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Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Millar’

Happy one hundredth birthday, Fenway Park! It really his America’s Most Beloved Ballpark, and for good reason.  No other ballpark is this old or – let’s face it – this totally awesome.  When you watch a game there, you really have this overwhelming sense of the history that’s gone down, and you wonder what the walls would say if they could talk.  That park saw everything.  For hundred years, most of them culminating in postseason disappointment so profoundly gut-wrenching that your first instinct would be to think that somebody had to have planned it that way, this park bore witness to the lives and times of the players who played, the managers who managed, and the fans who supported, day in and day out, no matter how good or bad it got.  Standing like a sentinel right in the middle of Boston, it has seen everything that’s happened, both in and out of baseball, in that city in the last hundred years.  Think about that for a minute.  If the walls could talk, what would they say? In addition to the regular lot, this park has seen Major League baseball players, minor league baseball players, National League baseball players, college baseball players, high school baseball players, football players, hockey players, basketball players, soccer players, boxers, musicians, soldiers, fans from every walk of life, wins, losses, World Series, no-hitters, a five-hundred-foot home run, more than ten thousand home runs total, the tallest wall in any ballpark in the United States, the first foul ball screen ever used, the only in-play ladder in Major League Baseball, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s last political speech, and so much more.

This park is alive with character.  Every part of the park has a story: the Green Monster that now stands in place of Duffy’s Cliff, the Pesky Pole, the Fisk Pole, the retired numbers, Willamsburg, the bullpens.  Everything.  It’s small, and the seats don’t have cushions, and you can’t order gourmet food behind home plate.  But seriously, who wants to go to a baseball game just to feel like you’re watching the game on television or at a restaurant? No, you want to feel the park and to live the experience.  We’ve got the best fans in all of sport, I’d say, and we’ve got the best venue to match.

If April 20, 1912 was the day that Red Sox Nation and Fenway Park got married, then April 20, 2012 was the day that Red Sox Nation and Fenway Park renewed their vows.  I can’t even bear the thought that several years ago we almost lost Fenway Park forever, and I can bear the thought even less that there weren’t more people interested in saving it.  It’s truly a gem of a ballpark, and it’s one of every Red Sox fan’s favorite places in the whole world.

But what would a family affair be without a little token drama? Apparently all living uniformed personnel were invited, but apparently Theo wasn’t invited until Thursday and declined to go.  Curt Schilling, who has made no secret of his criticism of Bobby V., declined an invitation due to a commitment to his business.  It was speculated that Tito wouldn’t be there, but after all he was.  It’s really a shame that all this drama has to get in the way of such a great day in the history of what’s brought all these diverse people together.  I know it’s corny, but why can’t we all just get along, just for one day? Obviously we weren’t there for any of the drama, so we can’t really know how bad or not-so-bad it was, but anyway it would have been nice to have these individuals, who’ve been so crucial to bringing about what is (“is,” and hopefully not “was”) arguably a golden age in our club’s history.

Anyway, here are the details.  There was an introduction that basically said that the constant throughout history is baseball, and the constant throughout baseball is Fenway, and the constant throughout us disparate fans is this team.  Then John Williams conducted the Boston Pops in playing “Fanfare for Fenway,” his new composition.  There was the national anthem.  There was the flyover, which always gets me.  Then there was a steady stream of past players in their uniforms; they all congregated in the parts of the field that they played.  Most of the who’s-who as well as the unknowns of Red Sox history was there, those that could barely walk and those who recently retired.  It was really just beautiful to see generations of players represented before generations of fans.  You could acutely feel that you were witnessing history not only by bearing witness to the occasion but also by remembering that each and every one of those players had borne witness to Red Sox Nation.  (Incidentally, the whole procession received continuous applause and a standing ovation.  Terry Francona’s applause and name-chanting was deafeningly thunderous, as it should have been.  Nomar, Pedro, Yaz, and Pesky also received substantial thunder.  And also Wake, Tek, Bobby Doerr, Jerry Remy, Jim Rice, Kevin Millar, and a host of others too numerous to name.) Then there was a toast with grape juice, supplied at every seat for every fan of every age, led by Pedro and Millar, which as you can imagine was highly, highly entertaining and completely brought you back to 2004.  It was literally the largest toast in one venue, as in a new world record.  But hey, that’s the strength of Red Sox Nation for you.

The first pitch was thrown from the row of seats behind the first base dugout by the mayor of Boston, just like it was one hundred years ago.  This year, Thomas Menino was joined by Caroline Kennedy and Thomas Fitzgerald, two descendants of 1912 Boston’s Mayor John Fitzgerald.

I have to say, the throwback uniforms were a real treat.  How fortuitous that the schedule allowed us to play the exact same team, too.  I have to admit, even though the score a hundred years ago was 7-6 in eleven innings, I was hoping for a big more of a thrashing, as close as a close game would have been to the original may have been.  Ultimately, a win to preserve the history would have been very much appreciated and appropriate.

