Results tagged “David Ortiz” from Who Made You Mirabelli?

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.

Papi Lifts Spirits

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ortiz.jpgOn a day when Bay Staters needed a little pick-me-up, it was one of the most jovial men in Boston sports history that gave it to them, as David Ortiz crushed a walk off homer to lift the Red Sox past the White Sox last night, 3-2.

Ortiz, who could use a little pick-up himself with the events of the last month, enjoyed his 10th career walk-off home-run, nine of those coming in a Red Sox uniform - a record which pushed Papi passed Jimmie Foxx for an all-time team record.

However, as the good folks at NESN pointed out, Ortiz hadn't had a walk-off homer since September 12, 2007. He was certainly due for what has become the big man's calling card. For a full listing of Ortiz's crowning moments, check out NESN.com's timeline.

Maybe it was the donning of the old real Red Sox uniform that got Ortiz back to his old form. Between the old jerseys, Ortiz's walk-off, and Alex Gonzalez jacking one over the wall, you can't help but feel nostalgic.

 

malamud.jpg

It's time to come out of the cave folks... it's a whole new week. Yes... David Ortiz tested positive for steroids in 2003. And no... there really is no possible way that Tim Tebow hasn't gotten laid at a school like Florida.

Now, anyone who can honestly say TO THEMSELVES that they didn't see the Ortiz allegation coming need to walk themselves to the nearest Pearl Vision. The Red Sox Hipocrites Code, to which we all hold steadfast, mandates that we defend him until the bitter end in front of others, especially Yankees fans. But to ourselves, we must be true.

These feelings of expected mourning are strangely familiar. When you were eight, you figured out that Santa Clause wasn't real, but four years later - at the ripe old age of 12, your parents probably told you that there was truly no chimney shimmey - and it still kind of stung. As is the case with Santa Clause; the fat man, is indeed, not real.

Apparently, there have been fistfights in the Boston Globe newsroom as to what to do next. Dan Shaughnessy suggests that Papi take the strong, silent approach - a la Mark McGwire. Bob Ryan, on the other hand, feels like Papi should throw himself head first into the steroid fire.

Now, Who Made Your Mirabelli? would never be so bold as to suggest any advice for the Big Guy himself. However, if you are wondering how to crawl out of this dark, dingy hole that Papi's needle pushing has left you in, we recommend a good read for our loyal readers.

Go to the local bookstore and pick up a copy of Bernard Malamud's The Natural. That's right, the Robert Redford movie. As easy to read as it is vivid in detail, the book will remind you of why you fell in love with the game to begin with. It's about everything that is pure and unadulterated about the game. Maybe one day, professional baseball can get back to the days of Roy Hobbs... a character who himself was modelled, at least in part, after Teddy Ballgame himself.

Come to think of it, we do have one suggestion for Mr. Selig. Make the classic book "required reading" for all new players entering the minors... although books on tape might be more appropriate for some. **cough cough** Kevin Millar ** cough cough**

What do the Sawx have to do to stay alive tonight? It's not hard to figure out:


1) Have Daisuke Matsuzaka throw an efficient outing: Another game like Game 1 on Friday would set Boston up for a nice, conservative win. Matsuzaka can be infuriating for his voluminous walks, but he has a knack for working out of the jams he creates. Now would be a very ideal time to tap into the competitiveness Theo Epstein and co. cited when paying out the nose for the right to sign him in November 2006.

2) For God's sake hit someone!: Scott Kazmir would be a good place for the Red Sox to beginhitting again, and there's no time like the present. Sure, Kazmir is the Rays' ace, but he's been hittable by Boston's bats in his last two outings against the Red Sox, both in the regular season and in Game 2. Both of those matchups were in Florida, and Kazmir has fared pretty well at Fenway in his career (4-4, 3.02 ERA in 11 starts). Boston needs to get to Kazmir and get to him early, scoring off him before the Rays have a chance to summon their terrific bullpen.

3) Relieve pressure early: The last two games at Fenway have sounded like a tomb, with fans staring at Rays routs in silence. If Boston can jump to an early lead, they can remind their fans that this whole comeback thing is old hat with them.

4) Give the Rays something to think about: Staying alive for another day will force the series to back to Florida, and then the Red Sox could tap into the mystique forged by the 2004 and 2007 Sox squads before them. That, needless to say, would be a huge benefit.

Can Boston pull off all four of those goals? Maybe, but things will have to be a lot different than they have been recently if the Sox are going to stay alive. Otherwise the long, cold offseason starts tonight. And with the Patriots where they're at right now, that's not a pretty place to be.

We're up against the gun here at WMYM, so we're going to make things easy: Here's my ALCS series breakdown in terms of pitching, hitting and, finally, a flat out prediction. Here's hoping it's more accurate than Andy's stab at the ALDS.

ortizbay.JPGBig Papi and Jason Bay hope there's more to hug about in the games to come.

PITCHING:

Boston: Matsuzaka-Beckett-Lester-Wakefield-Matsuzaka-Beckett-Lester
Tampa Bay: Shields-Kazmir-Garza-Sonnanstine-Sheilds-Kazmir-Garza

It's hard to make a convincing argument that Tampa Bay has a rotation advantage, particularly with the recent form of Boston's burgeoning ace left hander Jon Lester. With Lester potentially getting the ball in both Games 3 and 7, Boston would seem to have him right in the clutch that he's been excelling at. Josh Beckett had his shakiest postseason outing ever in Boston's ALDS loss, but an extra day of rest -- as opposed to two starts in three weeks -- should have him a lot closer to being on point in this series. Daisuke Matsuzaka continue to be an enigma, wriggling out of jams throughout high pitch counts over just five innings. We still haven't seen him go deep in a postseason game. Could this be the series? And as for Wakefield ... he's Tim Wakefield. While WMYM has a shrine dedicated to him, he's utterly hit or miss at the best of times. He has, however, traditionally been dominant at the Trop, but he'll have to ply his pitches at chilly Fenway in Game 4 of this series.

As for the Rays, Shields has had rough outings against the Sox, Kazmir got drilled the last time Boston faced him in the Trop while Garza continues to seem like the scariest guy they throw out on the hill. Andy Sonnanstine was great closing out the White Sox. Great. Stay tuned. That Game 4 could look like a mismatch in the Rays' favor depending on how the series turns before it.

The bullpen, however, is another story. The Rays have a plethora of setup men without the closer they took and injury-riddled shot on in the offseason: Troy Percival. That hasn't slowed them, and it probably won't now, either. The Sox relievers looked much better in the ALDS than they did in much of the season, but there are still questions. Justin Masterson had one of his shakiest outings as a big leaguer to set the stage for Jed Lowrie's heroic walk-off. Then there's the fact that Mike Timlin earned the extra roster spot. We're longtime backers of Captain Camo, but he was almost a walking white surrender flag during the second half of this year. If he has to come in during clutch situations, watch out. The Rays teed off on him the last time he came in against Tampa. Of course, they did that against Jonathan Papelbon once, too, so you never know.

EDGE: Red Sox. The rotation should help make up for Tampa's bullpen buffer.

