Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Guerrero’

Lester has started opposite the Orioles seventeen times in his career.  He remains undefeated.  14-0 with a 2.33 ERA, and as a team we are sixteen and one in those seventeen games.  That’s the longest ongoing streak by any pitcher against any team.  Tom Brewer was our last pitcher to win fourteen consecutive starts against one team.  He did it from 1954 through 1957 against the Athletics, both the Philadelphia and Kansas City varieties.  (To clarify, that was the same team.  They just moved around a bit before finally settling in Oakland.)

So you obviously know that he picked up the win.  He fired eight solid innings to do it.  He gave up two runs on four hits.  He walked three and struck out five.  The only complaint I would have with his outing is that he should be lower on walks and higher on strikeouts.  But again, if that’s the extent of his April badness this year, I will most definitely take it.  Besides, he threw 108 pitches total across eight innings, and he only walked three, so it’s not like he was being inefficient.  He just recorded outs through other means, that’s all.

Sixty-four of his pitches were strikes.  His most effective pitch by far was his changeup.  All but two of his changeups were strikes.  His curveball and sinker were also working, but he’s still looking for that extra life on his cut fastball.  It hasn’t been as effective as it’s going to be soon, I suspect.  He doesn’t have a velocity problem; he got it up to ninety-four.  It’s just a movement issue.  His cut fastball is his everything pitch.  It’s his pitch to start at-bats and end at-bats.  It’s his pitch to get out of jams and just generally display mastery.  That’s not to say he isn’t versatile.  That’s only to say that it’s understandable that, although his outings lately have been great by anyone’s standards, they haven’t been truly great by our standards because we know what he’s capable of doing at his best.  When your signature pitch isn’t quite right, neither is your outing, for one reason or another.

He threw twenty-one pitches in the first.  He gave up a walk and two consecutive singles that inning to allow his first run.  but he settled down after that.  He only threw nine in the fifth.  The other run was scored via the homer; Vladimir Guerrero hit a ninety-one mile-per-hour cut fastball out.  (We’ve known this for a while, but I’d just like to specifically point out that Vladimir Guerrero is now playing for the Orioles.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.) Paps came on for the ninth and did a fine job.  No save necessary.

The final score was 6-2.  Six runs is a pretty low total for a team that racked up thirteen hits to the opposition’s four and that recorded four multi-hit games: Ellsbury and Gonzalez both went three for five, and Pedroia and Papi both went two for five.  One explanation might be that only four of our thirteen hits were for extra bases, and they were all doubles.  Gonzalez hit two of them, so he clearly had a great night.  And two were hit in the first inning; Ellsbury led off the game with a double, and after Pedroia struck out, Gonzalez doubled him home.  There was a similar outcome in the third; Ellsbury singled, and after Pedroia grounded out, Gonzalez singled him home.  Crawford led off the seventh with a double and came home on a single by Pedroia.

And then we got busy in the eighth.  Youk led off the inning with a walk.  Papi singled.  Cameron pinch-hit for Drew and walked.  Youk came around on a single by Salty.  Two outs later, Ellsbury brought home Papi and Cameron on a single.

We left nine men on base and went five for sixteen with runners in scoring position.  Nobody hit his way past second base.  But we manufactured runs when we needed to and won with a four-run lead.  When you play the Orioles, you just expect to score more.  Then again, when you play the Orioles, you don’t expect to lose the series, but at least we weren’t swept.  And at least we’re no longer in last place.  The Orioles are now in last place.  We’re in second-to-last place.  But at least we’re moving up.  And Youk left the game in the bottom of the eighth with a sore left hip.  At least he stayed in the game for as long as he could; he jammed his hip on a slide into first base in the first inning.  Luckily, all signs point to his return tonight, when we go home to host the Mariners.

