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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Rice’

What a game! I guess that, when we lose, we really like to take revenge afterwards.  As frustrating and unproductive as we were on Saturday, everybody really pulled out all the stops on Sunday.  If this team hadn’t set the stage by playing so well on the whole up to this point, I would have said that our performance last night was completely unbelievable.  Such a performance could never have happened last season.  It was so excellently awesome to watch it.  I mean, it’s nice to be dominant in every conceivable way.

Let’s start with Lester, whose performance was obviously an enormous highlight.  When I said after his last start that I wanted him to pitch longer and more efficiently and that I was sure that he’d get there eventually, I don’t think I meant that he’d get there in his very next start.  But he did, and with flying colors.  He pitched a full seven shutout innings.  He didn’t give up any walks, so if it weren’t for the five he allowed and the fact that he didn’t go the distance, he would have had a perfect game.  Minus the hits, he would at least have had seven perfect innings.  Whatever.  The bottom line is that Jon Lester was a shining example of everything that every Major League starting pitcher should ever hope to be.

Lester threw one hundred pitches exactly, sixty-seven of which were strikes.  And he had six strikeouts to his credit, which is almost one per inning on average.  His cut fastball was moving and dancing in just the right way.  There’s something really beautiful about a pitcher having complete and total control over the ball such that the ball does exactly what he wants it to every time.  And his cut fastball was on.  And he threw in some curveballs, changeups, and sinkers for variety that were potent in their own right as well.

He threw as few as eight pitches, in the first, and as many as twenty pitches, in the fifth.  His inning pitch counts were everything in between during the other frames.  He was efficient, cold, and calculating, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen his release point tighter or more consistent.

His first inning was one-two-three and featured his first strikeout, a quick, three-pitch affair ending with a swing through a curveball.  He gave up two singles in the second but bookended the inning with strikeouts, both swinging, the first three pitches ending with a cut fastball and the second four pitches ending with a cut fastball.  He gave up another single in the third, which he opened with a five-pitch called strike that ended with a cut fastball, or a cutter, depending on which way you look at it.  He racked up another three-pitch strikeout in the fourth that ended with a swing through a fastball before hitting a batter.  He gave up another single in the fifth, had a one-two-three sixth, and opened the seventh with his last strikeout, four pitches that ended with a swing through a sinker.  He gave up his last hit that inning as well.

As well as he pitched, only two of his seven innings were one-two-three.  But he never faced more than five batters.  And his other outs were the standard collection of groundouts, flyouts, lineouts, and such.  Don’t look now, but Lester’s ERA is 1.50.  That’s based on a small sample size, but we can still enjoy it.

Mortensen came in for the eighth and ninth and took some pages out of Lester’s book.  He gave up two hits and no walks, preserving the shutout.  That means that the Jays were held to seven hits but achieved nothing else all game long.  All seven were singles.  They left eight on base and had only two opportunities with runners in scoring position, of which they obviously did not take advantage.

Fortunately, the same can not even remotely be said for us.  When Ellsbury hit the second pitch of the game for a double, I knew that we were in for quite a pleasant ride.  Victorino followed that with a single, and then we undertook three straight scoring plays.  First, Pedroia brought Ellsbury home with a single.  Then, Napoli doubled in both Pedroia and Victorino.  Lastly, Middlebrooks laid on his first pitch of the game, a fastball slow at eighty-four miles per hour, for a home run to the opposite field in right.  It was his second jack in as many games and was by no means about to be his last.

Iglesias led off the second with a single, but we didn’t score that inning.  Napoli led off the third with a strikeout, but then Middlebrooks doubled, moved to third on a passed ball, and scored on a sac fly by Nava.  It was a textbook example of manufacturing a run while capitalizing on the opposition’s mistakes.  The fourth also began modestly with a groundout by Bradley.  Then Iglesias doubled and scored on a single by Ellsbury.

Middlebrooks led off the fifth and worked the count full; he took three straight pitches for balls and then encountered two fastballs that were almost identical: both were four-seams, and both traveled at eighty-two miles per hour.  He took the first one for a strike and swung through the second.  But he didn’t miss the third.  It was a little bit faster than the previous two, but he had its number the whole time and smashed it to left center for his second home run of the game.

Pedroia singled in the sixth, but we didn’t score.  But Middlebrooks issued a repeat performance to lead off the seventh inning. It was one of those moments where it takes you a second or two to realize that you aren’t watching a replay and that it’s actually happening.  Middlebrooks took his first three pitches for balls and an eighty-six mile-per-hour two seam for a strike.  Then, he got an eighty-six mile-per-hour four-seam that he just decimated and sent yet again to left center field.

Three home runs.  One game.  Will Middlebrooks, ladies and gentlemen!

