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Posts Tagged ‘Josh Beckett’

First of all, we honored Tek before the game for his fifteen years of service to this ballclub, city, and Nation at the plate, behind the plate, and in the clubhouse.  It was awesome.  The brass always does a nice job, and Tek of all people really, really deserved it.  He got emotional during his speech, but then again, who wouldn’t.  Papi gave him two Fenway seats, and Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz gave him the home plate from his last game.  He also threw a knuckleball to Wake for the first pitch.  It was just a really classy way to honor a really classy guy.  We miss you, Tek.  And we salute you.

If only we could have honored him further with a win.  Sadly, it was not to be.  Cook did not have a good night in the least.  He gave up five runs, only three of them earned, on four hits over six and one-third innings pitched.  He walked one and struck out one, and he threw eighty-six pitches.

He had fantastic innings in the first and second without incident.  He gave up a sac fly with the bases loaded in the third that scored one unearned run thanks to a fielding error by Ciriaco.  He again had stellar innings in the fourth and fifth.

And then the badness began in the sixth.  After securing two quick outs, Cook handed out a free pass on five pitches and then gave up a home run.  And then he gave up a solo shot to lead off the seventh.  After a groundout and another fielding error, this one by Middlebrooks, which put a man on base, Cook was replaced by Morales, who secured the second out and dished out a walk before he was replaced by Albers.  Albers gave up a single that scored two, both of which were scored by inherited runners, one from Cook and the other from Morales.

So there are those who say that two pitches caused Cook’s downfall last night.  I would beg to differ; clearly a home run could account for one run only, and it’s not like Cook gave up only two runs, both of which happened to be homers, in which case you could claim that he only made two mistakes.  That’s not what happened.  Cook gave up three earned runs and two unearned runs, and it wasn’t only because he gave up two home runs.  Of course, the issue of how to interpret the unearned runs is always interesting, but ultimately you have to hope that the starter is positioning the team so well that a couple of unearned runs won’t hurt it.  The pitcher can’t control what errors the fielders make, but he can largely control whether runners are on base and therefore score on those errors.  And those runners would have had to be there before the error, so in that sense the pitcher is responsible.  Then again, you have to expect the fielders to field correctly.  So it’s an interesting question.  Since errors are so unpredictable and can’t necessarily be helped, I’m going to say that Cook should have been able to do more to ensure that those errors didn’t cause runs to score.

So in that sense, two pitches didn’t cause Cook’s downfall.  There were many other pitches he threw before those two that had a hand in the loss, even if he did only give up three earned runs.

Some of those other pitches were thrown by the Jays, because clearly we didn’t do much with them, and that didn’t help things.  Salty hit a mammoth three-run shot in the second that was totally awesome.  Gonzalez singled, Ross doubled, and Salty fouled off a slider and a fastball and took a slider for a ball before getting something down and in that he knew he would hit and unleashing on that one.  He sent that into the bullpen.

Padilla pitched the eighth, and Tazawa came on for the ninth.  He allowed a double, a sac bunt that moved the runner to third, and then a run on a fielder’s choice.  The final score was 7-3.  Only two of our five hits were for extra bases, and those five hits were distributed among five of our starting nine.  So there were no multi-hit games and there were not enough hit games.  We even walked only twice.

So here’s the kicker.  At the time, Salty’s home run gave us a three-run lead.  So all these questions of how you look at the unearned runs and how many pitches caused Cook’s downfall don’t have any impact on the fact that let a three-run lead slip through his fingers.  Admittedly, the offense should have done more.  But so should have Cook to preserve that lead.  And that’s why it was crushing, because philosophy aside, we had a lead and then we lost it, and at that point there’s really not much explaining to do.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki
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Beckett gave up five runs, four earned, over six innings.  He walked three and struck out seven and threw ninety-six pitches.  So, like I said, it wasn’t the worst start ever.  If the batters batted around a little bit, it actually would have all been fine.  Sadly it was not to be.

Beckett gave up a triple with one out that led to a run during a fielder’s choice in the first.  One single later, he gave up an RBI single.  In the second, he gave up a double and a walk that both turned into runs after he gave up an RBI double.  He had a one-two-three inning in the third and fourth, and the unearned run scored in the fifth thanks to a throwing error by Middlebrooks, which allowed a single to stretch into a double and then a run on another single, just getting around Shoppach’s tag.

That, by the way, was ridiculous.  Colby Rasmus was out.  Anybody could see that he was out.  Rasmus claimed that his hand touched the plate under the tag, but you could clearly see that Shoppach had the plate blocked.  Rasmus didn’t touch it.  It may have looked like he touched it, but he didn’t touch it.  And if he didn’t touch it and Shoppach tagged him, which he did, then Rasmus should have been out.  Not that it ended up mattering, but it’s an issue of dignity and principle.  Anyway, then Beckett faced one above the minimum in the sixth.

Miller faced the minimum in the seventh, and Melancon faced the minimum in the eighth while giving up two straight doubles for another run in the ninth.

We, on the other hand, had the gross displeasure of being held to only one run throughout the entire game, and we were lucky even to score that.  We scored in the bottom of the ninth.  Ross struck out, Middlebrooks singled, Nava pinch-hit for Shoppach and walked, and then Aviles grounded into a force out for the reason why we weren’t completely shut out.  Salty pinch-hit for Ciriaco but struck out to end the game.

