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Posts Tagged ‘Joey Gathright’

This week was basically all about options.  If we weren’t busy exercising somebody’s option, we were busy declining somebody else’s.  Hey, why not? They’re basically cheap locks; it’s a good way to keep a guy on board for minimal funds and minimal years.  That translates to flexibility, which is always a good thing.  Plus, it postpones contract negotiations, a solid strategy if you’ve got a lot on your plate during a particular offseason.

Case in point for that last one: Victor Martinez.  We exercised his option to bring him back as our starting catcher.  No surprise there.  And it’s no surprise that locking Victor Martinez for the long run is a top priority.  But that’s going to be a big project, so keeping him under contract until we can hammer out a new one is a good strategy.  The option effectively means that there’s no rush.  Expect Martinez to be back in a Boston uniform for the first of many years in 2011.  Although the arrival of Joe Mauer in the free agent market could potentially make that interesting.  It would probably play into our hands, being that Mauer will likely steal the show that year, leaving Martinez and us to take care of business.

Speaking of catchers, we declined our five-million-dollar option on Tek, but he picked up his three-million-dollar option, which includes another two million dollars’ worth of incentives, so our captain is coming back as a backup for three million dollars.  Not too bad, I’d say.  In terms of the role he plays on this team, there’s no better backup catcher out there for us, and being that he still has something left in the tank, it’s a pretty good deal.

Wakefield is coming back, folks.  Our deadline to pick up his option was Monday, and we agreed to a two-year deal with incentives that could boost the value of the contract up to ten million.  Within those two years, he’ll likely reach two hundred wins and 193 wins in a Red Sox uniform, a total that would break the current franchise record, held by both Roger Clemens and Cy Young.  Make no mistake: Wakefield would definitely be deserving.  How many other starting pitchers out there accept less money in favor of a tenure with a team that hadn’t won the World Series in almost a century, then voluntarily removed himself from the roster of the second World Series that team would go on to win because he felt he wouldn’t perform as well as another pitcher? Not many.  Believe that.

We declined our option on Alex Gonzalez, which was expected, but we’re still interested.  That’s also expected.  Jed Lowrie’s wrist sidelined him for essentially the entire season last year, and we need not just an everyday shortstop, but an everyday shortstop we can depend on.  That’s a luxury we haven’t had since Nomar wrote his one-way ticket out of town.  And with the improvement in offense he showed last year, Gonzalez would be a great fit.  Of course, what this gesture shows is that he’ll have to come at the right price.  Otherwise Theo won’t bite.

That’s basically all the news so far.  The GM meetings ended on Wednesday, so aside from these moves and Jeremy Hermida, we’ve been pretty quiet, but I don’t think that’ll last long.  Before the meetings ended, Theo met with John Lackey’s agent.  Smile, Red Sox Nation; Scott Boras is not John Lackey’s agent.  Free-agent negotiations with other teams start on Friday, so it’s likely he’ll be inundated with offers, but I could see us being a big player there.  We’re also supposedly interested in Dan Uggla; apparently there is potential in turning the second baseman into a left fielder.  Frankly, I don’t see that playing out.  Congratulations to Jason Bay, who won his first Silver Slugger! And that functions as even more of a reason for us to sign him.  I think we’ll focus our efforts there before we start turning infielders into outfielders.

In addition to options, the other big story at this point is arbitration.  We’ve got eight guys eligible: Casey Kotchman, now Jeremy Hermida, Ramon Ramirez, Fernando Cabrera, Brian Anderson, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, and, you guessed it, Jonathan Papelbon.  The arbitration process will probably be more or less smooth sailing for the utility guys and the no-doubts, the players who have clear bargaining power due to their consistently good performances.  I’d put Ramon Ramirez and Hideki Okajima in the latter category.  As far as Manny Delcarmen is concerned, his second half was just bad, so he’ll probably take some sort of cut.  Jonathan Papelbon will be quite the case; I’ll be very interested to see how that goes.  He obviously packs a lot of bargaining power, but there’s also no ignoring the fact that his walk total was up and his postseason performance was…well, let’s not go there.  Let’s just say he’s less able to pull off the I-should-be-paid-Mariano’s-salary routine this time around.  Especially because Daniel Bard is coming on strong and Billy Wagner has stated that he might be open to an arbitration offer that would bring him back to Boston next year.  Let’s face it: he wants a ring, and in this day and age ballplayers who want rings come to Boston.

