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Posts Tagged ‘Joe Mauer’

I really don’t want to talk about this.  I mean, I really, really don’t want to talk about it.  It’s bad enough that I had to watch it unfold before my eyes in real-time; to have to relive it is torturous.  So let’s just get it over with, shall we? I’d rather not spend time dwelling on it if I can help it.

We’re going to start with the good and end with the bad, since that’s how it happened.  Buchholz was absolutely stellar.  He gave up one run, zero earned, over seven innings.  He walked one and struck out three.  He threw 103 pitches, sixty-six of which were strikes.  The Twins went down in order in the first, third, and seventh.  He pitched around a two-out, bases-loaded situation that he created with two singles, a walk, and an error in the second.  He pitched around a two-out double in the fourth.  He allowed his run in the fifth as a result of the exact same error he made in the third: a pickoff attempt gone awry.  That advanced the runner to second, and one single later the Twins were on the board.  So it was an unearned run because it scored due to an error, but it was the pitcher who made the error, so in a way he still earned the run.  And then he pitched around a single in the sixth.  Truly fantastic fastball, changeup, curveball, and splitter.  Not-so-fantastic cutter, unfortunately.

Meanwhile, the hitters seemed to be doing their part in supporting Buchholz for the win.  Kalish walked and scored on a double by Crawford in the first.  With one out, Aviles hit a solo shot on the second pitch of his at-bat, a eighty-two mile-per-hour changeup, out toward the Monster.  It was a towering home run.  And it’s been quite some times since Aviles last hit one of those.  We went down in order in the third, and aside from Salty’s walk we did nothing in the fourth.  We went down in order in the fifth, and aside from Gonzalez’s single and Salty’s single we did nothing in the sixth and seventh, respectively.

At that point we were leading, 2-1.  Miller came on for the eighth and allowed a walk, a single, and another walk to load the bases, and that was when Aceves replaced him.  Obviously we’re not supposed to foresee that our closer would blow the entire game, so we didn’t know what was coming.  The irony is that, as much as Miller clearly needed to be replaced, I wonder if he actually would have been able to dig deep and get through that situation as Buchholz had done.  And then presumably not blow the game afterwards.  Anyway, Aceves allowed a sac fly that tied the game at two and finished the inning.

We got that run back in the bottom of the eighth.  Ciriaco, who has been on an absolute tear since he came up, hit a solo shot on the second pitch of the inning, a two-seam fastball for the first Major League home run of his career.  Actually, both pitches he faced in that at-bat were two-seam fastballs only one mile per hour apart.  Anyway, the home run was awesome; it went out to the Monster and, more importantly, swung the momentum back in our direction.  That was exactly the kind of thing we needed at that moment.  Between Crawford and Gonzalez striking out, Pedroia got hit and then scored on a single by Ross to put us ahead by two.

And then the ninth inning happened.

It started off innocently enough.  Aceves struck out his first batter and then allowed a run via a double-single combination.  At that point, you could allow yourself to think that he just needed to settle down and that the rest of the inning would be fine.  And that the final score would be 4-3 and we would win and all would be well.  Unfortunately Aceves never got that memo and made other plans instead.  He secured the second out of the inning via a flyout and then allowed another single.  And then Joe Mauer sent a ninety-five mile-per-hour fastball to the Monster on a full count for a home run that scored three runs and destroyed everything completely on one swing.  Breslow replaced Aceves for the last out of the top of the ninth as a pathetic token gesture.  Obviously we went down in order in the bottom of the ninth.

The final score was 6-4.  Aceves received an incredibly well-deserved blown save as well as an incredibly well-deserved loss.  Nobody in the lineup had more than one hit, and the Twins’ hit total was actually twice as much as ours.  And we made three errors.  But the fact remains that we headed into the ninth inning with a lead that we should have been able to hold.  Easily.  This loss was crushing, it was devastating, it was viscerally painful, and it was severely infuriating in every way.  He was one strike away from ending it all.  Can you believe that? One strike away from a win, and instead we got a loss.  And it wasn’t helpful that Aceves’s 2-2 pitch to Mauer was actually a strike that was called a ball.  The win could have been ours right there.  And then it just wasn’t.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin
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That game was both incredibly frustrating and incredibly satisfying.

