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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Kotsay’

We knew Josh Beckett would come around.  We knew there would come a game that could be labeled the start of his turnaround for 2009.  We knew it, and we were ready for it, so I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that that’s part of what made yesterday’s loss so annoying.  That was, to put it simply, Beckett’s first good game since his last good game, but the lineup conspired to ensure that it wouldn’t be a win.

He pitched a full seven, gave up three runs on six hits, walked two, and struck out four.  Not very high on the strikeouts but low on the walks, nil on the home runs, and right on the money on the pitch count at ninety-six.  He used three pitches: the four-seam, which topped out at ninety-five miles per hour, the curveball, and the cutter, with very heavy emphasis on the four-seam and curve.  But hey, it worked; he threw sixty-two pitches for strikes.  And so I also tip my hat to Tek for calling this one so well.

Hideki Okajima didn’t help.  He let Carlos Quentin go yard with a man on and two out in the eighth.  Honestly, he couldn’t just get the other out? Okajima’s been very porous lately; he’s been allowing runs right and left.  He hasn’t been as porous as Michael Bowden was in that awful 20-11 blowout with the Yanks, but maybe we should start putting Bowden in, because this is just getting ridiculous.

The final score was 5-1.  Again.  We only managed one run for the entire game.  Ellsbury went two for four with a steal.  Pedroia doubled, finally.  V-Mart, Bay, Lowell, and Gonzalez each had hits.  Gonzalez threw Kotsay out at the plate in the third as he tried to score from first, which was an absolutely phenomenal play.  The ball rolled into the corner of left field, and Kotsay had a legitimate shot, but Bay fired to the infield, Gonzalez fired home, and Tek successfully applied the tag.  Play of the game.  Youk was responsible for the RBI.  Again, pathetic.

Wakefield will skip his Friday start.  That’s not good news.  Neither was the fact that Papi was benched because of the current slump he’s in.  I think it’ll do him good to return home.

This was Mark Buehrle’s first win since his perfect game on July 23.  That’s a long time to go without a win.  And that’s part of what makes it more painful.  We were the team that gave him his first win in that stretch.  We’re not supposed to be a team that provides solace for struggling pitchers.  We’re supposed to be the team that makes those struggles continue.  But in the long run, we’ll be so much the better for this game, because this was Beckett’s twenty-eighth start of the season.  That puts his twelve-million-dollar option for 2010 on the table.  So unless he finishes the year on the DL, it’ll be there for us to pick up.  I venture to guess we’ll be seeing Beckett pitch for Boston for a long, long time.  Meanwhile, we’re back at Fenway and David Hernandez will square off against Clay Buchholz.  I’m looking forward to this.

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We’ve seen this way too often to not be familiar with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less frustrating when it happens.  For some reason nobody has quite been able to figure out, we never come up with enough run support for Tim Wakefield.  Last season it was brutal; he couldn’t buy a win.  This year it’s been less pronounced because he’s done an uncannily phenomenal job of limiting the opposition.  But all it takes is a loss like yesterday’s to remind you that that’s the case.

The final score was 5-1, but Wakefield only gave up four of those runs.  Four runs on six hits over six innings pitched with tree walks, four strikeouts, and one mistake to Mark Kotsay that again, ironically, ended up out of the park.  Really, he didn’t pitch badly.  He was one run shy of a quality start.  And given the fact that he’s forty-three, he’s got a torn labrum in his shoulder and a back issue that makes his legs numb and weak, and he threw ninety-three pitches, I’d say he didn’t do too badly yesterday.

I have to think the offense shoulders the responsibility for that one.  Gavin Floyd was bidding for a perfect game two outs into the sixth inning.  And it is just so painful and humiliating to be on the receiving end of one of those that you’re watching it and trying to implement every jinx known to man.  But I’ll say this: it’s ridiculous how many perfect innings White Sox pitchers have thrown, between Mark Buehrle and now Floyd.  Anyway, Nick Green took care of that with a very decisive single to center field.  Unfortunately, as often occurs, the White Sox did not completely fall apart after that and lose in slugfest fashion.

Our sole RBI came courtesy of Bay going yard to lead off the eighth inning.  His thirty-first of the season deposited all eighty-nine miles per hour of that ball a few rows up the left center stands.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Theo Epstein needs to resign Jason Bay in the offseason.  Period.

Other than that, V-Mart doubled.  So Floyd and Bobby Jenks just three-hit us.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that we are not happy.  I certainly am not happy.  We went 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position and left three men on base.  Pathetic.