Nick Green and Joey Gathright have opted to file for free agency rather than accept minor league assignments.  Green had back surgery at Mass. General on Monday, by the way, so he’s facing an uphill battle as far as market value goes.  Dice-K is going to begin his conditioning program early this year.  Thankfully.  Finally.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that we’re ready to see him ace this year.  Or at the very least spend more time on the roster than on the disabled list.  Theo and Tito are in the throes of their search for a bench coach, and they’ve narrowed it down to four: PawSox manager Ron Johnson, Lowell Spinners manager Gary DiSarcina, minor league field coordinator Rob Leary, and outfield and baserunning coordinator Tom Goodwin.  Promoting from within.  I like it.  Really, there’s no better way to ensure that a new member of the coaching staff knows the franchise and the players; many of the players currently on the team have played for these guys in their younger days.

We’re biding our time but staying in the loop.  I think there’s a potential for a serious blockbuster deal this offseason.  Whether it’s Lackey or Adrian Gonzalez or someone else, I don’t know.  I’ll leave that to the front office.  At this point, so much is kept under wraps that it’s hard to know exactly who we’re pursuing first or what our main focus will be.  But I will say that either of those guys would have a hugely positive impact on our team.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens, I guess.  It’s a long winter; the speculation keeps us going.  That’s just what the offseason is all about.

The Bruins played three games this week.  We shut out the Penguins, lost to the Panthers in a shootout, and lost to the Penguins in sudden death.  The Sabres lead us in the division by five points, but at least we’re ahead of the Habs.  The Pats beat the Dolphins.

 

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Clay Buchholz pitched a gem.  There was nothing more we could’ve asked for from our third starter.  He’s twenty-five years old.  He’d never made a postseason start in his life.  He came off a bad year, spent the beginning of this season in Triple-A, and was only able to officially join the rotation because the starting depth we started the season with didn’t last.  John Smoltz failed, Brad Penny struggled, Tim Wakefield started having health issues, Dice-K had to complete Spring Training in the middle of the season.  But Clay Buchholz earned a spot in our rotation, and he earned yesterday’s postseason start.  And he made the most of it.  Two runs on six hits with a walk and three strikeouts.  He pitched to three batters in the sixth before leaving the bases loaded for Daniel Bard, but there were too many things right with his outing to let that spoil it in retrospect.

Buchholz showed maturity and composure beyond his years.  He didn’t think too much; John Farrell and Jason Varitek sat down with Victor Martinez before the game and laid out a game plan, and Buchholz just trusted his batterymate and executed.  And when I say executed, I mean executed.  He had excellent movement on all of his pitches.  He threw with conviction.  At ninety-five pitches, his efficiency was decent.  A solo shot by Kendry Morales was his only blemish until he balked and Bard let one of his inherited runners score.  Although we were lucky it was only one; Bard induced a double play and then quickly got out of the inning.  It could have been much worse, and that speaks to Bard’s potential.  But that balk was the only time during his start that he showed his age.  The baserunners rattled him a bit, and he became distracted.  But that was one valiant effort, and one we can be proud of.

Wagner allowed two runs.  The irony is that one of the reasons he decided to come to Boston was to earn a World Series ring, and he sure didn’t help his team’s cause with that performance.  He only recorded two outs.

I was thoroughly convinced that we were going to win this game.  I thought we had this one locked.  Why? Because we looked like ourselves.  We felt like ourselves.  Without the consistent first-pitch strike, our hitters were able to be patient at the plate, to take pitches, to wear the pitcher out, to work counts, and to hit the ball.  Ellsbury had the first hit of the game (and yet another sparkling diving catch), and Pedroia, the team’s emotional leader, batted in our first two runs with a double.  V-Mart singled in Pedroia to complete a three-run third.  Drew clobbered a two-run home run to center field that made me think of his grand slam in October 2007.  So we had a four-run lead, we had momentum, we had the shadows and quirks of Fenway Park, which was all part of what made it so brutal.  And we tacked on an insurance run in the eighth; Ortiz had his first, and soon to be only, hit of the series and was replaced by pinch-runner Joey Gathright, who promptly stole second and scored on a single by Lowell.  And that run came in handy after Wagner’s mess of an appearance.

