Results tagged “Hideki Okajima” from Who Made You Mirabelli?
Well a thinly stretched, yet talented bullpen will be gettins some more support in the form of one Mr. Bill Wagner. For some yet unknown reason, the 38-year-old closer waived his no-trade clause, supposedly just minutes before the 1:30 p.m. deadline.
According to Boston.com,
"The source said the Red Sox have agreed to Wagner's wishes and will not pick up his $8 million option for 2010, the final element of the four-year, $43 million deal he signed with the Mets as a free agent before the 2006 season. Notably, the club will retain the right to offer him arbitration, meaning they would get two compensatory draft picks if another team signs him. "
Now, this promises to muddy the closing waters even more - although not for a while at least. It appears that one of Boston's draws to Wagner was the promise that the team will not overuse his still delicate arm, and that he would ease into a new role as a set-up man.
Although not in any immediate fear for his job (or at least he shouldn't be, with Bard's collapse and Wagner's recovery time-table), Jon Papelbon is still a tad unhappy about the whole situation.
"What has he done? Has he pitched this year?" Is he ready to pitch or is he not? ... I think our bullpen is good where we're at right now. Don't get me wrong. But I guess you could always make it better. It's kind of like the [Eric] Gagne thing, I guess."
Wagner apparently didn't take the comments lying down according to Boston.com, telling SI.com,
"[W]hen he walks in my shoes then I'll say something. Let him be 38 and have Tommy John surgery."
This has the makings of a potential serious rift, and could serve to push Papelbon out of town even faster. As stacked as we are, this is not the time to burn any bridges, especially with a young man who has given us what appears to have been the best of his career.
But in either case, the Red Sox now have more potential closers on one team than the entire NL Central. It's rediculous. However, this Wagner move could fill one void in particular - the Veteran spot left by the departure of John Smoltz.
From the beginning of the season, it was clear that Smoltz's strongest contributions to the team could have been in a tight relief spot in extra innings on a tense October night. Now, Billy Wagner can fill that role - and that's more of a psychological advantage than anything - an advantage which this team is dying for right now.
Still, it was a sweet one for the Red Sox because it affirmed that they would win by sticking to their program, running out their young guns in key situations and winning and losing with them. Of course, had things turned out differently with the sketchy Varitek tag in the top of the 9th, this could well be a prelude to an epitaph of a Boston kind.
Instead, Jed Lowrie's game-winning single provided yet another reprieve for Terry Francona, whose golden touch kept it's postseason gild, this time in thanks to an excellent bailout performance from Manny Delcarmen and the patient bats of both Jason Bay and Jed Lowrie.
That being said, the Anaheim comeback against Justin Masterson in the eighth was more than just troubling. Masterson entered in relief of Jon Lester, whose 22 innings of scoreless postseason work is the longest streak for a Red Sox pitcher since Babe Ruth. Yes, Babe Ruth. Lester has been incomparably amazing through two postseason games, and he was more than happy to trot back out to the hill, 109 pitches into his outing or not.
Instead, Masterson struggled, putting the runners Hideki Okajima allowed on via walks into scoring position when he missed Varitek's sign and crossed him up with a four-seam fastball instead of a slider, then delivering a payoff pitch to the wheelhouse of the one Angels hitter that did damage to Boston throughout the series, Torrii Hunter.
Was it a bad outing? Surely. Was it the kind of bad outing that Masterson can learn from? Sure, and that's clearly the bright side Francona was hoping to ram home for the young reliever. Masterson has shown improvement from outing to outing since first shipping off to the bullpen way back when Clay Buchholz returned to the rotation. There's no reason to believe he won't internalize his nightmarish eighth inning, write it off as his one bad frame of the postseason and go out against a team he's faced plenty with renewed confidence.
At least he better, for the Red Sox' sake. If he doesn't, the Sox will have a serious problem. Okajima has alternated between lights out performances and full on scuffles, and Masterson has yet to truly bridge into a multiple innings shutout man in the postseason. Just as the bullpen was thoroughly worked through in the ALDS, there will be plenty of work against the Rays, who are sure to keep games close deep. After all, they won more one-run games than anyone else in baseball.
For that, there's still four more days of introspective analysis. For now, it's comforting to think back on another year and another exit for the Angels at the hands of a team named "Sox".
Josh Beckett is brilliant, but still loses. Joba Chamberlain looks like a world beater in Fenway Park. The pitching shines, again, but the Yankees -- thanks to Mariano Rivera -- wriggle out of sticky situations with ducks on the pond in the eighth and the ninth.
What can Boston fans say, except !@$(&%&Q@#$&.
Suddenly, a second-straight division title running away is down to a two-game lead. Suddenly, the Yankees are surging while the Boston lineup wilts. Suddenly the tables have turned, with pressure squarely on Tim Wakefield to come through with an enormous outing ... or else.
If that's not the worst possible scenario, WMYM isn't sure what is, all of which goes to prove that some of the worst nightmares still come when you're wide awake.
