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Posts Tagged ‘Joe Girardi’

Let’s talk about A-Rod for a moment, shall we? And, you know, the fact that, somehow, the rules have allowed him to still play while he appeals a suspension for drugs, among other things.  It’s just ridiculous.  He’s appealing the suspension, and as a result he can still play.  Even though he was suspended.  Ridiculous.  Absolutely ridiculous.  He first came to bat when he led off the second, and Dempster was not about to fool around.  He threw four four-seam fastballs.  The first one was low, and the second and third were both inside.  So A-Rod had a 3-0 count when Dempster hit him in the back.  A-Rod took first, slowly I might add, and home plate umpire Brian O’Nora warned both teams.  When Joe Girardi realized that Dempster wasn’t getting ejected, he himself was after he threw his hat on the ground and made his displeasure known.  But the truth of the matter is that ballplayers the league over don’t understand why A-Rod is playing.  And fans the league over don’t understand why A-Rod is playing.  And it’s entirely possible that umpires the league over don’t understand why A-Rod is playing either.  All Dempster really did was let him know it.

Unfortunately for us, it kind of backfired.  Dempster then gave up a double, an RBI single, and a successful sac fly.  In the third, he gave up two consecutive singles, a lineout, and a groundout that scored one run.  But it was really the sixth inning that did us in for sure.  The Evil Empire scored four runs that inning, and without that inning, we would have won, all else being equal.  The inning began when who but A-Rod hit a solo shot.  After a groundout, Dempster gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases.  Britton came on and didn’t give up a grand slam.  But he did give up the next-worse thing: a bases-clearing triple.

Until the sixth inning, we were in the lead by three.  Ellsbury walked to lead off the first, Victorino singled, Pedroia flied out, and Papi walked to load the bases.  Then Ellsbury scored on a sac fly by Gomes and Victorino scored on a single by Salty.  We went down in order in the second, but Victorino doubled and scored on a groundout by Papi.  Salty doubled to lead off the fourth and scored on a sac fly by Drew, and Middlebrooks unloaded on the second pitch of his at-bat and sent it all the way beyond the right field fence.  It was huge.  And it was fast; that ball just rocketed out of the park.

Victorino grounded out to lead off the fifth, but then Pedroia singled, Papi doubled, Gomes popped out, and Salty walked intentionally.  And then we scored a run in what is probably one of the more embarrassing methods for an opposing pitcher.  Nava walked with the bases loaded.  It was awesome.

With one on and two out in the seventh, Workman was replaced by Morales, who gave up an RBI single.  Morales and Tazawa both pitched the eighth, and De La Rosa hit a batter to lead off the ninth, which later turned into a run on a single.

So we went from leading by three to losing by three; the final score was 9-6.

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Beckett’s performance was an unpleasant surprise.  I have to say that I expected more from him.  It’s yet another example of an ace having a bad day that would be most pitchers’ good days.  But it’s Beckett, and both he and we expect more.

He pitched a full seven innings and scattered six hits.  He posted eight K’s and threw seventy-two strikes.  His highest inning pitch count was twenty-two in the sixth, and he followed that with his lowest of nine in the seventh.  Not coincidentally, he gave up all but one of his runs in the sixth, including his unearned run, for which you can thank Reddick and his fielding error.

But he walked three, he gave up four earned runs and five total, and he threw 112 pitches.  All but one of his pitches were excellent.  His fastball, cutter, and changeup were formidable.  He put up high and low velocities, hit his spots, and varied his speeds.  His curveball, on the other hand, was a relative disaster.  Comparatively speaking, it was just missing.  He threw it for a strike less than half the time.

Although Beckett’s line was similar to Lackey’s on Tuesday, there was one important glaring difference: Beckett got a win, because the lineup gave him some run support.  Finally! Which means, of course, that Beckett is undefeated against the Yanks this year and, by the way, we beat them.  Which is always the right and proper thing to do.

The Yankees had a one-run lead after Beckett allowed his first run in the third.  That lead didn’t last long.  In the bottom of the inning, Scutaro scored on a groundout by Pedroia, and Ellsbury scored on a single by Lowrie, who made Joe Girardi pay for deciding to intentionally walk Papi.  Clearly that was a terrible judgment call.

In the fifth, Papi unleashed for a massive two-run shot to center on a fastball.  It was very straightforward; it was just a straight shot over pretty much everything.

Then the Yankees did some damage in the sixth.  We retaliated in the bottom of the inning.  Reddick scored on a double by Tek, who scored when Ellsbury unleashed for a massive two-run shot of his own to left center field, also on a fastball.  And he planted it into the Monster seats for the first time in his career.  Off of a southpaw.  It was a textbook example of exactly what you’re supposed to do at the plate: be patient, get ahead in the count, make the pitcher throw you something sweet that you can hit, and then just hit it.