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Well, that really wasn’t good, was it.  As far as offense is concerned, the team appears to be back to its old self.  To say, based on last night’s performance, that Beckett is also back to his old self is not true.  But the frustration is clearly understandable.  I mean, come on.  We’re playing the Orioles.  I understand that April is their one month of glory and all, but let’s be realistic.  There is no way we should ever have lost a series to the Orioles, especially not after the tear we’d started to be on.  The best we can do now is not get swept.  And we better not get swept.

Beckett only lasted six innings, during which he gave up four runs on seven hits, two of which were home runs that accounted for three of those four runs.  He didn’t walk anyone but struck out only four.  So basically what this comes down to is isolated mistakes.  I’ve said this before.  Power pitchers have this problem where they cruise with the occasional jam.  The problem is getting out of that jam.  If a power pitcher tries to get out of a jam but makes a mistake, chances are it’ll be a home run because mistakes in those situation usually consist of pitches with no movement and no location.  Well, there is a location: right out over the middle of the plate where even the worst hitter could get the sweet spot on it.

He threw ninety-two pitches, fifty-nine for strikes.  Early on, he was as masterful as ever.  He retired ten of his first eleven batters.  Then in the fourth, there was a bloop double.  Not a bloop single.  A bloop double.  Which was obviously incredibly frustrating to watch.  Pedroia and Ellsbury both converged on it.  It dropped literally right in front of Ellsbury, who specifically did not catch it because he thought Pedroia was on it.  Communication, people.   Communication.  Anyway, then Vladimir Guerrero popped out.  And then there was home run number one, a ridiculously powerful swing on the second pitch of the at-bat, a cutter that didn’t cut.  The very next at-bat resulted in home run number two on a four-seam that didn’t do much of anything.  A fourth run scored in the fifth; a wild pitch from Beckett put two runners in scoring position, one of whom came home on a sac fly.

He threw between thirteen and nineteen pitches in each of his innings.  He wasn’t as efficient as he could have been.  He varied his speed and kept his release point solid and tried to attack the zone, and a few of his pitches were thrown for strikes frequently, most notably both fastballs as well as his changeup, but his cutter and curveball weren’t great, and he was missing that definitive put-away-ness.

Did the lineup provide any support for Beckett? Not in the least.  We didn’t score any runs until the eighth.  By that time, Beckett had come out and Wake had pitched an inning.  But it looked like we were on the verge of a comeback.  And it turned out that we were.  Ellsbury led off the inning with a single.  Pedroia walked.  And then there was a pitching change.  And Gonzalez promptly singled in Ellsbury.  And then there was another pitching change.  And Youk promptly smashed a three-run homer.  It was the fourth pitch of the at-bat in a 2-1 count, and it tied the game.  And I thought for sure this one would be in the bag.  We would work it out in extra innings if necessary, but there was no way we would let this one slip away.  Not after a four-spot in the eighth.  Not after a three-run blast.

And then Bard came in.  Two consecutive singles and one passed ball later, Nick Markakis was coming home.  He had thrown Papi out at the plate in the fourth when he tried to score on a single by Lowrie, so we kindly returned the favor.  Tek was lucky to record that out. Otherwise, he would be looking at another passed ball.  Did it matter in the end? Absolutely not.  The infield came in, and Guerrero singled in a run.  And that was the end of that.  Scutaro flied out, Ellsbury popped out, and Pedroia grounded out.  Three different varieties of quick outs, just to keep things interesting.  And we lost, 5-4.

Ellsbury went three for five, and Gonzalez and Papi both went two for four.  And we went three for six with runners in scoring position.  That’s another .500 average.  But we couldn’t score the two runs that, in the end, we needed the most.  And yet again, that’s what matters.

In other news, the Bruins won! We won Game Seven at home! 4-3 in overtime with Nathan Horton’s goal seventeen seconds in! Onward to the Flyers! We are en route.  Ladies and gentlemen, we are most definitely en route.

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Awards season has come and gone and left disappointment and injustice in its wake.  Seriously.  I can’t even talk about it.  This goes beyond even Sabathia stealing Beckett’s Cy Young and Guerrero stealing Papi’s Silver Slugger.  This time, it’s personal.

