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Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco Giants’

Simply put, if you thought Friday’s game reminded you of 2004, you didn’t see anything yet until you saw yesterday’s game.  In Friday’s game, we had the potentially winning grand slam but it wasn’t enough.  Yesterday, it was enough.  It wasn’t deep, but it was as dramatic as ever.  We won it in true 2004 fashion.

Dice-K’s performance was mediocre.  He pitched six innings, gave up four runs on eight hits, walked two, and struck out five on 108 pitches.  His efficiency is clearly improving, but it’s easy to see that his hit total prevented him from staying in longer past a reasonable pitch count.  His fastball, slider, curveball, and cutter were actually thrown well.  He did not throw a single changeup for a strike, though.  His bad inning wasn’t actually so bad labor-wise; he threw only twenty-two pitches in the first, but he gave up a two-run shot in the process.  Still, it’s a step in the right direction.  It could have been worse.  He could have given up twice the runs in twice the pitches.  And we’ve seen him do that before.  So technically we should be thankful.  His strike zone was completely random.  He didn’t deliver any wild pitches, but he certainly made some pitches that were pretty wild.

Richardson and Atchison combined to pitch the seventh, when we got on the board.  Ryan Kalish, promoted as Hermida was designated for assignment, hit an RBI single and scored on McDoanld’s double.  Kalish would finish the night two for four.  And he started in left field without making an error, which is kind of a big deal.  (It was actually Beltre who made our error.  Unfortunately no surprise there.) That’s a great kid we’ve got here.  Looks kind of like Trot Nixon when he’s out there, actually.  The future in the outfield looks bright.  Anyway, those were part of a string of four straight hits.  So we cut the deficit in half.

Before the inning was over, Papi found himself at the plate with the bases loaded and two out.  He struck out.  Worst.  Foreshadowing.  Ever.

Atchison and Okajima continued to hold the Tigers at bay.  And now we come to the bottom of the ninth.  The grand finale.  I’m telling you, this will smack of 2004 like you wouldn’t believe.

McDonald led off the inning with an infield single.  Then Lowrie pinch-hit and stroked a double.  Then Youk was intentionally walked (after being hit by a pitch earlier; the irony continues).  So the bases were loaded, and Youk would be on the move no matter what because he was the winning run.

Then Big Papi stepped up, in all his Big Papi glory.  He took some pitches.  He even showed bunt.  Then he ripped a double into the hole in left-center field and emptied the bases.  We won, 5-4.  Just like that.  Sometimes one swing is all it takes.  As soon as I saw that ball reach the Monster, I knew Youk was coming home and we were going to win.  So the Tigers walked the winning run.  How ‘bout that.

And I was watching all of this and reminiscing like crazy.  After Friday night and yesterday, how can you not? Especially when you see Papi get mobbed.

They say that the more successful you are in the All-Star Home Run Derby, the worse your timing and average are afterwards.  David Ortiz has officially disproven this theory.  He finished the night two for five, extending his hitting streak to nine games during which he’s batted .308 with twelve RBIs.  That’s his eighteenth walkoff hit, and it’s particularly impressive considering Coke is a southpaw and Papi’s average against southpaws coming into yesterday’s game was a mere .190 with one home run.  Particularly against Coke, Papi didn’t have even one hit to his credit in eight at-bats.  Well, he changed that in a hurry.  Coke’s fastball ended up away.  Papi was waiting for a fastball away.  That’s pretty much how it happens.

And I think the outcome of Friday’s game played a big part in our win yesterday because it shows you that you have no way to know which run will be the winning run.  You can’t afford to give up because you don’t know who’ll turn it around when.  So you just have to keep chipping away because something like yesterday might happen, and you’ll walk off with a win.  Literally.  It was epically awesome.

The trading deadline came and went yesterday.  Nothing earth-shattering happened, although we did go against the grain.  The theme of this year’s trading deadline was bullpen improvement for most teams, but Theo decided to go for catching improvement.  He traded Ramon Ramirez to the Giants for a minor leaguer.  It’s been fun, but he wasn’t as good as he’d been when he first arrived, and his impact has been minimal of late.  And we landed Saltalamacchia (that is spelled right – I triple-checked) from the Rangers for two prospects, a player to be named later, and cash considerations.  Salty will spend some time in the minors for now while Cash continues to play for Tek.

