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Posts Tagged ‘Safeco Field’

Oh, man.  Oh, man, oh, man, oh, man.  That was a terrible loss.  It was absolutely crushing.  Crushing, crushing, crushing.  It doesn’t get much more devastating than that.  To hold on and do everything right (I can say that because the only error we made did not result in damage, luckily; it wouldn’t have made a difference, as it turned out, all else being equal, but at least we can hold our heads high the way the score turned out) and play so well until the very last possible minute and then give it all up will bring the pain every time.

The matchup was exceptionally even, but I don’t think anyone thought it would be going into it, which is a huge credit to the pitchers we sent out there.  Morales was nothing short of stunning, both literally and figuratively.  He pitched a full seven shutout innings.  He gave up only three runs, walked two, and struck out seven.  He threw 109 pitches, seventy of which were strikes.  He threw a really nasty curveball as well as a nasty two-seam fastball, and his four-seam and changeup were also fantastic.  He took advantage of his arsenal, mixing pitches well and varying speeds.  He was efficient for the most part as well; he threw eleven pitches in the first, nine in the second, twenty in the third, nineteen in the fourth, eighteen in the fifth, thirteen in the sixth, and nineteen in the seventh.

The first and second were his only one-two-three innings.  He gave up his first walk in the third and his second in the fifth.  He gave up a single in the fourth, sixth, and seventh, his only inning in which he had to deal with more than one baserunner thanks to a missed catch by Gonzalez, which put runners at the corners with two out.

Miller had himself a one-two-three eighth inning.  It was Atchison who took the loss for giving up the walkoff RBI single that ended it all.  He began the inning with a flyout but followed it with a double and then an intentional walk.  And then John Jaso pinch-hit for Miguel Olivo and singled on the first pitch of the at-bat to right field, scoring one run to win the game.

If that had been all, the loss would have been crushing but not so devastating because we would have known that we tried our best and it simply wasn’t enough that day against the Mariners.  But it doesn’t end there.  Ross threw to the plate to try to get the runner, and Salty had it and was ready to tag and go into extra innings.  He was ready.  He had the ball and he was in position and everything with ample time and distance to spare.  There wasn’t even a doubt that no run would score.  And if the play had gone according to plan, who knows? Maybe we’d still be out there playing baseball.

But no.  As Salty tried to make the tag, he lost the ball.  I saw it with my own eyes, and even as it was happening, I couldn’t even believe it.  I didn’t want to believe it.  It was one of the more pathetic things I’ve ever seen; Salty didn’t even know he lost the ball until after he applied the tag and saw that the run had scored.  Only then did he notice that the ball was lying several feet from the plate.

Meanwhile, the offense was completely and totally stymied by Felix Hernandez, who pitched a complete game shutout and held us to five hits and one walk.  We struck out thirteen times, which tied a career high for Hernandez.

We went down in order in the first, second, fifth, sixth, and eighth.  We singled in the third, fourth, seventh, and ninth.  Our best opportunities to score were the two innings in which we somehow managed to put two runners on the basepaths: the third, when we had two on with two out thanks to two singles which were for naught when Pedroia ended the threat by hitting a ball too hard to left center field, and the ninth, when we had two on with one out thanks to a single followed by our one walk, which went to Salty.  And then Gonzalez stepped up to the plate and was quickly 3-0.  The situation looked good.  Then, all of a sudden, he swung through a fastball and then fouled off four straight pitches.  So the count was full, and all of Red Sox Nation was hanging on the edge of their seats.  And of course it ended very anticlimactically: with a flyout on the ninth pitch of a valiant at-bat.  And you can thank the spaciousness of the outfield at Safeco for that.

So the final score was indeed 1-0, and it was the most intense pitcher’s duel I’ve seen in a very, very long time.  I mean, it was a real, old-fashioned pitcher’s duel.  It had to be when the final score is 1-0.  But it didn’t have to end the way it did.  Even if we would have lost eventually anyway, it didn’t have to be decided by something so humiliating as simply having lost the ball.  It was actually literally just horrifying.