I think Tek thought that that really looked like a lot of fun, because he did the exact same thing in the eighth with Reddick to right center field, also on a fastball, this one the first pitch of the at-bat.  He put it into the bullpen.

Bard delivered a scoreless eighth.  Paps delivered a scoreless ninth, for which he was denied a save thanks to Tek’s home run.  I don’t think anyone is complaining.  The final score was 9-5.  Ellsbury and Pedroia both went two for five; Tek went two for four and has had some truly productive games lately.

Obviously one of the most important takeaways from this game is not just that we won but also that we beat the Evil Empire.  Clearly a far cry from our performance on Tuesday.  We sure made them pay for giving us scoring opportunities this time.  We left only five on base and went three for ten with runners in scoring position.  Oh, and did I mention that we won? Because we did.  In a slugfest, too.  That felt good.

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Watching Lester work recently has really been painful.  It gets better every time he goes out there, but you can just tell that he’s laboring with every pitch.  There are no health reports that would suggest that there’s anything physically wrong with him.  For whatever reason, things aren’t coming easily.  There are times when watching his cut fastball whiz by a hitter staring in disbelief as it slices the air in front of him is a thing of beauty.  But these days are not one of those times.  These days, Lester is lucky if he gets through five innings with minimal damage.  These days are daily grinds.  Stretches like this occur in the career of every pitcher, but watching an ace go through it is just sad.

In light of that, we were going to take whatever we could get from Lester.  Fortunately, he managed to deliver just enough to get us through.  Which of course was made all the more satisfying by the fact that we were playing the Evil Empire.  (In case you haven’t noticed, most positives of the game are more satisfying when playing the Evil Empire.)

Lester fired off 112 pitches over six innings; one positive that may result from this stretch is increased stamina and durability since he’s throwing a ton of pitches every time he goes out there.  He allowed three runs on eight hits while walking one and striking out five with the help of sixty-six strikes overall.  He didn’t give up any home runs; he just generally doesn’t have as much life on his cut fastball as he does when he’s more effective.  And that means that he misses spots and provides opportunities for constructive contact.  It’s not like he made one big mistake that allowed a hitter to go yard; he just made several small mistakes that resulted in quite a bit of hits.  That and he was inefficient.  He threw thirty-three pitches in the first inning alone and hit two batters but gave up only one run.  His best inning, hands-down, was obviously the third, when he secured all three outs using only six pitches, four for strikes.  That was thanks in part to Drew’s phenomenal leaping catch to end the inning.  Now that’s efficiency.  I guess those two innings balance out.  But the bottom line is that, while this outing obviously could have been much, much worse, it sure wasn’t his best.  You could say that the mark of a true ace is to go through stretches like this and still get wins.  And that’s what Lester did last night.  The final score was 6-4.  He’s won his last five starts against New York, our only pitcher to do that since Reggie Cleveland did it in the 1970s.  He’s won his last four starts against New York in New York, our only pitcher to do that since Roger Clemens did it in the 1980s.

It was a fun game.  Obviously beating the Yankees is always fun, but it was also just good baseball.  Ellsbury led off the series with a solo shot on a hanging breaking ball that would’ve been a ball had he left it alone.  Instead, it ended up in the seats in right field, and Ellsbury ended up crossing the plate.  It was his fourth leadoff homer and first since 2008.  I would say that’s the ideal way to start a series.

The fun continued with a five-pitch walk to Pedroia, followed by a triple by Gonzalez to bring him in and a sac fly by Youk to bring Gonzalez in.  Salty walked to lead off the second and scored on a double by Pedroia.  Nobody scored again until the fifth, which Gonzalez led off with an intentional walk.  Goodbye, Freddy Garcia.  Then Papi said hello to Luis Ayala by unleashing on a fastball and planted it in right field as well.  He just uncorked a massive swing on it like it was no big deal.  He just brought that bat all the way around and tossed it away like it was a toothpick.  There was no doubt the minute that ball left the bat that it was going out.  Joe Girardi took issue with Papi’s post-swing bat flip, but he’s a slugger, and that’s just what sluggers do.

The Yanks got two back in the fifth.  Jenks reinjured himself in the seventh; he did something to his back on his fourth pitch of the night and is day-to-day.  Albers came in for the rest of the seventh, and Bard came in for the eighth.  Paps allowed a run in the ninth, at which point I started to feel really uneasy about the fact that Ellsbury ended the top of the ninth by trying to stretch a double into a triple, but he held on for his two hundredth save.  And it’s only taken him 359 appearances to get there.  He has reached that milestone faster than anyone history.