The market on the whole was loaded with starters and bats but skimpy on outfielders and relievers.  Figures.  We don’t need any of the former; we need the latter.  The problem of course is that our current status in the standings is deceiving.  We’re playing without key members of our lineup.  It wouldn’t make sense to make an earth-shattering move because we’re not really as bad as we look right now.  We don’t need another bat; we have bats.  They just happen to be on the disabled list at the moment.  It’s a tough position to be in.  But I think Theo ultimately made the right choice in standing pat.  Our performance with those bats present in the lineup before the break proves it.  In Theo we trust.  It’ll all work out.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin
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There’s the reminder of good pitching that we’ve been looking for! You can always count on Lester for one of those.  I mean, that wasn’t just good pitching.  That was great pitching.  That was outstanding pitching.  That was you-have-absolutely-no-chance pitching.

Dude went the distance for the second time this season and sixth time in his career.  That’s what I call taking one for the bullpen, although for him it really wasn’t that hard.  He had, as he is wont to have, the right stuff.  103 pitches in nine innings.  One run on five hits.  One run. Nine strikeouts.  His ERA is now down to 2.86.  Ridiculous.

His cut fastball was a thing of beauty.  He topped it out at ninety-three miles per hour.  His sinker, changeup, and curveball were excellent.  With the exception of the slider, of which he only threw one, the vast majority of all his pitches were thrown for strikes.  Really, he had a seventy-four percent strike rate for his pitch total.  That’s obscenely high.  Three-quarters of his pitches were thrown for strikes.  No wonder he was so efficient.

He threw a game-high of sixteen pitches in the sixth.  For a lot of pitchers in the Majors, that’s the least number of pitches they throw in a game.  He packed up the ninth in only six pitches.  Only six! That’s what I call taking care of business.

Beyond that, he pretty much had everything going.  The tight release point, the mix of pitches, the speed variation, the excellent movement.  He used every pitch in any count.  He was fearless.  You name it, he had it.  Including the win, of course.  He totally stole the show from Lincecum.  By the time Lester finished the ninth, Lincecum had been watching from the dugout for six innings.  You read right.  Tim Lincecum, the gem of the National League, the winner of the Cy Young Award, was removed after the third after throwing seventy-nine pitches.  If Lincecum thought he’d be able to go out there and hold his own opposite Lester, he had quite another thing coming.

The final score was 5-1, and we scored four of our runs against Lincecum alone.  Starting with Papi’s home run in the first.  I’ve heard it called a water shot, because essentially that’s what it was.  It was arguably the farthest, most powerful home run that David Ortiz has ever hit in his career.  It sailed over the infield, over the outfield, and right into McCovey Cove, the body of water behind the right field stands.  Two outs, full count, an eighty-six mile-per-hour split-fingered fastball up in the zone and he gave a kayaker a nice memnto.  It was the seventy-second time someone hit a ball in there in the history of AT&T Park, the twentieth time by a visitor.  It was Papi’s sixteenth long ball of the season, and man, was it long.  Right field is 365 feet, and then you have the stands, and then the water.  So yeah.  That was a long home run.

In the second, Lester helped his own cause by scoring V-Mart on a well-hit sac fly, followed by an RBI single by Scutaro.  Speaking of V-Mart, as if our injury list couldn’t possibly get any worse, guess who’s out for the count? He fractured his left thumb and left the game in the bottom of the fourth inning.  Great.  Just great.  This just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it.  Well, then.  We’ll have to step it up even more, won’t we.

In the third, Youk singled, Drew walked, Hall singled in Youk, and Lincecum left.  And Beltre ended the run-scoring in the ninth the way Papi started it, with a long ball of his own, this one hit deep to left field.  This one barely cleared the fence, but like I said, in these expansive parks even that takes some power.  And he only came into the game for defense.  Nicely done.

So that’s what I was talking about.  If our pitching staff ramps up the run prevention and the lineup contributes, we can still win without the guys on the DL.  Although of course we wish them all a speedy recovery.  Like, a really speedy recovery.  Meanwhile, we can celebrate.  Not only did we win the game, but we won the series, we finished Interleague thirteen and five, and we snapped our tie with the Rays! Ladies and gentlemen, we now officially own second place and are two games out of first.  Tomorrow night, the fun begins; we take on the Rays and widen the gap in a two-game set at Fenway.  It’ll be Shields and Lackey followed by Dice-K and Garza.  We have a chance here to put ourselves out in front in the standings.  Let’s make the most of it.

