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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Brady’

You know that spring is just around the corner when Truck Day has come and gone.  Truck Day was yesterday, so that must mean we don’t have much longer to go.  It’s been a long, cold winter, folks, and we’ve been without baseball for way too long.  There have been some interesting decisions and some interesting non-decisions made this offseason; I don’t know how this season will turn out.  It may be better or worse than we expect.  All I know is that Pitchers and Catchers is coming – in fact, Lester is already down there – and soon we’ll be talking about Spring Training! Finally!

Speaking of Pitchers and Catchers, just so everyone knows what we’re getting into, apparently Bobby V. doesn’t believe in pitch counts.  He says that they’re completely arbitrary and cites his experience in Japan as evidence.  As Dice-K has amply informed everyone who will listen already, in Japan there essentially are no pitch counts.  But this is not Japan, these are not Japan’s players, this is not Japan’s six-man rotation, and this is not Japan’s schedule.  All I’m saying is that if something’s not broken, Bobby V. should not attempt to fix it.  Discarding the legitimacy of pitch counts is not a way to account for the fact that we still need two starters, and he seems to think that moving Bard and Aceves from the bullpen to the bench as starters wouldn’t be a big deal for either.  It probably wouldn’t be a big deal if it were done properly, but I don’t think discarding pitch counts completely constitutes “properly.” At most, Bobby V. should be approaching this issue on a case-by-case basis.  There may be some pitchers who are naturally inclined to throw more, and there may be some pitchers naturally inclined to throw less.  If the pitch count has to be ignored, it should be ignored in a situation where it’s within a pitcher’s natural comfort zone and ability to do so.  Otherwise he runs the risk of running all of our pitchers into the ground because a good pitcher will stay out there and compete for as long as he’s allowed to do so.  I don’t even want to think about all the games we would have lost if Tito didn’t pull people at the right time; I venture to guess that total would be more than the games we would have done by doing the exact same thing.

Speaking of pitchers, Roy Oswalt is still on the market, and we have indeed made it an offer.  The offer itself is acceptable, but someone from his camp has stated that, geographically, he just doesn’t want to be in Boston and would rather play in places like Texas or St. Louis which, as I’m sure is readily recognizable, are warmer and potentially National League and therefore more pitcher-friendly.  As they say, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.  But if you can’t take the cold, don’t even think about coming into the kitchen in the first place.

Last but not least, congratulations to Kevin Youkilis, who apparently is engaged to Tom Brady’s sister, Julie.  Two great Boston sports franchises unite.

In other news, the Super Bowl was obviously a painful disappointment, quite literally in fact.  I can’t believe it.  I just can’t believe it.  During the offseason, this Patriots team was touted as the Patriots team that differed from other Patriots teams in recent years due to its defense.  It’s no secret that, while the Patriots have had a good defense, the defense has been just that: good.  Not great, and certainly not extraordinary like the offense.  This team was supposed to be a step in the right direction of addressing that issue.  When we barely squeaked by the Ravens, we knew the Super Bowl was going to be a close game.  And it was.  I personally just never thought it would be close not in our favor and that we would lose, 21-17.  It was 2008 all over again: the Giants’ defense was better than ours, and it matched evenly against our offense, which meant that they were able to make more plays.  Honestly, I still thought we had a chance even after that last touchdown.  There was less than a minute on the clock, but that would have been enough for a successful drive downfield had we not been put in a position where we had to waste time getting another first down after that string of three unsuccessful attempts, the last of which was a sack.  It was painful to watch, and it forced Brady to have to deliver a Hail Mary that would have won the whole game instantly, right then and there, had it been caught.  And it almost was.  But it wasn’t, and that’s how wins and losses are determined, isn’t it.  And it’s not like it’s all the defense’s fault either.  They did well, given the circumstances, especially on the Giants’ third down.  The offense also made its fair share of small mistakes that added up big time.  It seemed like a million of Brady’s passes were just a little off this way or that way or that this one fumbled or that one should totally have caught it, and that would have given us the points necessary such that the fact that the defense allowed the twenty-one points wouldn’t have mattered.  We all know Wes Welker should have made that catch with his eyes closed – he led the NFL with 122c catches – but obviously it’s ridiculous to attribute an entire loss to only one play.  In the end, we made it to the Super Bowl, we kept it a close game, and Brady set a Super Bowl record for consecutive completions.  We lost, and it was crushing and devastating and, as I said, painful.  But we’ll be back.  If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that we’ll be back for sure.  And the B’s beat the Caps and Predators and dropped a 6-0 shutout to the Sabres.