Wake started, so obviously everyone is thinking two hundredth win.  He pitched seven solid innings.  He threw 102 pitches, seventy-four of which were strikes; he was both efficient and dominant, even if he did give up eight hits.  He walked absolutely none and struck out four.  He gave up five runs, only three of which were earned; you can thank Salty and his missed catch and passed ball for the other two.  He gave up a solo shot and a small-ball run after that.  His knuckleball was fantastic; in the innings during which he did not give up any runs, his stuff was nice and tight.  He released the knuckleball nice and easy and it unpacked at the end.

Wake pitched like a winner.  Did he get the win? No.

Scutaro singled in a run in the second.  That was it for us until the sixth; we let the Twins get a nice lead before we came back in a big way.  Crawford tripled to lead off the inning and scored on a sac fly by Gonzalez.  Then Pedroia singled and Papi brought in two with a homer to right center field on the second pitch of the at-bat, a sinker.  It was a moon shot into the second deck of seats.  He read that pitch like a book; he stayed back and uncorked a classic Papi swing.

Then Salty went back-to-back with a solo jack to right field on a slider.  Also a moon shot.  Also read the pitch like a book.  The slider was down and in.  You never want to throw anything down and in to a lefty.  Huge mistake.  All in all, a truly fabulous gem of an inning.

We added one in the eighth.  Papi doubled to lead off the inning, moved to third on a groundout by Salty, and scored on a fielder’s choice by Aviles that Joe Mauer couldn’t handle.  Papi’s explanation for Mauer’s mistake was simple; Mauer just wanted to get out of his way:

He heard the big elephant coming.

When we entered the bottom of the eighth, we were up by one.  All the bullpen had to do was hold on for six outs.  Six outs, and Wake makes history.

Aceves replaced Wake.  This is the frustrating part.  Aceves received both a blown save and the win.  A double, a flyout, and later an RBI single, and the game was tied back up.  What did Wake receive? A no-decision.

Fortunately, we answered in the ninth.  Ellsbury led off the inning but was caught stealing, and Crawford struck out.  But three consecutive singles scored one run, and Salty doubled in another.

Paps came in for Aceves and received the save.  Done.  The final score was 8-6.

Wake didn’t get the big win, but the team sure did.  Youk sat out and Lowrie came in; he made a fielding error and singled.  Pedroia, Salty, and Ellsbury went two for five, Gonzalez went two for three, Scutaro went three for four, and Papi went four for five.  We racked up seventeen hits, five for extra bases.  We left eight on base and went three for nine with runners in scoring position.

Am I absolutely thrilled about the grit, heart, and grind we showed to get this win? Absolutely.  Am I absolutely thrilled about the fact that we won, period? Again, absolutely.  Am I frustrated that Wake couldn’t get it done? Absolutely.  This was his third shot at two hundred wins.  All three of those have been quality starts.  And what does he have to show for them? Two losses and a no-decision.  It’s called run support, people.  It’s almost like we forget what that means every time Beckett or Wake, as of late, pitch.  First Beckett and now Wake.  Just pump some runs behind this guy already; he deserves this milestone.

Reuters Photo

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The A’s completely rescinded their offer to Beltre.  Now, he’s got nothing.  I can understand where they’re coming from; this is the second year in the row they’ve chased him, and they’ve had this offer on the table for weeks now.  And just last week Beltre stated publicly that he wants to stay in Boston.  He turned down the A’s, who offered him more money and more years, last year to come here.  During the Winter Meetings, Theo will be in the hunt for a reliever and another big bat.  Beltre certainly fits the latter description, but I just don’t see how we’d ensure regular playing time for him.  We certainly don’t have room for him as a starter with the other Adrian coming in.  (And putting Theo aside, make no mistake; Youk was the real basis for the deal.  If Youk didn’t have the ability to just switch from first to third like that, Gonzalez would still be in San Diego.) It’s just a shame because Beltre is a beast.  By the way, Cameron is giving Gonzalez jersey number twenty-three.

This week, the Winter Meetings came and went.  And anyone thought we’d ride that deal and go in and out quietly was so incredibly wrong, it’s not even funny.  Theo Epstein was the king of the Winter Meetings.

The Werth saga continues.  Apparently, we sat down with him and Scott Boras but never made him a formal offer.  And we certainly would not have been prepared to even come close to what the Nationals gave him.  It’s a shame for us and for Werth.  A real shame.

