Posts Tagged ‘Mike Cameron’

So, if last time out we saw the better Buchholz, then last night we must have seen the best Buchholz.  Only we didn’t see the best Buchholz, because Buchholz is even better than last night’s outing, which was already better than his previous outing.  Basically, what all this comes down to is that this is what we’ve been waiting for from him.

It wasn’t just the four hits or the seven strikeouts that confirmed it.  The fact that he only walked one and allowed zero runs by themselves don’t even tell the whole story.  It’s the fact that he allowed only four hits while walking only one and striking out seven over seven shutout innings while throwing 127 pitches, seventy-nine for strikes.  Obviously, he still has work to do in the efficiency department.

That pitch count of 127 is a new career high.  I’m surprised that Tito let Buchholz stay in the game for so many, but when you’re hot, you’re hot, and Buchholz was hot.  His first inning? One-two-three.  Two back-to-back swinging strikeouts on fastballs.  His second inning? One-two-three with a swinging strike on a cutter to end it.  He opened the third with a strikeout on three pitches (and later gave up his only walk).  He notched another K in the fourth, when he allowed his first hit.  He put up his last two strikeout in his last inning; the first was his only called strike, also on three pitches, also on a cutter.

But his last strikeout was by far the most epic.  After starting the inning by inducing a groundout from who but Victor Martinez, back for the first time since walking in the offseason (and may I say that the ovation was a very nice touch; naturally Red Sox Nation always does it right), he hit a batter and allowed a single.  Then the called strike.  Then he hit another batter to load the bases with two out.  Given his pitch count and the fact that he was clearly losing his sense of the strike zone, it was obvious that, for better or worse, this would be his last inning.  The question was whether he’d be able to get out of it.  Before Austin Jackson even got up there, Buchholz had already surpassed his career-high pitch count by one.  But Buchholz put his head down and took care of business.  First, a cutter for a called strike.  Then he took a changeup for a ball.  Then Buchholz threw a fastball in the dirt.  Then a cutter for a swinging strike.  What followed were five straight fastballs.  The first two were fouled off.  Then a ball.  Then a foul with a runner going.  And then finally, finally, a swinging strike.  Even after all those pitches, he threw that last one at ninety-four miles per hour.  First base umpire Gary Cederstrom ruled that Jackson went around on what otherwise would’ve been a ball, and that was it.  Fist pump.  Inning over.  Exit Buchholz just in time for a twenty-six-minute rain delay.  And yes, he did go around.

The fact that he threw that many pitches over that many innings showed us that he’s getting back on track.  He can get deep into ballgames and throw a lot of pitches.  You don’t want to see a lot of pitches thrown, but you want to know that he can throw them.  And he did.  Like it was the easiest thing in the world.

More than half of his four-seams as well as his two-seams were thrown for strikes.  Almost three quarters of his changeups were thrown for strikes.  Exactly three quarters of his cutters were thrown for strikes.  And eighty-two percent of his curveballs were thrown for strikes.  His stuff was absolutely filthy.  Even though his innings were efficient in terms of batter count, his lowest pitch count was thirteen in the second; he threw fourteen in the fifth.  His highest pitch count was twenty-six in the first.  Those first two strikeouts of his were incredibly long; the first one took eight pitches, and the second took seven.

In short, the start was easily his best of the year so far.  Hands down.  It was awesome.  But even though it had win written all over it, he never received a decision.

Nobody scored until the eighth inning.  It was wet, visibility was low, and nobody scored until the eighth inning.  Our first four innings at the plate were all one-two-three.  We didn’t send out more than the minimum until the fifth, when we sent out only one above.  The sixth was one-two-three, the seventh was again only four batters, and finally in the eighth we put up our only threat.

If you can’t hit the starter, just wait him out and then pounce on the reliever.  And if you can’t hit the reliever, just wait him out and then pounce on another reliever.  And that’s exactly what we did.  Ryan Perry came on for Phil Coke.  Lowrie grounded out and Cameron popped up.  Daniel Schlereth then replaced Perry, and then things got offensively interesting.  Crawford walked on a full count and Salty hit a double off the Monster.  With Crawford’s speed, that was all it took.  I can’t even believe they thought firing the ball back into the infield would keep him from scoring.  Fitting of course that, on the night when V-Mart returned to Fenway, his replacement drove in the winning run.  Ellsbury was hit by a pitch after that, but the Tigers made another pitching change and Pedroia grounded into a force out.