Ramirez finally had a decent appearance in the seventh.  No runs, no hits, no walks, ten pitches, seven of them strikes.  But Okajima let Paul Konerko hit one out for the fifth run of the night.

Congratulations to Mikey Lowell, who was nominated for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award by his teammates! Dice-K might make one more rehab start before he returns, but for that to happen, Salem and Greenville, two of the Red Sox’ single-A affiliates, would need to have a playoff game on Wednesday to fit Dice-K’s schedule and Tim Wakefield’s back would have to give out again.  I’m okay with the former but definitely don’t want the latter to occur.

Eyes on the prize.  The Rangers lost yesterday, so our lead atop the Wild Card standings remains at two.  The bad news is that the Yanks’ lead atop the division stands at eight and a half.  That’s really bad.  And we were doing so well for a stretch about a week ago, when we were scoring runs right and left while the pitching staff was making some strides in finding its footing.  At this point, I’d say the best way to remedy the situation is to play better.  It’s simple, it’s obvious, but it just might work.  What else can you hope for? It just doesn’t seem like there’s one thing wrong with us.  When we score a lot of runs, the pitchers erase the effort.  When the pitchers pitch well, we don’t score anything.  We need to play better by scoring runs and pitching well at the same time.  And we need to do it consistently.  It’s the beginning of September, so we still have time, and I have a feeling that in a week or two the second wind of autumn and the adrenaline rush of the approach of October will work its magic and help us out, because getting to October won’t do much unless we can make it count.  In the meantime, Lester at John Danks.  That’s one step in the right direction.

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Paul Byrd has had two starts this year.  One was pure gold, and the other was just so much scrap.  So which one was the real Paul Byrd and which is the fluke? It’s hard to tell with only two outings.  On the one hand, maybe that initial adrenaline rush made him pitch better than usual.  On the other hand, maybe anxiety made him pitch worse than usual.  Either way, he’s got some serious apologizing to do to the bullpen after leaving the game only two and a third innings into it.  But he had to get out.  There was no way he was staying in.  Seven runs on ten hits with no walks, three K’s, and an extremely ironic two-run shot by Mark Kotsay later, Junichi Tazawa found himself on the mound preparing for a long night.

And when I say long I mean long, because Tazawa didn’t do much to limit the damage.  In three and two-thirds innings, he gave up five runs on seven hits with a walk and a strikeout.  Delcarmen needed twenty-nine pitches to take care of the seventh, and Saito needed nineteen.  It wasn’t a good night.  At all.

Incidentally, I wonder what our winning percentage is for games during which the starter leaves before the fifth inning.  We have the best bullpen in the Major Leagues, so it has to be higher than most teams, but it’s very difficult to win those.  We should be very thankful for Tazawa, though.  Yes, we lost and he was a reason why, but he also ate up innings.  This loss would have been so much worse in the long run had we gone to the bullpen proper instead of to a starter-by-trade.  For example, if Justin Masterson were still here, this is exactly the kind of situation in which we’d use him.

The offense, essentially, did absolutely nothing.  It was ridiculous.  Every member of the starting nine, with the exception of Alex Gonzalez, was gone by the time the game was over.  They were all replaced by the B team and callups.  Pedroia, Green, V-Mart, Youk, Ortiz, Gathright, Drew, Kottaras, and Gonzalez each had hits.  With the exception of Kottaras’s, which was a double, none of them were for extra bases.  We batted .333 with runners in scoring position, but that was because we only had three such chances and made good on one of them.  Youk singled to center field to plate Pedroia, and Kottaras doubled in Gathright.  End of story.  Oh, and Green made a throwing error.

Ozzie Guillen had a lot of praise for Youk and Pedroia.  Ironic this praize came after we lost.  But then, it’s Ozzie Guillen.  You never know.  Mikey Lowell says it’s hard not playing everyday, and I believe him.  He’s a starter by trade.  He wants to be out there, but he can’t so often anymore because of his hip.  Still, since the All-Star break he’s hitting .339 with six home runs and twenty-six RBIs, coupled with a .389 on-base percentage and a .583 slugging percentage.  Since Tazawa is unavailable, we’re calling up Michael Bowden for today’s start, just in case Wakefield has to make an early exit.

