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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Thomas’

Well, we’re more or less right back to where we started.  We’re only half a game out of first place.  This past two-week stretch didn’t go nearly as well as I’d hoped; I thought that Interleague would power us way past the Yanks for good.  Apparently not.  But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s recap.

After we swept the Yankees, we played the Jays, who we also swept before heading into a day off.  We won the first game by a score of 5-1; Buchholz pitched a stellar outing and the first third of the lineup delivered in a big way.  We absolutely crushed them the following day, 16-4; Lackey’s mediocrity didn’t matter in the face of eighteen hits, five of which were for extra bases and two of which were three-run homers, one each for Tek and Papi.  The 14-1 series closer was just as decisive; Lester pitched eight innings of one-run ball, and we hit six doubles and four homers.

We completely failed to carry any of that momentum into our series opener with the Rays; if only we could have transferred some runs from those games to that one.  We were shut out, four-zip.  Beckett returned the following day to pitch a complete-game shutout, his finest performance of the season, hands down.  In fact, take away a ridiculous and nonsensical hit down the third-base line that was barely a hit at all, and he’d have had a perfect game.  Not a no-hitter.  A perfect game.  He did not issue a single walk during those nine innings.  He was absolutely remarkably brilliant.  It was the first one-hitter of his career, and in retrospect, that was one of the most infuriating hits I have ever witnessed in my entire baseball-watching life.  I really can’t stress that enough.  We ended up winning the series; Buchholz pitched a short but ultimately sweet five innings, and our four runs were enough to handle the Rays’ two.

We then went home to take on the Brewers.  We crushed, 10-4; Lackey, Gonzalez, and Papi delivered solid performances.  We lost the next day, 4-2; Lester just didn’t have it.  But we crushed in the rubber game, scoring four times as many runs to win it, 12-3; Wake pitched masterfully for eight innings.

Then the Padres came by and we crushed again, 14-5.  Andrew Miller started that one; he didn’t pick up the win, but he did have some flashes of brilliance.  We lost the series by dropping the last two.  First, we lost, 5-4; Aceves didn’t have it.  Then, we lost, 5-1; Lackey really didn’t have it.  He didn’t even make it through the fourth.

Then we had another off day, and we are now in Pittsburgh playing the Pirates.  On Friday, we lost again, 3-1.  Lester didn’t have it, and the lineup was obviously out of whack due to the fact that we were in a National League park, so the pitchers had to hit.  On Saturday, we lost again, 6-4, despite three long balls.  Thankfully we preserved a shred of dignity on Sunday with a win, 4-2, to close out the series.  Miller pitched decently, and we only had one extra-base hit; naturally it helped that the Pirates made four errors, since all but one of our runs were unearned.

Youk and Beckett got sick.  Drew has a bruised left eye.  Lowrie, Crawford, and Buchholz hit the DL.  Jenks is still on it.  Paps was given a two-game suspension as the resolution of the brawl earlier this month.  Gonzalez tallied his one thousandth career hit, a triple against the Brewers.  Ellsbury garnered American League Player of the Week honors.  Our nine-game hitting streak that ended with our series opener with the Rays was the longest winning streak in the Major Leagues to date.

When we won, we played really, really well.  It’s just that we shouldn’t have lost to those Interleague teams.  The health issues are concerning, but the best you can do is hope they’ll end quickly so that everything can return to normal and we can get back to steamrolling over the opposition.  Right now, we’re in a good place.  I don’t think we’ll be phased by any amount of health issues after what happened last year.  Would I have liked to head into Interleague firing on all cylinders? Obviously.  But at least we’d been playing easier teams.  Now, though, we’ve got the Phillies.  That series will obviously be pitched as a World Series preview.  More importantly, we’re just going to have to keep our heads down and play our game.  You have to win first in order to get to October.