Within the problem zone, the biggest issue may be the team's lack of a set-up man. Hideki Okajima's deceptive delivery has clearly lost much of its advantage over the AL East rivals, and it appears as if his impeccable control has slipped just a bit, as well. With Okie working his way towards a seventh inning spot -- at best -- that's left a significant void as a late bridge to Jonathan Papelbon. After major early struggles, most notably with then-Blue Jay Frank Thomas, Manny Delcarmen has put together a strong campaign to become that set-up man. Craig Hansen's improved control also makes him a logical candidate. Yet as much as both youngsters show significant potential, they also present pratfalls as a by-product of the very duality of their youth. Clearly, both are over the trauma caused by one of the more garish blown saves in AAA history last spring at Pawtucket, but neither seems to have reached the stage of their career when they can be counted on every time out. Or at least nine times out of 10.
Of course, the byproduct of those struggles are allowed runs, and for Boston relievers, inherited runners have been the catalyst for that syndrome more than anything else. None of the Red Sox relievers have been particularly successful at limiting damage set up by their in-game predecessors, with Okie providing the worst rate in the entire major leagues. It appears that Terry Francona has finally caught on to the trends, or perhaps given in to the fact that he just needs to avoid Okajima's exposure to those dangers, but he's otherwise been unable to limit the damage. Amazingly, the most effective damage-limiter has been lefty-specialist Javier Lopez, whose at least had an occasional penchant to wriggle out of jams. David Aardsma certainly has the brute power and speed to pull Houdini's with the best of them, but his control is still a bit lacking at the big league level. That being said, WMYM won't be surprised if he becomes an escapist pro sometime in 2009. In 2008? It still seems a bridge too far, at least to us.
Player-by-player: Papelbon A-, Okajima B-, Delcarmen B, Hansen B-, Aardsma B+, Timlin C+, Lopez B+
It's hard to say whether the earlier start time threw Josh Beckett off his usual rhythms. Something did, because he wasn't fooling ANY of the Orioles hitters. Aubrey Huff looked like a monster, which is just to say that, clearly, Beckett wasn't hitting his spots. He struggled with location, seemed to question his approach to a handful of hitters, then proceeded to get absolutely smoked when he left anything up in the zone.
Without a doubt, Beckett has spent as much of '08 looking like he did in '06 as he looked in '07. That's not a good development. After all, Inside Edge graded Beckett's performance as a C+. Again.
Equally troubling is the gradual breakdown of Hideki Okajima. The majors' most reliable set-up man a year ago, Oki was battered around for his second loss against the Orioles this year. Clearly, they've figured out some sort of a tip off from his delivery, as they routed his grooved fastballs for the the three decisive runs in Tuesday's game.
In truth, Sox fans could probably see it coming. When Okajima was summoned for the seventh, then promptly put a pair of runners on, it only seemed like a matter of time before things collapsed. His personal choke job was finished when Manny Delcarmen allowed the go-ahead run on a sac fly -- chalk up another inherited runner allowed -- the collapse was complete.
So where do the Sox go from here? Like the Celtics, they turn around and wait to play again. Unlike the Celtics, they get to turn around and throw another ace out there right away. Despite his disastrous last outing, Bartolo Colon has been impressive in three of his four starts in an XXL sized Red Sox uniform. His 3.91 ERA stacks up favorably with Baltimore pitcher Jeremy Guthrie's 3.40, particularly considering a disproportionate percentage of that 3.40 was put on him by Red Sox bats. That trend seems primed to continue with both J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez swinging a hotter bat than they've wielded since, well, just about forever.
That, as they say, is the end. Finito. Which is precisely the great part about baseball, because there's another finito to have tomorrow. Hopefully for Red Sox fans, it'll close a bit brighter than this one. Something tells WMYM that Celtics fans are hoping for that, too.
Of course, there are pleasantries to discuss, after the Sox rallied to take an extra-inning win on the road from Camden Yards last night. While Josh Beckett wasn't as dominant as he often is and struggled with his control, walking the bases full in his final inning, he also did what he tends to do best: He got the outs when he needed to and shut down Baltimore's chances at big innings.
That's what stoppers do: they stop the bleeding. And Beckett sopped the bleeding on the road pretty well last night. Of course, that begs the next question: Will the Sox be able to build on road success for a change, or will be just another blip on what has so far been a horrendous road resume. Lester certainly has the talent to do so, and if he does, he'll do so in an intriguing matchup. Baltimore's Garrett Olson has been terrific early, and the Red Sox will have to hit better than they have outside of Fenway all year to break through his teflon.
They'll also have to do it with efficient pitching, since nearly the entire bullpen made a cameo in last night's 13-inning face off. Hideki Okajima had an inning, Javier Lopez and Craig Hansen combined to put up a frame, Manny Delcarmen had his say, Mike Timlin showed up in the 12th and Jonathan Papelbon shut things down at the end of the road. Put all that together, and things start to look like a perfect opportunity for a multiple-inning Papelbon outing if Boston has a lead tonight. Remember, he'd hardly pitched in a week and a half before last night's quick 1-2-3 inning.