Boston Globe Staff/Steve Silva
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Finally! By which I mean finally! I repeat: finally!

Finally!

Say hello to the newest member of the two hundred club: Tim Wakefield, ladies and gentlemen! He finally did it! And it was epic!

He is now seven and six on the season.  But really, that’s not even the point.  Only 108 pitches have reached two hundred wins.  Only eighty-nine have done so since 1900.  Only sixty-nine have done it since 1920.

I can’t think of anyone who deserved such a significant milestone more than he did.  He is the quintessential team player.  He loves it here and has made it clear that he doesn’t want to play anywhere else and that he’ll do whatever it takes to help the team in any way he can.  And if that means accepting the fact that he’s in the bullpen now, that’s what he does.  If that means making a spot start for an injured pitcher, that’s what he does.  If that means finally reaching two hundred wins, then that’s also finally what he does.

He finally did it.  And it was epic.

He gave up five runs on six hits.  All five runs were the result of two home runs, a three-runner and a two-runner.  He walked two and struck out six.  He threw ninety-six pitches, sixty-two of which were strikes.  So his knuckleball was obviously good but not great.  All in all, a pretty typical night for Wake.  Nothing two out of the ordinary.  Aceves pitched two scoreless innings in relief, and Junichi Tazawa pitched the ninth and gave up one run.

All of that sounds, without the rest of the story, like the game could have ended very badly indeed.  How many times have we seen Wake attempt to collect his two hundredth win only to be thwarted by a lack of offense or a lack of quality relief pitching? Way too many times, that’s for sure.  The difference this time was that neither of those reared their ugly heads.  We scored so many runs that we probably could have spread our total from last night alone over the last five games we lost, won those, and still had some to spare.  It was like we took out all of our pent-up frustration from the road trip and concentrated and unleashed it all at once.  We hadn’t scored that many runs in a single game since 2009.

In the first, the bases were loaded with two out for Reddick.  He reached on a throwing error, which brought in two.  Wake gave up the three-run home run after that, which required review but stood.

In the second, Scutaro singled and scored by a double by Ellsbury, who moved to third on a balk and scored on a sac fly by Pedroia.  The Jays scored their last two runs of the game after that.  At which point we stole the show completely.

In the fourth, Ellsbury and Pedroia smacked back-to-back jacks.  Both were hit into the Monster seats.  Both were hit on the third pitch of the at-bat after receiving a ball followed by a strike.  Ellsbury’s was on a cut fastball away; it was the second homer he’s hit into the Monster seats this year.  Pedroia’s was on a hanging slider.  Both of them masterful pieces of hitting.

Crawford led off the sixth with a double and scored on a single by Salty, who moved to second on a single by Ellsbury.  And everyone came home when Pedroia went yard again! He didn’t waste any time with this one.  It was on the first pitch of the at-bat, a fastball, to the Monster seats again.

We added on another run in the seventh with a single-double combination.

And then, the eighth.  We sent eleven batters to the plate that inning.  And we scored seven runs.  Here we go.

Ellsbury opened the inning with a four-pitch walk, and Pedroia doubled him to third.  Gonzalez singled in Ellsbury, which moved Pedroia to third.  At that point, we introduced two pinch-hitters and the Jays made a pitching change.  A sac fly brought in another run.  Then a single, then the second out of the inning.  Then Crawford worked a five-pitch walk to load the bases.  Scutaro worked another five-pitch walk to bring in another run, at which point he came out in favor of a pinch-runner.  Salty cleared the bases with a double, moved to third on a passed ball, and scored on a single by Ellsbury.