Our only other big opportunity came in the seventh, when we had two on with nobody out, but then Aviles struck out and Ciriaco grounded into a force out, which put runners at the corners, but then Ellsbury popped out and that was it.

So the final score was a keenly disappointing 6-1.  Both teams posted nine hits, but they went four for ten with runners in scoring position while we went 0 for 7.  They left five on base; we left eight.  And they hit five extra-base hits; we hit none.  Middlebrooks went two for four, and Shoppach went two for three for our only multi-hit games.

Beckett took a well-deserved loss for a mediocre start.  Honestly, it wasn’t horrendous – it wasn’t necessarily even that bad – but it wasn’t great either, and depending on how you look at it, either his start or our lack of run production cost the game.  Obviously in reality it was some combination of both.  But we’ve been over this so many times already; both the offense and the pitcher have a responsibility to keep the team in the game, and when neither does its job, the team loses unless it gets lucky.  And we are too good with too much potential and with too much ground to cover during the second half to just sit around and rely on luck.  Yesterday was a case in point.  We were very unlucky.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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Now that’s more like it! What a great game! Everybody involved was essentially in top form, so the team played well as a team and therefore won as a team.  What a great feeling! Now what we need to do is do it again.

Beckett got the win and pitched six innings.  He gave up three runs on eight hits, so clearly it was a quality start, even though I would rather have seen much less hits.  He also walked two and struck out seven.  He threw a total of 104 pitches, so his inability to seal the deal with those hitters hiked up his count.  Still, he had a nasty changeup, cutter, and fastball, and his curveball wasn’t bad either.

He really got nailed in the first inning, which was when he gave up all of his runs and, not coincidentally, threw twenty-six pitches.  He gave up three straight singles that resulted in one run, then recorded two of his strikeouts, then hit a batter, and then gave up a single that brought in two more runs.  The Rays threatened again in the second, but it didn’t amount to anything.  The fifth was his only one-two-three inning, so it’s not like he breezed through his start.  He had to labor through it.  But the important thing is that he did just that and kept us very much in the game.  And that’s no small feat considering that he pitched through serious side effects of his flu medication.

Tazawa came on for the seventh and barely recorded the first out.  Melancon pitched the rest of the inning as well as the eighth, and Aceves came out to pitch the ninth, which was almost very ugly.  He loaded the bases exclusively with walks.  He walked one, and two outs later he walked two straight batters.  Fortunately a flyout ended it.

Also fortunately, we scored a very good number of runs, so we had a bit of a cushion.  (I’m glad it wasn’t necessary, though.) With one out in the first, Nava and Papi worked back-to-back walks, and Gonzalez singled in Nava.  With one out in the second, Middlebrooks singled and Aviles hit his tenth long ball of the year on his first pitch, an eighty-nine mile-per-hour slider that ended up in center field.  BJ Upton jumped into the wall to try to corral it, but then the ball just sailed right over the fence and the effort all looked so futile.

Wanting to get into the long ball action, Nava hit a solo shot on his fourth pitch to lead off the fifth.  It was a changeup down and in, and there was no chance of it staying inside the park.  It landed about halfway up the seats in right.  Then, two singles, a walk, and a groundout later, the bases were loaded for Middlebrooks, who singled in two more runs.  Ellsbury singled to lead off the sixth, and the bases were once again loaded, but with one out Ross only managed to score Ellsbury on a sac fly.

And that was it.  We went down in order in our last three innings, but the final score was a neat 7-3.  Gonzalez and Aviles both went two for four, Middlebrooks went three for four, and Ellsbury went three for five.  Just to give you an idea how awesome this is, the dynamic trio of Gonzalez and Ellsbury and Papi hasn’t appeared together in the same lineup since April.  The bad news is that, of our fourteen hits, only four were for extra bases, and we went four for twelve with runners in scoring position and left eight on base.  So as you can see, we had plenty of opportunities of which we did not take advantage and the score could have been even more lopsided in our favor.  It was enough yesterday, but we have to be prepared to handle those situations in which it might not be enough.  Anyway, defensive highlights include Ciriaco’s decidedly Pedroia-esque diving catch for the first out of the eighth.  He actually caught it in the air, so there was no firing to first, but it was a tricky play for a farm boy to have made, and he made it look easy.

We won our first series of the second half on the road and are back above .500.  Now we’re going home with a chance to keep it going.  So let’s do it.

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Well, we’ve made it through the first half, but I can’t say I’m pleased with where we are.  The only thing I could say is that I’m glad it’s not worse than it is, but that really, really doesn’t say much.  We’re suffering from inconsistency, injuries, and just a general lack of that spark we’ve tended to see in our winning teams in recent years.  These are underlying, pervasive problems that can’t just be fixed by a trade or a snap of the fingers.  Changes have to come from within, but it’s hard to pinpoint a solution when the sources of the problems are hard to pinpoint themselves.  Either way, we know what we have to do to improve: win consistently.

As I do every year, I’ve graded the entire team at the halfway point:

Kelly Shoppach: B

As backup catchers go, Shoppach is pretty good.  In thirty-one games, he’s made only two errors and four passed balls.  His catcher’s ERA is 3.76, which anyone on our pitching staff these days would be lucky to have.  He has also hit ten doubles and four home runs, and his batting average is .269, which isn’t bad for a backup catcher, either.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: B

Salty is working out much better than we expected power-wise.  He ranks first among all Major League catchers in home runs with seventeen, which I don’t think is something many people predicted.  But all but one of those were hit from the left side, which is something he needs to work on.  He also needs to work on his fielding, which is supposed to be one of a catcher’s strong suits.  His fielding percentage is .987, which is high but, in my opinion, not high enough.  He’s made six errors and passed five balls; I’m looking for something closer to zero errors and zero passed balls.  His catcher’s ERA is 4.45, which is decent, and he’s come a long way as far as forging relationships with the pitchers and calling good games is concerned.