STARTING PITCHING: √
He wasn't perfect, but Beckett did what he's shown he's best at the past two seasons: He got the job done. Inside Edge was hardly blown away - they graded him at a B - but he did have a couple really impressive marks: Overall Effectiveness and Battle Tendency. Look, if you make WMYM pick two categories to have a pitcher excel in, we'll take Battle Tendency as one of them every single time.
MIDDLE RELIEF: √+
Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez, Craig Hansen ... all the young guys got the job done last night. In fact, with the exception of the melodrama brought by Delcarmen and Timlin, things cruised along quite nicely. That's exactly what you want from this bunch, and what people came to expect last year from Boston's excellent corps.
SET-UP RELIEF: N/A
Hard to call Timlin a set up reliever, since he wasn't in a set-up situation, which is why we lumped him in with the category above.
Can't go wrong with a 1-2-3 Papelbon outing, even if the lead was a bit more luxurious than he planned on, to be sure.
They just didn't take advantage of so many of the opportunities that were thrown in front of them. Whether it was squandering runners on base - didn't it seem like Jacoby Ellsbury was on the base paths all night - or blowing extra outs earlier in the game, it took the top of the 13th inning for Boston to finally come through, thanks to some horrendous Orioles defense. Accordingly, that's why you see Inside Edge grade the whole evening as a C, and to be fair, it's hard to argue otherwise. A nice game from Ellsbury, a nice game from David Ortiz and, eventually, a slump-busting hit from Kevin Youkilis aside, better things are expected from the Boston hitters, to be sure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Sox Trip On Okajima's Slip, Gordon Edes, Boston Globe: When he does cover games these days, Gordo is still the best in the Red Sox business. Naturally, this is no exception.
- Okajima Has Been Blowing His Inheritance, Nick Cafardo, Boston Globe: Chalk Cafardo up as one of the first names to officially delve into Okie's struggles with runners on base. The way things are going, we're sure he won't be the last.
- The Numbers Game, Michael Silverman, Boston Herald: Speaking of numbers, here's Silverman's take on Daisuke Matsuzaka's strange yet auspicious beginning. Interesting that the Herald would go full bore on Dice-K's "schizo" performances on the same day that the Globe goes for Okajima's disparity, isn't it?
- Colon Not Ready Yet, Michael Silverman, Boston Herald: With the Sox taking the day off, Silverman jumps into the impending controversy over Boston's fifth starter. He doesn't seem to take a side, but he does make it clear that there's absolutely no way that Colon will start in that slot next week. Interesting that he doesn't think Masterson fits the bill either, though.
- Youkilis Powering Red Sox' Lineup, Inside Edge, ESPN: It's Insider content, which naturally is one of the more pointless and annoying inventions on the internet, since countless amounts of data shows that premium content doesn't really work. Nonetheless, Inside Edge provides an interesting breakdown of Boston's early season offense, and the impressive role that Kevin Youkilis is playing in it. Of course, you knew that already, didn't you.
Instead, 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.
However, the opening of fishing season is evidently a much bigger deal in Minnesoata than a matchup between the Twins, featuring a young, promising home-town pitcher making his first start, and the defending World Champion Red Sox, who threw one of the most expensive imports in sports history out on the mound.
Amazingly, the pitching lived up to the billing for the most part. Outside of a dodgy second inning that was entirely too remiscent of 2007, Matsuzaka danced around the strike zone, got some batters to hack at good pitches and some, like shortstop Adam Everett, to hack at horrendous dropping off-speed magic that left him looking like an eighth grader. All-in-all, it was a positively serviceable performance.
Luckily, it was also backed by four - count them, four - solo homers as the Sox patched together a 5-2 win. It may not have been a victory with a vintage appropriate of Bordeaux, but it had positively French wine-level moments. A pair of strikeouts were chalked up to the emergence of Matsuzaka's magical changeup dubbed the "gyroball" afterward, and Dice-K wasn't counting out that possibility. The homers from Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie in the seventh hit almost identical spots in the left field stands, and that's all Boston needed to do with Hideki Okajima and a truly, furiously pissed off Jonathan Papelbon waiting in the bullpen to close things out.
As they say in Okie and the Dice-man's homeland, that means sayonara.
Of course, all of this was overshadowed by creatures that were nowhere near the Metrodome ... fish. The Saturday morning opening of fishing season in Minnesota was first referenced in the second inning, then followed up with a strong plug for the Metrodome smoked whitefish and its role in the team's new "all you can eat seats" promotion that gets unveiled during the team's next homestand. Then, after the whole "hey, we can all go out on boats and go fishing at 5 a.m. tomorrow!" concept was fully established, the Minnesota dynamic duo officially switched over to ice fishing references in the fourth and fifth innings.
Clearly, WMYM has underestimated just how strange and solitary Minnesota can be. We'd dwell on it some more, but hey, we've got some smoked whitefish spread to get to.
