Posts Tagged ‘Yamaico Navarro’

Smile, Red Sox Nation! We made it to the All-Star break! At the traditional halfway mark of the season, we’re sitting on top of the American League East, one game ahead of the Yankees.  We’re much more battered and bent than I thought we would be, and the standings don’t reflect the kind of dominance I thought we’d surely be exhibiting by now.  But given the way we started the season, I have absolutely no right to complain.  Instead, I’ll be thrilled we’ve made it this far, even if we didn’t make it this far in one piece.

In keeping with tradition, I’ve graded the entire team on their performance up to the All-Star break, as I do every year.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: B

He’s batting .251 with twenty-four RBIs.  He has a slugging percentage of .437; he’s hit twelve doubles, two triples, and six home runs.  He’s had ten passed balls, forty-nine stolen bases, and only sixteen caught-stealings.  His fielding percentage is .997.  He has a wicked arm.  He’s new to the club, and he’s a starter.  Given who he is as a player as well as his position, we expect him to hit fairly well and nail runners.  For the most part, he’s done the first but still needs work on the second.

Jason Varitek: A

Tek’s grade tends to be pretty consistent year-to-year.  Part of that has to do with the fact that we don’t expect as much from him as we used to.  Now that he’s technically no longer a starter, that’s even more true.  As he ages, his value to the team lies less and less in his ability to perform as a player and more and more in his ability to perform as a father figure and team leader.  And in the latter department, he excels to the utmost.  And he’s still top-notch with the pitchers and defensively, even if we consider him an out that gets easier with every passing year.

Kevin Youkilis: A

Over the course of these past few games, he’s really boosted his average, which is now up to .285.  He has forty-nine walks, which ties him for ninth in the American League.  He has twenty-six doubles, which ties him for third in the American League.  He has sixty-three RBIs, which ties him for sixth in the American League.  His average wasn’t too high before this last hot streak of his, but he’s certainly been contributing.  His fielding percentage is .967, which for him is a little low.

Dustin Pedroia: A

Earlier in the season, he was in the middle of one of the longest slumps of his still-young career.  He was getting skittish in two-strike counts, and the high inside fastball was giving him a bit of trouble.  Now, all of that is in the distant past.  His OPS is .837; his OPS over the course of the last seven days is 1.142.  As with Youk, he’s boosted his average a lot recently.  He’s now up to .284.  His fielding percentage is .990.  Even if you look at the big picture with the slump, he contributes.  If he’s not hitting, he’s walking and playing good D.  And if he is hitting, he’s still doing those things.

Marco Scutaro: B

As with Salty, consider what we expect from Scutaro.  Given the fact that our shortstops haven’t exactly been the highlight of our lineups in recent years, we expect him to hit decently but play fantastic D.  With a .259 average, six doubles, and three home runs, he has hit fairly decently, although he should be batting in more than fourteen runs.  His fielding percentage is .977; for a shortstop, I expect more.  It’s the most challenging infield position; we’re halfway through the season, and he’s already made four errors.  Last year, he made eighteen errors.  If he makes another four errors during the second half, that already would be a huge improvement.  But our standards are higher than that.  Besides, what if those four errors cost us four ballgames? We can’t afford that.

Adrian Gonzalez: A

Anyone who gives this man less than an A must have the wrong Gonzalez.  He has done everything we ever expected him to do.  He leads the American League in batting average, hits, doubles, and RBIs (ironically enough, Adrian Beltre is right behind him).  He’s third in runs and on-base percentage, fourth in at-bats, fifth in fielding percentage, and tenth in home runs.  The only thing he doesn’t do is steal bases, but we have Ellsbury and Crawford for that.  Collectively, those numbers tell us that he’s a powerful, durable, and beautifully well-rounded player capable of doing damage in any situation.  In short, he is worth every single bit of his contract.

Jed Lowrie: A

It’s not his fault he’s injured.  Before that, he was swinging a hot bat and playing well in the field.

Yamaico Navarro: B

Not great at the plate but literally flawless in the field.  He’s only been filling in temporarily anyway.

Drew Sutton: B

Sutton may be on the roster for the same reasons as Navarro, but he’s the exact opposite: not great in the field but outstanding at the plate.

JD Drew: B

Same old, same old.  Perfection in the field, mediocrity at the plate.  It’s really sad that that hasn’t changed.  Although I should mention that his highest monthly average of the season, 2.69, occurred in April, when everyone else’s monthly averages were probably at their worst.