HITTING:

Boston: Ellsbury-Pedroia-Ortiz-Youkilis-Drew-Bay-Kotsay-Lowrie-Varitek
Tampa Bay: Iwamura-Upton-Pena-Longoria-Crawford-Floyd-Navarro-Gross-Bartlett

On paper, this is another mismatch. Unfortunately, that's paper that was drawn up over the bulk of the regular season, not a series of clutch matchups between the Red Sox and Rays and the two teams' subsequent ALDS wins. Jacoby Ellsbury seems to be waking up at just the right time for Boston, and if Ortiz can do more than he did in a miserable series against the Angels and if J.D. Drew can stay healthy, the Sox look plenty dangerous. If either of those factors don't come through ... or even don't come through the way Boston needs them to, the Jason Bay will have to be called on to hit at the blistering pace he put up against Anaheim.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, bats a bunch of guys who many would need scorecards for. That's before you look at monstrous hot streaks for B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria, two hitters sandwiched by Boston area-native and crushing power hitter Carlos Pena. The 'los does strike out plenty, but Longoria has to be considered one of the most terrifying up and coming hitters in the majors. Navarro is another whose contributions can't be minimized. The catcher had a bushel of huge hits against Boston this year, including the ball that cost Jonathan Papelbon in the game that forever turned the AL East tide.

EDGE: Push

PREDICTION: They say great pitching wins championships, and both these teams have the potential to have it. Sure, Tampa Bay's rotation is as young as the rest of its roster, but it's got plenty of heat and talent. That being said, betting against Josh Beckett (despite his ALDS numbers) and what seems like the ghost of Sandy Koufax embodied by Jon Lester is a hard thing to do. That's before you add in hopes for Matsuzaka and the fact that the Red Sox's two most important hitters -- Big Papi and Dustin Pedroia -- almost tossed out in 0-fer in the ALDS, and couldn't possibly be any worse. If Ortiz and Pedroia hit while Beckett improves and Lester keeps cruising, the Sox should win. It says here that will happen.

RED SOX IN SIX

OK, everyone who had Jon Lester as the Red Sox' big game stopper in the preseason prospectus raise your hand. Phew. Well, WMYM is glad we're not the only ones who missed the boat on that one.

Amazingly, Jon Lester is transforming into an ace -- a lefty ace at that -- in front of our own eyes. A day after the pitcher he modeled himself after as a teenager, Andy Pettitte, riddled the Red Sox, Boston's own lefthanded power pitcher turned the tables, holding the Yankees to two runs in seven innings. He got into serious trouble only once, the fifth inning, and limited the damage of a bases-loaded, no outs scenario to the two runs he let in.

bigpapihail.pngFew sights could be more comforting to Red Sox
fans than this one from last night.
(AP)

Beyond that, Lester was in such command that, had the fifth been avoided, he likely could have gone eight frames himself. Instead, he gave way to Manny Delcarmen, who was efficient for an inning before passing the torch to Mike Timlin, who aced his mop-up duty, thank you very much.

To say that the Red Sox had to have that victory is melodramatic. To say that a sweep at home by the Yankees would have been crushing is, too, but it's also probably accurate. Friday night's loss was devastating because it showed that Joba Chamberlain is advancing as fast as Lester. His upside is equally tremendous and, if he can become more consistent Chamberlain is starting to look like an outright Boston menace. Not to mention his penchant for throwing at Kevin Youkilis. That's a brawl waiting to happen.

And that drama doesn't even take the latest Manny Ramirez saga into account. ManRam has officially reached the point of no Red Sox return. Again. Of course, the latest "They can trade me. Sure. Whatever." development could all blow over by the time the Angels leave town if ManRam has a big series. And if he shuts up, either of which could happen and both of which might not. Either way, Sunday night provided a return to normalcy, with ManRam and David Ortiz connecting on key hits -- Big Papi's homer proving some of his power is back -- and Dustin Pedroia comfortable back in the lead-off spot, with Jacoby Ellsbury breathing easier at the bottom of the order.

Will things keep clicking with the Angels in town? They certainly didn't a little more than a week ago in Anaheim, and one out of three against the Yankees didn't help matters. Jon Lester DID help, but he won't get a shot to take care of the Angels. That's up to Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett.

And Big Papi and ManRam, of course. After all, some things don't change, including parity in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. This weekend certainly went a long way toward proving that yet again.
Hmmm. Get swept, sweep. Nice trend.

Oh wait, no it's not.

In case anyone was lost in the blue, the Red Sox and Yankees face off again tonight, the latest adventure in the tet-a-tet warfare that has decided the fate of the AL East for the past decade. While the Rays have made things in the division a heck of a lot more interesting this time around, you may have noticed the Yankees' stunning surge back into the thick of the race. Winning 10-straight at home will do that for you.

hugebigpapi.pngGuess who's back? And not a moment too soon ... (AP Photo)

So will having a pitcher run headfirst into a renaissance year that nobody -- repeat: NOBODY -- thought could possibly happen. Mike Mussine SHOULD have made the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, no questions asked. He's been positively terrific, emerging as a staff ace with Ching Ming "I'm so quiet it creeps the hell out of my teammates" Wang on the DL and Joba Chamberlain adjusting to a new role as a starter.

Now that Chamberlain seems to be settling in, the entire division dynamic is shifting. The Rays are still streaking ahead, but each blip on the radar screen -- a Thursday night loss, for example -- seems significantly more poignant. Each loss is no longer just a segue back to expectations, but rather a step back from a truly unbelievable run which, quite naturally, becomes a lot more believable every time they lose.

Of course, the divisional flip side of the Rays success has been an overall Yankee malaise, and it seems fair to say that's gone ... completely. It's hard to pinpoint an exact moment when New York snapped back to relevancy and a realization that they were, in fact, the Yankees. If there was one snapshot that captured their moment of their in-season awakening, however, it appropriately came in the last series between these rivals.

According to a variety of New York media sources, Johnny Damon gave a rousing, "we're not playing hard enough, we're not fighting for wins," speech before the game with the Red Sox on Independence Day. Hours later, Damon was lost for weeks because of a headfirst run into the fence that left him looking ridiculous as the ball -- a triple by Kevin Youkilis -- nearly balanced atop the fence and then left him with a serious shoulder injury and a trip to the DL. He hadn't made the play, but his reckless effort had left a hell of an impression.

Needless to say, that would be an inspiring thing for almost anyone, Yankees not excepted. According to some in the clubhouse, it was. Suddenly New York is hitting, at least more than they were before, and they're pitching relatively efficient games.

Of course, with the exception of an abysmal three-game stretch in Anaheim last weekend, the Sox haven't been huge slouches lately either. But there are more glaring concerns in Boston's lineup than at any time previous. David Ortiz makes his return to the lineup tonight, but where will Terry Francona bat him? Does he slot back into third right away? The team's power hitters have increased slugging percentage admirably in his absence, so moving them in the middle of a Yankees series might not be the best way to get Big Papi back in the swing of things. Some of the lineup headache might be mitigated with Manny Ramirez out of the lineup with a sore knee, though that would raises bigger issues, with Ramirez's bat in absencia during an enormous series that could drastically swing momentum in the AL East. Not to mention the issue it raises about how someone could possibly injure their knee jaywalking in the Pacific Northwest.