Other thing worthy of note are the fact that Paps is appealing a three-game suspension he received for his conduct during Saturday’s game (which means that he’ll be able to pitch in this series), Scutaro is back from the DL and Lowrie’s shoulder is hurt, and Buchholz will pitch Friday instead of today due to a sore back, which has apparently been a problem for the entire season so far.  And last but not least, Papi was the American League’s Player of the Week.  During that week, he batted .545 with four doubles, two homers, and six RBIs.  Crawford had won the honor the previous week.

We are now tied with them for first place.  That’s why this series is huge.  We want to beat the Yankees whenever we can and preferably as frequently as possible, but now would definitely be the time to do it.  This series could put us in sole possession of first place definitively.

In other news, the Bruins decimated the Canucks, 8-1.  We scored four goals in the second period and four more in the third, and Tim Thomas made forty spectacular saves.  The terrible news is that Nathan Horton is out for the rest of the playoffs due to a severe concussion he received in the first period from Aaron Rome, who deserved every second of his five-minute major, game misconduct, and longest suspension in Stanley Cup finals history.

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Things did not start out too well for either pitcher.  We threatened in the first; Ellsbury was hit by a pitch and Pedroia singled.  (Despite the fact that Ellsbury has taken some bumps and bruises lately, he’s still fine.) Then CC Sabathia put up three consecutive swinging strikes.  Similarly, Beckett allowed two consecutive singles before securing two swinging strikes and a groundout.

Both Sabathia and Beckett settled down after that; nobody scored until the fifth.  With the bases loaded, Ellsbury smacked a double that brought in two.  That was it until the seventh, when we put up a four-spot.  Cameron led off the inning with a walk and scored on a single by Tek.  Two batters later, Pedroia singled and Gonzalez walloped a massive three-run shot into the seats behind the bullpen in right field.  It was a high fastball, and he had that ball’s number right from the beginning.  It was a blast to watch, both literally and figuratively.  He assumed his stance earlier, so he had more space over the plate.  By doing so, he had more room on the inside, which mean that Sabathia couldn’t pitch inside, which he had been wont to do with lefties.  Gonzalez has now hit five home runs in four consecutive games.  His longest home run streak, which he two years ago today, is five.  Coincidence? I think not.  It was his ninth of the season and eighth this month.  Even with two out, that pitch never stood a chance.  He is just on fire.  Right now, I would say he’s probably the hitter to beat in all of Major League Baseball.  You would never have known it from his two at-bats before that, but he smoked that ball all the way.

And that was the final score right there.  6-0.  We win.  Ellsbury went two for four; Pedroia went three for four with a steal.  Joe Girardi was ejected, and Jorge Posada took a mental health day that may or may not have coincided with a bad back day yesterday.  He claimed it had nothing to do with the fact that he was dropped to the number nine spot.  Oh, the drama.

So obviously the other really awesome part of the game was that zero.  Beckett was phenomenal.  Six shutout innings.  Four hits, two walks, nine strikeouts.  (Incidentally, he also struck out nine during the complete game he pitched in the 2003 World Series, also against the Yankees.  Coincidence? I think not.) 105 pitches, sixty-five for strikes.  He wasn’t able to use the two-seam as effectively as he wanted to, especially against lefties, but he worked a filthy changeup, and his cutter and four-seam were comparably unhittable.  He even threw in some nasty curveballs.  But that changeup and that cutter were just absolutely filthy.  He may have thrown twenty-one pitches in his first inning, but he threw only nine in his last.

As I said, he notched two K’s in the first, the last of which was a three-pitch strikeout of Robinson Cano put away with the changeup.  His second inning was one-two-three but he didn’t strike out anybody.  He notched two more swinging strikeouts in the third to open and end the inning, both ending with cutters.  The fourth was also one-two-three and featured back-to-back K’s, the first a swing and a miss on a cutter and the second a called strikeout on a cutter.  The fifth opened and ended with two five-pitch swinging strikeouts, the first on the curveball and the second on the changeup.  The sixth was one-two-three and began when A-Rod struck out on a cutter.  Beckett just mowed through the lineup.  He was dominant.  He was not somebody you wanted to mess with.  The Yankee lineup didn’t mess with him.  He got the win.  The only complaint anyone could possibly have with his outing is that he was slightly inefficient; had his work been more streamlined, he could have pitched at least another inning.  But in his two starts against New York this year, he has pitched fourteen shutout innings, given up only six hits, and struck out nineteen batters.  In general, he is currently nursing a shutout streak of eighteen and a third innings.  And his ERA is 1.75.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Albers pitched the seventh and eighth.  Hill pitched the ninth.  Done.