STARTING PITCHING: √+
There were moments early when it looked like it was going to be a - in this slot, but as he has all season, Dice-K struck his way out of jams. He walked in the first run and gave up a second later, though that might have been avoided if Coco Crisp hadn't been in center with his pee shooter of an arm unable to throw out anyone this side of Jason Giambi when they're trying to score from second. To keep it to that point Dice-K dazzled, leaving Joe Mauer shaking his head twice and other Minnesota hitters looking truly foolish at times. Needless to say, those seven Ks helped make up for the two costly walks in the second inning and the two runs, and that paved the way to 6-0/
MIDDLE RELIEF: N/A
It's getting almost eerie that all of Boston's pitchers keep working until the eighth inning, isn't it? We're going to go ahead and pinch ourselves now so we don't ruin it before tomorrow. Yikes.
SET-UP RELIEF: √+
Okajima did it again. It's amazing. And as bad as he's made a lot of team's hitters look, Minnesota might have looked worse than any other on some of those hacks Saturday night. It was downright belittling, and that's a great thing for the Boston bullpen.
Finally, a return to normalcy, even with the flukiest hit you'll ever see - Mike Lamb's 200-foot pop-up that hit a speaker above the infield - mixed in. And while it may have looked almost like a sigh of relief when he pumped his fist and trudged to meet Jason Varitek, there's little doubt that the game-ending strikeout helped re-establish some of Paps' luster and bluster, commodities that are as important to the Red Sox' success as anything else.
to be the hardest to take. Just ask Papelbon. He's feeling it right now.
Instead, a lucky Detroit bounce, a horrendous Julio Lugo error and a terrific piece of veteran, defensive hitting from Placido Polanco conspired to make Jonathan Papelbon a loser with a blown save for the first time since last September. You know what? It really did hurt as much as it looked like, too.
But first, one thing needs to be made clear: While Papelbon will get credited with the loss, the blown save and loss were hardly his fault. After allowing an inning-starting single to Matt Joyce which was a truly random stroke of luck - Joyce made contact on a purely defensive half-cut swing that he tried to check, producing an unfieldable dribbler - Papelbon got old friend Edgar Renteria to hit into a picture perfect double play.
Of course, that's when Lugo booted the bouncer, just the latest error in his season of misadventures in the field. It's getting ugly out there for the shortstop whose substantially subpar first season at the plate was made up for by surprisingly solid defense.
A year later, he's falling into the exact opposite trap. On Wednesday night, that trap ensnared the Red Sox, spoiling a terrific rally when - after a Pudge Rodriguez sacrifice moved runners along - Curtis Granderson finished an 0-fer day with a tying-run producing groundout and Polanco came through with his bloop hit above the outstretched glove of a leaping Lugo (sounds like an item from the 12 Days of Christmas, doesn't it?).
"We had a great comeback and we couldn't finish it," Terry Francona told the AP.
Damn right you did, Terry. Damn right you did.
STARTING PITCHING: -
What did young Clay Buchholz learn tonight? Well, hopefully he learned that you can fool a good lineup once, but not twice, especially when they're desperate to rejuvenate their attack. After looking dazzled the first time he faced them, the Detroit hitters came alive in the bottom of the third, racking up four runs to take control. Then they got to him again in the bottom of the fourth. It was a definite setback after two sterling starts and a trend that had Buchholz heading aggressively in the right direction. Now, after allowing 10 hits in only four innings, the question will be whether its a blip on the radar screen or catalyst for change in the wrong direction. Here's hoping for the former, for Buchholz's case and the Sox'.
MIDDLE RELIEF: -
It's not a fair grade for David Aardsma or Javier Lopez, both of whom tossed single shutout innings, two more walks from Aardsma not withstanding. Still, Julian Tavarez was so bad that no other grade would do. Three runs in a single inning, and it was almost a miracle that there weren't more from the Big Lebowski. It's been amazing how little work Tavarez has racked up this year, largely because of the ability of the team's regular starters to go so deep into games. Unfortunately, it looks like that rest isn't helping a guy like Tavarez, who despite a general sense of flexibility in role may need just enough of a routine to cast himself in one direction or another.
SET-UP RELIEF: √-
Hideki Okajima got it done, but there was a heck of a lot of drama for an Oki appearance. First the ever so rare back-to-back hits against, to start the inning no less. Then, after a timely strikeout, Oki got himself into plenty of trouble against Gary Sheffield. Amazingly, he wriggled out of that one with a strikeout as only he can pull off, then finished off the inning when a Jason Varitek bullet comprised the second half of a beautiful strike 'em out throw 'em out twin killing. Don't get us wrong, this could have been a disaster, and when it comes to executing pitches, Papelbon probably got the job done better than Okajima did tonight. Still, baseball is a results business, so drama aside, Okie had to earn some kind of a √. There you go, √- it is.
Here's another grade that may not be fair, as discussed in so much more depth above. It is what it is, and the only way Papelbon's earning a - is with a blown save. Well, tonight he got a blown save, ergo tonight he got a -. Frustrating? Yes. Unfair, yes. That's the way the cookie crumbles after a crushing loss and melodramatic end to a terrific winning streak.