In other news, for the first time since 1972, the Boston Bruins have brought the Stanley Cup to what with this championship has truly become, in every sense and on every front, Title Town.  On June 15, 2011, down to Game Seven, the Boston Bruins became the champions of the entire National Hockey League.  The final score was 4-0.  A thirty-seven-save shutout by Tim Thomas, winner of the 2011 Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophies.  Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron each scored two goals, the last of which was an empty-netter.  There was a victory parade.  There was an appearance on the Today Show and at Fenway Park.  But it really started to sink in when Zdeno Chara, winner of the Mark Messier Leadership Award, hoisted the cup.  He picked it up like it weighed nothing, and you knew every single Boston fan could see it, and not because he’s so tall.  To see that cup being held by a Bruin in Vancouver was just incredible.  It was at once unbelievable and thoroughly believable.  The glory-basking is epic.  It was one of the greatest moments in any Boston sports fan’s Boston sports life.  Congratulations to the 2010-2011 Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins! Welcome home to Title Town!

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Watching Lester work recently has really been painful.  It gets better every time he goes out there, but you can just tell that he’s laboring with every pitch.  There are no health reports that would suggest that there’s anything physically wrong with him.  For whatever reason, things aren’t coming easily.  There are times when watching his cut fastball whiz by a hitter staring in disbelief as it slices the air in front of him is a thing of beauty.  But these days are not one of those times.  These days, Lester is lucky if he gets through five innings with minimal damage.  These days are daily grinds.  Stretches like this occur in the career of every pitcher, but watching an ace go through it is just sad.

In light of that, we were going to take whatever we could get from Lester.  Fortunately, he managed to deliver just enough to get us through.  Which of course was made all the more satisfying by the fact that we were playing the Evil Empire.  (In case you haven’t noticed, most positives of the game are more satisfying when playing the Evil Empire.)

Lester fired off 112 pitches over six innings; one positive that may result from this stretch is increased stamina and durability since he’s throwing a ton of pitches every time he goes out there.  He allowed three runs on eight hits while walking one and striking out five with the help of sixty-six strikes overall.  He didn’t give up any home runs; he just generally doesn’t have as much life on his cut fastball as he does when he’s more effective.  And that means that he misses spots and provides opportunities for constructive contact.  It’s not like he made one big mistake that allowed a hitter to go yard; he just made several small mistakes that resulted in quite a bit of hits.  That and he was inefficient.  He threw thirty-three pitches in the first inning alone and hit two batters but gave up only one run.  His best inning, hands-down, was obviously the third, when he secured all three outs using only six pitches, four for strikes.  That was thanks in part to Drew’s phenomenal leaping catch to end the inning.  Now that’s efficiency.  I guess those two innings balance out.  But the bottom line is that, while this outing obviously could have been much, much worse, it sure wasn’t his best.  You could say that the mark of a true ace is to go through stretches like this and still get wins.  And that’s what Lester did last night.  The final score was 6-4.  He’s won his last five starts against New York, our only pitcher to do that since Reggie Cleveland did it in the 1970s.  He’s won his last four starts against New York in New York, our only pitcher to do that since Roger Clemens did it in the 1980s.

It was a fun game.  Obviously beating the Yankees is always fun, but it was also just good baseball.  Ellsbury led off the series with a solo shot on a hanging breaking ball that would’ve been a ball had he left it alone.  Instead, it ended up in the seats in right field, and Ellsbury ended up crossing the plate.  It was his fourth leadoff homer and first since 2008.  I would say that’s the ideal way to start a series.

The fun continued with a five-pitch walk to Pedroia, followed by a triple by Gonzalez to bring him in and a sac fly by Youk to bring Gonzalez in.  Salty walked to lead off the second and scored on a double by Pedroia.  Nobody scored again until the fifth, which Gonzalez led off with an intentional walk.  Goodbye, Freddy Garcia.  Then Papi said hello to Luis Ayala by unleashing on a fastball and planted it in right field as well.  He just uncorked a massive swing on it like it was no big deal.  He just brought that bat all the way around and tossed it away like it was a toothpick.  There was no doubt the minute that ball left the bat that it was going out.  Joe Girardi took issue with Papi’s post-swing bat flip, but he’s a slugger, and that’s just what sluggers do.

The Yanks got two back in the fifth.  Jenks reinjured himself in the seventh; he did something to his back on his fourth pitch of the night and is day-to-day.  Albers came in for the rest of the seventh, and Bard came in for the eighth.  Paps allowed a run in the ninth, at which point I started to feel really uneasy about the fact that Ellsbury ended the top of the ninth by trying to stretch a double into a triple, but he held on for his two hundredth save.  And it’s only taken him 359 appearances to get there.  He has reached that milestone faster than anyone history.