Most of the scuttlebutt in Boston has focused on a monthlong slump by Jacoby Ellsbury, and the rookie could lose his leadoff spot though, again, that would be an interesting twist to the lineup at a particularly dramatic time to make the change. There's also the question mark that is Jed Lowrie -- can he really keep hitting above .300? -- and Coco Crisp's fleeting productivity.

On paper, Boston would seem to have a pitching edge. After all, no matter how strong Chamberlain looks in bursts, Josh Beckett > Chamberlain until further notice. There's no word that notice will ever come, either. Tim Wakefield has also been spectacular despite losses in recent starts. It's hard to blame him when he can't get W's despite limiting opponents to two runs across seven and eight innings. And Jon Lester has been the Red Sox' most reliable starter of all the past month, never clearer than in Seattle, when he settled into another stirring start with more emotional pangs, this time from a homecoming where he's showing what he can do when he really is healthy. Oh, and that Mussina guy WMYM was raving about? He's not pitching (you can exhale now).

What does that mean for the Sox at Fenway? It means pressure could swing wildly. If Boston wins behind Beckett on Friday, they would be in good shape for a strong weekend. If they lose, the pressure will get intense. Fast.

Hold on to your hats folks, here we go again. And this time around, make sure to bring you Madonna wigs and stillettos. If A-Rod thought the blond bombshell treatment was frustrating last spring, he's sure throwing a lot more firewood out for the flames. 
So, we're part of a semi-annual Red Sox blogger roundtable over at Red Sox Monster, which is chock full of some great Boston bloggers and Sox talk. Still, we thought we'd give you the WMYM take a night early, before you see it with responses from a handful of other bloggers tomorrow. Extra time can't hurt, right?

1) We'll start with a biggy right out of the box: Given the recent seven-game tailspin by the Rays, who is a bigger threat to the Red Sox in the American League East: the Yankees or the Rays? Why?

We may not want to admit it, but the Yankees are definitely the bigger concern. Sure, the Rays have had a great first half, but their seven-game losing streak heading into the break exposed them for what they are: A terrific home team that's still learning to win on the road. Come September, rookies, second and third year players the likes of Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton will have to keep swinging hot sticks when it counts. It says here they'll slow down.  The Yankees, on the other hand, really can't go down from where they already are. Joba Chamberlain seems to be settling into the rotation, Andy Pettitte is practically guaranteed to come through with three, four, maybe even 10 clutch starts and Mike Mussina is in the middle of an inexplicable renaissance. Put those factors together with a veteran lineup that has yet to truly click, and you get a team that could put together a serious challenge, whether Sox fans like it or not.


2) What do you see as the single biggest thing the Red Sox struggle with in 2008? Is it in the bullpen? Timely hitting? The gaping holes that have appeared at times in the lineup? How do you fix that problem?

Clearly it's the bullpen. Thinking back to 2007, there were plenty of stretches when the lineup was mired in slumps and when the team left ducks on the pond. The difference thus far, aside from having more injuries in 2008, has been the surprisingly vulnerable bullpen. If you check out the numbers, most would probably be surprised to find that Javier Lopez has done a better job of limiting damage off inherited runners than anyone else. Javier Freaking Lopez, the lefty specialist. That's not a great sign. Manny Delcarmen's recent surge has been a bright ray of optimism and Craig Hansen seems to be getting more and more consistent, but neither has reached the status of Hideki Okajima in '07, aka a sure bridge to Jonathan Papelbon (speaking of which, turn away all Sox fans, but Paps has been a touch more hittable this year, too, despite the fact that WMYM, for one would rather have him on the mound than anyone else in the ninth). So there you go, clearly, the bullpen is the issue and Theo Epstein would do awful well to go grab a, say, Scott Linebrink at the trade deadline. Not that he's available, but someone of that ilk would sure go a long ways.


3) I've got a record for being a pretty large Terry Francona supporter and apologist at times. With that said, some of his decisions in the first half of the season have baffled me, like not sending in a pinch-hitter for the badly slumping Jason Varitek with one out and the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a 2-1 loss against the Yankees on
July 5. Where do you stand on Francona's performance and juggling act in the face of numerous injuries this season?

WMYM has always been a pretty huge Francona backer itself, so it's pretty hard for me to weigh in objectively. That being said, WMYM is standing by Francona, blemishes and all, halfway through the season. Sure, it took him far too long to catch on to Hideki Okaijima's inability to retire batters that were already on base when he took the mound, and some of his other moves to the bullpen have created some head scratching, too. That being said, WMYM would have had Varitek hit in that situation, too. If the Sox are going to bounce back, Varitek is going to have to be a big part of it. Boston might as well get him going now, or this whole "Division and World Title Defense" thing just isn't happening.


4) David Ortiz is expected to return after July 25, which is obviously a huge sigh of relief for Red Sox fans. If you were in charge, how would you incorporate him into a lineup that has produced abundantly at times with JD Drew hitting third, ahead of Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell? Also, what do you do about the four starting outfielders the Red Sox have used while Ortiz was out, since Manny got the bulk of the at-bats at designated hitter?

This one's easy: You move everyone back to where they were, recent productivity aside. Ortiz and Ramirez have always been lethal as the three-four combo, and Mike Lowell is born for the five-hole. So All-Star Game MVP J.D. Drew hit's sixth, you ask? That's right, and congratulations for your mastery of math. With the way the guys in front of him tend to hit, that'll still give J.D. plenty of RBI opportunities, and in that situation he's more of an insurance policy, which is what the team really needs him for anyway.


5) Who wins more games this season: Daisuke Matsuzaka or Josh Beckett? What would you put the over-under number at for each pitcher, and why?

This is actually tougher than it looks, but WMYM is going with Beckett. Sure, Matsuzaka's off to a 10-1 start at the break, and he's already missed injury time which should make him a big more fresh coming down the stretch. The problem is the modifying piece of that last sentence: a bit. Anyone who saw Dice-K's late season meltdown last year has to temper expectations. Still, he's been more effective this year, so we're going with a final record of 18-6. Beckett, meanwhile, has missed a little time himself, and is a win behind at the break, entering with a record of 9-5. Yet Beckett looks to be in more command every time out, and if the division race stays close down the stretch, there's little doubt that Beckett will raise his performance again. So we're going with a final record if 19-8 for Beckett, which means we have him with a second-half record of 10-3. Sounds about right, don't it?


6) How do you see the American League playoff picture shaping up? Is this a year where the wild card does not come out of the AL East? Who makes the playoffs?

When you take a gander at the American League in total, it's hard to see another division grabbing the wild card spot. AL Central? Not by the record of it, and that assumes that the Twins can keep pace with the White Sox. Clearly Detroit's just too old. AL West? Not likely. The Angels are already running away with the division and the A's are too busy trading significant pieces to notice. Where does that leave us? Well, as much as WMYM hates to admit it, that gives us a playoff picture like so: AL East: Red Sox/Yankees, AL Central: White Sox, AL West: Angels. Sure, I'd love to see the Rays keep the Yankees out, too, but as previously stated, it's just too much of a leap of faith on youth ... which is a real shame.

