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Posts Tagged ‘Mariano Rivera’

We started our series against the Yankees on Friday, and we’ve won it.  That is, the least way we can describe it is having won it.  Because really, we swept it.  It was just one of the most beautiful things to see.  Sweeping the Yankees? Yes, please.

Friday’s game was a game of bookends, so to speak.  We won, 8-4, because we scored four runs in the first and four runs in the eighth and no runs in between.  In the first, Pedroia singled, Victorino flied out, Papi doubled, Pedroia scored on a groundout by Carp, Papi scored on a single by Nava, Salty walked, and Nava and Salty both scored on a double by Drew.  But the eighth, I have to say, was my favorite.  Victorino singled, Papi got hit, and Gomes walked to load the bases.  Nava struck out.  And then it was Salty’s turn.  He took a changeup for a strike.  And then he got a fastball that looked really good.  For him.  Not for the pitcher.  The pitcher didn’t stand a chance.  Salty uncorked a massive swing on that ball and sent it beyond the right field fence for a grand slam.  It was epic.  And it came against the Yankees.  That’s about as good as it gets.

Meanwhile, Lackey gave up four runs on seven hits in six and one-third innings.  He gave up no walks and struck out three.  Lackey gave up a solo shot to lead off the third.  Then he gave up one run on a double-sac fly combination in the sixth.  He had the bases loaded with two out in the seventh thanks to two singles and a walk, and he gave up a two-run double that obviously could have been much worse.  Workman got the last out of the seventh, Tazawa pitched the eighth, and Uehara pitched the ninth.

Saturday’s win was more modest, but it was a win nonetheless.  5-1 is a pretty satisfying score.  And Lester was, without a doubt, the star of the show.  He pitched a full eight innings of one-run ball and gave up only three hits and two walks while striking out five.  He threw 116 pitches, eighty of which were strikes.  He went one-two-three in his first three innings and gave up his only run in the fourth because he gave up a triple to lead it off, and it turned into a run on a groundout.  So even in the inning during which the one blemish of his performance occurred, he still managed to derive an out from it.  He ended up facing five in the fourth due to a walk, and he faced four in the fifth and sixth.  He went one-two-three in the seventh and issued another walk in the eighth.  Yeah.  Master.  Morales pitched the ninth.

So it was really, really nice that we gave him run support.  Napoli led off the second with a single and scored on a groundout by Middlebrooks.  Pedroia led off the third with a single and scored on a double by Papi, who scored on a single by Gomes.  Ross led off the fourth with a single and scored on a single by Victorino.  And Napoli led off the fifth with a walk and scored on a sac fly by Nava.  Clearly the leadoff was very good for us.

And last but not least, we won yesterday by a score of 9-2.  In a way, it was a fitting way to contribute to the roast of Mariano Rivera, which, if I may say so, was hilarious and seemed to be taken in the correct stride by all.  The Yanks probably thought they had Buchholz when they were the first to score.  It was only one run in the first, but scoring in the first inning can do a lot to boost your confidence.  But it was one of those earned unearned runs; Buchholz issued a walk and then himself made a throwing error on a pickoff attempt, and then the runner scored on a groundout.  So it was Buchholz who made his own fielding error, so it’s kind of funny to call that unearned.  All told, he gave up just the one run on two hits in six innings, walking four and striking out three.  Thornton pitched the seventh, Breslow pitched the eighth, and Webster pitched the ninth, during which he gave up a run thanks to a walk-single combination that, in the grand scheme of things, really didn’t matter at all.

Fortunately, we too scored in the first inning.  But we scored more.  Pedroia grounded out, and then Nava doubled and scored on a single by Papi, who moved to second on a wild pitch.  And then Napoli lit up the place with a two-run shot all the way to deep, deep center field.  And we added insurance in one of the coolest ways possible in the fourth.  Napoli walked to lead off but was out in a force by Salty.  Salty moved to second on a passed ball and third on a groundout by Drew, and then Bogaerts walked.  So we had runners at the corners.  And then it was Bradley’s turn to bat.  And suddenly, cool as ice, Salty just slides on into home.  Yes.  That’s right.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia stole home.  It was epically awesome.  It was so polished and clean, like he does it all the time.  I’m telling you, he timed it perfectly, and there was nothing the Yanks could do about it.  It was absolutely perfect.  He nailed it right on.  Wow.  It was awesome.  And we weren’t even done.  In the fifth, after Pedroia walked, Nava doubled, and Papi walked intentionally, Carp got hit by a pitch, and with nowhere to go, Pedroia just had to score.  In the sixth, Bogaerts doubled and Pedroia walked, and each scored on a single, the first by Nava and the second by Papi.  In the seventh, Bogaerts singled, Bradley got hit, and both scored on a single by Pedroia.

