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Posts Tagged ‘Joe Maddon’

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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Beckett’s return went swimmingly.  It’s what we were desperately hoping to see because we desperately needed a good performance from someone.  And we’ve seen in the past that, as goes Beckett, so goes the rest of the team, so this is good.  This is very, very good.

He threw 109 pitches in six innings.  That pitch count should have gotten him into the eighth, but we’ll chalk that up to easing back into it.  He allowed seven hits, which is an average of at least one per inning, which is also not great.  But he gave up only three runs, only two of which were earned.  Those two were a result of a two-run home run that he gave up in the first on a curveball.  It was reviewed because it was another one of those balls that hit the very top of the Monster.  The unearned run was the result of a throwing error by Tek when he tried to catch a thief in the third.  Instead, the runner moved to third on the throw and scored on a single.

Beckett walked one and struck out seven.  He picked up his first strikeout in the second on a changeup, his second in the third on a curveball, his third and fourth back-to-back to end the fourth on a cutter and fastball, his fifth in the fifth on a fastball, and his sixth and seventh in the sixth on a curveball and cutter.  Joe Maddon came out to argue that last one and was ejected.  None of his K’s were even close to three pitches.  The closest he got was five; the longest was nine.  Most of them were six.

He brought his fastball up to ninety-four miles per hour.  His fastballs were good, but it wasn’t even the highlight.  Neither was his curveball, as you can see from the fact that he gave up a homer on it.  He really shone with his cutter and changeup.  As for his efficiency, or rather lack thereof, he threw twenty-two pitches in the first and the third.  His lowest inning pitch count was fifteen in the second and fourth.  He threw sixteen in the third and seventeen in the fifth.  So he wasn’t the most efficient but at least he was consistent.  All in all, I’d say that that warranted a sigh of relief.

Aceves took the ball for the seventh and walked two but ended up pitching a scoreless inning.  No big deal.  But then Bard took the ball in the eighth, and Red Sox Nation held its breath as one.  Why? Because at that point we were clinging to a one-run lead one seemingly minuscule mistake could blow the whole thing.  And lately Bard has been prone to more-than-seemingly-minuscule mistakes.

The lineup didn’t waste time.  Ellsbury led off the first with a double and scored on a single by Pedroia, who scored on a single by Papi to tie the game at two.  Pedroia scored again on a double by Papi in the third to tie the game at three.  It was Aviles’s solo shot in the fourth that provided what ultimately proved to be the winning run.  With two out, he took a curveball for a ball.  And then he went yard on just the second pitch of the at-bat, a high changeup.  He bounced off the billboard on the Monster for his first home run in a Boston uniform.

We went down in order in the fifth and seventh and sent up four in the sixth.  So it’s pretty obvious why I was pretty nervous when Bard took the ball.  I didn’t know if we were going to get Bard from the first half of the season or Bard from the second half.  And that’s a very dangerous position for a setup man to be in.

It turned out to be just fine.  He cleared out the eighth in eighteen pitches, twelve of which were strikes.  He allowed a walk but other than that it was three strikeouts.  Done.  Who knew?

Paps came on for the ninth; he converted his first save in his first opportunity since August 18 and was masterful.  Thirteen pitches.  Twelve strikes.  One single but the rest were strikeouts, one of which was the five hundredth K of his career.  This save was also his thirtieth of the season.  He is the first closer to convert thirty saves in each of his first six seasons.

Three members of the lineup posted two hits each, a third of our hits were for extra bases, and we took advantage of a third of our changes with runners in scoring position.  The final score was 4-3.  We snapped an eight-game streak of no quality starts as well as a six-game losing streak against the Rays during which we were outscored, 41-12.  Ouch.  So we needed this.  There was nothing fancy about it.  Some small ball here, some power there.  It was just baseball.  As importantly, it was winning baseball.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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Awards season has come and gone and left disappointment and injustice in its wake.  Seriously.  I can’t even talk about it.  This goes beyond even Sabathia stealing Beckett’s Cy Young and Guerrero stealing Papi’s Silver Slugger.  This time, it’s personal.

Lester and Buchholz both finished in the top six in the AL Cy Young voting, but both ultimately lost to Felix Hernandez, who won it with his numbers alone since the Mariners didn’t offer any help of any sort at any time.  And if a Cy Young were awarded to best one-two punch, Lester and Buchholz would totally sweep that vote.

A new award was introduced this year: the Commissioner’s Award for Philanthropic Excellence.  We won it, and I can’t think of any team more deserving.  The Red Sox Foundation now gets ten thousand dollars.  I have to say, if any award is worth winning, this one is obviously most definitely up there.