That was awesome.  It was just awesome.  We did everything the Yankees didn’t.  We manufactured runs.  We hit for power.  We also just out-pitched them completely.  So it’s pretty simple.  The worst we can do now is win the series.  But obviously what we really want to do is sweep.  The way the pitching matchups worked out, I’d say that’s a good possibility.

In other news, the Bruins dropped the first game of the series with the Lightning, 5-2.  Ouch.

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Turns out it wasn’t too much to ask after all.

Home.  Home is where the heart is.  Home is also where the wins are.  Yesterday was the first day of the rest of our 2011 baseball lives.

The Opening Ceremonies, as always, were very well done.  From the team introductions to the national anthem to the F16 flyover to paying respects to Lou Gorman to watching Yaz throw out the first pitch, it really gave you a sense of how far our storied team has come, and it reminded you of why we love this game and this team in the first place.  It really did feel like we started the season yesterday and every game we played before that was still part of Spring Training.  By the way, we have won every game before which Yaz has thrown out the first pitch.  So maybe that’s something to keep in mind if we have another losing streak.  Either way, before the game even started, you could smell the win in the air.

We completed the Year X Improvements project this winter.  Offseason additions to the park include expanded concessions and souvenir options, three Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Vision high definition LED screens, more concourse TVS, a new ticket booth at Gate D, and general repairs in the seating area.  All of the construction and repairs were green, using recycled materials and such.  The bad news? One of the LED screens, which is absolutely huge, replaced the John Hancock jumbotron in center field.  That jumbotron may have been old, but that’s where multiple generations of Red Sox fans looked when they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.  That jumbotron projected a world of badness and a world of greatness.  I guess the only solution is to inaugurate the new one with a World Series win.  I have to say that everything looks fantastic.  Major improvements have been made during the offseason for the last ten years, and yet every year it looks like nothing has changed at all.  They’ve done a brilliant job working with the park and integrating everything.  It looks awesome.

We entered the game after having made some changes.  Matt Albers is on the fifteen-day DL with a strained right lat muscle, so we recalled Alfredo Aceves.  We also designated Reyes for assignment and activated Felix Doubront.  We batted Crawford in leadoff, moved everyone up, and inserted Ellsbury into the eighth spot in the lineup.

So then the game starts.  Lackey’s first pitch was a strike to Brett Gardner in an at-bat that quickly turned into a leadoff walk.  And you could just tell that he wasn’t on.  Sure enough, with two out in the first, A-Rod walked, and when Cano doubled to center field, two runs were in.  The Evil Empire would score a run in each of the next four innings until Lackey was removed.  He failed to hold a single lead.

So he pitched five innings, gave up six runs on seven hits, walked two, and struck out two.  He gave up a home run to A-Rod of all people.  He threw ninety-one pitches, fifty-one for strikes.  He threw mostly curveballs and cutters, the former being more effective than the latter.  He threw all of his off-speed pitches for strikes at least fifty percent of the time.  His cut fastball was particularly nasty, topping out at ninety-four miles per hour.  But his straight-up fastballs were not effective.  Luckily, he got in on their hands and pitched inside, and he kept his per-inning pitch counts low, going up to twenty-two in the first and again in the fourth at the highest.  His last inning was also his best; he threw twelve pitches, eight for strikes.

Pedroia, as he is wont to do, got the entire team going.  He smacked a huge solo shot into the first two rows of the Monster about ten feet to the right of the Fisk pole in the first inning, cutting our deficit in half.  It was a curveball that didn’t curve.  He literally swung that bat with his entire body.  He did whatever it took to get that ball out, and Red Sox Nation sighed in relief as one.  After a losing streak like ours to begin the season, the longer you go without some sort of definitive offensive display, the harder it is to get one going.  I knew going into this game that if we didn’t do something, anything, early, it would be that much more difficult to do it in the later innings.  That home run was exactly what we needed.

After the Yankees tied it back up, we let loose with our best and biggest inning of the season to date.  Five runs in the second.  We tied our highest run total for an entire game so far in that single frame.  I was so unused to seeing hits being strung together, I almost felt like I was witnessing some sort of mythical feat.  Scutaro grounded into a fielder’s choice that scored one run.  Pedroia singled in two more and moved to second on a fielding error.  Gonzalez singled him in.  And Papi singled him in.  What you just witnessed was our first run manufacture of 2011.  And that, my friends, was the end of Phil Hughes.