Adrian Gonzalez: C

I am not afraid to say that Gonzalez so far has been a huge disappointment.  He is nowhere near the powerhouse he was last season, and I was fully expecting this season to exceed last season.  He is second among Major League first basemen in doubles with twenty-seven and eighth in RBIs with forty-five, but he’s not even in the top twenty in home runs.  With only six, he’s actually last among all first basemen in the American League.  His fielding, however, is as solid as ever.  He’s made only one error, so his fielding percentage is .999.  But offensively we need much, much more from him.  The team is struggling, but he was not supposed to be one of the reasons why.

Dustin Pedroia: C

It’s always tough to grade a player who’s been plagued with injuries because you have to assume that the injuries weren’t his fault, and you have to try to compare his performance given the injuries with what you expect his ideal performance to be given the injuries.  The truth is that Pedroia is struggling across the board offensively.  Doubles, home runs, walks, on-base percentage; you name it, he’s not performing as well as he could be in it, even given the injuries.  His fielding, like Gonzalez, is as solid as ever with a percentage of .997.  But like Gonzalez, Pedroia was not supposed to be one of the reasons why the team is struggling.  He’s a phenomenal leader both on and off the field, but we also need him to lead the charge offensively and help the team win on a more consistent basis.

Mike Aviles: B

Our woes at shortstop for the most part continue.  Why we can’t get a shortstop in there who can hit as well as he fields is completely beyond me.  Aviles is making a valiant effort, but it’s not enough.  First of all, his fielding percentage is .982.  He has made seven errors.  I understand that shortstop is the most difficult position defensively, but that’s also why you need an amazing fielder to man it.  Aviles is a great fielder.  He is not an amazing fielder.  He’s not an amazing hitter, either.  He has a .260 average and .283 on-base percentage.  He’s hit twenty-two doubles, no triples, and nine home runs with forty-four RBIs and twelve walks.  Not the best shortstop material.

Will Middlebrooks: B

Middlebrooks has some big shoes to fill, so he has to go through a process of proving himself.  I will say that he’s off to a fantastic start offensively.  His performance at the plate has been phenomenal, and it’s been truly wonderful to witness the fruits of our labor on the farm in growing a power hitter ourselves.  In forty-eight games, he has fifty-one hits, eleven of which are doubles and ten of which are home runs.  He has a .298 average and a .335 on-base percentage thanks to nine walks, so he could walk more.  His performance in the field, not so much.  He has a fielding percentage of .935 and has made seven errors.  Third base is a tough place to play as well, and he needs to work on it to round out his game.

Nick Punto: B

Think about what Punto is for.  Punto is a utility infielder.  He’s supposed to be able to play any position decently well and to hit decently well.  He is not supposed to be truly outstanding at everything infield, and we’re lucky if he’s outstanding at one thing infield.  So the criteria he’d have to meet for an A is lower than it is for a starter.  Still, as utility infielders go, it’s not like he’s been that great.  His average is .212; only six of his twenty-one hits were for extra bases, and he has only eight RBIs.  And he’s played forty-nine games, which is about more than a quarter of the whole season, so it’s not like he’s had hardly any playing time.  His performance in the field is much stronger than his performance at the plate, but it still could be better.

Ryan Sweeney: C

I was on the fence about a C or a D.  But then I realized that I was only going to give him a D because Josh Reddick would have been so much better, and that wouldn’t be fair.  It’s not Sweeney’s fault that he’s in right field and not Reddick; that’s Ben’s fault, and we’ll get to that later.  Anyway, Sweeney’s .283 average is respectable.  His seventeen doubles, two triples, and zero home runs are not.  Neither are his nine walks.  His two errors in right are alright, but errors made in the outfield tend to be costly because the ball is farther away from the infield, so those two errors could probably count for more.

Cody Ross: B

Ross has been good but not great.  His thirteen home runs from the right side of the plate are a much-needed edition to our lineup, and his twenty-four walks show patience at the plate.  He also has fourteen doubles and forty RBIs to his credit, and he has yet to make an error in the field.  I’d say he’s been better than expected, but he could be better still; his .264 average and .345 on-base percentage leave much to be desired.

Daniel Nava: A

If you told me during Spring Training that Nava would play fifty-two games by the All-Star break and bat.275 with an on-base percentage of .388, I would have been extremely skeptical.  But that’s what happened.  And he has forty-seven hits to his credit, seventeen of which are doubles and three of which are homers.  He has also walked twenty-six times and has made only one error.  For a utility outfielder that has suddenly found himself in the limelight thanks to injuries, he’s been handling himself very well.

Ryan Kalish: C

In short, he’s still a kid and he needs work, in the sense that he needs to be worked, in terms of playing time, and to be worked on, in terms of training time.  He’s played eighteen games this year and has hit only two extra-base hits, both of them doubles.  He has walked only twice and batted in only five runs.  And he has made two errors, and between the fact that that’s over the course of only eighteen games and the fact that outfield errors are costly, that’s a lot.