Lester and Buchholz both finished in the top six in the AL Cy Young voting, but both ultimately lost to Felix Hernandez, who won it with his numbers alone since the Mariners didn’t offer any help of any sort at any time.  And if a Cy Young were awarded to best one-two punch, Lester and Buchholz would totally sweep that vote.

A new award was introduced this year: the Commissioner’s Award for Philanthropic Excellence.  We won it, and I can’t think of any team more deserving.  The Red Sox Foundation now gets ten thousand dollars.  I have to say, if any award is worth winning, this one is obviously most definitely up there.

So, obviously, that’s not where the disappointment and injustice come in, although I will say that both Lester and Buchholz were spectacular this past year, and I’d be very surprised if neither wins at least one Cy Young in each of their careers.  No.  All of that comes in here: Tito did not win Manager of the Year; cue the disappointment.  Furthermore, he finished fourth in the voting; cue the injustice.  We won eighty-nine games last year with half our starting lineup ending up being out for the season, more than 136 different batting orders, and a majority of our starters out of Spring Training on the DL by the end of it.  And you’re telling me that’s not Manager of the Year material right there? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a very long time.  All three managers who finished ahead of Tito, perhaps not coincidentally, had teams that ended up in the playoffs.  But that’s not supposed to be what this is about.  Putting a team in the playoffs doesn’t necessarily indicate a good manager; it indicates a good team with a good schedule.  And I can’t even begin to tell you how utterly frustrated I am with any system that could possibly have resulted in this outcome.  Tony La Russa even said in print that it should unquestionably be Tito as AL Manager of the Year.  And not only does he not get it, but he finishes fourth? That is complete insanity if I’ve ever seen it, ever.

That’s a pretty bold statement, but it’s true.  The three managers who finished ahead of him were Ron Gardenhire, Ron Washington, and Joe Maddon, all worthy opponents and all perennial appearance-makers in votes for this award.  All of them obviously had to deal with major injuries to major players at inopportune times this past year, Gardenhire much more than the other two.  And they all get their usual credit for maintaining stability in the clubhouse, handling big personalities, and just generally being good at what they do.  But only one of them did it with some of the biggest of the big personalities in one of the most pressurized of cookers called Major League Baseball teams every single day for an entire season during which the team, on any given day, looked entirely different.  It’s incredibly difficult to sustain morale in that kind of competition environment with that kind of scenario going on, and yet Tito made it look like a walk in the park (pun intended).  Maddon arguably had it easiest of the four, following by Washington.  So we’re talking Tito and Gardenhire, but at least Gardenhire had more peace and quiet in which to conduct his business and less potential clubhouse drama to worry about.  We’re talking about the man who managed a minor league baseball team that had Michael Jordan on its roster, and don’t even get me started on Manny Ramirez.  Obviously, neither of those two episodes had bearing on this year, but they’re just great testimonies to his managerial abilities.

All I’m saying is that Tito will have another spectacular year this coming year, and even then he probably won’t have any Manager of the Year award to show for it, but one of the reasons he deserves such an award is that he doesn’t do any of what he does with the award in mind.  He does it anyway, day in and day out, injuries or no injuries.  So here’s to you, Tito.  We all know who the real Manager of the Year is.

The GM meetings have also come and gone, hopefully having greased the skids for the Winter Meetings next month.  Cue the rumors.  We are one of three teams in hot pursuit of Carl Crawford, and we might trade Paps.  The former is true; the latter couldn’t be more false.  Lou Merloni is all in favor of taking the plunge, making the trade for some elite relievers, and giving Bard the closer’s job.  I don’t think that’s prudent at this point.  When Paps first burst onto the scene, he looked a lot like Bard: a new phenom nobody had seen and everybody loved because his fastball found triple-digit speeds.  If we give the ball to Bard too early, we could have another Paps on our hands.  Paps had a bad year this past year, but let’s see how he does this coming year before we just give away our closer in favor of a young guy who isn’t yet tried-and-true in that role on a regular basis.