Sadly, a win was not to be.  Buchholz allowed home run after home run after home run.  Now that he and Beckett have both allowed five home runs in one game this season, the 2012 club becomes one of only three teams in Major League history to carry two starters who have given up five home runs each in one game in one season.  (Incidentally, one of the other two was the 2009 club, and Buchholz and Beckett were both at fault then too.) He gave up six runs, five earned (you can thank Pedroia for dropping a routine popup, a rare sight indeed), on nine hits, five of which were home runs.  All of the home runs were solo shots, and three of them led off innings.  He only allowed one other extra-base hit, a double.  He lasted six innings, walked two, and struck out two.

Buchholz used four pitches: a four-seam, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup.  His four-seam got up to ninety-five miles per hour and was his most abundant and effective pitch; he threw it for strikes more than eighty percent of the time.  The others were thrown for strikes less than sixty percent of the time, which is unfortunate since the majority of his pitches category-wise were off-speeds.

Atchison pitched the seventh, Thomas and Tazawa teamed up for the eighth, and Tazawa pitched the ninth.

We got on the board in the second when Papi homered to the Green Monster.  The ball, a fastball, bounced off of the very top of the wall and was ruled a double before it came under review and was rightly overturned.  In the fifth, a pair of doubles by Ross and Aviles scored another run.  That was all we managed.  Don’t even think for  second that you weren’t thinking that the stage may have been set for something truly epic: a recreation of the original final score.  Our final score ended up being 6-2, but just imagine if we could have somehow scored four more runs to tie it, gone to the eleventh inning, and then scored one more run?

It seemed like every single one of our rallies was killed before it got started.  Aviles and Papi each had two hits for the only multi-hit performances of the day.  In addition to the home run and those two doubles, we hit two more, and that was it for extra bases.  Not one member of our lineup walked.  Repko made a decidedly Ellsbury-esque catch.  I hope Bobby V. paid attention to the “We Want Tito” chant in the ninth; we have the lowest team ERA in the Majors and are now on a four-game losing streak overall and a four-game home losing streak for the first time since 2010 with a record of four and nine.

At any rate, one hundred years of Fenway Park have come and gone, so here’s to the next hundred.  Here’s to a happy birthday to America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.  Fenway Park, all that you’ve seen and all that you mean, we forever salute you!

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Caps, 2-1.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki
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Miller was masterful.  After seeing some of his earlier starts, I bet you never thought we’d be saying that.  But that’s what happens with young pitchers.  They mature, get their work in, see the batters in the league, and then suddenly you realize that somewhere along the way they just figured it out.  That’s how Miller looked last night.  Last night he looked like someone who had it all figured out.

He shutout the Texas Rangers for six and a third innings.  He gave up only three hits while walking two and striking out six.  He threw eighty-three pitches, fifty-one of them for strikes.  Tito took him out with an out and a man on in the seventh.  In terms of pitch count, he could even have finished that inning.  His fastballs were excellent; his changeup and slider were decent.  He doesn’t have a big arsenal like mature starting pitchers do, but it was enough.  His highest pitch count in an inning was twenty-one in the sixth; his lowest was seven in the fifth.  He began strong by only throwing ten in the first.  It was fun to watch.  It was a glimpse of what we could be seeing regularly from him in a few years.

Meanwhile, the lineup did some more crushing.  Gonzalez jacked the first pitch he saw in the game, a fastball, to center field.  It was a straight shot straight back.  It was his hundredth RBI of the season.  It was his fourth home run of the series.  It was not his last.

Papi led off the second by jacking a fastball as well.  The fastball was inside, and he sent it to the seats in right.

I think Gonzalez decided that he wanted to hit another home run.  That’s how controlled and skilled a hitter he is.  I think he just decided that he was going to hit another home run.  He waited for Lowrie to walk first and then jacked another fastball, again the first pitch of his at-bat, into the bullpen in left center field.  So he jacked the first two pitches he saw in the game.  Seriously, everything he does when he steps into the batter’s box is a textbook example of how it should be done.  Maybe he just decided, “I think I’ll hit two home runs today.” That comes to five dingers in his last three games, the first time it’s happened in our club since Kevin Millar did it in July 2004.  (Needless to say, we all know how the 2004 season turned out.  Coincidence? I think not.) Those two home runs combined for an approximate distance of 860 feet.  I think his power stroke is back.

I guess Salty was watching all of this and thought it was fun and wanted in on the party.  He waited for Crawford to lead off the fourth with a single and then jacked a fastball of his own, also the first pitch of his at-bat.  The fast ball was away and took it to the opposite field in left.

The game was won by the fifth inning; the final score was already in place.  Miller, Aceves, and Wheeler made sure it stayed put.