Other thing worthy of note are the fact that Paps is appealing a three-game suspension he received for his conduct during Saturday’s game (which means that he’ll be able to pitch in this series), Scutaro is back from the DL and Lowrie’s shoulder is hurt, and Buchholz will pitch Friday instead of today due to a sore back, which has apparently been a problem for the entire season so far.  And last but not least, Papi was the American League’s Player of the Week.  During that week, he batted .545 with four doubles, two homers, and six RBIs.  Crawford had won the honor the previous week.

We are now tied with them for first place.  That’s why this series is huge.  We want to beat the Yankees whenever we can and preferably as frequently as possible, but now would definitely be the time to do it.  This series could put us in sole possession of first place definitively.

In other news, the Bruins decimated the Canucks, 8-1.  We scored four goals in the second period and four more in the third, and Tim Thomas made forty spectacular saves.  The terrible news is that Nathan Horton is out for the rest of the playoffs due to a severe concussion he received in the first period from Aaron Rome, who deserved every second of his five-minute major, game misconduct, and longest suspension in Stanley Cup finals history.

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Wow.  Carl Crawford.  His third of the year.  If he continues like this, he wouldn’t even need to make every single hit.  He’d just need to make the right ones.  He may not be on a hot streak at the plate, but he’s pretty hot as far as walkoffs are concerned.  So maybe his average is still pretty bad, but he’s been making those right hits, and for now I think that’s pretty good and a sign that things are improving, slowly but surely.

Beckett delivered another stellar start.  One run on five hits, two walks, and three K’s over six innings.  He threw eighty-three pitches, fifty-two for strikes.  So he had at least another solid inning in him for sure.  He came out of the game because he had a stiff neck.  After the game he said his neck wasn’t loose at all that night.  He’s not injured, but since two of our starters are already on the DL, Tito wanted to play it safe.

But those were some awesome six innings.  About half his curveballs were thrown for strikes, and he was working with a two-seam, a four-seam, a cutter, and a changeup that were just deadly.  They were unhittable.  Beckett led off the game with a one-two-three first that began with a strikeout on four pitches ending in the four-seam at ninety-four miles per hour.  He allowed his run in the second; he opened the inning with a walk and then allowed two consecutive singles.  In fact, after obtaining the inning’s first out, Beckett allowed another single to load the bases.  Fortunately, the inning’s last two outs followed, and his next two innings were both one-two-three; he threw eight pitches in the third and only five in the fourth.  That’s the thing about non-strikeout outs; they’re usually more efficient.  He notched his final two strikeouts in the sixth, back-to-back K’s to end it.  Both were five pitches long, and both ended with a fastball.  Last night, he procured his outs by other means like groundouts, flyouts, lineouts, and popups.  Obviously what’s important here is that nobody on the Tigers was able to make constructive contact with his pitches.  Not one of the hits he allowed were for extra bases.

Meanwhile, we recovered that run in the bottom of the second.  Youk and Papi both singled, and Youk came home on Drew’s sac fly.  The tie at one held until the fourth, when, with two out, Drew launched a home run into the first few rows of seats in right field.  It was a fastball that should have been away but wasn’t.  And that’s pretty much what happens all the time when you don’t locate a fastball.

So Beckett exited with a 2-1 lead, and Albers came on and pitched a scoreless seventh.  Papi added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning with a solo shot to lead it off, a towering blast into the first few rows of seats behind the bullpen.  A changeup up in the zone.  See, this is why location is so important.

At that point, we were feeling pretty good.  A pitcher’s duel is always a game in which one run seems like five, so a two run lead felt pretty solid.  Obviously with Daniel Bard coming up, it would have to be, right? No.  Not really.  And the number of times we’ve said that this year is pretty scary.

He came on for the eighth and allowed two consecutive solo shots.  The first was on a changeup, the second on a slider.  It was the second time in his career that he’d given up two home runs in one appearance.  (Unfortunately, the first time was on August 9, 2009 when we were playing the Yankees in New York and he gave up consecutive homers to Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira, of all people.) So he tied the game and was rewarded with a well-deserved blown save.  Unbelievable.  Again, the importance of location; obviously it goes both ways.  If he keeps on doing this, there’s no way he’ll be fit to be a closer in the near future.  He finished that inning, and we went down in order in the bottom of the frame.  Paps pitched us through a ninth inning that could have gone just as badly, if not worse, run-wise.  After inducing a groundout, he allowed two consecutive singles and a walk to load the bases.  Thankfully, he followed that with a strikeout on three pitches and a strikeout on a foul tip of the third and fourth hitters in Detroit’s lineup.  Red Sox Nation exhaled as one.