Bartolo Colon came on after that and shut us down until the seventh.  By that time, the Yankees had tied the game.  And who should come through but Salty, who doubled in Youk after Papi failed to be called out thanks to another fielding error, and that established a lead that would stand permanently.

After that, Girardi lifted Colon in favor of Boone Logan because Papi and Drew, back-to-back lefties, were coming up.  In a fine display of hitting and reassurance that our lefty-heavy lineup can’t be shut down by a simple call to the bullpen, it made absolutely no difference.  They both came through.  Drew ended up singling in Gonzalez and Papi.

Where Lackey failed, the bullpen didn’t.  Our relievers shut down the Yanks for the last four innings.  We had one effective shutout frame each, each worth a hold, from Aceves, Jenks, and even Bard.  Bard and Paps each threw eleven pitches, eight for strikes.  Paps registered his first save of the season in the ninth.  They mowed them down like grass, overgrown and overblown.

In total, we amassed twelve hits.  Double digits.  Five members of our lineup had multi-hit games; Salty, Drew, and Papi each went two for four while Gonzalez went two for five and Pedroia, the man of the hour, went three for five.  We left six on base and went six for ten with runners in scoring position, which means that we put runners in scoring position and then brought them home.  The best part? We scored nine runs.  Nine to their six.  That’s what it feels like to have the offense back the pitcher.  That’s what it feels like to score a sufficient amount of runs in order to deal with it if the pitcher has an off day.  Cue “Dirty Water.” Ladies and gentlemen, we are now one and six!

This was our hundredth home opener, and we have now won seven straight.  With the frustrating exception of Lackey, we were absolutely brilliant in every way.  The hitters were hitting.  The fielders were fielding.  (With the second frustrating exception being Crawford, who at one point looked just sad when he couldn’t have been in a worse position to play a ball off the Monster.  I can understand that; it’s his first season, and he has to get used to it.  It’s not an easy left field to play.  It’s just that historically, even as an opponent on a visiting team, he’s always played the wall well.  I was surprised.) And the relievers were relieving.  Hopefully tomorrow the starter will be starting.

Make no mistake, folks: you just witnessed one of the most satisfying wins we’re going to have this year.  I repeat: yesterday was the first day of the rest of our 2011 baseball lives.

One other thing.  Manny Ramirez announced his retirement today.  It came after he was told of “an issue” that came up under Major League Baseball’s drug policy.  This is not difficult to figure out.  He tested positive four years after testing went into effect, was suspended for fifty games, cleaned up, came back, and comparatively speaking he pretty much failed as a hitter.  Lately he’s been reduced to being happy with singles.  We’re talking a drop in average as well as on-base percentage of upwards of a hundred points.  Recently, he failed another drug test; the suspension for a second transgression doubles, so it would be a hundred games, which is two-thirds of a season.  Not wanting to deal with that suspension, he retired instead.  That’s why it’s always good when a baseball player knows when it’s time to call it quits in every sense.  He did wonderful things when he was here in Boston, but we were on the receiving end of some pretty bad ugliness from him as well.  He was often funny but never easy.  It’s just sad that rather than recognizing when his time was up, he felt so compelled to follow such a course of action.  When Curt Schilling started to age, he prolonged his career by converting power to finesse in an incredible show of integrity, strength, and discipline.  Manny Ramirez was known throughout baseball for his intense work ethic but inconsistent-at-best personality.  Since he first failed four years after testing went into effect, and during those years he still posted numbers worthy of the Hall of Fame, he probably eventually saw the beginnings of a decline due to age and wanted to try to avoid it the bad way.  He thought he could play the game by his own rules but got caught when those rules were at odds with everyone else’s.  For now that’s all we know, and we’ll just have to wait and see what else happens.  Thanks for good memories, good times, and good laughs, Manny.  We’ll remember you as you were.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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No need for introductions today.  The circumstances of the game say it all.  That and I can’t really describe verbally the sensation of being trampled that I am currently experiencing.  Needless to say, today’s headline is obviously the understatement of the century.

There was nothing more we could have asked of Dice-K.  The contrast between last night and his seven previous starts was so stark that I thought we were looking at a different pitcher entirely.  In his seven previous starts, he allowed at least four runs in each, the second-longest streak like that in the Major Leagues this season and the longest by one of our starters since 1943.  But last night Dice-K went in there and delivered just about the best start he could possibly have delivered.  Eight innings, two runs on four hits, a walk, and seven strikeouts on 110 pitches, sixty-nine for strikes.

