Results tagged “Clay Buchholz” from Who Made You Mirabelli?

Back in the Saddle Again

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LesterHBP.jpgWelcome back... to the playoffs that is.

The Red Sox clinched yet another Wild Card playoff berth, but there was no celebrating last night at Fenway, as Clay Buchholz and the Red Sox fell victim to an absolute mortar shelling by the Toronto Blue Jays, losing, 8-7, last night. Thankfully the Angels put the hurting on the Rangers to knock Texas out of contention... not exactly the way the Red Sox wanted to head into October... but beggars can't be choosers now.

After a strong month, Buchholz looked uncharacteristically hittable last night, giving up five home runs to the Jays, three of them to Adam Lind. But even after Big Play Clay's second sub-par start in a row, it's not time to panic just yet. He has shown that he has the stuff and his command is improving weekly. The only issue to worry about is whether or not his nerves will let him stay in command as the Red Sox head to the post-season.

What is cause for concern is Jon Lester. The veritable ace took a laser off the knee cap in this weekend's start against the Yankees. While he walked off the field and later was confirmed to have negative X-Rays, Red Sox Nation let out a collective 'oh crap,' as the hopes of October seemed to momentarily get "contusioned" away. (On a more serious note, the announcers could not have used the word "contusion" any more times than they did without having to declare the show "Medical Programming." Worst part is, they most likely don't even know what the word "contusion" means. WMYM apologizes for not knowing who exactly called the game... it was hard to make out the voices on the national broadcast over the droning sounds of "Margaritaville" on loop at some dive bar in Tampa, FL named Miss Vicky's. Can't make that stuff up.)

As for the playoffs, only time will tell what shape the rotation will be in. With Tim Wakefield's issues, his spine might actually start to resemble a question mark -- where is the school nurse with that scoliosis test when you need her? Buchholz has looked shaky in his last two starts, Beckett isn't his old self, and now Jon Lester has a second knee where his shin used to be. Who ever thought that Dice-K would be our most dependable starter going into the post-season... oh crap.
d-peds.jpgYou've got to be happy for Dustin Pedroia after his first career multi-home run game. It's quite a big accomplishment, especially for such a little man.
But it seems like the only one not jacked about his pair of jacks last night is D-Peds himself. After the game, he told the Globe, "I'm not trying to hit home runs. I'm just trying to hit line drives. Some times they get up in the air and get out of here."
So humble...
Humility has never been the name of Ortiz's game, a game which tied a record for home-runs amongst DH's at 269, tying the Big Hurt's utterly useless record.
Now, riddle me this... who the hell saw Alex Gonzalez coming? Three homers all season with Cincy... three in the last month. Yes, please.
On to more pressing matters... Big Play Clay. Finally, his control is getting there. It's been the one missing piece to his puzzle, and it seems like he's learned to keep his mental game in check. Thank goodness. Last night, he racked up five strikeouts and one walk in seven innings. With the likes of Paul Byrd on the mound, Terry will take that any day of the week. Overall though, it was his comfort level that was the big difference. He's finally working smarter, not harder.
Michael Bowden, on the other hand, is working harder than anybody to get that 10.5 ERA down. Another two innings like he had last night might do the trick. He's still getting hit (two last night), but he needs to take his lumps in order to become a better pitcher. He'll get there eventually, but probably not this year.

Clay in Control

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Clay%20Buchholz%202.jpgForget the six game lead in the Wild Card -- well don't actually forget it, because that's pretty awesome too -- but last night's rubber match against the Tampa Bay Rays showed us something that might be more useful come October: the emergence of Clay Buccholz as a control starter.

This is a guy with a career 1.73 SO/BB average, never knotching a season over 2.20. However, within the last week, Big Play Clay has earned himself a 4.0 SO/BB average. How's that for control? Hitting the spots has always been his biggest problem. His stuff is evident, and it's clear that he knows how to use it. But nibbling at the corners is something that he doesn't have yet... and that's fine. Those are the type of skills acquired by nothing but time and practice.

This trend is not only good for the kid, who very well may be a head case (emotionally... not psychologically... and yes... there is a difference), but it's also good for the team. Things are starting to click all over the place at the exact right time -- which as we've seen with the Rockies in '07 and the Rays in '08, trumps virtually all other skill sets.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox don't have time to stop and think about how nice this is starting to feel. Tonight, the Rangers go up against the Orioles, and Chris Tillman is going to call Scott Feldman his "daddy," after all -- he's practically old enough to be.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have won seven straight -- although tonight's matchup against Halladay and Baby Joba should be one for the ages... or in Joba's case, up until the fourth inning.

Big Game - Big Numbers

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Tonight is sure to be nothing short of a number game. As the Red Sox prepare to start a three game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field, the focus once again turns to pitching - the one area where the Sox have a decided advantage.

Thankfully, the Sox are staring down the barrel of a Sonnanstine, Garza, Price match-up - and we're firing back with Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz. Lester has been nothing short of spectacular in his last seven starts, picking up the slack for mysteriously ill Josh Beckett (H1N1? We're not saying... but we're just saying...)

It seems like a few short days ago when people were taking to the streets, praying up and down for any form of a pitcher. But in a series when a 14-5 ace with a 3.8 ERA is your biggest question mark, it's not a bad position to be in, relatively speaking of course.

In fact the three that the Sox are putting up this week have a combined ERA of 11.78, while the Rays are working with a 15.19 ERA. Of course, ERA can be one of the most misleading statistics in baseball, but the team's 8.9 hits allowed per 9 innings seem to echo the hittability of their pitchers. Not that the Red Sox have had the loudest bats as of late, but these Rays pitchers could be the nice cup o' joe that we so desperately need.

Now, the Globe, as it has been known to do, is crying to the hilss over this week's series - but they might actually be on to something here. At this point, with a month left in the season, there is a lot of room for change. But against a fiesty AL East competitor, the playoff picture could be much clearer by weeks end. Although Chad Finn needs to temper his enthusiasm (no... the earth is not going to open up and swallow the loser of this series), this is going to be a big one... hopefully with some big numbers for the boys in Red.

Monday night's ALDS-clinching victory over the Angels was a particularly sweet one, even if it did come with a full Immodium bottle's worth of discomfort for our friends over at The Halo is Lit, as you can read about in exquisitely painful detail here.

