Chris O’Meara
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And there you have the cushion! Incredible! We’re getting everything we need right now.  That’s good.  We’re playing .600 ball.  That’s first in the American League and tied with Milwaukee for second in the Major Leagues.  (The Dodgers are playing .674 ball.) It may seem like it’s early in the year, and it is, but it’s still a crucial time.  The month and a half leading up to the All-Star break is very important because it sets the tone for the second half of the season.  And right now we’re doing a lot of good tone-setting.  The Jays lost their seventh straight yesterday, so they’re in third with New York in second by one game.  But I’m not worried.  They may be on a hot streak, but New York isn’t going anywhere.  They always do this; they have a bad season with a few hot streaks just to scare you.  Then they’ll have a great September and ruin a bunch of teams’ playoff hopes and either not get to the playoffs or get to the playoffs and peter out in the first round.

Anyway, Brad Penny pitched a great game.  Quality start after quality start.  I like it.  And what we didn’t know is that he was battling indigestion before, during, and after battling the Twins.  Apparently he was throwing up between innings in the bathroom.  That right there is a warrior.  That’s something you don’t see too often.  And through it all he pitched five and a third, gave up three runs on six hits, no walks, seven strikeouts.  That’s about his usual; five or six innings and three runs.  He threw about seventy percent strikes.  His OPP AVG with runners in scoring position is below .200.  And he continues to improve.  The bottom line is that if the Twins couldn’t get to him in those conditions, they weren’t going to get to him at all.  Ramirez and Okajima each collected holds, and Paps got the save after almost blowing it.  Joe Mauer pinch-hit for Mike Redmond in the bottom of the ninth and hit a two-run shot.  The final score was 6-5.  Honestly I’d love to be furious with Paps right now and I am but the thing is it never lasts.  You can’t be furious when you know well and good you’ll never find a better closer in all of Major League Baseball.

We again out-hit our opponents, 16-8.  Ellsbury went two for five and scored, extending his hitting streak to twenty games.  That’s a career high, and he’s batting around .330 during that streak.  He was picked off first and caught stealing second, and it was ugly.  The Twins had him beat bad in the third inning.  The ball was waiting for him.  Very unusual.  Pedroia the Destroyah went three for five and scored twice and has a hitting streak of his own for eight games, during which he’s batting over .400.  He’s batted around .500 over his last four games alone.  That’s a hot hitter.  Youk and Bay each went two for five with a run and two RBIs.  Bay continued his dominance with runners in scoring position and is currently batting something like .340 in that situation.  Based on the way Bay’s been playing, we have two priorities this season: first, win the World Series, and second, lock up Jason Bay for the long term, because he’s establishing himself as one of the best in the game and with today’s market it’s almost impossible to find someone that good for that price.  Lowell went four for five with an RBI.  Baldelli made an error but went two for four.  Bailey took Dickey deep in the eighth for a very powerfully hit solo home run.  So what all of this means is that the first six starting spots in the lineup had multi-hit games.  It was fantastic.  Basically, it was watching one of the best teams in the American League figure out that there’s one of the best, and then there’s the best.  And when you play the best, you probably won’t win.  Hey, it happens.  We’ve now got six straight wins over the Twins and three more games to go in the series.

Jed Lowrie teed off before the game yesterday.  He took fifteen swings from each side of the plate and said he felt better hitting from the right than from the left.  His rehab is still on schedule, and they’re not going to rush.  He should be back in a few weeks.  Clay Buchholz is 3-0 with Pawtucket and almost had himself a perfect game last night.  He took it into the ninth inning but then gave up a leadoff single.  But he retained his composure.  That says a lot, because as soon as a bid like that is broken up, the pitcher can unravel very easily and very quickly, and for a young pitcher to stay with it says something.  So it ended up being a one-hit shutout, and it was the first one-hitter Pawtucket’s had since Bartolo Colon’s combined outing on April 3, 2008.