There were only two innings during which we did not score: the third and the fifth.  The fifth was the only inning during which we went down in order.  In total, we left five on base, went six for twelve with runners in scoring position, and scored a whopping eighteen runs on eighteen hits! Eighteen! Now that, my friends, is a slugfest.

The starting lineup’s weakest performer was Papi, who doesn’t even count because he left the game in the first due to back spasms.  After that it was Youk, who went 0 for 3, and Reddick, who went one for five.  Incidentally, Youk is planning to have his second sports hernia surgery, but during the offseason.  Until then, he’ll be playing through the pain of that and some bursitis he has in his left hip.  What a dirt dog.  Salty went two for five with two runs, four RBIs, and a double.  Crawford and Gonzalez and Crawford both went two for four; one of Crawford’s hits was a double and one seriously looked like it would have been, could have been, and should have been a home run.  Scutaro went two for three and secured his thousandth hit last night.  And last but most certainly not least, the top performers.  Ellsbury went four for five with a walk, four runs, three RBIs, a double, and a home run; he brought his hitting streak to seventeen games and his hit total to 189, a new single-season career high.  And if you thought that that was a top night, Pedroia’s numbers will blow you away.  Four runs on five hits with four runs, five RBIs, two doubles, and two home runs for his first multi-homer performance since June 24, 2010.  His five hits ties a career high, incidentally also achieved on June 24, 2010.  The two of them together reached base nine times last night, and for the first time in club history, we’ve got two active players at twenty-twenty!

In other news, it was discovered that Jenks has a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in an artery in the lungs.  He’s being treated and should recover well.

The final score was 18-6.  Not bad for Wake’s two hundredth win.  If I’m Wake, that’s the kind of score I’d like to win by.  A literally winning combination of good relief to carry him through and out-of-this-world offense to back him up, and he was smiling all the way to the clubhouse.  As it should be.  He got a very well-deserved standing ovation as well as a very well-deserved postgame champagne shower, and this is what he thought about the whole thing:

I’m very grateful; one, that it’s over with; two, that it was able to happen here at Fenway Park in front of our home crowd.  Going outside and seeing the signs and all the people and my teammates came out in support; that says a lot about everything that’s gone on in my career and tonight.  I’m kind of speechless when it comes to that, but I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to wear this uniform as long as I have and reach the milestone I thought I’d never reach.  Just very grateful.

That’s classic Wake right there.  You’ve done some amazing things for this city and this team, Wake.  For all of that, we salute you.  Congratulations!

In other news, the Patriots started their season off right by whipping the Dolphins soundly, 38-24.  In case someone somewhere thought otherwise, rest assured that Tom Brady is still the man.  Let’s do this.

Boston Globe Staff/Yoon S. Byun

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We have a less than a month until pitchers and catchers report.  This is the home stretch, people.  Less than a month.  It’s been a long winter.  It’s been too long a winter.  And like I said, the last few weeks are the most difficult, but we got this.  We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Only a few more weeks and then before you know it, it’s Spring Training followed by Opening Day.  I’m psyched.

Meanwhile, Marco Scutaro is officially our starting shortstop.  This is not surprising.  But it’s not like Lowrie isn’t going to get any playing time.  Trust me on that.

Theo avoided arbitration yet again.  Also not surprising.  Paps and Ellsbury each have one-year contracts for twelve million dollars and $2.4 million, respectively.  This is the third time we’ve signed Paps to a one-year deal, and I think that speaks to his wavering performance.  Three years ago he was golden, two years ago his walks were up, and last year just wasn’t a good year for no particularly apparent reason.  It’s going to be really interesting when he becomes a free agent for the first time.  I have no predictions for that because Paps hasn’t given us much reliability to work with.  This is a contract year, but so was last year.  He has some competition from Bard, but he did also last year.  The only impactful external difference is Bobby Jenks, who represents more competition and more insurance.  Or maybe Paps will just return to form after making various adjustments and working on various pitches, which is obviously preferable because that would show some future value we can more easily project.