Through seven, he faced the minimum plus one.  He made only one mistake: an 0-2 cutter that didn’t do much and ended up out of the park.  Other than that, he was spotless.  He used the first inning to establish a solid fastball, and he mixed in a formidable cutter and curveball after that.  He even added a very effective slider and changeup.  It was remarkable.  His release point was tight, and he went after hitters.  Very easily one of his top five outings this year.

So Dice-K did his job.  And the offense did its job as best it could.  Again, I feel  compelled to mention the staggering fact that this year alone we’ve had nineteen guys on the DL, nine of whom were former or current All-Stars.  V-Mart singled in Hall in the eighth.  That one run held until Dice-K’s mistake in the seventh gave the Yankees a one-run lead, and the despair was setting in.  Rivera came on for a four-out save.  We were down to the ninth with our last chance.  And that was when we proceeded to steal four bases, providing Rivera with a new career high.  Kalish and Hall both stole twice.  Granted, some of those were the result of fielder indifference, but still.

With one out, Kalish singled, stole second, and stole third.  They brought the infield in, and Hall hit one over everybody to score Kalish.  Then Hall stole second and third and scored on Lowell’s sac fly.  Just like that, we had ourselves another one-run lead.  And I’m thinking we got this.

But then Paps came on and was just as porous.  Two singles and a full-count walk loaded the bases, and a single tied it up and re-loaded the bases.  Yet another blown save.  His ERA over his previous six appearances was 14.21.  And home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi was not helpful.  I’ve always said that if an umpire wants to influence the action of a game that much, he should suit up and play, but if he’s content with being an umpire, he should just umpire and that’s it.

When Okajima came out to handle the bottom of the tenth, it became very obvious that this game smacked of the taste of October.  It was windy, it was rainy, it was nailbitingly close, and the odds say that it will be our only taste of the thrill of the postseason this year.  One more loss or Yankees win and we are officially out.

Okajima made things go very quickly from bad to worse.  A single, a bunt, and an intentional walk loaded the bases.  Okajima walked in the walkoff run.  It wasn’t even remotely close.  It was utterly humiliating and severely painful.  I’m telling you, there is a wide variety of methods to win via the walkoff.  The bases-loaded walk is one of them.  And of all those methods, the bases-loaded walk is the absolute worst, hands down.  On top of that, consider the circumstances of this particular bases-loaded walk and basically you’ve hit the jackpot in the most negative sense.

It was one of the season’s longest nights, both literally and figuratively.  Dice-K isn’t the fastest pitcher in the world, but he actually did alright.  We finished ten innings in almost exactly four hours.  Hey, like I said, at least we got some October-style thrills and chills.  We can be proud of the fact that we completely owned the Yankees in the first two games of the series; winning a series in the Bronx is definitely something to celebrate.  We made Girardi scratch Dustin Moseley and go with Hughes because he was afraid of us.  And we can take pride in the fact that we’re still going to show up and play tomorrow.  We have only seven games left in the regular season and a long winter ahead.  Let’s soak it all in while we can.

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Wow.  Okay.  Where do I start? The beginning.  Sometimes the end result isn’t nearly as significant as the road to get there.  Then again, sometimes they’re equally significant but you have to start from the beginning anyway because if you don’t you’ll just jump right to the good part and the whole discussion will be a mess.

The most important thing to keep in mind here is that this win was tremendous.  It was tremendous because it was a win and we needed a win for the standings and for our morale.  But it was also tremendous because this win required a relentless, night-long effort.  We couldn’t have afforded to give up even once, even for a second.  And we didn’t.  And it paid off.  We ground it out and were rewarded for our efforts.  (Just like we would’ve been for the previous two nights as well had the bullpen not completely ruined everything, but that’s not the point.) The spirit of this win reveals a very valuable quality embodied by this team: the spirit of never say die.  This team absolutely refuses to let go.  We may be off to our worst start of the decade this season, but nobody can say we haven’t been trying to dig ourselves out.  I like the fight of this team.  This win shows that, when we dig ourselves out of this hole, we are going to be one seriously difficult team to beat.

Now down to business.

So.  Beckett.  Beckett wasn’t good.  He left after recording two outs in the fifth.  He allowed five runs on five hits, only three of which were earned, and you can thank Marco Scutaro, who channeled Julio Lugo’s spirit, and his two fielding errors for the two unearned runs.  The first one was just a complete miss of a sure-fire double play that probably would’ve saved a few important runs.  The ball never got off the ground.  The second occurred in the ninth, which we’ll talk about later.

