Results tagged “Dustin Pedroia” 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.
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

Huge.

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WMYM is back from vacation. Good timing, huh?

lesteryell.pngNot only was Boston's Monday victory over division-leading Tampa Bay an enormous boon, it kept alive huge trends for both teams: For the Red Sox, it kept alive an enormous win streak that has nearly eclipsed a five-and-a-half game division deficit. For the Rays, it kept a losing streak in tact that has all but eliminated a playoff-bound edge that Tampa Bay spent all summer building up.

Far from running away, the Rays are collapsing upon themselves, weighed down by both expectations and injuries, just as Boston is putting things back together. The mastheads of the two ships are nearing each other every day, closing on the moment when they'll finally pass each other in the night, steering toward directions unknown, with the potential to run aground at the same time in Tampa Bay, or continue on to playoff points in the future.

Generic high brow metaphors aside, Jon Lester's performance -- pitching a shutout into the eighth inning of a key playoff race game -- was nothing less of revelationary. Again. And while that might seem to be a redundant statement, instead it just reveals another facet of Lester's emerging persona as an overpowering ace. First there was the Game 4 victory in the World Series, a game before which some criticized Terry Francona for throwing a still recovery Lester to the playoff wolves. Less than eight months later, there was the no-hitter, a transcendent performance that showed the lefty could zero in on the pinpoint control he flashed in the preseason and the season's opening series in Oakland.

Since then, there's been skid stopping starts throughout the summer, complete with an even more significant start on Monday, a game which not only cut the divisional deficit to a bridgeable number but also provided a decisive blow to the very team Boston is chasing.

lesterdoff.pngLester has had plenty of reasons to doff his cap this
year, and if he can keep it going, the Red Sox
will have plenty to celebrate, too.
(AP)

In the pantheon of amazing Red Sox developments this season, Lester's metamorphosis from borderline fifth-starter to one of the best left-handed arms in the major leagues is right at the top of the list. When combined with the improved control of Daisuke Matsuzaka, the improving health of Josh Beckett and only slightly surprising perfect fit of Paul Byrd, the Sox have a consistent four-man rotation with the ever present knuckleballing weekly wild card of Tim Wakefield. That might not be perfect, but it's a heck of a lot better than just about any other team can provide.

Factor in the budding MVP candidacy of Dustin Pedroia, the resurrection of the ghost of Coco Crisp's bat, the depth brought by Mark Kotsay and rookie Jed Lowrie's imperviousness to pressure, and Boston just might be on to something here. We'll probably have a pretty good idea whether they do by the end of Wednesday night.


It may sound cliched, but now is definitely the right time for a team to be hitting its stride. That's good news for the Red Sox.

Boston bought itself more distance in the Wild Card hunt Saturday, taking a second-straight game in Sox-on-Sox action with a pitcher making his major league debut. The win didn't boot the White Sox from the AL Central lead, but it did put an extra game between the Red Sox and Chicago, should Minnesota rise up and catch the Pale Hoes down the stretch, pushing Chicago -- and not the Twins, as currently construed in the standings -- into the Wild Card chase.

bowdendelivers.pngIt may not have come exactly the way he pictured it, but rookie
Michael Bowden delivered a win in his Red Sox debut.
(AP)

Of course, both of these teams will hope it doesn't come to that, but the way Tampa Bay is playing right now it's hard to write the Rays out of any equation. With yet another dramatic win on Saturday, Tampa kept surging Boston from gaining any ground, but the Red Sox didn't lose any, either.

That comes thanks to one constant star and one new one. Dustin Pedroia is quickly morphing into more than an everyday second baseman with an effectively choppy swing. He's already an All-Star, but he's morphing into something much more than that. After two consecutive games without recording an out, it's becoming clear that Pedroia is rapidly emerging as a legitimate MVP candidate.

Add to that a winning debut from Michael Bowden, another chip prospect-cum-trade chip-cum contributor, and all the makings were there for a truly monumental turn of events. Bowden relied far too much on his fastball, and he gave up hits to a handful of White Sox, making it clear that he's still a ways from becoming the three-pitch specialist who can keep hitters off balance. His curveball and change up could both become plus pitches, but more now he was able to mix them in just enough to earn a big Boston win.