As far as Ellsbury is concerned, that’s a steal.  That’s as good a bargain as you’re going to get.  He played in eighteen games last season due to his injury, so that’s a pretty hefty raise from his previous salary of slightly less than half a million.  So don’t get used to it.  He’s a good player with a ton of worth, and if he stays healthy and has a good year this year, $2.4 million will seem like peanuts compared to what we’re going to have to shell out to keep him here.

I would just like to note that our payroll for 2011 will be somewhere around $163 million total, which is close to what it was last season.  It’s all about responsibility and financial flexibility.  And only Theo would be able to maintain both of those and still make two major signings, one with a large contract and the other hopefully with a similar one pending.

In other news, the Bruins played back-to-back games with the Canes earlier this week.  We won both.  First, we shut them out, seven-zip.  It was awesome.  They had no chance whatsoever.  Then we beat them again, 3-2.  Then we lost to the Sabres, 2-4.  Then we beat the Avs, 6-2.  Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand each scored twice.  Barring that one loss, I’d say it was a good week.  For hockey, at least.  Because finally, last but not least, the Patriots.  Let’s get this over with.  The Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs by the Jets.  There will be no Super Bowl this year because we scored only two touchdowns en route to a 21-28 loss.  For the first one, Brady threw a two-yard pass and then went for a two-point conversion, and that was it.  The rest we accomplished with field goals.  And there were sacks.  There was an interception.  He set a league record of 335 passes this season without an interception, and yet somehow there was an interception.  We had the best record in the entire NFL, and we lost our third straight postseason game.  I hate to say this, but it felt a lot like the Pats-Giants Super Bowl, where we spent the entire season basically steamrolling over everybody, but when the final moment came, our ridiculously good offense was matched up against a defense that was just as good, and our defense didn’t match up as well to their offense.  That’s kind of what happened here.  It was just surreal and incredibly disappointing.  I had us winning the Super Bowl before the game even started.  Well, what can you do? As we like to say, there’s always next year.

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The exciting part of free agency is now finished.  I guess that’s what happens when you move up every single important offseason deadline.  Cliff Lee is officially off the market as well.  But he didn’t sign with the Rangers.  He didn’t even sign with the Yankees.  He signed with the Phillies.  They made a late bid on Monday night and he took it.  Five years and one hundred million dollars.

You read right.  The Yankees offered him seven years for 142 million, and he turned it down.  He turned down more years and more money to go back to Philly.  Both deals pay him roughly the same amount per season, but it’s a big decision to turn down that much security.  A reasonable and rational one in this case, in my opinion, since it means he’s not going to New York.  The man has scruples.

So, to review, we now have Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, and the Yankees do not have Cliff Lee.  I repeat: the New York Yankees do not have Cliff Lee! Said another way, Cliff Lee just dropped the New York Yankees like nobody’s business and basically showed them that, no, not everything in life can be bought.  The shift in the balance of power in the AL East is now complete.  Order has been restored in the universe.  We are back on top, and there’s nothing New York can do about it.  As far as the Phillies are concerned, we’ll deal with them in Interleague and the World Series, if they get there.  Keep in mind that they’re beatable.  Their rotation is great, but so is ours.  The only problem is that there are lots of question marks attached to ours and less attached to theirs.  But if those question marks yield positive answers this season, we’ll be fine.  Especially when you consider the fact that our lineup is packed with lefties, so right-handed pitching stands no chance.  We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.  Meanwhile, life is great!

Life is so great that one of the hot debate topics in Red Sox Nation these days is who will lead off, Crawford or Ellsbury? Just think about that for a second.  This is a question that we were asking in our dreams not too long ago.  This is a question that managers of All-Star teams were asking themselves not too long ago.  And now this is a question that our manager gets to ask himself on a daily basis.  That’s how great life is.  Because, when you put this in perspective, you realize that choosing between Ellsbury and Crawford for the leadoff spot is not a problem.  Choosing between Hall and McDonald and Patterson and Cash and Nava for every single lineup spot, day in and day out, is a problem.  And in answer to that question, I think Ellsbury has to lead off.  Pedroia will bat second, and Crawford will bat third.  Tito is saying now that Ellsbury will probably lead off, Crawford will bat either second or third, and Pedroia will bat wherever Crawford doesn’t bat, but those three will take the first three spots.  Ultimately, though, I assume Tito will separate the two lefties with the righty to confound opposing pitching.