But not anymore.  Not today.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have our elite outfielder and our second big bat.  And no, it’s not Magglio Ordonez.  Ordonez can chase a two-year deal elsewhere with all the teams that were formerly chasing Werth and Crawford, because both are now officially taken.  The hottest position player on the market is now off.  Carl Crawford, welcome to Boston! Seven years and 142 million dollars and a pending physical later, he’s walking that speed of his right into Fenway Park.

Wow.  Just, wow.  I mean, what? It happened so fast.  First we were reportedly in talks, and then you turn around and there’s already a deal on the books.  I’ve never been one to feel comfortable with contracts as large as this one; he’s the first player in franchise history to get seven years and an average of twenty million dollars per year, and he’s the first position player in baseball history to land 100 million dollars without hitting twenty home runs a year.  It’s the tenth-largest contract in baseball history, less than deals for players that include Manny Ramirez, Joe Mauer, and obviously a sizeable host of Yankees.  But, as always, in Theo we trust.  Everybody in Red Sox Nation is hungry.  Crawford is young and more than capable.  He can succeed here; in seventy-eight games at Fenway, he’s batted .275 with twenty-four doubles, thirty-five runs, and twenty-six stolen bases.  He’s yet another lefty bat, but he makes our lineup unbelievably potent, and he and Ellsbury comprise the most formidable speed duo in the game right now.  He’s not a slugger, but he’ll hit a decent amount out and he finds gaps like no other.  His speed also makes him great in the field, and it’s perfect because he’s a left fielder by trade.

So that’s Theo for you.  He’s asked whether a deal is being considered, and he refuses to rule anything in or out.  I’m convinced that the Werth deal upped the ante here though; if that deal hadn’t gone through, Crawford would never have been in a position to demand or merit a deal of this magnitude.  So that’s that.  We can take comfort in the fact that Theo would never offer a deal like this if he didn’t think the player was worth it.  Crawford is young enough and good enough to deliver in all seven of his contract years, which is why Theo offered it, and his playing ability is elite enough to merit his salary.  It’s not like we mete out contracts like this in every offseason.  This is the first contract of this magnitude that we’ve finalized during Theo’s and this ownership group’s tenure.  Given our current position and resources, this deal makes sense for us.  Crawford will obviously need to work on patience at the plate.  He needs to increase his walk total to up his on-base percentage.  We can’t say anything beyond that; we’ll just have to wait and see.  Meanwhile, there is a ton of celebrating to be done.  Adrian Gonzaelz and Carl Crawford.  Hello, October 2011!

As far as relievers are concerned, something must be done.  Bard said almost the exact same thing.  We’re looking at Matt Guerrier as well as Brian Fuentes and Arthur Rhodes, who was an All-Star for the first time this year at age forty.  Supposedly we’ve made a formal offer to Kevin Gregg.  Supposedly we’re going to sign Scott Downs.

We’re also keeping an eye on Russell Martin, who was indeed non-tendered by the Dodgers.

And that’s the story of how Theo put all other general managers to shame, made not one but two splashes, and came to rule the 2010 offseason.  If you ask me, it’s a pretty great story.  And technically it’s not even finished.

In other news, the Bruins bested the Sabres by one and the Islanders by three, but we lost to the Flyers in sudden death yesterday.  The Patriots, in one of the most anticipated games on the calendar this year, completely crushed and humiliated the Jets in every way.  The final score was 45-3.  It was a total crush.  So incredibly awesome.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki

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Apparently, last night was Dice-K’s attempt at redemption from his altogether disgusting performance against the Royals.  Hey, those are his words, not mine, but I’m sure not going to disagree with him.  He was horrible against the Royals.  Which makes his performance last night all the more interesting.  If he can turn himself around between starts, why can’t he just turn himself around definitively once and for all and stay the course?

As per usual, he had his bad inning.  He allowed three runs in the first.  But after that he was lights out.  It was remarkable.  His final line was three runs on ten hits with no walks and seven K’s over six and two-thirds innings pitched.  So, to review, he just decided that he did enough walking against the Royals and simply didn’t walk anyone against the A’s.  He threw 109 pitches.  Eighty-four of them were strikes.

Maybe Dice-K needed to go through that walkfest to reach a turning point.  His quality was never at issue – the relievers call him the Magic Man because he’s got stuff but you never know when you’ll see it – it’s his command that’s at issue.  He said afterwards that he realized that, instead of beating around the bush and ending up with so many walks, he may as well pound the zone and pitch aggressively, and if they hit it, they hit it.  A hit and a walk are no different if it means a guy is standing on first base and especially if it means a guy is standing on first base too often for comfort.  So that’s what he did.  He pounded the zone and pitched aggressively.  And it paid off.  Finally.  He had this problem last year too; he’d try to pitch around batters and get himself in all kinds of jams.  His old Houdini act.  Then, when he’d have to pitch aggressively, he would, and the opposition wouldn’t be able to do anything.  So, as last night showed, he should just pitch aggressively from the start.