Before anyone starts to think that Bowden, like Masterson, has a future in the bullpen, it has to be pointed out that the 21 year-old is nearing the 150-innings mark that the Red Sox front office earmarks as magical. It's unlikely that they'll be willing to waive that restriction for Bowden given his age, even if he could bring a lot to the table for the stretch run. That's before considering Bowden's typical pitch sequences, with a serious reliance on an explosive fastball that puts unnatural torque on his relatively undersized frame.

That the Red Sox would be winning based largely on the contributions of a second-year stalwart, rookie debutante and a cast of fill-in players is an noteworthy achievement. That they'd be doing it against a fellow playoff contender and a team that, at various points during the past four years, has haunted them is more impressive still.

Most importantly, that Boston fans would fully expect for players like Pedroia and Bowden to be decisive game changers is a sure signal of sea change in organizational philosophy and expectations. All of that makes a huge difference, and it may be the biggest reason of all that Boston is in good shape not only for this playoff run, but for the next few down the road.
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.
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.




Just when you thought the Red Sox might be in for an extended stretch without both David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, ManRam declares himself fit to bat against Seattle. That's good news for a lineup that looked positively punchless in a loss at the hands of Felix Hernandez last night.

anotherwakephoto.pngMuch of that had to do with the ineffectiveness of pitcher Bartolo Colon, just as the rest of Boston's batting struggles revolved around Hernandez cruising once again at Fenway. After outdueling Daisuke Matsuzaka in the Japanese ace's home debut last year, Hernandez might want to check the dimensions of Fenway when deciding where to sign his next contract.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, with momentum being the next day's pitcher, today's Tim Wakefield start doesn't necessarily bode too well. Wakefield has been almost grotesquely inconsistent all year, throwing a terrific inning before facing an equally horrendous inning less than an hour later.

That doesn't mean Wakefield won't put out an impressive game tonight, particularly after Colon's rough patch last night. It does mean that the Sox will almost certainly have to hit Seattle starter Miguel Battista a lot better than they hit Hernandez last night.

They'll also be trying to do so without Dustin Pedroia, who has the day off amidst one of the worst stretches of his young career. According to the Globe's Gordon Edes, DP is 0-for-12 during the team's current Fenway Park homestand, with an even more abysmmal 10-for-67 (.149) across the past 17 games.

So will fill-in Alex Cora and No. 2 hole replacement Julio Lugo be able to bridge the gap for the Sox? We're about to find out.


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:







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.
Let's start with a disclaimer: We're not awarding full grades today. Sorry. We're far too upset for that. After all, it's not every day that a Boston team on a three-game losing streak loses a lead in the seventh inning on a grand slam. That's painful folks, painful any way you slice it.

millsy.pngInstead, we're just going to grade the seventh inning devolution of the Red Sox advantage through the decisions of bench coach Brad Mills, who is serving as acting manager while Tito "We're sorry we undervalued you" Francona attends his mother-in-law's funeral. Think about it, not only does HE not want to be there, Red Sox fans DESPERATELY want him not to be there.

OK, so with that disclaimer fully in place, let's take a look at Monsieur Mills' moves, shall we? In case you want the Cliff Notes version, let's just say that the man to the left isn't exactly a statistical Einstein.

1) Pull Jon Lester for reliever Javier Lopez: This would might have made sense, if it weren't for the fact that Lester was cruising. Lopez was starting with lefties, making him an ideal bridge guy, but Lester had kept the O's off balance for the most part. Sure, they scratched out a run in the sixth, but the way he struck out the final two batters of the inning made it clear he wasn't done. He wanted to put his stamp on the victory, and he never got a chance to.

2) Pull lefty Javier Lopez for righty Craig Hansen: Again, this might make sense on the surface, but it's clearly a mistake when you look deeper into the numbers. Lopez, intended as a loogy, got the first two guys out and should have retired the third, if not for a bad hop that Dustin Pedroia couldn't handle. Ughhhh. As always, a big inning ensues, but the way that Lopez was mixing his locations with his sidearm delivery, why give up on him as soon as a right-handed batter comes to the box? Making the case more intriguing is that, with recent exceptions emerging, Lopez has traditionally been equally effective against right and left handed batters. Seriously. So why pull him. AND, to pull him for a rookie who is FINALLY pitching with the confidence and authority the team expects ... BUT HAS YET TO ENTER AN INNING WITH RUNNERS ON? REALLY BRAD, REALLY? YOU SURE THAT'S A GOOD IDEA? MAYBE YOU SHOULD CHECK WITH JOHN FARRELL. MIGHT BE WORTH A CHAT, AMIGO.