And finally, last but totally not least, we have some news from Bud Selig, who is obviously trying to make waves before he retires.  He wants to add another Wild Card to each league in order to expand the playoffs from eight teams to ten.  I mean, what? I guess the Wild Card teams would play each other to determine the Wild Card champion, and then everything would return to business as usual? And then the Wild Card champion would of course be able to sell untold amounts of shirts, hats, and other merchandise? He wants to implement this change by next season, which convinces me that he’s doing this to leave his mark.  Rob Manfred, executive vice president for labor relations of Major League Baseball, basically said that’s not in the cards (pun intended) due to collective bargaining issues.  Michael Weiner, the head of the player’s union, says the players aren’t necessarily opposed to the potential change, but the union hasn’t been approached formally yet.

I am not in favor.  Selig claims that eight is a fair number of total teams, and so is ten; therefore, why not ten? I would counter that with the age-old adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The playoffs are a whole month long with eight teams as it is, and baseball should not be played in November.  Also, how would you approach the scenario of one of these newly added Wild Card teams winning the World Series? It’s similar to the steroids issue.  Does the juiced player who breaks a record go into the books with or without an asterisk, or does he not go into the books at all? Similarly, this new team wouldn’t even have made the playoffs under the old system, so do we really consider them World Series champions or don’t we? Granted, the current organization of the playoffs isn’t that old; expansion was voted on and passed in 1993.  But because this format is so new, let’s let it get its footing first.  There are those who point out that expansion would have gotten us into the playoffs this year.  But then we’d have more levels of competition to clear once we get there, so it’s not necessarily all that helpful.  Like I said, there’s been no indication so far that it needs fixing by the addition of two teams.  This is Selig wanting to make waves, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been having some nice talks with the networks about it too.  I’m just saying that I think he’s proposing this change for all the wrong reasons, and there are no clear benefits from a baseball standpoint.

Also, Selig’s second in command and right-hand man, Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball’s Chief Operating Officer, resigned last month.  What’s up with that.

We claimed Taylor Buchholz.  Yes, he is Clay’s cousin.

In other news, the B’s shut out the Devils and Panthers this week, with the help of Lucic’s hat trick in the latter, and bested the Rangers by one goal.  We lost to the Kings yesterday by one goal, but it was in overtime, so we still get a point.  The Pats beat the Steelers last week.  In Pittsburgh.  39-26.  It was nothing short of awesome.

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Congratulations to Beltre for winning a Silver Slugger! He most definitely deserved it.  I wish I could say the same for Vlad Guerrero, who won it instead of Big Papi, which is ridiculous.  Guerrero hit .300 with twenty-nine homers, 115 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .496.  Sounds great.  Until you consider the fact that he only hit nine homers after the All-Star break and posted a measly OPS of .748.  Papi hit thirty-two homers and posted a slugging percentage of .529 and OPS of .899.  Notice that all of Papi’s numbers are higher than Vlad’s.  Theoretically, this should result in his fifth Silver Slugger at DH, but for some absurd and unknown reason, it didn’t.  He and Josh Beckett can commiserate this offseason, because that’s just not right.

Pedroia’s rehab is progressing ahead of schedule.  I’m not surprised by that.  I am relieved, not just for the team and for Red Sox Nation but also for Pedroia, who’s been itching to play for months now.

Ladies and gentlemen, the stove is finally starting to heat up.  Finally.  We have confirmed official contact with Werth’s agent.  We are supposedly interested in Zack Greinke and Justin Duchsherer.  We have statements from Theo about his commitment to re-sign Beltre and V-Mart, with the obvious emphasis on V-Mart.  Meanwhile, Peter Gammons is convinced that Theo is going to move on without V-Mart because he says the Sox are sure Salty can handle the job.  I’m going to take Theo’s word on this instead.