A Breakout Win

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Sweeping the Twins is a big deal, whether you do it at home or in the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey Harumphamanisn'tthisplaceoutdatedyet Metrodome. Last year may have been a down season for the team from the snow-capital of the AL Central Division, but the Twins have announced they're back on track in a big way this year, and there's little doubt that they'll compete with the White Sox for the division crown for much of the second half, if not the whole run out.

jacobydontneednostinkinfistpump.pngFist bump? Jacoby's too fast for stinkin' fist bumps. (AP Photos)

You wouldn't have known it from the seventh inning of Wednesday afternoon's win.

WMYM could easily go back through the hit-by-hit, play-by-play reinactment of the carnage, but the AP's Jimmy Golen does a much better job, seeing as how he was actually sitting in Fenway at the time and all:

The Red Sox had runners on second and third when Jason Varitek hit a sinking liner to center and Denard Span slid for the ball, backhanding it and then holding up his glove as if he caught it. The base runners took off and, after the umpires belatedly signaled a catch, Span threw to second to double off Casey.

Second baseman Alexi Casilla leisurely threw to third to get Mike Lowell, who had already crossed the plate. (Lowell appeared to have tagged up, but he was rung up anyway.)

While the umpires conferred, official scorer Mike Petraglia announced that the play was an 8-4-5 triple play, "for now."

The call was reversed -- correctly, replays confirmed -- and irate Twins manager Ron Gardenhire came out of the dugout for an argument that led to a quick ejection.

Casey stayed at third and Varitek was credited with an RBI single that gave Boston an 8-5 lead. Craig Breslow relieved Boof Bonser and struck out Brandon Moss, but Julio Lugo walked to load the bases.

Ellsbury singled to drive in another run and, with Brian Bass pitching, Pedroia hit a double to left to clear the bases and extend his hitting streak to 17 games. Youkilis doubled and Ramirez followed with an RBI single to make it 14-5.

gardenhire.pngThat's how quick a 7-5 contest with a trajectory to go down to the wire can snowball into a rout in Fenway Park. That's also exactly the kind of drastic turn of events Red Sox fans were used to seeing a lot more of in 2004 and 2005, with teams built to smash long balls and rack up massive amounts of runs on the bottom half of Fenway's antiquated scoreboard.

In fairness, this Boston team has hit a lot more like those squads both when it plays at home and on the road. Just as the '04 Idiots and subsequent '05 menage a leftovers and overpriced Edgar Renteria and Matt Clement did, this team tends to hit a TON at home and a PAUCITY on the road. Sure, there have been exceptions, but the remarkably adaptable '08 lineup -- you've probably noticed that Jacoby Ellsbury tends to steal a lot of bases, and Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp aren't exactly slow pokes -- runs on a lot more cylinders when it's bashing drives off that big left field wall than it does in, say, McAfee Coliseum and other horribly ill-suited parks.

The fact that Josh Beckett didn't have his best stuff this afternoon is actually the most encouraging aspect of the victory, from a Boston perspective. By winning an 18-5 slugfest, and by pulling away rather than relying on a bullpen that has given cause for a lot of gnawed fingernails this season, this Red Sox team showed that it can flex a considerable amount of muscle when it needs to, Big Papi or no Big Papi.

That should quiet the Barry Bonds talk, at least for an afternoon. Or two, if we're all lucky. It hasn't slowed the Boston Herald yet, but there's a first for everything.

For the past two days, they've come in the eighth inning. Not just that, they've come via the bat of Manny Ramirez, who -- after a .225 start to July in Tampa Bay and Yankee Stadium -- has done a pretty good job making up for a poor start to the month. Monday it came via an eighth inning single that scored the game's only run. Tuesday, it came in a much larger and stronger package, with a two-run blast pulling the Sox into a 5-5 tie, a deadlock which was broken two batters later after a Kevin Youkilis double on a single by Brandon Moss, a player who continues to pick his spots admirably.

mannypedroialaugh.pngIn fact, Moss may be picking his spots so admirably that he might be prime trade bait over the next couple of weeks.

That's a story for the future, not one for a deceptively important night after a second-straight Red Sox win over a Twins team that entered as hot as anyone in the major leagues. They'll exit with a lost series, and will have to beat Josh Beckett to get a win out of a three-game set.

As the case turned out, they should have beaten Jon Lester on Tuesday, a day in which he toggled between brilliance and the kind of scuffles that pockmarked his previous tenures in the major leagues. Occasionally, when listening to a play-by-play team on the radio or TV, one of the announcers will just get it right. That was the case Tuesday, when Dave O'Brien, one half of the WEEI radio crew and a weekly ESPN TV play-by-play man, said that Lester was, "just a little off tonight." It's true. While Lester was absolutely dominant over the first three innings, he was lucky to get out of the fourth allowing just three runs. He got things back under control in the fifth and sixth, but found himself struggling again in both the seventh and eighth before being relieved and bailed out by David Aardsma, who earned the win in relief.

Was the performance a bit schizophrenic? Sure, but it was hardly Lester's worst. In fact, by going deep into the game, the second consecutive night a Sox starter has lasted long enough to avoid using more than one reliever as a bridge to closer Jonathan Papelbon, Lester ensured that the Boston bullpen would be all but completely fresh for Wednesday's series finale, Papelbon aside.

franconamoss.pngBrandon Moss could bring a reliever at the deadline, or he could
just keep contributing to a lineup he's starting to crack more often
with Big Papi working his way back.
(AP Photos)

Still, Ramirez was the story again, as the outfielder-come-DH showed that he can get himself re-tracked as quickly as he slips off the rails. After the win, Terry Francona reflected on Ramirez's bomb the way he's reflected on missing Big Papi from the lineup, with a proverbial, "sometimes you just need a home run."

On Tuesday, the Red Sox needed a home run. They got one, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
Let's make one thing clear: 2-5 road trips against the other two primary AL East competitors is not going to get the job done. Even spectacular starting pitching through all seven games won't atone for losing five winnable games that could come back to haunt the Sox in September.

manrampostsingle.pngThat's why it was particularly important that Boston return to Fenway and play a lot more like the team that earned seven All-Star spots without raising an eyebrow than the one that left more ducks on the pond than a conservation specialist in Boston Common.

In the end, after a little more than three hours in the Boston humidity, the Red Sox bats didn't quite reverse the trends of the last seven days. They did, however, do just enough to break a two-game losing streak and help closer Jonathan Papelbon get rid of the truly rotten taste in his mouth left over from a 10th-inning loss, the first time in 20 Papelbon outings that the Sox didn't win.

This one, they did, 1-0 against a surging Twins team that had won 16 of its past 18 games. The fact that one run, driven in by the slumping Manny Ramirez after a terrific Dustin Pedroia double to lead off the top of the eighth inning, was enough to earn a win and break a horrendous slippery slope, a downhill traipse of demoralizing one-run losses that that was quickly mounting to the realm of crippling. Instead, the Sox bounced back behind a dominant performance from Daisuke Matsuzaka, who wriggled out of a first inning jam and then proceeded to put himself on efficient pitch counts until a rough patch in the eighth inning.