That means that every single one of our runs was scored via the long ball.  Every single one of them.  The only extra-base hit we had last night that wasn’t a home run was a double by Reddick.  We left four on base and went 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position.  We put up nine hits, which pales in comparison to the hit totals we put up on Tuesday and Wednesday.  But we won, 6-0.  Texas should know better than to think that, just because they beat us in the beginning of the season and just because they took the opener of this series, we wouldn’t do anything to take our dignity back.  In this series, we hit nine home runs and outscored the Rangers, 30-7.  As a result, we are now eighty and fifty.  We are thirty games over .500 for the first time this year, and it just goes to show you how good we really are; despite our slow start to the season, this is the fastest we’ve won eighty games since 1978.  We taught them a lesson: don’t mess with Boston.

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That wasn’t good.  And that was an understatement.  I was afraid this would happen.  First, I was afraid that we would do all kinds of goodness during our first win on our home opener only to pretty much forget all of it and do none of it the game after.  That didn’t exactly happen.  Instead, we repeated the only badness we had on Friday: starting pitching.  Our starters have a collective ERA of 7.09 and have allowed a grand total of nineteen home runs.  Both stats are the worst in the Major Leagues.

I knew it was going to be a long day as soon as I saw Buchholz missing his spots.  It’s not that hard to figure out.  When a starting pitcher misses his spots, you’re going to have a long day.  That’s pretty much a hard and fast rule.

He only lasted three and two-thirds innings, and by all accounts, even that was too long.  This Buchholz didn’t look like the Buchholz who won seventeen games last year.  This Buchholz looked like the Buchholz of 2008, a year so bad for him that I’m embarrassed to repeat these numbers: in fifteen starts, he pitched only seventy-six innings and fifty-seven earned runs on ninety-three hits, eleven of them homers; he went two and nine with a 6.75 ERA and 1.76 WHIP.  Not exactly a year to revisit.

He gave up four earned runs, five in total (you can thank Lowrie for that one, who made an error on a grounder that was as routine as they come), on eight hits, one of which was a three-run home run by Russell Martin.  He walked three.  He struck out two.  He threw ninety-two pitches, fifty-five for strikes, four for swinging strikes.

It all started with two runs in the second: the error, a double, a fielder’s choice groundout, and another double.  No big deal, right? I mean, they scored two runs first on Friday as well, and we came back.  The problem was that Buchholz was so much worse than Lackey.  Buchholz made Lackey look like an ace.  The Yankees scored three more runs in the fourth.

Buchholz threw mostly fastballs, with just as many sliders as changeups thrown in as well as a couple of handfuls of curveballs.  His fastball got all the way up to ninety-five miles per hour.  His curveball was his most effective pitch as well as his least frequently thrown pitch, which is something we’ve seen more than usual lately; the bad starts have tended so far to be paired with the starter not using his most effective pitch very often.  It may have been his most effective strike-wise, but it wasn’t perfect.  He threw three pitches on which the Yankees scored runs; one was a fastball, one a changeup, and one a curveball.  He varied his speeds, he kept his release point tight, and he definitely threw some good pitches.  But not enough.  What can I say? If he didn’t hit his spots, he didn’t hit his spots, and that’s the end of it.

During the first inning, it looked like he was going to be okay.  It looked like he was having a rough first inning that would prove to be the end of his troubles.  In the first, it looked like he had potential to settle down.  He threw eighteen pitches, ten for strikes, and it looked like things would only improve from there.  Not so much.  His pitch count climbed, and he threw thirty-two pitches in the fourth before he was removed.  If only that were the end of our misery.

Doubront came on and gave up a home run of his own, this one for two runs.  Not wanting to be left out, Aceves gave up two solo shots.   Wake was the only pitcher to go out there and deliver.  Two shutout innings with one strike out.  Too bad he was only out there for two innings.

It didn’t matter that Lowrie went three for four.  It didn’t matter that we scored three runs in a single inning in the fourth to answer their three-spot in the top of that frame.  It didn’t matter that that three-spot brought us within only one run.  Or that Youk made an incredibly precise and well-placed throw home to prevent Granderson from scoring in the second.  Or that Gonzalez left the bag to make a spinning catch and fire to first in time for the second out of the third.

It didn’t matter that Pedroia was again the man of the hour.  Or that didn’t just go three for four; he went three for four with three doubles and a walk.  Or that it was his second consecutive three-hit performance.  Or that he batted in two RBIs on one of those doubles, an extremely hard-hit, ninety-three mile-per-hour four-seam that bounced off the center field wall a few feet to the right of the 379-foot marker with two out in the fourth.  Or that he robbed Teixeira of a line drive in the sixth with a spectacular diving grab.

It didn’t matter that, all told, we stroked ten hits, our second double-digit hit total in as many days, which signifies that, slowly but surely, this team is figuring out how to deliver, produce, and win collectively.  It didn’t even matter that Kevin Millar, the great galvanizer of 2004, was in the stands.  None of that mattered even one iota.  All that mattered was that we left ten men on base, went an obscenely pathetic one for seventeen with runners in scoring position, and therefore scored only four runs.  We lost, 9-4.  To the Yankees.  Because we couldn’t pay our pitching staff to not give up runs (oh, wait) and because our lineup looked like it had no idea what having runners in scoring position meant.  It was crushing in every sense.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that we are frustrated beyond words at this point.