Still, it was a sweet one for the Red Sox because it affirmed that they would win by sticking to their program, running out their young guns in key situations and winning and losing with them. Of course, had things turned out differently with the sketchy Varitek tag in the top of the 9th, this could well be a prelude to an epitaph of a Boston kind.

Instead, Jed Lowrie's game-winning single provided yet another reprieve for Terry Francona, whose golden touch kept it's postseason gild, this time in thanks to an excellent bailout performance from Manny Delcarmen and the patient bats of both Jason Bay and Jed Lowrie.

That being said, the Anaheim comeback against Justin Masterson in the eighth was more than just troubling. Masterson entered in relief of Jon Lester, whose 22 innings of scoreless postseason work is the longest streak for a Red Sox pitcher since Babe Ruth. Yes, Babe Ruth. Lester has been incomparably amazing through two postseason games, and he was more than happy to trot back out to the hill, 109 pitches into his outing or not.

Instead, Masterson struggled, putting the runners Hideki Okajima allowed on via walks into scoring position when he missed Varitek's sign and crossed him up with a four-seam fastball instead of a slider, then delivering a payoff pitch to the wheelhouse of the one Angels hitter that did damage to Boston throughout the series, Torrii Hunter.

Was it a bad outing? Surely. Was it the kind of bad outing that Masterson can learn from? Sure, and that's clearly the bright side Francona was hoping to ram home for the young reliever. Masterson has shown improvement from outing to outing since first shipping off to the bullpen way back when Clay Buchholz returned to the rotation. There's no reason to believe he won't internalize his nightmarish eighth inning, write it off as his one bad frame of the postseason and go out against a team he's faced plenty with renewed confidence.

At least he better, for the Red Sox' sake. If he doesn't, the Sox will have a serious problem. Okajima has alternated between lights out performances and full on scuffles, and Masterson has yet to truly bridge into a multiple innings shutout man in the postseason. Just as the bullpen was thoroughly worked through in the ALDS, there will be plenty of work against the Rays, who are sure to keep games close deep. After all, they won more one-run games than anyone else in baseball.

For that, there's still four more days of introspective analysis. For now, it's comforting to think back on another year and another exit for the Angels at the hands of a team named "Sox".
Wednesday night's loss in Baltimore, in the capper of a three-game set at Camden Yards which the Red Sox badly needed to sweep to keep pace with the resurgent Rays, was a brutal setback.

It was a setback to Boston, which needed the win to finally gain a game on the Rays, who somehow keep piling up wins while two of their key offensive cogs while away on the disabled list.

pullingclay.pngClay Buchholz almost certainly handed Terry Francona a ball for the
final time in 2008 during Wednesday night's Baltimore debacle.
(AP)

It was a setback to the bullpen, which had responded to criticism with the help of Justin Masterson's addition to shore up many of it's prior weaknesses. Whenever an infielder starts warming up in the bullpen late in a game, it's not a good sign for a pitching staff, and Alex Cora wasn't beyond the outfield walls for a lark.

But perhaps most importantly, it was a catastrophic setback to Clay Buchholz, a rising star at the season's outset who know finds himself on a shuttle back to Portland, demoted to AA to regain composure and mental acuity, little of which he's shown this year.

A year ago, Buchholz was on the precipice of call-up immortality, a fill-in starter who would toss a no-hitter in his second major league start, combining guile and beguiling stuff to completely riddle the very same Orioles club which last night clubbed him into submission in less than three innings. A couple short weeks after his no-hitter, Buchholz was converted to a reliever for the remainder of 2007, setting the stage for the young hurler to play a key role in the team's postseason run.

Yet just days after he started his second role of the year, Buchholz complained of shoulder pain in a bullpen session, was diagnosed with shoulder fatigue and was done for the year. At the time, WMYM's prior online literary embodiment said his loss could be a crushing blow to the team's playoff hopes. Obviously, that wasn't the case. Still, such was his status that his absence from a role he had only begun days before would strike such fear in Red Sox Nation.

Not anymore. This year, Buchholz has been disappointing at best and a complete, unabetted disaster at worst. Last night's setback was his seventh straight loss, dating back to May, the first time since 2002 that a Boston pitcher dropped seven straight starts. What's worse, there have been scant moments where Buchholz has even provided reason for optimism amongst those losses. Bad pitch decision because of a reluctance to overuse his curveball -- his most dynamic pitch -- and a lack of execution turned the promising rookie from a can't-miss fourth starter to a black hole.

Clearly, this move was needed. It's been needed for a long time, perhaps even dating back to the first time Buchholz was temporarily shut down for rest. It was needed for the team's prospect for the postseason and for Buchholz's prospects for the future.

It's always easy to criticize the organization's reluctance to pull the plug on Buchholz, but in truth it would have been hard for anyone to so long as he kept racking up strikeouts. The final straw came last night when he couldn't avoid walks to load the bases, then couldn't avoid pitching over the middle of the plate. The Red Sox will survive without Buchholz -- Tim Wakefield could return as early as next week, and Josh Beckett is progressing optimistically two days after it was announced he'd miss a start with numbness in his pitching hand -- but the real question isn't about the immediate future of the 2008 season. It's about the future of the organization.

That's because as much as the Red Sox will survive without Buchholz, only Buchholz knows if he can survive and re-create his dominance outside of Boston. Both sides have to hope that journey starts in Portland, and that is starts right away.
Strike One: Dropping two of three to the Yankees in a series that had both Josh Beckett and Jon Lester on the mound.

bigtex.pngStrike Two: A devastating, televised meltdown by Daisuke Matsuzaka in the sixth inning of Monday night's loss to the Angels.

Strike Three: A bad loss to the Halos only hours after they, not the Red Sox or Yankees, made the move of the trade deadline season. A loss that further undermines significant concern over Clay Buchholz's development and makes one wonder whether he can contribute significantly this season ... at all.

Put them all together, and the Angels are in position to send Boston into a tailspin tonight at Fenway, all with  Mark Teixeira pulling on a Halo uniform for the first time. If that, combined with Jon Lackey's official exorcism of the ghosts that have haunted him in Boston across recent years last night, doesn't send a shiver up your spine, we don't know what will.