Now THAT was a terrific offensive performance. The Sox hitters got better as the game went along, were resourceful, were pests on the base paths and rallied thrice. The final rally, with Dustin Pedroia plating the go-ahead run in the top of the 8th, was completely deflating to the Detroit crowd. It might have been a real long-term Tiger killer if not for the ninth inning rally, too. Alas, the one time when, in retrospect, the Sox needed more turned out to be the one time they didn't have any more to give ... in the top of the ninth when an insurance run would have been a huge buffer. They had a man on second with one out. That's where he finished the inning. If we're to be fair, that means that his final station short of home is part of the reason this one is chalked up in the "L" column instead of the one on the left.
That's right, folks, the Red Sox won ugly last night. Dasiuke Matsuzaka struggled mightily with his control - even by his standards - allowing a whopping eight walks in five innings. Eight walks. Seriously. Amazingly, he also allowed only one run. Seriously. As he's shown an even better penchant for this year than during his first campaign, Dice-K wriggled out of trouble time and time again, with key strikeouts and a remarkable rash of Tiger pop ups. Somehow, he walked almost an entire round of the Detroit lineup, yet still held a lineup expected to score 1,000 runs this season to a single plate crossing.
Luckily, Nate Robertson wasn't better. In fact, he was worse, serving up a serious meatball of a fastball for Mike Lowell's first RBI of the year, then repeating the delivery ALMOST EXACTLY to Kevin Youkilis innings later. Talk about not learning from mistakes. It certainly makes it more clear why Jim Leyland has become so frustrated with Robertson during his third season managing the immensely talented yet mercurial and inconsistent would-be ace.
Instead of capitalizing on a flock of ducks on the pond, the Tigers went right on missing them like a blind Nintendo fan shooting in early 90s Duck Hunt. Then, when they mounted a rally against Craig Hansen - great for one inning, horrible for two (take note Terry Francona) - they couldn't solve Hideki Okajima, unlike how Boston solved Detroit reliever Clay Rapada, whose funky delivery was positively terrifying, yet produced remarkably hittable pitches.
So there you go. A relatively eventful night for the pitchers that produced little more than scratch marks. A remarkably smooth night for hitters which saw David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis add to their recent on-track trajectories.
And in the end, it's a win. That's all that matters, and it's worth remembering.
STARTING PITCHING: √
Well, he earned his fifth win. Barely. Still, Dice-K tossed 109 pitches in five innings. Eight walks. And his butt-wiggle was clearly off. CLEARLY off. Still, like we said earlier, a win is a win. And he's 5-0. That's worth a lot in WMYM's book. Especially against a lineup like Detroit's.
MIDDLE RELIEF: √
So, Craig Hansen gets charged with two runs, but he could have gotten out unscathed. One of his walks could have been a strikeout. Just saying. The more significant step in the uber-prospect's latest major league stint was his first inning, in which he set down the Tigers with AUTHORITY. If he can keep delivering shut down performances, even for a single inning, that would be an enormous boost for the bullpen. Manny Delcarmen, it's your move kid.
SET-UP RELIEF: √
Okajima allowed a pair of runs, but they weren't his, and if you haven't noted that tendency in his performances, well, you haven't been watching closely enough. He more than redeemed that shaky frame with the eighth, in which he blew back through the Tigers and set the stage for Jonathan Papelbon. Speaking of which ...
Is it possible that any other closer in baseball is more dominant that Paps right? We think not. One inning, 13 pitches, 10th save. Seems safe to say that his early-season rough patch was just an absolute blip on the radar.
Six runs is usually a borderline √+ for the powerful Boston bats, but against Robertson, and with the control they showed, it certainly warrants the grade tonight. Making the outing better was the continued improvement of Youkilis (if that's even possible), Lowell (in both health and performance) and Ortiz, who despite his relatively meager season stats is rounding into form with one of the hottest stretches at the plate from across the bigs. Equally shocking is Big Papi's prospective RBI total if he keeps up his current pace ... 126. Seriously. Just imagine what'll happen if he gets back to his traditional season averages.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But, instead of writing that glorious post, we got caught up producing a variety of the sports pages on the sports section of a certain major American daily newspaper, which can be a real hassle when the game you're really focused on is delayed from 7 until 10 p.m. As a result, prepare for the first "Wrens" honorary "This Boy is Exhuasted" nightly report card.
STARTING PITCHING -- Clay Buchholz: √ Stuff so nasty it's almost a constant "get out of jail free" card
MIDDLE-RELIEF -- Javier Lopez: - And the lefty trend continues: 1st inning matchups? Hit or miss. 2nd inning matchups? Let's not even go there.
SET-UP RELIEF -- Hideki Okajima: √+ Okie is always OK in our book
CLOSER -- Jonathan Papelbon: √+ We weren't sure it was possible, but Paps is getting even more efficient game-by-game
LINE-UP -- √+ Finally, hitters clicking with their predecessors on the base paths. It's a site WMYM expected to see a lot more of recently. Maybe this is the start of a "return to normalcy"? Maybe? Pretty-please?
As much as Matsuzaka-san's line is fairly strong: 5 2/3 inn., 3 R, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K; it also belied how much he struggled with pitches early in the count. The National Treasure missed a number of first pitch strikes and routinely had to claw his way back into counts, a trick he pulled off with the help of a shocking amount of foul ball contact from the Rangers. Meanwhile, his control slipped in the middle of at-bats, and Texas was actually ahead of his adjustments, swinging away at first pitch strikes the second time through the order.