Thankfully, Bard had had an easy inning in the eighth.  Paps came on and promptly gave up a double to V-Mart, and suddenly that one run was looking pretty shaky.  But it turns out we had nothing to worry about.  A groundout and back-to-back K’s later, Paps picked up his eighth save and the game was over.  1-0, most definitely in our favor.

We are now nursing the longest winning streak we’ve had all year: five games.  Not too shabby.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that two of our starters are on the DL: Dice-K has a sprained ligament in his right elbow and will be out for at least a month, and Lackey has a regular right elbow strain that he wanted to pitch through but wasn’t allowed.  So Lackey will obviously get better soon.  Dice-K is a different story, but having him on the DL for a while may not necessarily be a bad thing.  Wheeler should be back on Friday, and Michael Bowden has joined the bullpen; whether that news is good or bad remains to be seen.  Back to the bright side, we have moved up in the standings and are now two and a half games out of first, good for a tie for second (with the Yankees, which I obviously don’t appreciate, but like I said, we’re moving up).  So clearly things are starting to improve.  The better Buchholz is becoming even better.  And the better Red Sox are becoming even better.  This is good.  This is very good.  We must continue in this direction.  Let’s win ourselves another series.

In other news, the Bruins beat the Lightning, 6-5, thanks in large part to Tyler Seguin, who scored four points in the second period alone.  So now the series stands even at one apiece.  We got this.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

Read Full Post »

Things did not start out too well for either pitcher.  We threatened in the first; Ellsbury was hit by a pitch and Pedroia singled.  (Despite the fact that Ellsbury has taken some bumps and bruises lately, he’s still fine.) Then CC Sabathia put up three consecutive swinging strikes.  Similarly, Beckett allowed two consecutive singles before securing two swinging strikes and a groundout.

Both Sabathia and Beckett settled down after that; nobody scored until the fifth.  With the bases loaded, Ellsbury smacked a double that brought in two.  That was it until the seventh, when we put up a four-spot.  Cameron led off the inning with a walk and scored on a single by Tek.  Two batters later, Pedroia singled and Gonzalez walloped a massive three-run shot into the seats behind the bullpen in right field.  It was a high fastball, and he had that ball’s number right from the beginning.  It was a blast to watch, both literally and figuratively.  He assumed his stance earlier, so he had more space over the plate.  By doing so, he had more room on the inside, which mean that Sabathia couldn’t pitch inside, which he had been wont to do with lefties.  Gonzalez has now hit five home runs in four consecutive games.  His longest home run streak, which he two years ago today, is five.  Coincidence? I think not.  It was his ninth of the season and eighth this month.  Even with two out, that pitch never stood a chance.  He is just on fire.  Right now, I would say he’s probably the hitter to beat in all of Major League Baseball.  You would never have known it from his two at-bats before that, but he smoked that ball all the way.

And that was the final score right there.  6-0.  We win.  Ellsbury went two for four; Pedroia went three for four with a steal.  Joe Girardi was ejected, and Jorge Posada took a mental health day that may or may not have coincided with a bad back day yesterday.  He claimed it had nothing to do with the fact that he was dropped to the number nine spot.  Oh, the drama.

So obviously the other really awesome part of the game was that zero.  Beckett was phenomenal.  Six shutout innings.  Four hits, two walks, nine strikeouts.  (Incidentally, he also struck out nine during the complete game he pitched in the 2003 World Series, also against the Yankees.  Coincidence? I think not.) 105 pitches, sixty-five for strikes.  He wasn’t able to use the two-seam as effectively as he wanted to, especially against lefties, but he worked a filthy changeup, and his cutter and four-seam were comparably unhittable.  He even threw in some nasty curveballs.  But that changeup and that cutter were just absolutely filthy.  He may have thrown twenty-one pitches in his first inning, but he threw only nine in his last.