Jacoby Ellsbury: A

Given last year’s injury and the fact that his season was therefore cut way too short, Ellsbury has had some catching up to do.  Not only has he caught up to our expectations; he has surpassed them.  He leads the American League in stolen bases.  He’s fifth in at-bats and average, sixth in runs, third in hits, and tied with Youk for third in doubles.  He’s set a new career high in home runs so far this year, and we still have half a season left to play.  Also worth mentioning is the fact that, over the course of the last seven days, Ellsbury has batted .467.  In the field, he has five assists, a new career high, and has yet to make an error.

Carl Crawford: C

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t thinking about his contract when I gave Crawford this grade.  But the truth is that he deserves it.  The contract is simply a manifestation of the expectations that both the organization and therefore the fans have of Crawford, who has proven that he can meet and even surpass those high expectations.  So far, he’s done nothing of the kind.  Before he made his way onto the DL, he batted below .250, failed to post home runs in the double-digits, and walked and stole bases less than ten times each.  He also made two errors.  He was supposed to excel in every single one of those categories.  He was supposed to be the left-handed Adrian Gonzalez who could run.  So far, not so much.

Darnell McDonald: B

He said it himself: he’s not contributing at the level he could or should.  The added playing time helped him last year; thankfully, we have more guys healthy, so he doesn’t have as much playing time this year.  But the art of the bench player is the ability to perform when necessary, playing time or no playing time.

Josh Reddick: A

He’s just as good as we’ve ever seen him.  He performs whenever we need him; he practices the art of the bench player.  Obviously, that’s because one day he won’t be a bench player; he’ll be a starter.  In the meantime, he’s a great kid to have around.

David Ortiz: A

It’s pretty simple.  He’s batting above .300 and slugging about .575 with twenty-three doubles, nineteen home runs, and fifty-five RBIs.  He’s not supposed to field; as a designated hitter, he’s supposed to slug.  And that’s what he’s doing, and he’s doing it well.

Offense Overall: B

The team leads the Major Leagues in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.  Despite this and the fact that there are a good number of players performing well on an individual level, the offense as a whole doesn’t get an A because it’s streaky.  Sometimes we’ll average about seven runs a game during a stretch; sometimes we’ll be lucky to score at all.  The mark of a good, solid offense is not to sometimes average seven runs a game; the mark of a good, solid offense is to do so consistently throughout the season.  That’s not something we’ve seen yet.  Until we do, we’ll just be a lineup with great hitters in it, not necessarily a consistently great lineup.

Defense Overall: C

We lead the Major Leagues in errors with forty-four, and we’re sixth in fielding percentage with .987.  That’s not good.

Josh Beckett: A

Beckett this season has been a model of consistency in the most positive of ways.   2.27 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, eight and three record, and ninety-four strikeouts and only seven home runs.  He’s a changed man from last year; this year, he’s found his former self.

Jon Lester: A

I’m going to give him an A because his numbers are fine enough, but I expect more from him.  His ERA is 3.31; it should be under three.  His WHIP is 1.21; it should be under one.  He’s given up fourteen home runs; it should be less than ten.  But he has ten wins by the All-Star break, which means he could have twenty by season’s end, and he has more than one hundred strikeouts.  Excellent, but not as excellent as I thought he’d be.

Clay Buchholz: B

Before he was injured, he wasn’t as great as he could have been.  Unlike Lester, his numbers aren’t that sufficiently good as to warrant a better grade even though he hasn’t performed to expectations.  He has a 3.48 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP, a record of six and three, only sixty strikeouts, ten home runs, and thirty-one walks.  He’ll need to work hard in the second half in order to return to form.

John Lackey: C

Lackey’s most recent start was the only start this year in which I felt we were seeing the Lackey we signed.  During all the other starts, we saw some pitcher we’d never even think of signing.  His ERA is 6.84, and his record is six and eight.  But you don’t need the numbers to tell you how inconsistent, spotty, and unpredictable his outings are and how porous and lacking in command he’s been.  It’s gotten to the point where him being on the DL is a good thing.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: D

I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that I’ve had just about enough of this.  We’ve been waiting and waiting for years now for him to show us even a small glimpse of the greatness he exhibited in Japan.  Well, guess what.  We’re still waiting.  And now he’s done for the season because he needs Tommy John surgery.  This could go one of two ways: either he won’t recover well at all and he’ll be even worse afterwards or he’ll make a spectacular recovery and it’ll turn out that the surgery corrected mechanical issues that were the root of the problem all along.  Either way, no matter how you slice and dice it, he didn’t pitch well this season.  You don’t need numbers to tell you that either.