The strike percentages of his fastball and cutter were ridiculously high.  As were those for every single other pitch he threw: curveball, slider, and changeup.  Not coincidentally, his strike zone was packed.  He used all but the bottom left corner of it profusely.  His movement was sharp but not wild.  He used a game-high twenty-three pitches for the first and seventh, before he was taken out.  But in between, he used at most eighteen (in the second, so he probably hadn’t fully settled down yet) and at least nine (in the third, so you can see how striking, pun intended, the turn around was).

All of which is to say that I’m not of the opinion that Dice-K can just right himself permanently over night such that he’ll be super-consistent and we’ll never have to worry about him again.  But I am saying that now we know of a solution to the problem: he needs to be less concerned with keeping his hit total down, because if he pitches too carefully as a result, he’ll end up with too many walks.  If he pitches aggressively, he’ll end up with fewer hits than he would walks if he pitched carefully.  Now that he’s convinced himself that by putting himself through the two extremes, he can look at his history here and see that that’s a very good and very viable option.  We all know he’s always been reluctant to pound the zone, but he’s seen now that it’s better than not pounding it, so hopefully he’ll just do it more often.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.  He gave up ten hits, like I said, some with two out.  But I’ll take hits over both hits and walks any day.  So will Terry Francona, who explained that the first inning was a product of throwing too many strikes.  Dice-K was being a bit too aggressive, pounding the zone a bit too much, so they read him and jumped on him.  His broader problem is that he’s not the best at orchestrating a mix of aggressive pitching and careful pitching that adapts to the game’s needs.  We usually see him pick one or the other; he either pitches aggressively for the entire game or he pitches carefully for the entire game.  But a successful starter is flexible and adaptable, just like Dice-K was during his no-no bid.  The reason why he’s such a conundrum is that he has it in him; it just doesn’t always come out right.

What can we expect from Dice-K next time? It’s very hard to say.  I hope that he will in fact get himself on a solid road to consistency, but we don’t know for sure.  If things continue the way they’ve been going, he’s scheduled to bomb his next start, because it’s been alternating good and bad, and the better one performance, the worse the next.  So we’ll just have to wait and see.

The final score was 6-4.  Bard got a hold in the remainder of the seventh, but Paps allowed a solo shot in the ninth.  So that’s how they got to four.  How we got to six has a lot to do with David Ortiz.

In the first, Papi double to left and put runners in scoring position with nobody out, and Youk singled in two.  In the fifth, Papi launched a two-run homer that found the right field stands in a hurry; he’s the American League Player of the Week, and deservedly so.  In the seventh, Pedroia doubled in Scutaro; that’s his second hit in two games.  In the eighth, Scutaro singled in Hall and has quietly become a solid leadoff hitter.

Congratulations to Jon Lester, the American League Pitcher of the Week.  Lester and Papi are the first pair of teammates to win both of those honors in the same week since Joe Mauer and Johan Santana did it for the Twins in June 2006.

We shut down Beckett for ten days.  As far as Cameron is concerned, there’s nothing wrong with him, and he could be back as early as this weekend.

Since April 20, we have the best record in the American League: twenty-seven and fourteen.  And by the way, we’re in third place.  Not fourth.  Third.  Half a game ahead of Toronto.  But it’s like I’ve been saying all along: one game at a time.  Next up, Anderson at Wakefield.  Let’s keep rolling.

AP Photo

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To put it succinctly, yesterday was a bad day.

Yesterday could’ve seen Wakefield become our all-time winningest starter.  Through the first four innings, he was certainly on track; he allowed an RBI single in the second and that was it.

Then we hit the fifth.  Three runs scored, and Morneau avenged his at-bat from Wednesday.  That was only the beginning.  By the time Wakefield left, we were just over five innings into it and were down by six.  Five earned runs on ten hits with a walk and two strikeouts.  Ninety-nine pitches.  The overwhelming majority were knuckleballs, three were fastballs, and three were curveballs, all of which were thrown for strikes.  That’s the chance you take with a knuckleballer; if he’s on, he’s on, but if he’s not, it’s a complete disaster.  This was one of those complete disasters.