David Ortiz: A

Nobody on this team deserves an A more than Big Papi.  He ranks tenth in the Majors in doubles with twenty-five, fifth in slugging percentage with .607, and is tied for seventh in homers with twenty-two.  Among DHs, he ranks first, first, and third in those categories.  Simply put, the man’s job is to hit for extra bases.  That’s what he does.  He’s been doing it from day one this year, and he has continued to do it consistently.  He’s just hit the four hundredth home run of his career, and he looks like he’s in line to hit many, many more.  This season, the team seems to have two constants: inconsistency and Big Papi.

Offense Overall: B

As a team, we are sixth in the Majors in average with .268, eighth in on-base percentage with .329, and fourth in slugging percentage with .441.  We are second in runs with 432, third in hits with 302, first in doubles with 208, eighth in home runs with 99, and third with RBIs with 409.  And yet somehow we fail to win consistently.  It’s because we don’t score runs consistently.  Sometimes we score a little, and sometimes we score a lot.  And of course it also has to do with the pitching, which we’ll get to later.  But like I always say, just like the pitching staff’s job is to make sure that we win regardless of what the offense does or doesn’t do, so it is the offense’s job to make sure we win regardless of what the pitching staff does or doesn’t do.

Defense Overall: B

We are sixth in the Majors in fielding with a percentage of .986.  It could be much, much better.  I guess we can chalk it up to several players in key defensive positions having had to get used to Fenway, but that shouldn’t have taken the entire first half of the season.

Jon Lester: C

Lester has not pitched well at all.  In fact, his numbers are unfortunately similar to Beckett’s.  Why must our aces struggle at the same time? Why must our aces struggle at all? These are some of the big questions for which the team does not seem to have any answers whatsoever.  He has a 4.49 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP.  In eighteen starts, he is 5-6 with fifty-six earned runs, thirty walks, and eleven home runs.  Those numbers put him in the basement of the American League, which is not where a pitcher like Lester is expected to be.

Josh Beckett: C

Like Lester, Beckett has not pitched well at all.  In fact, his numbers are unfortunately similar to Lester’s.  He has a 4.43 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP.  In fourteen starts, he is 4-7  with forty-four earned runs, twenty-two walks, and nine home runs.  He also has the lowest average strikeout total per nine innings of his career at 6.5.  And this is the mighty Josh Beckett that should have won the Cy Young in 2007? He’s like a completely different pitcher now.

Clay Buchholz: C

Buchholz has actually been terrible this year.  He has started fourteen games and is eight and two, but he has a 5.53 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP with fifty-three earned runs, fifteen home runs, and thirty-four walks.  In 86.1 innings pitched, he has given up ninety-nine hits.  It’s a miracle that he has more wins than losses, and how he managed to rack up so many wins is a mystery.  Yet another disappointment.

Daniel Bard: D

I’m honestly sorry to give Bard a D, but it’s the grade he deserves.  He was made a starter partly because his superiors wanted him to be a starter and partly also because he wanted to be a starter.  But the truth of the matter is that he has no business being a starter.  If something isn’t broken, nobody should try to fix it, and Bard was on the road to a fantastic career as a closer.  We needed him as a closer.  And instead he became this mediocre pitcher stripped of his dignity.  He started ten games and had an ERA of 5.24 and a WHIP of 1.62.  In fifty-five innings pitched, he gave up fifty-two hits, thirty-two earned runs, six homers, and thirty-seven walks.  His record was 5-6.  Let it be stated here that Bard is much more effective as a setup man or closer.  And the fact that that actually has to be stated is an embarrassment.  It should have been evident.

Felix Doubront: B

I don’t think anyone predicted in Spring Training that Doubront would become our best starter.  Then again, as we have seen, this season has been full of surprises, most of them unpleasant, so Doubront was a breath of fresh air.  Not that that says much.  In any other season, if Lester and Beckett and Buchholz pitched to their abilities, Doubront would be at the middle or bottom of the rotation at best.  Anyway, his ERA is currently 4.41, and his WHIP is 1.38.  He has started seventeen games and has a record of 9-4.  In ninety-six innings pitched, he’s given up forty-seven earned runs, fifteen homers, and thirty-five walks.

Aaron Cook: B

Compared to how we thought he was going to work out, Cook was actually a pleasant surprise as well.  Again, that doesn’t say much, but given his health when he joined the team, it does say a lot about his determination and commitment.  Plus he pitched that absolute gem a few starts ago, which can not be overlooked, especially since he’s made only four starts this season so far.  He has a 4.37 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, which is decent under his circumstances.  And we need the extra starter anyway.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: D

I’ve been thinking that Dice-K is a problem with no solution.

Matt Albers: B

Albers has not been outstanding, but he has been pretty great.  He certainly has made a valiant effort to turn it around from last season and has a nice 2.38 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP.  In thirty-four innings, he’s given up thirteen runs on twenty-six hits with twenty strikeouts.  He’s pitched in thirty-two games and has blown only three saves.  It should be zero, but this is not the team with which to be picky.

Andrew Miller: B

Again, not outstanding but pretty great.  2.75 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 19.2 innings pitched.  Six runs on thirteen hits and no blown saves.  If he continues pitching as well as he has so far, he will have the best season of his career numbers-wise.  Granted, he spent most of his career as a starter, but he’s found this new role in which he has a chance to be really successful for a team that really needs him.