In other news, the Pats are really starting the regular season off right, having secured another win, albeit a close one, against the Jets, 13-10.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis
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As predicted, it was fun.  Hey, we got to watch some extra baseball, but not too much so the team isn’t exhausted today.  And we beat the Yankees and won the series and are now back in first place.

Beckett rocked.  He was inefficient, but he still rocked.  He pitched six innings but needed 101 pitches to do so, sixty of which were strikes.  He gave up one run on six hits; it was a solo shot on the second pitch of the at-bat, a cutter down the pipe, in the fifth.  He would also get hit in the leg by a ground ball that inning, but he’s fine; he hustled over to the ball without a limp and remained in the game.  He walked two and struck out five.  His best pitches were his usual best pitches: the two-seam, the four-seam, and the cutter.  Nasty stuff.  His curveball and changeup were pretty decent.

He struck out the first batter he faced: three four-seams and a curveball to put it away.  His second inning was his best: only ten pitches and two back-to-back K’s to end it, the first on three pitches on a curveball, the second on a changeup.  He racked up one more in the fourth with a cutter.  His last strikeout occurred in his last at-bat; it was seven pitches and ended on a curveball.

We scored our first run in the second.  A walk and two singles loaded the bases for Reddick, who struck out.  Tek popped out.  Scutaro then brought in one run with a single.  That held as a lead until Beckett made his one mistake of the night, which tied the game.

We loaded the bases again in the sixth with two out for Ellsbury, who flied out.  Ellsbury flying out in a two-out, bases-loaded situation? I didn’t know that was possible

Albers replaced Beckett in the seventh and gave up another solo shot.  He was replaced by Morales, who was replaced by Wheeler, who was replaced by Paps.  That one-run deficit held until the bottom of the ninth, when Mariano Rivera came out to pitch and consequently all the Yankee fans started tuning out because they just assumed he’d get the job done.  As in 2004, they could not have been more wrong.  Scutaro doubled off the Monster, and Ellsbury moved him to third with a sac bunt.  All Pedroia did was fly out, but it was enough.  It got the runner home and tied us back up.

Bard came on for the tenth; his inning was one-two-three with two strikeouts.  The lineup came out for the tenth.  Youk flied out to begin the inning.  Then Papi doubled and McDonald came in to pinch-run.  Crawford received an intentional walk.  Reddick stepped up with the winning run ninety feet away.  All he had to do was put the ball in play.  He may have done nothing in a bases-loaded situation before, but now was his chance again to do something big.  There was only one out in the inning, so even a sac fly would do.

Reddick put the ball in play.  He singled to left.  I imagine Brett Gardner felt pretty helpless at that moment.

McDonald came home.  Walkoff mob in extra innings? Check.  Pedroia and Papi started it, obviously.  Win? Check.  3-2.

It was simple and straightforward.  There was no power; of our eleven hits, those two doubles were our only ones for extra bases.  There was no barrage of runs; we left twelve men on base and went four for twelve with runners in scoring position.  There were only two multi-hit performances in the lineup: Papi went two for four and Crawford went three for four.  But there were several heroes: Beckett for doing his job, the relief corps for preserving it, Scutaro and Papi for doubling, and Pedroia and Reddick for extending the game so we could get the win.  It was a team effort.  Honestly, I’m just thankful we gave Beckett some run support; he’s probably one of the least supported pitchers on our staff.  As far as the Yankees are concerned, Rivera’s fourteen blown saves against us are far and away the most he has against any team.  And of course a win is a win, and we won.  I love beating the Yankees.

Boston Globe Staff/Matthew J. Lee

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Yeah.  If you thought last week was boring, just prepare to not hold onto your hat, because this week was even worse.  Last year, we were entertained by Dice-K drama, Jason Bay drama, and arbitration drama, among other things.  Not so this year.  This year was smooth sailing.  Actually, given all the bargain-hunting that Theo did the past two years, it’s not surprising.  We’ve got a strong foundation heading into 2011 as a result.  And it’s been pretty good not having to parse various whines and complaints.

The Yankees acquired Rafael Soriano.  That was pretty much it, and that doesn’t even have anything to do with us.  Cashman did this partly to live up to his namesake and partly to counter all of our moves, but it’s weak revenge.  Soriano is one guy.  The last time the Yankees tried to strengthen their entire team with only one guy was back when they acquired Randy Johnson, and that was an epic fail.  Yankee fans would argue that we tried to fix all of our problems with two guys.  As usual, they would be incredibly wrong.  Our problems last year had nothing to do with the team; they had everything to do with injuries.  We saw, during that one glimmering window of health before the All-Star break, that that team was World Series material.  All we did during the offseason was make it even more like World Series material.