Tim Wakefield: A

His ERA is in excess of four, and his WHIP is 1.27.  But technically his job is no longer to be a starter who can put the team in a position to win every fifth day.  His job is now to come in for an inning or two when necessary and keep the team in a position to win, and sometimes, when a starter is injured, to put the team in a position to win.  He is on the verge of making history with his long career, and age doesn’t seem to affect him at all.  He’s like the Benjamin Button of baseball.  He’s the ultimate team player; he answers the call of duty and he doesn’t complain.  Sometimes his knuckleball doesn’t dance like it should and he has a terrible night out.  But overall, when we need him to do something, he just does it.  It sounds simple enough, but not every ballplayer can do it.

Alfredo Aceves: A

Aceves has gone above and beyond.  He went from being a question mark during Spring Training to starting material.  He has an ERA of 3.41 and a WHIP of 1.22.  He has a record of four and one with one save.  How many pitchers can say that, after both starting and pitching in relief for half a season, they have a winning record as well as a save? Not many.  He can pretty much do it all, and that’s not even what he signed up for.  He can start, he can provide reliable middle relief, and he can close too.  I don’t think anyone expect him to be the versatile pitcher that the circumstances of the injuries to our staff have demanded he become.  But he rose to the occasion and continues to impress every time out

Matt Albers: A

Here’s another guy who continues to impress.  Again, during Spring Training, I don’t think anyone could have envisioned the dominant reliever he’d turn out to be.  He’s been as solid as solid gets.  2.55 ERA, thirty-for strikeouts, and almost two innings pitched per appearance.  So he’s both dependable and durable, arguably the two most important characteristics of a good reliever.  And with the way some of our starters have been pitching, if not for Albers we’d have been in desperate need of a good reliever.

Scott Atchison: B

He’s been better.  Like Morales, he’s a pitcher, and we need pitchers, so we’ll take what we can get and we’ll have to like it.  But to be honest I never like the look of a 4.70 ERA or a 1.43 WHIP.

Rich Hill: A

He’s appeared in nine games and thrown eight innings.  His ERA is zero.  That’s pretty good.

Andrew Miller: B

Yet another Spring Training question mark of whom we’ve seen much more than we ever thought he would.  He’s pitched decently.  For what we were expecting, he’s not great but not too bad.

Franklin Morales: B

Morales came into the fold when we were desperate for pitchers, period.  He hasn’t been outstanding, but he’s a pitcher, and given our circumstances that’s been good enough for us.

Dan Wheeler: B

His WHIP and his ERA are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The good news is that he has an ERA of zero when pitching in day games.  So all we have to do is use him in relief during the day, and we’re guaranteed success.

Bobby Jenks: D

So far, Jenks is an epic fail.  Enough said.

Daniel Bard: A

Bard’s ERA is 2.05, and his WHIP is 0.80.  His ERA was zero for all of June as well as July to date.  Of the seventeen teams he’s faced in his career, he has an ERA of zero against twelve, including the Rays and the Phillies.  He has faced only five batters after throwing fifteen pitches.  Not too shabby.

Jonathan Papelbon: B

If only Paps were as consistent as Bard.  His ERA is almost four, and his WHIP is much too large for a closer.  And yet somehow he has twenty saves to his credit and has blown just one.  He’s on pace to lower his walk total from last year’s, which is definitely a good sign.  But as long as I have to hold my breath whenever he comes out of the bullpen, I won’t be able to give him an A.

Pitching Overall: B

Giving the pitching staff an overall rating is very complicated and in some ways not even fair.  The reason why it’s fair for the lineup and not for the pitching staff is because the pitching staff doesn’t have a responsibility to perform well as a unit in the same game.  Each pitcher has his time to shine; if he has it, great, and if he doesn’t it’s on him.  Ellsbury’s ability to get himself into scoring position may be contingent on what the hitter before him does, but Beckett’s abiltiy to secure a win has nothing to do with the fact that Jenks can’t hold it down.  But in keeping with tradition, I’ll grade the pitching staff on the whole.  Such a grade must reflect the entire staff, which unfortunately includes some very sad cases.