Which brings me to our closer.  A Mr. Jonathan Papelbon.  If you thought Wagner’s appearance was a mess, if you thought Papelbon’s work during the regular season was shoddy, if you thought his unusually high amount of walks would get him in trouble, then yesterday’s outing officially vindicated you.  Jonathan Papelbon lost this game for us.  I mean, you can make the argument that if the lineup scored ten runs, we wouldn’t have had to worry about our pitching, but you can never expect any lineup to score ten runs in the postseason because theoretically you’re up against the league’s best pitching.

Papelbon, after not having allowed a run in twenty-six posteason innings (the equivalent of almost three complete games!), allowed three.  On four hits.  And two walks.  No strikeouts.  He threw thirty-two pitches and was one strike away from securing the win three different times.  He ended the eighth with a pickoff, so with two out and bases empty in the ninth, Red Sox Nation and I were feeling good.  We were thinking, “Paps is the master.  This game is over.” Apparently, Paps never got that memo.  Erick Aybar stroked a single up the middle.  Chone Figgins, who we managed to contain up until that point, about which we were very happy because of his speed on the basepaths, walked.  Bobby Abreu singled in a run, shrinking our lead to one.  Then we walked Torii Hunter intentionally to load the bases.  Then Vladimir Guerrero singled in two.  After batting in only one run in his previous nineteen postseason games, he had to deliver in the top of the ninth at Fenway Park in elimination Game Three of the 2009 ALDS.

Okajima pitched the last out.  So Buchholz got a no-decision, Bard and Wagner each got holds, and Papelbon got a blown save and a loss.  He deserves it.  That’s the understatement of the century.

The final score was 7-6.  We are now thirteen and four in elimination games under Terry Francona.

We looked primed for Game Four.  We even had Dave Henderson throw out the ceremonial first pitch for good luck.  No one can forget his spin-jump on the way to first after he hit that epic two-run homer in the ninth inning of Game Five of the 1986 ALCS.  Against, you guessed it, the Angels.  We were set.  We were back at home, our young stud was well on his way to his first-ever postseason victory, we were finally hitting, and we had a game plan: put Dice-K in the bullpen, bring Jon Lester back on short rest, force a Game Five, win that, win the ALCS, and sweep in the World Series, as usual.

That didn’t happen.  The dream is over.  Baseball season is over.  The postseason, which only lasted three games, is over.  In an ALDS performance that nobody, least of all Red Sox Nation, anticipated, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim swept us.  We were completely silenced during our first two games, and just when we started to get back into our groove, our closer, the rock of our bullpen, pulled the entire month of October out from under us.  Words can not adequately express the anger and frustration I currently feel toward Jonathan Papelbon.  Seriously.  This is like JD Drew striking out looking in Game Seven of the 2008 ALCS, but worse, because we never had a chance to put up the kind of fight we knew we could.  We barely even got started.  Before the game, Dustin Pedroia echoed in the clubhouse what each and every member of Red Sox Nation said all weekend: we’re not ready for the season to end.

I completely agreed with Jerry Remy; I too thought this team had the stuff to go all the way.  Instead, we didn’t even make it past the first round.  As always, it’s been a great ride.  There were injuries, hitting streaks, brawls, comebacks, walk-offs, extra-inning losses, struggles, trades, promotions, demotions, slumps, saves, shutouts, slugfests, dives, slides, steals; you name it, we did it at least once and often multiple times.  But it didn’t happen for us this year.  I saw it with my own eyes, and I still can’t quite believe it.  But if there’s one thing we’ve learned as Red Sox fans, it’s the wholehearted belief in next year.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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That went horribly.  That went horribly, and October is not the time for “horribly.” Lester took the loss.  He gave up three runs on four hits in six innings with four runs and five strikeouts.  I should mention that those three runs scored courtesy of a Torii Hunter home run.  By the way, Lester threw one hundred pitches.  In only six innings.  In October, one hundred pitches should be getting you through the seventh inning.

But wait, it gets worse.  Ramon Ramirez, Mr. Struggle-in-September, came to the mound and proceeded to pitch to three batters and allow two more runs without recording an out.  Saito and Bard were both solid.  Make no mistake: our bullpen is a huge advantage over any opponent we face.

The lineup did nothing.  We got four hits all night, none of which were for extra bases.  The final score was 5-0.  We need Ellsbury to give us something.