3) Pull Craig Hansen for lefty Hideki Okajima: Anyone notice a trend here? Again, from a traditional standpoint, a set-up man like Okie might be a good fit for Jay Payton. Still, Hansen gave up a hit and then lost a true battle of an at-bat with Brian Roberts, who worked a walk after fouling off three or four pitches. If you're going to go with the righty power arm, why not let him wriggle out of his own jam? He was hitting 96-99 on the gun - at least according to MASN commentators - so it seems odd to pull him out after one good piece of hitting and another walk allowed an All-Star. And against Jay Payton. If he wasn't going to trust Hansen with Payton, why bring him in in the first place.
    3A) Inserting Okajima with runners on in ANY SITUATION: Maybe we're missing something here, but isn't Brad Mills supposed to have access to the data that Terry Francona does? Because at this point we're reasonably sure that Tito has figured out Okie is HORRID in terms of allowing inherited runners to score. It's part of the reason why he tends to go with Russian Roulette choice that is Javier Lopez vs. Manny Delcarmen when runners are on during late innings. Yet somehow, Mills seems to be blissfully unaware that Okajima's rate of "inherited runners scoring against" is THE WORST IN THE AL!!!! That's right folks, he's almost impeccable when he enters at the start of an inning, and he's equally disastrous when he enters to clean up someone else's mess. It's hardly surprising that Payton took him deep on a second pitch, for karma's sake alone.

So there you go. We're even going to eschew the usual systems of checks and minuses for a traditional grade for Mills today: F-. That's right, he didn't even flunk successfully. We'd give him a G for "grossly underqualified" but we understand that isn't really recognized across mainstream academic culture yet. Maybe it should be. In fact, let's just start it right here: When someone performs so horrendously that they don't even deserve a clean flunk, lets just give them a "Mills".

That'll show them. In the meantime we'll try to stop channeling this third base coach for the South Georgia Peanuts. Because this really was WMYM's reaction when Payton made contact with that Okajima pitch, and we're not even kidding.

 
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.
Regardless of the 9-8 final score, Red Sox fans couldn't ask for much more than the scenario that unfolded in the matchup's final moments.

ortizpinkbat.JPGRegardless of result, there was one big positive to come out of Sunday night's
loss: We won't have to see those horrendous pink bats again for another year.


Down one run, runner on second base. Manny Ramirez at the dish, sitting on 297 home runs. Against a power pitcher with a curve. If ManRam finds a fastball, Jonathan Papelbon is rushing up in the bullpen, getting ready to toss the bottom of the ninth.

Instead, a hamstrung Manny grounded out meekly to end the game. That's the way it works sometimes, and this was one of those times. Still, it hardly diminished a fabulously offensive game from two teams who are rapidly starting to look like legitimate AL title contenders.

Things just didn't go according to plan from pitch one. Tim Wakefield struggled in a slide back performance just nights after his best outing in years. Amazingly, he lasted less than three innings and required Terry Francona to throw water on one of his worst performances as a pitcher who has often served as a Sox fireman himself. Funny how seven hits and seven runs over just 2.2 innings can do that to you.

Tonight, he was bettered by a local Twins rookie who was on his game, even though Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire very nearly gave him enough rope to hang himself. In the end, Nick Blackburn lasted six innings, allowing nine hits and four runs, eventually good enough for the win as Boston constantly rallied yet never quite caught up.

Still, there WERE a handful of positives for Boston to reflect upon in the aftermath of a second loss in the three-game set, marking just the third series this year the Sox have dropped. Coco Crisp knocked out a homer for the second night in a row, Alex Cora looked completely healthy in knocking around Minnesota pitching and flashing serious leather. And, perhaps most important of all, ManRam didn't argue against pinch hitting when Terry Francona called his name, despite the fact that he'd specifically asked for the night off .

Do those developments make up for the loss? Hardly. But they do bring a certain optimism amidst a fantastic game to watch, as long as you weren't the one on the pitching rubber.