And then there was occasion to do yet another double take, because Nava made it back-to-back jacks with a solo shot of his own on a two-seam clocked at eighty.  It was his second pitch of the at-bat, and it also ended up in left center field.

And then there was Ellsbury’s at-bat leading off the eighth.  The only reason why a third double take was hard to do was because Ellsbury was fighting hard in that at-bat.  It lasted for a grand total of nine pitches.  We’ve seen our hitters battle through longer ones, but his patience and eye were both still admirable.  He took a curve for a strike, fouled off a cutter, took a curve for a ball, fouled off a fastball and curveball and cutter, took two fastballs for balls, and finally, on the ninth pitch with a full count, he uncorked a massive swing on a fastball that put the ball beyond the right field fence for his first home run of the year!

And then Carp lined out, Pedroia walked on five pitches, and Napoli hit a textbook home run.  It was one of those classic Napoli ones that looks like it’s no big deal.  It was the third pitch of the at-bat, a fastball that he sent out to center.  I saw it with my own eyes, and I could not believe that it had actually happened.  I actually thought the eighth inning would see yet another homer; Middlebrooks’s at-bat resulted in a flyout because the ball was hauled in right in front of the wall, but off the bat it certainly looked like it had enough to make it out.

We probably used up everything we had at that point, because Bradley, Iglesias, and Ellsbury all went down in order in the ninth on a grand total of thirteen pitches.  All three struck out swinging.

All told, we had ourselves fifteen hits, six of which were jacks.  Bradley and Salty were the only starters who failed to get hits; Bradley walked, so Salty was the only starter who failed to get himself on base.  Iglesias and Napoli both went two for five, Pedroia went two for four, Ellsbury went three for six, and Middlebrooks, the offensive man of the hour, went four for five with four runs and four RBIs.  All four of his hits were for extra bases.  There were the three home runs of course, a baseball version of a hat trick if I’ve ever seen one, and a double.  It was his second multi-homer game and the first three-homer game of his career.  He’s our youngest to do it since Jim Rice did it in 1977 and the team’s first since Dustin Pedroia did it in 2010.  Ellsbury and Victorino both had stolen bases to their credit.  We left six on base and went five for seven with runners in scoring position.

And the best part of all: we won, thirteen-zip!

Be happy; we’re playing our home opener today! Baltimore is coming to town.  This should be fun.

AP Photo

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We played a two-game series against the Rays and got swept.

Tuesday’s game began auspiciously with us paying tribute to the 2004 team.  But it didn’t end well.  Buchholz pitched as decently as any of our other starters this year, but in terms of the way he’s been pitching lately, his start was mediocre at best.  He gave up five runs, four earned, on eight hits over six innings while walking two and striking out five.  In the second, he gave up two walks followed by a home run that score three.  And in the sixth, he gave up two straight singles and then another single two batters later that scored two runs, one of which was made possible by Nava’s fielding error, hence the unearned run.  Atchison pitched the seventh and to one batter in the eighth, Miller pitched the rest of the eighth, and Padilla pitched the ninth.

We got on the board in the second; we started the inning with two back-to-back singles followed by a flyout, and Valencia batted in our first run with a single.  We started the third with a strikeout and then hit two back-to-back singles again.  This inning possibly did us in, because if we’d been able to take full advantage of our opportunity there, it’s possible that perhaps we could have won in the end.  But a caught-stealing at third basically put a damper on things.  Pedroia doubled after that, and we scored on a balk.  And that was it.  The final score was 2-5.

On Wednesday, Lester pitched six innings and allowed three runs on four hits while walking one and striking out five.  He was solid for most of it but unraveled at the end.  All three runs were scored via the home run.  He gave up a single in the fifth followed by two consecutive home runs.  Mortensen came on for the seventh and gave up a single, and then Hill came on and gave up another single; three at-bats later, Hill gave up an RBI double.  Melancon finished the seventh and pitched the eighth, and Breslow pitched the ninth.

We had actually scored first; Salty walked and scored on a single by Nava in the second.  And then Pedroia walked to lead off the sixth, stole second, moved to third on a single by Ross, and scored on a sac fly by Loney.  The final score was 2-4.

Wednesday’s game actually began auspiciously as well with us announcing the All-Fenway team comprised of our greats throughout our long and illustrious history, with plenty of old faces and plenty of new.  The starting lineup included Carlton Fisk, Jimmie Foxx, Pedroia, Wade Boggs, Nomar, Ted Williams, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans, Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove, Jonathan Papelbon, Papi, and Terry Francona.  The first reserves included Jason Varitek, Mo Vaughn, Bobby Doerr, Mike Lowell, Johnny Pesky, Yaz, Dom DiMaggio, Trot Nixon, Roger Clemens, Luis Tiant, Tim Wakefield, Dennis Eckersley, Dick Radatz, and Joe Cronin.  The second reserves included Rich Gedman, George Scott, Jerry Remy, Frank Malzone, Rico Petrocelli, Jim Rice, Reggie Smith, Tony Conigliaro, Babe Ruth, Smoky Joe Wood, Curt Schilling, Bill Lee, Jim Lonborg, and Dick Williams.  And, last but not least, the pinch hitter was Bernie Carbo and the pinch runner was none other than Dave Roberts.