As I said, he notched two K’s in the first, the last of which was a three-pitch strikeout of Robinson Cano put away with the changeup.  His second inning was one-two-three but he didn’t strike out anybody.  He notched two more swinging strikeouts in the third to open and end the inning, both ending with cutters.  The fourth was also one-two-three and featured back-to-back K’s, the first a swing and a miss on a cutter and the second a called strikeout on a cutter.  The fifth opened and ended with two five-pitch swinging strikeouts, the first on the curveball and the second on the changeup.  The sixth was one-two-three and began when A-Rod struck out on a cutter.  Beckett just mowed through the lineup.  He was dominant.  He was not somebody you wanted to mess with.  The Yankee lineup didn’t mess with him.  He got the win.  The only complaint anyone could possibly have with his outing is that he was slightly inefficient; had his work been more streamlined, he could have pitched at least another inning.  But in his two starts against New York this year, he has pitched fourteen shutout innings, given up only six hits, and struck out nineteen batters.  In general, he is currently nursing a shutout streak of eighteen and a third innings.  And his ERA is 1.75.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Albers pitched the seventh and eighth.  Hill pitched the ninth.  Done.

That was awesome.  It was just awesome.  We did everything the Yankees didn’t.  We manufactured runs.  We hit for power.  We also just out-pitched them completely.  So it’s pretty simple.  The worst we can do now is win the series.  But obviously what we really want to do is sweep.  The way the pitching matchups worked out, I’d say that’s a good possibility.

In other news, the Bruins dropped the first game of the series with the Lightning, 5-2.  Ouch.

Reuters Photo

Read Full Post »

The game last night lasted five hours.  Five minutes more than half of those five hours were comprised of a rain delay in the fifth.  And on top of that, it lasted thirteen innings.  This was the longest game we’ve played since we lost to the Yankees in fifteen innings in New York on August 7, 2009.  It was the longest game we’ve played at Fenway since we lost to the Rays in fifteen innings on September 10, 2008.  I guess there should have been no surprise that we lost this one too.

Before the rainout, Beckett was in the process of delivering one of his sharpest outings of the season.  When the rain delay was called one out into the fifth inning, he had been pitching one-hit shutout ball.  He had walked three and struck out three.  He had thrown sixty-eight pitches, thirty-eight for strikes, and was on pace to pitch through at least the sixth inning.  His pitches weren’t the most effective I’ve seen them; only half his four-seams and curveballs were thrown for strikes, and his most effective pitches, the changeup, cutter, and two-seam, were also the pitches he was throwing most infrequently.  It seems like he was probably not as efficient as he could have been, but that was mostly because he threw twenty-two pitches in the first inning.  He settled down after that, throwing fourteen in the second, thirteen in the third, and fourteen in the fourth.  He only had the opportunity to throw five in the fifth.  He used those five pitches to strike out Howard Kendrick, putting him away with a curveball.  His release point was extremely consistent, and he was attacking the zone.  I have no reason not to assume that his stellar performance would have continued beyond the first out of the fifth inning.

And it was a performance we desperately needed to continue.  The Angels pitching staff was taking a collective no-no bid into the seventh.  Youk, who was hit by a pitch for the seventy-first time in his career in the fourth, which ties a franchise record, led off the inning with a walk and Papi struck out looking; thankfully Lowrie shattered it with a single on the fourth pitch of his at-bat.  Red Sox Nation signed in relief as one.  He had seen three straight sinkers; he took the first two for strikes and fouled off the third.  He put the curveball in the outfield.  Being no-hit is probably one of the most embarrassing occurrences that can befall a baseball team, second obviously to being on the receiving end of a perfect game.  We haven’t been no-hit in eighteen years.  That still stands.  What a relief.

Meanwhile, Albers had pitched the rest of the fifth as well as the sixth.  Wheeler came on to pitch the seventh.  By the time we broke the no-hitter, he had already allowed two runs on a home run.  After walking a batter and inducing a flyout, he was replaced by Okajima, who got out of the inning without allowing any further damage.  Okajima pitched well in the eighth.

We didn’t score a single run until the bottom of the eighth inning.  Tek doubled and scored on a single by Gonzalez.  Scutaro came in to pinch-run for him and remained in the game at shortstop; Lowrie moved to first.  Ultimately it didn’t help; Youk singled, but Papi flied out to end the rally.