Luckily, last night the Dice Man had a big cushion to work with, and there's plenty of thanks to go around for that.
It can start with Big Papi, whose Grand Slam is just his second homer of the year, though fans can again hope that it snaps his current doldrums. Matsuzaka can also send a bouquet to Jed Lowrie, the rookie shortstop whose first MLB stint continues to go flawlessly. Hitting ninth again, Lowrie was 2-for-3, knocked in a run and again played flawless defense. He looks completely comfortable and at home at short, just as he did nearby on the diamond a day earlier. If anyone thinks he's overwhelmed, they're kidding themselves. The only question is whether he can keep up the quick start, at which point Julio Lugo's status might seriously be thrown into question. And if Lugo doubts whether the Sox would really consider deposing him midseason, he might want to sit down and have a chat with Coco Crisp in the dugout. Odds are both will have plenty of time for that coming up.
So, without further ado we bring you what you've all been waiting for for a week: Grades baby, grades.
STARTING PITCHING: √
As much as there's a part of us that feels like we should drop a √- on Dice-K, we just can't do it. The line won't let us. And considering the fact that he twice wriggled out of jams with strike outs, he continues to prove that sometimes his control and - just as important - top-end velocity tend to return when he needs it most. At least that's what WMYM is telling itself.
MIDDLE RELIEF: √+
Wait, the loogy got 1 2/3 innings? And they weren't all lefthanded hitters? How the hell did that happen? And do we care? The answer is no. We don't. We're just ecstatic that A) Okajima and Papelbon got the night off, and B) Even Delcarmen could hit the snooze button in the bullpen.
SET-UP RELIEF: √-
Amazingly, this could have been a -- if David Aardsma hadn't picked up the pieces just as when it looked like it was all hitting the fan. The first winner of the Red Sox unofficial "Survivor: Bullpen" contest started out on cruise control, lacing 95 and 96 mph strikes across the edges of the plate, painting as if he were Tom Sawyer. Three batters later the basepaths were chucked and Texas suddenly looked ready to rally.
Naturally, this wasn't a save situation, but Mike Timlin proved that he's closer to his pre-injury status than we'd seen before. Texas' batters seemed off balance against Timlin after looking at a lefty with a funky release point and then a power-throwing righty. Maybe that's saying something. Either way, as WMYM alluded to in the middle relief category, Timlin's clean sheet allowed for a night sans Paps, Okie and Little Manny. In an 11-3 game, that's really all that matters.
Someone else had to get a check plus. After all, this was an 11-3 rout. Fittingly, we've decided that when you score 11 runs, you earn a check plus. From Ortiz's Grand Slam to the rattling slap hitting of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Youkilis, Jason Varitek and co. (that includes Sean Casey and Lowrie), the bats were out in full force. Naturally, that's a good sign for Big Papi, Casey and, well, everyone else, not least of all the forthcoming starting pitchers for the rest of a four-day set that the Sox could really use to get a stranglehold on.
From the moment that Bill Buckner, somehow still beloved in the baseball-blanket that is Boston, threw out the first pitch after fighting off tears, the Tigers were done. If ever there was an afterthought of a win, this was it.
Consider the fact that Daisuke Matsuzaka passed up on Ring Ceremony commemorating his first World Series title to get in more bullpen work. Consider the fact that Manny Ramirez was smiling and chatting with fans before the game, instead of hanging out in Manny-land in the dugout. Consider the fact that Kevin Youkilis' beard is already nearing midseason form.
OK, that last part is completely irrelevant. Still, you get the idea.
On an afternoon when Boston resurrected the spirits of its gleaming baseball history and ever-emerging global culture to commemorate a second championship in four years, the Red Sox winning was less in doubt than HOW they would manage to do it. The answer to that, friends, is with a little bit of unnerving of the Detroit - maybe the hoopla got to them a little bit, a year after they raked in some AL champion rings? - and a lot of overpowering pitching.
All told, Red Sox pitchers struck out 11 in nine innings. Daisuke Matsuzaka had one of his best outings since coming to America, going 6 2/3 while walking four (the last leading to his exit) and striking out a whopping seven. He left the Tigers' lineup flailing, which is saying something for a group that was touted as one of the best since the '27 Yankees before the season started. Since then, of course, they've found a puzzling way to start 0-7. Nonetheless, WMYM doubts that Placido Polanco, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen and Pudge Rodriguez forgot how to hit in the last week. You never know, but it seems like a stretch, doesn't it?
Well, if you just went by this afternoon's results, you might believe they had. Consider their stats: only Polanco got a hit, and his was a single. All four struck out at least once, with Pudge whiffing twice. That's pretty solid work against a pretty powerful lineup.
But we digress right? This was all about the bling, the rings, the 28 round brilliant-cut diamonds channel-set around the bottom of the bezel, the inlaid Sox, the two different right sides of the ring for players tenured before or after 2004, the ....