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Are you kidding me? Seriously? Really, National League? This is the second time in five games that the league itself has found a way to best us.  This is the second time in two games that we’ve lost someone to injury during a National League game.

If you thought losing Pedroia on Friday was bad, things just got a whole lot worse.  Firstly because his injury is, in fact, serious.  He’s got a non-displaced fracture in his foot and will be out for at least the next few weeks.  Of all the position players, we have the least bench depth at second base.  Great.  Just great.

And if you think that’s bad, things just got even worse last night.  Buchholz hit a single in the first Major League at-bat of his career with one out in the second inning.  After Scutaro hit into a double play, he promptly left the game with a hyperextended left knee sustained on his strange landing at second base.  He wasn’t sure if he should slide in or veer off, so he came up with some weird mixture of both which caused him to land at a weird angle, and the rest is history.  Yeah.  It was pretty ugly.  Our ten-game winner, tied for second place in the American League in that category, is out because we happened to be playing in a National League ballpark.  That’s just ridiculous.  I can’t even believe it.  Luckily, it doesn’t appear serious, and he might even make his next start.  Hopefully that doesn’t change tomorrow morning with a Pedroia-like report.

So because of this National League absurdity, the bullpen suddenly found itself in charge of the entire rest of the game.  That’s no small task on any given day, but especially with the workload the bullpen’s had this past week.  But they got the job done, turning in a final score of 4-2.

Atchison pitched the next two innings plus an out, giving up a hit on two runs and a walk and earning the win.  He was working with a four-run lead, so he pounded the zone and got his outs.  It was essentially a repeat performance of those three innings he pitched after Dice-K left.  With a little help from Youk, who stole away a line drive with a diving catch.  Ramirez finished the inning he started and was followed by Delcarmen, who gave up a run on three hits and left Richardson with runners at the corners with nobody out.  But Richardson, Okajima, and Bard combined to pitch the next three innings perfectly, each earning holds.  With a little help from Cameron, whose diving catch in the eighth reminded everyone of Jacoby Ellsbury.  As soon as that ball left Sandoval’s bat, Cameron was on the run.  He tracked it all the way to the center field wall and fell down on the warning track in the process but got the out.  That was some agility right there, which wasn’t easy since technically he’s still not the picture of health.  Paps recorded his seventeenth save.  Only eight pitches.  No hits, runs, walks, or errors.  What a nice change of pace.

Collectively, the bullpen tossed eight frames and gave up two runs on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts.  That’s remarkable.  That’s as good an outing as Buchholz or Lester or any elite starting pitcher would turn in.  They had the novelty factor on their side; opposing batters don’t have a chance to figure a pitcher out if that pitcher is replaced in the next inning.  And they used that to their advantage.  We talk about manufactured runs all the time; this was a manufactured win all the way through.  This was the bullpen’s best game all season.  And if this game doesn’t prove that we have one of the best bullpens in the Majors, then I really don’t know what does.

In the first, McDonald smashed a solo shot to left field.  In the second, Cameron smashed a three-run shot to center field.  With one swing, he posted his first homer in his ninety-two at-bats in a Boston uniform as well as his most productive performance of the season so far.  So we scored twice as many runs as the Giants on one less hit.  But those were some seriously powerful hits.  Substantial swings.  Both balls were hit deep.  They didn’t land too far behind the fences, but this is an expansive park.  It’s tough to hit home runs in places like that.  You need some power to get it done.

So, we find ourselves in a bit of a precarious situation.  Buchholz’s injury isn’t that bad; he’s a pitcher, so he automatically gets five days off anyway, and if he misses one start, we’ll live.  Pedroia is the problem.  Our starting second baseman will be out for a few weeks.  That’s serious.  If we’re going to get through those weeks without damaging our position in the standings, we’re going to need the B team and the pitching staff to step up.  We need to win with fewer runs, and that takes contributions from everyone.  Luckily, we’ve seen that happen and we know we’ve got it in us.  Our first test comes tonight, when Lester starts opposite Tim Lincecum.  We’re still tied with Tampa Bay.  Maybe a win tonight will break it.