STARTNING PITCHING: -
No other way to judge Wake on this night, which is striking in how diametrically opposed it was to last Tuesday. If ever WMYM needed reminding, tonight just goes to prove that the only safe bet on a night Wake starts is to not bet at all.

MIDDLE RELIEF: -
Julian Tavarez? Not a good night for the Big Lebowski. David Aardsma and Javier Lopez had their brief moments in the sun, a walk and hit from Aardsma not withstanding, but those were overshadowed by Mike Timlin's outing, which eventually was accountable for the losing run. Not what he had in mind, for sure.

SET-UP RELIEF: N/A
The Sox never had a lead, let alone one early enough to protect it.

CLOSER: N/A
We're not typing that sentence above again. You know that's what we'd do here, anyway.

LINEUP: √+
So Manny couldn't come through with a miraculous hit. So what. The Sox, who often struggle against starters the first time they see them, got great nights from Dustin Pedroia, Coco Crisp, Alex Cora et al. in making up for ManRam's absence and a horrendous outing from Mike Lowell. It wasn't enough for a win, but it was enough to keep offensive momentum going heading to Baltimore late Sunday night for a Monday PM first pitch. Here's hoping Clay Buchholz is already hanging in the Charm City.
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.
Let's face it, Saturday night's win wasn't exactly a classic vintage of Red Sox dominance. In fact, for a 12-4 drubbing, the Boston victory wasn't nearly as thorough as it was long.

Of course, none of that makes it any less important than a grueling one-run victory over, say, the White Sox. Or maybe the Tigers. After all, Sox fans will be seeing Detroit plenty soon enough. In the meantime, Boston can ruminate over another solid victory against a Tampa Bay team that entered a weekend set at Fenway carrying the mentality of a legitimate contender and now, as easily detectable in the photo below, slogging along the emotional baggage from two relatively lackluster losses. That's a hard setback to overcome overnight, even if Eric Hinske WAS actually the messiah, as Tampa play-by-play men seemed to insinuate last weekend.

crawfordwall.jpgWhenever the Sox enter a game with Josh Beckett on the hill, a victory does seem to be more of an eventuality than a question. Still, that wasn't the case a week ago, when the ace's career-high strikeout total still skeened into a loss when the offense couldn't do anything - ANYTHING - against James Shields. That was not at all the case Saturday, with Shields looking vulnerable from the beginning, and allowing runs in every inning he pitched. Beckett did provide glimpses of mortality, from a two-run homer by Gabe Gross (of all people) to occasional struggles with control. Yet that hardly deterred a Boston offense that saw Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz AND Dustin Pedroia compiling full-game type statistics by the fourth inning. Yes folks, it got about as ugly as the box score indicates, even if it was Manny Ramirez's defense, yes, really his defense, that helped keep the Rays offense from putting another pair or so on the board.

That might have made it a bit more interesting, slightly more dramatic perhaps, but in a 12-4 game the runs still would have been elementary. Even if that's not the most exciting way to win a game, it has to be a comforting one to see again for Sox fans who may be a bit fatigued from all the 2-1s and 1-0s of the past two weeks.

STARTING PITCHING: √
It wasn't a top-notch Beckett performance, but it was plenty strong enough to earn a win. Sure, his command seems to escape him at a variety of moments as the game wore along, but Beckett was dealing with both miserably damp weather AND profoundly long stops in the dugout between innings. Could he have been better? Sure. Was he better in a losing effort last Sunday? No doubt. Still, seven innings later Beckett was still cruising on an economical pitch count, and anytime you get that it's a huge step toward a win.

MIDDLE RELIEF: N/A
Beckett went to long, to the Hallelujah of Javier Lopez and the seeming ambiguity of the rest of the 'pen.

SET-UP RELIEF: N/A
Ditto, from above.

CLOSER: √-
He got the job done, but David Aardsma was far from efficient. While that might be almost expected, it can't be comforting to Terry Francona, who clearly is trying to gauge just how reliable Aardsma can become. Here's a hint: So far, not very. Unfortunately, with the ongoing struggles of Manny Delcarmen, Francona doesn't have a ton of other options, so it may become more and more important for Aardsma to be a reliable cog in the Pirate Ship that is the Sox 'pen. Saturday wasn't a disastrous setback from that eventuality, but it wasn't a step in the right direction, either.