Oh, forget it. The rings have some serious rocks. And they're crazy shiny. 'Nuff said. Let's talk grades.
STARTING PITCHING: √+
Dice-K was dealing. Matsuzaka was marvelous. Insert whatever cliched and catchy superlative you want here. Clearly, for the second straight start, Dice-K looked an awful lot like a front of the rotation ace, in control and at times toying with hitters. That's strong stuff, and it means a lot against this lineup - even if it is a bit banged up - than it did against the A's. Admit it, it's the truth.
MIDDLE RELIEF: √+
To say that this afternoon was huge for Manny Delcarmen is an enormous understatement. Sure, it's crazy to think of any one outing as a particularly big deal this early in the season, but Delcarmen was positively rocked over the weekend in Toronto, and he's had major confidence issues in the past. The last thing the Red Sox needed was Little Manny plopping down on some baseball Frued's couch and talking about growing up in Boston and how that's created a complex when the team struggles to find a reliable "get us the hell out of this monstrous jam!!" power reliever. Delcarmen proved he could definitely be that man today ... as long as he doesn't have to pitch to Frank Thomas.
Anytime Hideki Okajima gets to finish off a game and spell Jonathan Papelbon, thats a good sign for the bullpen. For all we know Papelbon may have been too busy cutting beef jerky with his new World Series ring anyway. Still, Okie was terrific in relief of Delcarmen, and the extra work probably didn't hurt him after an incredibly quiet Canadian weekend. Here's hoping he enjoyed some Cadbury's delictables while in the Toronto airport. Sweet how the stock the British chocolate instead of the Nestle crap up there, isn't it?
So, here's what he know: ManRam still loves to hit in Fenway. J.D. Drew is on fire. Kevin Youkilis is back to slapping the ball around the park. Coco Crisp may finally be realizing that Boston can't deal him unless he hits a little here in relief spells first. Oh, and Big Papi's power doesn't seem to be quite juiced up yet. Awful close, but maybe a little under the weather early on. We'll try to add the hitting charts in later so you can judge for yourself. Still, five runs against the Gambler and a pretty mediocre-bad Detroit bullpen is good, not great. Sufficient, not excellent. Call WMYM out on it if you disagree.
In weaving a masterful performance across 6 2/3 innings - for the record, Terry Francona lifted Dice-K after 96 pitches when he almost surely could have continued - Matsuzaka did what he couldn't quite do in his native Tokyo last week: He thoroughly dominated the A's. In nearly seven innings, Dice-K gave up only two hits while striking out nine. He kept the A's off balance by mixing pitches and painting with pinpoint control, which is exactly what Francona and co. expected after watching his bullpen session closely a couple days ago.
Indeed, as good as Joe Blanton was - and he worked out of almost every jam he got in while allowing seven hits and two runs (should have been three ... Varitek's ground rule double was definitely a home run), he was thoroughly out done by Matsuzaka, who's outing was easily his most dominant since, well, just about ever. He was locating all his pitches with ease, and in what might be the most encouraging sign, Dice-K motored through his outing without a single walk, avoiding the kind of belabored innings which have plagued his previous American career, as recently as six days ago, when he didn't factor in the Sox' opening day victory 5,000 miles away at the Tokyo Dome.
Were there concerns in the victory? Sure. Boston only scored two runs and failed to step on Oakland's throat when it landed multiple base runners early in the game. The Sox also failed to flex the power that has been the hallmark of past lineups. David Ortiz continued his 0-for-season start and, for the first time all spring, Manny Ramirez seemed to be pressing in each at bat. It's not often that ManRam pops out on the first pitch in successive at-bats.
Then again, in Dice-K starts last year, that impatience would have cost the Sox. Maybe this year they won't need it. If that continues, it would surely be the biggest win of all.
It would be a game-reprisal post without some grades, so here you go:
STARTING PITCHING: ✓+
So much for concerns about Matsuzaka struggling to fill the team's No. 2 starting slot, eh? If that wasn't ace material, WMYM doesn't know what is.
MIDDLE RELIEF: N/A
SET UP RELIEF: ✓
Hideki Okajima's one walk was a bit concerning, but he got his location back in check and kept the A's off balance, as always. More impressively, he did it across two innings. Hard to argue with those results.
As impressive as Matsuzaka's bounce back from opening day in Japan was, Jonathan Papelbon may have been even more improved. After struggling to keep his fastballs down in the zone - nearly losing the Opening Day lead in the process - Paps was his dominant self tonight, striking out the side in the ninth after earning the last out of the eighth. Any time he can get a save with more than three outs, that's a ✓+ in the WMYM book.
If the game had been a loss, this probably would have slipped to a straight -. Luckily for Ortiz, Ramirez and co., Varitek snapped out of his funk at a perfect time, Kevin Youkilis had a terrific game and Dustin Pedroia showed signs of being, well, Dustin Pedroia. If that continues, things might pick up sooner rather than later.
Now for a brief 13 hour commercial break, and we'll be back from McAfee Coliseum again before you know it. Isn't it nice to be back in season again? WMYM thinks so, too.