So, obviously, that’s not where the disappointment and injustice come in, although I will say that both Lester and Buchholz were spectacular this past year, and I’d be very surprised if neither wins at least one Cy Young in each of their careers.  No.  All of that comes in here: Tito did not win Manager of the Year; cue the disappointment.  Furthermore, he finished fourth in the voting; cue the injustice.  We won eighty-nine games last year with half our starting lineup ending up being out for the season, more than 136 different batting orders, and a majority of our starters out of Spring Training on the DL by the end of it.  And you’re telling me that’s not Manager of the Year material right there? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a very long time.  All three managers who finished ahead of Tito, perhaps not coincidentally, had teams that ended up in the playoffs.  But that’s not supposed to be what this is about.  Putting a team in the playoffs doesn’t necessarily indicate a good manager; it indicates a good team with a good schedule.  And I can’t even begin to tell you how utterly frustrated I am with any system that could possibly have resulted in this outcome.  Tony La Russa even said in print that it should unquestionably be Tito as AL Manager of the Year.  And not only does he not get it, but he finishes fourth? That is complete insanity if I’ve ever seen it, ever.

That’s a pretty bold statement, but it’s true.  The three managers who finished ahead of him were Ron Gardenhire, Ron Washington, and Joe Maddon, all worthy opponents and all perennial appearance-makers in votes for this award.  All of them obviously had to deal with major injuries to major players at inopportune times this past year, Gardenhire much more than the other two.  And they all get their usual credit for maintaining stability in the clubhouse, handling big personalities, and just generally being good at what they do.  But only one of them did it with some of the biggest of the big personalities in one of the most pressurized of cookers called Major League Baseball teams every single day for an entire season during which the team, on any given day, looked entirely different.  It’s incredibly difficult to sustain morale in that kind of competition environment with that kind of scenario going on, and yet Tito made it look like a walk in the park (pun intended).  Maddon arguably had it easiest of the four, following by Washington.  So we’re talking Tito and Gardenhire, but at least Gardenhire had more peace and quiet in which to conduct his business and less potential clubhouse drama to worry about.  We’re talking about the man who managed a minor league baseball team that had Michael Jordan on its roster, and don’t even get me started on Manny Ramirez.  Obviously, neither of those two episodes had bearing on this year, but they’re just great testimonies to his managerial abilities.

All I’m saying is that Tito will have another spectacular year this coming year, and even then he probably won’t have any Manager of the Year award to show for it, but one of the reasons he deserves such an award is that he doesn’t do any of what he does with the award in mind.  He does it anyway, day in and day out, injuries or no injuries.  So here’s to you, Tito.  We all know who the real Manager of the Year is.

The GM meetings have also come and gone, hopefully having greased the skids for the Winter Meetings next month.  Cue the rumors.  We are one of three teams in hot pursuit of Carl Crawford, and we might trade Paps.  The former is true; the latter couldn’t be more false.  Lou Merloni is all in favor of taking the plunge, making the trade for some elite relievers, and giving Bard the closer’s job.  I don’t think that’s prudent at this point.  When Paps first burst onto the scene, he looked a lot like Bard: a new phenom nobody had seen and everybody loved because his fastball found triple-digit speeds.  If we give the ball to Bard too early, we could have another Paps on our hands.  Paps had a bad year this past year, but let’s see how he does this coming year before we just give away our closer in favor of a young guy who isn’t yet tried-and-true in that role on a regular basis.

And finally, last but totally not least, we have some news from Bud Selig, who is obviously trying to make waves before he retires.  He wants to add another Wild Card to each league in order to expand the playoffs from eight teams to ten.  I mean, what? I guess the Wild Card teams would play each other to determine the Wild Card champion, and then everything would return to business as usual? And then the Wild Card champion would of course be able to sell untold amounts of shirts, hats, and other merchandise? He wants to implement this change by next season, which convinces me that he’s doing this to leave his mark.  Rob Manfred, executive vice president for labor relations of Major League Baseball, basically said that’s not in the cards (pun intended) due to collective bargaining issues.  Michael Weiner, the head of the player’s union, says the players aren’t necessarily opposed to the potential change, but the union hasn’t been approached formally yet.