So we had our seventh non-quality start in eight games.  We’re one and seven.  And the best we can do now is win the series.  Let’s at least just do that.  Our starters are into their second rotation now.  They’ve seen action.  We’re at home.  This should bring goodness.  Until today, it has.  Beckett has the ball tomorrow, and he needs to deliver.  There’s no getting around it now.  First, we had to deal with everything going wrong: bad pitching coupled with bad hitting coupled with bad baserunning.  At this point, we seem to have gotten the baserunning and hitting parts down, or at least they’re better than they were.  What we need to do now is pair good starting pitching with good hitting.  No baseball team can win with just one or the other.  You need both.  We have both on paper.  We need both in practice.

In other news, the Bruins beat the Sens, and we clinched our division! We now fill the third seed with 103 points; Philly fills the fourth with 104.  The Caps have clinched the conference.  We have one game left to play in the regular season – this afternoon against the Devils – and then it’s go time.

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Dustin Pedroia.  Dustin Pedroia the Destroyah.  Ladies and gentlemen, Dustin Pedroia the Destroyah is officially back in action! He is so back in action, it’s not even funny.  He is so back in action, I was almost blind by the lasers coming off his bat last night.

Before the game, Tito texted him and asked if he wouldn’t mind batting third.  He said no, he wouldn’t mind.  His bat completely agreed.  That was corny, but how else can I say it? Dude was packing.

He then proceeded to go five for five with a walk, four runs, five RBIs, and a career-high three home runs in a single game.  Simply put, that was the best offensive game he has ever played in his entire life.  Ever.  Seriously.  Four of those five hits were for extra bases.  And going all the way back to Little League, he’s never hit three home runs in a single game before.  The last time he even came a little bit close to that was last season against the Orioles, when he hit two.  But never has he hit three.  The team hasn’t had a three-homer game since July 23, 2004 (with the emphasis obviously on 2004), when we lost to the Yanks but Kevin Millar went deep three times in the process.  Last night was the twenty-fifth three-homer game in club history.  Tito even compared Pedroia to Ryne Sandberg.  Scutaro announced truthfully that here’s a real three-spot hitter.  I think at this point Pedroia may be over his slump, don’t you?

He hit his first homer of the night in the fourth to get us on the board.  It was hit mighty deep and ended up somewhere in the left field seats.  It was his tenth of the year; he’s the fourth member of our lineup to have ten.  But obviously he wouldn’t have only ten for long.

He hit his second homer in the eighth.  That one was a two-runner.  He extended all the way to get it with the tip of his bat and curled it around the foul pole in left field.  It was his second career two-homer game, but again, it wouldn’t be just a two-homer game for long.

His third and most dramatic home run was another two-runner on a slider that he absolutely crushed in the tenth with two outs and an 0-1 count.  He put the barrel of his bat on it, and it had backspin on it.  So it was barely two feet inside the left field fence.  But it was out.  It was most definitely out.  It may as well have been a walkoff because it gave us a lead we would not relinquish.  Finally.  The final score was 13-11, courtesy of the little man with the apparently really big bat.

It was incredible.  It was really incredible.  And even that’s an understatement.  He had every single Rockies pitcher’s number.  He read the ball perfectly.  He executed his swings right on time.  His motion was precise.  And he unleashed all the power he had.  You don’t see a game like that every day, but for Dustin Pedroia the Destroyah, a game like that is just amazing, not surprising.  Wow.

It was a slugfest, so the rest of the offense wasn’t too shabby, either.  Naturally that’s an understatement.  Cameron and and even Dice-K rounded out the fourth with a two-run double and an RBI single, respectively.  All seven of the hits and four of the runs that Hammel gave up came in that frame.  In the fifth, Beltre got in on the action, depositing one in left field, ironically with Pedroia on base.  Beltre also had himself an RBI single, along with Tek’s two-run double, in the seventh.  And the rest of it, as I said, was all Pedroia.  Man, slugfests are good for the heart, good for the mind, and most definitely good for the soul.

That was the good, and believe me, it was all good.  Now for the bad.  Dice-K wasn’t exactly on the ball.  In his first start since June 7, he only lasted five innings, gave up two runs on five hits, walked four, and struck out six.  So, on average, that’s about one hit and one walk per inning.  He threw thirty-seven of his 101 pitches in the first inning alone.  Rusty much? Eventually, as he is wont to do, he did settle down.  He threw only twelve pitches in the second, seventeen in the third, twenty-five in the fourth, and thirteen in the fifth.  Really, all of his pitches were good.  His fastball and slider were his most effective pitches, but he also threw his changeup and cutter decently.  Having all his pitches working helped him mix them effectively and vary his speed.  His strike zone was sort of diagonal; he threw from the upper right corner to the lower left corner, with his balls being around those corners as well.  The movement on his pitches was more moderate than usual, which may have been the problem.  If pitches that are supposed to move don’t move, they sort of hang over the plate and don’t do much, and it’s really easy for the batter to spot them and make constructive contact.  Luckily, Dice-K managed to not allow any home runs.  In fact, that was the one category in which our pitching last night excelled.  Dice-K left with a 6-2 lead but was off record.