Scott Atchison: A

Here’s someone who’s outstanding.  Atchison is probably our best reliever so far.  His ERA is a low 1.79, and his WHIP is a low .99, and that’s over 45.1 innings pitched.  He’s given up only nine runs on thirty-six hits while walking nine and striking out thirty-three.  He has also given up only two home runs.  Outstanding.

Vicente Padilla: C

As a setup man, he hasn’t done as well as I would have liked.  His 3.94 ERA and 1.38 WHIP are actually terrible for a setup man, but somehow he gets through it.  In thirty-two innings, he’s given up fourteen earned runs on thirty-five hits while striking out only nine.  He’s blown two saves.  Now, a setup man is a setup man; he’s supposed to put the closer in a position where the closer can close, and he’s supposed to keep the team in a position where the team can win.  That means not blowing any saves and not giving up any runs, and if you do give up runs, giving up the bare minimum of runs.  I don’t feel he’s done that.

Franklin Morales: B

Another thing that I don’t think anyone predicted at Spring Training was Morales’s versatility.  He is both a reliever and a starter, and he is effective in both roles.  He is 1-2 with eight holds and no blown saves, and he has an ERA of 3.50 and a WHIP of 1.17.  He has made four starts and pitched 46.1 innings total, and he has given up eighteen earned runs on forty-one hits while walking thirteen.  Between all the injuries we’ve had, without Morales to fill in and start, we’d be in a very bad place.

Mark Melancon: D

Melancon doesn’t do much.  Somehow it’s happened that he and Mortensen tend to appear in games together, but he hasn’t really made much of an impact.  And that’s probably because he can’t be trusted, so he doesn’t get that much playing time.  He has a 7.04 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP and has pitched 15.1 innings.  He’s given up twelve earned runs on eighteen hits.

Alfredo Aceves: C

Let’s not forget that Aceves began the season abysmally, and we were all wondering how in the world we would be expected to continue the season with a closer like that.  Well, we didn’t, because Aceves pulled it together and turned it around.  And now his ERA is 4.33 and his WHIP is 1.19.  I mean, that’s actually terrible for a closer, especially in light of what we’ve been used to in recent years, but it could have been a lot worse.  Still, objectively speaking, we need him to be better.  He’s pitched 43.2 innings and has given up twenty-one earned runs on thirty-eight hits.  He also has four blown saves.

Pitching Overall: D

It should come as no surprise to anyone that our team ERA of 4.22 is one of the worst in the Major Leagues.  So is our strikeout total, our batting average against, our earned run total, and our loss total.  Our pitching staff is absolutely terrible this year and must somehow be fixed.  However, a distinction must be made between the rotation and the relief corps.  The latter is performing much better than the former.  On the one hand, we expect our relievers to ideally not allow any runs.  On the other hand, this is baseball, and runs are allowed, and the relief corps can not be expected to constantly clean up the messes made by the starters.  It drags the relief corps down when they give up runs that end up costing the team games because the offense doesn’t hit or score and the starters don’t limit the damage.

Bobby Valentine: C

There are those who say that Bobby V. is not effective here because the brass won’t let him be himself.  There are those who say that Bobby V. is not effective here because the brass lets him be too much of himself.  And there are those who say that Bobby V. is not the problem and that the team is the problem.  Well, I’m not in the clubhouse or the front office, so I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.  But I do know that Bobby V. is in a class by himself.  His managerial style is not one that Boston has had in a long time, certainly not in recent years.  It is a style that our players and many of our new guys are not familiar with.  It is a style that is not always the most adaptable and that probably expects more adaptation than it itself makes.  And it is a style that takes some getting used to.  This style affects his conduct both on and off the field; it affects how he makes strategic decisions before, during, and after games and it affects how he interacts with the players and the media.  And based on what I have seen, based on the decisions that he has made and the things that he has said, I don’t think that that getting-used-to process is over.

Ben Cherington: C

Let’s see.  Andrew Bailey is still on the DL, Reddick is having a pretty good year, and Bard is not a starter.  Whether the Youkilis trade was warranted remains to be seen.  I trust Ben because Theo Epstein trained him and because in the past he’s shown that he has a very intelligent and strategic mind when it comes to sabermetrics and the ins and outs of being a good general manager for a team like ours.  And he’s had only one off season and one half of a season so far at the helm, so the sample size is small.  So I clearly will be giving him the benefit of the doubt.  But I just hope that his long-term vision for the team is not compromised by any sort of impulse from anywhere to find quick fixes that may help us in the short run but will damage our future.

Team Overall: D

I don’t really know what else to say.  If I sound crushed and exasperated and frustrated, it’s because I am.  And I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that we all are.  At the All-Star break, we’re at .500, tied for fourth (or last) place with Toronto and nine and a half games out of first place, which is where the Yanks are.  We can’t win as a team, we can’t win consistently, we can’t score runs consistently, we can’t pitch well consistently.  We can’t do much of anything consistently.  We have all these problems and no solutions.  We need to pull it together in an enormously huge way and have a truly phenomenal second half if we want to avoid the consequences of having a second half just like our first half.

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First of all, let me just say that honoring Papi before the game for his four hundred career home runs was a very nice and well-deserved touch.

When I emphasized our need for a strong series, a game like last night’s was not exactly what I had in mind because we lost.  We are now eight and a half games out of first place, a new season high, or more accurately a new season low.  To be fair, it wasn’t one of those games where the Yanks just scored a mountain of runs and then we had to battle all the way back from scratch but failed to score those few extra we needed at the end.  Our hitters did not procrastinate.  We stayed right with them, neck-and-neck throughout the contest.  That was why the outcome was crushing.