We've been holding on to these photos for a couple days, waiting for something that could make WMYM break down and re-hash any development that might be slightly positive. Nothing's coming. Thus, these really are the lasting moments of the last two days, disappointing as they are to Boston fans ... and uplifting to those wearing the "A" on their hats.

dicekbend.png
lackeyhug.png 


Since we started this blog with game-by-game preschool grades, it'd be hard to justify not coming out with actual letter grades when the season reaches the mid-way point, particularly since the All-Star Game comes after more than half of the season's games have been played.

But first, a general overview: Things are pretty good, aren't they? Think about it: the Red Sox found a way to enter the All-Star Game in hated Yankee Stadium with the AL East lead. They've done so despite first half DL stints for three primary starters -- Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz -- and with back-and-forth bullpen shuffling that included jettisoning to members of last year's World Series champions.

Oh, and did we mention that the team is still reigning World Series champion? Yeah, that helps, too, particularly come September, when any pennant race will have to include the experience factor that Boston can rely on, with two world titles and (finally!) an AL East crown won in 2007.

So, without further ado, let's get into the grades:

Rotation: A-
Daisuke Matsuzaka is the only 10 game winner, but you could make a case for all of the Sox starters to get serious accolades. In fact, Matsuzaka hasn't even been the most consistent, an honor which, quite unbelievably, might go to second-year man Jon Lester, he of the World Series clincher and, now, no-hitter. Tim Wakefield has improved as the season has gone on, again, and has looked positively unhittable the last three times out. Josh Beckett was out of shape in camp and then dealt with nagging injuries, but he's begun to pitch like his overpowering self, and Matsuzaka continues to mystify with his ability to wriggle out of trouble, time and time again. Clay Buchholz has been a truly mixed bag, with a pair of unbelievable wins and even more unbelievably frustratingly inconsistent losses. The  gem of the first half? That might be Justin Masterson, whose meteoric rise through the minor leagues didn't slow his success in the bigs, where he was absolute quality every single time he took the mound. OK, there was the one five-run game, but outside of that, the sinkerballer was outstanding.

Player-by-player: Beckett A-, Matsuzaka A, Lester B+, Wakefield B+, Buchholz C+, Masterson A-
This post comes with rather ignominious timing and, depending on the second half of the season, could be a kiss of death. WMYM is already bracing for it, and, in truth, hoping that our gut instinct is wrong. It's all we can hope for, because our gut instinct on this one is fairly strong. Here it goes:

The Red Sox brass picked the wrong rookie starter.

mastersonyankeestad.JPGThey're both (technically) rookies, they're incredibly different pitchers, and WMYM isn't sure the
Red Sox should have sent Justin Masterson, above, to the 'pen rather than Clay Buchholz, below.


Look, we know that Clay Buchholz's stuff is as good as anyone else on the Sox staff. We know he brings an electricity with the potential for a no-hitter every time out, and he could easily hit a second half groove that makes him an invaluable addition to the Boston rotation. As WMYM said right off the bat, we certainly hope he does. But as things stand now, we can't figure out how he's a better bet as a fourth or fifth starter than Justin Masterson, a pitcher who's shown he can maximize each outing on the hill.

Instead, it's Masterson the Sox are sending to the bullpen, arming him with the chore of re-tooling his approach in the minor leagues for a call up at a time TBD. It's precisely the type of plan they cooked up for Buchholz last year before his shoulder soreness got in the way, creating a temporary void in the bullpen that led the then-WMYM to proclaim his absence a major playoff dilemma for Boston.

There were numerous reasons to write that then, but primary among them was this: Masterson could be one of the great confounding relievers of all-time. He can challenge with a fastball, drop his curve off the table and leave batters questioning which pitch is coming on a constant basis.

That's not the case with Masterson, a sinkerballer whose success is based almost entirely on velocity and location. If Masterson is having a good night, whoever he's pitching against is going to be making a lot of contact, hitting into groundouts and pop flys and various other hits for outs. He can pound the ball inside and paint the edge of the corners for strikeouts, but that's not his game. Controlled contact is.

buchholzsweat.JPGBuchholz, on the other hand, is a strikeout pitcher, a guy whose stuff may come and go inning to inning or, on good nights, game to game. He approaches every batter with the assumption he's going to strike him out, which -- combined with his remarkably frail physique -- is why his occasional dominance is so impressive. In short, you're taking a gamble when you bring him out of the pen, particularly with runners on (as you'd assume they would use him). But that chance comes with the possibility of high reward and a strong potential to bail out whichever arm is currently on the hook.

Obviously, that's not the case with Masterson. Think about it: contact is NOT what you want when the bases are loaded. At that point, any contact brings potential for disaster, particularly with a pitcher in his first major league season who, despite showing an aptitude for working out of jams, remains a relatively untested commodity when put under pressure.

So why are Theo Epstein, Terry Francona and the rest of the Boston brain trust making this move? That's easy: It's all about innings.

Think about it, the Red Sox developmental program is so focused on pitch counts and innings limits that they only half-joked about taking Buchholz out of his no-hitter in the eighth inning last year. As it turns out, they were clearly vindicated in their stringent limits, with Buchholz's shoulder injury coming less than a month later.

This year, Buchholz's pitch and innings limits have been extended, giving the pitcher more of a leash to work with on the mound. Conversely, Masterson finds himself in the binds that constrained Buchholz last summer, limited even in his best outings by a daily pitch count and, eventually, by the number of appearances he was to be allowed in during 2008.

That's why the move does make sense from a strategic position. Unfortunately, strategic positions don't play games on the field, like, say, the one that the Sox are currently trailing to the Orioles at Fenway Park. It's Buchholz's first start back, and his inning-to-inning schizophrenia is in full effect. We're going to go close our eyes while "watching" the rest of the game, hoping that the overpowering and mystical Buchholz gets the best of his alter-ego, waiting for Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka the next couple days. Come to think of it, Wake and Dice-K are just as likely to have WMYM looking for alkaseltzer, aren't they? Hmmmm. Must be time for the weekly CVS trip for TUMS.
Sometime it takes a good day or two of digesting a game to realize it was a big event. And then there are those times when memorabilia nuts are trying to buy your ticket stubs outside the stadium. That's a bit of a tip-off.

manram501.pngManny savors career dinger No. 501 with a little less weight on his shoulders. (AP)

Such was Saturday's night's Sox win, at which Manny Ramirez hit his 500th career homer, Jon Lester got back on track after a rough outing in Oakland and David Ortiz suffered a wrist injury which may or may not keep him on the sidelines for quite awhile.