We made three errors.  Gonzalez, Bay, and Lowell, all throwing.  It reminds me of that game in October 2004 when we made more errors than we could count.  (On the bright side, October 2004 was, to make the understatement of the century, a really good October.)

And now let’s talk about the umpire, shall we? Let’s start with first-base umpire CB Bucknor.  As the similarity between his last name and a certain someone else’s during the 1986 World Series doesn’t make me uneasy enough.  Both of these calls involved Howie Kendrick at first.  And you can watch replays of both and see that Howie Kendrick was about as out as you can possibly be.  Question mark number one: with two out in the fourth, Kendrick hit a grounder up the middle, which Gonzalez fielded very schnazzily (it was a sliding catch; very nicely done) and fired to Youk at first.  But the throw was wide, so it pulled Youk off the bag.  So Youk applied the tag, but Bucknor called Kendrick safe.  Question mark number two: in the sixth, Kendrick grounded to Lowell, who fired high to first.  Youk jumped up to catch it but came back down on the bag about four feet before Kendrick got there.  And yet somehow Kendrick was safe? Tito had some words for Bucknor, and rightfully so.  Fortunately, neither of those plays cost us runs, the first one because Lester struck out Jeff Mathis to end the inning and the second because Jacoby Ellsbury made an absolutely spectacular diving catch of Chone Figgins’ fly to end the inning.  But that’s not the point.  I don’t want any more of this going forward.

Speaking of defense, it was awesome.  Everyone was spot-on, which was a sight for sore eyes, given all of our recent health concerns.  JD Drew got in on the action and gunned down Kendry Morales at the plate in the seventh.

Byrd is on the roster, and Delcarmen is off because of, you guessed it, the car accident.  Baldelli is also off, replaced by Brian Anderson and Joey Gathright.  The Billy Wagner trade is finally complete; the Mets picked up Chris Carter and first base prospect Eddie Lora.  Don Orsillo did a fantastic job, as always.

Believe it or not, there are some silver linings to last night’s horror show.  First of all, we shouldn’t worry about Lester.  It’s the first game of the playoffs, we were away, he’s got some nerves.  Secondly, the outcome of last night might play directly into our hands.  To borrow some logic from hockey, Andy Brickley said yesterday on NESN that the Bruins’ bad loss to Washington was a necessity for us to remember who we are and how we play, and it facilitated our running wild all over the Hurricanes.  (Brickley said that before we lost to Anaheim, 6-1, which is eerily similar to our good score against Carolina and last night’s outcome against the Angels, but again, that’s not the point.) So last night, in many important ways, was a wake-up call.  It reminded us that October is not all fun and games.  You can’t just waltz into the playoffs and expect the series win to be handed to you on a silver platter.  You have to earn it the hard way, and sometimes, that means you won’t sweep.  So, okay.  The first game is over, the jitters are gone, we’re comfortable in the Angels’ park now.  The Angels is throwing Jered Weaver tonight, but forget that.  Tonight, Josh Beckett makes his first postseason start of 2009.  He threw a bit the other day and says he feels great.  This is what I was talking about when I said I liked the Thursday schedule.  We lost yesterday, but we’ve got another chance right away to remember who we are.  And there’s no pitcher out there who can make you remember faster in the postseason than Josh Beckett.

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The 2009 season is officially over.  It’s amazing how time flies when you’re having fun.  Seriously.  It was a great season.  Plenty of highs, plenty of lows, plenty to celebrate, plenty to scratch your head and have no idea what’s going on.  But now we have the second season on our hands: the postseason.  And with the approach of the postseason come the all-important roster decisions that must be made to give us the greatest ability to advance to the World Series.  This is what Terry Francona may have in mind, with a little help from the Portland Press-Herald.

As far as the pitching staff is concerned, there’s no surprise there: Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, and Dice-K, in that order.  Lester is starting first because, had it been the other way around, one of them would’ve been on normal rest and the other would’ve been on ten days’ rest.  Plus Lester had the better second half, plus Lester is the go-to man for Game 4 should we find ourselves in a hole.  Or we could use Beckett on four days’ rest for Game 4 and Lester on five for Game 5 since there’s an off day between the two, but I’m not a fan of that option.  Tito hasn’t announced the starter for Game 4 yet, though.

