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Posts Tagged ‘No-Hitter’

Not every team has a good starting rotation.  Not every good starting rotation has an ace.  And not every ace is so dominant that the minute you see he’s starting, you’re already chalking it up as a win.  We are in the fortunate position of having such an ace on our staff.  (We technically have two, but the other one is currently out of order.) That ace would be Jon Lester, who has quietly but in short order established himself as one of the best southpaws in all of Major League Baseball.  And for good reason.  I would not want to be on the receiving end of a Lester cut fastball.

Lester’s line? Seven shutout innings, four hits, two walks, eight strikeouts.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  (Actually, it does.  It’s called a no-hitter.  Lester’s already thrown one of those.) The only downside was the 122 pitches it took him to get there.  He really had no choice; the bullpen’s been working hard these past few days and he had to go deep.  But I don’t like him throwing so many pitches after a long season this close to the playoffs.  He mixed them well, though, obviously concentrating on fastballs but using a good amount of off-speeds.  He topped out at ninety-six miles per hour and went down to about eighty.  He has one of the most effective mixes of pitches I’ve ever seen.

Wagner, Bard, and Paps handled themselves well.  The first two each were rewarded with holds for their service, but we’d scored too many runs for Paps to rack up a save.  Wagner allowed the run; Ramon Castro led off the eighth with a solo shot, but it happens.  Other than that, yesterday’s relief corps was spotless.  Did you know that Bard and Paps both have ERAs under 2.00? It seems like we’ve been so busy worrying about Papelbon’s excessive walks and sloppy saves that we forgot to notice that his ERA is still intact.  Of course, Daniel Bard never gave us much reason to doubt.

The final score was a very cool, very pleasant 6-1.  Ellsbury went three for four with two runs and a steal.  Very leadoff-hitter of him.  Pedroia went hitless again.  To tell you the truth, I don’t know what’s going on behind this slump of his.  I have no doubt he’ll snap out of it, because since those horrendous first two Major League months, he’s never been able to stay in a slump for long.  We can forgive him for yesterday’s performance because he delivered the play of the game in the first inning.  Two on and nobody out with a 1-2 count on Paul Konerko, so he flies out to shallow right and it’s Dustin Pedroia who runs in from the infield, makes the catch, and immediately fires with uncanny accuracy to second to get Scott Podsednik, who got doubled up.  So that was an epic play by Pedroia and an epic lapse in judgment by Podsednik, who has to keep his head up during a play like that.  And just to give you an idea of how important this was, if Pedroia doesn’t snag Konerko’s fly, it’s bases loaded with no outs, because everyone thought the ball would fall.  And that’s as valuable as any hit could possibly be.

V-Mart went two for four with a three-run moonshot with two out in the ninth.  The ball landed in the bullpen.  But let me tell you something about this ball.  This ball went off the bat and never looked back.  The crack of the bat was so loud, I thought the sound alone would propel the ball out of the park.  Bay went two for four with an RBI single.  Drew and Gonzalez both doubled.  And finally, last but not least, Mikey Lowell went yard with a man on in the fourth, in the White Sox bullpen.  So we had two long balls, both to opposite ends of the field, each to a different bullpen.  Not bad.  By the way, that’s proof of the fact that Lowell still has plenty left in the tank.

It’s possible that, instead of being called up, Lowrie will be shut down after playing for the PawSox on Monday.  To be honest, I’d rather see that then call him up, put him in action, and have him damage his wrist more permanently.  He’s our shortstop of the future.  He’s young.  No need to clip his wings before he’s had a chance to fly.

Well, that’s a wrap! We needed a win and we got one, thanks to the lineup and a little help from Jon Leste, who’s now twelve and seven with a 3.44 ERA.  That ERA is good for eighth among southpaws in the Majors.  He’s also very durable; he’s tied at fifth among lefties in most games started, and he’s sixth in innings pitched.  He’s tied for sixth in wins, but perhaps most telling, he’s struck out more batters than any other active lefty.  For Jon Lester alone, Theo Epstein deserves a standing ovation; for drafting him, for believing in him, and for keeping him here.  Absolutely.  Unfortunately, we’ll now have to wait another four games for his next start.  In the meantime, Josh Beckett will duke it out with Mark Buehrle.  We’ve been seeing a lot of the White Sox recently, so I have to believe our remarkable adaptability will kick in and help Beckett out a bit.  Hopefully it goes well.