So we were tied at three in the bottom of the ninth.  Youk worked an eight-pitch walk, and Iglesias came in to pinch-run.  Papi singled.  Drew was intentionally walked (I know, it’s pretty strange, but hey, the man earned it) to load the bases.  Lowrie hit what looked like it would be a routine fly ball.  But it dropped in very shallow left field.  Iglesias was coming around from third.  The crowd was going wild.  We were all expecting walkoff.

And then he was out at the plate in the fielder’s choice.  Talk about anticlimactic.  And then of course you’re thinking, how many chances at a walkoff are you going to get?

Enter Crawford.  He took a four-seam for a ball and a slider for a strike.  And then, on the third pitch of the at-bat, one a ninety-three-mile-per-hour fastball, he hit a single.  It was just a single.  But it was well-placed, and it was all he needed.  McDonald had come in to pinch-run for Papi, and he scored from third easily.  And with one swing of the bat, we were done, and we didn’t even have to go into extra innings, either.  4-3.  Carl Crawford, ladies and gentlemen!

Hideki Okajima was designated for assignment so that another lefty specialist, Franklin Morales, recently acquired from the Rockies for cash or a player to be named later, can join the roster.  Iglesias and Bowden are both going back to the minors.

Our winning streak is now at six games.  The last three of them were won in our last offensive chance of the game.  And we are about to enter a truly exciting weekend the likes of which we haven’t seen in almost a century, literally.  For the first time since we beat them in the World Series all the way back in 1918, the Chicago Cubs are coming to Fenway for three games starting tonight.  A lot has happened in those ninety-three years.  A lot of good, a lot of bad, and a lot of ugly.  On Saturday, both teams will be wearing throwback uniforms.  I’m psyched.  It’s going to be a blast.

In other news, the Bruins took a 2-1 series lead over the Lightning last night with a 2-0 shutout, courtesy of Tim Thomas.

Boston Globe Staff/John Tlumacki

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See? I knew it.  Once we got out of April, we’d start seeing some changes.  Starting with Buchholz.  That was as good an outing as we were going to get to open this month, and by all accounts, it wasn’t bad at all.  We’re accustomed to seeing him pitch a full even innings, but six and two-thirds isn’t bad, especially when you consider the fact that he was pulled after allowing a single and stolen base but securing two outs in the inning.  He had only thrown seven pitches.

He scared me quite a bit when he started out, though.  He allowed three consecutive hits to lead off the game.  Thankfully, Drew gunned down Maicer Izturis at second when he tried to stretch a single into a double.

Buchholz allowed eight hits, but other than that, it was two across the board: he allowed two runs, walked two, and struck out two.  He threw 107 pitches, sixty-six for strikes.  His fastball and changeup were both moving and really effective.  All but one of his cutters were thrown for strikes, but he only threw one curveball for a strike all night.  He mixed his pitches effectively and varied his speed; he mostly stayed between seventy-five and ninety-five miles per hour, but he threw a two-seam at ninety-six and at one point went down below fifty-five.  He attacked the zone and had a tight release point except for this one pitch that was released differently and ended up being fouled off.  Each of his runs were allowed in each of the innings when he threw his highest pitch totals: twenty-five in the third and a whopping thirty-one in the fifth, during which he allowed a hit as well as both of his walks.

The bottom line is that this was his first quality start in six starts.  Bard came in to secure the last out in the seventh.

Meanwhile, our lineup put on quite a show.  Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? We were the first to score when Ellsbury singled and came home on a single by Youk in the first.  That lasted us until the fifth, when Crawford walked, Ellsbury reached on a force out, and both scored on a single that Pedroia hit on the thirteenth pitch of his at-bat with two out in the inning.