I am not in favor.  Selig claims that eight is a fair number of total teams, and so is ten; therefore, why not ten? I would counter that with the age-old adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The playoffs are a whole month long with eight teams as it is, and baseball should not be played in November.  Also, how would you approach the scenario of one of these newly added Wild Card teams winning the World Series? It’s similar to the steroids issue.  Does the juiced player who breaks a record go into the books with or without an asterisk, or does he not go into the books at all? Similarly, this new team wouldn’t even have made the playoffs under the old system, so do we really consider them World Series champions or don’t we? Granted, the current organization of the playoffs isn’t that old; expansion was voted on and passed in 1993.  But because this format is so new, let’s let it get its footing first.  There are those who point out that expansion would have gotten us into the playoffs this year.  But then we’d have more levels of competition to clear once we get there, so it’s not necessarily all that helpful.  Like I said, there’s been no indication so far that it needs fixing by the addition of two teams.  This is Selig wanting to make waves, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been having some nice talks with the networks about it too.  I’m just saying that I think he’s proposing this change for all the wrong reasons, and there are no clear benefits from a baseball standpoint.

Also, Selig’s second in command and right-hand man, Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball’s Chief Operating Officer, resigned last month.  What’s up with that.

We claimed Taylor Buchholz.  Yes, he is Clay’s cousin.

In other news, the B’s shut out the Devils and Panthers this week, with the help of Lucic’s hat trick in the latter, and bested the Rangers by one goal.  We lost to the Kings yesterday by one goal, but it was in overtime, so we still get a point.  The Pats beat the Steelers last week.  In Pittsburgh.  39-26.  It was nothing short of awesome.

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I think we just found our team identity.  It’s one of resilience and never-say-die.  I think we all kind of figured this out over the last few days, when core members of our A team started dropping like flies but from the outcomes of the games we’ve played, you’d never know it.  That says something.  That says that you can never count us out, not in a game when we’re behind, and not in a season when we’re battered and bent and walking on our last legs.  We always find a way to keep on going.

Take last night, for example.  Theoretically, roster depletion pointed toward a loss.  There was no score through the top of the fifth.  It was shaping up to be one serious pitcher’s duel.  Shields and Lackey matched each other, pitch for pitch.

But everything changed on the first pitch of Papi’s at-bat in the fifth inning.  Shields gave him a ninety-two mile-per-hour fastball, which was exactly what Papi was looking for.  And with one swing of the bat, he gave us a three run lead.  The ball ended up somewhere in the right field seats.  Maddon paid a visit to Shields before the at-bat, and Shields said he wanted to pitch to Papi.  His strategy was going to be to sort of pitch around him but not intentionally walk him.  He wanted to throw the fastball about a foot above the plate to give him a glimpse.  It ended up coming right down the middle.  Afterwards, Shields had no idea how it got there.  But it clearly didn’t stay there for long.  Papi is now batting .400 with three homers and eleven RBIs off of Shields.

After that, we blew the game wide open.  In the sixth, a two-RBI single by Tek and an RBI single by Nava increased our lead to five.  In the seventh, Tek hit a sac fly and Hall, in for Pedroia, smacked a hanging breaking ball for a two-run homer into the Monster seats.

Beltre didn’t collect any RBIs, but he did go four for four, stroking two doubles and scoring two runs.  He’s now batting a robust .500 against the Rays this year with two homers and seven RBIs.

We ended up winning, 8-5.  That’s our seventh consecutive win at home , our longest home winning streak since we won nine in April last year.  We’re twenty-six and nine at home, the best home record in the American League.  Yes.

John Lackey was the other big part of that win.  Like I said, the game was scoreless through four and a half, which mean that our starting pitcher was on.  Lackey delivered one of his best outings of the year.  He tossed seven frames, tossing at least six for the fourteenth time this year, a team high.  His last five starts were quality starts, during which he’s 3-0 with a 3.48 ERA.  He gave up only one run on eight hits, walked only two, and struck out three with 108 pitches.  All of his pitches were thrown really well, and it’s no coincidence that, as a pitcher adds solid pitches to his repertoire, he wins more often.  The fastball, the cutter, the slider, the curveball; you name it, he threw it for a strike.  Especially helpful was his ability to plant his fastball on both sides of the plate.  He needed twenty pitches at most and nine at least in a single inning, and most of his pitches were concentrated in the upper three-quarters of the zone.  He had just the right amount of movement on his stuff; not too much, so it stayed in the zone, but not too little either.  Yes, he allowed eight hits, but at this point I think it’s safe to say that that’s kind of his thing.  He’s a power pitcher, so he pitches for contact.  If he keeps the runners from scoring and he keeps his pitch count reasonable and he goes deep in the game, I don’t think we have to worry about it.  Also, has learned that, no matter how much you try to pitch around it or wish it away, the Green Monster stays put.  That knowledge helps too.