And now, last but unfortunately not least, the ugly.  Dice-K was off record because Delcarmen failed.  He gave up three runs on two hits and a walk without even recording an out.  Okajima followed that with a failure of his own, allowing three runs on four hits and earning a blown save for his trouble.  Ramirez recorded an out.  Atchison received a hold but allowed a run.  Bard received a hold and recorded an out.  And now we arrive at Papelbon.

Papelbon was awarded both the win and a blown save, his second in a row.  He entered the game with an 11-9 lead and exited the game with a 13-11 final score, but in between he opened with a strike out, only to give up three consecutive hits, the third of which was a bloop single on a 3-0 count that was good for two runs that tied the game.  Many thanks to McDonald for making a jumping catch literally at the center field wall.  (Other defensive theatrics included Cameron’s beautiful diving catch in center.) These were his first back-to-back blown saves since May 7 and 9, 2008, the third time he’s done it in his career, and the first time in his career that he’s done it on consecutive days.  Ultimately, I hope he went up to Pedroia after the game and thanked him profusely for that third long ball.

Thus, the entire offense spent the entire night bailing the entire pitching staff out.

Lowell is on the fifteen-day DL because he felt something in his right hip.  Essentially, it was a roster move to make room for Dice-K’s return.

That was some game, of which resilience was the name.  It took ten innings, lasted four hours and forty-eight minutes, included four lead changes, and a grand total of thirty-three hits between the two teams.  But we won out! Still tied with Tampa Bay, we’re two games out of first and off to San Francisco.  Wakefield starts it off.  After last night’s marathon, I’m thinking something brief but decisive, although with Wakefield, as with Dice-K, you never really know what you’re going to get.  At least we’ve got some momentum going into it.  We staved off the sweep, we’re still almost in first, and our second baseman, who had until this point been in a slump, just lit it up big!

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So, we’ve had a week to recuperate from last weekend’s miserable postseason showing.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it because, quite frankly, I’m still bitter about it.  And I think Red Sox Nation will agree with me that it’s frustrating to make sure you can watch the playoffs in their entirety, only to find out that your playoffs that year consisted of three games during which the team you’d been watching for the entire season didn’t even show up.  I’m just saying.

Evidently we have some work to do, and when I say “we” I especially mean Theo Epstein.  There is a reason why we were swept in the first round.  We had a hitting issue.  If you think about it, we didn’t have a pitching issue.  Lester made a mistake with Torii Hunter on the mound, Josh Beckett had one bad frame in the seventh, and Clay Buchholz, the vindicator of the entire 2009 postseason for the Boston Red Sox, delivered an absolutely stellar performance, and Theo has confirmed his membership in the 2010 starting rotation.  But the hitting issue was glaring and significant.  Even reflecting on the regular season.  In past years, when the team slumped, we were at least able to manufacture runs through walks and small ball.  This year, when we slumped, we didn’t reach base at all.  So let’s discuss how to solve this hitting issue.

Starting with Tek.  This was a hot topic last offseason, and while it’s not going to be as hot this year, it’s going to be just as significant.  After we acquired V-Mart at the trading deadline, Tek became our backup catcher.  V-Mart would’ve had playing time no matter what, given his diversity in the field, but it was his offense that did the captain in.  Theo has confirmed that V-Mart will start next year.  The Red Sox probably won’t exercise their five-million-dollar option for next year, so it’ll be up to Tek to exercise his option, worth three million, and just accept the fact that he’s no longer a starter, which he did this year with composure and grace, teaching V-Mart everything he knows to prepare him to catch each arm.  Will Tek exercise the option? I think he will.  And I would even go so far as to say that Tek may join our coaching staff after he retires.  Meanwhile, Tek’s solid defense behind the plate makes him one of the best defensive backup catchers there is, and having him on the roster would allow V-Mart to play other positions if necessary.  And let’s not forget the fact that Tek is our captain.  And the fact that he was a good soldier this season proves yet again that he deserves that “C” on his jersey.

We need a shortstop.  There’s no getting around that.  We’ve needed a shortstop ever since Nomar wrote his one-way ticket out of town.  Jed Lowrie needs insurance for his wrist, but that insurance probably won’t come in the form of Alex Gonzalez.  He’s got a six-million-dollar club option for next year, but that’s a steep figure in this economy, and unfortunately Theo probably won’t be picking that up.  It doesn’t look like we’ll be making any blockbuster deal for a power bat at that position, so look for Theo to focus more on defense.  Which Julio Lugo made painfully clear.

We also need to resign Jason Bay.  Let me repeat that.  We need to resign Jason Bay.  He’s an excellent hitter and fielder, walks more than most in the American League, and, oh, by the way, he hustles and he’s drama-free.  To be honest, it’s either him or Matt Holliday, but he’s been here, he’s used to this city, and he’s put up great numbers.