It’ll be Lester at Nick Blackburn tonight.  Hopefully Lester will build on that outstanding start against the Jays.  That was the first classic Lester start we’ve seen so far, and I’d love to see more.  The kid is good.  There’s a reason why he, and not Santana, wears our letters.  (Of course the irony is that Santana was with Minnesota, and they were after either Lester or Ellsbury.  That wasn’t going to happen.) And as soon as he remembers for good what that reason is, it won’t be pleasant for the opposition.

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Tim Wakefield continues to amaze me.  No-no bid aside, that was probably his best start all season, and it seems like each new start of his is his best so far.  I can’t explain it.  He’s the only pitcher I’ve seen who actually gets better with age.  It’s remarkable.  It defies all known laws of baseball.  Maybe it’s not the same knuckleball that made John Flaherty retire, but there’s something there.  There’s definitely something there.  He comes back year after year, and every year he gives us quality, albeit sometimes ugly, innings.  But this by far is the best start to a season he’s had in a very, very long time.  Simply put, the dude’s still got it.  Majorly.  He pitched eight innings.  Eight.  One inning away from a complete game.  And during those eight innings, he walked only two batters and gave up only one run on only five hits.  (Incidentally, that one run was a solo shot by Kevin Millar.  If I had to pick a Blue Jay to score, I’d pick Millar for obvious reasons.) He struck out three.  He threw ninety-seven pitches in total.  Ninety-seven! In eight innings! I’d pay Josh Beckett or Jon Lester millions more to do that! Oh, wait, we do, and they still don’t.  So all in all that was a gem Wakefield pitched last night.  A gem.  We won the game, 2-1, and it says something when you can trust a guy with a one-run lead against the first-place club, especially your forty-two-year-old, fourth-starter knuckleballer.

Papelbon picked up his eleventh save in the ninth.  He threw twelve pitches, nine of which were strikes.  Nine four-seams, two changeups, and a two-seam.  The funny thing, of course, is that his changeup is almost ninety miles per hour.  Wakefield’s fastball is only about seventy-five.

An RBI for Bailey and an RBI for Kottaras.  Bailey plated Lowell, and Kottaras plated Drew on a sac fly in the second for what ended up being the game-winning run.  Ellsbury went two for four, extending his hitting streak with a single and his seventh double of the season.  Right now, Ellsbury is on his biggest roll since the 2007 postseason.  He was caught stealing third, though.  He had a horrible jump, and the throw beat him so badly that for a second I forgot who he was.  And that was big, because then Dustin hit a single that would’ve scored him, whether he stole the base or not.

Lugo made an error.  What else is new.

David Ortiz was back in the lineup in the Number Three spot and went 0 for 3.  He walked and struck out twice.  His average is now .203.  It’s not the worst on the team, but unfortunately it’s getting a little too close for comfort.  One thing’s for sure: when he finally does hit his first home run this year, Fenway’s going to go crazy.  The crowd was supporting Ortiz all night last night, even though it’s the worst start to a season he’s ever had.  During his last at-bat in the eighth, the entire crowd stood.  It just makes you proud to be a Sox fan; anywhere else, and he would’ve been booed by his own fans.  But not here.  Not in our house, and not in this city.

It’s official; Dice-K will be starting the series against the Mets, which is a good way to ease him back into the rotation because the Mets are a National League team.  But that means Masterson will be heading back to the bullpen.  Masterson’s been great this season, so I think it’s fair to say I hope Dice-K at least matches what he would’ve been able to accomplish.  Youk is coming back today and just in time to help us at least win the series, if not sweep.  Jed Lowrie’s rehab is right on schedule; he had a catch the other day, says he feels great, and should be back with us in a few weeks.

So with that win, we narrow the gap between us by a game, making it two and a half.  We’re almost there.  And this series is huge.  Wakefield started us off the right way, and tonight it’ll be Brett Cecil at Penny.  Tomorrow it’ll be Robert Ray at Lester, so thankfully we won’t have to deal with Halladay this time around.  Next time, though, when we have all our guys back and they’re comfortably in their grooves, I say bring it.  We can handle it.  And we’ll be handling it all the way to the top of the division.