Terry Francona: A

Arguably one of the best managers in club history.  Certainly one of the best managers active in the game today.  It’s a travesty that he didn’t win Manager of the Year last year.  The way he manages all the personalities in this club and maneuvers through injuries, he’s Manager of the Year every year in my book.

Theo Epstein: A

Jenks and Dice-K (and Lugo and Gagne, while we’re at it) were fails, but you can’t blame him for trying.  Crawford can’t be judged yet.  Besides, for Gonzalez alone, he gets an A.  That deal is one of his masterpieces.

Team Overall: B

It’s hard to argue with the fact that we lead in so many offensive categories as well as in the American League East.  Why the B? Because we’re only in first place by one game and we’re already halfway through the season.  Granted, we’re pretty injured, and it’s hard to conquer when your staff is on the DL.  But in the grand scheme of things, many of those injuries have been fairly recent.  Nobody was injured in April.  There’s no way we should have had the start to the season that we did.  We should have been running away with the division last month, if that late.  It’s all well and good to build some momentum during Interleague and take four games from the Orioles, but any team can do that.  Our team is better than being satisfied with sweeping Baltimore.  We should be sweeping New York and Philadelphia.  We have two and a half months to get our act together and show everyone why we’ll be winning the World Series this October.  So let’s get on with it already.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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Another action-packed, fun-filled night of slugging, scoring, and even brawling.  Let the reliving begin.

The game started with Beckett and ended without him.  He allowed three runs on seven hits while walking two, striking out three, and giving up a home run.  He threw sixty-eight pitches, fifty for strikes.  All of his pitches were great.  Both fastballs, the changeup, the curveball, and the cutter were all working.  He was extremely efficient right up until the fifth inning, when he threw twenty-eight pitches.  He slipped a bit in the fifth, the grounds crew fixed the dirt, he finished the frame, and then he left the game after slightly hyperextending his knee.  The good news is that it’s not serious and we still won.  The bad news is that we literally can not afford any more injuries to anyone on our pitching staff at all.  His departure from the game was strictly precautionary for precisely that reason, and he’s expected to appear in the All-Star Game on Tuesday.  So those were four glorious innings and one not-so-glorious one.

After he came out, Albers, Wheeler, and Atchison came in.  Beckett got the win; the three relievers didn’t allow a run in the rest of the game.  Albers has allowed only one run in his last thirteen appearances, which amount to fourteen and a third innings.  All three of them pitched very well on a night they arguably didn’t need to.  The lineup gave them heaps of support.

We scored eight runs in the first inning.  Eight runs in the first inning alone.  When Baltimore went to bat for the second time in the game, they were already down by eight.  We had thirteen baserunners that inning.  That’s just absurd.  I mean, it’s severely humiliating for Baltimore.  But obviously for us it’s supremely awesome.

Ellsbury flied out to start it off.  Pretty unceremonious.  Then Pedroia singled, extending his hitting streak to ten games, and Gonzalez walked.  Pedroia scored on a single by Youk.  And then Papi walloped a three-run shot to right on the second pitch he saw, a fastball down and in.  He unleashed just about all of his power on that ball.  It was his fifth dinger opposite a lefty this year.  It was a monstrous blast.  There was not a shred of doubt as soon as that ball made contact with the bat that it was getting out of the park one way or another.

Then Tek walked and Scutaro singled; McDonald doubled them both in.  Navarro provided the second out with a strikeout.  Ellsbury brought in McDonald with a single.  Baltimore made a much-needed pitching change.  Pedroia reached on a fielding error, Gonzalez singled in Ellsbury, and Youk grounded out.  Boom.  Eight runs.  No big deal.

Beckett allowed all three of his runs in the fifth.  First came the solo shot to lead off the inning on a changeup that didn’t do much of anything.  Then a three-pitch strikeout followed by a four-pitch walk and a flyout, and then two singles for the scoring plays.

We recovered two of those runs.  Pedroia went yard on a high fastball to lead off the sixth.  The ball bounced off the billboard above the Green Monster.  Another extremely powerful swing.  Another home run without a doubt.  It was his second in two games and fourth in nine games.  To this day, opposing pitchers still think they can blow the high fastball right by Pedroia, and it never, ever works.  I don’t understand why they keep doing it.