So I’ll let the rest of the baseball community sweat this out.  I personally am not concerned.  So Soriano will set up for Rivera; big deal.  That’s, what, two, maybe three innings? If I were them, I’d be spending less time perfecting the last two or three innings and more time worrying about the first six or seven.  Because, with our lineup, by the time Soriano rolls around, the crush will already have occurred and the ownage will already have taken place.  The Soriano-Rivera combination can not undo damage that’s already been done; they can merely prevent further damage, and imperfectly at that.  We’ve beaten Rivera before, in incredibly big ways, and we will do it again.  That is a fact.  So if this helps Cashman sleep at night, go ahead and be my guest, but he’s not transferring any insomnia to me.  No, sir.  I for one will be riding Theo’s genius all the way to November.

Speaking of which, I should mention that Papi is going to have a monster year.  We have identified a problem to which he has seemed to be prone in the past: that of pressure due to a lack of adjacent big bats in the lineup.  Yeah.  About that.  That is supremely no longer a problem.

The Cubs claimed Max Ramirez off waivers.  Good for them.  They need him more than we do.

In other news, the Bruins beat the Penguins, Senators, and Flyers this week.  But those last two were the highlights.  Seriously.  First, we shut out the Sens, 6-zip.  I’m not kidding.  Then, two days later, we followed that with a win over Philly by a final score of 7-5; five of those seven goals were scored in the third period alone.  Those are ridiculous.  Both of those are baseball scores on a good day.  Even our win over Pittsburgh was accomplished with  four goals.  This is great.  Solid goalie performances plus high-scoring games equals lots to look forward to this spring.  We ended the week with a one-goal loss to the Penguins, which wasn’t so great, but you can’t win ‘em all, I guess.  Meanwhile, the Pats take on the Jets this afternoon in playoff elimination.  If we win today, we play the Steelers next weekend.  Let’s do this.

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Wow.  Just, wow.  Hugeness this week.  Trust me, there is epicness to discuss.

Beltre and Felipe Lopez both declined arbitration, but there is still hope for the former.  We all know that the A’s are offering Beltre a sweet deal, but he’s taking his equally sweet time in signing it.  He stated publicly that he wants to return to Boston, so he’s waiting to see what Theo’s got.

It turns out that what Theo’s got is a seriously awesome replacement.  Adrian Gonzalez, welcome to Boston! Finally! He went to Boston yesterday for a physical to make sure his right shoulder is on track after his surgery, and he passed.  We’ll be sending Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, outfielder Reymond Fuentes, and a player to be named later to the Padres, which fortunately shouldn’t hurt our farm system too much because last year’s draft was so successful.  Although it’ll be rough to see them all go.  The important thing to keep in mind about prospects is that you never know.  They could be awesome like Hanley Ramirez.  Or they could be terrible like Craig Hansen.  We already know what Adrian Gonzalez is capable of at the Major League level.

There’s room for a contract extension; Gonzalez is entering the last year of his current deal and we already acquired permission from Major League Baseball to hammer out a new one by this afternoon.  That didn’t happen, so Theo might wait to watch his shoulder in the spring, and of course there are the luxury tax implications.  But he won’t be giving up all those top prospects if he weren’t assured that an extension could be worked out, which would give us stability at all three bags.  Given Gonzalez’s age, anything from five to eight years can be considered feasible.  We offered six, but he wanted eight.  So there you go.

But one thing’s for sure: celebration is indeed in order.  Gonzalez will succeed in Boston.  His lefty swing was practically built exclusively for Fenway Park, and he was able to excel in a quintessential pitcher’s park.  Seriously.  Most of his fly balls in Petco would’ve been out in Fenway.  That’s why I’m convinced that he’ll get over his National League-ness in a hurry.  By the way, he’s got two Gold Gloves at first.  And he started almost every single game for about the last five years.  Without DHing once.  So here’s to you, Theo.  Two years later, you finally closed the deal.  And the fact that the Padres’ general manager and assistant general manager of scouting and player development both used to work with Theo is the icing on the cake that didn’t necessarily work to our advantage since they basically knew our farm system inside-out.  Gonzalez will play first and replace V-Mart’s bat, we’ll move Youk to third, and Beltre, who’s older anyway, will now probably sign with the A’s.  The deal is done on principle.  All they need to do is announce it on Monday at Fenway and that’s it.  The Adrian Gonzalez Era in Boston has begun!

One more thing.  Fundamentally this deal was not about New York; it’s about us, our team, our organization, and our hunger.  But while we’re on the subject, I would just like to point out that, not only is Adrian Gonzalez the answer to Mark Teixeira, but we now have a young infield that’s locked and entering its prime while the Yanks have guys on the downward slope of their careers.  I’m just saying.  I would advise New York to be afraid.  Very afraid.

Tek signed a one-year deal with two million dollars plus incentives; those rumors about him going to the Dodgers couldn’t have been more wrong.  They started circulating because the Dodgers had to decide whether to tender Russell Martin, who’s awesome except for injuries.  We didn’t tender Okajima, given his poor performance last season, but we already tendered Paps and will be making offers to Ellsbury and Taylor Buchholz.  Rumor has it that we made an offer to Mariano Rivera before he signed a two-year deal with the Yanks.  The Yanks seem to be avenging this action by showing interest in Carl Crawford to drive up his price.  I honestly don’t think the offer to Rivera was serious.  And I honestly don’t think New York’s interest in Crawford is serious.  Unless they don’t get Cliff Lee.  If Lee stays in Texas, New York might seriously start looking at Crawford because they could always deal Brett Gardner for a starter.