The rest, of course, is  one-night history. Hideki Okajima gets himself in even more hot water, then gets off without a run. ManRam strokes his RBI single, and Papelbon gets redemption moments later.

It's an auspicious start to a truly essential three game series. With the Twins as hot as any other team in the majors, Boston has an immediate opportunity to prove that it's rough road trip was a fluke. It can also use the tripartite series as an instant edge in any potential wild card chase down the road, not to mention the tiebreaking factor in head-to-head factor.

Naturally, it's too early to be taken those kind of considerations seriously. In 2006 the Sox looked as good as any team in the majors at the All Star break, then faded to a dismal third place. While starting pitching depth would seem to make that a less likely eventuality this time around, nothing is impossible -- copyright Adidas -- particularly with Reebok pitchman Big Papi cheering from the bench instead of relaxing in the batter's box.

So, while Justin Masterson heads down to the minor leagues to learn how to be a reliever, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett get a chance to show they can keep pace with Matsuzaka. If they can, then perhaps Boston can move on and get back to life before the week of July 1-7. Needless to say, that would be a step in the right direction.
Before anyone comes streaming in with pot shots on lack of entries, WMYM offers this entreaty as a peace offering: We're sorry that our vacations have been so poorly planned. Just like clockwork, as soon as the Red Sox hit two consecutive monster series, we hit the road and aren't able to update the blog through the whole trip. It's unfair, we know.

mastersonhat.JPGNo win, but a new snazzy hat for Justin Masterson in New York on Saturday. (Getty)

That being said, just as we were pining away for a platform after a fairly demoralizing sweep in Tampa Bay -- three losses that highlighted both the shortcomings in Boston's bullpen and the problems of with an Ortiz-less lineup -- the Sox go out and look unbeatable in a pair of wins in the Bronx. OK, unbeatable is a bit strong. Still, Jon Lester was absolutely phenomenal in a five-hit shutout on Thursday night (yes, we know, the Yankees swung at a lot of first pitches) and Josh Beckett was in fine form on Friday, taking care of business before eventually ceding way to the bullpen for a few innings.

In fact, the Red Sox are actually only a failed attempt to get in two runs with the bases loaded and no outs away from being 3-0 through the first three in Yankee Stadium. Justin Masterson wasn't exactly weaving a gem yesterday afternoon on national TV, but his command came to him after a shaky first couple of innings, and he eventually showed why he has kept all the talk about getting Bartolo Colon or Clay Buchholz back into the rotation mighty quiet. Maybe it was the patriot hat that got Masterson back on the efficient track? Maybe. Or maybe it was just the fact that the Yankees lineup hasn't exploded. Yet.

That, in fact, is what has WMYM worried right now. Sure, Johnny Damon is out of the Yankees lineup for the foreseeable future, which ... shockingly ... is actually significant. And yes, A-Rod is mired in the most galling public personal issues this side of Max Moseley, but the last time we checked, that never slowed his ridiculous power hitting pace in the past.

Put all those factors together, and mix in the stunning seven Red Sox named to the All-Star team (remember, Terry Francona is the AL manager), the snubbing of Mike Mussina for the AL squad and the general frustration starting to vent out of the tiny holes in Yankees manager Joe Girardi's hat, and there's plenty of motivation for the Yankees and starter Joba Chamberlain to draw on in the series finale at Yankee Stadium on ESPN.

Of course, Tim Wakefield has had some good nights at Yankee Stadium in the past. Wishful thinking? Sure. But did you see him in his last loss in Tampa last week? Put that on display tonight, and the Sox have a shot.
The weekend turned out to look a lot more like option B, than A, with Wakefield providing a shaky outing on Friday and Daisuke Matsuzaka returning with the shortest, and ugliest, outing of his brief MLB career. In fact, it was the shortest outing of his ENTIRE career, going back to Japanese little league, which is a fairly stunning realization.

varitekinverted.JPGIt really was that kind of series for Varitek and the Sox. (AP)

That's the bad news. Oh, wait, there's more. The Sox were apocryphally bad with runners in scoring position throughout the series, but particularly on Sunday, when Kevin Youkilis finally bailed out Jonathan Papelbon -- and himself, for striking out when a blooper would have scored the winning run in the 11th -- by knocking a walk-off homer into the Monster Seats, providing Boston with its lone win of the weekend.

The silver lining is that neither the Rays nor the Yankees could close any ground, the Reds keeping the Yankees in check and the Astros somehow doing the same with the surging Rays. The lead is still there, but the interleague momentum is certainly long gone.

What now? Well, for starters, there's a duel of aces Monday night, with Arizona stud Dan Haren going up against Josh Beckett. While Beckett won't feel like he's acting as a true stopper, his role will be pretty close. The Sox all but DID lose Sunday's game, and the long, pitcher-heavy victory will put a big onus on Beckett to pitch deep into Monday night's ESPN game.

The win over the Cardinals also puts pressure on the lineup to start producing again, a prospect a lot more easily said than done when batters are facing a powerful arm like Haren's. The hits, or at lest getting runners on base, isn't necessarily the problem. It's getting them to cross home plate that's been holding the team's oft-feared offense from clicking into gear.

A return by David Ortiz -- provided a healed wrist sheath, of course -- would go a long ways toward that. Until then, the team has to pray that J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez keep slugging home runs at the shocking clip they've been keeping up for the past half a month. If they don't, well, there may be a lot more results like the ones on Friday and Saturday than the W's that Sox fans have grown accustomed to.

WEEKLY LINEUP CARD (Stats do NOT take Sunday's win into consideration):

Jacoby Ellsbury: B-
It was a fairly lackluster offensive week for Ellsbury, who carried both a .250 average and OBP. The amazing thing, though, is that he scored four runs while only reaching base six times, buoyed by a double and homer (what, no triple this week?). He was even caught stealing once, bringing his season total up to two. And while his output might be a good week for many hitters, anytime Jacoby strikes out five times compared with six hits, there's something more to be desired.

Julio Lugo: A-
A pretty solid week for the shortstop, which is a really good thing for him, considering the fact that he was atrocious in the field. Lugo pushed a solid .524 OBP, and he flexed good power for a change, making him more valuable in his leadoff spot. Still, the most important factor in handing out Lugo's grade this week was the strikeout-to-walk ratio -- 3:5. Clearly, he needs to keep that kind of production up to keep himself safe amidst all the throwing errors.

Kevin Youkilis: C-
.231 average, .286 OBP, and only one RBI. Not the kind of numbers the Sox have gotten used to from the Greek God of Walks. Then again, his nickname is the most striking note of a rough week in itself: Youk didn't walk a single time last week.

Dustin Pedroia: A
DP appears to be firmly out of his mini-slump, drilling 11 solid hits, two of them homers (he had three total RBI). He only had two walks to add to the tally -- that makes for an OBP of .429 -- but he kept up his amazing mark of drawing pitchers out of opposing pitchers, avoiding strikeouts for the entire week.