The Yankees ended up locking Russell Martin; they agreed to terms with him on a one-year deal.

On to the bullpen, which is the only part of our baseball lives that wasn’t so great.  We signed Lenny DiNardo to a one-year minor league split deal.  Welcome back.  I should mention that his best season to date occurred under the tutelage of one Curt Young.  We signed Matt Albers to a one-year deal.  We also signed Dan Wheeler to a one-year deal.  But the highlight of this week’s bullpen wheeling and dealing is undoubtedly Bobby Jenks, formerly the closer for the White Sox who was non-tendered.  Jenks has agreed to a two-year deal in principle.  He didn’t have a great season last year, so we probably won’t have to deal with any competition between him and Paps for the position of closer.  Paps didn’t have a great year last year either, but his bad year was better than Jenks’s bad year.  But Jenks is awesome – his fastball is red-hot, and he throws a lot of strikes – with him on board, our bullpen can go straight to the top again.

Jenks is four years younger than Paps, and he makes our bullpen one of the hardest-throwing in the Major Leagues.  But heat isn’t everything; it’ll give you a lot of strikeouts but doesn’t guarantee you the save.  Consider this, though: baseball operations has wanted some sort of variation in the late innings, because before this deal we had Bard and Paps, so hitters were guaranteed fastball after fastball after fastball.  Jenks is a fastball pitcher, so the change of pace could come from Paps.  Paps is obviously a power pitcher, but his splitter and slider, on which he worked really hard last year, are now excellent, yielding .190 and .171 opposing batting averages, respectively.  So Jenks could get him to rely less on his fastball and throw more of those.  Obviously, his fastball is still amazing, but this would make him more versatile.  And more battle-ready, since now he probably won’t see action besides the ninth or in consecutive games.  So Jenks might actually make Paps more effective.

That, in turn, could have significant ramifications for next year’s offseason, when Paps becomes a free agent.  If he mounts a stellar campaign this year, he’ll be in a position to demand a stellar amount of cash.  But Heath Bell will also be a free agent at that time, and it’s unclear how well Paps will be able to compete with him in the market.  So this deal with Jenks gives us a lot of options and a lot of leverage for negotiations.  Bell will probably steal the show, and Paps would be demoted to a backup interest for most teams.  And let’s not forget the possibility that we could just decide to make Jenks the set-up man and Bard the closer, something of which I am sure Paps is well aware.  Honestly, I hope that doesn’t happen.  I hope we retain Paps, and I suspect we will, but there’s no way to know.  The bottom line for now is this: Jenks, Bard, Paps.  Done.  Game over.

Last but not least, the player to be named later in the Gonzalez deal is Eric Patterson.  He had some big heroics in Fenway, and he’ll be missed.

Red Sox Nation sends its condolences to the family of Walt Dropo, the AL Rookie of the Year in 1950 with us, who passed away on Friday.  He beat out Whitey Ford for the award.  He was one of our greatest of that era.  And he will be missed.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Sabres by a goal.  Ryder scored a power play goal to put us on top in the third period, but Drew Stafford put the finishing touches on a hat trick in the third as well, and Buffalo won out.  We also suffered a brutal loss to the Habs by a goal.  The final score was 3-4.  It was crushing.  And then we turned around and crushed the Caps.  Barely.  The final score was 3-2.  Thomas made twenty-five saves in the third period alone; if it weren’t for him, I’m not convinced we would have picked up the W, because that third period was awful.  And Tom Brady delivered a sound thrashing to Chicago’s pass defense, yielding a final score of 36-7.  It was excellent.

I’ll be taking a break for about a week.  I think it’s safe to say that most of the big name wheeling and dealing’s been done.  But you never know.  Theo will probably use this week to finalize the bullpen situation and take care of any other necessary business.  But at this point, I think we’re set!

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The name of last night’s game was, without a doubt, “Clay Buchholz.” If Buchholz had been an offense, he alone would have scored twenty runs.  That’s how good his pitching was.  It was outstanding.  After a while, I don’t even know why the Other Sox continued to swing.  And there’s obviously the added bonus of the fact that the Yankees lost, so we live to play for October another day.