We have officially established that Target Field is a hitter’s ballpark.  The wind blows outward and everything.

Schoeneweis contributed to the mess by allowing two runs on three hits.  Ramirez didn’t want to miss out, so although he didn’t allow any runs, he didn’t finish his job before allowing two hits and a walk.  It was just an all-around mess on the mound.

To make matters worse, the fielders didn’t help much, either.  Hall made a fielding error in the second that allowed runners to advance.  Wake’s unearned run scored on a throwing error by Beltre.  And V-Mart didn’t want to be left out, so he made a fielding error of his own.  Three errors in one game.  In one game, we topped our total for the entire season thus far.

We find out that Ellsbury is taking longer than expected to heal and could be out tonight as well.  Also, Cameron has been scratched due to a lower abdominal strain.  That’s what put Hall in center and Hermida in left.  So for two-thirds of our starting outfield, playing status is uncertain.

And now for the offense.  There was none.  The end.

I’m serious.  The final score was 8-0.  This was the best I’ve seen Liriano against us, ever.  We managed only one hit between the second and seventh innings.  Our only extra-base hit was a double by V-Mart, which partly makes up for that fielding error.  We left eight on base.

Hard to believe, but there were some bright spots in this whole fiasco.  Not many, but there were.  Mauer went 0 for 4; Schoeneweis struck him out in the sixth.  That was pretty cool.  Lowell hit the ball hard to left center twice.  (The second time, Kubel robbed him of a base hit.  He charged and dove for the out.) Jose Mijares  came on in relief of Liriano and promptly loaded the bases.  (The fact that we did absolutely nothing with that golden opportunity is not the point.  And thanks for that, Beltre; he hit into a double play that ended the inning.) And then there was the guy who’s been a bright spot since coming out of the gate: Dustin Pedroia, obviously.  The man went three for four yesterday.  He alone equaled the entire rest of the team’s offensive output.  I’m convinced that he just can’t be contained.  And this isn’t just me talking; check out what a Twins blogger had to say about him:

Dustin Pedroia is good.  As in ridiculously, disgustingly good.

Eat your heart out, MLB.  (By the way, that blog is called Twinkie Town.  What?)

Happy Jackie Robinson Day! Yesterday, all players across the league wore No. 42.  I’ve always thought that pretty neat.  Dice-K probably just pitched himself off the DL.  He tossed six shutout innings for Pawtucket yesterday, dominating completely.  He’s now pitched eleven innings in the minors, and I think he’s ready.

Now we get to go home.  Thank goodness.  We’re four and five, and we need to play some games in Boston to get back on track.  We’re taking on the Rays, starting with Davis at Beckett tonight.

The Bruins lost to the Sabres, 2-1.  We played well.  I’d rather lose by that score than by a blowout.  Next game is tomorrow afternoon.

AP Photo

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The important thing is that we picked up the win yesterday.  That win is important to establish momentum, infuse Target Field with a positive and friendly vibe, help the club settle into a groove, and advance us in the standings.  Of those four things, the third is the most important for our long-term success.  Just to prove that it’s still too early to get anything constructive out of the standings, let’s take a gander at them, shall we? We are currently in third, one and a half games behind Toronto and Tampa Bay, who are both tied for first.  Yeah.  Like that’s going to last.

With that 6-3 win comes Lackey’s first decision in a Red Sox uniform.  It was pretty decent.  Two runs on seven hits over 6.2 innings with four walks and two K’s seems fine enough, especially when you consider that he finished with a pitch count of 107, reasonable for an outing of that length.  I would’ve preferred less hits and less walks; essentially, it was a command issue that may get lost if you only look at the two runs he allowed.  He struggled through most of the outing.  He threw more cutters than anything else, topping out at ninety-two miles per hour on one of them (he threw fastest when his vertical movement was greatest), but his most effective pitch for strikes was his curveball.  He had some nice speed variation, bottoming out at about seventy-three.  His strike zone was heavy on the left side.  He was roughed up a little in the third and left (peacefully) with a one-run lead when, with one out in the seventh, Mauer stood in.

V-Mart took a passed ball, so Francona intentionally walked Mauer to first.  Morneau ended it.  Done.  Props to Okajima because, with two inherited runners, it could’ve been a lot worse.  Bard and Paps barely got through their shifts.  Bard allowed a run on two hits.  Paps allowed two walks.  Honestly, has it been written somewhere that these two can’t just get their jobs done cleanly? Is there something going on, some new pronouncement of their shakiness, that I don’t know about? I mean, where did all the lights-out go? I’ll tell you one thing: the worse Bard gets, the more Paps’s monetary value at contract time increases.