That at-bat was epic.  You may have been able to cut the suspense with a knife, which was obviously incredibly frustrating because you were watching foul ball after foul ball after foul ball for what seemed like forever, but that was a textbook example of how we play our game.  Everyone involved in player coaching and development stresses patience at the plate, because eventually it does pay off.  And that right there was patience at the plate if I’ve ever seen it.  He took a changeup for a ball, fouled off a slider, took a four-seam for a ball, fouled off a changeup and two four-seams, took a cutter for a ball, fouled off two more sliders as well as a changeup and two cutters, and finally put a ninety-one-mile-per-hour four-seam in play.  To review, he worked the count full, hit five consecutive foul balls, and then hit the single that basically ignited the rest of our offense.  That’s what makes a hitter dangerous.  He’s patient, so he makes you work and waits and waits and waits until he gets his pitch to hit, and when he does, there’s nothing you can do about it except sit back, relax, and watch those runners cross the plate.

You could seriously tell that that hit was one huge momentum shift, obviously partly because it gave us a one-run lead, but also because it was just a real galvanizer.  Pedroia has that effect on people.

Torii Hunter led off the sixth with a double.  But when Alberto Callaspo grounded to first, Gonzalez, who is not shy about flashing the leather, fired to Youk at third to get Crawford.  It was a pinpoint throw, even though it was in the dirt, and Youk dug it out expertly.  I think the Rally Monkey went home after that.

The seventh was one long inning.  Crawford opened it with a groundout, and then Tek singled and Ellsbury doubled.  After a pitcher change, Pedroia walked.  Gonzalez cleared the bases with a double off the Monster.  That was the first time in his Boston career that he hit the wall, and trust me, the scoring play was very aggressive.  Ellsbury crashed into Jeff Mathis so hard he bruised his left knee and was out of the game for the last two innings, leaving his status for tonight unknown.  And Pedroia was just a few feet behind him.  I’m telling you, we raise some scrappy guys on our farms.  Then Gonzalez came home himself on a double by Youk also off the Monster.  Then Papi did what he does best: crush long balls.  He unleashed on a ninety-three-mile-per-hour fastball on the fourth pitch of the at-bat to end his homerless streak at eighty-eight at-bats.

To be absolutely clear, that was a six-spot we put up in the seventh.  We scored six runs in a single inning.  Obviously, that’s a season high.  Most of last month was one giant stretch of us scoring less than that amount over multiple games in total.  So when Wheeler allowed two runs in the eighth and Okajima allowed his inherited runner to score in the ninth, that, ladies and gentlemen, was also something that did not matter.  (Does it matter long-term that our relievers allowed three runs in the last two innings of the game? Of course.  It’s not good.  But like last night, we should be able to score a sufficient number of runs such that it doesn’t matter.)

Crawford, Papi, Youk, and Ellsbury all went two for four.  Ellsbury stole two bases.  We left only five on base and went five for eight with runners in scoring position.  Almost half of our eleven hits were for extra bases.  As for Pedroia, he’s now six for twenty-nine opposite Jered Weaver.  But he came through in the clutch, so it’s all good.

Beckett will start on Wednesday after six days of rest, so it’ll be Lester tonight.  Meanwhile, we won, 9-5, and I’m going to enjoy this.  We should play the Angels more often.

In other news, the Bruins won Game Two! Thomas made fifty-two saves, and Krejci netted the winning goal in sudden death for the 3-2 win!

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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I am going to resist all temptation to make various announcements of corner-turning, groove-setting, and definitive down-settling.  Clearly we have learned that there is no point in that when it comes to Dice-K.  Claiming that Dice-K has turned a corner is currently as futile as claiming the Sox are doomed due to our poor start to the season.  We thought the entire season of 2007, his most consistent since coming over from Japan, was one enormous episode of corner-turning.  And he went right back to his inconsistency the following season.  So while it is true that, sine coming over from Japan, even including all of 2007, these last two starts have probably been the best consecutive starts he’s ever had here, I’m not going to analyze long-term implications of these two consecutive quality starts.  I’m just going to analyze this one particularly awesome start, which was even better than his last.