Oh, and we need David Ortiz to be a force again.  None of this one-home-run-in-his-first-forty-plus-at-bats business.  That won’t fly.  We need Big Papi back.  A big part of that will be monitoring his off-season program.

Mike Lowell’s situation is a bit tricky.  Tito expects him to be healthier than ever next year, and indeed he showed flashes of brilliance in the field in Anaheim.  But that’s just it.  We were in Anaheim, where the weather was warm and stable.  In Boston, it’s either hot or cold.  I’m not necessarily saying that we should get rid of Mike Lowell because I think he’s valuable to our club, both as a third baseman and perhaps as a DH when Ortiz gets the day off.  I’m just saying that we need to watch him closely.  Very, very closely.

Even though our pitching was definitely a strong point this season, there are some interesting discussions on that end, too.  Theo is insisting that Dice-K adequately prepare himself for Spring Training this year.  I couldn’t agree more.  And I will be furious if he’s a World Baseball Classic ace at Boston’s expense.

Wakefield had surgery on his back a few days ago to correct a loose fragment in his back that’s been bothering him since July.  It’s been significant; he’s had trouble walking because of weakness in his left leg.  But the surgery has minimal recovery time, so barring any complications, expect him to show up on time for Spring Training.

Billy Wagner’s agent says that he wants to pitch next season, and why not? Dude’s still got it.  The Red Sox agreed not to pick up his option for next season, so he’ll be testing the waters, but he says his family is his top priority.

Sooner or later, we have to start restoring our faith in Papelbon.  I personally am not completely ready to do that yet.  In a broad sense, it’s the lineup’s fault that we’re sitting on our laurels right now with nothing to do, baseball-wise, for the rest of October, but Papelbon just rubbed salt in the wound.  If you’re one pitch away multiple times, there’s no reason to not record the out already.  But I digress.  The point is, he’s still our closer, and he’s obviously shaken.  At some point this winter, we’ll have to remember the fact that he’s got some of the best stuff in the Majors and that he’s one of the elite closers in the game.  Even if he did ultimately play an integral part in our postseason downfall.  On a related note, I think it’s safe to say that the eighth inning has “Daniel Bard” written all over it.

But after all is said and done, I think one of the absolutely most important roles we need to fill this offseason is that of Kevin Millar.  He was the essence of the 2004 World Series champion Boston Red Sox.  He exuded a winning spirit, kept the clubhouse loose, and helped take the team to the top.  Right now, Dustin Pedroia is the emotional leader of this team, but after this year’s ALDS I think it’s safe to say that he needs some help.  Someone to spark the squad when the going gets tough and the tough need to hit.  Someone, ironically and unfortunately, like Torii Hunter.

All of that is to say that our front office has its hands full.  It’s not like last year where we barely didn’t make it.  This year we didn’t make it by a mile.  Something must be done.  I’ll leave it to Theo to ultimately decide what, who, when, and how, but I think we have effectively established the why.  The only thing we as fans can do now is look forward to 2010.  Meanwhile, the Bruins are 3-4-0 in the first seven games of the season.  We’re in third place in our division.  We’ve had some very spotty play, so I’m looking forward to some improvements.

The Future Blog of the Boston Red Sox

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Cutting to the chase yet again, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were both revealed to be on the list of the roughly one hundred baseball players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drug use in 2003.  Neither will be punished by the league because suspensions were only introduced in 2004.  But this season just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it.

Isn’t it funny how the New York Times is always the one to break these stories? And with a decidedly anti-Red Sox bent, too.  “Now, players with Boston’s championship teams of 2004 and 2007 have also been linked to doping.” Like we couldn’t figure that out from the headline.  And isn’t it funny how, out of one hundred-plus names, these were the only two that were leaked? To a New York newspaper? On the front page? Mere moments before game time? When David Ortiz was scheduled to be in the lineup? It’s just strange, is all I’m saying.

The first thing I’d like to say is that the tests in 2003 were called for by Bud Selig to determine the percentage of baseball players who were using.  The results were supposed to be destroyed.  They weren’t; they were supposed to remain anonymous.  And that’s the kicker.  You can’t just release only a handful of the one-hundred-plus names on the list; it’s completely unfair.  If you release some, you have to release all.  Not doing so allows unclean players to masquerade as clean and point fingers to the unclean when really they’re all in the same boat.  And it’s deceiving; it makes it easy for people to forget that at that time this was prolific.  Furthermore, according to Nomar, because the test was anonymous and only for the purposes of determining whether testing was necessary, many players intentionally refused to be tested, thereby allowing themselves to be associated with positive results, in order to push the number of positive players over the top, which would force Bud Selig to implement tests.  This is definitely something to be kept in mind when future revelations of names are made.  Unless that’s not altogether true.  And in this day and age, you can’t be too sure.  Either way, the point is that, as it stands now, the list totally irrelevant.  Just sayin’.