Pedroia’s foot is almost at one hundred percent.  He’s been cleared to jog and will be ready for Spring Training.  We have officially met with both Crawford and Werth, who, according to Dwight Evans, is the best right fielder in baseball and similar to himself.  This is Dwight Evans, people.  That’s seriously high praise.

Not that that’s going to help anyone.  Not even Werth himself.  Werth is now officially out of the picture and off the deep end.  He signed a deal for seven years and 126 million dollars.  With the Washington Nationals.  I’m not kidding.  That tells me two things: one, he’s not hungry, and two, he’s essentially a fool.  He’s not going to win a ring with the Nats, and seven years from now, when his contract is up, he won’t be starter material, which is obviously something that the Nationals don’t care about.  So his ring with the Phillies will be the last of his career as a starter.  If he wanted security, he sure got it.  He knows where he’ll be for the majority of the next decade, and he’s getting a whole heap of money for it.  To be honest with you, he would have been great in a Boston uniform, but I wouldn’t want someone only interested in money and years to play for us.  Especially not someone who would ever seriously consider both money and years with the Nationals.  I mean, they’re the Nationals.  Not only are they National League, they’re the worst in the National League; in fact, they’re the worst in the Major Leagues.

But wait; it gets better.  He says he’s been considering signing with the Nats since hiring Scott Boras as his agent last season.  Let me get this straight: he hired Scott Boras to get him a deal with the Washington Nationals.  That’s ridiculous.  Why would you hire Scott Boras to cut a deal with the Nationals? Jayson Werth doesn’t need an agent to negotiate a deal with the Washington Nationals; Jayson Werth can walk up to the Washington Nationals, write down a year amount and a dollar amount on a piece of paper, hand it to whoever is spearheading the process, and receive a “yes” to everything in five seconds flat.  He says he’s impressed with the Nats’ acquisition of young talent? Give me a break.  Nobody expects all that young talent to stay there; as soon as they’re able, they’re writing one-way tickets into free agency and out of town.  And then he went on this tangent in which he basically implied that he only signed with the Nationals because they assured him that they’d continue to acquire the talent necessary to compete and win, because that is very important to him.  Oh, sure.  If it’s that important to him, he would not have signed with the Nationals.  So they present their future plans to him and he asks questions about the team.  Great.  Now let’s see the Nationals follow that plan, the young talent stay put, and Werth stay in shape long enough to merit his salary at the end of his contract.  I don’t think so.

We signed starter Brandon Duckworth to a minor league deal.  He was part of the Billy Wagner trade.  We are supposedly interested in reliever Matt Guerrier.

Oh, and I fully expect Mike Cameron to morph into some sort of hitting specialist against lefties, being that many of the AL East’s elite pitchers are lefties and some of our middle bats struggled against lefties last season.  The only potential hindrance to that expectation is playing time.  Cameron has the potential to get rolling, but he can’t get rolling if he never gets going.

The Spring Training schedule is out.  We’re opening with an exhibition doubleheader with Boston College followed by Northeastern.  March features competition with Minnesota, Atlanta, Philly, both New York teams, Florida, Baltimore, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Toronto, and Houston.

On Saturday, Sox Pax and tickets for twenty-one games in April and May will go on sale.

Get psyched.  The Winter Meetings are starting on Monday, and they’re going to be very interesting.  And by interesting I also mean hectic, since most of the important offseason deadlines have moved up.  Theo has his work cut out for him; we have a bat to replace V-Mart, but we’ll need another, preferably a righty, to replace Beltre since he’ll sign elsewhere, and relievers.  Good ones.  We’ve already made a splash; the key is to fill the club’s needs without removing all of our flexibility for next year.

In other news, the Bruins dropped Sunday’s game to the Thrashers, 1-4.  But then we shut out the Flyers, three-zip, and completely decimated the Lightning, 8-1.  Krejci and Ryder each racked up three points.  It was awesome.  If this were baseball, that would be considered a slugfest.  Then we lost in a shootout to the Leafs, but at least we get a point.  The Pats take on the Jets tomorrow.

NESN.com

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So, last night we were officially eliminated.  For the first time since 2006 and the second time in the last eight years.  The Evil Empire and the Rays both clinched.  It was torturous.  Every time the Yankees scored another run, you still held out hope but knew that it would be dramatically less and less likely for Toronto to come back.  Sabathia pitched eight innings; Rivera pitched the ninth.  Technically, we should have been prepared for this.  Technically, we should have been expecting this.  But technically is technically, and in reality, the Royal Rooter in each of us told us to believe no matter how steep the odds were.  And to be completely honest with you, last weekend when we were leading the Yankees on Sunday night, it looked like we had it in the bag.  It looked like we were going to go to the playoffs.  But it turned out that that game would give us the only taste of the thrills of October that we would experience this year.  So the moral of the story is that you can prepare and brace yourself all you want, but when elimination comes, you’re still going to hurt big time.