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Last night’s big story was Clay Buchholz.  Last night was exactly why there was no chance Buchholz was going to be traded, not even for the likes of Roy Halladay.  Who knows? We may have a future Roy Halladay on our hands.  One who throws mostly off-speed pitches and keeps opposing batters guessing until they suddenly realize they’ve been called out.  In all seriousness, the Clay Buchholz who started last night’s game was the same kid who no-hit the Orioles in his second Major League start.  The Clay Buchholz of 2009 is not the Clay Buchholz of 2008, and Red Sox Nation can be very happy about that.

He pitched just over eight full innings.  He gave up one run on three hits.  He walked two but struck out nine.  He threw 107 pitches, 67 of them for strikes.  Half his pitches were four-seams (topping out at ninety-five miles per hour), a quarter were changeups, and the rest was a very effective mixture of two-seams, sliders, and curveballs.  I’m going to let those numbers speak for themselves.  It doesn’t get much sharper, more precise, more efficient, or just generally better than that.

That’s a lot more than I can say for Okajima, who relieved Buchholz in the ninth and who was taken out after pitching to two batters and allowing a run but failing to record an out.  Paps came on and took care of the last two outs of the game in five pitches, four of them strikes.  There was a fist-pump involved.  That’s how you know you’re on the home stretch.

We won, 3-2.  RBIs for Pedroia, Gonzalez, and V-Mart.  Ellsbury went two for five with a double and a triple, and Pedroia went three for four.  Drew recorded one hit and walked twice, but don’t let that fool you.  Since returning from the disabled list, he’s hit .364 with five home runs and an on-base percentage of .462.  In that time, the team’s gone eight and three.  And those numbers look an awful lot like his numbers from last June, when Ortiz was on the disabled list and he really stepped up to the plate, both literally and figuratively.  Just sayin’.

Wakefield will miss his next start due to more back trouble, so Lester’s start will be moved up, followed by Beckett and Buchholz.  We optioned Tazawa to the Gulf Coast League Red Sox but will probably reactivate him in time for the White Sox series, which starts Friday.  (There’s this rule that you can’t recall an optioned player for ten days or until the season ends, and the GCL Red Sox’ season ends in time for that series, which is why he’s not with Pawtucket.) And finally, Tito and John Farrell have stated that health is not a factor in Josh Beckett’s recent downturn, which is the result of a severe lack of command in the lower part of the strike zone, as per usual when Beckett has a downturn.  Farrell is confident that this can be fixed quickly.  Good.  So let’s fix it.  Because this stretch has been dire.  Take Friday’s outing as an example.  Although his nine strikeouts accounted for more than half the staff’s seventeen that night, which was the most by a Red Sox staff in nine innings since April 8, 2001, he walked five batters.  He hasn’t done that since September 16, 2006, and it’s only the third time he’s done it in his entire career.  Over his last four starts, he’s allowed twelve balls to leave the park, as opposed to zero over his previous five starts.  In his first twenty-two starts, so that’s more than five times as many starts, he only gave up ten.  So yeah.  I’m in favor of fixing it.

Unfortunately, we have to contend with the fact that Sergio Mitre one-hit the White Sox in the Bronx.  The final score was 10-0.  Well, isn’t that just lovely.  That’s exactly what we need right now, isn’t it.  Whatever.  It’ll come back to bite them somehow.  I’ll bet Ozzie Guillen had some words for his team, though.  Anyway, in keeping with our focus on ourselves and not on the competition (if you look back while you run a race, you’ll slow down), we’re taking on Roy Halladay this afternoon, and who is on the mound for us but Paul Byrd.  He hasn’t dealt a Major League pitch since the end of last season, so this should be interesting.  Still, I keep the faith.