Why before Wednesday’s game? Because Wednesday’s game was our last home game of the year.  It would have been nice to win it.  Instead we will finish the season with our worst record at home since 1965 and our first losing record at home since 1997: 34-47.  Now Fenway will soon be covered with snow, silent in the long, cold winter that lies ahead with only the bitter memory of losing as an aftertaste.

Sports Then And Now

 

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Happy one hundredth birthday, Fenway Park! It really his America’s Most Beloved Ballpark, and for good reason.  No other ballpark is this old or – let’s face it – this totally awesome.  When you watch a game there, you really have this overwhelming sense of the history that’s gone down, and you wonder what the walls would say if they could talk.  That park saw everything.  For hundred years, most of them culminating in postseason disappointment so profoundly gut-wrenching that your first instinct would be to think that somebody had to have planned it that way, this park bore witness to the lives and times of the players who played, the managers who managed, and the fans who supported, day in and day out, no matter how good or bad it got.  Standing like a sentinel right in the middle of Boston, it has seen everything that’s happened, both in and out of baseball, in that city in the last hundred years.  Think about that for a minute.  If the walls could talk, what would they say? In addition to the regular lot, this park has seen Major League baseball players, minor league baseball players, National League baseball players, college baseball players, high school baseball players, football players, hockey players, basketball players, soccer players, boxers, musicians, soldiers, fans from every walk of life, wins, losses, World Series, no-hitters, a five-hundred-foot home run, more than ten thousand home runs total, the tallest wall in any ballpark in the United States, the first foul ball screen ever used, the only in-play ladder in Major League Baseball, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s last political speech, and so much more.

This park is alive with character.  Every part of the park has a story: the Green Monster that now stands in place of Duffy’s Cliff, the Pesky Pole, the Fisk Pole, the retired numbers, Willamsburg, the bullpens.  Everything.  It’s small, and the seats don’t have cushions, and you can’t order gourmet food behind home plate.  But seriously, who wants to go to a baseball game just to feel like you’re watching the game on television or at a restaurant? No, you want to feel the park and to live the experience.  We’ve got the best fans in all of sport, I’d say, and we’ve got the best venue to match.

If April 20, 1912 was the day that Red Sox Nation and Fenway Park got married, then April 20, 2012 was the day that Red Sox Nation and Fenway Park renewed their vows.  I can’t even bear the thought that several years ago we almost lost Fenway Park forever, and I can bear the thought even less that there weren’t more people interested in saving it.  It’s truly a gem of a ballpark, and it’s one of every Red Sox fan’s favorite places in the whole world.

But what would a family affair be without a little token drama? Apparently all living uniformed personnel were invited, but apparently Theo wasn’t invited until Thursday and declined to go.  Curt Schilling, who has made no secret of his criticism of Bobby V., declined an invitation due to a commitment to his business.  It was speculated that Tito wouldn’t be there, but after all he was.  It’s really a shame that all this drama has to get in the way of such a great day in the history of what’s brought all these diverse people together.  I know it’s corny, but why can’t we all just get along, just for one day? Obviously we weren’t there for any of the drama, so we can’t really know how bad or not-so-bad it was, but anyway it would have been nice to have these individuals, who’ve been so crucial to bringing about what is (“is,” and hopefully not “was”) arguably a golden age in our club’s history.

Anyway, here are the details.  There was an introduction that basically said that the constant throughout history is baseball, and the constant throughout baseball is Fenway, and the constant throughout us disparate fans is this team.  Then John Williams conducted the Boston Pops in playing “Fanfare for Fenway,” his new composition.  There was the national anthem.  There was the flyover, which always gets me.  Then there was a steady stream of past players in their uniforms; they all congregated in the parts of the field that they played.  Most of the who’s-who as well as the unknowns of Red Sox history was there, those that could barely walk and those who recently retired.  It was really just beautiful to see generations of players represented before generations of fans.  You could acutely feel that you were witnessing history not only by bearing witness to the occasion but also by remembering that each and every one of those players had borne witness to Red Sox Nation.  (Incidentally, the whole procession received continuous applause and a standing ovation.  Terry Francona’s applause and name-chanting was deafeningly thunderous, as it should have been.  Nomar, Pedro, Yaz, and Pesky also received substantial thunder.  And also Wake, Tek, Bobby Doerr, Jerry Remy, Jim Rice, Kevin Millar, and a host of others too numerous to name.) Then there was a toast with grape juice, supplied at every seat for every fan of every age, led by Pedro and Millar, which as you can imagine was highly, highly entertaining and completely brought you back to 2004.  It was literally the largest toast in one venue, as in a new world record.  But hey, that’s the strength of Red Sox Nation for you.