While Big Papi's injury may be the biggest story by season's end - here's hoping it's not - the Camden Yards Manny love-in was completely overwhelming. Over the years, WMYM has been at a fair handful of Red Sox games at the Yard, but none came close to having a crowd so thoroughly dominated by Boston fans. Three times in the upper sections, large "Beat L.A." chants got started up by Celtics crazed fans. Whenever Manny strode to the plate, flashbulbs went off like Times Square. It was certifiably nuts, a development driven home no more completely than by the troupe of 60ish folks who were wearing matching t-shirts emblazoned with "Just Call it Fenway South".

The fandemonium was impressive, but the performances from Boston's rejuvenated batting order have been even more so. Before the injury, Big Papi was looking like the RBI bounty hunter Boston fans have grown to know and love. As soon as he stroked 500, ManRam waited only a pair of at-bats to get back in the act with 501. He looks locked, loaded and back on track, with the weight of a long milestone chase finally behind him.

And then there's the pitching staff, which followed a solid Josh Beckett outing on Friday with Lester's workmanlike six innings Satuday and another truly impressive outing from Bartolo Colon, who was routinely hitting the mid 90s with his fastball, with some radar guns reporting that he was touching as high as 97. To say that the Colon signing looks like a smart move now - with Clay Buchholz getting extra time back in Pawtucket and Daisuke Matsuzaka sitting on the 15-day DL with a window for more time out - is an immense understatement.

So, how do Red Sox fans celebrate such recent self-applied accolades? Hopefully with another win tonight in Baltimore, which would complete a notable four-game sweep on the road. After all, the Orioles swept the last Sox road trip from Boston, so turnabout is fair play. At least that's what WMYM keeps hearing. There is the issue of Tim Wakefield's truly sporadic starts, even by his standards, and an improved Jeremy Guthrie taking the ball for Baltimore, don't let the 2-6 record fool you, but if the bats - sans Dustin Pedroia, who's finally taking a day off - can producer the way they have, then a sweep actually could be in the offing.

In the meantime, there's plenty of video from Manny's historic hit to savor, so here's some of the best:







Boy, WMYM picked an awful good time to take a couple days off on the road, didn't we?

lesterscoreboard.pngLester got a lift from Varitek and his teammates, but earned
one of the more spectacular no-hitters in recent memory.


Instead of a pair of dreary victories over the Royals, exactly what we were predicting while tossing back a couple Cal-Tor breakfast tacos at BWI airport two mornings ago, Boston's young pitchers delivered: 1) An electric no-hitter from a recent cancer survivor and, 2) A virtuoso second-MLB outing from one of the most promising sinkerball pitchers in years.

lestermobbed.pngWell, that went well.

So, now that WMYM has spent the past 36 hours dwelling over all that was the wondrous performance from Jon-Jon - a guy that has both been included in prospective Johan Santana trade talks and been slammed around in a pair of outings earlier this year - we've decided to take stock in what everyone else has been saying about his no-no, a game which marked the second no-hitter by a young Boston pitcher in eight months. Clay Buchholz got plenty of attention for his dazzler against the Orioles last September, but, understandably, the hype around Lester's game has been even more high-pitched.

There's a good reason for that: Boston has a special connection with this pitcher, with good reason. He's a cancer survivor in a city full of medical research and professionals. He's a cancer survivor in a city that identifies with fighters, from Paul Revere to Paul Pierce, the latter's self-induced knife wound not withstanding. The bond is so strong, and Lester's drive to stay and contribute to the organization so devout, that GM Theo Epstein all but openly hoped for Santana to get dealt away from Boston and the Bronx just so he could hold on to his young pitchers. After a no-hitter and 6.2 innings of one-run ball, that doesn't look like the worst turn of events in recent Red Sox history.

lestervaritek.pngAmazingly, the game was the third no-hitter
Varitek has caught since joining the Sox.


That's WMYM's take on one historic night at the Fens. For what it's worth, here's everyone else's:

lestercaptip.png-- Just Say No: Gordon Edes, Boston Globe -- Gordo delivers another terrific game story on a terrific night for Red Sox fans. No surprise that he finds a unique way to deliver a game that was nothing but a surprise.

-- Lester Adds a Historic Chapter: Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe -- It's not a bad column, but it's a very Shaughnessy column, i.e., seems a bit lazy and obvious. Take that for what it's worth as you will.

-- This Star Had Big Supporting Cast: Nancy Marrapese-Burrell, Boston Globe -- Nice companion piece by a writer who's not so used to the baseball climes, particularly in nailing down the key moment of Jacoby Ellsbury's spectacular fourth-inning grab.

-- The Heart of the Matter: Nick Cafardo, Boston Globe -- Cafardo delivers the underlying truth that WMYM referred to earlier in this post: This no-hitter just meant more because of what Lester means to Boston.

-- Farrell Had an Eerie Feeling: Gordon Edes, Boston Globe -- There were a lot of angles Edes could have taken with this Red Sox notebook, but he finds another unique niche in tracking down the Boston pitching coach's reflections on his own bid for a no-hitter earlier in his career. An interesting take.

-- Sox Can Count on Lester: Michael Silverman, Boston Herald -- After word leaked out about the organization's concern over Buchholz's pitch count in his no-hitter last September, it's pretty natural that a pitch count story would slip out in the aftermath of Lester's 130-pitch epic. Silverman delivers it.

-- Jon Lester's Father Couldn't Bear to Watch His Son on Television: Larry Stone, Seattle Times -- The title is too long and direct, but Stone crafts a nice follow-up piece about the most direct human impact of Lester's feat.

-- Red Sox Staff Delves Into No-Hit Mentality: Rob Bradford, Boston Herald -- A truly terrific, comprehensive look at how the Red Sox front office and coaching staff are trying to find ways to capture the mentality of no-hit stars. It's a strong look at a unique angle of the story, and it encapsulates the more-scientific way the Red Sox staff tries to operate. Terrific idea, terrific story.

-- Armstrong a Fan of Lester: ESPN.com -- It's not exactly groundbreaking stuff, nor is it particularly inspired, but ESPN.com's connection with Lance Armstrong on Lester's no-no is yet another take on his stunning performance.