Buchholz pitched eight innings of one-run ball.  He allowed five hits, walked only one, and struck out five, four swinging and one looking.  He picked up his seventeenth win of the year.  His ERA is 2.33. That’s second in the American League.  (The first is Felix Hernandez.) That ERA is so low, I can’t even understand it.  And he did all of that with 109 pitches, seventy of which were strikes.  That’s a sixty-four percent strike rate.  That’s ridiculous.

He threw his fastball at a maximum speed of ninety-eight miles per hour.  No starter should throw a fastball that fast.  He threw his slider at a maximum speed of ninety-four miles per hour.  You have absolutely no idea how difficult it is to be on the receiving end of a pitch that’s supposed to be an offspeed but that technically isn’t because there are pitchers out there whose goal is just to get their heater up to that speed.  And of course his curveball and changeup were right there working.

He threw nine pitches in the first.  He peaked at twenty in the third.  He ended with eleven in the eighth.  He pounded the zone.  He was aggressive with his repertoire.  If he wanted a pitch to cut, it cut.  If he wanted a pitch to slide, it slid.  And if he wanted a pitch to sail right by any attempt to make contact with it, it did that too.

And he was backed by solid offense.  Papi doubled in career RBI numbers ninety-nine and one hundred in the first; this is his first one-hundred-plus-RBI season since 2007.  Last year he almost made it with ninety-nine.  He would finish the night two for five.  He would almost score a third run in the first on Lowell’s single, but of course he was thrown out at the plate.  When Buchholz took the hill, he already possessed a two-run lead.  In the third, Scutaro scored on V-Mart’s sac fly.  In the fifth, Beltre singled in his one hundredth RBI this year.  In the seventh, V-Mart singled in Scutaro, extending his hitting streak to twelve games.  He would finish the night three for four.  And in the eighth, Beltre tripled in his next RBI, making him four for five on the night.  This is his first one-hundred-plus-RBI season since 2004.  Scutaro ended up going three for five.  Atchison handled the ninth.  6-1 was the final score.

That’s it.  Short and sweet.  The final score was 6-1, and basically we just cruised in every sense of the word.  We’re throwing Lackey tonight.  Remember, if we lose or if the Yankees win, we’re officially out.  Let’s not have that happen.  Seriously.

In other news, the Pats beat the Bills on Sunday, 38-30.  The final score may have been close, but we looked like we had a handle on the game the entire time.  Tom Brady, as usual, looked terrific.

AP Photo

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Dice-K has been awful this season.  To put it bluntly, every single one of his outings was an epic fail.  It was like watching a wreck, rewinding it, and replaying it over and over and over again.  Everything that could have possibly gone wrong, did.  It was absolutely downright horrible.  Two DL stints later, Dice-K was down in Florida catching up on all the Spring Training he missed while winning MVP in the World Baseball Classic, but it took three times as long because of all the fatigue that had accumulated in his shoulder.  After he graduated from that, he went down to the farms and had some good and bad outings.  The whole thing was pretty much a mixed bag, so when we found out that Dice-K was returning to the Major League rotation, we didn’t know what we were going to get.

Hold on to your hats, was my advice.  Be prepared to be blown away, or be prepared to turn them inside-out because we may be in desperate need of a rally.  But his first Major League start after his epic fail of an eight-start first half wouldn’t be about just one game.  It would be about his entire 2009 season.  To properly vindicate himself, he would need one seriously dominant, no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners outing.  An outing that left no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is back and back with a vengeance.  An outing that effectively proved that he went down to Florida, was a good soldier and trained properly, and is now the better for it.

Last night’s outing exceeded all expectations of whatever outstanding outing you could possibly imagine.  He pitched six impeccable shutout innings.  Three hits, three walks, and five strikeouts, including some very nice no-hit, one-two-three innings.  And all of it on ninety-three pitches, more than half of which were four-seams, and let me tell you: his fastball was on.  He added some sliders and cutters as well as other off-speeds to keep them guessing and topped out at ninety-three miles per hour and going down to about eighty.  His command was sound and he went after the hitters.  Given the circumstances in which this outing took place, I have absolutely nothing whatsoever to complain about.