I don’t know if the fact that it isn’t our fault is the best or worst part of it.  We had no control over outfielders colliding with Beltre’s knee, with sprains, with broken bones, with mono, with any of that.  There was nothing we could have done differently to have prevented it.  It’s the nature of the game that injuries will happen.  It’s not necessarily the nature of the game that so many will befall a team at once, and we can feel good and proud of the fact that we are where we are.  It’s a miracle that we were even in the running this long when you consider the fact that our disabled list this year was itself an All-Star team.  And for that, there is something seriously and horribly wrong with the world if Terry Francona does not win Manager of the Year this year.  But I just feel like, with all the injuries, the 2010 Red Sox never got a chance to show anyone what they were working with.  If we had stayed healthy, we would have won the World Series.  Before the All-Star break, before the onslaught of injuries seriously hit, we were about to land ourselves in first place.  We had started to play great baseball.  Then we lost all the guys who were playing that great baseball, many of them for the rest of the season.  Ellsbury played in only eighteen games this year.  Cameron played in forty-eight.  Pedroia played in seventy-five.  Youk played in 102.  All of them ended up out for the year.  The whole situation just begs the huge question of what might have been had we stayed healthy.

One thing’s for sure: next weekend, I hope we do untold damage to the Evil Empire’s hopes of even thinking about winning the division.  I hope we go out with dignity and give the world a taste of what they can expect from us next year, because next year we’re winning the World Series.  We’ll have the overwhelming majority of the team coming back.  In 2006, we didn’t make the playoffs because the team was injured and we won the World Series the next year.  So if we were even more injured this year, it stands to reason that next year we’ll be even more dominant than we were in 2007.  I’m psyched.  Meanwhile, I hurt.  It’s going to be a long, cold winter, folks.  A long, cold, baseball-less winter.  I feel crushed.  Seriously.  That’s the only way I can explain it.  It just…hurts.

It also hurts because, for some guys, these are the last Major League games they’ll ever play.  Lowell already announced his retirement after this season, and Tek, who has never played a Major League game for any other team, wants to keep playing but apparently it’s unclear whether the front office will be interested.  I personally think that Tek should stay with us as some sort of coach instead of going somewhere like Kansas City or Baltimore or Pittsburgh, but if he wants to play, he wants to play.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  But he’s the backbone of this team both on and off the field.  He wears that “C” for a reason, and I just wish that, for guys like Lowell and Tek, who should go out in blazing glory, and obviously also for the whole team and all of Red Sox Nation, that we had more baseball to play.

And as if last night couldn’t possibly have gotten any worse, our bullpen blew our lead against the Other Sox.

Lackey tossed six frames.  He gave up two runs on three hits, walked two, and struck out five.  That’s decent.  He used 108 pitches to do it.  That’s slightly inefficient.  He used five pitches; four of them, the fastball, cutter, curveball, and changeup, were thrown very effectively for strikes.  His slider wasn’t so great, but he didn’t use too many of those.  He started the game by throwing twenty-three pitches in the first inning, so you knew he wouldn’t last that long.  Even so, he one-hit Chicago over the first three innings.  When he did pitch, he pitched very well and put us in position to win.  This was the fourth time in his last five starts that he’s done so.  So it’s also sad that the season is ending so early for players like Lackey, Lester, Buchholz, Belre, V-Mart, and Papi, guys that are on hot streaks and having fantastic years who could have unleashed a world of dominance in the playoffs.

The offense didn’t disappoint.  In the first, Lowrie doubled in Beltre.  In the third, Drew smashed a solo shot, and V-Mart scored on Beltre’s sac fly.  In the sixth, Papi smashed a solo shot.

But that would be it for us.  The Other Sox would score one run in each of the next three innings.  Atchison allowed a run via Hill.  Hill allowed his inherited runner to score and received a hold.  Bard allowed a run and received a blown save; he opened the eighth with an eleven-pitch walk to who but Manny Ramirez.  Bowden allowed the walkoff and took the loss.  There was a one-out single, which chased Bowden.  Richardson came on, and there were two steals to third and a walk.  Then Fox came on, and there was a single that barely eluded Nava, and there was a walkoff, and there was a loss, but it didn’t even matter in the grand scheme of things anymore because, by that time, New York had already won.