Okajima opened the ninth with a ground out, but after allowing two consecutive singles, he was replaced by Wake.  Wake allowed a walk and a run on a single.

We threatened again in the bottom of the ninth, and it looked like we were going to celebrate another walkoff.  Lowrie led off with a walk.  Cameron singled.  Lowrie scored on a wild pitch; Cameron tried to advance to third but was gunned down.  You can thank third base umpire John Hirschbeck for that; had he not blocked the ball, Cameron probably would have been safe.  Crawford doubled.  Tek struck out swinging.  Ellsbury singled Crawford in to tie the game at three.  Then Pedroia grounded into a force out to end it.  I was hoping for another epic at-bat, but he jumped on the first pitch he saw.  He needs to break out of this slump.

After that it was just a matter of who would strike first and whether we could come back if it wasn’t us.  Paps took care of the tenth; we didn’t score.  Bard took care of the eleventh and twelfth; we still didn’t score, although we threatened in the latter inning.  And if you thought we would be celebrating another walkoff in the ninth, you really thought we would be celebrating another walkoff in the twelfth.  Pedroia struck out swinging, but then Scutaro singled and Youk smacked a hard-hit double off the Monster.  I actually thought it was going to be a home run.  I thought it was going out the yard, the team was going to home plate for the walkoff mob, and we were all going to celebrate.  But it missed the top ofhte wall by maybe a foot, and that’s being generous.  Scutaro was coming around.  I was thinking that this was it; another walkoff, and an undefeated record against the Angels preserved.  But no.  He was gunned down at the plate.  McDonald, who had come in in the tenth to pinch-run for Papi, singled, but Lowrie grounded out.

Dice-K came on to pitch the thirteenth for the first relief appearance of his career.  What else was Tito supposed to do? He had gone through his entire bullpen already except for Jenks, who wasn’t available because, as it turns out, he has a cramp in his right arm.  He allowed a single.  Then he induced a flyout and a popout.  Then another single followed by a walk to load the bases.  He allowed another single, which brought in two runs.  We went down in order in the bottom of the inning.  Dice-K took the loss, and the final score was 5-3.

If it’s any consolation, I doubt the result would have been different had Jenks been able to pitch in relief.  It was an incredibly difficult decision for Tito to make because Dice-K had left his previous start with tightness in his right elbow and he’s scheduled to start on Friday.  But he had no one else to send out.  It’s just one of those games where you feel the manager’s pain because he sees that the team is in a difficult situation and he knows exactly how to fix it but he doesn’t have the means to do so.  He just couldn’t.  The game wasn’t out of reach; sending in a position player to pitch a little was not an option.  We were tied; we were very much in it, and we weren’t about to give it up.  So he went with Dice-K probably because technically this would have been his day to pitch and probably also because of all our starters, he’s the one who’s most used to throwing exorbitant amounts of pitches.  Turns out it was a fail, but it wasn’t Tito’s fault.

At least we weren’t no-hit, although taking comfort in the fact that at least we managed some semblance of an offensive attack isn’t necessarily a huge cause for celebration.  That game had plenty of ups and downs.  We put up a good fight.  We threatened and had our opportunities.  But we didn’t take advantage of them.  So we still lost, and the fact that at least we weren’t no-hit isn’t great consolation either.  Not only were we almost no-hit, not only did we lose, but we lost in thirteen innings with a rain delay that exhausted the entire bullpen the day before we’re supposed to play an afternoon game.  The only thing we can do now is try to play that afternoon game and get some hits, preferably early as well as late, preferably with runners in scoring position, and preferably many of them.

In other news, the Bruins won last night, 5-1! We haven’t lost a single game in this series.  We have one more game at home before we’re scheduled to go to Philly.  Let’s keep this streak going.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

Read Full Post »

Mike Cameron was basically the only good thing that happened last night.  The rest of it was all bad.  It was all just really, really bad.

First, there was Dice-K.  Early in the game, his right elbow started to tighten up.  He went out to the mound, and he did not deliver a start similar to what he should us his last two outings.  He pitched to one batter in the fifth, failed to record an out, and was finally pulled.