The first pitch was thrown from the row of seats behind the first base dugout by the mayor of Boston, just like it was one hundred years ago.  This year, Thomas Menino was joined by Caroline Kennedy and Thomas Fitzgerald, two descendants of 1912 Boston’s Mayor John Fitzgerald.

I have to say, the throwback uniforms were a real treat.  How fortuitous that the schedule allowed us to play the exact same team, too.  I have to admit, even though the score a hundred years ago was 7-6 in eleven innings, I was hoping for a big more of a thrashing, as close as a close game would have been to the original may have been.  Ultimately, a win to preserve the history would have been very much appreciated and appropriate.

Sadly, a win was not to be.  Buchholz allowed home run after home run after home run.  Now that he and Beckett have both allowed five home runs in one game this season, the 2012 club becomes one of only three teams in Major League history to carry two starters who have given up five home runs each in one game in one season.  (Incidentally, one of the other two was the 2009 club, and Buchholz and Beckett were both at fault then too.) He gave up six runs, five earned (you can thank Pedroia for dropping a routine popup, a rare sight indeed), on nine hits, five of which were home runs.  All of the home runs were solo shots, and three of them led off innings.  He only allowed one other extra-base hit, a double.  He lasted six innings, walked two, and struck out two.

Buchholz used four pitches: a four-seam, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup.  His four-seam got up to ninety-five miles per hour and was his most abundant and effective pitch; he threw it for strikes more than eighty percent of the time.  The others were thrown for strikes less than sixty percent of the time, which is unfortunate since the majority of his pitches category-wise were off-speeds.

Atchison pitched the seventh, Thomas and Tazawa teamed up for the eighth, and Tazawa pitched the ninth.

We got on the board in the second when Papi homered to the Green Monster.  The ball, a fastball, bounced off of the very top of the wall and was ruled a double before it came under review and was rightly overturned.  In the fifth, a pair of doubles by Ross and Aviles scored another run.  That was all we managed.  Don’t even think for  second that you weren’t thinking that the stage may have been set for something truly epic: a recreation of the original final score.  Our final score ended up being 6-2, but just imagine if we could have somehow scored four more runs to tie it, gone to the eleventh inning, and then scored one more run?

It seemed like every single one of our rallies was killed before it got started.  Aviles and Papi each had two hits for the only multi-hit performances of the day.  In addition to the home run and those two doubles, we hit two more, and that was it for extra bases.  Not one member of our lineup walked.  Repko made a decidedly Ellsbury-esque catch.  I hope Bobby V. paid attention to the “We Want Tito” chant in the ninth; we have the lowest team ERA in the Majors and are now on a four-game losing streak overall and a four-game home losing streak for the first time since 2010 with a record of four and nine.

At any rate, one hundred years of Fenway Park have come and gone, so here’s to the next hundred.  Here’s to a happy birthday to America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.  Fenway Park, all that you’ve seen and all that you mean, we forever salute you!

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Caps, 2-1.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki

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That’s the game that we were all hoping we’d play.  Fenway was a sight for sore eyes; something about the players being introduced at the home opener just makes you feel refreshed and ready, and after the start to the season we’ve had, we needed that.  And the final score was a sight for sore eyes, too.  12-2.  Now that’s what I call taking care of business on your first day home.  Ladies and gentlemen, here’s hoping that yesterday was the first day of the rest of our baseball lives!

First things first.  The opening ceremonies were as fitting and fantastically done as ever.  Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek threw the first pitch, as they should have.  It was so great to see them back there received with the standing ovation that they clearly deserved.  Dwight Evans caught Wakefield’s pitch, and Jim Rice caught Varitek’s, which was especially fitting since Rice was our captain before Varitek played.  Needless to say, the pitches were thrown quite well (I was hoping Wakefield would deliver a knuckleball, but apparently Evans warned him against that beforehand), and there were plenty of hugs to go around afterwards.  All in all, it was a supremely feel-good event.  In the bottom of the second, Wakefield and Varitek joined the NESN booth for the first time ever; apparently they’d never been to that part of the park before.  Wakefield was right when he said that it was a special day that the two of them shared together; opening the hundredth season of baseball at Fenway was a task that was absolutely fitting for them to complete.  And we’ll see them again this year; during the season each of them will be honored with their own day.  We certainly haven’t seen the last of Varitek, who will probably re-join the organization in some sort of professional capacity.  Their comments on the start to the season we’ve had were interesting to hear, and ultimately it was just a pleasure to have them back.  It really was.