No surprises in the relief corps, either: Papelbon, Bard, Wagner, Okajima, and Ramirez.  Saito and Delcarmen will fill out the bullpen.  Wakefield has officially been scratched, Michael Bowden is still pretty new, and Byrd, while he could be a long reliever, wouldn’t necessarily be as effective.  Yes, Saito and Delcarmen (especially Delcarmen) have had their struggles, but that’s why it’s called the second season.  You take a rest, you put it behind you, and you record punchout after punchout.  If I need options for innings in October, I want Saito’s experience and Delcarmen’s power.  But Delcarmen’s health may eliminate him; after the car accident this weekend, his back and neck are pretty sore.

The catchers are obviously V-Mart and Tek. For the first time in a very long time, we don’t need a third catcher.  The third catcher was supposed to pinch-hit for the offensively challenged Tek and backup, but with V-Mart’s bat, that need is gone.  (Not to mention the fact that the role of a backup changes dramatically now that Wakefield isn’t in the mix.  Instead of having to concentrate on catching knuckleballs, the October backup catcher this year will have to concentrate on getting all the hits that Tek doesn’t.)

The infielders are obviously Youk, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Lowell, and Kotchman.  Nick Green’s back and leg will probably keep him off the roster, so Jed Lowrie and Chris Woodward will probably come on as utilities.  Jed Lowrie can hit in the clutch (I refer you to his grand slam on Sunday), and Woodward can flash leather, even if he can’t buy a hit.

The outfielders are obviously Bay, Ellsbury, Drew, and Baldelli, and you really can’t get much better than that.  We have three options with which to fill out the outfield: Joey Gathright, Josh Reddick, and Brian Anderson.  Brian Anderson is out; his speed, glove, and bat don’t compare to the other two.  Gathright has remarkable speed, but Reddick has a remarkable bat.  So you’re basically choosing between a clutch steal and a clutch hit.  Dave Roberts’s heroism wills all of Red Sox Nation to go with Gathright, but let’s remember that Dave Roberts’s steal only counted in the long run because Bill Mueller singled him home.  And it’s not like Reddick has no speed at all.  On the other hand, it’s not like Gathright has no bat at all, and it’s been Gathright who’s been seeing playing time recently as part of the reserve.  So I think Gathright is the answer.  And we may need him more than ever because of Baldelli’s hip injury.

The designated hitter will be David Ortiz.  Obviously.

And now for the lineup.  It’ll be Ellsbury, Pedroia, V-Mart, Youk, Ortiz, Bay, Drew, Lowell, and Gonzalez.  If it’s a righty.  If it’s a lefty, Baldelli will take Drew’s spot.  If Tek catches, that’s a whole different story, and Tito will have to do some serious finagling to accommodate that.  Look for Tek to be at the bottom of the order.

Speaking of the lineup, in response to “Second Shift,” Jeremy commented:

Boston may have the most well-rounded team heading into October however one thing I’ve noticed is that the offense struggles a lot versus good pitching. The line-up will pound a bad pitcher or a pitcher with an off night and the offense will explode. However, for most of the season there has been very little output against great pitching. And that has to be concerning. Because that’s what your likely going to face come playoff time.

Jeremy makes an excellent point.  Remember when we played the Tigers in June? We swept.  We didn’t face Justin Verlander.  Remember when we played the Royals in July? We took three out of four and didn’t face Zack Greinke.  We just played the Royals again and split a four-game set, and one of the games we lost was pitched by, you guessed it, Zack Greinke.  We’ve been very lucky this season with pitching schedules, but this luck is about to run out.  The teams you face in October are guaranteed to be the best of the best, and part of what makes them so good is their pitching.  There’ll be no escaping a Justin Verlander or a Zack Greinke in the postseason.  So I completely agree with Jeremy, but I don’t think it’ll affect the outcome of our October.  The ALDS is a big reason why.  Playing the Angels in the ALDS is kind of like a warm-up for the rest of the month, but it’s a warm-up that counts, so you get all the pressure of the October stage, including great pitching, with all the confidence of having a pretty good feeling that you’ll advance.  Now, you’ll notice that in both 2004 and 2007, the ALDS wasn’t enough to remind us who we are offensively, which is probably why it took moving ourselves to the brink of elimination and facing postseason death in the ALCS to remind us that, yes, we actually are capable of handling these arms.  Between the ALDS and half of the ALCS, we play a lot of games against quality pitchers, so by the time we’re almost out of the playoffs completely, we come roaring back and get ourselves to the World Series, where we obviously have no problem with the National League.  And let me tell you, it helps in the long run, because nobody wants to be the team that finishes the ALCS early and just sits around waiting for the Fall Classic.  I refer you to the Rockies in 2007.

