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Posts Tagged ‘Justin Verlander’

Prince Fielder won the derby with twenty-eight total home runs, four of which were the longest hit by any batter.  He and Ken Griffey, Jr. are the only players to have won multiple derbies.  Robinson Cano failed to hit any, which I enjoyed.

The National League somehow managed to win its third straight All-Star Game by a most embarrassing and humiliating score of eight-zip.  How that was even possible, I have no idea.  The American League seriously needs to step it up.  Fortunately it wasn’t the biggest run difference in the history of the All-Star Game.  The American League earned that when it beat the National League, 12-0, in 1946 at Fenway, of course.

They scored five runs in the first thanks to a two-run home run, a bases-clearing triple hit with the bases loaded, and an RBI single.  You can thank Justin Verlander for those; each of the American League pitchers pitched only one inning, but clearly his inning was by far the worst, ironically enough.  Why couldn’t he pitch like that when we’ve had to face him? He’s the third pitcher to give up at least five runs in at most one inning and the first to do it since 1983.  The last time an inning like this happened was in 2004, that most illustrious year, when the AL lit up the NL for six runs in the first.

They scored another three runs in the fourth thanks to an RBI single and another two-run home run.  You can thank Matt Harrison for those.

The AL posted six hits to the NL’s ten, none of which were for extra bases.  The AL also went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and left eight on base.  Nobody had a multi-hit performance, but at least Papi didn’t go hitless; he went one for two.  The entire team worked only three walks.  Melky Cabrera won the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award, and Ron Washington is the second manager to lose two straight World Series as well as two straight All-Star Games at the same time with the same teams.

Lastly, let it be stated here that the 2012 All-Star Game should have been held in the only ballpark that should have been the only logical choice in the first place: America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.  Fenway Park turned one hundred years old this year and deserved to celebrate by hosting the All-Star Game.  It’s been long enough since we last hosted one, and the fact that the ballpark is small shouldn’t have entered into it.  The team, the brass, the city, and the fans deserved it.  What’s done is done, but I’m just saying.

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Congratulations, folks! We are officially underway! The Opening Day game has come and gone, which means that the regular season has officially started, and we’ve watched our first nine innings of consequential baseball in too long a time.  Yesterday was the first day of the rest of our baseball lives.

Which is why it’s too bad that we lost.  I am in no way about to join any doomsayers that are out there who are already making pronouncements based on one loss to start the season.  It’s the first game; there was plenty of good in addition to the bad.  Honestly, like I said, I’m just glad to have been able to watch baseball again.  It feels good.

Two very interesting things occurred.  The first was that Tito was on the air for ESPN at the time.  He said something very noteworthy.  He said that, had the extra playoff berth been added last season, we probably would have made it in, and it probably would have changed everything, even if those who affected and were effected by the changes claim that said changes were not the result of the collapse.  The second was that, when Justin Verlander pitched to Ellsbury in the top of the first, it was the first time that a pitcher who’d just won the MVP Award started the season by pitching to the runner-up.

Okay, down to business.  Let’s talk about Lester.  Lester pitched really well.  He gave up only one run on six hits over seven full innings.  He walked three and struck out four.  Sixty-three of his 107 pitches were strikes.  I would have preferred less hits, less walks, and less pitches, which would have come naturally with the first two.  Still, he held his own against Verlander and kept us very, very much in the game, so he did his job.  He threw plenty of signature cut fastballs as well as curveballs, sinkers, and changeups mixed in to good effect.  He got his fastball up to ninety-three miles per hour.  Also of note is that he got through the first inning with only five pitches but needed a game-high twenty-three to get through the third.  His release point was nice and tight, and he varied his speeds.  Despite all of that, the final score was 3-2, but it totally wasn’t his fault.  At all.