Manny Ramirez: C
Well, the hot streak had to cool down a bit eventually, didn't it? ManRam's average dipped below .300 with a .200 week, a seven-day stretch during which he only connected for three hits. He did draw a pair of walks, but he struck out three times. Still, with Manny you just can't get too upset, can you?

Mike Lowell: B-
The week would have been a lot tougher for Dr. Double if not for his well-trained eye, with the slugger drawing four walks compared with only two strikeouts. He also had a pair of RBI among his five hits, but the final numbers -- .238 average, .385 OBP and .381 slugging don't quite cut mustard at the B level.

J.D. Drew: A+
Can we officially call Senor Drew the Human Torch yet? As the temperatures keep climbing, so do the stats on the smooth-swinging right fielder. This week he batted a blistering .381, with an OBP of .519 and an astounding 1.000 slugging. That's right people, they were all doubles or better. Well, four of them were homers, for that matter, which padded his RBI count up to 44, seven of which came this week.

Jason Varitek: F
Where J.D. is hot, 'Tek is ice cold, pulling down a straight 0 this week. Literally. He didn't get a single hit. He did score a run on one of his walks, but there were only four of those, compared with five strikeouts. Truly, one of the worst weeks at the plate WMYM has seen in a long, long time.

Coco Crisp: A-
Five hits in four games? Three runs? Thank God for suspension appeals, huh? Crisp has stepped up admirably since moving his way back into the everyday lineup following Big Papi's wrist injury, and while his four strikeouts compared with no walks put a damper on his otherwise outstanding week of .387 hitting, his two steals helped bridge some of the gap left from the lack of walks.

Sean Casey: A-
The Mayor's getting more time folks, and that means more hits if you have him in a roto league. He played in four games last week, but when he did play he stroked two doubles among his five hits, pulling down a .385 average which improves to .429 when you factor in his one walk. Most astounding? He had a stolen base. Seriously.




In Wednesday night's Red Sox win over the Orioles, the biggest blast came from a fairly unlikely source; catcher Jason Varitek.

In most years, Varitek's first inning homer, which gave Boston a 5-0 lead, would be a truly stunning development. In 2008, it's not that off base. That's because, despite an average that's plateaued in an area that puts it squarely among the most anemic of his career -- his current .257 would be the fourth-lowest mark of his career, just two points ahead of his third worst -- Varitek is flexing power that he hasn't had since 2004. The captain has already gone deep seven times, a rate which would help him challenge his career-best 25 from back in the aforementioned 2004.

vtekheadshot.pngVaritek is an all-star because of the chest protector, not the
bat that occasionally is a lineup protector.
(AP)

In fact, the dichotomy doesn't end there. A host of other troubling signs have emerged in Varitek's early season. He's grounded into seven double plays, meaning that he'd need a dramatic improvement to avoid hitting his prior career-high of 16 (in 2000). He's already struck out a whopping 50 times -- his previous high is 126 -- perhaps an off-shoot of swinging for the fences a bit too often.

So, maybe that's the real question: Why is 'Tek swinging to take a shot out of the yard every time he comes to the plate? Is it because he's in a contract year? Possibly, though all early indications are that the Sox are interested in keeping the captain around a year or two longer. At least. No amount of home runs could change that either way, and no amount of home runs is going to earn Varitek a Jorge Posada-like late career windfall.

What's most significant about Varitek - as you hear nearly every day - is how he handles the Boston pitching staff. With the rash of injuries that's beset Boston's starters this year, as well as catching no-hitters from two pitchers younger than 26 in the past year - it's clear that Varitek is calling games at the top of, well, his game.

Will the all or nothing approach continue? That's anyone's guess. With David Ortiz still flexing a huge, arm-long cast, it's both a benefit and big detraction from the lineup's momentum. Maybe, in the big scheme of things, that's just the way this season is meant to be for him.

The Sox and their fans just have to hope that the direction their captain has charted takes them back to the promised land, which his maps have taken Boston to twice in the past four years.
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:







There was a moment during Sunday afternoon's 6-3, Red Sox loss to Oakland where third baseman Mike Lowell watched yet another Oakland runner trot in to third base. Despite his best, sunglassed intentions, there was no hiding the malaise and frustration on the face of the reigning World Series MVP, emotions that clearly were running through the Boston clubhouse after another sweep on the road, and yet another rough start to a Red Sox road trip.

lesterlossas.JPGNo no-hitter, no win this time out for Jon-Jon. (AP)

Why Boston can not win on the road is truly a great mystery. Friday night proved the start of tribulations, but that loss could largely be chalked up to a bad outing from Tim Wakefield, as schizophrenic a starter as there is, through no fault of his own. But the following two games, started by ace Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, coming off a no-hitter, were both pitched competently and competitively.

So what are the Red Sox to make of an inauspicious start to their latest West Coast trip? It's hard to say. Lester was far from perfect Sunday, but he settled down nicely after allowing a two-run single in the bottom of the fourth. In fact, after motoring through a 1-2-3 fifth inning, it was more than a bit surprising that he didn't trot back out to start the sixth. His pitch count had only reached 94, and it's likely that his no-hitter on Monday played heavily in keeping him from going further.

Of course, in the end that wouldn't have mattered, because the Sox only mustered three runs. Therein lies the rub, folks: These Sox are just not hitting on the road.

Consider the final scores from the past three days: 8-3, 3-0, 6-3. Six runs in three games. That's a paltry output for a lineup that's truly crushing the ball back home in the friendly confines of Fenway Park.

Oakland's McAfee Coliseum might have something to do with that, given that at least a handful of deep fly outs across the series may have gone out in a smaller park. Despite nearly 20 fly outs on Saturday night against Justin Duscherer, the Sox just didn't put the ball in play on the ground much, and THAT's what may have killed them more than anything else.

That's all fine to note, as is potential lingering distractions after the no-hitter from Lester, a young, charismatic player whose personal struggles with cancer makes such a feat an instant national story. Still, it doesn't justify six runs in three games, and Boston clearly needs a prompt rebound in Seattle or there will be a lot of sleepless nights ahead (Go ahead. It's alright to groan over that one).

STARTING PITCHING: -
Lester couldn't get past four innings because he twittering around the strike zone and, additionally, was victimized by a sloppy defense. If he'd been more efficient, he clearly would have continued through the sixth. Instead, he was done early, and had already allowed four more runs than he did Monday night. The combination makes for a sure straight -, even if another inning alone might have been enough for a small bump up.

MIDDLE RELIEF: -
Craig Hansen did his job, bringing encouragement for the team's middle relief future in the process. The same can't be said for Javier Lopez, whose horrid seventh was the death knell to any serious hopes of a Boston comeback. Mike Timlin wasn't exactly brilliant of his own accord, but - as he always seems to do - he wriggled his way out of danger. Clearly, more outings like Sunday's for Lopez would make clear one of the team's priorities heading deeper into the summer and toward the trade deadline.

SET-UP RELIEF: N/A
Sigh.

CLOSER: N/A
At this point, Jonathan Papelbon has to be getting antsy ...