Beckett walked three and struck out one.  He allowed a solo shot in the fourth.  He threw mostly two-seams and a fair amount of changeups with some cutters, curveballs, and four-seams thrown in.  His cutter and four-seam were his most effective pitches; the rest of his pitches weren’t thrown for strikes very often.  Indeed, he fired 101 pitches and almost an equal number of balls and strikes.  He threw at least fourteen pitches in each of his innings; that minimum was good enough to get out of the first, which was his only one-two-three inning as well as his most effective.  Everything pretty much went downhill from there.  He fired a game high of twenty-seven in fifth before he left, or in other words, in an inning he didn’t even complete.

His strike zone was very clearly shifted downward.   By that I mean that he did throw in a concentrated area, but that area extended downward beyond the strike zone and ignored the top of it.  The amount of balls he threw down and to the sides in the bottom half of the zone were concentrated enough that it actually looks like he somehow redefined the zone for himself to include those areas.  That would explain the three walks in almost five innings as well as the low strike rate of most of his pitches.  Also, he just didn’t throw as hard as we know he can.  He barely topped out at ninety-three miles per hour even though we’re all well aware of the fact that he can easily throw at least ninety-five.

Fortunately, we may have an answer as to why Beckett’s been funky lately.  He left the game with back tightness.  He missed his previous start with back spasms.  Coincidence? I think not.  I also don’t think the weather helped any.  The weather was terrible.  It was raining, it was windy, and it was just a raw day.  The mound was disgusting.  The start of the game was delayed by about an hour.  But I hope this isn’t a repeat of a few years ago when his back made him awful for the entire year.  Here’s a man who needs to thank the bullpen profusely for pulling him through.

Meanwhile, after Beckett left, as a pathetic last-ditch effort, Joe Girardi declared that the Yankees would continue to play under protest, claiming that Beckett wasn’t really injured and that we called the bullpen before we removed him.  But because Beckett obviously was injured, walking off the mound with assistant trainer Greg Barajas, the umpires game Delcarmen as much time as he needed to get loose.  Girardi was annoyed that Delcarmen got all the time he needed instead of the usual eight pitches allowed.  If you ask me, he’s just whining.  Girardi knew the mound was bad because Sabathia had it fixed when he went out there.

Delcarmen finished the fifth and recorded an out in the sixth, somehow working around three walks.  Okajima picked up a hit and a walk while striking out two.  Bard recorded the last out of the eighth and ended up with the win.

The offense didn’t kick in until the sixth inning, after which point, with the exception of the bottom of the ninth, we owned and proceeded to claw our way out of a five-run deficit.  Youk started it off right with a home run to left field.  Coming into the game, Youk was batting .381 against Sabathia and now has a homer against him to his credit.  Fastball down and in and it was out.

But we really took off in the eighth, when we scored four runs against Joba Chamberlain.  Scutaro reached on A-Rod’s throwing error and scored on Drew’s opposite-field double.  Youk tapped a bloop single with the middle of his bat to right that scored two.  That brought us within a run, and Papi tied it with a powerful RBI single on a slider off the wall in right-center field.  The ball was hit so hard and looked so much like a home run that Papi essentially pulled a Manny Ramirez and watched it go.  That hesitation was what caused him to be out at second; had he hustled from the plate immediately, he would’ve had second easily.  Pedroia did tell him not to stretch it, but did he listen? No.  He learned a lesson for next time.

But let’s concentrate on the fact that he got a hit with runners on base against Sabathia, because Papi and Sabathia are both lefties and, as a result, Papi traditionally would’ve sat out.  The fact that he started the game at DH tells you that his bat is just on fire and Tito trusted him to get the job done against a tough southpaw.  Tito turned out to be right, as he often is.  Sabathia has been tougher on righties lately, and Papi in the past has been able to read him well.  So as if you needed even more proof that Papi is his old self again, that was it.  But that has obvious implications for Mike Lowell, who expressed ample frustration before the game to the media about his lack of playing time and had an animated conversation with Tito in the dugout probably concerning that as well.  Lowell explicitly stated that there’s no place for him on this team anymore, that because he’s not playing, he’s just taking up a roster spot that could be filled by someone else, and that maybe the team would be better off without him.  If you ask me, I think that, at this point, it’s him who’d be better off without the team.  Let’s face it: Lowell was guaranteed a spot in the lineup opposite every lefty we faced, but only as long as Papi was slumping.  Now, Papi is no longer slumping, and Cameron and Ellsbury very close to coming off the DL.  Once they return, the reserves that have been replacing them will need playing time, which could come in the form of DH if Papi slumps in the future.  Lowell, ever the classy guy, was careful to emphasize that he’d never root against Papi, which I appreciated.  But it’s a very difficult situation.  Tito is obviously also very frustrated; if he gets through this, he should definitely be up for manager of the year or something.  We just need to find a solution that would benefit both the club and the player; I think Lowell’s name will end up coming up around the trading deadline if nothing ground-breaking affects the situation before then.  The problem, of course, is that he’s still an offensive threat, and because he can’t play defense, he’ll have to DH, which means we’ll have to deal with his bat in an American League lineup.  But such is life in baseball.  I think he’s handling the situation as best as anyone could, and I applaud him for that.  I don’t doubt that something will be worked out soon.