The final score was 12-2.  So we scored once in the fourth and once in the ninth.  They scored twice in the second, five times in the third, and five times in the fourth.  This loss was infuriating but not as worrisome as its ramifications.  And when I say ramifications, I’m referring to its impact on the bullpen, its effects on the starting rotation, its alterations of both the Wild Card and division standings, and its impact on the team’s morale.  Any way you look at them, lopsided scores are never good.  There’s never a silver lining.  There may be a silver lining to how you deal with them at the time, like putting a pitcher in to eat innings in an effort to save arms and substituting for your starters to give them some rest, but there’s never a bright side to the outcome.  With the possible exception of identifying areas of improvement, but that happens after every game.  The only thing we can do after a game like this is move on and hope the team does the same.  Tim Wakefield will be leading that charge this afternoon opposite Gavin Floyd.  And I really hope this goes right.

In other news, Peter Chiarelli announced an extension of Claude Julien’s contract.  Well done.  In his first two season as head coach, Julien took us from the bottom of the Eastern Conference to the top, with playoff appearances after both season.  Last year was our first Eastern Conference Semifinal appearance since 1999.  That says something.  All we have to do is lock up Kessel, and we’ll be all set!

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We’re more than halfway through the season.  In fact, it’s already August, when more than the weather gets hot.  Each and every Major League club goes into playoff mode, but only a select few will get there.  There isn’t a doubt in my mind that we will most definitely be one of the few.  We’ve dominated our division.  Toronto started the season strong but has since slipped into fourth place and was seriously contemplating trading Roy Halladay to get some much-needed fresh blood into the clubhouse.  The Baltimore Orioles did the usual: fell to the bottom of the pack.  They’re twenty games out now, which is quite pathetic.  The Rays have been nonexistent in third place, even though somehow they just managed to sweep us in a two-game set, and we’ve been wiping the floor with the Yankees and are ready for another go-around.  It’s been fantastic.  We’re currently undefeated against New York.  Let me say that again.  We’re currently undefeated against New York.  Feels good, doesn’t it? So we start the two-month playoff rush in a decent place: two and a half games out and ready to rock and roll.  Not great but it could be worse.

Every year, Boston.com grades the team individually and overall at the All-Star break, with a little help from Tony Massarotti.  You can find Boston.com’s report card here.  I’ll be taking a break for about twelve days, but I’ll leave you with a report card of my own: a late-season grading of that team we all know and love.

Jason Varitek: A

Compare this year to last year.  So far this year, he’s hit thirteen home runs, batted in forty-four runs, scored thirty-seven runs, and has sixty-four hits.  Last year, he hit thirteen home runs, batted in forty-three runs, scored thirty-seven runs, and had ninety-three hits.  And this season isn’t even over yet.  So he’s significantly exceeded his numbers from last year in all of those categories, and he’s thirty-seven years old.  Experiencing a renaissance at the catcher’s position and at that age isn’t easy, but he worked closely with hitting coach Dave Magadan to make that happen with very positive results.  And we still get all of the goodness behind the plate; he’s got a 3.72 catcher’s ERA, the fourth-lowest in Major League Baseball.

Victor Martinez: A

Theo landed him at the trading deadline to add another big bat to the lineup.  Victor Martinez has done that and more, making an immediate impact and finding a groove right away.  He adds his .294 average, sixteen home runs, and seventy-three RBIs as well as a fielding percentage of upwards of .990 at first base.  He hasn’t made an error at catcher all season.  He plays first, he catches, he DHes; he does it all in the field and, as a switch-hitter who bats .307 from the left and a decent .258 from the right, at the plate.  A brilliant acquisition yet again by our general manager.

Kevin Youkilis: A

I have nothing to complain about here.  He consistently bats at or above .300 with a .422 on-base percentage and a .580 slugging percentage.  He’s hit twenty home runs this year, so his power numbers are up but not at the expense of his walks (fifty-six) or other hits.  That, plus his defense.  He moves between third and first like it’s the easiest thing in the world.  And these are his numbers with a stint on the DL and a slump during which he batted .194 over twenty-eight games.

Dustin Pedroia: A-

I give the kid an A.  Unlike many reigning MVPs, he’s not having a bad season the year after winning the award.  He’s batting above .300.  His power numbers are down, but he’s batted in forty-six runs and hit thirty-one doubles.  He’s second among Major League second basemen in runs and doubles, third in hits, fifth in walks, third in batting average, and fourth in on-base percentage.  Of course the top-notch fielding can’t be ignored, even though his .987 fielding percentage is low.  Still, he’s a dirt dog if I’ve ever seen one.