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Last night’s loss was a loss on two fronts.  Stating the obvious fact, that’s twice as bad as a loss on one front.  And we can’t even afford one loss right now.

First, we have the obvious fact that we simply lost the game.  We had opportunities to score all night and let quite a few of them pass by without so much as a swing.  In the ninth inning, we were tied with two out and the bases loaded.  And all McDonald did with that golden chance to put the whole thing away on a 1-2 slider was ground to short.

We left thirteen men on base.  As McDonald himself pointed out, that’s an entire basketball team.  We left an entire basketball team on base.  We had the tying and winning runs on base in each of the last four innings.

Youk pretty much owned the offense for the night.  He started the game with a three-run long ball to left field.  The ball got out of the park in a hurry, and it was hit deep.  And he started what was then a potentially winning rally in the ninth with a triple and scored on a single by V-Mart.  He finished the night two for four with a walk.  Everyone else was pretty much silent.

Wake did his best to keep us in it.  The bullpen’s been working overtime lately, so he needed to go deep, and that’s exactly what he did.  He also said he’d stay in as long as possible regardless of the results, which is also exactly what he did.  He tossed seven frames, giving up four runs on eleven hits with two walks and three K’s.  So the balance between the high hit count and the low walk count meant he left after having thrown around one hundred pitches, which is exactly appropriate in terms of efficiency.  He had a tough time in the second inning, needing twenty-six pitches to get out of it.  For the rest of his innings, he settled down and threw between ten and fifteen.  He threw lots of strikes, too.  All in all, it was a good outing.

He gave up a solo shot and an unearned run.  It’s kind of funny when a pitcher gives up an unearned run.  If anyone else in the field makes an error that scores a runner, it’s not the pitcher’s fault, but if the pitcher himself is the one who makes the error that scores the runner, it is his fault, so even though the run scores by an error and not by a hit or walk or theft, couldn’t it be considered an earned run? In the second (not coincidentally), Sanchez bunted with the bases loaded and one out.  Wake made a wild toss to first, scoring two.  It was officially ruled a hit, an RBI, and of course a throwing error.  Wake was completely unprepared to corral that ball.  The bases were loaded, so he was expecting some swinging for the fences.  So he threw a fastball down and away and was taken completely by surprise with the bunt.  Then he was too aggressive with the throw.  That run tied the game and, you could argue, ended up making all the difference, because if it weren’t for that run, the game could’ve swung in our favor.  Of course, you could say that about any run, but the way in which this run scored makes it all the more irksome.  Had this run not scored, the run Ramirez allowed maybe wouldn’t have mattered so much.  Which is why, even though he had a good outing, he deserves the loss.

So that was the loss on one front.  Our other loss was literally Dustin Pedroia.  He fouled a ball exactly off the instep of his left foot in the top of the third and had to leave.  And we all know that Dustin Pedroia doesn’t leave a ballgame after just any run-in with a rogue baseball.  I mean, the ball was fouled right off there.  That’s the kind of thing you watch and you see how much that has to hurt.  X-rays showed that nothing’s broken, thankfully, but he’s using crutches and a boot.  He’ll be tested again this morning and will probably be out this weekend.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that this is the absolute worst time this could’ve happened.  He just came off the offensive night of his life.  His slump was about to be a thing of the distant past.  And with the way we’ve been playing lately, we clearly need all the runs we can get.  This is a disaster.  Let’s just hope it’s not that serious and he’s not out for long.  Unbelievable.

Miraculously, we’re still tied with Tampa Bay for second.  We’re now three games out.  How they continue to lose on nights we lose to preserve the tie is beyond me, but I’m not going to question good fortune.  Tonight, we look to Buchholz to break the tie, win us a ballgame, and remind us what dominant pitching looks like.  Because at this point I think we do need a reminder.

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Dustin Pedroia.  Dustin Pedroia the Destroyah.  Ladies and gentlemen, Dustin Pedroia the Destroyah is officially back in action! He is so back in action, it’s not even funny.  He is so back in action, I was almost blind by the lasers coming off his bat last night.

Before the game, Tito texted him and asked if he wouldn’t mind batting third.  He said no, he wouldn’t mind.  His bat completely agreed.  That was corny, but how else can I say it? Dude was packing.