Both of our runs were scored in the top of the ninth, which means two things: firstly, we couldn’t crack Verlander, and secondly, we were resilient and took advantage of a pitcher we could crack by getting ourselves on the road toward a comeback.  Pedroia opened the inning with a double, and Gonzalez followed that with a single.  With nobody out and runners at the corners, all Papi could come up with was a sac fly that brought Pedroia home.  At least it was something; it was better than nothing, which is what he gave us when Pedroia and Gonzalez both stood on base with two out in the sixth.  Anyway, then Youk struck out.  Then Sweeney tripled in McDonald, who came on to pinch-run for Gonzalez.  If only more men had been on base.

Now, at the time, those two runs had tied the game.  There had been an RBI double in the seventh on Lester’s watch and then a sac fly in the eighth on Padilla’s watch, before Morales pitched the rest of the inning.  So the first run of the entire game was scored in the seventh inning.  That forced Detroit to come to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, and it forced us to get a taste of what life may or may not be like with our current closing situation, or lack thereof.

Melancon came out to start the inning.  He induced a flyout but then gave up two back-to-back singles at which point he was replaced by Aceves.  You may have been thinking at the time that Aceves should have simply started the inning and finished it, but if his ensuing performance had been any indication, it probably wouldn’t have been much better.  Aceves proceeded to hit a batter to load the bases and then let the winning run cross the plate by giving up an RBI single on a full count that scooted just out of the reach of Punto, who’d come in to play third.  Game over instantly.  So it was the relief corps that lost it for us.  So much for Bobby V.’s strategy of loading the Opening Day roster with pitching.

It’s not like the rest of the offense was very helpful, either, but that tends to be what happens when Verlander starts.  The only multi-hit game of the day belonged to Sweeney, and the team collectively managed only two extra-base hits and nine total bases.  We left five on base and went two for seven with runners in scoring position.

Melancon took the loss since the winning run was assigned to him, and Lester was stuck with a no-decision, which is better than being stuck with the loss since he really did such a good job for his first start of 2012.

It was just a big disappointment.  You start the season hoping to put your absolute best foot forward, especially after the events of the end of last season and this offseason.  We don’t want to move backward; we want to move forward.  It was only the first game of the season, so it’s important not to sweat it, but I still would have liked to start things off with a win.  But at least we can congratulate ourselves on the fact that Lester was in top form, that we only lost by one run in a game started by Verlander, and that we made it to the first game of the season.  Even if that first game was pretty crushing in the end.

In other news, the B’s beat the Sens, 3-1.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Alomar is officially out.  Technically Lovullo is still in contention, but a second interview has yet to be scheduled, and that appears unlikely since Lamont is coming back for a second interview.  And of course we have Valentine to deal with.  Something of note is that Ben and the front office introduced Sveum to the brass.  Ben and the front office did not introduce Valentine to the brass.  The brass introduced Valentine to Ben and the front office.  Obviously that says something about who’s in the driver’s seat when it comes to Valentine.

Ben made some internal promotions, although obviously none to manager quite yet.  Mike Hazen, who’s run our farm system since 2006, is now Ben’s assistant GM.  Brian O’Halloran, a veteran of the organization, was promoted to Assistant VP of Baseball Operations last spring and is now the other assistant GM.  There were also several promotions in the departments of player personnel, Major League operations, player development, and scouting.

Ben also offered arbitration to Papi and Wheeler.

Justin Verlander stole Ellsbury’s MVP award.  Make no mistake.  Verlander may have the hardware, but Ellsbury was really the Most Valuable Player in every sense of the phrase.  He was absolutely brilliant.  I don’t care if the writers voted him in second place.  He finished the season with a .321 average, thirty-two home runs, 105 RBIs, fifty-two walks, thirty-nine steals, and a perfect fielding percentage of 1.  In fact, he hasn’t made an error since 2009.  That sounds like an MVP to me.  At least he was the top position player on the ballot.

Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association have signed a five-year deal.  It includes mandatory HGH testing, an even fifteen teams in both leagues by the 2013 season, more Wild Card teams and playoff rounds, expanded instant replay, and a worldwide draft by the 2014 season.  Everything seems good to me except the playoff and Wild Card expansions, which seem iffy.  The playoffs are already enormous, and the playoffs are supposed to mean something.  Do I wish that we made the playoffs every single year? Absolutely.  But I don’t want to increase our probability of losing and exhaustion if we do.  Plus, aren’t the playoffs supposed to mean something?