I don’t know where he found the stuff he used last night, but he dug deep.  He dug real deep.  Like I said, if you thought his previous start was good, last night was even better.  Granted, it was probably only better by an inning; his previous start lasted seven, and this one lasted eight.  Either way, he’s only allowed two hits in the last fifteen innings he’s pitched.  In fact, he is the first Red Sox pitcher to complete consecutive outings of at least seven innings with only one hit allowed in each since Pedro Martinez did it in 2002, the first to do it since Howard Ehmke did it in 1923.  Dice-K is the last pitcher to do it in the Major Leagues since Vicente Padilla in 2009.  (Incidentally, Padilla uses the Eephus pitch and can get it down to about fifty miles per hour.) That’s some heady company.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Dice-K fired off eight one-hit shutout innings.  That one hit was the result of a ball that bounced off his glove for an infield single in the second inning; take that away, he stays in to pitch the ninth for a no-hitter.  (Although you never know; maybe having that one hit out of the way lifted the pressure and allowed him to pitch as well as he did.  But after watching him, game after game, pitch himself out of all manner of jams with runners in scoring position like it’s no big deal, I’m rather inclined to believe that he performs exceptionally well under pressure.) He walked three and struck out nine.  Paps got the day off, so Tito went to Bard for the ninth, who ended the game with thirteen pitches.

Dice-K threw 115 pitches, seventy-eight for strikes.  That means that sixty-eight percent of his pitches were strikes.  That’s a really high percentage.  Of his nine strikeouts, seven were  swinging; only two were looking.  Two were finally put away with four-seams, two with two-seams, three with changeups, one with a slider, and one with a cutter.  All were achieved with at most seven pitches and as few as three pitches.  He put away the fifth inning with strikeouts alone.

His best pitches were also those he threw most frequently: the two-seam, the cutter, the four-seam, and the changeup.  He threw in some curveballs and sliders that weren’t working too well but added variety.  His highest pitch count in an inning was seventeen in the second; he issued a walk and the infield single in that inning; that was the extent of any jam in which he would find himself.  His lowest was eleven in the eighth.  He varied his speed, his release point was tight, and he aggressively attacked the strike zone without leaving anything out over the middle.  He was more consistent during those eight innings than he has been during his entire Major League career.  As in his previous start, it just seemed like he had life in his arm.

In the second, Lowrie doubled and came home on a single by Crawford.  In the third, Ellsbury singled, stole second, advanced to third on Pedroia’s flyout, and came home on a single by Gonzalez.  In the fifth, Ellsbury singled and came home with Youk, who was back in the lineup yesterday, on a ninety-three mile-per-hour four-seam, the fourth pitch of his at-bat, that he crushed to the opposite field.  That would be his fourth home run of the year, and it was big.  In the sixth, Crawford doubled and came home on a double by who but Jason Varitek that actually missed being a home run by inches.

So we won, five-zip.  We collected four extra-base hits en route to a hit total of eleven, left seven men on base, and went four for fourteen with runners in scoring position.  Ellsbury went two for five and is officially becoming our official leadoff man.  Lowrie and Crawford both went two for four.

All in all, that was a fine display of good baseball.  Some power, some run manufacturing, and a whole heap of excellent pitching.  It’s just nice to see starts like this from Dice-K, even if it’s only every once in a while.  It’s frustrating to know that he can pitch like this but doesn’t on a regular basis for whatever reason, but at least we know it’s in him and he’s got it.  Crawford finally has a multi-hit game to his credit, which is a step in the right direction, especially since he was dropped to eighth in the order.  It’s all coming together really nicely.  The standings may not show it yet, but we’re rolling right along.

In other news, after a harrowing and excruciatingly suspenseful game, the Bruins finally won, 2-1, in double overtime.  Tim Thomas was nominated for the Vezina Trophy and completely deserves to win it.

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We have now officially seen the first starts of all five of our starting pitchers.  And now we’re all going to have nightmares about them, because that’s how horrifying they all were.  They were so bad that debating which one was the best, as I said yesterday, is absolutely fruitless pursuit because it makes no difference whatsoever.  The bottom line is still the same: all of our pitchers are supposed to be amazing, and all of them were the opposite so far.  You can debate all you want, but a loss is still a loss.  And right now we have five of them staring us in the face.

Dice-K was the last to fail.  But fail he did.  I was pretty hopeful he wouldn’t.  But he did.  His start was actually very similar to Beckett’s.  He pitched five innings, gave up three runs on six hits, walked three, struck out two, and took the loss.  He threw ninety-six pitches, fifty-four for strikes.  He threw mostly two-seams, curveballs, and cutters.  His curveball was his most successful pitch; seventy percent of them were strikes.  The rest of his pitches were all thrown for strikes about fifty percent of the time.