Especially since Dice-K started against the Angels.  That’s a very important detail.  We’ll probably face the Angels in the ALDS.  We have facts on our side, namely the fact that the Angels can’t do anything against us in the ALDS, but it’s good to know that that’s still true.  Dice-K made a very strong case for his ability to sustain that tradition.  Not to mention the fact that this lightens the pressure on the staff considerably, now that there’s another starter in the mix.  Wakefield can relax a bit and let his back heal properly.

But for these same reasons, Dice-K’s next start may be even more important than this one, so he isn’t out of the woods yet.  For now, though, Red Sox Nation and I can let out a huge collective sigh of relief.

The final score was 4-1.  The relief corps was solid through Ramirez, Wagner, and Bard, who each got holds, but it hit a stumbling block when we got to Papelbon.  Only six of his twenty pitches weren’t strikes, but two hits and one run later, Dice-K’s shutout was ruined.  Again, not good.

Of course, you can’t win without offense.  Only three of the four runs were earned, but we can thank Bay and Ortiz for those.  And while we thank Ortiz, we can give him a standing ovation as well.  His two-run moon shot with two out in the eighth was his twenty-fourth of the season and the 270th of his career as a DH.  With that homer, he officially passed Frank Thomas in the record books.  David Ortiz has officially hit more home runs in his career than any other designated hitter in the history of the sport.  Congratulations! And the best part is that he’s not even finished.

Ellsbury went two for four and was caught stealing.  Ortiz finished two for four.  Drew tripled.

Youk was out of the lineup with lower back spasms that aren’t too serious.  V-Mart will be in Cleveland probably until tomorrow taking care of some personal matters, but he probably wouldn’t have played anyway after that collision with Gabe Gross at the plate.  Next season’s schedule has been released, and we’re opening and closing by hosting the Yanks at Fenway.  Excellent.  We start off by showing them who’s boss and end by reminding them in case they forgot.  We’re facing some of the National League’s elite during Interleague, which still shouldn’t be a problem because it’s still the National League.  I’m just not happy about the fact that we’re only at home for nine games in July next year.  That’ll be a challenge.

John Lackey really challenged us, I’ll admit.  Most of the game was a very close pitcher’s duel, and for a while the only difference between Lackey and Dice-K was a pair of hits Lackey allowed while Dice-K still hadn’t allowed any.  It was a great contest.  Anytime you see good pitchers get crafty and try to best each other in a battle of wits, so to speak, you witness not just the science but also the art of the game, and those are special.  The important thing is that Dice-K had himself a phenomenal outing; technically, the win was just icing on the cake.  But I’ll take it.  Believe me, I’ll take it.  Especially against the Angels less than a month away from October.  We were in good shape all along, but if Dice-K holds it together, things look even more promising.  Tonight it’s Joe Saunders at Paul Byrd.  That, I’m not so sure about.

In other news, the Patriots had themselves quite the comeback against the Bills on Monday, winning 25-24.  Obviously that probably wasn’t exactly what Tom Brady or Bill Belichick had in mind, but winning is never a bad way to start the season.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Spring Training officially began on Wednesday.  We’ll play eighteen home games in the Grapefruit League this year, and as always Red Sox Nation makes a good showing in Fort Myers; we’ve sold out every game at City of Palms Park since March 16, 2003.  After a season ends the start of Spring Training is one of the greatest days of the year because it means baseball season is just around the corner.  On Wednesday I watched baseball for the first time since October and it felt awesome.  It felt great.  I’m so psyched for the regular season.  But as a spectator I’m not so sure I’m a fan of Spring Training.  It’s impossible to take these games seriously because the starters never stay in.  So it’s not a good gauge of the team’s performance down the stretch.  Not to mention the fact that you’re always worrying about injuries; look at what happened to Josh Beckett last year.  He threw his back out in Spring Training and it completely threw off his season.  Still, it’s a good opportunity for the team to warm up, get the kinks out, and scout the competition, and we get to see glimpses of how the guys are doing.  So it depends on how you look at it, I guess.  If you look at Spring Training as an indication of how the team will do during the season, it’s definitely lacking.  But if you look at Spring Training as an opportunity to get back in the groove, it’s not bad.