But the man behind the wizard last night was obviously Tek.  By his own admission, Lackey said that Tek’s game plan was perfect.  He didn’t shake him off once during his entire seven innings.  We laud pitchers for their mix of pitches, good locations, and changes in speed, but it’s really the catcher who facilitates all of that.  We’ve known for a really long time that Tek is one of the best catchers in the game; last night was just a reminder why.

Okajima and Atchison allowed two runs each (a pinch-hit homer and a single, respectively).  That kind of thing always bothers me, because I can’t help thinking what would’ve happened had they done that without such a substantial lead.  Luckily, we didn’t have that problem, but we can’t afford a porous ‘pen.  Bard and Richardson pitched well.  Paps got his save.

We have some good news on the injury front.  V-Mart was placed on the fifteen-day DL and Pedroia will miss six weeks, but neither they nor Buchholz will need surgery! What a relief.  Seriously.  Once surgery enters the conversation, you’re talking about a whole different ballgame, both literally and figuratively.

And finally, the standings.  I’m telling you; the good news just keeps rolling in! Not only did the Rays obviously lose and we obviously won last night, but the Yankees also lost, which means that we’re more securely not in third but less securely not in first! We’re only one game out! We could find ourselves tied for first tomorrow morning! Depending, of course, on which Dice-K shows up tonight.  Hopefully, we get the Dice-K that’ll go deep and win.  But with the fight the offense has shown recently, it’s heartening to think that it could still bail the pitcher out if it really needed to.  We hope that’s not necessary, but I’m just saying.  It’s impressive that, with so many injuries to key guys, we still have that ability.  So, yeah.  At 7:00PM tonight, it goes down.  Let’s do this.

Boston Globe Staff/Jonathan Wiggs

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Two games up on the Rays in the series? Life is pretty great, isn’t it? That’s called inching our way back, slowly but surely.  Eventually we’ll be on top.  It’s what everyone has been saying all along: we’re too good to fail.

That and run prevention.  We’ve been saying that all along too.  But, ironically, starting with our ballgames against baseball’s toughest teams, we’re proving that it works and that you really can get ahead with it.  Say hello to the long-awaited 2010 baseball season!

Collectively, our pitching staff one-hit and shut out the Tampa Bay Rays last night.  Lester pitched an outing shorter than usual; he lasted only six innings, which jives with the fact that he gave up a season-high five walks all of which proved to be harmless.  It just made him throw a lot of pitches at 111.  So his command was obviously present; he was just inefficient.  Don’t get me wrong; that’s inherently a big deal on its own and something that shouldn’t have happened.  But if that’s the only thing that constitutes a bad day for Lester, and it would seem from his recent performances that it is, I think I can live with it.

What it basically came down to was the fact that he just didn’t throw his cut fastball for strikes as often as usual.  It was a location issue.  When you don’t locate, you throw more pitches, and there you go.  He threw a decent amount of pitches to the left and right of the zone.  He threw a minimum of eleven pitches in an inning but mostly needed around twenty to get three outs in each.

His usual qualities were there: the mix of pitches, the variance of speeds, the sharp movement.  He threw the ball well.  He just threw the ball too much.  And you could see that it was going to be a long night of sorts for him from the beginning; something just wasn’t right.  He wasn’t completely settled, and the flow of the contest didn’t exactly fit with him.  So I wouldn’t worry.  Oh, yeah; he got the win.

Delcarmen and Bard each received holds; Paps collected a save.  All innings were clean and would’ve been perfect had Paps not handed out one free pass.

The final score was a tame 2-0.  Papi doubled off the wall in left center to bring in Drew and Youk.  Of the four hits we collected last night, that was the only one for extra bases.  But it was enough.  Why? Run prevention.  Run prevention, run prevention, run prevention.  I’m telling you, now that that’s actually come together, we’re going to win us some ballgames.  Just like we’ve been doing for the past several days.

As far as the defense was concerned, it was all Adrian Beltre.  In the second and again in the sixth, he dove to catch would-be base hits and sprang up to fire to first for the outs in time.  There’s your Gold Glove at third.

We had a bit of excitement in the fifth.  Two frustrated Rays were ejected: Crawford and Maddon for arguing balls and strikes.  They took issue with the wide strike zone – we of all people should know that Gabe Kapler isn’t a complainer, so when he says something it’s worth looking into – but if that wide strike zone is consistent, there’s no argument.  And from Lester’s strike zone plot, I can tell you that it wasn’t that wide.