Mike Lowell: B

His 2007 season was outstanding.  His 2008 season, not as much.  His season this year will be a test of whether he can successfully rebound from his hip surgery.  He’s done that so far, posting a .296 batting average and .817 OPS, good for fifth in the American League among third basemen.  And after his three weeks on the DL in the first half, he’s really come on strong in the second.  We headed into the All-Star break thinking we needed another bat, and now we have one.  (Actually, we have two, since the acquisition of V-Mart.) As far as his fielding goes, the hip does prevent him from going the extra mile sometimes, but that’s rare enough.

Nick Green: B

Nick Green really stepped up to the plate.  Definitely an unsung hero of the team.  Jed Lowrie was out, and we were looking at a long stretch of errors from Julio Lugo.  Then some non-roster Spring Training invitee stepped in and lo and behold.  Lugo lost his job, and Green made the most of his opportunity to start.  His offense is his weakness, walkoff home run notwithstanding.

Jason Bay: A-

This man is phenomenal.  Theo Epstein hasn’t been able to lock him up yet, but he will.  Jason Bay is too good to let walk into the free agent market.  We’ll sign him.  Anyway, he does the usual.  He hits for average (the .252 is a little low but the .279 career gets the point across) and power (twenty-one home runs).  He fields (no errors at all this season).  He’s seventh in the American League in RBIs and first in walks with seventy-one.  He did go through a rather pronounced slump during which he batted .153 and struck out twenty-five times in seventeen games, but with a strong second half, which may be hampered by his right hamstring issue, he could be in the running for MVP along with Youkilis and Pedroia.

Jacoby Ellsbury: A

Whatever issues he may have had at the plate last year have been solved.  Ellsbury batted .287 in April, then .308 in May, then .313 in June.  He’s now batting .301.  With six home runs and thirty-five RBIs.  He’s gotten really comfortable at the top of the order, and there’s that whole stolen bases thing.  Since the start of last season, only Carl Crawford has more thefts.  And that steal of home against Andy Pettitte will be playing on highlight reels for the rest of the decade.  This speed translates perfectly from the basepaths to center field, where he makes the most difficult and convoluted catches look like walks in the park.

JD Drew: B

Theo Epstein knew exactly what he was getting when he signed Drew to a five-year, $14 million-per-season contract.  He’s batting .248.  With an on-base percentage of .365.  Consistently.  That’s the key.  You always know what you’ll get with Drew: nothing great, but nothing too bad, either.  And get this: the Red Sox are fourth in the American League in OPS in right field.  He’s put those numbers to good use in the leadoff spot, and the one-two punch of him and Pedroia has become something to be feared by opposing pitchers.  With Ellsbury fitting perfectly into that leadoff role now, he finds himself batting lower in the order, but his consistency remains intact.  He mans right field well, which isn’t something you can say for everyone who plays the position in Fenway Park.

David Ortiz: B+

I never thought I’d give that grade to David Ortiz, but you can blame it on his horrendous first two months.  His lowest point was June 2, when he batted .186 with one home run, eighteen RBIs, and an OPS of just .566 in forty-seven games.  Ugh.  But then, what a turnaround.  I want everyone who said he was done to take a good, long look at the following numbers: in his next thirty-four games, he led the team in home runs with eleven, RBIs with 29, and OPS with 1.011.  That, my friends, is Big Papi.  So far he’s batted .225 with fifteen home runs, so the numbers continue to climb.  With a solid second half, the season might not turn out to be so bad for him.

George Kottaras: B-

Let’s remember why he’s here.  He’s here to catch Tim Wakefield.  He’s not here to hit or to take the reins from Jason Varitek; those two responsibilities fall squarely on the shoulders of Victor Martinez.  He’s here to catch knuckleballs every fifth day and give the captain an extra day of rest if he needs it.  And he’s done a great job of that.  Less than ten passed balls and a 5.08 catcher’s ERA.  As far as offense goes, there really isn’t any, but again, that’s not the point.

Jeff Bailey: C

Again, we knew what we were getting here.  Key players were out with injuries, and we needed someone to fill in.  He’s significantly better against lefties (.400) than righties (.111), and the defense is fine enough (no errors).  He wasn’t staying in the Majors anyway, so it’s not a big deal.

Rocco Baldelli: A-

He was signed to provide backup in right field and to handle southpaws.  He hasn’t seen much playing time because of his health concerns, but he’s still batting .261.  Something he’s not usually credited with is a really strong arm.  He practically won the game for us when Lester dueled with Kansas City’s Brian Bannister on July 10; Ellsbury had been ejected for throwing equipment in frustration when called out at the plate, so Rocco Baldelli came in.  He gunned down a Royal at second, something Ellsbury probably would’ve have been able to pull off.  That was key.