Unlike Beckett, there was no one inning during which his pitch count started to climb.  Dice-K was just his usual self.  He threw a lot of pitches because he got himself into jams and needed to get out.  Only this time he wasn’t so Houdini-esque about it; he failed to escape completely unscathed.

He threw twenty-eight pitches in the first and allowed two runs.  He threw sixteen in the second and allowed one more.  And that was it.  He wasn’t exactly economical during his remaining three innings, but he’s always been known to throw a lot of pitches.  He kept his release point together, and he varied his speeds, but he didn’t hit his spots often enough.  Since he throws a lot of off-speeds, that would explain why he gave up only one home run but three walks that mattered way too much and five singles that were way too effective.  That home run was their only extra-base hit.  Again, our lineup should have been able to bury that run total.

Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there.  Reyes came on in the sixth, hit his first two batters, and walked his third to load the bases with nobody out.  So Tito called for Wheeler.  And then we entered the Twilight Zone.

Michael Brantley lined to Youk at third.  Youk dropped the ball; believe it or not, that’s not the bizarre part.  Youk recovered in time, stepped on the bag for the force-out, and fired home to Tek.  Tek then made a mental error so huge that it opened the floodgates and runs just started pouring in.  He stepped on the plate instead of tagging the runner.  He forgot that Youk stepped on the bag, which removed the force at home.  So the run was safe, and Tek looked completely unseasoned.  That’s the bizarre part.  Where his years and years of tried and true experience went, I will never know, but they were not anywhere near Progressive Field at the time.  That is a fact.  So Salty gets the day off and Tek starts, and his starter still fails to locate his spots, and he makes a gargantuan fielding error.  I’m just saying.  It’s way too early to write anyone off, and the only thing the entire team can do now is improve.

And then after that there was a three-run homer.  Obviously.  And then Wake allowed another run for good measure.  Obviously.

It was also epically unhelpful that nobody really did anything of note at the plate.  We tied the game at two in the second, a tie that Dice-K obviously couldn’t hold.  Papi singled, Drew managed a checked-swing single, Tek walked to load the bases, and Scutaro, with this profound opportunity to make his mark on 2011, dribbled an infield hit just good enough to get a run home.  And then Ellsbury strode to the plate in the wonderful predicament of being able to make a dent in the score.  And he grounded hard to first.  He may have brought Drew home, but he established the theme of the day for pretty much everyone in the lineup: missed opportunities.  Our hitters squandered almost everything that could have possibly been squandered.  We left a grand total of seven men on base.  The proverbial “big hit” seemed mythical.  The Indians left six on base and still managed to score eight runs, which stands in pretty stark contrast to our four.  Drew, by the way, was among the top five AL batters against the changeup last year.  He saw some changeups tonight.  Didn’t do much with any of them.  No other Red Sox player was among the top five against any other pitch.  No other Red Sox player did much with any other pitch tonight either.

You can thank Gonzalez for our other two.  He hit his first homer in a Red Sox uniform, and he earned every bit of it.  He fouled off pitch after pitch until he pulled the twelfth one of his seventh-inning at bat into the right field bleachers for two runs.  It was a blast, both literally and figuratively.  Unfortunately, that was basically our offense’s last hurrah.

Gonzalez finished his night two for three with a double and a walk in addition to that homer.  Crawford went two for four with his first two steals in a Red Sox uniform.  By the way, our thieves had an eighty percent success rate last year, tied for highest in franchise history.

LeBron James and Maverick Partner of LRMR Marketing and Branding are teaming up with Fenway Sports Management for sponsorships and such.  Great.  That won’t win us ballgames either.  To sum up, everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong.  This wasn’t the series with Texas where we at least could walk out with a little dignity because we know that lineup has its moments.  No, no.  This was the Cleveland Indians.  It was cold, it was empty (it looked like there were maybe three thousand people in that whole park, and that’s being generous), and it was just wrong in every way.  Our pitchers failed completely to locate anything.  Our hitters failed completely to locate anything and just stood there either swinging at air or watching prime pitches go by with men on base.  We are 0-5 for only the sixth time in our illustrious and often painful history.  Lester gets a second chance tomorrow, and if we don’t win, we’re going to be 0-6 for the first time since 1945.  1945 wasn’t a particularly red-letter year for us, so let’s not revisit that performance.