We are exactly where we need to be to make this October count.  The Yankees played the month of September like they had something to prove.  And they did.  You don’t spend a quarter of a billion dollars on three players in the offseason and not win the division.  But at what cost, both literally and figuratively? It is entirely possible that the AL East is the kiss of death for New York; they’ve exhausted all of their resources.  I refer you to 2004, when they ramped it up big time in September specifically to win the division, which they did by a hair.  Then they lost steam in the ALCS, and look what happened.

Finally, I know some people have taken issue with Terry Francona’s approach to the final games of the season.  Let me put that issue to rest.  There are two possibilities to consider here.  The first is Angels Syndrome and the other is Yankees Syndrome.  In the first, you rest on your laurels for such a long time that you’re not prepared for the intensity and competition of the playoffs.  In the second, you use all your resources to accomplish a regular-season goal and run out of steam halfway through the playoffs.  Fortunately, we are not a victim of either, because we’ve only been resting on our laurels for about a week, and the rest was absolutely necessary given the health concerns of several of our starters.  And since the division was out of the question, we had no reason to burn out.  So I’m pretty happy, although my fandom revolts at this notion of being happy with the Wild Card.  But I’d rather get in with the Wild Card than not get in at all.  And I’d much rather get in with the Wild Card than resort to a one-game playoff.  Did you know that winners of one-game playoffs haven’t won the World Series since 1978? (Of course, we all know who played that playoff against who, and who went on to win the World Series that year.  Let’s just say it involved pinstripes.  I’d rather not talk about it.)

Regarding how the teams stack up, we’re pretty even, and most of the gaping holes are in our favor.  We’re much better at home than they are on the road, hit many more home runs, have a higher team slugging percentage and ERA, and our bullpen ERA is much higher.  We also had a better September, which is key.  We’ll need David Ortiz to handle Brian Fuentes, and we’ll need Bard to be in top form as a set-up man.  The Angels’ problem will be scoring runs, so if our starting rotation keeps us in it, we should be able to come away with a win.

So that’s it.  All we have to do now is wait.  Let’s start this party.

Boston Globe Staff/Yoon S. Byun

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Beckett’s outing was okay.  Not bad, not great.  He allowed two runs in the first and two in the second before settling down to pitch three shutout frames.  He allowed seven hits over those five innings with three walks and five strikeouts, and he threw 98 pitches.  So his runs, hits, and walks were up while his strikeout count was down and his pitch count showed inefficiency.  But I still don’t worry about him.  This whole situation with these last few games is very strange.  We win the Wild Card on someone else’s loss, we give the starters all sorts of rest, and we wait.  I feel like that has to take some sort of toll on the psyche of a competitive workhorse like Beckett.  Not to mention the fact that his timing was out of whack because of the extended rest.  But putting that aside, the reason why I’m thrilled with his performance is his health.  The fact that he settled down and got through it means he’ll be in good shape by the time postseason play begins.

Byrd allowed two runs on three hits in the next three innings, which is why he’s not on the postseason roster.  Richardson did fine.

Aside from Beckett, pitching is so not the point here, though.  The offense is the point, and with a final score of 11-6, there was a lot of it.  But before we talk about that, some words on the lineup.  This is one of the most interesting and creative lineups I’ve seen this season.  Pedroia led off, followed by Bay, followed by V-Mart and Youk, and then Ortiz, Lowrie, Kotchman, Anderson, and Gathright.  Ellsbury got the day off, Lowell has a sore right thumb, and Drew has a left shoulder issue.

So, without further ado.  With a full count, Pedroia led off the ballgame with a home run.  High inside fastball, meet the head of the bat, and the ball clears the Monster completely.  And then came the monumental second inning.

When I say monumental, I mean monumental.  There’s really no other way to describe scoring seven runs in a single frame in the manner in which we scored them.  It all started when Anderson singled in Ortiz, which moved Kotchman to second and Lowrie to third.  Aaron Laffey balked, so Lowrie scored, Anderson moved to second, and Kotchman moved to third.  Pedroia was intentionally walked to load the bases.  Then Bay singled in Kotchman, and everyone moved up to load the bases again.