Perhaps the ultimate free agent, or at least the one everyone’s talking about these days, is Cliff Lee.  Everyone thought Lee is going to be a Yankee for sure.  Nothing would please me less, but I don’t think that’s as likely as people think.  He’s thirty-two years old, and if New York decides to give him a Sabathia-like contract with heaps of money and, less intelligently, heaps of years, I will lose negative respect for their organization, because trust me, there isn’t any there to begin with now.  My next guess would be the Angels, but they’ve already set their sights on Carl Crawford, although that could change since the Giants proved that, yes, you can win with pitching.  (Which only confirms the fact that we’re going to win the World Series this year, by the way.  Just sayin’.) Detroit could be an option since they’ve made payroll room.  The most likely competitor for New York right now appears to be the Rangers, who are in hot pursuit, and offers could come in from the Phillies and Brewers as well.

The Mets won’t spend this offseason, the Cubs want youth, the Reds are in the process of offering Arroyo an extension, and I’m so sorry to say this, but I don’t think we’re going to be in the mix for this one.  A sizeable chunk of our payroll is currently devoted to our starting rotation, and on top of that we just don’t have the space for Lee right now.  So it makes sense to leave him alone.  Otherwise, we basically wouldn’t be able to do anything else.  Lee is absolutely awesome, so again, it hurts to say so, but we’re making the right move here.

An interesting question to ask is whether the acquisition of Lackey kept us from Lee.  I think the answer would have to be yes, but I think we’ll get more bang for our buck with Lackey than we would have with Lee.  Lackey is a competitive workhorse.  He absorbs innings like a sponge.  We need a guy like that in there, especially if we’ve got another guy on whom you can’t necessarily depend to go deep.  (That would be Dice-K.) Lackey complements that, and that way the bullpen knows it’s going to have a light night for each overtime it works.  Depending on how this season goes, I’d be ready to say we made the right decision.  That’s the key right there.  Lee is a competitive workhorse too, and he also absorbs innings like a sponge.  But he won’t be absorbing anyone’s innings like anything unless they’re ready to fork over substantial coin and years.  Provided that my predictions about Lackey returning to top form his sophomore season come true, Lackey is the better option because he’ll probably end up being cheaper than both.  I have a feeling that Lee’s next contract is going to be huge.  So Lackey gives us more flexibility that way.  Sure, Lee arguably would be better, but like I said, if Lackey is back to his stellar self as of now, the difference in quality won’t be that large; meanwhile, we spend less money and don’t have to commit the better part of an entire decade.

We traded Dustin Richardson to the Marlins for Andrew Miller.  The Jays just hired PawSox manager Torey Lovullo as their new first base coach.  Our minor league infield coordinator, Gary DiSarcina, is now the assistant to the Angels’ general manager.  DeMarlo Hale will interview with the Mets for their managerial position.  The disadvantage of having a top-flight staff is that everyone wants a piece.  Hopefully for us, this goes nowhere.

In a spectacular combination of divine intervention and rational thought, ESPN will not renew the contracts of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan.  Oh, happy day.  Twenty-one years of suffering through commentary that was anything but insightful and unbiased is officially over.  Dan Shulman will replace Miller.  At this point, anything is an improvement.

In other news, the Bruins started the week with a victory over the Penguins, 7-4.  Seven goals in a single game.  Wow.  Then we just had to lose to the Habs, 3-1.  Yesterday’s game didn’t bode too well either; the Sens shut us out, 2-0.  Those were not the same Senators we shut out, 4-0.  That was a completely different team.  On behalf of Bruins fans everywhere, I’d like to extend condolences to the family of Pat Burns, who coached us in the late ’90s.  Last Sunday, the Pats delivered one of the absolute worst performances I have ever had the misfortune of seeing.  We lost, 34-14, to none other than the Cleveland Browns.  The Cleveland Browns! I was seeing Super Bowl glory, and then all of a sudden we lost by twenty points to the Cleveland Browns? To make matters worse, Stephen Gostkowski will probably be out for two games with a quad strain.  The only silver lining I can possibly muster in this situation is that the Pats have a tendency to bounce back from big losses in a big way.  Right on time for us to play the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

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Wow.  I don’t even know where to start.  Just, wow.  Okay.  I should probably go in order so my simultaneous excitement and relief don’t take over completely.