Josh Beckett: A

Obviously.  Quite simply, he is an ace.  He is one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever seen.  He had a 7.22 ERA to start June, but look at him now.  In his last thirteen starts before the All-Star break, he’s 9-1 with a 2.14 ERA.  Currently, he’s thirteen and four with a 3.27 ERA that just keeps dropping.  This is shaping up to be a Cy Young year.  Again.  Hopefully they’ll get it right this time.

Jon Lester: A

It’s almost the exact same story.  His rough patch was about two weeks longer than Beckett’s, but his turnaround was just as rapid and just as dramatic.  He is now the best southpaw in all of Major League Baseball.  In the middle of May, he was looking at a 6.51 ERA.  In his ten starts before the All-Star break, he was 6-2 with a 2.01 ERA.  He’s now nine and seven with a 3.79 ERA, but don’t let that fool you.  Theo knew what he had here.  Who needs Johan Santana when you have Lester.

Tim Wakefield: A

He’s eleven and three with a 4.31 ERA.  He’s an All-Star.  He carried a no-no bid into the eighth inning on the road against the A’s this year.  By the way, did I mention he’s forty-two years old? He’s the longest-tenured member of the club, and all he does is consistently give us quality innings and put us in a position to win.  It’s not his fault if he doesn’t get any run support.

Daizuke Matsuzaka: F

Fail.  Epic fail.  Without a doubt, this is the lowest grade I gave this year.  Eight starts, 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA.  The Sox’s record is 2-6 in those starts.  Awful.  Just awful.  And we can thank Bud Selig and the World Baseball Classic for that.  Dice-K went hard during the Classic and basically blew his season along with his shoulder.  He finally seems to be receptive to adapting to the Major League way of doing things (but only after airing his grievances), and after a stint on the DL, he’s now down in Fort Myers basically catching up on all the Spring Training he missed while pitching for Japan.  Just a big, huge, epic fail.

Brad Penny: C

He’s a number five starter.  He never pitches less than five innings, and he never pitches more than six.  He usually gives up about three runs per outing.  And he does this every single time he starts.  Consistency has been the name of his game, but it’s withered considerably in the second half.  He’s been struggling lately.

John Smoltz: C

Two and four with a 7.12 ERA isn’t the John Smoltz I was expecting, but then I stepped back and remembered why we signed him.  We signed him for October.  He has more wins in the postseason than any other pitcher, and he’s here to bring some of that success to us.  We can weather regular-season spottiness if it means some major Ws in the postseason, but the problem is that it just doesn’t seem like he’s peaking at all.  If the goal is to peak late, we should see glimmers of brilliance this month.  Maybe we will, starting tonight.  It doesn’t look likely, though.

Ramon Ramirez: A

The bullpen’s unsung hero.  Theo’s trade of Coco Crisp for this man was genius.  During his sixteen-game rough patch in the first half, his ERA was 5.02, and we all know it wasn’t pleasant to watch him during that stretch.  But he’s gotten better.  And he’s one of the best overall.  His ERA is 2.28, and less than ten relievers in the Majors have an ERA lower than his.  One of them being Jonathan Papelbon.

Daniel Bard: A

Daniel Bard has a long way to go, but he’s getting there fast.  As his confidence grows, so does Terry Francona’s.  He’s using him more and more, and Bard is stepping up and delivering.  A 2.25 ERA, and keep in mind that what you are seeing here is our setup man of the future.  Who tops out at one hundred miles per hour.  Imagine that.  The one-two punch of Bard and Papelbon.  Unhittable.

Takashi Saito: C

He was supposed to be our third-day closer, but with the bullpen being the best in baseball and all, he hasn’t really been used that consistently.  Actually, he’s mostly used when we’re losing.  If the bullpen stays healthy, we don’t really need him that much.  He’s been decent; 3.32 ERA.  But we have better.

Manny Delcarmen: B

He’s a workhorse who gets the job done and keeps the ERA low at 3.05.  Delcarmen is consistent, healthy, and can handle more than one inning of work if necessary.

Hideki Okajima: A

We keep talking about his epic season in 2007 while he’s having one of those right under our noses.  Since the start of that season, he’s been among the top ten relievers in the game in ERA.  A 2.98 ERA is not something to be taken for granted.  He’s a fantastic setup man.