-- Lester Traveled Hard Road to No-Hitter: Sean McAdam, ESPN.com -- The ProJo columnist and ESPN contributor fires off a strong retrospective on the cancer survivor's road to glory, a second-time over. He did, after all, earn the clinching win of the World Series in October.

-- Lester's No-Hitter Part of an Amazing Tale: Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com -- Crasnick follows some of the same storyline as McAdam, which is what happens when a national network is as big as ESPN. Still, his take resonates with some unique notes it's own, too.

-- Lester Adds No-Hitter to Unbelievable Tale: Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports -- Alright, we admit it. Part of the reason for posting this link was the use the exclamation point at the end of Yahoo! Still, it's another fairly predictable yet eminently readable column on Lester's exploits.


 
It's a sad day when the Red Sox don't play. They have the day off Thursday.

Tear.

OK, now that WMYM has gotten the whole venting/opening up thing out of the way, let's get down to business. Because there's some business going on, let us tell you.

bigfatbart.pngWhile Theo Epstein and his front office cabal dial number furiously in an attempt to trade Julian "Big Lebowski" Tavarez for a bag of chips - reports are they've downgraded their asking price from Cape Cod to Utz, but won't slum for Lay's ... yet - they also find themselves in the rather inauspicious situation of choosing a new fifth starter. That's because rookie Clay Buchholz, fresh off yet another road shellacking, is literally missing a fingernail.

It sounds pretty painful, and while Buchholz sounded like he wanted to take his normal spot in the rotation on Sunday, the Sox were having none of it, deciding to have him wait out this time through the pitching order to give him time to heal, bumping up a still fuming Josh Beckett to pitch on Sunday on normal rest, because of the off day today.

That's the short-term fix for the short-term problem. But a much bigger - in every sense of the word - decision may be looming on the horizon.

With that kind of foreshadowing, WMYM could only be referring to Bartolo Colon, the burly power pitcher and one-time Angels ace who made his first minor league start for Pawtucket since returning from an injury on Thursday afternoon. To say that he looked downright dominant against overmatched minor leaguers would be quite the understatement.

For what it's worth, here's Bartolo's final line:

Colon: 6 IP ... 1 H ... 0 ER ... 4 K ... 64 pitches
That's right folks, Colon cruised through six innings of one-hit ball on only 64 pitches ... in his first outing back. His minor league ERA is sitting at 0.64, and while that probably wouldn't hold up against stiffer competition, he clearly is looking a lot more like his old self than he did before multiple injuries ravaged his consistency in recent seasons. If you want more visual evidence of the veracity of his performance, the Buffalo News has video here.

Of course, Colon probably isn't ready to be slated directly into a major league start quite yet. After all, this was his first legitimate start in a good month, so he needs more seasoning, you could say. But another couple starts like the one he tossed out there for the PawSox this afternoon, and he'll be making a serious case to become the permanent starter at No. 5.

That, however, doesn't solve the team's short-term problem: Who takes the next turn in the rotation for Buchholz? With a fingernail completely ripped off, it seems almost impossible that he'd start anytime in his next two turns. Could Kyle Snyder make a case for redemption as a fill-in starter? What about a second turn of Justin Masterson, who was so impressive with his sinker in his lone outing earlier this season?

What do people think?
You know how sometimes you'll have one of those days - forget your boxers at home before heading to the gym, McDonald's is sold out of the $1 McRibs and their fryolator broke, Dennis Kucinnich shows up on a nearby lawn just to mock you for being short - or some combination of equally disastrous events befall you?



Well, that was kind of WMYM's Sunday night. That's supposed to alleviate some of our responsibility for a pair of glaring errors in last night's graded gamer, but it doesn't.

And in truth, that's what makes this network so great: fellow bloggers and readers like ews waste no time in setting things straight when you botch them. Still, as much as it comes at the expense of WMYM's chagrin, the statements we made last night pretty much held true one day later. After another debaucherous Clay Buchholz start on the road, the Red Sox DID in fact lose another series, this time without even getting a shot at Minnesota power closer Joe Nathan. And Manny DID in fact hit homer NUMBER 498, which is only one more than he had after his fruitless pinch hitting job last night, unlike the 297 we stated right here.

Well, we'll try and cover up that blush with a smattering of assorted barbeque sauces - well, probably just Salt Lick, or perhaps Salt Lick's hot varietal - that we're dabbling on top of our McRib. Unfortunately, Buchholz and the Sox don't get that luxury.

To be fair, Buchholz did have moments when his breaking ball kept the Twins hitters dazzled, often with their bats sitting on their shoulders. The problems came when he failed to establish his fastball, allowing hitters to sit back and wait for him to HAVE to deliver one, which they promptly laced to the opposite field in stringing together hits and, shortly thereafter, a sizable lead.

manramminnytrot.JPGManRam got to take a slow trot around the bases, then a
lot of bad stuff happened. Take WMYM's word for it.


There were other bright spots - a strong return for Sean Casey and yet another sterling performance from Alex Cora at short, to say nothing of a terrific inning of work from Craig Hansen - but they were too few and far between to yield a result. Instead, they just provided false hope as Boston finally got handled again on the road. Now they have to hope they can avoid similar fate in a two-game set in Baltimore, or lose so much of the momentum they've built up over late April and May. That, to say nothing of wasted impressive pitching performances, would be a magnificent shame.

STARTING PITCHING: -
John Farrell made an apperance in the second inning, and Terry Francona nearly pulled Clay Buchholz in the third. Well, in retrospect, maybe he should have. Instead, they let the rookie flounder on the road again, setting the stage for what is sure to be a tricky decision when Bartolo Colon proves he's healthy enough to resume big league pitching. Can anyone remember having a home-only starter in the bigs? And which reliever can the Sox afford to jettison for that to happen, now that Julian Tavarez has officially begun to Fade Into Bolivian?

MIDDLE RELIEF: √+
Great escape work from Javier Lopez and a terrific inning from Craig Hansen helped validate their continued existence on the Red Sox roster. Saving David Aardsma from another inning of work means that he'll almost certainly pitch in Baltimore, one way or the other, after Mike Timlin was the pitching heading to the mound in the eighth. Things could get interesting if Beckett scuffles tomorrow, that's for sure.