Beckett pitched like an ace.  These are now back-to-back gems by our two best starters; it’s a good sign, and it’s some solid momentum that we can build from.  Beckett pitched eight innings and gave up only one run on five hits, two of which were doubles, and that was it for extra bases.  He walked one and struck out one, the eleventh time in his career that he posted only one strikeout but the first time in his career that he posted a win with only one strikeout.  That one strikeout came against Carlos Pena with one out in the eighth; it took him six pitches, and the clincher was a curveball going seventy-four miles per hour that resulted in a missed swing.  Beckett threw ninety-four pitches, sixty-one of which were strikes, so he was right on pace.

He brought his fastball up to ninety-two miles per hour, and they were good, but the real stars of his arsenal were the cutter and the changeup.  Almost all of his cutters were thrown for strikes, and a little less than half of all of his pitches were changeups, which he threw for strikes almost two-thirds of the time.  Other than that, he also introduced a curveball that was pretty good.  So he pitched like an ace, but not necessarily like the ace we’ve seen him be in most of his gem starts.  This was less about dominating and overpowering the hitters and more about getting around them with craftiness and finesse.  It was a side of Beckett that we rarely get to see, but nevertheless it was obviously an effective side of Beckett and one that speaks to his overall skill and versatility as a pitcher.

Regarding efficiency, as I said, he was pretty much on the ball.  He wasn’t remarkably efficient, but he wasn’t inefficient, either.  Around a hundred pitches is where you should be by the time the ninth inning starts, and there are plenty of pitching staffs out there whose aces are lucky if they can make it to the sixth or seventh around a hundred pitches.  He threw at most seventeen pitches in one inning, and he did that twice, once in the first and again in the fourth.  He threw sixteen in the second and thirteen in the eighth.  Other than that, he threw nine in the sixth, eight in the third, and seven in the fifth and seventh.

Beckett allowed his lone run in the second pretty quickly; the inning started with a single, and the next hit was one of the two doubles he gave up, which scored Ben Zobrist.  But then he ended the inning with three straight groundouts, and under his watch, it was the end of the scoring for the Tampa Bay Rays.  (Incidentally, Zobrist also scored Beckett’s only walk, in addition to his only run.) Three of his innings were one-two-three: the third, the fifth, and the eighth.

Meanwhile, the game did not begin auspiciously for our offense, as we went down in order in the first.  We put two on base in the second, but three straight outs erased that threat.  We first got on board in the third: Shoppach got hit, Ellsbury doubled, and Pedroia walked on five pitches to load the bases.  Then we put up three straight scoring plays: Gonzalez singled, Youk hit a sac fly, and Papi singled.  It was small ball, but it was effective small ball.  McDonald re-loaded the bases by also walking on five pitches, but Ross ended the inning by grounding into a double play.  Still, that was three runs right there.

We added one in the fourth; Aviles began the inning by grounding out, but then Shoppach doubled and scored on a single by Ellsbury.  (Speaking of the fourth, Ross made a fantastic diving catch to prevent a base hit and secure the first out in the top of the inning.) We went down in order in the fifth again, and we had two baserunners again erased in the sixth and one erased in the seventh.

Now, at that point, the score was 4-1, and with the way Beckett was pitching, that lead alone would have held up fine.  Honestly, if that had remained the score, Bobby V. would have let Beckett stay in there and finish it up.  He’s a beast against the Rays; he’s got four wins and is undefeated in six starts with a 0.84 ERA going back to September 12, 2009.  As it turned out, Melancon came out to pitch the ninth.  He faced four batters.  Three of them represented outs, but between the first and second one was a solo shot to right on a 2-1 fastball.  Those two runs were the only runs that the Rays would have scored.  In plenty of other scenarios, which unfortunately we have seen first-hand this year, that may have cost us the game.  Fortunately, Melancon made that one isolated mistake and recovered.  So if we had only scored four runs, in this particular game we would’ve been fine.

But we didn’t only score four runs.  We exploded majorly in the eighth.  It was fantastic.  It was like a whole new team up there.  Almost every batter in that inning contributed to the run total in one way or another, and it was just a string of well-orchestrated scoring plays.  It really looked and felt like the team was playing like a team.

It all began with a pitching change; Joel Peralta replaced Wade Davis.  What a cold, cold greeting we gave him.  McDonald opened the inning with a very patient at-bat that concluded with a double.  Then Ross walked, and McDonald moved to third on a wild pitch.  Then Aviles walked to load the bases.  Then Shoppach doubled and scored two.  Then Sweeney singled and scored two.  Then Pedroia and Gonzalez singled back-to-back to reload the bases.  Then Youk singled and scored two.  Then Papi doubled and scored one.  Then McDonald got hit to reload the bases.  Then Ross hit a sac fly that scored one.  Then Aviles singled to reload the bases.  And then Shoppach and Sweeney provided the last two outs.  So, before Ross hit his sac fly, we sent ten men to the plate with nobody out in the inning, and our first out of the inning was still a scoring play.  We scored eight runs in the eighth inning alone.