He then proceeded to go five for five with a walk, four runs, five RBIs, and a career-high three home runs in a single game.  Simply put, that was the best offensive game he has ever played in his entire life.  Ever.  Seriously.  Four of those five hits were for extra bases.  And going all the way back to Little League, he’s never hit three home runs in a single game before.  The last time he even came a little bit close to that was last season against the Orioles, when he hit two.  But never has he hit three.  The team hasn’t had a three-homer game since July 23, 2004 (with the emphasis obviously on 2004), when we lost to the Yanks but Kevin Millar went deep three times in the process.  Last night was the twenty-fifth three-homer game in club history.  Tito even compared Pedroia to Ryne Sandberg.  Scutaro announced truthfully that here’s a real three-spot hitter.  I think at this point Pedroia may be over his slump, don’t you?

He hit his first homer of the night in the fourth to get us on the board.  It was hit mighty deep and ended up somewhere in the left field seats.  It was his tenth of the year; he’s the fourth member of our lineup to have ten.  But obviously he wouldn’t have only ten for long.

He hit his second homer in the eighth.  That one was a two-runner.  He extended all the way to get it with the tip of his bat and curled it around the foul pole in left field.  It was his second career two-homer game, but again, it wouldn’t be just a two-homer game for long.

His third and most dramatic home run was another two-runner on a slider that he absolutely crushed in the tenth with two outs and an 0-1 count.  He put the barrel of his bat on it, and it had backspin on it.  So it was barely two feet inside the left field fence.  But it was out.  It was most definitely out.  It may as well have been a walkoff because it gave us a lead we would not relinquish.  Finally.  The final score was 13-11, courtesy of the little man with the apparently really big bat.

It was incredible.  It was really incredible.  And even that’s an understatement.  He had every single Rockies pitcher’s number.  He read the ball perfectly.  He executed his swings right on time.  His motion was precise.  And he unleashed all the power he had.  You don’t see a game like that every day, but for Dustin Pedroia the Destroyah, a game like that is just amazing, not surprising.  Wow.

It was a slugfest, so the rest of the offense wasn’t too shabby, either.  Naturally that’s an understatement.  Cameron and and even Dice-K rounded out the fourth with a two-run double and an RBI single, respectively.  All seven of the hits and four of the runs that Hammel gave up came in that frame.  In the fifth, Beltre got in on the action, depositing one in left field, ironically with Pedroia on base.  Beltre also had himself an RBI single, along with Tek’s two-run double, in the seventh.  And the rest of it, as I said, was all Pedroia.  Man, slugfests are good for the heart, good for the mind, and most definitely good for the soul.

That was the good, and believe me, it was all good.  Now for the bad.  Dice-K wasn’t exactly on the ball.  In his first start since June 7, he only lasted five innings, gave up two runs on five hits, walked four, and struck out six.  So, on average, that’s about one hit and one walk per inning.  He threw thirty-seven of his 101 pitches in the first inning alone.  Rusty much? Eventually, as he is wont to do, he did settle down.  He threw only twelve pitches in the second, seventeen in the third, twenty-five in the fourth, and thirteen in the fifth.  Really, all of his pitches were good.  His fastball and slider were his most effective pitches, but he also threw his changeup and cutter decently.  Having all his pitches working helped him mix them effectively and vary his speed.  His strike zone was sort of diagonal; he threw from the upper right corner to the lower left corner, with his balls being around those corners as well.  The movement on his pitches was more moderate than usual, which may have been the problem.  If pitches that are supposed to move don’t move, they sort of hang over the plate and don’t do much, and it’s really easy for the batter to spot them and make constructive contact.  Luckily, Dice-K managed to not allow any home runs.  In fact, that was the one category in which our pitching last night excelled.  Dice-K left with a 6-2 lead but was off record.

And now, last but unfortunately not least, the ugly.  Dice-K was off record because Delcarmen failed.  He gave up three runs on two hits and a walk without even recording an out.  Okajima followed that with a failure of his own, allowing three runs on four hits and earning a blown save for his trouble.  Ramirez recorded an out.  Atchison received a hold but allowed a run.  Bard received a hold and recorded an out.  And now we arrive at Papelbon.