LINEUP: √+
There they go! This game had it all: Dominance over a tough opposing pitcher, depth of hitting, breadth through the order, hitting with runners in position, flashes of two-out rally building. It's all there folks, just check the box. Now for the tough part: Boston gets Scott Kazmir for his first start of the season on Sunday. If you're wondering how he's done against the Sox in the past, just don't. It's better to avoid boogeymen this late at night, even in Rays uniforms.
Now THAT is a dramatic way to break a skid.

youkwalkoff.pngYouk may get the face time for the walk-off hit, but Monday's big win
over the Jays will be remembered most for Jon Lester's brilliance, below.


Not only did the Sox win with walk-off heroics - Kevin Youkilis' single scoring David Ortiz in the bottom of the ninth - the victory helped punctuate the finest game in a Boston uniform in the still young career of Jon Lester, a game in which he deftly one-hit the Jays over eight innings, using EXACTLY the kind of control and precision WMYM was calling for in a certain Dragnet Gametime post that is, well, right below what you're reading right now. Four walks may not be perfect, but for Lester, that's not bad, particularly given the six strikeouts that came with it.

As if anyone needed more proof that Lester was on, look at his pitch count. Unlike previous outings this year, when he's skyrocketed toward the century mark by the fifth inning, Jon-Jon was exited after eight shutout frames having thrown only 97 pitches. That's right, eight innings, 97 pitches. Even the one hit he allowed, a lead-off strike just above Dustin Pedroia's glove in the fifth, almost wasn't a hit, touching on just how sublime a night he could have had.

All-in-all, it was a masterful performance. And while Jonathan Papelbon, who worked a scoreless ninth on only 13 pitches, will earn the win, it will be Lester's image that will forever grace the imprinted memories of this particular late April night in the Back Bay.

Of course, that's not to diminish a huge hit by Kevin Youkilis, either. Youk has always hit Toronto ace Roy Halladay well, making it particularly fitting that he - and not Manny Ramirez, whose hit set the table by advancing Big Papi to second - knocked the crushing blow off the Jays' top arm. Halladay was nearly as perfect as Lester all night, prolonging what has become a serious, long-term batting slump for Boston. Yet instead of continue his early season frustrations by flailing early, Ortiz worked a two-out walk, ManRam got back on track with a strike that landed in the outfield, and Youkilis exorcised the ghosts of Tropicana Field, where his nightmarish weekend was just the latest in a long career of confounding troubles in Tampa Bay.

When the dust settled, it was exactly the kind of win the Sox haven't been getting over the past week, exactly the kind of win to put Boston back on track, keeping Toronto from affirming its role as a season-long bugaboo in the process.

It was exactly what the Red Sox needed. Even more importantly, it was exactly what Jon Lester needed to turn around his season.

STARTING PITCHING: √+
Make it three-straight terrific starting performances from Red Sox hurlers. And while Lester won't get credit for his gem, his fate was slightly better than Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett, who were preposterously hard-luck losers over the weekend. More brightside? How about Lester confounding everyone in the Jays lineup. Remember, only one man in a Toronto uniform got a hit, and we're not entirely sure that Troy Glaus single wasn't a potential out. OK, maybe it wasn't, but it was still a good pitch, and sometimes you have to give credit where credit's due. Tonight, as much as Glaus deserves a tip of the hat, the rest of the credit goes to Lester, who pitched beyond his years when it mattered, coming through for his team when it desperately needed him.

MIDDLE RELIEF: N/A
Another nice day off for the middle men, which is what happens when your starter goes eight.

SET-UP RELIEF: N/A
Ditto. From above, that is.

CLOSER: √+
Sure, Paps gave up a hit, but he retired three men in four batters on 13 pitches. It's amazing. Who knew he could get even more economical this year? Now THAT's impressive.