Usually in these situations, the logic of choice would be that of superficial fairness.  Yes, it looks like Manny Ramirez was possibly David Ortiz were taking steroids at the time.  (I’ll explain the “possibly” in a moment.) Just like Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez.  And that by taking steroids, Manny and Papi actually evened the playing field.  The Yankees had cheaters on their team.  We had cheaters on our team.  So we still won, and we were still the better team.  Plain and simple.

But I’m not going to employ that logic, because I am a member of Red Sox Nation, and I root for a team that deserves more than just the cheap, dirty, easy way out.  When the first news of Manny Ramirez broke, I said that neither the 2004 nor the 2007 World Series victories are tainted, and I stand by that.  Yes, it looks like Manny Ramirez and possibly David Ortiz were taking steroids at the time.  But they were only two on a team of forty.  To taint those two victories is to besmirch the rest of the team without due cause.  True, they played an enormous part in both, but without the team they would’ve gotten nowhere.  David Ortiz hit walk-off home runs in the 2004 playoffs. In order for those home runs to win the game, other runs had to have been scored and plated by other players.  Like Mark Bellhorn, Bill Mueller, Pokey Reese, Trot Nixon, Orlando Cabrera, Dave Roberts, and Kevin Millar, to name a few.  What about them? They played more of a part in those wins than just two guys.  So when Yankee fans, or anyone else for that matter, try to void 2004, they’re just grasping.  Men don’t win championships.  Teams win championships.  And I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that we are not about  to let the superficial fan or the weak of heart slander two entire teams of upstanding ballplayers.

Now, that begs the question of who else on the 2004 team tested positive, but we have to work with the information available.  And I can guarantee you right now that every member of that team did not dope.  Doping had to have been an isolated incident, done on an individual basis.  It wasn’t something that ran rampant in the clubhouse.  We didn’t have a trainer injecting people or a supplier doling out pills.  The clubhouse, then, was clean, and as a team, we won honorably.  As a team, we were clean because we did not condone this behavior.  And we still don’t.

And now we get to discuss the “possibly.” David Ortiz admitted that, when he was a young man in the Dominican Republic just breaking into the game of baseball, he’d started buy protein shakes without really knowing for sure what they contained.  It’s possible that they contained PEDs and he just didn’t bother to check.  There’s no excuse for that.  But there is a difference between that and the actions of Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds.  It’s possible that he tested positive in 2003, figured it must have something to do with an ingredient in the shake, and stopped drinking them, which coincides with the fact that starting in 2004 he tested clean, a fact we have records to prove.  And the plausibility of this possibility is actually confirmed by the fact that Bronson Arroyo has publicly stated that he was taking androstenedione and amphetamines.  He stopped taking the andro because he found out it was laced with the steroid Winstrol due to “lax production standards.” Apparently, back then, it wasn’t that rare to take something without bothering to check what was in it.  (Arroyo stopped taking the andro in 2004 and the greenies in 2006, when each was respectively banned.) Manny Ramirez is another matter entirely, but we can’t pass judgment on David Ortiz.  Not yet anyway.  Not after he issued a public statement through the Red Sox during which he said he knows nothing, wants to find out all he can, and will explain the situation to the public as soon as he has more information.  This is not the usual skulking off that guilty users practice.  He’s being responsible; the first thing he did was confirm with the Players Association that the report is true.  This is exactly in the style of Big Papi, always open with the media and up-front with the fans.  We owe him our patience while he figures this whole thing out.

Believe it or not, that was the easy stuff.  Deep down, we all know the wins aren’t tainted.  We all know that, as both a team and a clubhouse, we’re clean and honorable.  We know it, we believe it, and it’s easy to explain why, and I’ve done that.  Now comes the hard part.   The part where you realize how painful it was to discover this, how frustrated you were to read it, especially on the front page of a New York newspaper.   I won’t lie; it hurt bad.   And if it comes to pass that he was ingesting PEDs a-la Bonds and A-Rod, I’ll be even more disappointed in David Ortiz.  But we’ll cross that bridge when and if we come to it.  As it is, it stabs you right in the heart.  It makes you angry that he could be so ignorant and stupid as to get caught up in all of that, and it frustrates you even more because you know you can’t judge yet since you don’t have all the details.  And it makes you sad.  But what makes you even sadder is that there are people out there who’ll try to take away from you what you’ve rightfully earned, based on the mistakes of two misguided men.  Whether one of them acted with a certain intent or not.

If there’s one thing we have to take away from this, it’s that it’s wrong to let unclean players give the clean a bad name by hiding among them.  Similarly, it’s wrong to accuse the clean of being unclean just because a realistic outcome could maybe, possibly, sort of be construed to fit an anomalous behavior.  That’s slander.  When the press does it, it’s libel.  And it’s illegal.  Just to give you an idea of how grave an offense defamation can be.  Red Sox Nation is better than that.  The Royal Rooters raised us better than that.