Papelbon was awarded both the win and a blown save, his second in a row.  He entered the game with an 11-9 lead and exited the game with a 13-11 final score, but in between he opened with a strike out, only to give up three consecutive hits, the third of which was a bloop single on a 3-0 count that was good for two runs that tied the game.  Many thanks to McDonald for making a jumping catch literally at the center field wall.  (Other defensive theatrics included Cameron’s beautiful diving catch in center.) These were his first back-to-back blown saves since May 7 and 9, 2008, the third time he’s done it in his career, and the first time in his career that he’s done it on consecutive days.  Ultimately, I hope he went up to Pedroia after the game and thanked him profusely for that third long ball.

Thus, the entire offense spent the entire night bailing the entire pitching staff out.

Lowell is on the fifteen-day DL because he felt something in his right hip.  Essentially, it was a roster move to make room for Dice-K’s return.

That was some game, of which resilience was the name.  It took ten innings, lasted four hours and forty-eight minutes, included four lead changes, and a grand total of thirty-three hits between the two teams.  But we won out! Still tied with Tampa Bay, we’re two games out of first and off to San Francisco.  Wakefield starts it off.  After last night’s marathon, I’m thinking something brief but decisive, although with Wakefield, as with Dice-K, you never really know what you’re going to get.  At least we’ve got some momentum going into it.  We staved off the sweep, we’re still almost in first, and our second baseman, who had until this point been in a slump, just lit it up big!

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If Justin Masterson sought revenge, he found it.  Yes, sir; he found it.  The final score was 11-0 and most definitely not in our favor.  Masterson, in a complete role reversal with Buchholz, pitched a two-hit, complete game shutout.  How’s that for revenge.

Trust me, though; that’s not the norm for him.  Theo got the better end of the deal in that trade.  He sure was nasty on the mound last night, but I think that has a whole lot to do with the fact that he played with this team and knows the core of this lineup very well.  Naturally he’ll pitch well against us.  But that wasn’t the norm for him.  This was just one game.  In this one game, he may have maintained velocity throughout, practiced speed and location variation, thrown sliders under the hands, handled the lefties, and turned on his sinker and two-seam.  But he by no means does any of that routinely.  He’s two and twelve since the trade.  He’s two and five on the season with a 4.74 ERA (lowered by last night’s performance from five and change), slightly higher than the league average and nowhere near the league leader.  His WHIP is 1.64.  Meanwhile, V-Mart is two points shy of batting .300, slightly lower than the league leader, with eight homers, twenty-nine runs, and thirty RBIs.  We may have lost last night, but I call that a good trade.

As far as the loss itself is concerned, you may think from the score that Buchholz had a complete fail.  That wasn’t the case.  Buchholz did not by any means have a complete fail.  Buchholz was mediocre – he had command issues early in the game – but he still, as a very good pitcher is wont to do, pitched well enough on his off night to win under other circumstances, like when the offense is actually productive.  He pitched seven innings, gave up three runs on three hits, walked four, and struck out one but took the loss.  He fired 109 pitches, twenty-seven of which came in the first.  He settled down after that, needing only seven pitches for the second, following that with ten to twenty pitches in each of his next four frames, and finishing with a game low of six in the seventh.

In his first four innings, only his fastball was working for strikes; he’d throw an offspeed but it would be down, the batter wouldn’t chase, and he’d have to go back to his fastball.  Seeing that his offspeed stuff just wasn’t happening, he relied on his fastball more and more, started missing location, and then came the walks.  He said after the game that, had he not walked anyone, the game might still be going on.  He’s probably right.  So his outing was unusual for him in that he spent the night as a fastball pitcher.  He did top out at ninety-five miles per hour, but his usual speed variation just wasn’t there.  He used roughly all parts of the strike zone when he did throw strikes, and he used all parts of the strike zone boundaries when he threw balls.

So last night was definitely not his best work, but if that’s what an off night for him looks like, I’ll most definitely take it.  That would be a pitcher’s best night on some other teams.  We just have higher standards in Boston.  But my point is that he wasn’t the one who dropped the ball.  The bullpen did.