As usual, I’ll start with pitching.  Wake gave up six runs on seven hits with five walks and three K’s over six innings.  He threw 117 pitches and told Tito that, if necessary, he could keep on going.  He basically ground it out to save the bullpen.  After the dismal shifts some of our starters have turned in recently, that was a huge breath of fresh air.  As was the outcome of the game, but like I said, we’ll get to that.  Wake’s pitch count was heavy on the knuckleball, which didn’t find the strike zone as often as it usually does; he had quite a few that were low or high and to the left.  Of course, horizontal and vertical movement was evenly distributed for most of his pitches, which gave them their traditional extra “umph,” if you will.  Anyway, the point is, he labored, and by the time he exited, we were down, 2-6.

The bullpen was fantastic.  Between Delcarmen, Okajima, and Paps, they allowed one hit and four walks with two K’s.  Okay, maybe the four walks weren’t fantastic; in fact, if they keep allowing walks, it’ll become downright disturbing, but at least they didn’t allow any runs, and at this point you have to pick your battles.

Thefts need to be talked about.  The running must be stopped.  It must be stopped.  Wake took responsibility, V-Mart took responsibility, but it doesn’t matter who takes responsibility; responsibility shouldn’t have to be taken because this shouldn’t be happening.  If you look at a box score for this game, you’ll see Youk’s double play under our column and a gigantic paragraph of nothing but steals under their column.  They stole nine bases against us.  Nine! Newsflash: this is not a track and field event! Opposing baserunners should not be capable of swiping nine bags! Andrus and Cruz stole three each, Borbon stole one, and Guerrero, even with his age and knees, stole two.  That’s just rubbing salt in it.  This is a legitimate problem.  Tito has already made it a high priority for improvement.  Indeed, it’s something we were focusing on during Spring Training; we just very apparently have yet to see results.  We of all fan bases should know that a stolen base can turn into a deciding run real quickly.

Okay.  Now for the good stuff: the offense.  V-Mart singled Drew home in the first.  Hermida hit a solo shot to deep right in the fourth, thereby continuing to impress.  Seriously, I don’t think any one of us thought he’d be hitting balls out at this rate.  I’m not even sure people thought he’d be hitting balls out at all.  But he is, and it’s great to have that much depth on the bench.  And that, as we will soon see, is exactly my point.  So, at that time we were down by four.  Reddick plated two on a fielding error in the sixth.  (Reddick and McDonald were both called up for outfield depth; Ellsbury and Cameron were both placed on the DL.  Thankfully, Ellsbury’s stint is retroactive.)

And now, the penultimate moment you’ve all been waiting for.  Darnell McDonald hit a two-run homer to tie it in the eighth.  That home run was hit to left center, one of the deepest parts of the park.  And that home run was phenomenal for two reasons: it tied the game, like I said, and it was evidence of the power coming down the pipe in the future.  And the best part was that he was pinch-hitting.  By the way, the last in a Boston uniform to hit one out during his first plate appearance was Orlando Cabrera on August 1, 2004.  Gives you chills, doesn’t it?

Anyway, that brings us to the ninth.  Youk singled.  Hall sacrificed him to third.  Lowell was walked intentionally.  Tek walked.  Beltre popped out.  And McDonald stepped up to the plate.  He singled.  Youk came home.  McDonald was mobbed.  Game over.  7-6.  And that, my friends, is how you get it done.  That is a Win right there.  A Win with a capital W.  When you need a win, you do what needs to be done to get it.  (Which is why Tito felt he had to pinch-hit Lowell for Papi.) Our losing streak is officially snapped.  Twelve years in the minor leagues for McDonald; he deserves this one.  This is the first time since the run batted in became an official statistic in 1920 that we’ve had a game-ending RBI hit from a debut.  This, ladies and gentlemen, was huge.  It may come to pass that this might have been one of the most important games in the entire 2010 season.  We needed it, and we got it.  Red Sox Nation sighs in relief as one.