In other news, the Bruins beat the Islanders, and Tim Thomas’s thirty saves will definitely help him in his quest to set the record for save percentage.

Reuters Photo

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Obviously, we’re still waiting around.  Still not much happening.

The Rays signed Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon.  That was exciting for all of five minutes.  That team lost almost all the reasons why they were ever good in the first place, and then they went out and decided to plug those holes with a couple of has-beens.  They signed both of them for seven millions dollars.  Total.  As in, both of them together cost seven million dollars.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  I don’t think I seriously thought I’d see the day when these two guys would ever be ready to admit that they’re in the process of being done.  Needless to say, neither concerns me.  They’ll get a nice crowd at their home games, and they’ll get some publicity, but ultimately I just have to laugh.

Speaking of contracts, this is something you won’t believe, and the fact that something like this is so unbelievable is a testament to how bad things have gotten in the business of baseball.  But here it is: Gil Meche signed a fifty-five-million-dollar contract during the 2007 offseason and just upped and retired from baseball due to shoulder issues.  He just walked away from twelve million dollars.  It would have been easy for him to stick it out to collect the money.  We see pitchers do this all the time.  They spend a little time in the bullpen, they spend a lot of time on the DL, eventually the season ends, they finish out their contract, and then they retire.  But no.  Not only did Meche take the high road and admit the reality of his age and condition, but he also said that he retired when he did because he wouldn’t deserve the rest of his pay if he finished out his career like that.  It wouldn’t be fair to the team, it wouldn’t be fair to the fans, and it wouldn’t be fair to himself; he said he just wasn’t comfortable the moment he stopped being able to actually earn his contract.  He didn’t want to freeload off of an organization that had already paid him handsomely for his life’s work.  And just like that, baseball loses another class act because he’s a class act.  That is one guy after Mike Lowell’s heart.  We may not believe it, but we understand it.  Gil Meche, baseball fans everywhere salute you.

Sean McDonough, who did play-by-play for us from 1988 to 2004, and Nomar, who did almost everything for us from 1994 to 2004, will play “key roles” in baseball broadcasts on ESPN this year.  I have no doubt that they’ll be unbiased, but at least now we won’t have to deal with bias the other way.  We know McDonough.  We know Nomar and his analytical abilities got off to a pretty shaky start.  But more importantly, we also know that Jon Miller and Joe Morgan are long gone.  And no matter who the replacements are, that is something worth smiling about.

In case you haven’t noticed, as I’ve been saying every week, these past few weeks haven’t been too interesting, baseball-wise.  That’s because there are very few questions to answer.  We know who our starting shortstop is.  We know what the lineup will likely be.  We even know, more or less, who will be on the bench and who will be called up because all of last season was basically a showcase of the best our farm system has to offer.  Luckily, we are slowly but steadily approaching pitchers and catchers.  Slowly but steadily.  Hang in there; not too much longer.

In other news, the Kings shut us out on Monday, but we beat the Panthers on Wednesday, and we sent three to the All-Star Game! Chara, Thomas, and Seguin all went and participated in SuperSkills, and Chara and Thomas played in the game.  Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom captained this year, and they actually got to choose their own teams, so Chara and Seguin both played for Staal against Thomas, who played for Lidstrom, which was strange but interesting.  Thomas actually skated in the Fastest Skater competition.  His time of nineteen seconds obviously lost, but it was just funny.  Chara played in the Skills Challenge Relay, but his team lost.  Chara also lost to Thomas in the Elimination Shootout.  It’s all good, though.  Definitely all good.  Because Chara still reigns supreme in his area of expertise: Hardest Shot.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new record! 105.9 miles per hour was the winning speed.  That, my friends, is about as hard a shot as you’re going to get, and the only harder shot you’d ever encounter is from him anyway.  Seguin posted 97.1 miles per hour in that event; not bad for a rookie.  But seriously.  After a point, you just can’t see the puck when it travels that fast.  I would not want to be on the receiving end of one of those.  And finally, Lidstrom’s team won.  By a goal.  The final score was 11-10.  That’s not a hockey score; that’s a baseball score.  But that’s what happens when you feature the best of the best.  Play resumes on Tuesday with the Canes.  Hopefully we crush.

AP Photo

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