SET-UP RELIEF: N/A
Even thinking about this category is making WMYM bitter.

CLOSER: N/A
Even thinking about this category is making WMYM bitter.

LINEUP: -
The Sox hitters got off to an auspicious start with three runs in the first. Then they went to sleep. Dustin Pedroia was robbed out of a 2-for-4 night, Coco Crisp continues to impress, surprisingly, J.D. Drew keeps slap-hitting his way back above .300 and Alex Cora is hitting .727 (*!.727!*), but overall it was a lackluster batting performance. And that's before you consider the situational hitting aspects of the loss. Ay Carumba! Here's a suggestion: As soon as they get down around Eutaw Street tomorrow, the Sox should partake in a crabcake party. That's sure to lift the spirits. Maybe a return to Baltisnore will, too. After all, there's been plenty of happy days there in recent years, that's for sure.
And to think, WMYM was sitting here, watching the eighth inning escape and thinking about all the possible platitudes to work into a headline. Heroic comeback? There's one possibility. Resiliency? Another. In fact, what the Red Sox did until the bottom of the ninth, rallying back three times, covering for a young starter who couldn't outfox a veteran lineup more than once, all of that proved that Boston has a certain versatility it hasn't shown a lot of in the early going.

papsloss.pngIt's losses like Wednesday's, the ones that aren't truly your fault, that tend
to be the hardest to take. Just ask Papelbon. He's feeling it right now.


Instead, a lucky Detroit bounce, a horrendous Julio Lugo error and a terrific piece of veteran, defensive hitting from Placido Polanco conspired to make Jonathan Papelbon a loser with a blown save for the first time since last September. You know what? It really did hurt as much as it looked like, too.

But first, one thing needs to be made clear: While Papelbon will get credited with the loss, the blown save and loss were hardly his fault. After allowing an inning-starting single to Matt Joyce which was a truly random stroke of luck - Joyce made contact on a purely defensive half-cut swing that he tried to check, producing an unfieldable dribbler - Papelbon got old friend Edgar Renteria to hit into a picture perfect double play.

Of course, that's when Lugo booted the bouncer, just the latest error in his season of misadventures in the field. It's getting ugly out there for the shortstop whose substantially subpar first season at the plate was made up for by surprisingly solid defense.

A year later, he's falling into the exact opposite trap. On Wednesday night, that trap ensnared the Red Sox, spoiling a terrific rally when - after a Pudge Rodriguez sacrifice moved runners along - Curtis Granderson finished an 0-fer day with a tying-run producing groundout and Polanco came through with his bloop hit above the outstretched glove of a leaping Lugo (sounds like an item from the 12 Days of Christmas, doesn't it?).

"We had a great comeback and we couldn't finish it," Terry Francona told the AP.

Damn right you did, Terry. Damn right you did.

STARTING PITCHING: -
What did young Clay Buchholz learn tonight? Well, hopefully he learned that you can fool a good lineup once, but not twice, especially when they're desperate to rejuvenate their attack. After looking dazzled the first time he faced them, the Detroit hitters came alive in the bottom of the third, racking up four runs to take control. Then they got to him again in the bottom of the fourth. It was a definite setback after two sterling starts and a trend that had Buchholz heading aggressively in the right direction. Now, after allowing 10 hits in only four innings, the question will be whether its a blip on the radar screen or catalyst for change in the wrong direction. Here's hoping for the former, for Buchholz's case and the Sox'.

MIDDLE RELIEF: -
It's not a fair grade for David Aardsma or Javier Lopez, both of whom tossed single shutout innings, two more walks from Aardsma not withstanding. Still, Julian Tavarez was so bad that no other grade would do. Three runs in a single inning, and it was almost a miracle that there weren't more from the Big Lebowski. It's been amazing how little work Tavarez has racked up this year, largely because of the ability of the team's regular starters to go so deep into games. Unfortunately, it looks like that rest isn't helping a guy like Tavarez, who despite a general sense of flexibility in role may need just enough of a routine to cast himself in one direction or another.

SET-UP RELIEF: √-
Hideki Okajima got it done, but there was a heck of a lot of drama for an Oki appearance. First the ever so rare back-to-back hits against, to start the inning no less. Then, after a timely strikeout, Oki got himself into plenty of trouble against Gary Sheffield. Amazingly, he wriggled out of that one with a strikeout as only he can pull off, then finished off the inning when a Jason Varitek bullet comprised the second half of a beautiful strike 'em out throw 'em out twin killing. Don't get us wrong, this could have been a disaster, and when it comes to executing pitches, Papelbon probably got the job done better than Okajima did tonight. Still, baseball is a results business, so drama aside, Okie had to earn some kind of a √. There you go, √- it is.

CLOSER: -
Here's another grade that may not be fair, as discussed in so much more depth above. It is what it is, and the only way Papelbon's earning a - is with a blown save. Well, tonight he got a blown save, ergo tonight he got a -. Frustrating? Yes. Unfair, yes. That's the way the cookie crumbles after a crushing loss and melodramatic end to a terrific winning streak.

LINEUP: √+
Now THAT was a terrific offensive performance. The Sox hitters got better as the game went along, were resourceful, were pests on the base paths and rallied thrice. The final rally, with Dustin Pedroia plating the go-ahead run in the top of the 8th, was completely deflating to the Detroit crowd. It might have been a real long-term Tiger killer if not for the ninth inning rally, too. Alas, the one time when, in retrospect, the Sox needed more turned out to be the one time they didn't have any more to give ... in the top of the ninth when an insurance run would have been a huge buffer. They had a man on second with one out. That's where he finished the inning. If we're to be fair, that means that his final station short of home is part of the reason this one is chalked up in the "L" column instead of the one on the left.
Tonight, the Sox win streak has a chance to reach six-sided di proportions, for those of you who happen to be inclined toward Dungeons and Dragons references. For those of you who aren't, i.e., everyone, we're just trying to say that Boston has won five straight, and one more makes it an even half-dozen.

claywhirl.pngClay Buchholz was on the mound when this whole movement got started, so he's the one who gets to try and keep it rolling a second time through the rotation. He has a very worthy young adversary in the opposing bullpen, with Armando Gallaraga tossing the pill for Detroit. To say that Gallaraga has been a bright spot of the Detroit rotation in the early season is a vast understatement. He's 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA, and he's been every bit as impressive as those numbers seem to say he is.