Beckett did not have a good night by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s always funny how a bad night against any other team looks so much worse against the Evil Empire.  He only lasted five innings and gave up six runs on eight hits while walking two and striking out five.  He threw ninety pitches, forty-nine of which were strikes, so just over half or so.

It was not pretty.  He faced the entire starting nine in the first inning alone, and this is how it went: two straight singles, a hit batsman to load the bases, a five-pitch walk to walk in a run, an RBI single that scored two, a sac fly that scored one, another single, and another sac fly to score another one, and finally a groundout to end it.  It was painful, it was humiliating, it was horrific, and if it wasn’t a sign for things to come, I don’t know what was.

Fortunately, at least at the time, we actually succeeded in getting all of those runs back and tying the game at five before the first inning was even done.  It was amazing, and it gave us a reason to believe that we were still in this thing, because for most of the game we actually were.  Nava led off the first for us with a double, advanced to third on  wild pitch, and scored on a sac  fly by Kalish.  Then Papi singled, Ross reached on an error, Gonzalez doubled in Papi, and Salty hit a huge three-run shot on his second pitch that ended up in right several feet away from the foul pole.  I mean, that’s basically what happens if you throw a middle-in fastball to Salty.  It was his seventeenth of the year, a new career high.

We continued playing cat-and-mouse for pretty much the rest of the game, right up until the Yanks scored their two winning runs that we obviously did not answer.  Beckett gave up a triple followed by a groundout for another run in the top of the second; Nava got hit, Kalish singled, and Nava scored on a single by Papi in the bottom of the second.  Both teams went down in order in the third.  Neither team scored in the fourth, either.  The Yanks didn’t score in the top of the fifth, and we gave ourselves our first lead of the night in the bottom of the frame; Gonzalez singled, moved to second on a wild pitch, and scored on a single by Gomez, which made the score 7-6.

Neither team scored in the sixth, which Albers pitched.  But it turned bad again in the seventh, when Miller came on.  He gave up a walk and a single followed by a strikeout.  Then Padilla came on and gave up a triple that scored two.  He followed that with a strikeout and then a double that scored one.  Atchison came on and then allowed his inherited runner to score on a single.  And the squandering of the one-run lead continues.

Ross homered to lead off the seventh on his third pitch, which ended up in the Monster seats.  Salty’s home run scored more runs, but Ross’s home run was a moon shot.  The ball went over the Monster.  Not in it.  Over it.  And it’s hard to hit a homer more moon shot-esque than that.  We put two men on over the course of the rest of the inning, but it didn’t amount to anything because Derek Jeter just had to convert what would have been a surefire hit into a force out, and then Punto struck out to end it.  Melancon pitched a solid eighth and ninth, during which we did not score.  And then we went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, and the Evil Empire won, 10-8.

Gomez went two for four, Gonzalez went three for five, and Papi went three for four.  Both teams posted fourteen hits each and converted four of their opportunities with runners in scoring position.  Beckett received a no-decision, Albers received a hold, Miller received both a hold and the loss, and Padilla received a blown save.  Defensive highlights included Punto gunning down A-Rod at home in the fifth for the second out.  It was an absolutely perfect block and tag.  What a textbook play.

The reason why this loss was so rough was not only because we lost to the Yankees, which is obviously a really big part of it.  It was also because we were right in that game until, well, until we weren’t anymore, until they scored those two runs that would go unanswered.  To have to witness the Yanks get five runs off of Beckett and then to watch as we got every single one of those runs back, three of them on one swing of the bat, before the first inning was even over was just truly awesome and amazing.  And then to watch us stay right there with them almost every step of the way, like I said, was a real testament to what we have in us and how great we can really be.  And, like I said, that was why the loss was so devastating.  It was because we could have won just as easily as we lost.

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Beckett was finally back in action yesterday, and he pitched well.  That was the silver lining.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much else to be thrilled about because there were way too many similarities to Thursday’s game, including the outcome.  It was just eerie.  And just sad.  But mostly just crushing.  Again.

Beckett gave up two runs on four hits in six innings; he walked three and struck out four.  He threw eighty-five pitches, fifty-five of which were strikes.  He had a phenomenal fastball and changeup as usual; his curveball and cutter were effective as well.  He cruised through five; it was the sixth that did him in, if you could say that.  In his first five innings, he faced only two above the minimum.  He didn’t even allow his first hit until four and two-thirds innings were already under his belt.  In the sixth, he threw twenty-seven pitches and faced eight batters.  It began auspiciously enough with a groundout on the second pitch of Beckett’s first at-bat.  But then he allowed a single, a walk, and a single to load the bases.  (That didn’t have to happen.  Nava and Aviles both converged on the ball of that first hit, which was actually kind of a popup, and neither caught it due to a lack of communication.  It was humiliating and the absolute worst, especially given what was about to happen next.) He was luck he only allowed a double that brought in two.  After another groundout, an intentional walk reloaded the bases, but Beckett ended the frame with a third groundout.  So all in all, Beckett escaped with minimal damage given the circumstances.

Similar to the Mariners, we ourselves didn’t score at all until the seventh.  Three straight singles loaded the bases for Kalish, who grounded into a force out, which brought in one; a passed ball brought in another.  More similarly, the inning’s last scoring play was followed by a groundout, a walk (although this one was unintentional), and a groundout that ended it.  So like the Mariners, we had a fantastic opportunity to really blow the game wide open, and like the Mariners, we could do nothing with it.