We posted sixteen hits to their six.  We posted five extra-base hits to their three, even though ours were all doubles and they had a homer.  We left ten on base to their five, but – are you ready for this? – we went ten for seventeen with runners in scoring position to their 0 for 5.  Ten for seventeen.

Youk and Papi both went two for four, the latter with a double, and Gonzalez went two for three.  But the man of the hour, who went three for four with two doubles, was Kelly Shoppach.  Not bad for a catcher.  Not bad at all.  All told, we had five multi-hit games.

There was only one downside to the game, and unfortunately it was extremely significant.  Ellsbury went two for three but left in the bottom of the fourth with an injured right shoulder.  Right after his RBI single that inning, Pedroia grounded into a double play to end it, and Reid Brignac landed on the shoulder at second base after he threw to first.  Hard.  It looked bad; he grabbed it and stood up with some difficulty.  He walked off the field holding his arm pretty delicately.  Make no mistake, folks: this is a complete and total disaster in every conceivable way.  The incident quieted Fenway pretty quickly, and rightly so.  He was examined after the game, but there is no definite word yet on his condition; you can be sure, though, that he’ll be temporarily replaced for at least five or six weeks.

So the team does indeed start to celebrate Fenway’s one hundredth birthday with a win! It was a win for Fenway, a win for Red Sox Nation, and a win for the team, and we all badly needed it.  And so we should feel happy about that.  But we should also be aware of the fact that we hope we didn’t just trade in a win in the short term for a win in the long term; in other words, we hope that Ellsbury isn’t injured for the long term as a result of what occurred in this game.  Seriously.  This is an extremely, extremely big deal.

In other news, the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Bruins have officially begin, and on a high note at that.  We beat the Caps, 1-0! As I said, I’m really thinking repeat.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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Wow.  So much awesomeness in this game.  Where to start? The beginning.

Lackey.  Lackey picked up his fourth consecutive win.  He was shaky at first; I didn’t know if he would make it through.  In the first, he made a mistake; he gave up a three-run shot, and I was thinking back to our pathetic loss to open the series and how much I really did not want to see a repeat performance, ever.  But he settled down after that.  He allowed another home run in the fifth, a solo shot, but that was it for the rest of his night.

All told, he tossed five and two-thirds innings.  He gave up four runs on eleven hits, but only three of those runs were earned; Youk, who returned to the lineup a day ahead of schedule, made a fielding error, which never happens.  Just to be clear, I don’t think he made a fielding error because he returned to the lineup a day ahead of schedule.  Anyway, Lackey walked only one and struck out three.  Objectively, his start wasn’t great, but we’ll take anything we can get from him as long as he gets on the path to long-term consistent success.  With the two-seam, four-seam, and cutter working as well as they did last night, he should have no problem getting there, although his changeup, slider, and curveball may prove to be stumbling blocks; although they’re excellent, they need to hit their spots more consistently.  One mistake and you could have a night like the one Lackey just had where you allow two home runs.  Granted, one of those was on a fastball, but still.  Worth mentioning was his third inning: three up, three down, nine pitches.  Done.  Williams and Wheeler finished the game.  Nobody earned a save because, trust me, it was nowhere near a save situation.

The offense all began with back-to-back home runs by Ellsbury and Pedroia.  That was as good an indication as any of the explosive run barrage that was to follow.  Ellsbury hit his on the second pitch he saw last night.  It was a sinker, and he bounced it off the Pesky Pole.  It was a laser after Pedroia’s own heart.  He saw that ball as clear as day, and it got out in a hurry.  Pedroia, on the other hand, duked it out with Bruce Chen.  He hit his home run on his seventh pitch, an inside fastball.  Don was right; that ball had more than enough to get out of the park.  On Monday night, he was a homer shy of the cycle, and late in the game he actually almost hit one out.  So what does he do during his first time up last night? He hits one out beyond the shadow of a doubt.  It was a laser in every sense of the word.  To the Monster in a hurry.  Pedroia’s hitting streak now stands at twenty-four games, the longest of any Red Sox second baseman ever.

The bases were loaded for Ellsbury in the second.  Ellsbury walked, Pedroia hit a sac fly, and Gonzalez grounded out.  All of that brought in three more.

But we really blew the game wide open in the fourth.  McDonald doubled and scored on a single by Navarro.  Then Ellsbury grounded into a force out and stood at first.  Pedroia singled and Ellsbury tried to score but was thrown out at the plate.  Gonzalez and Youk then singled.  So the bases were loaded for Papi.

When the table is set, Big Papi knows how to feast.