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Still no consensus on why Lackey is pitching so well lately.  The thrill of the playoff chase? I wouldn’t call it much of a chase.  Bedard? Maybe.  Honestly, who knows? I’d love to find out, but I’d rather watch him hurl good start after good start than speculate about why he’s hurling them.

Each and every one of his starts lately has shown slow but conspicuously steady improvement over the last one.  Last night, he pitched six innings and threw 108 pitches, sixty-six for strikes.  He gave up four runs on ten hits while walking two and striking out three.  So he was a little bit more efficient last night, even if his command is not where it should be.  You obviously have to adjust for the fact that he was facing the Mariners, against whom any top Triple-A pitcher should be able to win with flying colors, but this is Lackey we’re talking about.  Anything to keep him putting the right foot forward and boosting confidence.

His pitch count was inflated by three markedly inefficient innings; other than that it was smooth sailing.  He allowed at least one run in each of those innings.  He threw twenty-three pitches in the first and allowed two on a single, he threw twenty-six pitches in the second and allowed one on a single, and he threw twenty-four pitches in the fourth and allowed one on a double.  The rest of his outing was smooth sailing.  Twelve pitches each in the third and fifth, and only nine in the sixth.  In the fifth and sixth he faced the minimum.  He was removed after allowing a single on two pitches to start the seventh.

All in all, not bad.  Our lineup should be expected to handle four runs, especially against the Mariners.  We did.

Papi led off the second with a dinger to center on a fastball.  A straight shot over everything.  It was his fourth in our last seven games.  It was massive.  Then Crawford singled, moved to third on a single by Salty, and scored on a sac fly by Aviles.

We had runners on second and third with one out in the third but did nothing with it.  We, and by “we” I obviously mean Lowrie, made up for that in the fifth.  He led off the inning with a dinger to right, also on a fastball.  It was his first lefty home run of the year.  It was also massive.  And it was a relief to see him be able to pull out all the stops on his swing.  I think he’s healthy now.

Salty singled to open the sixth, and Reddick wanted in on the power party, so he shot one of his own to right on a fastball.  That would be his sixth of the year.  Also massive.  Seriously.  He did what every lefty is expected to do with a fastball down and in: he practically took the skin off it.  Technically all he was doing was following instructions; the ball bounced off the glass of Safeco Field’s Hit It Here Café.  I mean, that’s what he did.

We played some small ball after that, just for fun.  Gonzalez doubled, moved to third on a sac bunt by Pedroia, and scored on a single by Papi.

Meanwhile, Morales held down the fort, Bard put on the finishing touches, and Paps got the save, and we won, 6-4.

Wow, Seattle.  We batted without Youk and the hot-of-late Scutaro, both scratched due to back stiffness but nothing serious, and we still won.  Our seventy-three and forty-four record is the best in the American League, and we are eighteen and nine since the All-Star break.  We are just massive.

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Wow.  Just, wow.  If I had to describe the ideal opening of a series against Seattle in Seattle, last night would pretty much be it.  It was a textbook example of what you’re supposed to do when you play a team that’s bad.  Okay, maybe I envisioned a slugfest, which obviously didn’t happen, but everything else was exactly right.  I can live with the absence of offensive domination so massive that if the lopsided score had a weight it would tip over immediately so long as we win, and we win nicely.  Not by barely eking it out but by posting a healthy lead and maintaining it.  That’s something we didn’t do the last time we played Seattle, so it’s nice to actually play like we can for a change.