LINEUP: -
Halladay may have had a lot to do with this category, but five hits are never enough for Boston's offense. The long and short of it was that a lot of significant slumps continued, and a lot of guys who need to get going, well, they still need to get going. Add to that the exit of J.D. Drew after he gimpily ran out a dribbler in the second - the team's medical staff called it a tweaked hammy - and you've still got plenty of frustrations to get out of the system in the days ahead. Still, Youkilis' hit in the bottom of the ninth was a walk-off, and that's enough to put a smile on any hitter's face ... even Big Papi, who's finding ways to do his part when opponents won't even consider giving him pitches in the clutch.
Look, we could sit here and re-hash it all night. The loads of missed opportunities at the plate. The horrendous Julio Lugo error - ok, maybe it was just a pedestrian level botch job, but it was still an error - that resulted in the early tie in the game. Wakefield's slight nonchalance early in the game, or maybe it was just just his inability to find the razor wire he walked all last season, just the latest example of how Wakefield's game, though it may not show in the statistics, isn't quite up to the snuff it popped up last year.

ortizgraon.pngBig Papi's face tells all you need to know about Friday in Tampa Bay: Unavoidable
frustration, compounded with the misery of knowing it COULD have been avoided.

Regardless, it was rough, it was a loss to the Rays and perhaps most importantly, it was a loss in a game  Boston should have won. After dropping two straight to the Angels at home amidst widespread flu and more minor or developing injuries than a Kabul MASH ward, the Red Sox needed to win Friday night. Throughout the game they put themselves in a position to steal a win from a game that easily could have been a loss. Then, in extra innings, they found a way to lose a game they should have won. Without question.

That's the bottom line, so here's the bottom line grades:

STARTING PITCHING: √-
Sure, Wakefield could have been better, particularly considering the fact that he was in one of his favorite settings. But no matter what public perception may hold, this Tampa Bay lineup is developing more consistency than past years' despite a lack of pop at a couple key positions (Delmon Young anyone?). Still, Wakefield got through his six innings, and while he'd surely be the first one to complain about not going seven, his outing should have been good enough for a win. Oh, if only it had earned one.

MIDDLE RELIEF: √
David Aardsma was terrific, and truly is the perfect complement to the slow-tossing Wakefield. Bryan Corey was worth his usual dose of Alka Seltzer, but he got through 1.2 and ate up some big outs. Overall, an impressive outing for a guy whose week has included being designated, waiting for another team to snatch him up, resigning a minor league deal and then finding his way back to a big league mound. Not too shabby. Then Javy Lopez got the job done, a day after a horrific outing in the Fens. To call that a hell of a way to bounce back is no understatement.

SETUP RELIEF: N/A
No need in a tie game, though Aardsma very well could have earned a √+ in this role if Wakefield had held up.

CLOSER: -
Sorry Mike Timlin, WMYM loves you, but it wasn't your night. Really, Timlin didn't pitch particularly badly, he just got hit by a couple of hitters who were due. One base hit scraped over the edge of Dustin Pedroia's glove. The two legitimate base knocks were both in the worst possible position on the field. Regardless, it happens. It just stings a bit worse when it comes in a game when your team is on a two-game losing streak and you're playing a team you really ought to beat.

LINEUP: -
Only four runs. That hurts against Tampa Bay. Only four runs, three of which came when Matt Garza couldn't keep a grip on the ball in a 40 pitch inning. To say that the Red Sox hit, ran and shot themselves in the foot enough to play themselves out of a potential win is the understatement of the year so far. And as much credit as Sox fans may want to give Big Papi for sliding headfirst into first base in the 11th, it didn't save the out, and it didn't save the Sox in the end. Now they have to find a way to bounce back, or else a bad night on the Treasure Coast could turn into a bad weekend. And no one goes to Florida for bad weekends. No one.
Does anyone else out there feel like Josh Beckett is either A) more banged up than we're being led to believe or B) suddenly a serious hypochondriac?

pauley.pngAh, yes. Tonight we will be blessed with David Pauley. And in case you didn't
get a close enough look at him in his 10 minutes in Boston, that's Joe Thurston, below.