We have five games left in the 2010 season: two more in Chicago, and three at home against the Yankees this weekend.  It’s going to be Beckett today and Lester tomorrow, and we’ll have to wait for the official starter schedule for the weekend.  Let’s make these last five games, five games to remember.  The team can relax now and just have fun playing the game.  The Nation can watch every minute of baseball we can to see the team off for the winter.  And let’s just go out there and provide a preview of 2011.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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No need for introductions today.  The circumstances of the game say it all.  That and I can’t really describe verbally the sensation of being trampled that I am currently experiencing.  Needless to say, today’s headline is obviously the understatement of the century.

There was nothing more we could have asked of Dice-K.  The contrast between last night and his seven previous starts was so stark that I thought we were looking at a different pitcher entirely.  In his seven previous starts, he allowed at least four runs in each, the second-longest streak like that in the Major Leagues this season and the longest by one of our starters since 1943.  But last night Dice-K went in there and delivered just about the best start he could possibly have delivered.  Eight innings, two runs on four hits, a walk, and seven strikeouts on 110 pitches, sixty-nine for strikes.

Through seven, he faced the minimum plus one.  He made only one mistake: an 0-2 cutter that didn’t do much and ended up out of the park.  Other than that, he was spotless.  He used the first inning to establish a solid fastball, and he mixed in a formidable cutter and curveball after that.  He even added a very effective slider and changeup.  It was remarkable.  His release point was tight, and he went after hitters.  Very easily one of his top five outings this year.

So Dice-K did his job.  And the offense did its job as best it could.  Again, I feel  compelled to mention the staggering fact that this year alone we’ve had nineteen guys on the DL, nine of whom were former or current All-Stars.  V-Mart singled in Hall in the eighth.  That one run held until Dice-K’s mistake in the seventh gave the Yankees a one-run lead, and the despair was setting in.  Rivera came on for a four-out save.  We were down to the ninth with our last chance.  And that was when we proceeded to steal four bases, providing Rivera with a new career high.  Kalish and Hall both stole twice.  Granted, some of those were the result of fielder indifference, but still.

With one out, Kalish singled, stole second, and stole third.  They brought the infield in, and Hall hit one over everybody to score Kalish.  Then Hall stole second and third and scored on Lowell’s sac fly.  Just like that, we had ourselves another one-run lead.  And I’m thinking we got this.

But then Paps came on and was just as porous.  Two singles and a full-count walk loaded the bases, and a single tied it up and re-loaded the bases.  Yet another blown save.  His ERA over his previous six appearances was 14.21.  And home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi was not helpful.  I’ve always said that if an umpire wants to influence the action of a game that much, he should suit up and play, but if he’s content with being an umpire, he should just umpire and that’s it.

When Okajima came out to handle the bottom of the tenth, it became very obvious that this game smacked of the taste of October.  It was windy, it was rainy, it was nailbitingly close, and the odds say that it will be our only taste of the thrill of the postseason this year.  One more loss or Yankees win and we are officially out.

Okajima made things go very quickly from bad to worse.  A single, a bunt, and an intentional walk loaded the bases.  Okajima walked in the walkoff run.  It wasn’t even remotely close.  It was utterly humiliating and severely painful.  I’m telling you, there is a wide variety of methods to win via the walkoff.  The bases-loaded walk is one of them.  And of all those methods, the bases-loaded walk is the absolute worst, hands down.  On top of that, consider the circumstances of this particular bases-loaded walk and basically you’ve hit the jackpot in the most negative sense.

It was one of the season’s longest nights, both literally and figuratively.  Dice-K isn’t the fastest pitcher in the world, but he actually did alright.  We finished ten innings in almost exactly four hours.  Hey, like I said, at least we got some October-style thrills and chills.  We can be proud of the fact that we completely owned the Yankees in the first two games of the series; winning a series in the Bronx is definitely something to celebrate.  We made Girardi scratch Dustin Moseley and go with Hughes because he was afraid of us.  And we can take pride in the fact that we’re still going to show up and play tomorrow.  We have only seven games left in the regular season and a long winter ahead.  Let’s soak it all in while we can.

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Wow.  Okay.  Where do I start? The beginning.  Sometimes the end result isn’t nearly as significant as the road to get there.  Then again, sometimes they’re equally significant but you have to start from the beginning anyway because if you don’t you’ll just jump right to the good part and the whole discussion will be a mess.

The most important thing to keep in mind here is that this win was tremendous.  It was tremendous because it was a win and we needed a win for the standings and for our morale.  But it was also tremendous because this win required a relentless, night-long effort.  We couldn’t have afforded to give up even once, even for a second.  And we didn’t.  And it paid off.  We ground it out and were rewarded for our efforts.  (Just like we would’ve been for the previous two nights as well had the bullpen not completely ruined everything, but that’s not the point.) The spirit of this win reveals a very valuable quality embodied by this team: the spirit of never say die.  This team absolutely refuses to let go.  We may be off to our worst start of the decade this season, but nobody can say we haven’t been trying to dig ourselves out.  I like the fight of this team.  This win shows that, when we dig ourselves out of this hole, we are going to be one seriously difficult team to beat.

Now down to business.