You could tell when Lester took the mound that he wasn’t about to play games.  You could tell that he knew he had a job to do and that he was going to do it.  He had his way with the Mariners, who looked like minor leaguers who had absolutely no idea what was going on.  His cut fastball was the best I’ve seen it all season.  So were his sinker and curveball.  And he threw in a good changeup every now and then.  You’d be hard-pressed to find an at-bat where he fell behind in the count, and he threw his offspeeds effectively for strikes.  He completely befuddled the hitters en route to twelve strikeouts over eight of the most solid innings you could possibly get from a pitcher.  Seven were swinging, and four were looking.  I’m telling you, there’s something very satisfying about watching the opposition take cuts at air.  He was very aggressive and packed the zone with a world of nasty.  This was his fourth consecutive start with ten-plus K’s, the longest such streak in the Majors since Jake Peavy in 2007 from April 25 to May 11 for the Padres.  Nobody in the American League did it since Johan Santana with five starts in 2004.  The last pitcher to do it for us was obviously Pedro Martinez with five in 2001.  But Lester is the first lefty in franchise history.  That brings his K total for the year to 209, making him one of five Sox pitchers to post at least two hundred K’s in consecutive seasons.  The other four are Cy Young, Smokey Joe Wood, Roger Clemens, and Pedro Martinez.  That’s some heady company.  And if anyone belongs there, it’s Lester.  The best part is that technically he’s not even a strikeout pitcher.  He just wants outs, period.  And if he can do it more efficiently with groundouts, lineouts, and flyouts, he will.  The strikeouts are just a side venture, if you will.  That’s why he’s the man.

He last pitched at Safeco Field on July 24 and took a bid for a perfect game past the first out in the sixth, but we ended up losing.  Not so last night.  He picked up his seventeenth win of the year, also a new career high, en route to a twenty-win season.  He allowed only one run on three hits while walking three.  That’s it.  So it’s not that the Mariners had opportunities and didn’t capitalize on them.  They just didn’t have any opportunities on which to capitalize.  He strode out there and showed everybody how it’s done.  He was extraordinarily dirty, and that’s all there is to it.

We won, 5-1, showcasing the young talent because they’re the only ones still healthy.  We racked up three in the second.  Beltre scored on a groundout by Reddick, Lowrie scored on a double by Nava, and Nava scored on a double by Anderson.  It’s good to see Reddick and Anderson back in action; it reminds you that the future is bright, even if the present may be grim.  In the eighth, Kalish ripped a two-run homer into the right field seats.  Fister hung a change at the belt.  For Kalish, it was only a matter of doing what he’d always been taught to do with something like that: clock it.

The kids had some nice plays in the field, too.  No errors last night while Seattle made two, so they were pretty comfortable.  Speaking of defense, how about Scutaro’s flip in the third? Ichiro chopped one to Scutaro who made a running flip out of his glove to Anderson at first.  It was masterful.

You’ll never believe this, but the barrage of injuries continues.  Honestly, you’d think it would just stop by now being that there’s only half a month left in the season.  But no.  The injury bug has to rub salt in it.  Turns out that Drew left the game on Sunday because of a full-fledged injury.  He took a wide turn around first on a single, and you could tell that something was wrong when he ran back.  He jammed his right ankle.  And Doubront, one big reason why we traded Delcarmen, will probably be done for the season with his upper pectoral injury, specifically the left collarbone area.  “Done for the season” is such a funny phrase these days being that we’re in the middle of September.  If I sound bitter about it, it’s because I am.  We get it.  Enough with the injuries already.

We’ve got a two-game winning streak going, so that’s good.  Mostly it was just a blast to watch Lester go to work.  As far as Cy Young candidates are concerned, he has to be one of them.  He’s been outstanding, and it’s the middle of September and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.  Dice-K would do well to take a page from his book when he takes the hill tonight.  Let’s win a series.

In other news, football season officially started yesterday, and the Pats kicked it off (pun intended) on a high note by beating the Bengals, 38-24.

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Making sense of the Beltre deal.  Which is not at all as easy as it sounds.

Let’s review, shall we?