Then Victor Martinez stepped into the batter’s box.  He worked a three and one count, perfect for hitting.  He hit a ball over center field that looked like it might have just enough to get it out.  And it did.  Into the bullpen.  Four runs with one swing of the bat, and all of a sudden we were leading 8-4 on the back of Victor Martinez’s first-ever Major League career grand slam! Against his former team! And all because Andy Marte couldn’t catch that popup in front of our dugout.  That’s what I call making him pay.

Anderson hit a towering home run to Lansdowne Street in the third to score himself and Kotchman, and Dusty Brown hit a home run of his own in the bottom of the eighth to tack on the final run.  Almost cleared the Monster.  The ball made it into the last row and was barely contained inside the park.  Not bad for a first career long ball.

Gonzalez’s x-rays came back negative.  Baldelli will have an MRI tomorrow.  John Farrell officially requested to be removed from consideration for Cleveland’s managerial position.  Speaking of open managerial positions, JP Ricciardi was fired yesterday.  And Manny Delcarmen, after enduring a car accident yesterday, is fine.  He was driving in the left lane and the driver in the middle lost control and swerved into Delcarmen’s car, which veered to the left and hit the wall.  He was taken to Mass General, but other than a sore back, he’s good to go.

Well, the end is in sight.  This afternoon, we play our last game of the regular season.  I have to say, it’s been one interesting run.  Lots of ups, lots of downs, lots of ins and outs and heres and theres, but we’ve come to a good place, I think.  Buchholz gets the nod against Tomo Ohka, so this’ll be his final tune-up before the playoffs.  But I still can’t believe the regular season is already over.  It seems like Opening Day was rained out just yesterday, doesn’t it? Time flies when you’re having fun though, and the fun continues even after we put this one away.

In other news, the Bruins played an absolutely fantastic game last night.  Last night’s game was everything we wanted Opening Night to be and more.  The final score was 7-2, and it was most definitely a team effort.  It was the first time we had seven different goal scorers since the lockout.  And there were plenty of fights to go around as well.  An all-around well-played game.  Lots of tape-to-tape passing (Patrice Bergeron’s picture is next to the definition of “stick position” in the hockey dictionary), obviously lots of scoring (two of the goals were netted just seconds apart) and fighting (Sean Thornton threw at least ten punches before the referees got involved), and of course lots of saving (I have come to the conclusion that Tim Thomas is an acrobat).  We play next on Thursday in Anaheim.

AP Photo

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I can’t really be upset about the outcome of last night’s game because it was basically Futures at Fenway Part 2, but without fair competition.  All of our starters, with the exception of Big Papi and Gonzalez, got the night off, but Toronto put in its best.  We sent the entire reserve out there to face who but Roy Halladay, and we got shelled.  Show me someone who’s surprised by this outcome, and I’ll show you someone who has no conception of the disparity between skill levels present in Major League Baseball.  Unless something had gone horribly wrong for Roy Halladay, there’s no way a reserve would have bested him.

This game was absolutely necessary.  It was a stroke of genius, and it spoke to our commitment to winning the World Series.  What’s the best way to ensure that your reserve is the best it can be? Give it playing time.  And what’s the best way to do that? Hand it an entire game against one of the best active pitchers in the game.  They may not have done well, but at least they “did.” At least they played.

Halladay pitched a complete game three-hitter.  Gathright hit two of those three, and Baldelli hit the third with a steal.

Wakefield gave up five runs on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts over three innings pitched.  Three of those five runs were attained via the long ball.  So something’s still not right with him, which is probably why he started.  In all likelihood, his health will keep him off the playoff roster, which means the season will be over for him soon enough and he’ll have all that time to recuperate fully.  So that’s why he started last night.  Fernando Cabrera gave up three runs on three hits and two walks in an inning and pitched to three batters in the next without recording an out.  Dustin Richardson was able to extricate himself from that jam in just eighteen pitches.  Delcarmen’s struggles continued as he gave up two runs on three hits in an inning, allowing Randy Ruiz to hit his second home run of the night.  Hunter Jones did okay.  Hideki Okajima gave up a solo shot.  And Dusty Brown, catcher, gave up a run on two hits in the ninth inning, with a strikeout to his credit.