Reuters Photo

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Not much wheeling and dealing went on for us this past week.  I mean the rumor mill never stops, but Theo’s been biding his time like he always does.  And in the end it all works out.  We’ve hired Tim Bogar as our new first base coach, we’ve extended arbitration to Tek, and we’re about to sign Japanese righty Junichi Tazawa.  The Tigers may be interested in Alex Cora as a low-budget option for shortstop, the Angels are pursuing CC Sabathia instead of Mark Teixeira, and Clay Buchholz seems to have rebounded nicely in the Arizona Fall League.  Let’s hope he’ll have his act together for ’09, because his ’08 was just abysmal.  I don’t even want to talk about it.  There was a stretch where he was like a younger version of Mike Timlin: as soon as he steps on the mound, it’s a loss.  So I hope he’s back to his ’07 form, preferably something reminiscent of, oh, I don’t know, say a certain game against the Baltimore Orioles in September?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to thank our team for giving back.  The Red Sox do more in the community than any other team I’ve seen.  I’ve said this before, and here are some stats to prove it.  We raised $4,800,000 at the 2008 Jimmy Fund telethon.  Since its creation in 2002, the Red Sox Foundation has raised $29 million.  The Red Sox Foundation’s current project is a rehabilitative assistance program for war veterans at the Brockton Veterans Administration Medical Center, and players participate routinely in this program.  During the offseason, our activities extend not just to communities in Boston but also to communities in New England, across the country, and across the world.  For example, David Ortiz will host his golf classic in the Dominican Republic.  So far this year, Red Sox players, managers, and coaches have participated in 541 community activities, setting a new club record.  Let’s keep in mind here that participation in these activities is done after hours, so we’re talking thousands of off-the-clock hours of volunteer work.  That’s a lot of hours.  And 369 of those 541 activities took place during the regular and playoff seasons.  As far as other individual players go, Youk hosted an entertainment event at for his Hits for Kids Charity.  Josh Beckett and Manny Delcarmen each held bowling tournaments.  Mikey Lowell hosted a dance competition in which almost all of the players participated.  Tim Wakefield works year-round with many different charities and devotes many of his efforts to children with illnesses.  So as you can see, the reasons to be a part of Red Sox Nation just keep coming.  Hearing something like this just makes you really proud.

In other news, the Pats defeated the Dolphins, 48-28, but were then crushed by the Steelers, 33-10.  But if there’s one team in Boston that needs talking about, it’s the Bruins.  Unquestionably the Bruins.  Their last two games were wins: a 7-2 burial of the Islanders followed the next day by a 4-1 burial of the Red Wings.  And that last one is pretty important, because we all thought the Red Wings were stacked when they landed Marian Hossa in the off-season.  Turns out they’re beatable; who knew? And not only that, we’re 8-1-1 in our last ten games, and our 36 points tops the Eastern Conference and is second in the NHL, only five behind San Jose’s 41.  We’re playing outstanding hockey so far this season.  Outstanding.  Sometimes I can’t even believe what I’m seeing.  The veterans are as sharp as ever, and the young guys are really stepping it up.  After years of frustration we’ve got a team that can potentially win the Stanley Cup.  Imagine that; the Stanley Cup comes back to Boston.  It’s got a nice ring to it.

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And just like that, we’re moving on.  ALCS, baby! On the backs of Lester, Lowrie, and Bay, we’re going to the ALCS for the fourth time since 2003! I’m telling you, to see celebration at home and that clubhouse covered in plastic sheets with champagne spraying everywhere felt great.  What a game.  It was a nailbiter, that’s for sure.  But Lester.  24 years old, survived cancer, started Game 4 of the World Series, pitched a no-hitter, and starts and ends the ALDS.  Let it be stated here that Jon Lester is the ace on the Boston Red Sox’ 2008 pitching staff.  He pitched a gem.  Seven shutout innings allowing only four hits, thereby sustaining his postseason ERA of 0.00.  After throwing 98 mph in the first inning, he ended it in less than ten minutes.  What a kid we have here.

The relief, not so much.  Between Okajima and Masterson, the Angels collected two hits and scored two runs to tie it up.  Masterson is really having trouble here.  He’ll throw strikes and work an 0-2 count and then blow it with balls and hitter’s pitches.  I said it before and I’ll say it again.  This type of thing should not be happening in October.  We’re playing top-level teams here, and if you make a mistake they’ll walk all over you.  So Masterson really needs to find that control he had during the regular season and start using it.  Delcarmen was perfect, and he’s been perfect during the whole series.  I have to say, he looks really comfortable on the October stage, which is always good for a power pitcher.

As for Lackey, he’s now lost all of his last four postseason starts.  And even though Vlad Guerrero has been doing better offensively this October than he has in a very long time, possibly in his career, the Angels were no match for us.  No, sir.

Offensively, I’ve got two words: Jason Bay.  Jason Bay went two for three with a walk and a run.  And that run was the game-winner, batted in by Jed Lowrie, who finished his night two for four.  Jason Bay has been outstanding this series.  Absolutely outstanding.  And it’s only his first postseason.  Ellsbury also collected an RBI and was outstanding with runners in scoring position through the series; he batted in the game’s first run with a groundout.  And guess who batted in the third run? Dustin Pedroia the Destroyah.  Snapped his hitless streak like a twig with a monstrous double off the wall after leading the Majors in hits this year.