LINEUP: -
Three runs behind Jon Lester isn't really enough to be safe, nor would it ever be to back up a second-year starter. That being said, this straight - is more a reflection of three consecutive days of abhorrent offense, punctuated only briefly by splashes of power - David Ortiz's 11th home run this afternoon, for instance - and, finally, a decent outing from Manny Ramirez, whose 3-for-4 looked a lot more like the ManRam everyone recognizes. A lot more of those outputs from both men would go a long way toward righting the ship in Seattle.
Well, that was gruesome.

On an afternoon when Josh Beckett clearly didn't have his A game - he may not have even had his B game - David Ortiz had a reliable piece of lumber. Maybe that's what he was missing all through the first quarter of the season.

ortiztitohandshake.JPGEven when the jersey is sloppy, Big Papi has a tendency to make Tito Francona look good.

Regardless of where his personal piece of lucky lumber came from, Big Papi was blasting on all cylinders Sunday, connecting for two homers and another key RBI double in Boston's come-from-behind win, a victory which handed the Sox a much needed sweep over the Brewers. Unlike the previous two games, when the Sox jumped out early and held on for dear life through shaky bullpen outings, this one got started on the other foot, surprising since it was Beckett's turn to take the ball on the hill.

So what are we to make of this win? Well, it comes a day after a doubleheader exhausted nearly all the bullpen, so just getting through it required a significant amount of pitching stamina. Beckett provided that, going seven innings before giving way to Manny Delcarmen for the eighth after his 107th pitch. If there was any doubt he wasn't on top of his game, his 75-32 strike-to-ball ratio is definitely off his best, and even well off his average. There was only one walk, but the four homers dished up by Boston's ace made him look a lot more like the 2006 vintage of Beckett - his first season in Boston - than the pitcher he evolved into last summer. The 2007 Josh Beckett does not give up four homers or six runs in a start. Sunday, he did.

Luckily for the Red Sox, that didn't matter in the end. With the depth of hitting the Sox flexed back at home in Fenway, they had more than enough pop to take advantage of yet another bad start from Milwaukee's overmatched Carlos Villanueva, and then more power to feast on a taxed Brewers bullpen that just never delivered after it got to Kenmore Square.

None of this should minimize frustration over a second-staright subpar Beckett outing, or concern that three games in two days could take its toll in the coming series against the Royals, who are NOT playing like the Royals AL fans have grown accustomed to in years past. Think the Devil Rays gone midwest, with slightly less youth and pitching. It also can't minimize frustration over more bullpen struggles, as one the team's true unquestioned strengths a year ago steadily starts to look like an Achilles heel.

But a sweep is a sweep, and with projected starts by both rookie Justin Masterson (Tuesday) and Bartolo Colon (his Red Sox debut on Wednesday), wins against anyone by anyone can't be taken lightly. Even when the opposing pitcher is Carlos Villanueva.

STARTING PITCHING: -
That was Josh Beckett? Really? Do we have additional visual confirmation? The four homers looked far too much like the less-cerebral, more macho Beckett of '06, when he was just trying to overpower everyone. In case you missed that season with selective memory loss following a particular September five-game massacre, the bottom line was that the whole "I'm going to throw harder and faster than you, and nothing else" strategy wasn't such a big hit. Still, Beckett got seven innings, which was absolutely essential. If he doesn't last that long, the Red Sox probably don't win. It's worth noting, even amidst an overall air of disappointment with the rest of start.

MIDDLE RELIEF: N/A
It wasn't pretty, but Beckett made it to the finish line, which kept this all-important N/A in place.

SET-UP RELIEF: -
Terry Francona had to be praising the good lord above that Manny Delcarmen had a few runs to work with. Not only did he allow another run - and two hits - by doing so he added more questions to the ongoing internal debate over whether he can really ascend to the set-up position the organization has him targeted for. A day after Craig Hansen struggled when he had a chance to show his stripes - overcoming two errors in the same inning would have proved he was over the struggles of his first couple seasons - Delcarmen couldn't take the power relief job by the horns either. That all underscores something that Sox fans, a particular Baltimore grand slam aside, already know all too well: the quicker Hideki Okajima's wrist injury heals, the better.

CLOSER: √
What was it with this game? Not only did Jonathan Papelbon allow the ever-elusive hit, he nearly allowed a second one that could have stoked a rally, if not for the tremendous speed and athleticism of Jacoby Ellsbury in right field. Luckily, that was all the drama for the afternoon, none too soon.

LINEUP: √+
Now we're talking. Vintage All-Star stuff from Big Papi made up for another relatively quiet afternoon from Manny Ramirez, who is STILL stuck on 497 in this interminable quest for 500 homers. And is anyone surprised that both Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis both had three hits apiece? They shouldn't be. That duo, now split on different slots of the order after last season as table-setting toppers, are becoming just as important to the success of the Red Sox lineups as Ortiz and Ramirez. It's the truth, even if it doesn't receive the hype.
Alright, it's time to come clean: WMYM was not at all sure that the Red Sox were going to pull out their double-header sweep on Saturday.

Sure, Boston built up big leads in both legs. Sure, the got starting pitching efforts that lasted nearly a complete seven innings on both fronts. Sure, they got solid hitting early and plenty of base runners later. The unsettling thing was that Milwaukee just didn't fold.

mikelowell.JPGDr. Double's 4 RBI performance was the difference in Saturday's nightcap,
and it helped make up for he and his teammates' sloppy night in the field.


In truth, that's what you were waiting for as a Red Sox fan. There was no reason for the Brewers to really feel like they were going to be able to mount a comeback. They fell behind early to a team that's been more dominant at home in the early season than any other, and they did it against a team that had to sit and stew about a losing streak for two days, thanks to moody rain.

Then there was the compact doubleheader, circumstances which nearly always conspire to create a split. Well, maybe not always, but that's often the case. And no sooner did WMYM tout up the advantage of having two catches split the two sides of the doubleheader than Kevin Cash puts up a stinker of a ball game, losing passed balls left and right and putting up a - rare for him in '08 - 0fer at the plate. That included a situation in the eighth when he could have taken considerable pressure off his reliever in the ninth.

Yet somehow the hits that were most important came, the relievers that were most needed came through just enough, shaky outings from David Aardsma and, worrisomely, Craig Hansen aside. And somehow, the Red Sox swept two from a team that could have been a pesky obstacle on a short homestand. The grades may not be truly reflective of that, but winning twice in a day is always impressive, and at the end of a long afternoon and evening, that actually is the most notable thing of all.

STARTING PITCHING: √-
Wakefield left the mound after allowing only one run himself, but he was responsible for two runners on, both of whom eventually crossed against David Aardsma. While that reflects as much on Aardsma as it does on Wakefield, the old knuckler had to wriggle out of a lot of jams tonight, which doesn't reflect too well on his efficiency. That's not to say that he wasn't effective; to the contrary, whenever you get seven innings (or, in this case, 6.2) out of Wakefield, that's not a bad night. It's just that with the stuff he had, it's likely that his line wouldn't have looked nearly as tidy against any team that had actually seen him before.