As soon as he goes out and produces the kind of gem the Sox got from him all last season, he has to sit out his next start with a cranky neck. Of course, as Amalie Benjamin said in breaking down the sudden scratch start for David Pauley tonight, the injury or delayed start very well could be a lingering effect of the drastic flu that's been cycling through the dugout in recent days, felling Mr. Reliable Jason Varitek for the past two games in the process. Whether or not it is will likely be spelled out in the coming days, with a simple delayed start a sure sign that Joshie was just under the weather, a true missed outing a sign that, well, maybe that bad neck was a sign of something a bit more sinister.

thurston.pngUnfortunately, to make way for Senor Pauley's latest triumphant return, someone had to go. Anyone who's watched the last week of games knew A) that wasn't going to be Jed Lowrie, who's still hitting above .400 since his call up, and B) It wasn't going to be another pitcher. Alas, that spelled the end for Joe Thurston, whose stay in the Fens may be most notable for his bravery in wearing the number three, falling prey to the old Ruth curse that most recently befell none other than David Wells, he of considerable girth, and Edgar Renteria. In fact, that duo traded the number off just to try and avoid it. Well, it wasn't to try and avoid it, but maybe they should have been trying to. Oh, and Mark Loretta wore the old tres on his back, too, and that earned him exactly one year in a Sox outfit, though his All Star appearance would seem to undermine our whole "curse" claim. Oh well. Say what you will about WMYM, we're nothing if not thorough.

So, what can we expect from David Pauley? Well, we can expect faulty previews, which is really saying something coming from a stat stream as reliable as Baseball Reference. We can also expect some interesting looks from the Angels, who have certainly seen more than their fill of Beckett over the past year - he was 1-0 in the regular season last year but thoroughly dominated the Halos through seven innings of his last regular season start against them and duplicated that in the ALDS opener - but may not know anything at all about Pauley. That would create the upside in how the Sox could take advantage of a surprising spot start ... maybe the Angels just won't see it coming ... and maybe the short notice won't give Pauley enough time to get nervous? That's what Sox fans have to cling on to.

Oh, and they can also cling to the knowledge that Boston's lineup has found a way to get to Jered Weaver in the recent past. They don't crush him like they do Jon Lackey but, well, they don't crush many people as dominantly as they do Jon Lackey, do they?

So what else can we expect tonight? Don't be surprised if we see some Julian Tavarez action. In fact, the Big Lebowski might be warming up as we type this, just in case. Outside of that, it's anyone's guess. What do people think? Good to luck into a surprising starter? Or bad luck to lose Beckett against a team he's started to dominate (well, how many teams hasn't he dominated over the past year)?

Oh, yes, one last thing: Sox fans need to pray that Kevin Cash doesn't get injured. Your backup catcher tonight is Dustin Pedroia. No, we're not kidding.
What's the best way to watch a terrific Game 7 in the NHL playoffs? While reminiscing about a one-sided Red Sox win earlier in the day.

marathonfans.jpgThese Conn. dudes had the right idea: The Globe reported that
they entered early and watched the marathon from the bleachers.


Just one of the finer points you get with a bright and early 11 a.m. start. Of course, we only get that once a year, on Marathon Monday, but while an 11:05 first pitch spells 5:30 doom for TV production types, for the rest of us it spells plenty of time to sit back at work and watch (or listen) to the game while pretending to be productive.

So what did we see on Monday morning? A very complete game from a Red Sox squad that rested more starters than we'll probably see sitting in any game for the rest of the season. Dominant starting pitching? Check, from Penthouse aficionado and budding rookie Clay Buchholz to boot. A batting order that strings hits together to produce runs? Check, with special thanks to Dustin Pedoria (as ever) and the booming Jed Lowrie, who would seem like a "have to find a place to fit him in guy", if not for the fact that Julio Lugo officially topped .300 in the batting average category with a strong game this afternoon. In all honesty, he might not even be the best guy for the job. The way Lowrie is playing, a case could easily be made to take the gloves off and run him out at shortstop for good, particualrly after Lugo's six early-season errors (shades of a return of the pre-Boston Julio?). Knowing Terry Francona, we're betting that's not going to happen ... yet. But Lowrie's ability to play short, second and third is creating openings for him to prove his value, particularly while typical fill in Alex Cora chills on the DL.

Regardless, there's little to gripe about following Monday's 8-3 win over the woeful Rangers. Shaky bullpen work? Maybe, though the Rangers bats, which have potential to be a lot more potent than they were at the Fens the past four days, were bound to wake up a little bit at some point. Considering the fact that Javier Lopez ate up an inning-plus of scoreless relief, even that's a decent factor to point to (though yet another inherited runner scored is more reason for loogy concern).