So he only pitched four innings but threw eighty-two pitches.  He gave up three runs, only one earned (thank you, Lowrie and McDonald), on three hits.  He walked four.  He struck out four.  So as you can see, he was not on the way to pitching another fantastic outing.  He actually claims that he could have kept on pitching but that it was Tito’s decision to remove him.  A truly inspired decision, I might add.  He was officially pulled due to right elbow stiffness.

Albers came on and pitched two solid innings.  And then things started to get interesting.

Seattle scored two runs in the top of the first, but we got one back in the bottom of the second when Cameron walloped a home run on his first pitch of the night, an eighty-eight-mile-per-hour two-seam outside.  It was a home run right after Johnny Pesky’s own heart.  It wrapped right around that pole for a run.

McDonald led off the third with a walk, and Ellsbury grounded into a force out.  Pedroia flied out, Gonzalez singled, Ellsbury came home on a single by Youk, and Gonzalez came home on a single by Papi.

Cameron led off the fourth with another home run.  This one was on the third pitch of the at-bat, an eighty-mile-per-hour changeup down and away.  And there were no doubts about this one.  This one sailed all the way to the Monster seats.  So, note to opposing pitchers: do not throw pitches with speeds in the eighties range that are away to Mike Cameron.  This was his first multi-homer game since 2009.

So we scored four runs.  Those four runs were the only runs we would score.  We didn’t score a single run over the game’s last five innings.

This is the interesting part.  Jenks came on to pitch the seventh.  At that point, we were leading Seattle by one.  But Ichiro singled, Chone Figgins doubled, Milton Bradley struck out, and Suzuki scored on a groundout.  Justin Smoak walked.  Figgins scored on a double.  Adam Kennedy grounded out.  And that was it for Bobby Jenks.  Okajima and Bard did what they could to keep us in it after that.

Let’s think about this for a moment.  This is not a one time thing with Jenks.  Lately, every time he comes out, you know your lead is not safe.  I really hate to say this, but if he doesn’t do something soon, he’s going to become Eric Gagne, and we all know how that turned out.  In Jenks’s first ten games with us, his ERA is 8.64, opposing batters are hitting .324 against him, and he has allowed runs in four of his last six appearances.  All this after he was untouched in his first four appearances this season.  Now that is more than I can say for Gagne, so it’s just strange.  This is the longest struggle of his career.  Tito thinks it’s location, and I have to agree.  He doesn’t have a velocity or versatility problem.  He throws his pitches well.  He just doesn’t throw them precisely enough to hit his spots.  That’s a problem you can fix, which is a good sign, because to this day I have no idea what was going on with Gagne.

For a few seconds, it looked like Lowrie would come through in the ninth.  He hit what I was convinced was a home run until it turned out to be a fly ball because, as luck would have it, he hit it to the 420-foot mark, the deepest part of the park where the center fielder actually had room to corral it.  And them Cameron stepped up, and you know you were thinking that this could be the day he hits three.  So he hits one, and it’s sailing through the air, and you’re thinking that if this ball could just get out, we’ll get this thing in extra innings.  But no.  The ball ends up right in Ichiro’s glove.  Drew struck out looking to end it, 5-4.

So that was the first game of an eleven-game homestand.  Not really the type of opening, or should I say closing, you hope for.  We’ve lost three of our last four games and are now eleven and fourteen.  And we had Dice-K looking like Dice-K, Jenks looking like Jenks, and Drew looking like Drew when he struck out looking to end the 2008 ALCS.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Drew striking out looking the same way again.  Well, we have Lackey coming up.  My goal right now is just to get to .500.  That should not be that difficult.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

Read Full Post »

Lester has started opposite the Orioles seventeen times in his career.  He remains undefeated.  14-0 with a 2.33 ERA, and as a team we are sixteen and one in those seventeen games.  That’s the longest ongoing streak by any pitcher against any team.  Tom Brewer was our last pitcher to win fourteen consecutive starts against one team.  He did it from 1954 through 1957 against the Athletics, both the Philadelphia and Kansas City varieties.  (To clarify, that was the same team.  They just moved around a bit before finally settling in Oakland.)

So you obviously know that he picked up the win.  He fired eight solid innings to do it.  He gave up two runs on four hits.  He walked three and struck out five.  The only complaint I would have with his outing is that he should be lower on walks and higher on strikeouts.  But again, if that’s the extent of his April badness this year, I will most definitely take it.  Besides, he threw 108 pitches total across eight innings, and he only walked three, so it’s not like he was being inefficient.  He just recorded outs through other means, that’s all.