Javier Lopez: D

He had a horrible start to the season and was optioned to the minor leagues.  Tito used him when he shouldn’t have been used: against righties.  But now the bullpen is having some trouble handling lefties, and he’s improved in the minors.  If he’s able to works his way back up, we could be all too ready to welcome him back.

Jonathan Papelbon: B

Many of his saves have been sloppy.  The one-two-three inning that’s been his trademark in the past hasn’t been as common this year.  But that’s changing.  Here’s the thing.  Papelbon has to be used every so often whether we need him or not because he needs to get his work in.  But when you put your closer in again where the team is leading, he doesn’t get the same high-pressure, adrenaline-rush-inducing sensation, and he relaxes.  And when he relaxes, he can’t sustain that fierce competitiveness.  I think Papelbon’s experienced that this year, which incidentally is a credit to our lineup.  The point is that recently, in close games, the one-two-three inning has resurfaced and seems to be appearing more and more often.  Numbers-wise, his problem is walks.  He’s giving up many more walks this year than he did last year.

Terry Francona: A

Again, obviously.  We’re almost leading the division again.  We’re set to appear in October again.  We’ll win the World Series again.  All with Terry Francona at the helm.  This is the first year of his three-year contract extension, and he’s the first Boston manager to begin a sixth season in about sixty years.  Sixty years.  Finally.  And rightfully so.  There are a lot of different personalities floating around in that clubhouse, and they all blend together seamlessly without a hitch.  A lot of that has to do with Tito.  Now that the revolving door for manager has closed, it’s time to seal the one at shortstop, too.

Theo Epstein: A

The man is a genius.  In Theo we trust, and he always comes through.  He’s made two major mistakes that I can recall: Eric Gagne and Julio Lugo, and so far that’s been it.  And even those weren’t that bad in the long run.  He went after bargain pitchers this offseason, and it paid off; we have one of the best rotations and definitely the best bullpen in the game.  All we need to do is work on hitting for the long-term and we’ll be all set.  Theo Epstein is someone Red Sox Nation and I can trust to do that.

The Boston Red Sox Overall: B+

We’re heading into August and we are poised to go on a tear.  The postseason is approaching.  Expect us to win it all.  We have what has to be the deepest team in Major League Baseball.  We have hitting.  We have pitching.  We have fielding.  We have the wherewithal to bring another World Series trophy to the city of Boston.  And we will.  Because we can.

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The only pitcher who did not give up a run on his watch was Bard.  Excluding Buchholz, the other five were abysmal.  You read right.  It took us seven pitchers to lose by one run, but again, Buchholz really had nothing to do with it.  He pitched five and two-thirds, but he never goes deep into games anyway.  He gave up two runs on nine hits with two walks and five strikeouts.  That’s an out shy of a quality start.  So he did a good job.  He wasn’t the problem.

The offense wasn’t the problem either; we lost, 9-8.  No home runs but you don’t need one when you score eight runs.  Ellsbury went two for six with a run, an RBI, and a steal.  Pedroia hit, scored, and is batting around .400 in his last eighteen games or so.  Youk went three for five, including a two-RBI double.  Huge night.  He’s back.  Ortiz and Bay both collected RBIs.  Drew went three for five, including two doubles, with an RBI and two runs, also a huge night.  Lowell went two for two with an RBI double.  Even Kottaras went two for three with a run and two walks.

Point being that this one falls squarely on the shoulders of the bullpen.  Buchholz delivered a quality start (minus the out, but still).  The offense lit up Oakland pitching.  What more could the bullpen want? At that point, you send in your relievers trusting they’ll keep the lead intact.  You have no reason to expect something like what happened last night.

We were cruising.  The five-run third was awesome.  Ramirez came in after five and a third and recorded three outs but gave up a run.  Okajima came in for two outs but threw twenty-nine pitches and gave up a run.  Bard pitched two outs and managed to emerge unscathed.  But it didn’t stop there.  Jonathan Papelbon, in his third blown save of the year, recorded three outs, gave up three runs, and was just generally very sloppy.  That was the first time he’d ever blown a three-run lead.  Ever.  To his credit, he only threw twenty-one pitches; it could’ve been easily much more.  And to be fair only two of those runs were earned; thank you, Nick Green, with the two throwing errors.  But wait; there’s more.  Delcarmen pitched an out shy of two innings, gave up two runs, and took the loss, but only after Takashi Saito allowed Adam Kennedy to hit an RBI single.  We scored a run in the bottom of the frame but couldn’t come up with another.  It was awful.  Like watching a wreck in progress.  And the saddest part is that this was one of those things that Tito just couldn’t fix.  He emptied the bullpen; there was nobody else left to send out.  So what could he do? Send out Masterson and have nobody available for tomorrow? He tried everything and pitched everyone he could.  Even the best bullpen in the Majors isn’t bottomless, and he ran out of pitchers.  There was nothing to be done except sit back, try to relax, and take the loss.  Which luckily coincided with a Yankees loss.  We’ve been lucky that way.