The defense was stellar, too.  Jason Bay was gettin’ it done with the bat and the glove; in the sixth he made a catch leaning on the Green Monster.  That was a close call.  And Kevin Youkilis was absolutely outstanding at third base, almost as good as he is at first.  Tek’s running tag in the ninth saved us a run.  And JD Drew looks like he’s in tip-top shape, which is definitely good news considering how great he was last October.

Now that’s way more than I can say for the Angels.  The Halos’ defense has been abysmal.  They finished the regular season with a .985 fielding percentage, but if this series was any indication of their usual defensive ability I don’t know how they managed to achieve that.  There were bobbles and snafus left and right.  I felt like I was watching a blooper reel.

The only missing piece here is Mikey Lowell.  After playing in excruciating pain and grimacing after every play, Tito had to sit him through the ALCS.  We’re going to miss his glove and bat, that’s for sure, but all’s not lost.  Youk’ll be at third, and Kotsay’ll be in there.  Kotsay batted around .375 for the series.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

So we can get some rest and congratulate ourselves that we’ve made it to round two.  But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.  October is for celebrating, sure, but also for the best baseball you’ve got.  We’ll be starting things off on Friday at the Trop.  A win on Friday is key.  It’ll swing the momentum our way and give us the confidence we’ll need to win on the road, something that’s challenged us all season.  And Beckett and the relief need to pull it together.  We can’t have leaks in the bullpen, because the offense might not always be there to clean it up later.  And speaking of offense, they’ve got to get their party on and get on the board early.

We can do it, though.  There’s no question about that.  We haven’t necessarily played well against the Rays during the regular season, but the regular season is over.  This is the second season.  Let’s own it.  Smile, Red Sox Nation! It’s October and we’re going deep!

Barry Chin/Boston Globe Staff

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The name “Jon Lester” has become synonymous with excellence.  I don’t really know what else to say.  What else can you say when you’ve got a pitcher who goes from World Series Game 4 to no-hitter to stifling the competition start after start after start? If Lester was looking for a dominating performance to erase the memory of his loss, he got it.  No question about it.  Three runs on seven hits over about seven innings pitched with a walk and six strikeouts.  He improves to 11-4 on the season.  At this point I’d say it’s just scary how good he’s become in such a short time.  Ever since the no-hitter he’s taken himself to a whole new level.  But what’s even more impressive is that he continues to sustain that level.

Mike Timlin relieved him in the eighth and allowed his usual runs; two this time.  And that was it for the Rangers, who lost, 4-8.  Lopez and Masterson took care of the rest.  As for the offense, it was on.  Two RBIs each for Youk, Lowrie, and Bay, and one for Casey.  This is why I don’t mind so much that Lowell is on the fifteen-day DL.  He was playing through some pain, and he was slumping.  So this will also be a kind of mental break for Lowell, and hopefully he’ll come back refreshed and ready to hit ’em out.  It kind of reminds me of around this time last season, when Manny had that oblique problem and luckily took his time on the DL, because when he came back he was firing on all cylinders.  Besides, Youk at third and Casey at first is a world-class substitution defensively speaking for the usual third and first combination.

And speaking of Youk, he’s batting clean-up very nicely these days.  Yesterday he went three for four.  Bay has hit safely in all but one of his games in a Red Sox uniform, yesterday going two for three with a steal, and Lowrie and Pedroia continue to be on fire.  A funny thing: Tek was caught stealing.  I wasn’t even aware that that would be a consideration for him.  Additionally his batting average just keeps dropping.  He has to do something.  He’s an integral part of this team, but he needs to give us something offensively, especially now.

Last night’s game was error-free, folks.  I hope Lowrie stays in the lineup for the rest of the season, and I don’t care who knows it.  (Ahem, Lugo, ahem.)

And in the usual drama that surrounds Manny Ramirez, rather than cut his hair he’s actually woven colored threads into them.  Joe Torre is apparently a little wary of a trim now, because he wouldn’t want a haircut to affect is offensive performance.  I’ll state this for Joe Torre’s benefit: Manny is not Samson.  If he cuts his hair, he’ll live.

AP Photo

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Just when you start to feel good about August, just when you think we’re in a good place, just when you think we can hold on and eventually find our way back to first place, this happens.  Injuries.  The timing is incredible.  Youk and Wake both have shoulder problems.  Can we say disaster?