Sixty-four of his pitches were strikes.  His most effective pitch by far was his changeup.  All but two of his changeups were strikes.  His curveball and sinker were also working, but he’s still looking for that extra life on his cut fastball.  It hasn’t been as effective as it’s going to be soon, I suspect.  He doesn’t have a velocity problem; he got it up to ninety-four.  It’s just a movement issue.  His cut fastball is his everything pitch.  It’s his pitch to start at-bats and end at-bats.  It’s his pitch to get out of jams and just generally display mastery.  That’s not to say he isn’t versatile.  That’s only to say that it’s understandable that, although his outings lately have been great by anyone’s standards, they haven’t been truly great by our standards because we know what he’s capable of doing at his best.  When your signature pitch isn’t quite right, neither is your outing, for one reason or another.

He threw twenty-one pitches in the first.  He gave up a walk and two consecutive singles that inning to allow his first run.  but he settled down after that.  He only threw nine in the fifth.  The other run was scored via the homer; Vladimir Guerrero hit a ninety-one mile-per-hour cut fastball out.  (We’ve known this for a while, but I’d just like to specifically point out that Vladimir Guerrero is now playing for the Orioles.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.) Paps came on for the ninth and did a fine job.  No save necessary.

The final score was 6-2.  Six runs is a pretty low total for a team that racked up thirteen hits to the opposition’s four and that recorded four multi-hit games: Ellsbury and Gonzalez both went three for five, and Pedroia and Papi both went two for five.  One explanation might be that only four of our thirteen hits were for extra bases, and they were all doubles.  Gonzalez hit two of them, so he clearly had a great night.  And two were hit in the first inning; Ellsbury led off the game with a double, and after Pedroia struck out, Gonzalez doubled him home.  There was a similar outcome in the third; Ellsbury singled, and after Pedroia grounded out, Gonzalez singled him home.  Crawford led off the seventh with a double and came home on a single by Pedroia.

And then we got busy in the eighth.  Youk led off the inning with a walk.  Papi singled.  Cameron pinch-hit for Drew and walked.  Youk came around on a single by Salty.  Two outs later, Ellsbury brought home Papi and Cameron on a single.

We left nine men on base and went five for sixteen with runners in scoring position.  Nobody hit his way past second base.  But we manufactured runs when we needed to and won with a four-run lead.  When you play the Orioles, you just expect to score more.  Then again, when you play the Orioles, you don’t expect to lose the series, but at least we weren’t swept.  And at least we’re no longer in last place.  The Orioles are now in last place.  We’re in second-to-last place.  But at least we’re moving up.  And Youk left the game in the bottom of the eighth with a sore left hip.  At least he stayed in the game for as long as he could; he jammed his hip on a slide into first base in the first inning.  Luckily, all signs point to his return tonight, when we go home to host the Mariners.

AP Photo

Read Full Post »

Yes.  I mean, yes.  Yes.  This is what we want.  This is what we’ve been looking for.  And the irony that it’s coming from Josh Beckett makes it even better.  For the past several years we’ve looked to Josh Beckett to come through in times like these with starts like this.  And time after time, he’s failed us, never coming through with a clutch performance when we needed it most.  If it wasn’t his back, it was his shoulder.  If it wasn’t his command, it was his control.

Not yesterday afternoon.  And after two starts like this, I think not this season.  We needed a win.  He gave us the opportunity, the offense did some damage, and the bullpen held everything together.  4-1.  Done.

He pitched seven innings, gave up only one run on three hits, walked only two, and struck out nine.  For the first time in his career, he has given up three hits or less while striking out nine or more in consecutive starts.  The first four of those nine strikeouts were called, followed by three consecutive swinging strikes, followed by another called strike and then another swinging strike.  His ERA is 1.80.  Beckett is a beast.  He is back.  You have no idea how good it feels to say that and actually be able to mean it.