Behind the Foul Pole

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Who does Nick Green think he is? Julio Lugo? What was up with that? It’s bottom of the ninth, two out, nobody on, score tied at 2-2.  Ronny Cedeno hit a ball to Nick Green, who caught it and fired to Jeff Bailey at first.  Except that he threw high.  Really high.  Like at least five feet above Bailey’s head.  I mean the ball went out of the park and into the camera well.  So Cedeno ends up taking second base.  Then Franklin Gutierrez stroked a single through the gap in right field to plate Cedeno, and that was the end of it.  We lose, 2-3.  We had two errors on the day, both committed by Green.  There was that one and then a fielding error.  Unbelievable.  Just when Lugo actually starts to hit and look like maybe he can field after all, or at least start contributing runs to account for his own mistakes, he leaves the lineup and Green starts in with this.  That’s just what we need.  We could’ve just gone into extra innings and probably won it, but no, sir.  No, we had to lose this one in the bottom of the ninth and give up the series.  Well, that’s just wonderful.  Did I mention we’re now three games behind Toronto and only one and a half above New York? We have a three-game series against Toronto starting tomorrow night, and everyone better be in ship-shape, because that’ll be no time for any nonsense like this.

Varitek and Drew each had an RBI.  Tek hit a sac fly in the second.  Drew hit a solo shot, and when I say a shot I mean a shot.  Leading off the fourth inning, Vargas threw him a 2-0 fastball at the belt.  Why anyone would ever do that, I don’t know.  But I won’t complain, and neither will JD Drew.  The ball was gone.  I mean he clobbered it.  He buried it in the back of the lower tier center field seats, and that’s hard to do because Safeco Field is a pitcher’s park.  It’s not as hitter-friendly as it may look.  But Vargas had no chance.

In the sixth, Rob Johnson bunted a ball off his hand, and he and Wladimir Balentien thought it was foul.  Turns out it was fair but Johnson never ran to reach base so Tek threw him out.  Meanwhile, Balentien, assuming it was foul, began his stroll to second base, only to see Lowell fire to Green who tagged him out.  And that’s what happens when you play us and you sleep on the job.  And then, in the seventh, Pedroia made one of his signature spectacular plays yet again.  Ichiro hits a line drive on the ground between Pedroia and Bailey, so Pedroia runs over, slides around to make the catch, and fires to Bailey to record the out.  No hesitation.  All precision.  The man is a beast.  Only Pedroia could’ve made this play; anyone else, and it’s an infield hit.  What a play.

It’s a terrible, terrible shame that Masterson had to accept a no decision on this, because it really was an excellent start.  6.1 innings, two runs on nine hits, six strikeouts, a solo shot to Russell Branyan to lead off the second, but no walks.  No walks whatsoever.  Delcarmen and Okajima pitched perfectly; Delcarmen’s ERA is back under 1.00 now.  And Ramon Ramirez had to take the loss that really should’ve gone to Green.  But it was an earned run, so what can you do.

David Ortiz is coming back tomorrow but probably won’t bat third.  Youk is playing a game today and tomorrow with the PawSox and should return Wednesday.

On a lighter note, I’d like to congratulate Dave Roberts on his first fan sign.  It was a couple that just got engaged in the fourth inning.  Of course, we all want Jerry Remy to make a speedy recovery and return, but I also have to say that Dave Roberts is doing an excellent job.

So we have an off day today and then we’re back in action tomorrow against Toronto, like I said.  And everyone better be at their best, like I said.  We have the potential here to get into first place.  We need to make the most of this series; we can’t let this series make the most of us.  This is huge.  I never  thought I’d say this, but this first series with Toronto is probably the most important of the series so far.  And I never thought I’d say this, but we’re lucky because Wakefield will be pitching in the first game.  So hopefully we’ll start the series off on a high note and go from there.

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