Bonser gave up four runs on two hits and two walks without recording an out.  Nelson gave up a grand slam; four runs on five hits, three walks, and one swing.  Eight runs in a single inning.  It was awful.  I absolutely can not stand bullpen meltdowns.  If a starter melts down, it’s his own mess and his own responsibility.  If a bullpen melts down, it takes everything the starter and the offense has put together and squanders it.  It’s like taking something someone has worked on really hard and just throwing it away when they were counting on you to protect it.   Think about it.  The game could have been a respectable 3-0 loss.  But no.  For Bonser, that wasn’t the first step he wanted to take on his road back to the Majors after shoulder surgery.  He says his shoulder felt fine; he was just “over-amped.” Whatever it was, he was terrible.

The offense.  This is going to be easy.  Too easy.  V-Mart singled.  Drew singled.  Youk walked.  Hermida, in his return to the lineup, walked.  Done.  Nobody got past first base.

Also, some unfortunate slump updates.  So far Pedroia is 0 for 11 in the series, and he’s 17 for 101, an average of .168, in his last twenty-five games.  Papi is 1 for his last 23.  Neither one of these slumps is cause for concern.  Both are too good to remain in them long; that’s been proven.

Delcarmen is feeling better and ready to go.  Papelbon will remain unavailable until at least tomorrow.

Yesterday, the organization unveiled a bronze statue of The Teammates a few yards from the statue of Ted Williams.  The statue, sculpted by Antonio Tobias Mendez, is based on David Halberstam’s book of that title about the road trip that Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, and Dom DiMaggio took to visit Williams on his deathbed.  This is a great tribute to lifelong friendship between these guys but also to the Red Sox organization, an organization that breeds such friendship between all its players.  Nicely done.

It was good to see an old friend, but it wasn’t good to lose to an old friend.  Especially, as I said, via the infamous bullpen implosion.  That was not supposed to be part of the plan.  However, as always, we’ll bounce back.  Tonight we have Lester at Talbot to finish off this series and hopefully win it rather than split it, and on Friday we return to Interleague for series with the Phillies, D-Backs, Dodgers, Rockies, and Giants.  That’s plenty of games against National League teams, so plenty of opportunities for wins.  I’ll be taking a break of about ten days.  We’re in a great place right now.  Who knows? In ten days, we could find ourselves in first place!

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The offseason started.  We waited.  The offseason progressed.  We waited.  Our free agents filed.  We waited some more.  The GM meetings ended, and still we waited.  The Winter Meetings started, and we waited.  Things looked bleak.  Were we destined for waiting through the entire offseason? Would we open 2010 without a single big addition? Was Theo Epstein all talk but no game?

Not a chance.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the newest member of the Boston Red Sox: John Lackey! Five years and eighty-five million dollars later, we signed the dude who helped usher us out of the playoffs.  But that’s okay with me.  I’d much rather be on the throwing end of the first-pitch-strike machine than on the receiving end.

This is good.  This is very good.  Think about it: a Lester-Beckett-Lackey starting rotation.  That rotation, my friends, will win championships for sure.  Seriously.  Put those three names in a sentence and you’re talking about what is perhaps the most formidable starting rotation in all of Major League Baseball.

Let’s talk about the contract, because we need to get this out of the way.  Eighty-five dollars is a lot of money to spend on a pitcher, but it’s not something we haven’t done before.  We spent at least that amount on Dice-K, between the “right-to-talk” fee and his salary.  The difference is that there’s no negotiating fee here; it’s all going in Lackey’s pocket.  He’ll earn seventeen million per season.  Make no mistake: that’s a lot.  And I know what you’re thinking: now we’ll have to deal with the pulling of the payroll card.  And you’d be right.  But here’s the kicker: technically that card can’t be pulled.  Looking at 2009, the Yankees obviously had the highest payroll.  We weren’t even second or third.  We were fourth, behind the Mets and Cubbies.  And if you look at the disparity between our payroll and the Yanks’, it’s quite considerable.  And even after we start sending Lackey’s paychecks, that’ll still hold.  But wait; there’s more.  Look at the top twenty-five player salaries for last season.  You’ve got A-Rod at the top making thirty-three million (which is ridiculous, by the way), followed by Manny Ramirez, followed by Derek Jeter, followed by Mark Teixeira.  The Yankees are represented six times on that list; the other teams are the Dodgers, Mets, Astros, Tigers, Cubs, Angels, Giants, Braves, Rockies, Mariners, and Phillies.  You will notice that Boston does not appear once on that list.  Not once.  John Lackey will change that, but he won’t even make the top ten.  He’d be somewhere around thirteenth, maybe fourteenth.  Which puts us in league with teams like the Giants, Mariners, Rockies, and Phillies.  Not necessarily the names that first come to mind when you think of big spenders.  All this is to say that just because we’re going to have someone on that list doesn’t mean we’re like the Yankees, even though there will be plenty of people out there who would like to make that claim.  (By the way, just in case someone also tries to convince you that this is exactly like New York signing AJ Burnett for five years and roughly eighty-two million, I would urge you to remember that AJ Burnett was not, is not, and never will be John Lackey.  There is a huge difference, one that will be made painfully obvious to New York in due time.) It just means our general manager is a genius, because not only is this pitcher actually good, but we get him without shipping all our top prospects off to Anaheim.  Thanks, Theo! In you we trust.