I was very surprised to hear about this.  I know, I know, technically this shouldn’t have surprised me.  Maybe I relate too much to the pre-steroid era, or maybe I’m stubbornly non-cynical; I don’t know.  Whatever it is, there are things I do know.  I know that 2004 ended the Curse of the Bambino and that 2007 reminded us it wasn’t just a dream.  I know that the retired numbers hanging on the right field roof deck represent players who couldn’t be paid to look at a PED.  I know that the men wearing our uniforms now know what not to do.  Behavior like this doesn’t fly in Boston.  Never has.  Never will.  And finally, I know that when I look at a Red Sox jersey, at the World Series trophies, and the youth of the 2009 club, I’m looking at things and people I can respect.  Clubs like ours have learned from their predecessors’ mistakes, and the things they will achieve without the aid of PEDs will be even better than anything that could be achieved with them, because of their absence.

So, that’s that.  I’m not naive.  I just refuse be as cynical and detached as many other baseball fans and sports writers are being.  The situation’s awful, but it is what it is.  Hopefully, and I mean hopefully, this’ll be the last such issue I’ll have to address.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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So we avoid the sweep, we’re back to being only half a game behind New York, and Lester pitched beautifully.  Fantastic.  But that doesn’t mean all’s quiet on the Boston front.  Before yesterday, Lester lost three of his previous four decisions, his last win coming against Toronto, apparently not an easy team to beat.  The fact that Lester’s season has been mediocre at best but with a few very high-quality starts tells us it’s not a health issue or anything as serious or straightforward as that.  It’s a consistency issue.  And because we don’t really know what’s causing it, it’ll be a lot harder to fix.  Consistency is always a difficult problem to grapple with.  Take Javier Lopez.  Two seasons ago, he was inconsistent to the point where he could win or lose us a ballgame.  Last year he was perpetually lights-out.  This year it was so bad he had to be designated for assignment in the minor leagues.  We don’t need to go that far with Lester; I think the worst that could potentially happen is giving him a day off or switching Beckett and Lester in the rotation.  But it is something that, if it continues, will need to be addressed sooner or later.  And whether it’s addressed sooner rather than later depends on an entirely separate set of variables.  So, yeah.  Consistency is complicated.

But there was no sign of that in his start yesterday.  That was probably his best outing of 2009.  Six solid innings.  One run on three hits.  Three walks.  A career-high twelve strikeouts.  Twelve.  That’s ridiculous.  He faced twenty-four batters.  He threw 115 pitches, 72 of which were strikes.  He induced three fly balls and three ground balls.  And no home runs.  This start single-handedly lowered his ERA from 6.07 to 5.65.  Masterson pitched two and allowed a run, and Ramirez pitched one and managed to redeem himself from his performance, or lack thereof, two nights ago.

The offense was as on as the pitching.  We won, 8-2, and after watching the bats be silenced for a few days it was so refreshing to watch them bat around.  Youk started it off with a solo shot to right center field in the first inning.  Then the man of the hour, Dustin Pedroia the Destroyah, had one hit all day but that’s nothing to complain about because the hit he got was an absolutely monstrous three-run shot.  With runners on second and third, he smoked a breaking ball over the left field wall for his second home run of the year.  He was definitely due.  But it just goes to show you that he’s not a power hitter; if this were in Fenway, the ball would be a line drive, not out of the park.  He’s indispensable to the team in many, many ways, but he’s not a power hitter, so any power that comes from him is icing on the cake.  Lowell went two for five and had himself an RBI.  Drew also had himself an RBI.  Then in the eighth, Youk hit his second home run of the day and went back-to-back with Bay.  Another solo shot, this one into the bullpen in left field.  It was a low fastball, and he loves to clobber those.  The interesting thing is that, like Pedroia’s shot, both of Youk’s probably would’ve been doubles in Fenway.  That’s what you call adapting.  We do it all the time, and it’s a big part of why we’re so good.  We adapt to the pitcher, we adapt to the lineup, and we also adapt to the park.  Anyway, Bay then stepped up to the plate and hit a solo shot of his own on the very first pitch.  That ended up in the left field seats.  Inside fastball and there was no way it was staying inside the park.  Bay finished the day going two for three with two walks.  So he reached base four times.  All-Star Game.  Just sayin’.

Then there was also that really ugly rundown in the second.  At the time the score was tied, 1-1, with Green on first, Ellsbury on second, and Pedroia at bat.  Rod Barajas threw to Millar at first, who tagged Green out.  Green saw Ellsbury going and was thinking double steal, but then he saw Ellsbury retreat back to the bag, so he had to do the same, but by that time the ball was waiting for him.  Somebody missed a sign there.  Although he did successfully steal yesterday.

Today is our first of three Mondays off in June.  It’s a nice schedule.  We have the series at Detroit, followed by a series home against Texas, then another Monday off, a series against New York during which we will undoubtedly bury them, an Interleague series in Philly that should be interesting, another Monday off, two series at home, another Monday off, and then another extended road trip.  Looking ahead to Tuesday, it’ll be Dice-K at Rick Porcello who’s been alright for the Tigers so far.  This’ll be a good opportunity for Dice-K to definitively get back in his groove and propel us back into first.

NESN

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