Wakefield got rocked by the Twins, but Bard handled him really well, so that was a relief.  Beckett pitched two perfect innings and struck out two against Boston College on Wednesday.  Yes, it was only a college team, but pitching is pitching, and Beckett’s form looked pretty sweet.  And what an experience that must’ve been for BC.  I’m telling you, that’s the thrill of a lifetime for those boys.  I mean what an opportunity for the team.  Buchholz made two starts and luckily he’s looking pretty good.  He pitched two innings on Saturday night, allowing only one hit and striking out one against the Reds.  He got the win in our first Spring Training victory against Major League opposition.  Doesn’t seem like much for Buchholz, but if you consider the fact that this time last year he was 1-3 with a 10.03 ERA.  At that time he owned a spot in the rotation.  Now he’ll have to earn it.  Sure, it’s only two innings, but with the way he pitched last season it’s better than nothing.

Rehab’s going well for everyone.  Mikey Lowell should be playing by the middle of the month, Mark Kotsay should be swinging a bat by the time we break camp, pitcher Miguel Gonzalez will visit an arm specialist for his elbow, and Jeff Bailey is good to go after fouling a pitch off his foot.

Dice-K isn’t camping with us because he’s prepping with Japan for the World Baseball Classic.  He struggled through about two innings of a warmup game in Osaka against Australia.  Japan eventually won it, but it wasn’t pleasant to see the Dice-K of ’07 instead of the Dice-K of ’08.  He gave up two runs on five hits and struck out three which, over two innings, isn’t as great as it could be.  But hey, that’s what warmups are for.  No use getting nervous over a contest in March; the only way to go is up.  There’s nothing left to do but improve, and he has the whole month to get it back.

Speaking of the World Baseball Classic, Boston is sending six: Dice-K for Japan, Jason Bay for Canada, Big Papi for the Dominican Republic, Dustin Pedroia and Youk for the US, and Javier Lopez for Puerto Rico.  The World Baseball Classic does interfere with Spring Training, but baseball is baseball.  As long as they play, they’ll be in good shape.  I’m not concerned.  Papelbon won’t be playing in the Classic this year.  Smart move.

News from Curt Schilling.  What else is new.  You’ll never believe this.  Remember how he said last offseason that he wanted to pitch with us for one more year and then retire? Yeah.  No.  Looks like he’s changed his mind.  He’d like to pitch for the Cubs this season.  That came totally out of left field (no pun intended).  The Cubs? The dude likes to break curses, I guess.  He won’t be hurting anybody in Chicago, that’s for sure.  I mean he’s a fantastic pitcher, but I don’t know how much he has left.  He’s aged, and he continues to age.  And we wouldn’t want his pitching to get in the way of his new hobby: expressing all of his…opinions.  It’s been interesting listening to his views on the proceedings during the offseason, that’s for sure.

In other news, Matt Kenseth of Roush Fenway Racing won the Daytona 500! Mike Dee, our chief operating officer and the president of Fenway Sports Group, partnered with NASCAR owner Jack Roush to form the five-car team in 2007.  And as you can see John Henry and Mike Dee have a penchant for championships.  Let’s hope it continues.  I have a good feeling about 2009.  The Patriots gambled by trading Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs for a draft pick.  That means the team is confident that Tom Brady will return, which is awesome news, but if Brady gets injured again we’re toast.  The Bruins are still fighting for supremacy over the league.  We’re tied with the Sharks right now with 93 points, and the Capitals, the team closest to us in the Eastern Conference, only have 85.  The Canadiens only have 75.  We have 93 points, and the Habs have 75.  Us, 93; Habs, 75.  Nuff ced.  Anyway, we routed the Panthers on Tuesday, 6-1, and shut out the Ducks on Thursday, 6-0.  So our offense is good.  We just need to stay with it.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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