As the finishing touch, Pedroia walked and scored on a triple by Reddick in the eighth.  And then the fireworks began.  Kevin Gregg had come on to pitch the inning for the O’s.  Papi stepped up to the plate.  Gregg fired three consecutive inside pitches.  So he got annoyed and approached the mound and both benches cleared and both bullpens came in and both teams were warned.  After order was restored, Papi flied out to center.  As he made his way to first base, Gregg gestured to Papi and basically told him to run to first base.  Really? Seriously? So Papi ran, all right.  He charged the mound and Gregg very nearly punched him in the head Scutaro jumped on Gregg’s back and the teams emptied out onto the field again and there was an all-out, no-holds-barred brawl.  Home plate umpire Mike Estabrook had ejected Gregg, Papi, Salty, and O’s reliever Jim Johnson.  “Wow” is all I have to say about that.  Nobody can say now that Papi doesn’t know how to hustle.  Gregg later claimed that the ethics of the game dictate that when you fly out you hustle along the basepaths.  How many times have we seen hitters from every time do the exact opposite? As Beckett said, you can’t just incite a brawl because you’re cranky that your team is in last place.

More good news: A-Rod withdrew from the All-Star Game with a knee issue, so Youk will replace him! This is his third bid.  If you ask me, it’s a perfect switch.  Of course there’s always a debate about how you define an all-star, but there are plenty of reasons why Youk deserved to be there all along.

The final score was a wonderfully lopsided 10-3.  We had fewer home runs last night than we did on Thursday, but we scored more runs.  Clearly, what Beckett lacked in pitching efficiency, the lineup more than compensated for in scoring efficiency.  We won in a big way, and we expanded our first-place lead (the Yankees were rained out).  It was certainly one interesting and entertaining game.  Wow.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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This was a win with which we can be thoroughly happy because there were no health issues to bring us down.  I mean, there are health issues with which we must be concerned, but they weren’t connected to the game.  Yes, the fact that Gonzalez was out of the lineup with a stiff neck is obviously worrisome, and yes, the fact that Lester has been placed on the DL could not be more disastrous or troubling.  (Atchison was called up to take his roster spot, and the prediction is that he’ll be ready to go as soon as he’s eligible.) But technically those were news items that had nothing to do with the win.  (Actually, that’s technically not entirely true.  Youk moved to first, and Navarro took Gonzalez’s spot at third.  Technically the game could have had a different outcome had he not been in the game.  But I’m going to assume that, had Gonzalez played, he would have contributed even more positively than Navarro did.  Given the outcome of the game, that would mean that the impact of Gonzalez would not have changed it.)

Wake was fantastic.  He had his knuckleball going all the way.  He gave up three runs on nine hits while walking only one and striking out seven, a season high, over seven full innings.  He threw 106 pitches, seventy-six of which were strikes.  So he threw a strike about seventy-two percent of the time.  So he hit his spots (whatever that means for a knuckleball pitcher), and he was efficient, and he went deep into the game to give the middle relief corps some much-needed rest.  Bard and Wheeler combined to pitch a scoreless eighth; Bard didn’t finish the inning because it was interrupted by a forty-minute rain delay.  Paps almost blew it in the ninth.

The second pitch fired by Jays pitching went out of the yard.  Ellsbury took Ricky Romero deep.  He cleared the bullpen, too.  His swing was huge.  He got all of that fastball.  This makes a career-high ten home runs on the season, and it’s far from over.

Youk did almost the exact same thing an inning later.  He also led off the frame, and he received the same pitch at the same speed.  He just hit the ball to left instead.  He hit the ball into the first row of Monster seats.  And he got all of his fastball, too.

We had some fun in the fourth; we put up a four-spot.  After Papi and Youk made two not-so-easy outs, Drew doubled and scored on a single by McDonald.  A single by Salty moved him to third, and he came around on a double by Navarro.  Salty and Navarro both came around on a double by Ellsbury.  Ellsbury and Youk both had fantastic nights; Ellsbury went three for five, and Youk went three for four, each with two doubles.  All told, eight of the team’s eleven hits were for extra bases, and six of those eight were hit by either Ellsbury or Youk.  Ellsbury, by the way, also stole third base.  And let’s not forget his catch in the fifth inning.  So what if the umpires revoked it because they called time? The catch was a phenomenal diving catch, one of those that only Ellsbury can pull off.  He made the catch literally at the Monster.  He was at the wall.  He had nowhere else to go, and he still managed to leap and snare the ball.  We got our second out anyway via the strikeout, but man, what a catch.  He did it all last night.