In other news, the Pats absolutely buried the Chiefs under their copious badness, 34-3.  It was a cakewalk.  The B’s had to eke out all of their wins this week.  We squeaked past the Habs, 1-0, and we bested the Sabres, 4-3, in a shootout.  The Red Wings snapped our winning streak at ten in a shootout, but we ended on a high note by besting the Jets.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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And if you thought Saturday’s game reminded you of a game in 2004, yesterday’s game reminded you of that whole series! Three ninth-inning rallies in as many games to win the set! I mean, what? You’re not supposed to have two walkoffs for two straight wins.  That’s unbelievable.  Unless you’re the Boston Red Sox, of course.  Then it’s entirely believable.

I guess that’s the team’s way of telling us that the standings may look bad but we’ll be alright.

Buchholz delivered a most excellent start.  He tossed a full eight, gave up two runs on three hits, walked four, and struck out five on 109 pitches.  He walked more than usual, but because his outing was so long, he made it work.  Four walks over eight innings is about one walk every two innings.  You’d rather not have him walk anybody, but that’s not terrible by any means.

He threw a good fastball, and his changeup and slider were decent.  He only allowed two runners to move into scoring position during his entire outing.  His worst inning for pitch count was the fifth when he threw seventeen; his best was the eighth with seven.  Which is why he came out to pitch the ninth.

Those two runs he gave up were scored by his runners, but they weren’t given up on his watch.  Heading into the ninth inning, Buchholz had pitched fourteen and one-third scoreless frames.  But he opened the ninth by giving up a single and a walk.  That’s when he was relieved by Paps.

Meanwhile, the bottom of the order had built a three-zip lead.  Patterson hit an RBI single in the second, and in the third after two walks we added two with Beltre’s RBI single and Kalish’s sac fly.  Verlander threw thirty-one pitches in the second and seventy-five through his first three innings.

Special thanks to Youk for preserving that lead with a perfect lunging grab of a line drive in the fifth that probably would have scored the runner from second.

And you would think that a three-run lead would be safe with a closer.  Usually it is.  Yesterday it wasn’t.  Paps allowed both of his inherited runners and one of his own to score, tying it up.  Which was infuriating.  You’re not supposed to rely on the walkoff because the walkoff is unreliable.  It’s there if you absolutely need it, but it’s better to not need it at all.  Paps eventually picked up the win, which is terrible because there’s no way he deserved it over Buchholz and there’s definitely no way Buchholz deserved a no decision, but he also picked up a blown save, his fifth of the season, which he earned one hundred and ten percent.  He blew it big time.  Regardless of the outcome of the game, he blew it.

Luckily, the Tigers didn’t want to win too badly after all.  Lowrie reached on an infield single to start things off and came out for McDonald to run.  Patterson walked.  Scutaro laid down a bunt, and Weinhardt picked it up but threw it down the first base line.  McDonald scored on the error.

There are few things better in baseball than watching your team, tired and dirty from hustle and grit, mobbing after a hard-earned win.  And I’m thinking we’ve pretty much got to be the best comeback team ever.  First 2004, then 2007, then almost in 2008, then the last game of the ALDS in 2009, and don’t forget all these regular season contests.  I watched that bunt go down, I saw Weinhardt pick it up, and I said to myself that’s it.  We’re done.  The game is over.  Because what are the chances he’d actually miss that throw and give us the win? It just goes to show you that you always have to believe.  It was wild.  And it was awesome.

It was our first walkoff on an error since we beat the Orioles on September 3, 2008.  I’m telling you, the Tigers gift-wrapped the ninth all three of these games.  We didn’t open the first one, but we sure did open the last two.

Beltre finished the night two for four.  That’s his thirty-ninth multihit game this season, a team high.  Lowrie went two for three; it’s like he never left.  And Scutaro went two for five and is currently creeping his batting average up to .300.