Stage One: Theo Epstein looks to trade Mike Lowell to the Rangers for catching prospect Max Ramirez.  This makes sense.  Mike Lowell had a tough year last year, and it’s only going to get tougher.  It’s true that he showed flashes brilliance in the field, but that was in Anaheim, where the weather is nice and warm.  Not so in Boston.  In Boston, it’s either freezing cold or scorching hot.  Lowell would’ve flourished in Texas, with its mild climate and considerably less pressure-cooker-like atmosphere, and the Rangers’ catching prospect would’ve been put to good use in our system, where he would’ve been groomed to give Tek some days off.

Stage Two: The deal is called on account of Mike Lowell’s right thumb.  To emphasize, it was the thumb, not the hip.  Let me repeat: thumb, problem; hip, not so much.  This makes sense.  From Lowell’s performance toward the end of last season, it was clear that his hip was no longer a big issue.  (That is to say, it’s still an issue but not a focus.) Given the right atmosphere, environment, and amount of days off, all signs pointed to a fairly productive year, both at the plate and in the field.  This, however, was with the understanding that Lowell’s thumb was sprained, not injured.  After he failed the physical, what Texas basically had on their hands was a choice between keeping tMax Ramirez or trading him for a third baseman who, in addition to a well-established health concern, would need surgery.  And that wasn’t a gamble Texas was willing to make.  From their perspective, they didn’t want to chance having to start someone at the hot corner who was slated to make multiple trips to the DL, not to mention the fact that the hip affects Lowell’s defense more than his offense.  The thumb would affect Lowell’s defense as well as his offense.  Simply put, no thumb, no swing, no runs, no deal.

Stage Three: Mike Lowell’s surgery is a success.  Red Sox players, staff, fans, and writers welcome Mike Lowell back into the fold.  Red Sox Nation is urged to table our wishes for infielders named Adrian.  Lou Merloni writes a column urging us to separate Mike Lowell from the Edgar Renterias of the baseball world.  As in, when did Mike Lowell reach that point where he was dragging us down to the point where exploring other options became a necessity at all costs? (I mean that literally.  Moving Lowell would necessitate us eating a big chunk of his salary.) I mean, teams routinely field much worse than Mike Lowell.  Presumably, with additional days off in the form of Youk-Lowell shifting to Kotchman-Youk, Lowell would be able to minimize the effects of his hip on his range and maximize his plate appearances.  Recovery from his surgery is fairly brief, and only one or two weeks of Spring Training would be missed.  So not the end of the world.

Stage Four: In complete defiance of Scott Boras’s obsession with long-term contracts, Theo Epstein signs Adrian Beltre to a one-year deal.  Let’s walk through it. The deal is worth nine million dollars with a player option worth six million that will increase to ten million if he makes 640 plate appearances.  The deal was contingent on a physical, which Beltre passed, despite last season’s left shoulder issues.  The deal was a product of interest that’s been expressed since November.  And the deal is very consistent with Theo’s commitment to a major defensive upgrade.  He is expected to bat in the bottom third of the lineup.  (Ellsbury, Pedroia, V-Mart, Youk, Papi, Drew, Cameron, Beltre, Scutaro.  Bang.)

Stage Five: Theo Epstein trades Casey Kotchman to the Mariners for utility man Bill Hall, a prospect to be named later, and cash.  Kotchman is happy to reunite with good friend Chone Figgins.  Lou Merloni writes a column in which he changes his mind, citing the flexibility and ability that a one-year deal with Beltre gives us.