MIDDLE RELIEF: -
The Wakefield to Aardsma bridge has been a pretty sturdy one of late for Terry Francona, but it didn't work out that way this week. After cruising to his first out with a three pitch strikeout, the fireballer struggled to command his breaking pitches, walking the bases loaded and then giving up a key two-out hit that put Milwaukee right back in the game. Not only was it a blow to the reliever's confidence, it was a big blow to the rest of the bullpen, which clearly was hoping to get a second inning out of Aardsma.

SET-UP RELIEF: -
Oh Craig Hansen, just when we're about to slot you into a key position in the team's bullpen plans, you go out and allow an outing like tonight. In this case, Hansen was victimized by preposterously sloppy infield defense, with two errors erasing him from the fault of his runs. Still, it would have been a huge frame if he'd been able to escape  unscathed, and unfortunately he didn't. Instead, he gave up the tying and leading run after a wild pitch that easily could have been ruled a passed ball. The shaky outing isn't necessarily a disaster for the reliever, but it sets the stage for a huge outing his next time out. If he comes out of the 'pen and shuts things down quickly, all signs point to the positive. If he doesn't, all bets on his future may soon be off.

CLOSER: √+
Someone had to earn a top grade from the pitching ranks today. And isn't it nice when it happens to be a guy who's been about as loyal to Boston as possible? Unlike the skeens of drama provided the rest of the day, Mike Timlin's 1-2-3 ninth was a breath of fresh area, and a breath of relief for Jonathan Papelbon, who earned the save in Game 1. To say those three outs were a big boost for tomorrow and the rest of the home stand are an understatement.

LINEUP: √
No √+ because of all the stranded runners, but there was some general depth in hitting, despite sitting a handful of regulars. David Ortiz came through with more situational hitting, going with the pitch for a bloop single when the team needed hits instead of trying to yank out a deep shot. Mike Lowell was a monster early, and Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia proved once again that it's all but impossible to shut them down for an entire game. That, as much as anything else, is starting to come through as the identity of this team: The hitters just don't stop coming, ever. As long as Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury and co. keep that approach, the Sox will probably keep contending and degending with real results.
Ahhh, now comes the part of the day where the rain delay bites Boston in the butt, right?

dicekhatdoff.JPGDice-K deserved the hat-doff after another win. Hard to argue that.

After watching Daisuke Matsuzaka do his part - a solid 6.2 inning performance that should have been a full seven, if not for a rare Kevin Youkilis error over at 3B - Boston now has to find a way to win a second game less than two hours after finishing the first. There aren't any lineups yet, but the defensive substitutions used for the ninth inning in Game 1 - Youkilis to first, Mike Lowell in at 3B, Alex Cora at short - will probably prove prolific when it comes to whom plays tonight.

The Sox do, in fact, have one big thing going for them in Game 2: The pitcher is exactly the right guy to put on the mound. By having Tim Wakefield toss game two, the Sox avoid either using Jason Varitek for a second game - which they would have been tempted to do, given his hot streak in game 1 - or use Kevin Cash two days in a row, which they WOULDN'T have been likely to do, particularly with tomorrow's pitching matchup. Now they don't have to, AND they get the additional benefit of throwing Wake's knuckler out there, which is just about the only pitch Dice-K doesn't use on a daily basis.

For what it's worth, here's your pitching matchup. Yes, Dave Bush really has been hit around that badly, though it hardly means he'll get clobbered again tonight. Well, hopefully it means he'll get clobbered around tonight. We'll see.

The one thing that can't happen, of course, is more rain. As much as WMYM loves to use photos of Doppler Radar, it's just not worth it for the headache it'll create with the rest of the season's schedule. It really isn't.

Anyone else feel like ordering up another Big Papi blast? Would work pretty well in the nightcap, no? Or maybe 498 from ManRam. That would probably do the trick, too.
A couple quick points that absolutely have to be mentioned before getting into some quick grades. Big primary/Celtics playoff nights will do that to the best of us, even if - like WMYM - you do blow off the first half of the C's face off to make sure you catch all nine Sox innings.

wakefield.JPGLook at Wake's grip on that ball. No wonder hitters can't figure out
where it's going ... HE doesn't know where it's going!


-- Wakefield looked better than he has since '97. Did anyone see that coming? We sure as hell didn't. He was absolutely unhittable.

-- Kevin Cash is hitting .362? With a .472 slugging? Really? Is everyone else as shocked about this as WMYM is?

-- Those back-to-back David Ortiz-Manny Ramirez blasts were the biggest set of consecutive bombs dropped by that duo since Cleveland last year in the ALCS. Those shots were CRUSHED. The fact that ManRam knocked out 497 on the first pitch ever offered by a recent call-up from the minors is almost painful to watch. Just makes you cringe.

-- The play-by-play and color duo on Fox Sports Net Detroit are approximately an 18 on the 1-10 unintentional comedy scale. At one point, color commentator Rod Allen called Cy Young's 1908 hairstyle "fried, died and cut down the middle". After trying to not act surprised, play-by-play guy Rod Impemba finally gave up and had him explain the phrase, and it still made no sense. The two seem so ill fit that they're actually mildly entertaining to listen to, and not nearly as homer-ish as most team's (cough, cough, AL East rivals, cough) duos. A nice change of pace.

STARTING PITCHING: √+
Like we said earlier, best Wakefield start in a decade. Seriously. He was that good. Wake had a one-hitter entering the eighth, and he did that WITH NO WALKS!! You know how hard it is to throw a knuckleballing one-hitter without any walks? It's impossible, that's how hard it is. Well, eventually it became a two-hitter ... again WITHOUT ANY WALKS! Say what you will, but the way Wakefield had the flutterball going today, he was as effective as any pitcher in the bigs. Want more proof? Just consider that the game lasted only a few minutes more than two hours, yet the Sox constantly had runners all over the bases and scored five runs. End of discussion.

MIDDLE RELIEF: N/A
How many times have we been able to say that lately? If there were any question about just how effective the starting pitching has been over the past couple weeks, it can easily be traced back in our postgame breakdowns. That's a true testament.

SET-UP RELIEF: N/A
Another day, another chance for the end of 'pen guys to take a breather.

CLOSER: √
Mike Timlin gave up a single to his first batter, which is always a bit of a concern with a guy who labors like Timlin does. Still, he immediately settled and induced a double play, then finished things off with a pop up. Against bats like Detroit's, that counts as a very solid outing from a guy still making his way back to full strength and re-defining his role.

LINEUP: √
This should probably be a √+ again, but the Sox just left too many runners on. This easily could have been an 8-0 or 9-0 game after the fifth inning, yet Boston failed to capitalize on the batters who reached base without outs. Or with only one out. It's starting to become a bit of a recurring problem. Still, the Big Papi and ManRam homers are nice to see, particularly the Ramirez shot, which, if nothing else, gets him one dinger closer to 500 and getting that monkey off his bat. You can practically see it swinging off his bat right now, so the sooner it's over with, the better he'll start looking. Also, Julio Lugo continues to impress everyone, right? Sure, the errors are up, but so is the batting average and, even more impressive, the OBP. Just when you're ready to hand the job over the Jed Lowrie, Lugo starts playing pissed and looks like the guy Bill James has been lusting over all these years. 

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