Things got pretty hairy in the ninth.  Paps came on.  He struck out his first batter on six pitches but then hit his next one, who left the game.  Paps struck out his next batter on three pitches but then gave up an RBI single.  That brought the Jays within two and Red Sox Nation to the edge of their seats.  Fortunately he was able to post another strikeout to nail down the save and close the game.  The final score was 6-4.  I could have done without the extra suspense of a rocky relief outing.

We are slowly but surely clawing our way back up the AL East ladder.  For the first time this season, we are sixteen games over .500.  We are only half a game out of first place.  We have one more series before the All-Star break.  We play the Orioles.  By the time Papi takes his stance for the Home Run Derby, I want to be out in front of the Yankees once and for all.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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You know it’s not good when the first batter of the game doubles, steals third, and scores on a missed catch error.

Lackey was as completely terrible as Beckett was good.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a start this bad, but something tells me Lackey must have made that start too.  I’d put him on the DL with a hangnail if I could; he’s so bad that anyone who at this point would take his place would be better.  This wasn’t really how I pictured celebrating the Fourth of July.

All but two of the Jays’ total runs were scored under Lackey’s watch.  In less than three innings, he managed to bury the team in a seven-run hole.  That’s right, ladies and gentlemen.  At this point in time, John Lackey is an absolutely horrible starting pitcher.  This is the fourth time this year he’s given up at least seven runs.  There’s no sugar-coating it when the score is 7-0 after you leave.

In two and a third innings, he fired off sixty-five pitches, forty-one of which were strikes.  Before today, there had been three instances during his entire career during which he’d thrown less than sixty-five pitches.  He pitched two innings one October to get ready for the playoffs.  He was ejected after throwing two pitches because the umpire thought he was trying to drill the batter on purpose.  But it’s been eight years since he had an instance where he had an off day as extreme as yesterday.  He racked up a grand total of two strikeouts.  Those seven runs were scored on a grand total of nine hits, one of which was a solo shot.  He didn’t walk anybody, but he worked himself into heavy hitter’s counts so often I thought he made a mistake and thought that that was what he was supposed to be doing.  It was a truly terrible outing.

The offense did everything it could to climb out of the hole.  It really was a textbook example of chipping away, and the lineup deserves a pat on the back for a stellar effort.  Ultimately, though, it was to no avail.  We lost, 9-7.  It was supremely frustrating.  We scored four runs in the fifth and three in the eighth; what’s two more in the ninth? So close.  And yet so very far.

Probably the best part was that the Jays never saw it coming; up to that point, Brandon Morrow had made quick work of us.  But the fifth inning was all about us resurrecting who we were when we played the Astros.  After two week outs to start the inning, Drew singled and Scutaro walked.  Ellsbury brought both of them home with a towering triple, his first of the year.  Pedroia walked, and Ellsbury scored on a passed ball.  And Gonzalez brought home Pedroia with a double.

We went right back to being quick work until the eighth.  A single by Navarro and a double by Papi.  McDonald struck out swinging.  But then a towering triple off the Monster by Salty brought them both in, and a sac fly by Drew plated our seventh and final run.

Ellsbury singled to open the ninth, but Pedroia, Gonzalez, and Navarro went down in order.  Three consecutive swinging strikeouts.

I don’t even want to discuss the fact that Youk left the game in the fourth (he was drilled in the back) and that Navarro came in to replace him, only to let a ball through his legs that allowed a run to score.  The bullpen, of course, had to roll out, but they pitched really well.  They should have started the game in the first place; we probably would have won.  I also don’t even want to talk about the fact that Salty was out in the sixth.  That was a bad call.  He was obviously safe.

That game completely destroyed all the momentum we’d accumulated in Houston.  It made for a lousy return home, and like I said, it’s not a great way to celebrate Independence Day.  Not in the least.  It sheds some grim light indeed on Lackey’s fate for the rest of the year, and it doesn’t help our position in the standings at all.  Aside from the phenomenal performance by the bullpen, the valiant effort by the offense to make a comeback, the fact that Ellsbury went four for five to tie a career high, and last but certainly not least obviously the fact that Navy officer Bridget Lydon reunited with her family during the pre-game ceremonies, there was absolutely nothing good about the game at all.