It'll also be interesting to see what the Detroit lineup does against Buchholz, since this will is their maiden voyage against his Bugs Bunny curve and change-up. The results the second time around against Tampa were nearly as good as the first - in fact the final result was better, of course - so it may be that opposing hitters don't gain a ton off him in seeing him more. Or maybe they do and we haven't seen enough repeat feats to judge Buchholz's second-time effectiveness.

Either way, the Sox hitters will have to find tip offs from Gallaraga for the first time tonight, too. That might just slow them down, considering the fact that they've been teeing off against Detroit's first two offerings - Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson - and have seemed to have a bit of a tougher time against rookie pitchers in recent years.

Of course, you wouldn't have known that from watching Manny last night, would you? Regardless, here's the lineups for the Sox and Tigers again tonight, assuming they get the game in, of course. There's a tarp on top of Comerica Field right now, and tarps are never a good thing.
This time it was Jon Lester.

Seriously, has there been any other question during the Red Sox' weekend cruise of a three-game sweep of the Rays? First, Clay Buchholz stifled the Tampa Bay bats. Then Josh Beckett, whose outing was almost rough by his exemplary standards. Sunday? Must be Lester's turn. Well, for a second-straight outing, the youngster delivered. In a big way.

youkilisslap.JPGYouk had plenty to celebrate on Sunday, particularly his 3 late RBI.

Sure, Terry Francona pulled him after six innings, a move that seems to be growing on Tito more and more. Maybe it's residual blowback from leaving Daisuke Matsuzaka in far too long in far too many games last year. The same could be said for at least one of Lester's losses already this year. Whatever the reason, Tito sent Lester to the showers after the sixth, bringing on Manny Delcarmen, whose personal disaster reached code orange this afternoon with his two-run, 0.1 inning outing.

Luckily, Boston has immaculate fire extinguishers like Hideki Okajima in the bullpen. Luckily, Boston has Jonathan Papelbon behind him to close out wins. Luckily, Boston has Kevin Youkilis crushing the ball on cue, putting a little more space into a game that was a lot tighter than the final score made it look.

Luckily, the Red Sox have looked dominant at Fenway Park so far. Now, if they can find a way to keep that form in Detroit's Comerica Park the next few nights, that might be something.

STARTING PITCHING: √+
Six full innings, one run. Another big day for Jon Jon, who improved to 4-0 in day games during his career with the win. Sure, his control wasn't stupendous, but coming off a one-hitter, Lester kept his personal momentum going with a second-straight, efficient and effective win. That's exactly what Boston needs from him going forward, as the lefty gains confidence and more punch with each win.

MIDDLE RELIEF: -
Manny Delcarmen, we hardly know ye. Clearly, this is not the Delcarmen of 2007, a shut-down middle reliever who used a fastball down in the zone to overpower and handcuff hitters. That  become more certain than ever with Delcarmen's brutal one-third of an inning Sunday. The only question remaining now is how to fix Little Manny. A brief respite in the minors doesn't seem like a fix at the moment, and could easily be more deflating than anything else for the MDC. Mop up duty? That's a possibility. But that would require Mike Timlin looking more like the Timlin of '05 than his current "yet to be fully fit" vintage. Still, we'll see if that's what eventually happens. Certainly wouldn't be a shock at this point.

SET-UP RELIEF: √+
Okie comes in, takes care of Delcarmen's mess and then goes into the eighth. If Hinske's dribbler goes foul, he probably gets out of that inning, too, helping the Sox avoid an eighth inning call to Paps. Still, another predictably terrific outing from one of WMYM's true savior-sans.

CLOSER: √+
A two-inning save? For most pitchers, that would be a serious labor of some 30-odd pitches. At least. Not Paps. Four outs? Try 15 pitches. His efficiency gets more and more stunning each outing, and can only bode very, very well for things going forward.

LINEUP: √
The last two nights have been about Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Julio Lugo. Well, those guys created trouble again today, but Sunday afternoon was a Youkilis star turn. The first baseman tied a career-high with 4 RBIs, three of them late (including that seventh inning jimmy jack into the center field bleachers). It looks a lot like Youk needed a Fenway stint to break out of a mini-slump, and it seems hard to argue that he's still mired in one after the later stages of that victory. Now he'll get a chance to try and replicate the results in Detroit and Minnesota, both very different ballparks and atmospheres than the Fens. Should be an interesting trend to monitor.
So, a night after Clay Buchholz made it two strong starts in a row - Inside Edge graded him out at a B-, which is pretty hard to argue with (he might have scored higher if he'd been allowed to keep pitching into the game) - Josh Beckett heads back to the hill after a career-high 13 strikeouts last Sunday ... and a loss.

ellsburyiwamura.pngJacoby and the weather helped keep Akinori
Iwamura and the Rays off balance last night.


Needless to say, that should provide all the motivation the tall Texan needs heading into another game against the resurgent Rays, who really may not be going away this year. If last night proved anything, it's that even when they don't have the gumption for a tough potential road win at Fenway, they still have the mettle to make things interesting. If Clay Buchholz hadn't had his fish-hook curve going so well that he could quite literally strike out the side when he hit patches of control trouble, the Legal's clam chowder might have been a lot harder to digest for the hardy fans who waited out a 2:30 rain delay before things even got going.

More significant in last night's win, of course, was the resurrection of Boston's bats, who finally put together a big inning and, as a result, more than a pair of runs for a change. David Ortiz looks better and better game-by-game, the sight of Mike Lowell back in the lineup is one of the more comforting visuals that doesn't involve apple pie, Thanksgiving or, well, some things that are probably not best discussed on a baseball blog. And tonight is highlighted by the triumphant return of J.D. Drew which, amazingly, WMYM can type with a completely straight face. He was off to a strong start before the latest of his perennial injuries, so putting his bat back in the order almost returns a sense of normalcy to the Boston batters.

Unfortunately for the Sox, they're facing off against a pitcher who's become a bit of a significant nemesis. Tampa  Bay's James Shields - evidently he REALLY doesn't want to be called Jamie anymore - kept the entire Red Sox order under wraps last Sunday. He went the whole way, shut out and shut down the power bats (Big Papi was sitting the game out) and the speed guys and really made the final result almost a de facto win ... despite the ridiculous numbers Beckett was putting up during his trips to the mound.