So.  Beckett.  Beckett wasn’t good.  He left after recording two outs in the fifth.  He allowed five runs on five hits, only three of which were earned, and you can thank Marco Scutaro, who channeled Julio Lugo’s spirit, and his two fielding errors for the two unearned runs.  The first one was just a complete miss of a sure-fire double play that probably would’ve saved a few important runs.  The ball never got off the ground.  The second occurred in the ninth, which we’ll talk about later.

Beckett walked three and struck out one.  He allowed a solo shot in the fourth.  He threw mostly two-seams and a fair amount of changeups with some cutters, curveballs, and four-seams thrown in.  His cutter and four-seam were his most effective pitches; the rest of his pitches weren’t thrown for strikes very often.  Indeed, he fired 101 pitches and almost an equal number of balls and strikes.  He threw at least fourteen pitches in each of his innings; that minimum was good enough to get out of the first, which was his only one-two-three inning as well as his most effective.  Everything pretty much went downhill from there.  He fired a game high of twenty-seven in fifth before he left, or in other words, in an inning he didn’t even complete.

His strike zone was very clearly shifted downward.   By that I mean that he did throw in a concentrated area, but that area extended downward beyond the strike zone and ignored the top of it.  The amount of balls he threw down and to the sides in the bottom half of the zone were concentrated enough that it actually looks like he somehow redefined the zone for himself to include those areas.  That would explain the three walks in almost five innings as well as the low strike rate of most of his pitches.  Also, he just didn’t throw as hard as we know he can.  He barely topped out at ninety-three miles per hour even though we’re all well aware of the fact that he can easily throw at least ninety-five.

Fortunately, we may have an answer as to why Beckett’s been funky lately.  He left the game with back tightness.  He missed his previous start with back spasms.  Coincidence? I think not.  I also don’t think the weather helped any.  The weather was terrible.  It was raining, it was windy, and it was just a raw day.  The mound was disgusting.  The start of the game was delayed by about an hour.  But I hope this isn’t a repeat of a few years ago when his back made him awful for the entire year.  Here’s a man who needs to thank the bullpen profusely for pulling him through.

Meanwhile, after Beckett left, as a pathetic last-ditch effort, Joe Girardi declared that the Yankees would continue to play under protest, claiming that Beckett wasn’t really injured and that we called the bullpen before we removed him.  But because Beckett obviously was injured, walking off the mound with assistant trainer Greg Barajas, the umpires game Delcarmen as much time as he needed to get loose.  Girardi was annoyed that Delcarmen got all the time he needed instead of the usual eight pitches allowed.  If you ask me, he’s just whining.  Girardi knew the mound was bad because Sabathia had it fixed when he went out there.

Delcarmen finished the fifth and recorded an out in the sixth, somehow working around three walks.  Okajima picked up a hit and a walk while striking out two.  Bard recorded the last out of the eighth and ended up with the win.

The offense didn’t kick in until the sixth inning, after which point, with the exception of the bottom of the ninth, we owned and proceeded to claw our way out of a five-run deficit.  Youk started it off right with a home run to left field.  Coming into the game, Youk was batting .381 against Sabathia and now has a homer against him to his credit.  Fastball down and in and it was out.

But we really took off in the eighth, when we scored four runs against Joba Chamberlain.  Scutaro reached on A-Rod’s throwing error and scored on Drew’s opposite-field double.  Youk tapped a bloop single with the middle of his bat to right that scored two.  That brought us within a run, and Papi tied it with a powerful RBI single on a slider off the wall in right-center field.  The ball was hit so hard and looked so much like a home run that Papi essentially pulled a Manny Ramirez and watched it go.  That hesitation was what caused him to be out at second; had he hustled from the plate immediately, he would’ve had second easily.  Pedroia did tell him not to stretch it, but did he listen? No.  He learned a lesson for next time.

But let’s concentrate on the fact that he got a hit with runners on base against Sabathia, because Papi and Sabathia are both lefties and, as a result, Papi traditionally would’ve sat out.  The fact that he started the game at DH tells you that his bat is just on fire and Tito trusted him to get the job done against a tough southpaw.  Tito turned out to be right, as he often is.  Sabathia has been tougher on righties lately, and Papi in the past has been able to read him well.  So as if you needed even more proof that Papi is his old self again, that was it.  But that has obvious implications for Mike Lowell, who expressed ample frustration before the game to the media about his lack of playing time and had an animated conversation with Tito in the dugout probably concerning that as well.  Lowell explicitly stated that there’s no place for him on this team anymore, that because he’s not playing, he’s just taking up a roster spot that could be filled by someone else, and that maybe the team would be better off without him.  If you ask me, I think that, at this point, it’s him who’d be better off without the team.  Let’s face it: Lowell was guaranteed a spot in the lineup opposite every lefty we faced, but only as long as Papi was slumping.  Now, Papi is no longer slumping, and Cameron and Ellsbury very close to coming off the DL.  Once they return, the reserves that have been replacing them will need playing time, which could come in the form of DH if Papi slumps in the future.  Lowell, ever the classy guy, was careful to emphasize that he’d never root against Papi, which I appreciated.  But it’s a very difficult situation.  Tito is obviously also very frustrated; if he gets through this, he should definitely be up for manager of the year or something.  We just need to find a solution that would benefit both the club and the player; I think Lowell’s name will end up coming up around the trading deadline if nothing ground-breaking affects the situation before then.  The problem, of course, is that he’s still an offensive threat, and because he can’t play defense, he’ll have to DH, which means we’ll have to deal with his bat in an American League lineup.  But such is life in baseball.  I think he’s handling the situation as best as anyone could, and I applaud him for that.  I don’t doubt that something will be worked out soon.