To be honest, I saw glimmers of our old selves across the board.  Youk went two for four with a walk (they fed him breaking balls almost the entire night), V-Mart went three for four, and Hermida went two for three.  Pedroia, Reddick, and Tek all hit doubles.  Pedroia flied out twice before hitting his double, so he may not have made constructive contact during every at-bat but he was reading the ball well just the same.  And of course McDonald went two for two.  We’re still waiting on Beltre, Scutaro, Papi, and Drew.  They didn’t shift Drew, which was interesting.  They did pitch him away, though, which is exactly how the Rays like to handle him.  But it’s a start.  It’s definitely more of a start than we’ve seen so far.  Here’s hoping it continues and only keeps getting better.

But it’s much, much more than that.  The type of win that was, a walkoff courtesy of an unlikely hero, is exactly the kind of win that historically makes us rise to the occasion.  I mean, you could cut the relief and emotion on that field last night with a knife.  That was an extremely much-needed and much-wanted and much-deserved win.  That’s one serious understatement, but it’s all I can say.  One win won’t solve everything, but it’s reminded us who we are and what we can do.  Beckett takes the hill tonight.  Let’s make this last.

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Clay Buchholz pitched a gem.  There was nothing more we could’ve asked for from our third starter.  He’s twenty-five years old.  He’d never made a postseason start in his life.  He came off a bad year, spent the beginning of this season in Triple-A, and was only able to officially join the rotation because the starting depth we started the season with didn’t last.  John Smoltz failed, Brad Penny struggled, Tim Wakefield started having health issues, Dice-K had to complete Spring Training in the middle of the season.  But Clay Buchholz earned a spot in our rotation, and he earned yesterday’s postseason start.  And he made the most of it.  Two runs on six hits with a walk and three strikeouts.  He pitched to three batters in the sixth before leaving the bases loaded for Daniel Bard, but there were too many things right with his outing to let that spoil it in retrospect.

Buchholz showed maturity and composure beyond his years.  He didn’t think too much; John Farrell and Jason Varitek sat down with Victor Martinez before the game and laid out a game plan, and Buchholz just trusted his batterymate and executed.  And when I say executed, I mean executed.  He had excellent movement on all of his pitches.  He threw with conviction.  At ninety-five pitches, his efficiency was decent.  A solo shot by Kendry Morales was his only blemish until he balked and Bard let one of his inherited runners score.  Although we were lucky it was only one; Bard induced a double play and then quickly got out of the inning.  It could have been much worse, and that speaks to Bard’s potential.  But that balk was the only time during his start that he showed his age.  The baserunners rattled him a bit, and he became distracted.  But that was one valiant effort, and one we can be proud of.

Wagner allowed two runs.  The irony is that one of the reasons he decided to come to Boston was to earn a World Series ring, and he sure didn’t help his team’s cause with that performance.  He only recorded two outs.

I was thoroughly convinced that we were going to win this game.  I thought we had this one locked.  Why? Because we looked like ourselves.  We felt like ourselves.  Without the consistent first-pitch strike, our hitters were able to be patient at the plate, to take pitches, to wear the pitcher out, to work counts, and to hit the ball.  Ellsbury had the first hit of the game (and yet another sparkling diving catch), and Pedroia, the team’s emotional leader, batted in our first two runs with a double.  V-Mart singled in Pedroia to complete a three-run third.  Drew clobbered a two-run home run to center field that made me think of his grand slam in October 2007.  So we had a four-run lead, we had momentum, we had the shadows and quirks of Fenway Park, which was all part of what made it so brutal.  And we tacked on an insurance run in the eighth; Ortiz had his first, and soon to be only, hit of the series and was replaced by pinch-runner Joey Gathright, who promptly stole second and scored on a single by Lowell.  And that run came in handy after Wagner’s mess of an appearance.