But there’s no guarantee that we’ll be lucky like that forever.  The best way to ensure contention and even a division lead is not to win.  It’s to win consistently.  With few pitchers, to keep the bullpen healthy and rested.  Otherwise, you get yourself into all kinds of difficult situations.  Take tonight, for example.  It’s Brett Anderson at Brad Penny.  Because the bullpen was spent last night, Brad Penny will have to go deep tonight, whether he gives up a slew of runs to get there or not, because the bullpen needs a day off.  But we know that Penny can’t pitch past the sixth, so it’ll be interesting to see how Tito approaches it.  Does he put in three relievers to lessen the workload of each, or does he put Masterson in to pitch all three? Again, I’m not a fan of the latter because it would be keeping him in a state of limbo between reliever and starter.  It’s a tough call.  We’ll see what happens.

We traded Mark Kotsay to the White Sox for Brett Anderson.

Last but definitely not least, yesterday we held the ceremony to retire Jim Rice’s No. 14.  It now hangs on the right field roof deck between Ted Williams’s No. 9 and Carlton Fisk’s No. 27.  Johnny Pesky, his mentor whom he calls his personal hitting coach, unveiled it.  Heady company, but Rice deserves it.  And the 2009 team presented him with a signed replica of the mounted number.  And he thanked us, the greatest fans in baseball.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say you’re welcome, the pleasure is ours.  Rice spent his entire, sixteen-year career in a Boston uniform.  He ended his career with a .298 batting average with 382 home runs and 1,451 runs batted in.  He was an eight-time All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger, and the 1978 American League MVP.  Here’s to you, Jim.  We knew you’d get it.

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The losing streak is over.  Done.  Finished.  Snapped like the Yankees’ first-place lead will be in a matter of days.  That was exactly what we needed at exactly the right time.  The only thing that would’ve made it better was a Yankees loss, but I’d rather the standings don’t change than they change but in the wrong direction.

I want everybody who called for a trade of Brad Penny to consider this proof that so would’ve been a huge mistake.  I think we can safely say that one thing we’ve learned from our experiences this season is that you can never have too much pitching.  After Theo worked his magic in the offseason, people started dreaming about a six-man rotation.  Clearly that did not happen.  Beckett and Lester are right where they should be, now at least, but Wakefield is on the DL, Smoltz’s return to form is progressing exceptionally slowly (I know, I know, the goal is to peak late), and Dice-K is redoing all of the Spring Training he missed by pitching for Japan in the World Baseball Classic.  So we’ve added Clay Buchholz to the rotation and kept Penny.  And clearly that paid off.

Penny got the win last night, improving to seven and four with a 4.71 ERA, which is still deceptively high.  He went six and a third, gave up zero earned runs on five hits (one unearned), didn’t walk anybody, and struck out four.  How’s that for solid? Delcarmen took care of the last two outs in the seventh with one pitch, Okajima controlled through the eighth with ten, and Papelbon racked up save number twenty-five.  Another less-than-beautiful twenty-four-pitch effort.  He had to work himself out of a bases-loaded situation and did so by fanning Luke Scott and Melvin Mora in order.  Why he couldn’t just get the two strikeouts before the bases became loaded is beyond me.  He was doing so well up to this point; he seemed to have largely gotten over his I-forgot-how-to-make-a-save-in-less-than-fifteen-pitches phase.  Maybe this time the sloppiness will prove to be the exception rather than the rule.  But it hasn’t been pretty.    Only seven of his twenty-five saves have been one-two-threes.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that he’s already allowed nineteen walks, which is already twice his total for last season.  That needs to be fixed.  Definitely before October.  Prefereably before September.  But hey, if he figures it out before August, I won’t complain either.