Returning to the action, we’re now at the top of the ninth.  With the game tied and very much on the line, Mariano Rivera came on.  With one out, McDonald singled.  Scutaro reached base when Thames couldn’t catch your average fly.  Now, Drew tweaked his right hamstring in the previous inning, so he left (he’s sure he’ll be able to start tonight, though) in favor of Hermida.  Hermida proceeded to crush a cutter that stayed over the plate for an opposite-field, line-drive, hard-hit double over Winn’s head that scored two to give us a lead.  A lead we would not, in fact, relinquish.  Believe it or not, that’s quietly been business as usual for Hermida, who leads the league with seventeen RBIs with two outs.  What did Drew have to say?

I told those guys I’m a smart kind of player like that.  I take myself out just in time for Hermida to hit a big double like that.  It worked out ultimately for the best.

Thank you for the quip, sir! The truth of the matter is that Chamberlain and Rivera were both terrible.  Fortunately, that seems to be the theme against us.  Speaking of closers, we now come to the bottom of the ninth, which I hereby entitle Papelbon’s Redemption.  It was a save, but it was by no means a clean one.  I’m a big fan of his competitive spirit; he was chomping at the bit for another chance to get that ball, go out there, and prove himself:

I was hoping all night long that I’d get another chance tonight.  I just want to show my team it’s a heavyweight title fight.  You might get one good blow on me, but you ain’t going to knock me out. I just wanted to prove that to my teammates tonight.

But he induced Nation-wide breath-holding in the process.  It took him twenty-eight pitches to barely escape, and he didn’t exactly escape unscathed.  A-Rod scored on a double by Cano.  But with runners at the corners, Miranda hit a one-hop single up the middle.  Paps nabbed it, checked A-Rod at third, and fired to first for out number two.  Then, he finally struck out Winn on eight pitches to seal the deal by pitch and by glove.  The final score was 7-6 and, ladies and gentlemen, it was in our favor!

Besides Lowell’s frustration, the other controversial side story was the fact that Dice-K and V-Mart just did not agree on Monday night, and V-Mart was frustrated because was trying to guide Dice-K and help him out, but like he said, ultimately Dice-K is the one with the ball, so he has the last word.  Dice-K shook him off numerous times, and both of them were miffed afterwards.  Before last night’s epic battle, Tito sat down with them to try to talk things out.  As Tito said, the shaking-off itself wasn’t so much the issue because if a pitcher feels that a certain pitch is right and should be thrown, if he throws it with confidence and locates it properly, it’ll probably be effective even if it’s not what the catcher called for.  It’s interesting to note that the one good start that Dice-K has had this season, the only one without a noticeably abysmal inning, was caught by Tek.  Whatever Tito decides to do about it, I think something central will be off-field as well as on-field work between them.  They have the potential to be a good battery and we need V-Mart’s bat in there so he can heat up properly, so the sooner they work it out, the better.

I would also like to point out that, if the team were winning and doing really well, neither Lowell nor V-Mart would’ve expressed as much frustration as they did or in the explicit manner in which they did.  Because when the team is winning, the attitude is that everything is working and there’s obviously nothing to fix, so why fix something that’s not broken.  But with the team losing and morale taking a hit, side conflicts like this fester and come to the surface.  Of course, we can feel fortunate that, at the very least, neither of these things is going to blow up in our faces like the Manny Ramirez debacle.  Lowell is way too classy to let that happen.

So four hours and nine minutes after starting the game an hour late, we got ourselves a win! It was really an incredible show of spirit and determination.  What a game.  It was like all of a sudden we decided that we just weren’t going to lose it.  We just weren’t.  So we won it instead.  Really incredible stuff.  Those types of wins do a lot to lift a clubhouse.

We’re now back at .500, eight and a half games out of first and five and a half games out of second, occupied by New York.  Our record is twenty and twenty.  But like I’ve been saying all along, we need to start somewhere, and this tough schedule may be just the ticket to bring out that spark that may have been missing up to this point.  Tonight Buchholz confronts Baker and the Twins at home.  Yet another series it would behoove us to start on the right foot.

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