Before we get to the confusing part, let’s take a moment to celebrate what we’re getting.  Beltre put up barely decent numbers at Safeco and Dodger Stadium, so coming to a park that’s friendly to right-handed power hitters promises a nice statistical boost.  Home numbers: .253 average, .311 on-base percentage, .416 slugging percentage.  Road numbers: .287, .338, .488, respectively.  Now, check out the similarity between that latter series and Lowell’s career stats: .280, .343, .468, respectively.  And just to leave no stone unturned, in 162 games Lowell hits on average forty doubles, twenty-three home runs, and ninety-eight RBIs.  Compare that to Beltre’s average thirty-nine doubles, twenty-six homers and ninety-nine RBIs in 162 road games.  Coincidence? I think not.  Also, the deal, coupled with the Kotchman transaction, will have minimal impact on our finances.  And it kept Boras off our backs because, after said statistical boost, Beltre’s marketing value will increase substantially.  The brevity of the contract keeps the Major League option open for our top prospects.  So our defense goes through the roof, our pitching is way too solid for words, our offense will in all likelihood defy expectations, our top prospects stay in our organization, and we maintain flexibility, both financially and baseball-wise.

But in light of Lowell’s remainder with us, the fourth and fifth stages of this saga aren’t easy to explain.  After Lowell-to-Texas failed, everyone more or less accepted the fact that Lowell would be the face of Fenway’s third base in 2010.  That thought process was fueled by the fact that we’ve had our foot in Beltre’s door since November; we wanted to trade Lowell to make room for Beltre, so as soon as Lowell wasn’t going anywhere, it seemed pretty obvious that neither was Beltre.  Then we suddenly signed Beltre and made room for him by shipping Kotchman across the country.  What’s unclear to me is the effect this will have on Lowell’s role.  Will playing time be split fifty-fifty, sixty-forty, or eighty-twenty? It’s a Crisp-y situation; once it became apparent that Ellsbury was about to start in center field, Coco Crisp was allowed to walk, and rightly so.  Coco Crisp is a starter, not a benchwarmer.  Same with Lowell, but also with Beltre.  What do you do when you have two starters, one of whom was explicitly acquired to replace the other before the other left the picture, a state of affairs that received extra emphasis when Kotchman was shipped off? With all eyes on Beltre, what is Lowell’s fate in 2010?

That’s actually a fairly easy question to answer.  We’ll either move him or we won’t.  If we don’t, he’d contribute in the field when he’s called upon and wouldn’t when he isn’t.  And he’d see a good amount of time at the plate as a pinch-hitter.  The upside of this is that it builds in much-needed rest time for Lowell and gives us a considerable upgrade in defense and age in Beltre.  And one thing that we can’t altogether rule out if we keep Lowell is the possibility that Beltre may turn out to be a chip for Adrian Gonzalez come the trading deadline.  It would be swapping one corner infielder for another, but Youk’s versatility would allow us to do that.  Besides, when you’re talking about someone like Adrian Gonzalez, you trade first and maneuver later.

Our last piece of big news is our outfield situation.  Ellsbury has officially been moved to left in order to make more room for Cameron in center.  This is way better than having Ellsbury in center than Cameron in left, even though having Ellsbury in left is a complete waste of his talents.  Whatever; when Cameron leaves Boston, Ellsbury goes back to center.  Meanwhile, it’s a wise choice.  Cameron’s only start in left was in 2000, and he hasn’t been in either corner since that nasty collision he had with Carlos Beltran back in ’05.  Meanwhile, Ellsbury is young, skilled, adaptable, and flexible.  He’s so good that he could handle any of the three outfield positions.  In fact, the relative ease of playing left as opposed to center decreases his risk of injury, and the decrease in covered territory could translate to an increased application of his abilities to the basepaths.  Basically, it comes down to the fact that Ellsbury would be infinitely better in left than Cameron but would be less better, though still better, than Cameron in center, while Cameron’s performance in left would presumably be abysmal to his performance in center.

Loose ends for the week: Josh Beckett will be gold this year because he’s up for contract, Papi will be feeling the offensive pressure (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it means a really good workout regimen), and Randy Johnson finally retired.  Also, congratulations to three New Haven County, Connecticut communities that successfully pressured Cablevision into adding NESN to its basic lineup in those markets.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Rangers, beat the Sens, got smoked by the Blackhawks, and lost to the Rangers again.  The Patriots continue to power through the loss of Wes Welker as the postseason starts tomorrow with a confrontation with the Ravens.