To clear up the roster confusion, here’s what happened.  McDonald was originally supposed to be sent down Monday night to prepare for Cameron’s return.  But Ellsbury had some soreness in his side before last night’s game, so they kept McDonald and designating Atchison for assignment instead.  Good move.  Why anyone would designate McDonald after everything he’s done and continues to do is a mystery to me.

Additionally, there have been some changes in the outfield, changes I think are for the better.  Cameron is no longer slated to be our primary center fielder.  Ellsbury is.  Every start Cameron makes will be followed by a day off, and those starts will probably start coming in left or perhaps right when Drew has the day off.  The corner outfield positions are less strenuous, so it’ll be easier for him to recover that way.  That could only be potential defensive problem in Fenway, where you need someone at those corners who knows the weird angels there like the back of his hand.  On the road it’s definitely worth it to have him flank center, and I think in due time he’ll be able to pick it up at home.

Over our last four games, our starting pitching is undefeated with a 0.32 ERA.  That’s ridiculous.  That’s a closer’s ERA, and there are closers in the Major Leagues who wish they had that ERA.  Starters aren’t supposed to have that ERA.  Starters collectively are not supposed to have that ERA.  Wow.  Alright.  Lackey takes the mound tonight; he’s the missing link in the current rotation.  He’s the fifth starter who needs to turn in a quality effort to make it five in a row.  We’re one game away from the sweep, which would indeed be sweet retribution for those four games in April, so I strongly recommend he go for it.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki

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Whenever we play a game like this, the sensation is always the same.  I feel like I’m drowning in offensive production.  Yesterday, I felt like I was drowning literally and figuratively.  After the rain-out, the weather didn’t improve much yesterday, but the show must go on, and that it did.  With every drop of rain came another run, and soon the Rays were looking for a life raft to help them get through it.  But the rain overtook them and they never got the chance.  We only needed five and a half innings to deliver a beating so decisive and so one-sided that, not only was the game called, but it’ll take some serious will-power for the Rays to bounce back from this.  And with their rank in the standings and their record this year, I don’t know if they can do it.

Beckett pitched a complete game.  A whole five innings.  But the point is less what was and more what might have been with this particular start.  During those five innings, he gave up only one run on four hits with a walk and four strikeouts.  Beckett only threw seventy-eight pitches, so it’s safe to say he would’ve been in through the seventh.  About sixty percent of his pitches were strikes, a very sustainable ratio.  Add to that a consideration of his line, and you’re looking at a significant improvement.  Simply put, Beckett was in the process of owning this game when the rain put an abrupt end to it.  That’s an extremely good sign.  And the extra rest is even better.

As for the offense, the score was 9-1, so there’s a lot to cover, but not as much as Joe Maddon has to cover with Wade Davis.  We scored eight runs in the third on Davis’s watch.  Eight runs.  In the third.  Eight runs in a single inning.  That’s ridiculous.  That’s about as large an implosion as any one pitcher could possibly have.  Talk about being ruined by a single inning.  It doesn’t get much worse for the Rays than that.

It all started when Alex Gonzalez stroked a single up the middle and then stole second.  Pedroia singled him to third, and V-Mart singled him home for the first run.  Youk singled in Pedroia and moved V-Mart to third.  Papi singled in V-Mart for our fourth straight hit.  Bay walked to load the bases, and Youk scored on a wild pitch.  Drew was intentionally walked to load the bases again.  Gonzalez stepped up to the plate and proceeded to knock one off the wall, clearing the bases with one hard-hit and well-timed double.  Ellsbury hit a ball that took a weird bounce, and Gonzalez scored from second base.

Youk wasn’t quite finished yet.  He wanted to make sure the Rays got the message.  So he hit a home run to the Green Monster in the fourth just to make sure.  Huge.

Take a look at last night’s starting lineup for a second.  We had the usual one-two punch of Ellsbury and Pedroia, followed by V-Mart and Youk.  We had Ortiz fifth and Bay sixth, followed by Drew, Tek, and Gonzalez.  There are no holes in that lineup. Even our traditional weak spots, Drew, Tek, and Gonzalez, can’t be considered weak anymore.  Drew is now red-hot.  Tek, albeit in a slump at the moment, continues more or less to experience a renaissance at the age of thirty-seven.  And Gonzalez is doing more frequently what he wasn’t doing much of in 2006: hitting, often for extra bases.  This lineup is gold.