So much for Ellsbury’s return.  They’re saying Friday now, so he’ll miss the rest of the road trip.  Thankfully, Scutaro has some skills in leadoff, starting the game with a single.  Scutaro, Pedroia, and V-Mart all went two for five.  Scutaro batted in a run.  Pedroia batted in two on a double and a solo dinger to very deep left.  To put that in perspective, last year he didn’t hit his fourth home run until July.  I’ve read a call for the Red Sox to learn themselves some small ball because we don’t have sluggers in the lineup.  Sir, Mr. Pedroia would like to speak with you.

Papi and Beltre also hit doubles.   Papi tried to steal a base which, as usual, was really funny.  Needless to say, he got caught, although Slowey’s last name would’ve indicated that he might have been able to reach safely.  Youk went one for three but walked twice.  Drew walked and scored twice.

But the big offensive story (other than Pedroia, who’s always the big offensive story) is none other than Jeremy Hermida, who hit a loaded-bases-clearing double in the eighth.  In each of his last four games, Hermida has hit for extra-bases from the starting lineup.  How’s he for a nice surprise? At the very least, I’d leave him in as DH for a few more games.

That’s a wrap, folks.  We’re four and four and getting better.  Wakefield will try his hand against Liriano this afternoon; Papi will sit in favor of Hermida.  Also, what’s with these afternoon starts during the week? I’m just saying.  Anyway, this should definitely be interesting.  It’ll be a real test for Wakefield, who only seems to improve with age.

The Bruins begin their playoffs on Thursday when we take on the Sabres.  We ended the season on a high note with a win against the Caps.  It’s a tough way to start, but who knows? Maybe we’ll go somewhere this spring.

AP Photo

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Two huge news items this week: the rotation and Mauer.  I’ll talk about the rotation first because it’s awesome.

Ladies and gentlemen, your starting five: Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Wakefield, Buchholz.  In that order.  Beckett gets the nod to start the fifth Opening Day game of his career, the second of his career with us.  And let me tell you that I am looking forward to some serious, ice-cold domination over the Evil Empire because it’s going to be real interesting to see exactly how they intend to beat him.  He’s Beckett.  Beckett the Unbeatable, if you will.  He’ll start opposite Sabathia.  Then we get a day off before Lester’s start, and Lackey will make his Boston debut in the third and hopefully final sweeping game in that series against New York.  Then it’s off to Kansas City (a city I’m still having serious trouble thinking of without the 2012 All-Star Game coming to mind), where Wake will open the series, followed by Beckett who’ll be on regular rest due to the day off, followed by Buchholz, who’ll close it out.  After that it’s back to a regular rotation.

If I weren’t a Red Sox fan, I would be shaking in my shoes when I read about that rotation.  Make no mistake: that is, hands down, without a doubt, the best starting rotation in all of Major League Baseball.  If I sound confident, it’s because I am.  With a rotation like that, who wouldn’t be? Beyond that, I really don’t think there’s much to say.  Except to expect us in the World Series, which has “Boston” written all over it.

But seriously, folks: I like this rotation.  Last season was a fluke for Beckett; if he’s right this year, he belongs at the top of the rotation.  The one-two punch of Beckett and Lester has been proven deadly for the opposition, and I like having a lefty between Beckett and Lackey.  Wake is of course tried and true, and we’ll see how Buchholz fairs.  Overall, one of the strengths of this rotation is its versatility.  It includes heat, power, cunning, and some nasty off-speeds.  We’re going to win some games with these arms, trust me.

By the way, we’re officially not offering Beckett a fifth year in his contract extension.  Faced with a right shoulder like his, I agree with that.  That doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t pay him well, though.  We probably will, but for not as much time.