This directly affects our ability to sign Jason Bay.  It means we don’t have the ability to sign Jason Bay.  Once it became obvious that he was looking for an offer we just couldn’t provide, we diverted our attention, and finances, elsewhere.  Basically, we took the money we would’ve used to re-sign Bay and used it to land Lackey.  Who will play left field? Mike Cameron, who signed a two-year deal worth about fifteen million, which would probably have amounted to less than one year’s worth of Bay’s salary.  So Cameron and Lackey were basically a package deal.  We spent so much money on Lackey, we didn’t even have enough left over to sign Holliday, so we had to make do.  And I personally would rather have Lackey and Cameron than Bay for five years.  There are two ways to win: pitching and offense.  Right now the Sox have both.  Without Bay, our offense will take a hit, but Lackey will make up for that in pitching.

Besides, Cameron has his advantages.  He’s ridiculously consistent; no matter what team he’s on or league he’s in, he’ll give you around twenty homers, eighty RBIs, a .250-ish average, and an OPS in the neighborhood of .800.  And he’s patient; he saw 3.96 pitches per plate appearance last year, almost identical to Bay’s 3.99.  He may not steal as often as he used to, but he’s still better than Bay on the basepaths.  And let’s not forget one of his most significant assets: his defense.  Cameron is a phenomenal outfielder.  While it is true that he’s played out his career in center (three Gold Gloves in that position), ability is ability, and if we move him to left, I think he’ll adapt nicely.  Either way, we need the defense.  Let’s face it: we weren’t exactly excelling in that area last year, and I don’t think I need to remind anyone the significance of good defense in our win in 2004.  I’m just saying.  Defense, at this point, seems to be the name of our offensive game.

Incidentally, Roy Halladay is also off the market, gone to Philly just like he probably would have had JP Ricciardi been able to hammer out a deal at the trade deadline.  Cliff Lee goes to Seattle to complete the deal.  Also, the Lowell trade is currently stalling due to Lowell’s thumb injury.  Really? The thumb injury? The hip isn’t the issue; it’s the thumb that’s holding up the deal? It’s not even an injury; it’s a sprain! And he started all three games of the ALDS with it! Along this vein, talks with Adrian Gonzalez yielded nothing; the Padres don’t want to deal him before the season starts.  Rest assured, however, that if they decide to shop him, calls will be made.  Meanwhile, it turns out that Beltre wouldn’t be such a bad alternative.  His defense is solid as a rock, not to mention the fact that his production on the road is through the roof compared to Lowell’s.  And finally, the 2010 season starts with and in Boston.  The first game of the season will take place on April 4 at Fenway; we’ll play the Yanks.  This is going to be epic, even if the schedule won’t be.  We have a game on Sunday night, then two days off, then the rest of that series with New York in Boston and then it’s off to Kansas City (who has the All-Star Game in 2012 which, try as I might, I just can’t seem to forget).  To make matters worse, it’ll be broadcast on ESPN2.  I would be so much more annoyed if I weren’t so psyched that we’re inching closer and closer to next season.  You know baseball’s around the corner when you started talking about opening schedules.

The Bruins lost to the Flyers yesterday.  Great.  We’re now four points behind the Sabres.  On the upside, the Pats bested the Panthers with a cool 20-10 score.  On a different note, I’ll be taking a break for about two weeks.  Aside from the Flyers game, life is good in Boston sports.  Life is most definitely good.

Sox Tea Party

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