Manny Delcarmen's ninth? OK, there's the Achilles. Or maybe Little Manny was worn out from partying about Frank Thomas' MLB departure, temporary though it may be. Who knows. Regardless, if that's the biggest complaint Sox fans can lodge, we don't have much to complain about at the moment.

STARTING PITCHING: √+
It was time. Six innings, 5 H, 6 Ks and 2 BBs. Not perfect, but more than solid for native Texan Clay Buchholz who, rather than wilt once the season started, has shown general improvement in each outing. He needs to be more efficient with his pitches - 103 in his six innings Monday - but that's a complaint that could be lodged against almost all of the Sox pitchers here in the early going.

MIDDLE RELIEF: √-
Sure, David Aardsma and Javier Lopez got the job done, but it was definitely uglier than it needed to be. The Sox need Aardsma to eat up more than an inning at a time, which is all he's been used for so far, or else Julian Tavarez is going to throw his shoulder off at some point during a rough patch. Lopez's 1.1 innings were a step in the right direction, if just to prove that he can be more versatile than static projections would expect.

SET UP RELIEF: N/A
No way anyone can be considered fulfilling a set up role with a six run lead. Sorry Javi.

CLOSER: -
It's not the role Little Manny's become accustomed to, but still, giving up a run to the Rangers on a pair of hits may signal one of two things. Either A) Manny couldn't keep his focus when the game wasn't tight or, B) His recent reliability was all a short-term facade. Or maybe he's just not a morning person. Let's hope door No. 3 is closest to correct.

LINEUP: √+
Patience, staying within their swings and overall depth, it was all there for the Red Sox on Monday. And while there were a lot of good game back pats to be handed around - Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz with two hits a piece come to mind - Julio Lugo's four-hit day, and his bulging .316 average, deserve the biggest tip of the cap. Maybe Julio really does thrive on competition, eh?
Admit it. Even after all the recent playoff comebacks and mysterious good karma since 2004, you didn't think the Sox had yet another 8th or 9th inning comeback in them last night. Well, they did.

bigpapislide.JPGBig Papi sliding into home: If this isn't the scariest scene in sports for a catcher, what is?

For the second straight game, Boston took advantage of Texas' woeful bullpen, victimizing the Rangers for four runs in the bottom of the 8th en route to a dramatic 5-4 victory, a win which is not only the team's third straight, but also sets the stage for a Clay Buchholz performance on marathon morning that could give the team a clean sweep of the Rangers.

It didn't look like it was going to happen. Despite an effective and typically efficient eight innings from Tim Wakefield, it looked like the knuckleballer was headed for another loss. Of course, that's before all the slap hitting clicked in, with Dustin Pedroia and Jed Lowrie - who has now officially put Julio Lugo on the hot seat - setting the table for a Big Papi infield hit - bet you didn't think you'd see that - some intentional walks and, eventually, a walk to Sean Casey that forced in the leading run.

And, of course, if you thought the Boston batters were the only ones having a good day, you should have taken a glance at the bullpen. Not only did everyone get a day off except Papelbon, who converted his seventh save is as many attempts this year, Manny Delcarmen got the best news he's heard all year: the Blue Jays released his personal nemesis Frank Thomas. Now, as long as the Yankees don't sign him just to hit against Delcarmen ...

STARTING PITCHING: √
Based on runs allowed and overall performance, this was probably more of a √- for Wakefield. Still, the fact that Timmy finished a full eight innings - the longest outing for a starter so far in '08 - and showed marked improvement in weather conditions taht were at least slightly below optimal, he gets the nod for a little upgrade. Admit it, we all want to give it to him anyway, so why hold back?

MIDDLE RELIEF: N/A
David Aardsma says "Thanks Mr. Wakefield!"

SET-UP RELIEF: N/A
Mike Timlin says "Thanks Son!"

CLOSER: √+
Another day, another sign that Papelbon is back in control and his scuffles while still converting saves across the first couple weeks of the season are a thing of the past. And that, friends, may be the team's most encouraging news of all.

LINEUP: √-
It took long enough, but eventually the bats got in order when allowed to feast on one of the big league's worst bullpens. While another improved outing from David Ortiz was encouraging, so was the patience shown by he and the rest of his teammates, not least of all Sean Casey, whose bases-loaded walk was as clutch a BB as you can earn.

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