The unearned run scored because Tek made a throwing error.  That does not happen often.  But it’s all good because he hit an RBI single to plate Drew in the fourth.  Ellsbury went two for four with a theft and a textbook forward diving catch in the third.  I’m telling you, you can bat any ball at him at any speed and any angle and make it travel any distance, and not only will he catch it but also he’ll make it look easy.  Pedroia went two for three with a walk and a repeat performance of that play he made to save Buchholz’s no hitter; a dive to the right, springing up, and firing to first for the out.  Ortiz hit, and Bay and Lowell hit and walked.  Lowrie hit a sac fly to bat in Lowell in the fourth, and who but JD Drew finally got a hit.  And he got an RBI in the fifth.  How ’bout that?

Things to be happy about.  We won.  We may be two and a half games behind the Yankees, but it could’ve been three and a half.  Tampa Bay is not close to catching up to us, even if we were planning on staying in second place.  The only two members of the lineup who went hitless were Youk and Lowrie, and Youk walked and scored and Lowrie hit a sac fly to plate somebody, and if that’s our version of hitless, that’s okay with me.  And that means that the seven other members of the lineup did hit.  And two members of the lineup enjoyed multi-hit games.  We went three for eight with runners in scoring position, but that’s a .375 average.  All in all, not a bad way to break the losing streak and not a bad building point for going forward.

We designated Mark Kotsay for assignment to make room for Adam LaRoche.  That’s fair.  When he wasn’t on the DL this season, he was batting .257 with an on-base percentage of .291, slugging percentage of .324, and home run and RBI totals of one and five, respectively.  LaRoche is posting comparable numbers: a .247 batting average, .329 on-base percentage, .441 slugging percentage, and home run and RBI totals of twelve and forty, respectively.  So the one thing that LaRoche has that Kotsay doesn’t have, offensively speaking, is gap power.  When people refer to LaRoche as a left-handed power bat, they mean more that he hits line drives for extra bases than home runs, but with the abysmal state of our offense over the past few games, I’ll take that.

Jeremy Guthrie at Lester, and Gio Gonzalez at Pettitte.  Speaking of the Yankees, did you know that Eric Hinske’s been tearing it up over the last six games? That’s just poor timing if you ask me.  In those six games, he’s got four home runs and six RBIs to go along with a .333 batting average.  Since when does that happen? And why couldn’t he have just done that with us? That right there is just unfair.  Anyway, unfortunately the A’s are nothing to be feared (unless you’re a Twins fan, in which case you support a team that lost to the A’s, 16-1, in one game only to drop a ten-run lead to lose in another).  But neither are the O’s, and if Lester keeps pitching the way he has been, we’ll have this locked.

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I mean, I guess you could call that a duel.  The final score was 1-3, so I’d say that barely qualifies.  One more run and it wouldn’t have been.  We lost, though.  To his credit, Lester kept us in it.  It’s not his fault we couldn’t score more than one run.  But I’ll tell you who’s most pleased by this: JP Ricciardi.  No doubt about that.  His biggest trade bait just pitched a one-run complete game.  He just showed the baseball world that, yes, Halladay is worth everybody else’s top prospects plus cash plus draft picks.  Not ours, but everybody else’s, sure.

For his part, Lester pitched seven.  He gave up three runs on five hits, walked four, and struck out six.  Delcarmen took care of the eighth.  So like I said, he kept us in it.  Three runs for us is nothing.  Giving up three runs or less is a quality start and a start the pitcher has a legitimate chance of winning.  So this is not Lester’s fault.  Actually, this isn’t even the lineup’s fault.  This one is Roy Halladay’s fault all the way.  Think about it.  If the lineup can only score one run against Roy Halladay, can you blame them?

Pedroia and Youk both went two for four.  With runners on second and third, Ortiz hit a sac fly to plate our only run in the first inning.  Lowell and Lowrie were not in the lineup.  Kotsay stole second.  Lester made a throwing error.  We’re only ahead of the Yanks by one game.  Life is…not as great as it could be.  Life could be better on the baseball front.

I don’t have to appreciate the fact that Roy Halladay beat us, but the man can pitch.  Obviously.  And I credit Lester for holding his own.  That was a good game to watch if you like pitching, unfortunately especially if you like losing pitching, even though as I said this loss had nothing to do with Lester.  Moving forward, we’re off to Texas.  Who is no longer ahead of the Angels; they’re now behind by three games, so things are gradually returning to normal.  All we need now is for the Dodgers to fall off completely, and we’ll have the best record in the Majors, as it should be.  Or we could win a few more games while they lose a few; that works too.  At any rate, Smoltz will take on Kevin Millwood.  Given the current situation of the AL East, we should probably win this one.

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