It was the fifth pitch of the at-bat.  So far, Papi had received a fastball, two sinkers, and a slider.  The count was 3-1.  Chen dealt another slider belt-high.  And the ball ended up in the seats behind the bullpen.  Big Papi hit his tenth grand slam and batted in his thousandth run for Boston.  The only other players who have batted in a thousand runs for Boston are Yaz, Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dwight Evans, and Jim Rice; Papi now finds himself among the headiest company.  Think about it.  They spent their whole careers here; he’s reached that milestone in his ninth year.  That’s a big accomplishment.  And it was against a southpaw.  The ball was absolutely crushed.  He unleashed massive power and just skinned it.  Big Papi hit a grand slam.

Ellsbury and Pedroia led off the sixth with a double and a single, respectively, so Gonzalez brought in another run with a single.  The Royals picked up another run in the eighth, but Gonzalez got it back in the bottom of the inning with another RBI single.

McDonald and Navarro went two for four.  Gonzalez went three for five.  Ellsbury and Pedroia both went three for four.  Five extra-base hits: two doubles and three homers.

And that’s how we came to win, 12-5.  That, my friends, is how it’s done.

Grand Slam

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I can not believe we lost that game.  I seriously can not believe we lost that game.  That falls squarely on the shoulders of the bullpen.  The starter did his job by limiting the opposition and keeping us in it.  The offense did its job by scoring runs and putting us in a position to win.  All the bullpen had to do was record three outs.  Only three outs! And they couldn’t even do that! They imploded completely and managed to erase everything we’d worked for in the entire game in a single inning! And by “they,” I mean specifically Jonathan Papelbon.  He’s been pitching so well lately, but this one is on him.

The frustration that I experienced, and am still experiencing, is of epic proportions.  We had the sweep in line. We had it in the bag.  And the bullpen, pun intended, completely dropped the ball.

Lackey was superb.  He pitched eight full innings, gave up three runs on eight hits, walked one, and struck out four.  His efficiency was perhaps the best it’s been all season; he did all that on only ninety-eight pitches, sixty-six of which were strikes for a strike rate of about sixty-seven percent.  That’s very impressive.  So were all of his offspeed pitches; his cutter, his most frequently used pitch, was very on, as were his slider, curveball, and changeup.  His fastball was decent.  And he just cruised.  He threw seventeen pitches in the first, thirteen in the second, ten in the third, nine in the fourth, and never looked back.  He got into trouble in the fourth too; he had runners at the corners with nobody out and managed to escape with only one run and nine pitches because even that one run was scored while a first-pitch double play was made.  The exact same thing happened again in the sixth inning.  Like Buchholz, he was mowing right through the Blue Jays and making it look really easy.

Meanwhile, the offense was right behind him the whole way through.  Ellsbury led off the game with a single, Lowrie followed with a walk, a double steal moved both of them into scoring position, Ellsbury came home on a sac fly by V-Mart, and Lowrie came home on a single by Papi.

The fifth was a flashback to Wednesday’s heroics.  Lowrie and Papi both went deep.  Lowrie had us fooled the whole way.  He lifted a high changeup, and it just kept lifting until it got out, but off the bat it didn’t look at all like it had enough to get out.  That’s his first homer of the season, and, landing in the center field seats, it was very powerfully hit.  There was no question about Papi’s homer.  That left the bat and you knew it was headed straight for the bullpen.  It was a changeup again.  No wonder Mills was chased.

That was Papi’s twenty-fifth home run of the season, giving him seven consecutive such seasons, which ties Jim Rice for second in the franchise.  Ted Williams is of course first with fourteen.  Double that.  Ted Williams was the greatest hitter who ever lived.

In the eighth, McDonald tripled in Saltalamacchia.  By the way, Salty did very well in his debut; he finished the day two for four with two doubles and handled Lackey very nicely.

Lackey didn’t even leave the ballgame until the ninth inning when, in search of his first complete game of the season, he led it off by allowing a home run.  But life was good.  We had a 5-3 lead, we were in the ninth inning, and we were handing that lead over to a bullpen that had recently handled much smaller leads against much tougher opponents.  What could possibly go wrong? Plenty.  Too much.  Way too much.

After Lackey left, Paps took the ball as is customary.  But his appearance would prove to be anything but customary en route to blowing his sixth save this season in thirty-five opportunities.  It was because he left all of his pitches up.  That’ll do it every time.  You absolutely can not throw lethargic pitches and then leave them up with the game on the line.  That is a complete recipe for disaster.

The first batter that Paps faced doubled.  An RBI single followed.  Then came a grounder off Paps’s left foot that bounced away, and Paps had no idea where it was, and the runners took the  corners with nobody out.