So we no longer have to talk about scoring at most four runs in however many games.  Now we can say we scored eight runs in the ninth innings alone of our last three! It doesn’t get much better than that.  Those kinds of wins are great for morale and the win column.  What could be better? It’s good to know you’ve got a team on your hands with a lot of character and a lot of resilience.  We of all people should know how useful the walkoff skill is in the playoffs.  All we have to do now is get there.  And I have a feeling that these two series will play a very important part in that.  What a great way to start the month of August.  Yup, it’s August already; only two months until October.  Speaking of 2007, Cleveland is coming to town tonight.  So let’s get cracking.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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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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That, without a doubt, is more like it.  While I watched this, my response to every inning was pretty much, “Exactly!” And if we do that more often we’ll be in great shape.  We were considerably shaken by that four-game tragedy with the Yanks but righting the ship now could solve that problem.  A roster like ours gives us plenty of time to get back on track, standings-wise.  But like I said yesterday, probably the best and lowest-anxiety approach at this point would be to attempt to forget about the standings and adopt a more game-by-game focus.  If we win games, the standings will come.  They have to.  There’s no way the Yankees are good enough to sustain such a sizable lead in the AL East.

Thus, onward to last night’s performance.  It really was a five-star effort.  Don’t look now, but Clay Buchholz’s improvements are showing.  He’s not the pitcher he was last year, and that’s a good thing, in more ways than one.  Not only is his control better, but much more confident and mature, and that’s key with such a young pitcher.  In his last three starts, he’s faced Sabathia, Verlander, and now Halladay.  He held the Yanks to two runs over six innings but lost, held the Tigers to one earned run over seven but lost, and finally held the Blue Jays to one run in six innings and won.  It was the only run the Jays scored in the entire game.  One walk, four K’s, nothing but ace.  Of course the irony is that this matchup could’ve been reversed.  It could’ve been Buchholz pitching for the Jays and Halladay pitching for the Sox, and it would’ve been Buchholz who would’ve won it for Toronto.  And that’s why Theo is a genius.

The relievers delivered what can easily be considered one of the bullpen’s best outings of the season.  Ramirez, Okajima, and Saito no-hit the Jays for three innings.  Six strikeouts and only one walk between them, and that, my friends, is how you get it done.

The final score was 6-1, so props go to the offense as well.  V-Mart, Ortiz, and Gonzalez each collected two hits.  Youk and Kotchman each collected steals.  Ortiz, Gonzalez, Ellsbury, and V-Mart each batted in one run.  Bay batted in two.  Four of the six runs scored courtesy of the long ball.  First, Big Papi led off the second with a homer to right, collecting the 800th RBI of his career.  That’s a lot of RBIs.  Bay followed with a two-run shot in the fifth to left.  And finally, with two out in the ninth, V-Mart hit a homer of his own into left field, just to make sure we got the message across.  Needless to say, that wasn’t Halladay’s best work.  He was out after five and took the loss.  Yes, sir.

Congratulations to Dustin and Kelli Pedroia on the birth of their son, Dylan! Pedroia will be back in the lineup tonight with something to celebrate.  And Red Sox Nation celebrates another return tomorrow: the return of its president.  Welcome back, Jerry Remy! He’ll be in the booth tomorrow with Don Orsillo to start off the series with New York.  And he’ll bring Wally in his Adirondack chair for good luck, as usual.  He says he probably won’t be going on the road trips for a while, but I’m just glad he’s healthy and back in the swing of things.  He’s been missed, and it’ll be good to have him aboard again.

Everything seems to be falling into place.  Buchholz’s hard work and dedication has payed off, Youk returned and made his presence felt, Pedroia is returning tonight, Remdawg is returning tomorrow, we’re meeting the Yankees for a rematch but on our turf; I’m psyched.  The only negative is that Tek has missed his second straight game with neck spasms; that’s not good.  We all know what happened in 2006 when Tek got injured; the team started dropping like flies to the DL and we missed the playoffs completely.  Luckily, it doesn’t sound too serious, and we have the option of starting V-Mart behind the plate.  Either way, this is probably the most important series of the season so far, but not just because of the standings.  It’s also a chance for us to spend more time feeling them out and getting comfortable with them, just in case we have to face them in the playoffs.  Plus, beating the Yankees is just fun.  There’s always that.