If you want a truly scary realization, consider this: Both Beckett and Shields are 26. That's right, even though Shields is often talked about as a young "up and coming" hurler, he's no younger than his opposite tonight, who already has two World Series rings, a World Series and ALCS MVP and, well, a whole lot of deer heads as hunting trophies. Maybe Shields has hunting trophies, too. Can't be sure about that. But we can be sure that tonight should provide another hell of a pitching matchup. Buckle up fans, we won't even have the 2:30-plus prelude with miserable weather.
We really did plan on throwing out a full game recap, complete with the inning-by-inning breakdown of young Clay Buchholz's latest gem. And, as the British would say, it was a corker. A corker indeed.

wrenscover.pngWMYM apologizes in advance if you see this graphic more often on really late Friday nights ...

But, instead of writing that glorious post, we got caught up producing a variety of the sports pages on the sports section of a certain major American daily newspaper, which can be a real hassle when the game you're really focused on is delayed from 7 until 10 p.m. As a result, prepare for the first "Wrens" honorary "This Boy is Exhuasted" nightly report card.

STARTING PITCHING -- Clay Buchholz: √ Stuff so nasty it's almost a constant "get out of jail free" card
MIDDLE-RELIEF -- Javier Lopez: - And the lefty trend continues: 1st inning matchups? Hit or miss. 2nd inning matchups? Let's not even go there.
SET-UP RELIEF -- Hideki Okajima: √+ Okie is always OK in our book
CLOSER -- Jonathan Papelbon: √+ We weren't sure it was possible, but Paps is getting even more efficient game-by-game
LINE-UP -- √+ Finally, hitters clicking with their predecessors on the base paths. It's a site WMYM expected to see a lot more of recently. Maybe this is the start of a "return to normalcy"? Maybe? Pretty-please? 
Especially when A.J. Burnett is freakin' dealing. Face it, Sox fans, tonight he was dealing with the gas that made GM Theo Epstein lust over his much-tattooed right arm two winters ago. Instead he landed Matt Clement. Anyone else remember how that turned out?

mannytossbat.pngEven Super Manny can't be a hero every night.

So, while you watch re-runs of the South Park where the local "Junior Detectives" break up a meth lab, it's probably best not to think about how a still scuffling Sox lineup failed to put together decent offensive numbers, a terrific one-man double play by Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill aside.

Still, two of three from the Jays is a distinct step in the right direction, particularly considering where the five straight losses that preceded it. That may not provide a whole lot of comfort for when the surging Tampa Bay Rays hit Fenway tonight - yes, we just said "surging" and "Tampa Bay Rays" in the same sentnce, honestly - and with another strong start, this time from Tim Wakefield, who wriggled his way out a handful of jams with strikeouts and some strong outfield play, things could look a whole lot worse. Now, to see if Clay Buchholz can duplicate that domed performance down in Florida last Saturday ...

STARTING PITCHING: √-
Wake wasn't perfect, but he only gave up three runs across seven innings. That's a solid outing from the knuckler, who continues to eat up innings regardless of age, opponent, situation, field and, well, just about any other circumstance you can put on a game. Then again, charting his performance in five days should tell us that once again, so what else is new.

MIDDLE RELIEF: √
David Aardsma continues to be Terry Francona's answer to the Wakefield after innings. It's a strategy that makes sense: throw the soft-tossing knuckler out there, then follow that with mid to high 90s heat. It worked again last night, the one extra batter from Aardsma not withstanding, as the power reliever from Rice rolled through his frame with only 12 pitches. Not a bad outing for a guy who seems to be getting more confident and more settled with his feet under him every day.

SET-UP RELIEF: √-
Well, the mercurial life of Javier Lopez returned tonight, with the sidetossing lefty allowing two hits while retiring two Blue Jays. He was bailed out by Mike Timlin, who pulled this grade up to a √- by keeping more runs off the board, but continues to provide plenty of indigestion for all those loogy fans out there.

LINEUP: -
Another night, another solid "C-" to "D" for the Sox hitters. David Ortiz continues to look better - two solid hits tonight provided a plateau that could bring him back up to the start of his big seasons past - but the men around him couldn't set the table well enough. The outfield is still banged up; too much Brandon Moss, not enough Jacoby Ellsbury or, dare we say it, J.D. Drew. Maybe things will change against the Rays tomorrow. They better, because two runs or less a game are not going to get it done forever.
Two games, two walk-offs, two uber-dramatic wins. That's a sign that karma is smiling on Boston a bit, is it not?

mannyyouk.pngTuesday was Youk's turn to shine, last night was all about ManRam and Varitek, below.

It certainly seems hard to look at the past two nights in any other way. First Kevin Youkilis gets his bat on a cue-shot single to knock in none other than the fleet-footed David Ortiz. Then, on a night when Ortiz's homer very well could have been the only run - Daisuke Matsuzaka was just that good again - the Sox rallied to bring men to the plate twice - once with one out, which resulted in the strike from Vernon Wells that cut down Jed Lowrie at the plate, and once with two outs, when El Capitan Jason Varitek's single scored Manny Ramirez for a second straight win.

vtek.pngWhat's more impressive is the streak put together by the starting pitching staff. Less than a week after the Boston Herald published a story questioning whether the staff had the depth of last year, the combination of young guns - Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester - and hired guns - Josh Beckett and Dice-K - combine to go four straight games of nearly flawless work on the mound.

The fact that Boston only won two of a nearly impeccable four straight starts underscores just how bad the lineup is currently scuffling. The Inside Edge reports on boston.com have graded the lineup out in the Cs or lower for all four games, rightfully so. They'll almost certainly have to pick up the pace a bit tonight, with Tim Wakefield heading to the bump to face off with A.J. Burnett, whose 2-2 record belies the power on his fastball.

And, right on time, here's the lineups for tonight's tussle. Note yet another night without Jacoby Ellsbury. Perhaps that right groin is a bit more tender than we've been led to believe (doesn't it make you squirm just hearing "right groin" and "tender" in the same sentence?).

So what's in store tonight? More heroics? Less drama? The way the Sox have been going, it seems a lot more likely to be the former than the latter, that's for sure.

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