Big news item number two: In what was perhaps the greatest display of loyalty in the last decade, Joe Mauer, born and raised in Minnesota, signed an eight-year contract extension with a full no-trade clause that averages about $23 million a year.  Personally, I was surprised that the Twins can afford that.  It’s the fourth-largest contract in the history of the Major Leagues, but don’t let that fool you: if he pursued free agency, he almost certainly would’ve been able to command more.  It’s safe to say that he would’ve set off a bidding war between us and New York that could’ve raised his total salary to above $200 million.  But he didn’t, and there wasn’t.  I mean, you can’t get much more loyal than an extension with a no-trade clause.  Would I have loved to see the dynamic offensive catching duo of V-Mart and Mauer split time behind the dish at Fenway Park? You bet.  But this is the next-best thing, and not just because it keeps him out of the division.  And not just because it saves us considerable money since a bidding war with the Yankees is now moot.  It means there’s some hope yet in this game for loyalty like that, even with free agency.  You have to be some special stuff to exercise it, but at least we know it’s still there.  His standing ovation on Tuesday was pretty impressive.

What does this mean for us? It means we’re going to have to get ready to shell out to V-Mart when the time comes, provided he spends more time behind the dish than at the bag and still maintains his high level of play.  Keep in mind that we haven’t yet seen him be our starting catcher for a full season.  For starters, he really needs to work on throwing people out.  But even with that current shortcoming, his high offensive output at a position notorious for week hitters makes him worth it.  Besides, he knows he’ll never be able to serve a team at first or DH as well as he can at catcher, and his price decreases significantly if he pursues either of those routes, so either way he has an incentive to improve.

And now for the usual schedule recap.

On Sunday, we lost to Houston, 7-10.  Six of those ten runs were allowed by Paps, and to top it all off, the game was cut short by rain.  Apparently, he had a migraine before he went out there, so he took some medication and felt a bit drowsy.  He had no energy and proceeded to look like he was pitching to, well, not Major Leaguers.  At least it’s nothing serious, but it would be really great if this doesn’t become some sort of recurring problem.

On Tuesday, we lost to Minnesota, 7-2.  This one was on Buchholz.  In a decidedly 2008-esque performance, he allowed six runs, three walks, and three wild pitches in less than two innings.  Only half of his pitches were strikes.  Not that the offense was any help at all; we scored our first run in the eighth.  Paps did pitch a scoreless inning, though, to bounce back.  Delcmaren enjoyed a nice inning of his own, a one-two-three frame, amidst repeated delivery changes.  But Pedroia left in the bottom of the second with a sprained left wrist.  He’s fine; they benched him on Friday to be cautious, and he started yesterday.

On Wednesday, we beat the Pirates by two.  V-Mart smashed his first Spring Training home run.  Beckett completed his longest start of Spring Training: five innings of dominance during which he relinquished only one run on three hits with two walks.  Also on Wednesday, Embree debuted in a minor league contest and threw a scoreless inning.  Eleven of his twelve pitches were strikes.  It’s good to have you back, buddy.

On Thursday, we beat the Marlins, 6-4, and there were plenty of good offensive performances to go around.  Wake threw six frames and gave up three runs on six hits with two walks and five punchouts.  Fifty-one of his seventy-three pitches were strikes.  I think he’s some kind of Benjamin Button of baseball because it’s uncanny how he keeps it up every year.  I mean, he’s a knuckleballer, but still.  The bigger news was Dice-K’s successful two innings of work.  He gave up a run on two hits with no walks or punchouts in twenty-five pitches.  And he looked good! Cue: sigh of relief.  He’ll miss the first few weeks of the season because the Red Sox want pitchers to throw twenty-five innings before beginning regular season work.  But I’ll live if it means he won’t be a total bust this year.

On Friday, we barely beat the Jays.  Tek and Reddick had our only hits until a three-run ninth that included an RBI single by Papi.  Lowell fouled a ball off his knee in the first; x-rays were negative but he’s day-to-day.  He’s confident he’ll be ready by Opening Day, though.  And this just as he was getting comfortable at first base.  Lester gave up no unearned runs over six innings with five punchouts.  Paps allowed two hits and a walk but no runs.

Yesterday, we lost to the Orioles.  Pedroia and Lackey both looked fantastic, but Embree didn’t.  Hermida left with a tight hamstring.

Opening Day is one week away.  Only one week away.  That means that in one week, we’ll be in the process of watching the first win of a season that’ll probably take us all the way to the top.  (Provided everyone stops thinking our offense is non-existent, of course.) After all, we are Red Sox Nation, and that means we gotta believe.  And it all starts on Sunday at Fenway against New York.  Seven days.  Only seven days.

The Bruins lost to the Rangers and Lightning and shut out the Thrashers and Flames.  This means we’ve moved up to the seventh seed and are currently tied with the Flyers.  Savard is still on the injured reserve.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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