Melancon relieved Beckett and pitched the seventh without incident.  With two out and a runner on in the eighth, Padilla replaced him and ended the inning.  With one out and one on in the ninth, Aceves replaced him and ended the inning with a double play.  He also pitched a one-two-three tenth inning as well as the eleventh, which was not one-two-three because he allowed the winning run.  After a groundout, Aceves gave up two straight singles as well as a fly ball.  The ball sailed right to Ross, who caught it cleanly and quickly fired to Salty, who was waiting for the throw.  Although the play ended similarly to how it ended on Thursday, this time the problem was Ross and not Salty.  The throw wasn’t as precise as it needed to be, and the ball sort of skipped by Salty’s glove, and that was the end of it.

The final score was 3-2.  Ross went two for four, and Gonzalez went three for five.  Ross also made a spectacular leaping catch to end the third inning.  He caught a fly ball in the air and landed against the wall when he came down; that’s how far the ball was hit.  Too bad he couldn’t have made one of those in the eleventh.  But to blame the whole thing on Ross wouldn’t be fair.  That throw had nothing to do with the fact that we were only one for twelve with runners in scoring position.  It was crushing.  Crushing, crushing, crushing.  We have yet to win in extras this year.

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On June 12, we beat the Marlins, 2-1, in an obviously close game.  Buchholz was a big part of that; he pitched seven innings and gave up only one run on five hits, while walking one and striking out two.  One of those five hits was a solo shot in the seventh.  Padilla received a hold for the seventh, and Aceves got the save in the ninth.  We scored both of our runs via small ball in the seventh; Youk grounded out, Middlebrooks singled, Gonzalez flied out, Shoppach doubled in Middlebrooks, and Aviles singled in Shoppach.  We completed our series against the Marlins with a win as lopsided as that one was close, winning by a final score of 10-2.  Doubront delivered unquestionably his best start of the season, pitching a full seven innings and giving up two runs on three hits while walking one and striking out nine.  One of those three hits was a solo shot with two out in the sixth.  Padilla, Miller, and Albers combined to pitch the rest of the game.  And our hits were really busy; Aviles scored on a groundout in the third, Papi homered in the fourth, three consecutive singles and a sac fly in the sixth yielded two more, and we put up a six-spot in the eighth, when we sent eleven batters to the plate! Punto doubled, four straight singles yielded three runs, Middlebrooks got hit, Salty scored another with a sac fly, Sweeney lined out, and two straight singles scored our last run.

On June15, we started our series against the Cubs, and I am both relieved and pleased to say that Dice-K had himself a phenomenal start! He pitched six innings and gave up three runs on four hits while walking three and striking out three.  He threw ninety-three pitches, sixty-two of which were strikes.  Atchison and Melancon finished the game on the mound.  But we were shut out and lost, 3-0.  We had better luck in the next game, which we won, 4-3.  Lester went six and two-thirds innings and allowed three runs on seven hits while walking one and striking out eight; he gave up a two-run shot with one out in the seventh.  Salty homered with Papi on in the fourth, Middlebrooks singled in another run in the sixth, and then Podsednik singled in our final run in the seventh.  We ended up winning the rubber game by a final score of 7-4.  Beckett was out with inflammation in his right shoulder, so all those times I called for the bullpen to start rather than the starter finally paid off.  Morales pitched five innings and gave up two runs on four hits while walking none and striking out five; all in all, I’d say he was spectacular given the circumstances, including the fact that it was his first start since 2009.  He threw eighty pitches.  Albers then received a blown save for giving up the tying run; Miller, Melancon, and Atchison held the fort until Aceves allowed a run in the ninth.  In the first, Pedroia doubled and Papi singled for two, Papi led off the fourth with a solo shot, we scored three in the seventh on a single and two sacrifices, and we scored one in the eighth on a force out.

We played the Marlins again starting on Monday, this time at home, and this time we swept them.  The first game’s score was 7-5; Buchholz gave up five runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out three.  Albers, Miller, and Padilla performed well in middle relief, and Aceves picked up the save.  Papi hit a two-run shot in the first, Shoppach hit a two-run shot in the second, Ross hit a solo shot in the fourth, Gonzalez hit a sac fly in the fifth, and Middlebrooks doubled another in in the sixth.  The second game was a 15-5 blowout.  Doubront gave up four runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out four; Mortensen gave up one run, and Melancon pitched a shutout inning.  Aviles hit a three-run shot in the second to start the scoring.  Ross hit a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double in the third for three more runs.  We blew it wide open in the fourth; Kalish singled in one, Papi smacked a grand slam, and Salty hit a solo shot! Punto scored on a wild pitch in the fifth, and Middlebrooks hit a two-run shot in the eighth.  We barely won a nailbiter to complete the sweep.  Dice-K gave up four runs on four hits over five and a third innings; he walked one and struck out four.  Miller gave up one run, and it was Atchison who picked up the win and Aceves the save.  We got on the board in the fourth when a single and a sac fly brought in two, and we tied it up in the fifth with a single.  Then they led by two until the eighth, when Middlebrooks hit a two-run shot and Nava singled in a third run.  After Aceves’s performance, we had the sweep in hand.