So while watching this game, all I had to do was remind myself that bench players and minor leaguers were going up against Roy Halladay, and then I’d sit back, relax, and take it in for what it was: a chance to get a glimpse of what we might be seeing this October from the bench and what we might be seeing from our farm system in the future.  Although with Halladay on the mound, the view was somewhat skewed.  Case in point: the final score.  Unhealthy starter plus unseasoned and struggling relievers plus unseasoned hitters equals a final score of 12-0.  I am proud to say that we didn’t make a single fielding error, which is impressive given all of Fenway’s quirks.

If you’re wondering why Tito wasn’t present at the Wild Card celebration, it was because he flew to Virginia for his son Nick’s graduation.

That completes a three-game sweep for Toronto, and now we square off against Cleveland for a four-game set.  This is the final audition for our four playoff starters.  Lester will pitch tonight for the first time since taking Melky Cabrera’s line drive just above the knee, and Beckett will start Saturday after having received a cortisone injection in his back to help with the spasms.  Cleveland isn’t too intimidating, so it’s perfect for getting back in the groove.  Then the regular season ends, schedules are finalized, and the playoffs begin!

In other news, it’s the first day of hockey season today! We open at home against the Washington Capitals at 7:00PM!

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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Doubleheaders are rare these days.  I don’t even think they schedule doubleheaders anymore; they’re a result of rain or other unforeseen circumstances.  So when you find yourself presented with two ballgames in one day, you treasure it.  But you also appreciate how difficult it is for the team.  That’s at least six hours of work.  Terry Francona slept in his office last night because he saw no point in going home, only to return a few hours later.  It’s tough.  So for the fan, having a doubleheader is really awesome.  But having your team sweep a doubleheader is monumental.

Which makes yesterday’s all-out domination that much more special.

Buchholz cruised in the opener.  Seriously.  This is exactly why Roy Halladay still pitches for the Jays.  Seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball with three walks and five K’s.  But the Rays tied it at one on his watch, so he was removed from the decision.  Okajima got the win and Paps picked up the save when we won it, 3-1, and it was all because of Dustin Pedroia.  V-Mart singled him in in the sixth, and he took care of himself and Gathright in the eighth when he sent the ball out of the park to deep right.  One down, one to go.

Tito got creative with the lineup again, but that’s what doubleheaders are all about.  For the opener, he had Bay DH while Kotchman played first, Rocco played right, Reddick played left, and Green started at short.  And it was good that Kotchman was on his toes; he may have fumbled the ball a bit, but he fired to home in time to prevent Gabe Gross from breaking the tie in the seventh.  Later, Drew was back in right, Bay was back in left, Ortiz DHed, Lowell played third, and Gonzalez started at short.

Lester was one inning, two hits, and three walks shy of a perfect game.  Add seven strikeouts and it really doesn’t get much better than that.  And let’s not forget about his efficiency.  He finished those almost-perfect eight innings having thrown 105 pitches.  But one of the most remarkable things about him is that he does all of it quietly.  He doesn’t attract the attention of a Johan Santana or a CC Sabathia, and yet right now many would say he’s better than both.  Billy Wagner ran into some trouble; he allowed two hits but ended up getting out of it two strikeouts and eighteen pitches later.  No save though, because we won that one, 4-0.  I love shutouts.  I really do.  One RBI for Lowell, two for Varitek, and an absolutely towering home run for Bay to lead off the eighth.  Lowell was solid at third base.  Cut fastballs produce a lot of ground balls to third, and he was all over them.  No incidents of note.  You’d think he never had any hip issue at all.  Pat Burrell was ejected in the eighth inning for using some choice words to argue balls and strikes.  I don’t even know why he bothered; he so blatantly went around that he had no argument.

Well, that’s a wrap! Yesterday was just a really great day.  Six hours of quality baseball.  And not only did we kill one of our division rivals, but we killed them twice.  With long balls in the eighth innings.  Really a fantastic show.  This puts us four games ahead of Texas in the Wild Card race, if you can even call it a race.  We ran away with it the minute we set our sights on it.  We have another off day today, and just in time, too.  I’m telling you, our good luck with timing regarding days off is incredible.  This is just what the doctor ordered after a doubleheader.  And then tomorrow we welcome Dice-K back to the rotation.  Like I said, hopefully this goes well.  Hold on to your hats.

In other news, football season starts today for New England! The Patriots take on the Bills tonight.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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