Which brings me to our closer.  A Mr. Jonathan Papelbon.  If you thought Wagner’s appearance was a mess, if you thought Papelbon’s work during the regular season was shoddy, if you thought his unusually high amount of walks would get him in trouble, then yesterday’s outing officially vindicated you.  Jonathan Papelbon lost this game for us.  I mean, you can make the argument that if the lineup scored ten runs, we wouldn’t have had to worry about our pitching, but you can never expect any lineup to score ten runs in the postseason because theoretically you’re up against the league’s best pitching.

Papelbon, after not having allowed a run in twenty-six posteason innings (the equivalent of almost three complete games!), allowed three.  On four hits.  And two walks.  No strikeouts.  He threw thirty-two pitches and was one strike away from securing the win three different times.  He ended the eighth with a pickoff, so with two out and bases empty in the ninth, Red Sox Nation and I were feeling good.  We were thinking, “Paps is the master.  This game is over.” Apparently, Paps never got that memo.  Erick Aybar stroked a single up the middle.  Chone Figgins, who we managed to contain up until that point, about which we were very happy because of his speed on the basepaths, walked.  Bobby Abreu singled in a run, shrinking our lead to one.  Then we walked Torii Hunter intentionally to load the bases.  Then Vladimir Guerrero singled in two.  After batting in only one run in his previous nineteen postseason games, he had to deliver in the top of the ninth at Fenway Park in elimination Game Three of the 2009 ALDS.

Okajima pitched the last out.  So Buchholz got a no-decision, Bard and Wagner each got holds, and Papelbon got a blown save and a loss.  He deserves it.  That’s the understatement of the century.

The final score was 7-6.  We are now thirteen and four in elimination games under Terry Francona.

We looked primed for Game Four.  We even had Dave Henderson throw out the ceremonial first pitch for good luck.  No one can forget his spin-jump on the way to first after he hit that epic two-run homer in the ninth inning of Game Five of the 1986 ALCS.  Against, you guessed it, the Angels.  We were set.  We were back at home, our young stud was well on his way to his first-ever postseason victory, we were finally hitting, and we had a game plan: put Dice-K in the bullpen, bring Jon Lester back on short rest, force a Game Five, win that, win the ALCS, and sweep in the World Series, as usual.

That didn’t happen.  The dream is over.  Baseball season is over.  The postseason, which only lasted three games, is over.  In an ALDS performance that nobody, least of all Red Sox Nation, anticipated, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim swept us.  We were completely silenced during our first two games, and just when we started to get back into our groove, our closer, the rock of our bullpen, pulled the entire month of October out from under us.  Words can not adequately express the anger and frustration I currently feel toward Jonathan Papelbon.  Seriously.  This is like JD Drew striking out looking in Game Seven of the 2008 ALCS, but worse, because we never had a chance to put up the kind of fight we knew we could.  We barely even got started.  Before the game, Dustin Pedroia echoed in the clubhouse what each and every member of Red Sox Nation said all weekend: we’re not ready for the season to end.

I completely agreed with Jerry Remy; I too thought this team had the stuff to go all the way.  Instead, we didn’t even make it past the first round.  As always, it’s been a great ride.  There were injuries, hitting streaks, brawls, comebacks, walk-offs, extra-inning losses, struggles, trades, promotions, demotions, slumps, saves, shutouts, slugfests, dives, slides, steals; you name it, we did it at least once and often multiple times.  But it didn’t happen for us this year.  I saw it with my own eyes, and I still can’t quite believe it.  But if there’s one thing we’ve learned as Red Sox fans, it’s the wholehearted belief in next year.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barry Chin/Boston Globe Staff

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