Dice-K is returning on Tuesday, when he’ll take on the Angels at Fenway.  My advice? Hold on to your hats.  This could be either really good or really hat.  Be ready to turn them inside-out if necessary, is all I’m saying.

That’s about as good as it could possibly get.  If I’m a Rays fan, I am incredibly thankful that the rain ended the game early, because if we continued at that rate, we’d have runs coming out of our ears by the time we got to the ninth inning.  It was absolutely fantastic.  Beckett was on, and everybody in some way, with the exception of Varitek, contributed to a run scoring.  We played our game, and we were a well-oiled machine.  Games like this just make you smile at the thought that October is less than a month away.  So the game originally scheduled for Friday will now be played today at noon, with the second game of the double-header following at 5:00PM.  It’ll be Garza at Buchholz and then Shields at Lester.  Ah, the twin bill.  Two ballgames in one day.  I love it.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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We’ll start with the home run derby.  Prince Fielder won it with twenty-three long balls, averaging 439 feet.  His longest and second-longest were the longest and second-longest of the competition, measuring at 503 and 497 feet, respectively.  Nelson Cruz placed second with twenty-one long balls.  Then Ryan Howard with fifteen, and Albert Pujols with eleven.  Joe Mauer and Carlos Pena both hit five, all in the first round, and Adrian Gonzalez hit two, both in the first round.  Brandon Inge didn’t hit any.  Ouch.  If you’ve noticed, hometown heroes rarely do well in the home run derby, so Pujols would’ve been the tempting but unlikely choice for champion.  He came close, though.  Congratulations to Prince Fielder! The Prince of home runs.  Corny but it had to be done.

Now that we have that out of the way, on to the game.  As expected, the American League extended its hitting streak over the National League to thirteen All-Star Games.  This doesn’t surprise me.  We all saw this coming.  It happens every year.  But the All-Star Game is just as much about the festivities as it is about the game, so we’ll start with the first pitch thrown by President Obama wearing a White Sox jacket.  It came out of his hand as sort of a lob at Pujols, who picked it out of the dirt.  Not bad.  As far as the game is concerned, I was very pleased to see that this one only lasted nine innings.  Halladay started.  He pitched two innings and gave up three runs on four hits, only two earned.  Those were the only runs the National League would score.  The American League’s eight pitchers struck out five, walked only one, and gave up only five hits (Joe Nathan gave up the other one).  Papelbon, thank you very much, got the win.  Joe Nathan got a hold.  Mariano Rivera got a save, obviously because he wasn’t trying to close a game against us.

But that’s not the point.  Papelbon came into the game in the seventh inning, when the score was tied 3-3, and Brad Hawpe rocketed his first pitch over the outfield wall.  Luckily, Carl Crawford caught it over the wall for the first out of the frame.  For that play alone, Carl Crawford was awarded the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award.  Then, Miguel Tejada flied out to Adam Jones, and Paps struck out Jayson Werth after eight pitches to end a ten-pitch outing.  Another one-two-three inning.  So Paps, who’s been an All-Star all four seasons he’s closed for us, gets the All-Star win he deserves.  Before the break, he actually insisted that Mariano Rivera close, probably due to all of the irrelevant and completely unnecessary flak he received after last year’s perfectly normal comment that he, as any competitive closer would, wanted to close an All-Star Game.  Honestly.  Yankee fans.  Nuff ced.

Wakefield did not pitch.  Not once.  Not even a third of an inning.  Not even to one batter.  To me, that’s cold.  Joe Maddon could’ve put him in somewhere if he really wanted to.

We won, 4-3, and we out-hit the National League, 8-5.  One error each.  RBIs for Joe Mauer, Adam Jones, and Josh Hamilton.  Bay and Youk both had hits.  In the eighth inning, Curtis Granderson tripled and then scored on Jones’s sac fly to break the tie.  Hamilton made a throwing error.

So basically what this whole thing comes down to, what this whole home run derby and All-Star Game and MVP Award and four-day break mean, is that we have secured home field advantage for October.  Technically it means that the American League team has home field advantage, but let’s not kid ourselves.  We all know who that American League team is going to be.  We also really needed this break; we’ll come back after these four days rested, rejuvenated, and ready to go claim that spot as “the” American League team.  The home run derby was a mildly interesting event and the All-Star Game was entertaining, but really it determines something very important.  And something tells me we’ll be very thankful for this victory come the postseason.  Congratulations to the American League All-Stars on your thirteenth straight victory.  You earned it, and we thank you.  Seriously.

AP Photo

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