After the Marlins, we hosted the Braves.  We lost on Friday, 4-1, but it wasn’t for lack of starting pitching.  Lester pitched seven innings and gave up three runs on ten hits while walking one and striking out five.  This time it was Melancon who allowed a run while Mortensen recorded the game’s last out successfully.  We scored our only run in the eighth on a double by Nava.  We won on Saturday, 8-4; Morales started again and was fantastic.  He gave up three runs, two earned, on seven hits over six innings while walking one and striking out eight; he threw eighty-six pitches.  Atchison, Miller, Padilla, and Aceves all appeared in relief.  Gonzalez singled in one and Middlebrooks doubled in another in the first, Pedroia doubled in two in the second, Middlebrooks homered in the third, Ross doubled in another in the fifth, and Nava singled in two in the seventh.  We ended up winning the series yesterday with a final score of 9-4.  Cook started in place of Buchholz, who was hospitalized due to a gastrointestinal problem.  Cook gave up three runs, two earned, on six hits over five innings.  He walked none and struck out none.  Albers allowed another run in relief; other than that, Miller, Atchison, and Melancon performed well and took care of the rest of the game.  Ross hit a three-run shot in the fourth, followed by a solo shot by Gonzalez.  Middlebrooks brought another one in with a sac fly in the fifth, followed by another home run by Ross, this one for two runs.  Nava doubled in another run in the sixth, and Youk tripled in our final run in the seventh.

It turned out that that run would be the last that Youk would bring home and third base would be the last base that Youk would defend and that game would be the last that Youk would play in a Boston uniform.  He was traded yesterday with cash to cover the remainder of this year’s salary before that at-bat to the Other Sox for utility man Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart, who the team has been scouting apparently since his college days.

Even before the at-bat, the crowd knew it was probably their last time seeing this phenomenal player playing for them; they had already given him a well-deserved standing ovation before his first at-bat in the second, and Youk had already returned it with a tip of his helmet.  In classic dirt-dog fashion, Youk legged out that triple, admittedly with a little help from the Braves, and went into the slide, and the standing ovation that he received afterwards was huge, thunderous, and extremely well-deserved.  Punto came out to pinch-run, since Ben didn’t want him injured, and after an emotional hug, as the two have been friends for years and years through Athletes Performance in Arizona, Youk returned to the dugout.  He tipped his helmet and was greeted by everyone at the entrance for more hugs and then emerged for a curtain call for both the crowd and his teammates, initiated by none other than Big Papi himself.

On the day, Youk went two for four with the triple and the one RBI.  Obviously, he also walked once and was involved in a controversial defensive play in the third during which there was some concern that he may have sustained an injury but flashed his characteristic leather throughout.  Also obviously though, there is more to a player than his final at-bat for a ballclub.  Youk was more to us than a triple and some good plays at third.  We picked him in the eighth round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2001 and raised him ourselves on the farm, and his first year in the Majors culminated in a World Series ring, our first in eighty-six years; with this trade, Papi is now the only member of that team still playing for us today.  Three years later, he added another in 2007.  He finishes his career in Boston with a batting average of .287, an on-base percentage of .388, 728 strikeouts, twenty-six stolen bases in forty attempts, and 961 hits.  Of those, 239 were doubles, seventeen were triples, and 133 were homers.  He batted in 564 runs and scored 594.  He played in 953 games and accumulated 3,352 at-bats.  Last but not least offensively, two of the stats for which he is most renowned throughout Major League Baseball, he walked 494 times and was hit by eighty-six pitches.  Now that’s a combination of eyes and patience if I’ve ever seen it.

In addition to his offense, the second aspect to Youk’s incredible game as his fielding, and this was where his versatility really shone.  Youk was a fixture at the corners.  Both of them.  It is fitting that he ended his Boston career at the bag where he began it, but he will be remembered as someone who routinely crossed the diamond without a word or a hiccup.  His fielding percentage at third in 362 games and 320 starts is .966; his fielding percentage at first in 594 games and 546 starts is .997.  In his career thus far, he has also played second base, left field, and right field and has made 986 assists, 4,788 putouts, and only forty-four errors.

There are all sorts of comparisons to be made between his stats and those of other greats the game has seen, but he was such a unique player that he shines in his own right, which brings me to the third and final aspect of Youk’s game, which was his character and leadership off the field.  As is the case so often for veterans who have played here, he was an extremely classy player.  He gave everything he had for every single at-bat at the plate and every single play in the field; he was completely invested in the well-being of the team, as evidenced by his visible and often physical expressions of frustration at his recent lack of production.  Every extra-base hit he legged out, every diving play he made, every walk he worked, and every batting helmet he threw were all the result of a fierce desire to see this team succeed.  He was a terrific mentor to the younger guys, including his replacement even as he was conscious of the fact that he was being replaced, and had a fierce, determined, and committed will.  He earned every All-Star vote he ever received and represented us three times as someone who really embodied the spirit of what it means to play here.  He was committed to his teammates as well, as evidenced in their extremely heartfelt goodbyes.  Pedroia said he loves the guy, as do well all.

We all knew this was coming.  Youk was being sidelined by Middlebrooks constantly, and the lineup was all convoluted to try to fit him in, and he didn’t exactly get along with Bobby V., and the rumors were steady.  But putting all of that aside, it speaks volumes about the type of player but also the type of guy that Youk was that after a big win that gave us the best record we’ve had all year, the mood in the clubhouse was sad, somber, and serious.  Youk helped us win two World Series championships and gave his all to this team, this city, and this game.  To say that he will be missed is an extreme understatement.  Youk, we salute you.

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