But this time, there would be no first-pitch double play.  Paps struck out Snider, but that was merely setting up false hope.  The very next batter hit an RBI double to tie the game.  Then, with runners on second and third, Paps intentionally walked Overbay.  Then he promptly handed the ball to Bard with one out and the bases loaded.

To review, Jonathan Papelbon, our closer, not only blew the save and took the loss, but he left in the ninth inning, with the bases loaded, and the game tied, and handed the ball to the setup man.  I mean, what? Never before in his entire career has Paps walked off the mound in the ninth in a tie.

Unfortunately, it didn’t stay tied for long.  Lewis hit a sac fly for the walkoff.  And that was the only time the Jays enjoyed a lead in the entire series.  But that’s a bad time for the Jays to enjoy a lead because that lead was permanent.  And I refuse to say that Bard entered an impossible situation because he has entered that situation before, and in New York no less, and gotten out of it.

A win would have swept Toronto.  A win would have cut our deficit in the Wild Card standings.  A win would have kept pace with New York.  And we had that win.  But then we didn’t win.  We lost.  We lost the day before we start a three-game set with the Rangers.  One thing’s for sure: we absolutely can not afford to have this win slow us down.  We can’t.  Not when we’re facing the Rangers for three games on the road before a day off and a homestand. We absolutely can not.  Tonight is yet another must-win, and it is essential that we get it back together and win us a ballgame.  Beckett’s got it.

Getty Images

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All I can say is, “Finally.” I was beginning to forget what scoring runs looked like and what winning felt like.  Thankfully, the team reminded me just in the nick of time.  Whew.  That was close.

In fact, the game pretty much went to the other extreme.  A final score of 6-3 doesn’t indicate a slugfest (it actually should have been 7-3 because Drew did score on that wild pitch in the ninth; his foot clearly slid into the bag before the tag), but four of the six scoring plays in the game were home runs, and two of them were ours.

Wait; what? We can hit home runs? Who knew?

Yes we can, and by we I mean Big Papi, who pretty much ran the show last night.  He hit both of ours.  A solo shot in the third on the first pitch of his at-bat, an eighty-one mile-per-hour slider down and in with two outs in the inning that he sent past the foul pole in right field.  And then a two-run shot in the eighth on a full-count fastball with one out all the way out to deep left field.  I knew that ball was going out the minute I heard the crack of the bat.  Those were his twentieth and twenty-first homers.  It was his thirty-fifth multihomer game, tied with Jim Rice for second all-time; Ted Williams leads with thirty-seven.  And it is now his eighth consecutive twenty-homer season with us.

So this would be the second time in our last twelve games that we scored at least four runs, and it felt good.  It felt really good.  For the first time in almost two weeks, the pitching staff had some room to work.  Unfortunately that ended up coming in handy because Atchison gave up two.

Papi’s timely picking up where he left off at the Home Run Derby was bookended by V-Mart’s RBI single in the second and Drew’s two-RBI double in the ninth, also on a full-count fastball.  V-Mart’s RBI was scored by Beltre after he hit a triple that barely evaded Hunter.  After he scored, Lowrie’s double put runners on second and third with nobody out, but again with the missed opportunity.  Fortunately, that didn’t come back to haunt us this time.

We had three multihit games last night: Youk went three for five with a steal, Papi obviously went two for four, and Beltre went two for three.

And Paps chose an excellent night on which to record a save.  Bard was unavailable, but Paps converted his first four-out save opportunity of the season.

But if V-Mart set the tone for the offense, Buchholz set the tone for the pitching.  And picked up the win for his services.  He tossed a full seven innings, gave up one run on five hits walked one, and struck out seven.  He threw 115 pitches, most of which were fastballs and sliders.  But he also mixed in his curveball and deadly changeup.  All four of the pitches he used were very effective in every category you can think of: speed, variation, movement, and strike potential.  He picked up seven swinging strikes with his changeup, six with his slider, and one with his curveball.  He threw twenty-four pitches in the second when he found himself with the bases loaded and nobody out and somehow managed to escape completely unscathed.  And then he only threw seven pitches in the fifth, six of which were strikes.  So he’s now eleven and five with an ERA down to 2.71.  Wow.  At this point, is there any member of our starting rotation who either isn’t an ace or doesn’t have ace potential? I honestly don’t think so.

Now that the starting rotation is on its feet, our offense needs to follow suit.  Tonight was a step in the right direction.  Speaking of which Pedroia and Ellsbury are both making strides in their recoveries, which is obviously good.  So in light of last night’s incredibly positive results, I would just like to suggest to the rest of the league that they shouldn’t get too comfortable with the way the AL East looks now.  It’s so easy for us to find ways to score runs.  The trick, of course, is actually stringing hits together and plating people.  So the problem isn’t our ability to score runs; it’s starting to use that ability.  Once the offense actually gets the ball rolling, pun intended, I would definitely recommend watching out.

AP Photo

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