He threw 101 pitches, sixty-four of which were strikes.  His fastballs got up to ninety-four miles per hour.  He got comfortable with both fastballs, and then he started to mix in some offspeeds.  He was uneasy with them at first, but by the end of his night, he was locating cutters, curveballs, and changeups.  He attacked the strike zone.  He threw at most twenty-one pitches in a single inning.  That was in the second, when he gave up the Jays’ lone run of the day, on a single that was preceded by a double.  In short, he was a pitching coach’s dream, and we can settle back into our high expectations.

Bard earned a hold for the eighth, and Paps earned a save for the ninth.  Win, hold, save.  That’s what we want to see every game.

Of course, there would be no win without offense.  Since Crawford has been completely ineffectual, he got the day off in favor of Lowrie, who batted leadoff for the first time in his career and looked really comfortable.  He finished the afternoon three for five with two RBIs.  He may have been caught stealing, but after Ellsbury walked to open the second, he unleashed on an eighty-four mile-per-hour changeup and buried it in the Monster seats, a very popular destinations for baseballs off of Boston bats these past few days.  In the first, he also got things going with a single to open the game.  Then Pedroia walked, and Gonzalez singled Lowrie in.  Youk then doubled Pedroia in.

Papi walked after that, and the fact that Cameron struck out looking and Tek struck out swinging and McDonald grounded out wasn’t helpful.  But thanks to Beckett, Bard, and Paps, four runs was enough.

Defensive highlights include Gonzalez’s twice diving to his knees to corral a ball and fire to first for the out in the first and third, Pedroia diving to grab a ground ball and fire to first for the second out of the fourth, Tek’s perfct pickoff in the eighth, and of course Cameron’s game-ending sliding catch in left, his second spectacular grab of the day.  By the way, he hasn’t played left field since 1996.  Not bad.

So that’s it.  What can I say? It was clean, it was crisp, and it was full of win.  I don’t have any theories or speculations as to why we failed because we didn’t fail.  We won because we paired quality pitching with quality relief and quality hitting.  So this is proof that, once we get it going, we’ll be totally fine.  All we need to do now is sit back, relax, bask in our own glory, and hope we get to do it again today.  Lowrie turns twenty-seven today; a similar performance at the plate and another win would be a pretty good way to celebrate.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Habs again yesterday, 3-1.  Not a good way to start the playoffs.  We’re better than that.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

Read Full Post »

Wow.  Just, wow.   I mean, what? But in a good way.

Yes, I am completely aware that that made absolutely no sense.  It’s just hard not to be too pumped for words after last night’s game.  It was epic.  Not only were we at home, but we won.  Not only did we win, but we won against the Yankees.  Not only did we win against the Yankees, but we won against the Yankees because Josh Beckett came home again.  Everything about that game was immensely satisfying.

The phrase you’re going to hear in almost every article you read about last night’s game is “vintage Beckett.” What does that mean? That means he made a start the likes of which he hasn’t made since 2009, when he went seventeen and six with a 3.86 ERA.  Before 2009, he hadn’t made a start like this since 2007, the year CC Sabathia stole his Cy Young.  I guess he’s on some sort of strange two-year cycle.  Last night, he had his revenge.  Last night, he looked every bit like a Cy Young winner, and he stole the W from Sabathia.

Beckett was wolf-like in his ruthlessness and his ability to detect fear in opposing batters.  He shook of Tek, not because they weren’t on the same page, but because he had the number of every hitter he faced, and he knew exactly what he needed to do to get them out.  And once Tek realized that letting him command his own game would not result in a ridiculous amount of runs, he let him.  The results speak for themselves.

Eight shutout innings.  Two hits.  One walk.  Ten strikeouts.  103 pitches.  Sixty-eight strikes.

That was his first double-digit strikeout total since July 27, 2009.  Back problems? What back problems? Shoulder problems? What shoulder problems? He went out there and he attacked the strike zone like a strike-throwing machine.  He pulled out some nasty stuff.  His fastball was formidable, topping out at ninety-four miles per hour and in for a strike about eighty percent of the time.  His curveball was unhittable and perfectly located.  His cutter was sharp.  His two-seam put away Mark Teixeira.  But his changeup was the real evidence of his return to form.  His arm was so alive that he threw his changeup at an average speed of eighty-eight and a top speed of ninety.  Most pitchers in the Major Leagues are lucky to throw a fastball at that speed.  And the hitters could do absolutely nothing with it.