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Who does Nick Green think he is? Julio Lugo? What was up with that? It’s bottom of the ninth, two out, nobody on, score tied at 2-2.  Ronny Cedeno hit a ball to Nick Green, who caught it and fired to Jeff Bailey at first.  Except that he threw high.  Really high.  Like at least five feet above Bailey’s head.  I mean the ball went out of the park and into the camera well.  So Cedeno ends up taking second base.  Then Franklin Gutierrez stroked a single through the gap in right field to plate Cedeno, and that was the end of it.  We lose, 2-3.  We had two errors on the day, both committed by Green.  There was that one and then a fielding error.  Unbelievable.  Just when Lugo actually starts to hit and look like maybe he can field after all, or at least start contributing runs to account for his own mistakes, he leaves the lineup and Green starts in with this.  That’s just what we need.  We could’ve just gone into extra innings and probably won it, but no, sir.  No, we had to lose this one in the bottom of the ninth and give up the series.  Well, that’s just wonderful.  Did I mention we’re now three games behind Toronto and only one and a half above New York? We have a three-game series against Toronto starting tomorrow night, and everyone better be in ship-shape, because that’ll be no time for any nonsense like this.

Varitek and Drew each had an RBI.  Tek hit a sac fly in the second.  Drew hit a solo shot, and when I say a shot I mean a shot.  Leading off the fourth inning, Vargas threw him a 2-0 fastball at the belt.  Why anyone would ever do that, I don’t know.  But I won’t complain, and neither will JD Drew.  The ball was gone.  I mean he clobbered it.  He buried it in the back of the lower tier center field seats, and that’s hard to do because Safeco Field is a pitcher’s park.  It’s not as hitter-friendly as it may look.  But Vargas had no chance.

In the sixth, Rob Johnson bunted a ball off his hand, and he and Wladimir Balentien thought it was foul.  Turns out it was fair but Johnson never ran to reach base so Tek threw him out.  Meanwhile, Balentien, assuming it was foul, began his stroll to second base, only to see Lowell fire to Green who tagged him out.  And that’s what happens when you play us and you sleep on the job.  And then, in the seventh, Pedroia made one of his signature spectacular plays yet again.  Ichiro hits a line drive on the ground between Pedroia and Bailey, so Pedroia runs over, slides around to make the catch, and fires to Bailey to record the out.  No hesitation.  All precision.  The man is a beast.  Only Pedroia could’ve made this play; anyone else, and it’s an infield hit.  What a play.

It’s a terrible, terrible shame that Masterson had to accept a no decision on this, because it really was an excellent start.  6.1 innings, two runs on nine hits, six strikeouts, a solo shot to Russell Branyan to lead off the second, but no walks.  No walks whatsoever.  Delcarmen and Okajima pitched perfectly; Delcarmen’s ERA is back under 1.00 now.  And Ramon Ramirez had to take the loss that really should’ve gone to Green.  But it was an earned run, so what can you do.

David Ortiz is coming back tomorrow but probably won’t bat third.  Youk is playing a game today and tomorrow with the PawSox and should return Wednesday.

On a lighter note, I’d like to congratulate Dave Roberts on his first fan sign.  It was a couple that just got engaged in the fourth inning.  Of course, we all want Jerry Remy to make a speedy recovery and return, but I also have to say that Dave Roberts is doing an excellent job.

So we have an off day today and then we’re back in action tomorrow against Toronto, like I said.  And everyone better be at their best, like I said.  We have the potential here to get into first place.  We need to make the most of this series; we can’t let this series make the most of us.  This is huge.  I never  thought I’d say this, but this first series with Toronto is probably the most important of the series so far.  And I never thought I’d say this, but we’re lucky because Wakefield will be pitching in the first game.  So hopefully we’ll start the series off on a high note and go from there.

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