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And we do indeed win the series against the A’s.  Shouldn’t have been that tough, but if John Smoltz says he’s coming along, he in theory is coming along.  I don’t know; I personally would very much like to see how Clay Buchholz’s year in Triple-A has made him improve.  But Smoltz isn’t the man of the hour here; Wakefield is.  In his first outing after learning he’s an All-Star, he pitched like it.  Six innings, three runs on ten hits, with a walk and eight K’s.  Eight.  At forty-two years of age.  It’s remarkable.  It’s like he gets better with age.  I mean I know knuckleball pitchers can still bring it well into their thirties, but this is just getting ridiculous.  So far, this is one of his best season.  I mean, he’s a first-time All-Star.  And he deserves it.  At forty-two.  When you stop and think about it, it’s just amazing.  And he’s tenured; no front office business.  That’s very unusual.  But hey, he deserves that too.  In the long run he’s consistent, he’s the ultimate teammate, and he loves it here.  The way he seems to be pitching, retirement is a long way off for him.  And that, my friends, is most definitely something to smile about.  Wakefield improves to eleven and three and becomes the only American League pitcher with eleven wins!

Delcarmen and Okajima each got holds.  Paps got a save.  Barely.  He allowed a run on two hits and a walk.  It’s gotten to the point where I don’t know if I feel that same sense of security when he takes the hill.  Last year, you hear “I’m Shippin’ Up To Boston,” you know Paps is coming out, and you exhale in relief.  Now, you hear “I’m Shippin’ Up To Boston,” you know Paps is coming out, but you don’t quite know what you’re going to get.  And it’s very uncomfortable to feel that way about your closer.  Don’t get me wrong; he’s still an All-Star, as well he should be, and there isn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that he’s still the best closer in baseball (which we have to remind ourselves from time to time when he converts sloppy saves), but he’s just not as invincible as he was.  I figure he’ll solve the problem by October, but until then we might be looking at a lot of breath-holding along the way.

We won, 5-4, and if the A’s had it their way, we would’ve been headed for extras.  If you want my opinion, we should’ve won with at least a three-run lead, but a win is a win is a win and I’ll take it.  Drew led off a four-run rally in the sixth with a solo home run into the A’s bullpen on a three and one count.  That’s like the ultimate hitter’s at-bat.  You work a deep hitter’s count, and then you go yard.  He would also walk and score another run.  Pedroia went three for four.  Youk walked twice.  And both scored when Ortiz stepped up to the plate with them on base and nobody out and hit one of the most Papi-esque home runs I’ve seen this season.  A three-run monster of a shot down the 380 feet line in right field.  Very gone, as Don said.  Talk about going yard.  And he hit it from two and one, another great hitter’s count, in the cleanup spot.  Just like old times, but we never doubted he still had plenty left in the tank.  Big Papi, ladies and gentlemen! So those were our four runs in the sixth, and Ortiz batted in another in the seventh.  Bay, Ellsbury, and Kotsay all stole second.  I had no idea Kotsay could do that.

Unfortunately the Yankees won too, so our lead over them remains at one.  The Twins aren’t doing a very good job of helping us out.  Fine.  We’ll do it ourselves.  If you want something done right, do it yourself, as they say, and I’ve always felt that the best way to beat the Yankees is at Fenway Park in a Red Sox jersey.  Now we start our four-game set with the Royals, which should be a blast.  It’s our last series before the All-Star break, and I would love to sweep it.  We’re facing Luke Hochevar tonight.  I’m telling you, our luck with pitchers has been incredible this year.  We faced Detroit and narrowly missed Justin Verlander, and now in this set with the Royals, the only pitcher we won’t see is Zack Greinke.  How awesome is that.  This, we got.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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