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Ladies and gentlemen, we have officially won the series with the Astros.  We can do no worse than that.  Our last game is this afternoon, and if we win it, we’ll sweep and be on a four-game winning streak.  It’s a pretty modest goal, but for a team that’s been down in the dumps lately, anything to boost morale and standing is a big deal.

If the team plays half as well this afternoon as it did last night, we should be able to complete the sweep easily.  I’m not kidding.  Last night we won by a final score of 10-4, and tomorrow we have Beckett.  So if Beckett allows only two runs and the offense scores five, that’s an easy win right there.

Miller started and pitched well.  In six innings, he allowed two runs on seven hits while walking two and striking out three.  He was efficient, too.  He threw eighty-five pitches, fifty-five of which were strikes.  His repertoire isn’t huge, but he worked with what he had.  His four-seam was outstanding.  He threw less than a handful of two-seams, which were also outstanding.  His changeup was nasty, and his slider was decent.  He varied his speed, pounded the zone, and threw no more than nineteen pitches (in the third) and no less than eight pitches (in the sixth, his last inning, ironically enough) in a single frame.  He gave up his first run in the first on a triple followed by a single, and he gave up a leadoff solo shot in his last inning.  That home run was just the result of a bad pitch; Hunter Pence hit out the very first pitch he saw, a changeup.  He’s 2-0 with a 3.06 ERA.  For someone who was just trying for a roster spot during Spring Training, so far he’s already pitching better than some starters on the rotation.

By the time Miller left the game, we were already leading it, 4-2.  We scored three runs in the first inning alone.  (That’s half as many as we scored in the seventh inning yesterday, but still.) Ellsbury, who’s finally back in action, led off the game with a walk and ended up at third due to a dropped throw.  Pedroia singled.  And Gonzalez batted in the game’s first run.  Then Youk singled, and Papi walked in Pedroia.  Salty grounded into a double play, which scored Gonzalez.  Then McDonald flied out to end it.  Five consecutive baserunners.  Not a bad way to start a baseball game.

Things were pretty quiet until the fifth, when Ellsbury and Pedroia’s back-to-back doubles yielded another RBI.  Oh, by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, Pedroia is not in a slump anymore.  His problem had been two-strike counts and high inside fastballs.  I think he has made it perfectly clear that they are no longer a problem.

That was it until the sixth, when Pence hit that homer.  But we got that run back.  After Scutaro flied out to open the seventh, Yamaico Navarro hit the first home run of his career.  It was a solo shot on a ninety-mile-per-hour fastball to the first few rows of seats in left.  If you saw batting practice before the game, you wouldn’t have been surprised.  He was peppering that part of the park.  So he pinch-hit for Miller, made like it was batting practice, and became the first pinch-hitter to hit his first career Red Sox homer since Juan Diaz did it in 2002.  No big deal.

Aceves came on for the seventh but was pulled in favor of Bard after he loaded the bases with two singles and a walk.  Bard walked in a run but secured the third out.  (The fact that no pitcher, especially a late-game reliever, should ever walk in a run ever, even if it’s inherited is another story.  So the fact that technically his last fourteen appearances have been earned run-free doesn’t really console me.)

Luckily for Bard, that run didn’t matter and we avenged him anyway.  We scored four in the eighth.  Three straight singles by Gonzalez, Youk, and Reddick led up to a sac fly by Salty, which brought in one, followed by a much more impressive three-run blast of a home run by McDonald, also on a ninety-mile-per-hour fastball and also to left.  It was a blast in every sense of the word.  It cleared the seats and went over the wall.  Three runs with one swing.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  And that’s really good; Cameron has been designated for assignment, so McDonald is the man now

Actually, it did.  We weren’t quite done.  Gonzalez doubled in the ninth, and Youk singled him home.  Jenks had pitched the eighth; Wheeler came on for the ninth and allowed a run, but fortunately and obviously it did not matter.

In short, the game was three hours and five minutes of pure, unadulterated dominance on every front.  We batted .500 with runners in scoring position.  Our pitching was better, our hitting was better, and our defense was better.  Like I said before, if we play half as well today as we did yesterday, we’ll be the proud owners of a sweep tomorrow.

AP Photo

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