In a game that went nearly four hours, finishing just before 10 o'clock after a 6 a.m. start, Boston moved to an early divisional lead at 1-0 with a come-from-behind, 6-5 win over the A's in the Tokyo Dome. The Red Sox twice staged late-inning rallies - a three-run burst in the sixth and solo homer from late addition Brandon Moss (guess who the scratch was ... go ahead, it really is that obvious ... J.D. Drew! Who woulda thought!") in the top of the ninth before Manny Ramirez proved that his offseason of preparation would have him ready to go from Day 1, knocking home his third and fourth RBI of the game in the top of the 10th.
In truth, both the Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the native son turned Boston opening day starter who allowed two runs on only two hits across five sporadic and inefficient innings. Dice-K entered with gusto, allowed a two-run homer to Oakland's Mark Ellis, and proceeded to walk an average of one batter per inning during the victory. Still, though his 95 pitches only earned him five frames, his six strikeouts were predictably clutch, bailing him out of a number of jams, just as they did a number of times during his 15 wins in 2007.
Unfortunately, Terry Francona's hand was forced into going to the equivalent of long relief, and Kyle Snyder failed to ingratiate himself in his chase for the fifth starting spot, giving up two runs of his own. In fact, Snyder allowed his two ER after only two batters, with Oakland's new third baseman, Jack Hanahan taking Snyder deep for a 4-2 lead. He recovered, as did the Boston bullpen, and the Sox were able to patch things together until Moss came through with his first MLB homer to tie the game, and Ramirez found a way to win it with a hit and earn himself $10 grand for player of the game honors, money which he promptly - and only Ramirez could pull this off - said allocated in the following manner:
"I'm just ready to roll, I feel great, " said Ramirez, was given a giant check for 100,000 yen -- about $10,000 -- by the sponsor for being the player of the game.
"I think I'll use it for gas money," he said.
That's right folks, 10K for gas money. You have to love Manny Ramirez talking to the media again, no matter how you feel about him. But don't take our word for it, check out the new and improved media Manny below.
Oh, and Daisuke Matsuzaka again avoided being trampled to death by crazed fans.
It's really been that crazy for the Dice-man back in his native Japan, where Dice-K mania never goes out of style. The obsequious paraphanalia and results-free fandom that accompanied the ace's much-heralded arrival in the Hub last year rages on in Japan, where he and countryman Hideki Okajima are celebrities for their accomplishments as part of a team, as they evidently won the World Series as much for Japan as they did for the Red Sox.
After all, that's the cost of being a baseball superstar in Japan: Accomplishments are made not only for oneself, but also for the cultural progression of Japanese baseball as a whole. The collective chip on Japan's shoulder can add additional weight stateside, but the additional hype and general fan insanity that engulfs the likes of Matsuzaka, Okajima, Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui and Mariners superstar Ichiro (his last name is Suzuki, in case you forgot because of his unique first name jersey) is far heavier.
Still, you wouldn't know it from Matsuzaka's actions since returning to Japan. There's one terrific photo of Matsuzaka signing autographs for fans along the outfield wall of the Tokyo Dome during Red Sox warmups two days ago (WMYM searched all over the interwebs for it but came up empty. Sorry). That in itself isn't so shocking. What IS amazing, is that Matsuzaka was alternating between catching balls thrown to him from fans, and autographing items dropped to him on strings. That's right, Japanese fans are so desperate for Matsuzaka's John Hancock that they come prepared with twine and pins. Not pens, pins.
It's a dizzying spectacle, one which would leave even the more patient of players - think Mike Lowell or the Mayor Sean Casey - a bit craggy on occasion. Still, Matsuzaka is so used to the treatment that he doesn't flinch, or stop smiling. Okajima's return has been similarly celebrated, with his appearance against his former team, the Yomiuri Giants - combining the feel of a baseball game, soccer match (funny thing about fan chants, plastic sticks and massive flags) and a Lions Club career achievement award dinner. To call it unique is an understatement.
Timlin's been a solid contributor to the Sox bullpen all spring training, continuing his yeoman's work from the stretch drive and playoff push last fall. Now, after opening a cut on one of the fingers on his throwing hand fielding a comebacker in the exhibition win over the Blue Jays that required stitches, the Texan who doubles as morale captain of the bullpen - and possibly the team - may well miss the year's first official game with the injury.
It's a blow to the bullpen because it puts extra stress on guys like Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima, both of whom have looked terrific throughout the spring, but both of whom also could use to have their appearances and innings stretched across a number of games on a brutal season-opening road trip.
Now, giving Hideki Okajima more looks in Japan is never a bad thing, at least in terms of public opinion. But it's also the kind of move that could come back to haunt the pen as the season goes along.
Of course, all of these hypotheticals are thinking four or five steps down the road, which is preposterous. Still, the scenario is out there. And it's not going to get any smaller until the Timlin returns.
The rest of Boston's first day in the land of the Rising Sun has been typical diplomacy for celebrities in Japan which, naturally, is anything but typical, though we're sure you could tell that from the pic above. It's comforting to know that Big Papi isn't the first man to wear pulled back hair and a Kimono - think sumo wrestlers - isn't it?