Youk’s injury actually isn’t so bad.  He just did a little damage lifting weights, and he’s likely to return to the lineup today.  And until he comes back we have Sean Casey and his outstandingly high batting average to fill the gap.  I’d say that’s as good of a substitute as you can get.  Wake’s injury is a bigger problem.  He’s on the DL with shoulder stiffness, and it’s such a shame because he’s been rolling lately.  Strong start after strong start, very consistent, getting better and better as the season goes on.  We need him in there, especially with Clay Buchholz’s lack of stuff.  Luckily, the pitching staff will be able to absorb this.  Barely.  Bartolo Colon’s been doing well in Pawtucket, and I’d be surprised if Masterson didn’t come out of the bullpen (as if an arm like that belonged there to begin with).  So we can do this, but it won’t be easy.  The bright side? We’re going to the postseason.  Whether we get there with the Wild Card or in first is unfortunately another story.  Don’t get me wrong, I still believe.  I also believe that a good, solid losing streak by the Rays would be very helpful right about now.

Going back to Buchholz’s lack of stuff, it’s getting a little pathetic.  In his last seven starts, he’s 0-6 with an 8.19 ERA.  At that rate, we’re lucky we only lost by one run.  Five runs on seven hits over only three innings.  Three of those hits were home runs: a solo shot for Dye in the second and two-run shots for Quentin and Thome in the third.  It was absolutely infuriating to watch.  Infuriating.  The dude pitched a no-no last year in his second Major League start, but that doesn’t mean he should be in the rotation.  Maybe the bullpen or Pawtucket.  But not in the rotation, not allowing three home runs in a single game in August.  No, sir.

I’m so glad Aardsma is back, even if he did allow the run that ultimately made the difference.  Every reliever allows a run now and then.  Now happened to be a bad time to allow a run, but it happens.  Masterson and Okajima were spot-on.

I have to say the offense rocked.  First inning.  Two on.  Two out.  And who but Mikey Lowell crushes the ball out of the park.  How’s that for coming out of a slump? He did make two errors (that’s a rare sight), but I’d rather have the homer with the errors than no homer and no errors.  And Jay Bay was back to his usual self, hitting and batting a run in.  Sean Casey had himself a productive night, going two for four and generally reminding us why we don’t have to worry too much about how long it takes for Youk to come back.

Ellsbury is back in lead-off, and Drew is batting clean-up.  If you ask me, it should be the other way around.  Drew continues to draw walk after walk after walk, and if Ellsbury keeps on hitting like he’s been, you’d rather have him in a position to score Drew rather than have Drew in a position to walk and move Ellsbury along.  And speaking of Ellsbury and Drew, they both stole second last night.  Dusty stole third.

Well, we’ve got a lot of work to do.  We’re pitching Beckett tomorrow, and we need a repeat performance of what he did in Kansas City.  And we need the offense to be on.  And if the Rays want to lose, I won’t complain.  But we need something, something to remind us that we’re good and that we can go to the World Series and win.  Because we can.  But first we have to get there.

AP Photo

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So that’s what it feels like to root for the team that breaks up a no-hitter. You have no idea how glad I am that Lackey didn’t go all the way. I don’t exactly want my team to be on the receiving end of something like that. But I kept telling myself yesterday what I’ve been telling myself all season: it’s almost impossible to no-hit our lineup. Sure, we’ve had our problems, and as last night showed it’s come close, but at the end of the day we’re too good. We’re too keen at making adjustments to fall for that. Pedroia and Youkilis. What a team. That’s why they’re batting Nos. 1 and 2.

The last time the Red Sox were no-hit: 1993.

The last time the Red Sox were no-hit at Fenway: 1958.

And now it gets to stay that way. Youk and the Destroyah. Way to go, guys!

But I’d like to point out that if Manny had hustled he would’ve broken it up earlier, and Lackey probably would’ve come undone earlier, and we might’ve walked away with a win. Instead, our record against the Angels this season is now 1-7. If I were at the game, I probably would’ve booed his lack of hustle, too. It’s one thing to be a good sport. But it’s another thing to watch a pitcher almost no-hit your team and a valuable member of your team play games in a three-way pennant race.

If last night wasn’t some sort of wake-up call, some sort of bucket of cold water, I don’t know what is. Not just for Manny. For the team. Something must be done. Last year during the playoffs, it was the players-only meeting during the ALCS that got the juices flowing. Maybe we need something like that now. We definitely need something. Saunders at Beckett. At the very least, we’ll need this one.

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