Returning to the action, we’re now at the top of the ninth.  With the game tied and very much on the line, Mariano Rivera came on.  With one out, McDonald singled.  Scutaro reached base when Thames couldn’t catch your average fly.  Now, Drew tweaked his right hamstring in the previous inning, so he left (he’s sure he’ll be able to start tonight, though) in favor of Hermida.  Hermida proceeded to crush a cutter that stayed over the plate for an opposite-field, line-drive, hard-hit double over Winn’s head that scored two to give us a lead.  A lead we would not, in fact, relinquish.  Believe it or not, that’s quietly been business as usual for Hermida, who leads the league with seventeen RBIs with two outs.  What did Drew have to say?

I told those guys I’m a smart kind of player like that.  I take myself out just in time for Hermida to hit a big double like that.  It worked out ultimately for the best.

Thank you for the quip, sir! The truth of the matter is that Chamberlain and Rivera were both terrible.  Fortunately, that seems to be the theme against us.  Speaking of closers, we now come to the bottom of the ninth, which I hereby entitle Papelbon’s Redemption.  It was a save, but it was by no means a clean one.  I’m a big fan of his competitive spirit; he was chomping at the bit for another chance to get that ball, go out there, and prove himself:

I was hoping all night long that I’d get another chance tonight.  I just want to show my team it’s a heavyweight title fight.  You might get one good blow on me, but you ain’t going to knock me out. I just wanted to prove that to my teammates tonight.

But he induced Nation-wide breath-holding in the process.  It took him twenty-eight pitches to barely escape, and he didn’t exactly escape unscathed.  A-Rod scored on a double by Cano.  But with runners at the corners, Miranda hit a one-hop single up the middle.  Paps nabbed it, checked A-Rod at third, and fired to first for out number two.  Then, he finally struck out Winn on eight pitches to seal the deal by pitch and by glove.  The final score was 7-6 and, ladies and gentlemen, it was in our favor!

Besides Lowell’s frustration, the other controversial side story was the fact that Dice-K and V-Mart just did not agree on Monday night, and V-Mart was frustrated because was trying to guide Dice-K and help him out, but like he said, ultimately Dice-K is the one with the ball, so he has the last word.  Dice-K shook him off numerous times, and both of them were miffed afterwards.  Before last night’s epic battle, Tito sat down with them to try to talk things out.  As Tito said, the shaking-off itself wasn’t so much the issue because if a pitcher feels that a certain pitch is right and should be thrown, if he throws it with confidence and locates it properly, it’ll probably be effective even if it’s not what the catcher called for.  It’s interesting to note that the one good start that Dice-K has had this season, the only one without a noticeably abysmal inning, was caught by Tek.  Whatever Tito decides to do about it, I think something central will be off-field as well as on-field work between them.  They have the potential to be a good battery and we need V-Mart’s bat in there so he can heat up properly, so the sooner they work it out, the better.

I would also like to point out that, if the team were winning and doing really well, neither Lowell nor V-Mart would’ve expressed as much frustration as they did or in the explicit manner in which they did.  Because when the team is winning, the attitude is that everything is working and there’s obviously nothing to fix, so why fix something that’s not broken.  But with the team losing and morale taking a hit, side conflicts like this fester and come to the surface.  Of course, we can feel fortunate that, at the very least, neither of these things is going to blow up in our faces like the Manny Ramirez debacle.  Lowell is way too classy to let that happen.

So four hours and nine minutes after starting the game an hour late, we got ourselves a win! It was really an incredible show of spirit and determination.  What a game.  It was like all of a sudden we decided that we just weren’t going to lose it.  We just weren’t.  So we won it instead.  Really incredible stuff.  Those types of wins do a lot to lift a clubhouse.

We’re now back at .500, eight and a half games out of first and five and a half games out of second, occupied by New York.  Our record is twenty and twenty.  But like I’ve been saying all along, we need to start somewhere, and this tough schedule may be just the ticket to bring out that spark that may have been missing up to this point.  Tonight Buchholz confronts Baker and the Twins at home.  Yet another series it would behoove us to start on the right foot.

AP Photo

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