He threw nineteen pitches in the first inning and only improved from there.  During his last two innings, he needed just eight pitches to secure the three outs.  His speeds varied.  His release point tightened as the game went on.  The strike zone? Peppered.  This was, without a doubt, one of the best starts I have ever seen from him.  Ever.

Fortunately, it didn’t go to waste.  We loaded the bases in the third with nobody out.  Then there was a double play that scored a run.  Then second base umpire Mark Wagner retracted the run and called the post-double play runners back to their bases because Youk apparently “interfered” with the play.  Basically, Youk obstructed Jeter’s ability to field when he slid into second.  But that slide is a slide you see all the time.  It was one of those that prompts a jump by whoever’s covering second in order to clear the bag in time.  It’s a very obscure rule; since this sort of thing happens almost every day, nobody really enforces the rule.  In this particular situation, we fortunately didn’t have to be livid for long.  Cameron managed to eke out an infield hit, and Pedroia came home.

And guess what? Beckett held that lead.  The score was 1-0, and Beckett held it.  He held it through numerous terribly frustrating abandonments of men on base and of prime opportunities squandered in such an irksome fashion that it reminded you that on Saturday we went one for seventeen with runners in scoring position.  But then who should come up big with the bases loaded in the seventh but Marco Scutaro, who smacked a ninety-three mile-per-hour four-seam for a two-run double that looked so natural and so confident that it made you wonder, for that moment, what he was doing batting ninth, until you remembered that placing a hitter who has moments reminiscent of a leadoff man in the ninth spot lengthens your innings because it means you’ve got basically two leadoff hitters in a row.  The ball ended up in left and rolled all the way to the Monster.  Now would be a good time to mention that he’s nine for sixteen with the bases loaded over the course of his Boston career.  Who knew?

And Beckett held that lead until the eighth, when Papi increased it with a one-run double on an eighty-three mile-per-hour slider that was perhaps one of the most powerfully hit doubles Fenway has ever had the pleasure of witnessing.  It bounced off the very top of the wall in right-center field.  As in, pretty much exactly at the 420-foot mark.  We’re talking inches away from a home run.

So Scutaro went two for two, Papi went two for four, and Pedroia went three for four last night and nine for thirteen in the series.  He read Yankees pitching like a book this weekend.  Paps didn’t necessarily come on during a save opportunity, but the moment was just as suspenseful.  He handled it beautifully.  Three up, three down.  Two strikeouts.  Twelve pitches.  Done.  4-0.

The only bad news is that Sabathia drilled Gonzalez’s hands on an inside pitch in the fifth.  The ball landed squarely on his left pinky and ring finger.  He took his base and, instead of squeezing his batting gloves in both hands, as some baserunners are wont to do to create some extra cushioning to avoid injury, he held both of his gloves in his right hand.  He didn’t swing especially hard after that, but he did stay in the game, and after the game he said he felt fine.  We dodged one serious bullet right there.  Now would be a good time to mention the fact that more batters have been hit during our games with the Yankees than have been hit in games between any other two teams.

Two more counts of good news: the infield at Fenway is brand new, so bounces are truer and fielding is cleaner.  But let’s not forget to tell everyone that, so we don’t have situations like Lowrie had where he expected the ball to bounce as it would on the old infield when instead it actually bounced correctly.  And we signed Buchholz to a four-year extension.  In its most basic form, it’s worth thirty million dollars, but it includes two club options that together are worth about twenty-seven million.  For a pitcher of that caliber, that’s a steal.

Yes, we left sixteen men on base.  Yes, we only went three for fourteen with runners in scoring position.  But we win the series! It’s amazing how different your perception of those things becomes when you win.  But that’s natural, because if you win, at least in the short term it really doesn’t matter.  All that matters is the three, not the fourteen.  The long term is a different story, but we haven’t seen this club get into any sort of groove that would indicate that the lineup won’t be able to produce with runners in scoring position in the long term.

Wow.  Josh Beckett, man.  Josh Beckett.  Welcome back.  It’s good to see you.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Devils.  An anticlimactic way to end an awesome season.  Which isn’t over yet.  Our first playoff game is Thursday against the Habs.  I’m psyched.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »