Results tagged “Jacoby Ellsbury” from Who Made You Mirabelli?
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.
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.
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
Oh wait, no it's not.
In case anyone was lost in the blue, the Red Sox and Yankees face off again tonight, the latest adventure in the tet-a-tet warfare that has decided the fate of the AL East for the past decade. While the Rays have made things in the division a heck of a lot more interesting this time around, you may have noticed the Yankees' stunning surge back into the thick of the race. Winning 10-straight at home will do that for you.
So will having a pitcher run headfirst into a renaissance year that nobody -- repeat: NOBODY -- thought could possibly happen. Mike Mussine SHOULD have made the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, no questions asked. He's been positively terrific, emerging as a staff ace with Ching Ming "I'm so quiet it creeps the hell out of my teammates" Wang on the DL and Joba Chamberlain adjusting to a new role as a starter.
Now that Chamberlain seems to be settling in, the entire division dynamic is shifting. The Rays are still streaking ahead, but each blip on the radar screen -- a Thursday night loss, for example -- seems significantly more poignant. Each loss is no longer just a segue back to expectations, but rather a step back from a truly unbelievable run which, quite naturally, becomes a lot more believable every time they lose.
Of course, the divisional flip side of the Rays success has been an overall Yankee malaise, and it seems fair to say that's gone ... completely. It's hard to pinpoint an exact moment when New York snapped back to relevancy and a realization that they were, in fact, the Yankees. If there was one snapshot that captured their moment of their in-season awakening, however, it appropriately came in the last series between these rivals.
According to a variety of New York media sources, Johnny Damon gave a rousing, "we're not playing hard enough, we're not fighting for wins," speech before the game with the Red Sox on Independence Day. Hours later, Damon was lost for weeks because of a headfirst run into the fence that left him looking ridiculous as the ball -- a triple by Kevin Youkilis -- nearly balanced atop the fence and then left him with a serious shoulder injury and a trip to the DL. He hadn't made the play, but his reckless effort had left a hell of an impression.
Needless to say, that would be an inspiring thing for almost anyone, Yankees not excepted. According to some in the clubhouse, it was. Suddenly New York is hitting, at least more than they were before, and they're pitching relatively efficient games.
Of course, with the exception of an abysmal three-game stretch in Anaheim last weekend, the Sox haven't been huge slouches lately either. But there are more glaring concerns in Boston's lineup than at any time previous. David Ortiz makes his return to the lineup tonight, but where will Terry Francona bat him? Does he slot back into third right away? The team's power hitters have increased slugging percentage admirably in his absence, so moving them in the middle of a Yankees series might not be the best way to get Big Papi back in the swing of things. Some of the lineup headache might be mitigated with Manny Ramirez out of the lineup with a sore knee, though that would raises bigger issues, with Ramirez's bat in absencia during an enormous series that could drastically swing momentum in the AL East. Not to mention the issue it raises about how someone could possibly injure their knee jaywalking in the Pacific Northwest.
Most of the scuttlebutt in Boston has focused on a monthlong slump by Jacoby Ellsbury, and the rookie could lose his leadoff spot though, again, that would be an interesting twist to the lineup at a particularly dramatic time to make the change. There's also the question mark that is Jed Lowrie -- can he really keep hitting above .300? -- and Coco Crisp's fleeting productivity.
On paper, Boston would seem to have a pitching edge. After all, no matter how strong Chamberlain looks in bursts, Josh Beckett > Chamberlain until further notice. There's no word that notice will ever come, either. Tim Wakefield has also been spectacular despite losses in recent starts. It's hard to blame him when he can't get W's despite limiting opponents to two runs across seven and eight innings. And Jon Lester has been the Red Sox' most reliable starter of all the past month, never clearer than in Seattle, when he settled into another stirring start with more emotional pangs, this time from a homecoming where he's showing what he can do when he really is healthy. Oh, and that Mussina guy WMYM was raving about? He's not pitching (you can exhale now).
What does that mean for the Sox at Fenway? It means pressure could swing wildly. If Boston wins behind Beckett on Friday, they would be in good shape for a strong weekend. If they lose, the pressure will get intense. Fast.
Hold on to your hats folks, here we go again. And this time around, make sure to bring you Madonna wigs and stillettos. If A-Rod thought the blond bombshell treatment was frustrating last spring, he's sure throwing a lot more firewood out for the flames.
You wouldn't have known it from the seventh inning of Wednesday afternoon's win.
WMYM could easily go back through the hit-by-hit, play-by-play reinactment of the carnage, but the AP's Jimmy Golen does a much better job, seeing as how he was actually sitting in Fenway at the time and all:
The Red Sox had runners on second and third when Jason Varitek hit a sinking liner to center and Denard Span slid for the ball, backhanding it and then holding up his glove as if he caught it. The base runners took off and, after the umpires belatedly signaled a catch, Span threw to second to double off Casey.
Second baseman Alexi Casilla leisurely threw to third to get Mike Lowell, who had already crossed the plate. (Lowell appeared to have tagged up, but he was rung up anyway.)
While the umpires conferred, official scorer Mike Petraglia announced that the play was an 8-4-5 triple play, "for now."
The call was reversed -- correctly, replays confirmed -- and irate Twins manager Ron Gardenhire came out of the dugout for an argument that led to a quick ejection.
Casey stayed at third and Varitek was credited with an RBI single that gave Boston an 8-5 lead. Craig Breslow relieved Boof Bonser and struck out Brandon Moss, but Julio Lugo walked to load the bases.
Ellsbury singled to drive in another run and, with Brian Bass pitching, Pedroia hit a double to left to clear the bases and extend his hitting streak to 17 games. Youkilis doubled and Ramirez followed with an RBI single to make it 14-5.
That's how quick a 7-5 contest with a trajectory to go down to the wire can snowball into a rout in Fenway Park. That's also exactly the kind of drastic turn of events Red Sox fans were used to seeing a lot more of in 2004 and 2005, with teams built to smash long balls and rack up massive amounts of runs on the bottom half of Fenway's antiquated scoreboard.
The fact that Josh Beckett didn't have his best stuff this afternoon is actually the most encouraging aspect of the victory, from a Boston perspective. By winning an 18-5 slugfest, and by pulling away rather than relying on a bullpen that has given cause for a lot of gnawed fingernails this season, this Red Sox team showed that it can flex a considerable amount of muscle when it needs to, Big Papi or no Big Papi.
That should quiet the Barry Bonds talk, at least for an afternoon. Or two, if we're all lucky. It hasn't slowed the Boston Herald yet, but there's a first for everything.
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 hours after we questioned whether his return to the Boston lineup would re-invigorate the offense after a lackluster night, Ramirez ensured it would with a monster of a two-run homer. When combined with a blistering day from J.D. Drew, who homered to deep center in the middle of an afternoon that cemented his spot among the hottest hitters in the bigs, and a handful of resourceful plays from Alex Cora, the Sox had more than enough to even a weekend series with the Mariners.
On a normal day, those developments provide more than enough headlines in themselves. But that wasn't the case Saturday, a Tim Wakefield start where, for the first time since 2002, he was on the mound at the same time as another knuckleballer. That other butterfly specialist in question was Seattle's R.A. Dickey, the former flamethrower who, after losing his ulnar collateral ligament from long-term damage - yes, he REALLY doesn't have the ligament at all anymore - became a knuckleball specialist, now in relief for the Mariners. Unfortunately for the M's, Dickey wasn't significantly more successful than his predecessor, Miguel Batista, with the Sox adding a run during his two innings on the mound. That run came on another one of Drew's hits, a stroke to center which truly may have been the indication that he's officially on fire.
In other good news, Jacoby Ellsbury made a late appearance, the cameo giving Sox fans hope that he can return soon, thus easing some of the strain on the outfield and perhaps clearing up a rotation for when Coco Crisp's appeal of his mound charging suspension is summarily rejected. It says here that's coming a lot sooner than later.
In the meantime, the Sox can enjoy another win, with the afternoon punctuated by the ManRam and Drew bombs and a nice, throwback performance by Wakefield. They'll take that every time.
STARTING PITCHING; Tim Wakefield: √+, seven innings, two runs. All in a solid day's work for Wake.
MIDDLE RELIEF: N/A
SET-UP RELIEF; Craig Hansen: √+, one inning, no runs, one hits. Another scoreless shines more light on Hansen's evolution from mop-up man to legitimate set-up contender. He keeps improving.
CLOSER: Jonathan Papelbon: -, one inning, one hit, one run. Paps gave up another run, and while it didn't affect the final result, Red Sox fans never want to see their closer give up a run. Under any conditions. Luckily, Papelbon has a similarly potent distaste for letting runs cross the plate, so it probably won't happen again soon.
Case in point: The Sox host Tampa Bay for a divisional face-off three-fer, and Coco Crisp slides into second base a big high (think Bob Uecker from Major League "Just a biiiiitt high"), leading to a drilling from Tampa pitcher James "Don't Call Me Jamie" Shields in his first at bat Thursday. After feigning a calm stroll down to first, Coco charged the mound with a fury ducking a haymaker from Shields and landing a cross of his own before succumbing to oogles of kidney shots from various Rays.
Here's the best video, both from the fight and it's locker room aftermath, that we've been able to find so far, courtesy the ever-uncutvideo savvy Sox and Dawgs.
The postscript to the fight was almost as interesting. Within an hour, Jacoby Ellsbury injures his wrist on a diving catch, leading to an in-dugout argument between Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis about who's heading into the outfield. Two innings later, Manny left the game with a sore hamstring, and suddenly the Sox were down to a single bench player (Alex Cora).
That didn't keep Boston from sweeping the three-game set, but it paved the way for tonight's 8-0 blanking at the hands of Felix Hernandez and the Mariners.
So what now? Well, why grade a lousy home loss, the first of Bartolo Colon's Red Sox career, when you can score a massive bench-clearing brawl that led to eight suspensions? With that in mind, here's how the street cred of some of Thursday night's bruhaha shakes out following the, ummm, let's call it an altercation:
Coco Crisp: √+
Not only did the former everyday center fielder use clever premeditated tactics to get a clean run at Shields, he had the wherewithal to duck Shield's best shot after sprinting 90 feet, and then landed a punch of his own, though he played down the connection afterwards. It wasn't a knockout, but given Crisp and Shield's relative dimensions, that charging could have been a Robin Ventura-style drilling. If anything, it ended up on the other side of the coin, and that's a testament to Crisp's toughness. Now, about that seven game suspension with David Ortiz missing time because of his wrist injury ...
Sean Casey: √
Who says that it takes a season to get integrated into a team? The Mayor stood up for his teammates, pulling down a three-game ban as a result. For the camaraderie he helped build and the stand-up guy street cred he gets as a result, it's well worth it for a back-up first baseman.
Kevin Youkilis: √-
Youk is known for being a tough-guy everyman and standing up for teammates, so it's no surprise that he was out of the dugout pretty quickly. It's also no surprise that he was the one who stood up to Manny in between innings. Naturally, this grade could go way down if ManRam's performance plummets in the aftermath of the argument.
Jon Lester: √
He may be a young starter, but Lester's established enough that he can throw in retribution without thinking twice. When he had the chance - and the responsibility - to do so, he did it Wednesday. He got a five-game suspension for his trouble, but getting his teammates' respect is worth a lot more than that.
Manny Ramirez: -
Let's see, late to get in on the action, lackluster when he does, and unwilling (or, perhaps, unable) to pitch in on the field, ManRam was a total disappointment. Then again, is anyone surprised? Didn't think so.
Bartolo Colon: -
And who was lagging back with ManRam? The Big Diuretic, that's who. Think about it: If anyone needs the extra running work for more cardio, isn't it Bartolo? Then what happens the next night? He get's rocked. Nice work Colon cleanse. Sheesh.
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.
Not only was Josh Beckett dominant against the Tigers Thursday night - his one run came when he got a bit cocky against a bit player who hadn't started in a week and a half - he was dominant without any drama whatsoever, the diametric opposite of Tigers ace, Justin Verlander, who put in a workmanlike if unspectacular effort for Detroit in yet another losing cause.
As a result, the Sox leave the Motor City having taken an impressive three of four, and knowing that they should have taken a clean sweep. Even without Manny Ramirez in the lineup - the bopper took the night off so Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury could both get at-bats - the Boston batters strung together hits and could have done even more damage against Verlander early. After all, when they put up runs in the third, there was only one out when Varitek tagged from third with the third run of the frame on a sacrifice fly.
No matter. When Beckett is feeling it on the mound as he was Thursday, it hardly matters. And if it's pure data you want, try this number on for size. Guess how fast Beckett's change-up was moving ... 88 mph. That's right, Josh Beckett was throwing a change-up faster than Greg Maddux throws a fastball. Not to mention Brett Myers. Sheesh. Sure, his breaking pitches were much slower, more like traditional change-ups in the 70s range. When your fastballs are flying in at 95 and 96, 88 is plenty slow enough, particularly when you hide the ball so well against your body that batters can't see it anyway.
Momentum, you are a starting pitcher indeed. So, how you feeling Jon Lester?
STARTING PITCHING: √+
Well, we've already been raving about it, so let's just drop the actual numbers out there and let them speak for themselves. Seven innings, 6 hits, 1 run, 8 strikeouts. That's right, more strikeouts than hits. Again. Oh, and no walks. Evidently Beckett doesn't do walks anymore. They're beneath him.
MIDDLE RELIEF: N/A
No need when Beckett's dealing, even against a lineup like Detroit's.
SET-UP RELIEF: √+
Craig Hansen picked up where Beckett left off, tossing an inning of perfect ball. Three batters faced, three batters down. Twelve pitches, and nothing from anyone to make it look like they were catching up to his stuff.
CLOSER: A night after Jonathan Papelbon got tagged with both horrendous luck and a tough loss, the Manny Delcarmen reclamation project resumed. This time, it brought along with it some positive results ... a save, and only one batter beyond the minimum, on a hit that nearly was an out in itself. That's a big step in the right direction for Delcarmen, who needs a couple more outings like that to truly be considered back on his game. Still, a good start is a good start.
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.
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.
Whenever 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.
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.
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.
So, while you watch re-runs of the South Park where the local "Junior Detectives" break up a meth lab, it's probably best not to think about how a still scuffling Sox lineup failed to put together decent offensive numbers, a terrific one-man double play by Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill aside.
Still, two of three from the Jays is a distinct step in the right direction, particularly considering where the five straight losses that preceded it. That may not provide a whole lot of comfort for when the surging Tampa Bay Rays hit Fenway tonight - yes, we just said "surging" and "Tampa Bay Rays" in the same sentnce, honestly - and with another strong start, this time from Tim Wakefield, who wriggled his way out a handful of jams with strikeouts and some strong outfield play, things could look a whole lot worse. Now, to see if Clay Buchholz can duplicate that domed performance down in Florida last Saturday ...
STARTING PITCHING: √-
Wake wasn't perfect, but he only gave up three runs across seven innings. That's a solid outing from the knuckler, who continues to eat up innings regardless of age, opponent, situation, field and, well, just about any other circumstance you can put on a game. Then again, charting his performance in five days should tell us that once again, so what else is new.
MIDDLE RELIEF: √
David Aardsma continues to be Terry Francona's answer to the Wakefield after innings. It's a strategy that makes sense: throw the soft-tossing knuckler out there, then follow that with mid to high 90s heat. It worked again last night, the one extra batter from Aardsma not withstanding, as the power reliever from Rice rolled through his frame with only 12 pitches. Not a bad outing for a guy who seems to be getting more confident and more settled with his feet under him every day.
SET-UP RELIEF: √-
Well, the mercurial life of Javier Lopez returned tonight, with the sidetossing lefty allowing two hits while retiring two Blue Jays. He was bailed out by Mike Timlin, who pulled this grade up to a √- by keeping more runs off the board, but continues to provide plenty of indigestion for all those loogy fans out there.
Another night, another solid "C-" to "D" for the Sox hitters. David Ortiz continues to look better - two solid hits tonight provided a plateau that could bring him back up to the start of his big seasons past - but the men around him couldn't set the table well enough. The outfield is still banged up; too much Brandon Moss, not enough Jacoby Ellsbury or, dare we say it, J.D. Drew. Maybe things will change against the Rays tomorrow. They better, because two runs or less a game are not going to get it done forever.
It's about 5:30 p.m. and the tarp is on the field. There's light rain falling as some of the Blue Jays are out throwing in left field.Great. So now Boston can hold on to lingering disappointment from losing five straight, all five of which easily could have been won, while waiting and wondering if they'll even get to play tonight. If they DO get in a game back at the Fens, they'll trot out a more traditional lineup, with the return of Mike Lowell to the three-bag and his study No. 6 spot in the order, much to the chagrin of reliever Bryan Corey, who you can see on that bus out of town after his latest demotion. Oh, and the continued Jacoby Ellsbury absence comes from a nagging groin injury, for those who are keeping track (take note in Chicago Kenny Williams).
in games, and that means keeping his pitches around the plate
and, for God sakes, keeping them low.
And who does Boston have to try and play stopper on the mound? Why, that's Jon Lester out there. And he's facing off against perennial Cy Young candidate Roy Halladay. Joyous, a pitcher who's struggled to keep down his pitch count AND his pitches themselves, butting heads with a guy who has a tendency to mow down Boston batters on cruise control. Not necessarily the matchup you'd draw up to break out of a colossal slump with, is it?
It's not that the Lester doesn't have the stuff to compete with the likes of Halladay and the Jays. Quite to the contrary, as he proved in his second official outing of the year against Oakland, a game which, for all practical purposes, should have served as his first start of the season (Japanese games during the preseason calendar really shouldn't count on toward official stats, should they?). Instead of carrying over the control he flexed in that win - keeping most of his pitches in the zone and, most importantly, the ones that weren't way down - he's allowed fastballs to rise into the zone where they've had the troubling tendency to get knocked way the hell out of the park. Equally devastating are the walks he's allowed, putting runners aboard before those big flies take flight.
The Blue Jays lineup, even without Frank Thomas, certainly has batters who can continue that trend. Scott Rolen is aboard and swinging, Vernon Wells always kills the Sox and Alex Rios is an absolute headache when he's clued in (you've got about 50-50 odds on that happening any given day). And with the drizzle dimming optimism, and the Jays lineup lingering when the game actually does get rolling, there's really only one shining point to provide distinct optimism entering tonight's game: No matter what happens, at least Toronto won't be wearing those early 90s baby blue throwbacks. As sweet as those are, they bring back night terrors for WMYM.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Unfortunately, that's not going to be the case for the 2008 Red Sox, the defending World Series champs who, somehow, dropped three straight to the Blue Jays in Canada despite A) the return of Josh Beckett in the finale, B) a fully rested bullpen at the outset of the series and C) Tim Wakefield pitching in a park where he's been stunningly effective.
So, how is a Red Sox fan supposed to come up with anything to take from the three losses? Well, that's easy.
Now, about that whole Manny Delcarmen thing. While Terry Francona is currently taking a bit of a beating on a number of Sox message boards, it's pretty understandable that he'd throw Manny Delcarmen back out against Frank Thomas this afternoon with the bases loaded, even after Thomas took him deep on Friday night. Consider the circumstances from Friday's homer: a 2-2 count, a changeup down in the zone and two men on base. In fact, Thomas never got a hold of a Delcarmen heater in that at-bat, so there's no reason Francona would have reason to fear him tearing the cover off a first pitch fastball on Sunday. Of course, that's exactly what he did, so suddenly Delcarmen has more than a one-time problem, now he's got a serious case of Big Hurt deja vu.
1) This start was Beckett's first outing against hitters that weren't minor leaguers. He literally only pitched one minor league game against big league bats, and that didn't go so well, either. All things considered, when you consider the fact that his final pitch chart looked like this, that's not so bad. WMYM will take 97 mph fastballs every time, thank you very much.
2) The bats finally seemed to wake up in the late innings against the Blue Jays this afternoon. Sure, they couldn't finish the comeback, but that'll happen when Manny Delcarmen serves up a meatball to Frank Thomas for a grand slam. So be it. The fact that the Sox got one run back - and easily could have kept the comeback going if Jacoby Ellsbury's top of the ninth liner stays fair instead of 2 inches foul - could be a jumping off point for the team going forward. Oh, and Jason Varitek is officially hitting again. Hooray! There's plenty still to be desired - the fact that the team is only putting up quality at-bats with runners in scoring position 25 percent of the time is a good place to start - but the later innings of Game 3 against the Jays could be a good place to start.
3) If not for Mayor Sean Casey's horrendous error at first base in Game 2, that might be a different story, too. Clay Buchholz may not have been perfect, but the kid was pitching. In fact, he was pitching far better than one could have expected after his atrocious spring training. If he can build on what he did right instead of looking for cosmetics to cover up the massive scar tissue from what happened after Casey's error, the Sox may have something to work with here. Considering his postgame comments and the fact that he's still dating the reigning Penthouse Pet of the Year, something tells us he won't have too much trouble doing that.
So, what is a Tito Francona to do? That seems fairly obvious: throw the kid out there again ... stat. If Delcarmen can prove effective against one of the Tigers' panoply of dangerous hitters, that he'll probably get back a lot of his lost swagger. If he doesn't, well, than maybe he's the one to take a little stint on the Pawtucket shuttle when the team has to make a move when Mike Timlin returns.
OK, so now that we have that optimism to lean back on, let's take a look at some deplaorable grades, shall we?
STARTING PITCHING: -
Yes, WMYM said that for a first outing, Beckett's effort wasn't a bad one. And it wasn't. Still, that was Josh Beckett. A two-run bomb to a hitter of Vernon Wells' ilk will happen once in a while (especially for Vernon Wells, as the case may be), but loading the bases in the fifth won't get it done, particularly when the team needs a win to avoid an official skid. Sorry Joshie, end of story. Better luck next time amigo.
MIDDLE RELIEF: -
Let's see, what are the recipes for a disastrous outing. Four-run bomb served up on a platter? Check, thanks to Manny Delcarmen. Pitcher fighting for a roster spot scuffling again? Check, courtesy David Aardsma's latest rough inning (that's recently - and stunningly - released Kyle Snyder on Line 2 Theo Epstein ...). To say that the middle relief was abysmmal is an understatement. Clearly, if we could drop a -- on the 'pen, we would, for the second day in a row.
SET-UP MAN: √
Hideki Okajima just needed work, so he was predictably brilliant. 'Nuff said.
Jonathan Papelbon just needed work, so he was predictably brilliant. 'Nuff said.
Again, there were strong signs of life in the latter stages, which may be the saving grace of this entire series. Well, that and the continued resurrection of both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Varitek. Still, one look at both the averages - David Ortiz is currently hitting .115, in case you cared to ponder - and the charting of quality at bats would give the hitters a straight C average in the Skydome. And that might be forgiving.
Whatever it is, at least two teams still appear to be very interesting in taking centerfielder Coco Crisp off Boston's hands. It just so happens that they play across the same city, too.
According to the nearly infallible Nick Cafardo, both Chicago teams are interesting in acquiring Crisp. The Cubs want him because, after making him virtually untouchable last spring, they seem to be lest than bowled over by the early returns from Felix Pie. The White Sox want him because even a baseball addict like WMYM doesn't know who the hell they're playing in center these days.
The Red Sox, however, don't seem to be sold on sending a man who may soon be baseball's best fourth outfielder to either team. Considering Crisp's relatively cheap price tag - he pulls in less than $6 mill a year, remember - he's hardly cost prohibitive. That's why they seem to be holding out for an offer that would include a power arm reliever and a hitting prospect, the price that the Cubs seem to find off-putting (at least according to Cafardo). It's similarly questionable whether the White Sox have anything near the pieces the Sox would want in return for Crisp, who'd likely patrol center at U.S. Cellular from the the next two years from the first day he got there.
So is Coco headed to the Windy City? It says here that he's not in the current incarnation of any of the aforementioned deals. Theo Epstein seems to be holding this particular card close to the vest, even as he seems to run Coco out into center as often as Jacoby Ellsbury sees the field, which could only be seen as having him exhibition for suitors; an expensive, in-season version of cheerleaders running laps in full sweat suits around the football team (if that one doesn't work for you, insert your own Freudian metaphor here).
Or maybe Coco really is hitting this year. That'd be a nice change, huh? After all, can any remember the last time both Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew got through an entire season without a lengthy stint on the DL? WMYM can't either.
Oh. It's never happened. Well, that would explain it, wouldn't it.
In the end, Boston lost, 8-4, but that wasn't the most significant development. In fact, Terry Francona announcing that Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester will pitch in Japan wasn't the most significant development, either. No, that honor fell flat at the rather ample feet of Bartolo Colon, who was rocked for four runs in only 2/3 of an inning. That's right, Colon, who was looking an awful lot like the fifth starter in his last outing, now looks an awful lot like a batting practice pitcher. He only got two batters out, and only threw 21 strikes, of 20 pitches. In a karmic twist one of those outs was a strikeout of Johnny Judas Damon to start the game, before the great unraveling began.
Equally bad was Julian Tavarez (4 R, 4 H, , meaning that - with the exception of Clay Buchholz's strong minor league outing that ran concurrently - there was little good news in terms of the team's open audition for its final starter. Of course, the Buchholz optimism is severely tempered by the fact that he was striking out minor leaguers, not All-Stars.
Luckily, the Boston bats did spread the misery a bit, getting to Pettitte for 3 R, 3 H in 3 1/3 innings. Holding Pettitte below four innings in a tuneup start may not be a coup de grace, but it's still some solace in a brutal loss, as was two hits from Jacoby Ellsbury and one apiece from Kevin Youkilis, Julio Lugo, Jason Varitek and a bunch of other guys who won't be playing on Opening Day.
Does that making losing to your sworn enemy easier? Hardly. But perhaps it provides some glimmer of hope amidst what was otherwise a dreary day.
Then again, it could have been worse ... you could have been one of the four players outrighted to AAA this afternoon. Two of them - Craig Hansen (who pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 inning earlier in the Yankees game) and outfielder first baseman Chris Clark (who has been hitting the cover off the ball all spring) - were even talked about as potential roster players. Longshots, but potential spots nonetheless.
Not anymore. Just like that 0-0 mark against the Yankees. Who said Spring Training games don't count? They should tell that to Big Papi and Boston's psyche.
That's right, the Sox are currently on a 3-game lossless streak. WMYM has to say "lossless" streak because two of the three results have been ties. That's right, Boston has put up not just one, but two ties in spring training, against the Mets Monday and then against Rays - remember, you can't call the Devil Rays anymore - today. A day after the first encouraging outing from Clay Buchholz all spring, Bartolo Colon, a man Buchholz may suddenly be competing with for a rotation spot, gave up a run in two innings. He yielded two hits in all, as well as a walk, but considering the face that he reported to camp less than two weeks ago, the outing had to be considered a significant step in the right direction for Colon, who suddenly appears to be in line for a big role in the Red Sox's season.
Overlooked in all the Colon hubbub - not to mention the somewhat stunning dispatching of a longtime Red Sox backup catcher who will remain nameless - was a resurgent appearance in the two-hole by Kyle Snyder, who tossed two innings without a run, giving up just one hit. Set-up man extrordinairre Hideki Okajima tossed a perfect inning, as did Javier Lopez, who is charging his way back from the brink of the trash heap to make a serious case for a spot on the opening day roster. In fact, Lopez can probably preorder his flowers to be delivered to Craig Hansen for cut day if he wants to save himself the trouble later in the week.
Meanwhile, Julian Tavarez seems to have pitched himself out of the fifth starter's competition, giving up another run on two hits in his two innings, which came later in the game against Rays scrubs. That's right, he gave up a run against Rays wannabes. Not such a sterling sign for a guy who wants the ball every fifth day.
At the dish, the surging Chris Carter, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, Sean Casey and Alex Cora all got hits, but it was Brandon Moss, the former call-up spot starter in the outfield, who had a big day, going deep in the ninth to tie the game. For what it's worth, Moss - who has virtually zero-shot of making the opening day roster - is up to .290 while Carter is hitting, get this, .367. That's right, .367 with a .500 slugging. Seems like that Wily Mo Pena dump deal is working out ok at the moment, no?
So how is that fifth starter's competition looking at the moment? Given that Josh Beckett may start the season on a temporary DL stint, that would open two slots in the rotation to start with. It's hard to imagine that the team would run with Buchholz after only one good outing, rather than give him more time in AAA. That would mean starting Colon out of the gate and having Snyder pitch in until Beckett returns, then sliding back over to long man. Of course, all these decisions are completely fluid and absolutely projected by no one outside WMYM, so they're probably not worth listening to.
But they are a lot of fun, aren't they?
That's right folks, you know you're wrapped up in Spring Training baseball when teams are allowed to tie. Add to that the fact that the Sox were taking on the Mets, and you end up with that clever WMYM header above. And no, WMYM doesn't have any personal experience with said filandering. WMYM doesn't even have any sisters in New York.
That being said, the incredibly un-American conclusion of a 1-1 tie was a surprisingly fulfilling result from Monday afternoon's little dust up for three major reasons: 1) it wasn't a loss, 2) Jon Lester was absolutely outstanding and 3) He lived up to Johan Santana for the Mets.
Yes, it happened: Jon Lester pitched against the man he was nearly traded for. And amazingly, he lived up to every bit Santana could throw at him. Both starters went four innings and gave up just 4 hits. Lester had a walk, but he also struck out 5 Mets, one K more than Santana managed against the Sox.
Making the afternoon more enjoyable were thoroughly solid outings from Hideki Okajima and Javier Lopez - yes, the lefty specialist back from the grave - both of whom worked an inning with a single hit. The downside, again, was Craig Hansen, who is rapidly appearing to be an almost unsalvagable proposition. He only gave up one hit, but not surprisingly it went deep, which inflated his ever-ballooning spring ERA to a whopping 13.50. To say that he's starting on the Pawtucket shuttle is a significant understatement.
As for the bats, Jacoby Ellsbury continues his renaissance, right on cue with expanding injury problems for Coco Crisp. The incumbent center fielder was scratched from batting practice and the Mets affair with a nagging sore groin, and his return was listed as open ended. And not the good kind of open ended. Just as trade rumors begin to circle around him, the cereal man seems to have hamboned his way into sticking around. At least unless Epstein can steal from the Cubs for a gimpy center fielder whose best assets are his speed and athleticism. Yeah, WMYM can't see it happening either.
And then there is the catching prospect phenomenon. If anyone understands how not one, but two Sox catching prospects would rack up the best Spring Training batting averages - all while logging significant playing time, mind you - we'd love to learn how. Not only is George Kottaras hitting a legitimate .625, he's joined there by the more under the radar Dusty Brown, whose similar .625 makes Kevin Cash's seat in Pawtucket more than just hot. Both are toting slugging percentages above 1.000, which is enough to make Jason Varitek feel like his bargaining strength is eroding under his feet like the sand on an Ogunquit beach.
Needless to say, that duo is a trend that could bring a lot of smiles to Sox fans' faces in the coming years. Or maybe months. Who knows. If they keep hitting like that, almost anything's possible.
Except supplanting Dougie, of course. You don't just release a divine ballplayer from a roster. It just doesn't happen.
The Globe's Amalie Benjamin broke the story on Extra Bases, reporting that Papelbon's agents - Seth and Sam Levinson - agreed to a one-year pact worth $775,000 with Theo Epstein and the Sox brass. The Herald quickly rolled out a Michael Silverman piece that correctly noticed Papelbon's deal as a record for a reliever with 2+ years of service, updating the piece as the story progressed.
And progress it has. It turns out that not only did the Sox front office bend quite a deal in Papelbon's case - he can earn an additional $25K for making the All-Star Game which would push his deal up to a total of $800K, only $100K less than he was asking for and almost double his renewal contract - they also bent in the case of all their other emerging young stars. Dustin Pedroia signed a deal $457,000, a raise of roughly $75K over his scheduled deal. Jon Lester ($421.5K), Manny Delcarmen ($421K), Jacoby Ellsbury ($406K) and Clay Buchholz ($396K) also got deals with notable raises (i.e., more than five grand) and all 18 players up for renewals eventually came to agreements. That's right, the Sox didn't have to renew anyone. At all.
That in itself makes more monstrously good karma in an age where any slight can be enough to get a player to start thinking about pitching in a greener pasture, both literally and figuratively. More importantly, they show that this front office realizes that it's not worth saving a million bucks - roughly the aggregate of all these voluntary raises - if it means pissing off a host of talented youngsters.
Clearly, this shift towards rewarding one's own system has been coming. It was foreshadowed in trade duscussions for Santana in the offseason, when Epstein refused to acquiesce to Minnesota's demands of Lester and Ellsbury in the same deal. To a certain extent it was continued by the team's re-signing of Curt Schilling (injuries aside) and Mike Lowell to deals that, while below market, were lucrative enough to keep them in town. Now the trend has culminated in a watershed day of good will, an afternoon of agreements which could pave the way to long term stability with a core of young talent, exactly what Epstein forecast when he took the GM's position in the winter of 2002.
If the Sox challenge for another World Series in the immediately upcoming years, Papelbon and co. might be able to point to today as a turning point.
Now, if only the team could have celebrated with a resounding victory on the field. Seriously, the stage was certainly set right - home field, big spring training crowd, Joe Torre in the other dugout - and the lead was monumental - 5-2 entering the ninth. Unfortunately so was the meltdown.
It started with lefty Craig Breslow, a Trumbull, Conn. native, who gave up a run on three walks while battling shocking wildness, a slippery slope which could prove deadly to the New Englander's chance of making the team. That left his subsequent teammates with three runs of buffer, but it wasn't nearly enough. Hunter Jones saw his ERA puff up higher than a Don King hairdo in a Singapore heat wave, walking one, giving up one hit and falling victim to an error as he gave up a whopping four runs on his own, setting down only two batters. We can't speak for Hunter's heart, but WMYM knows that Boston's heart is not lonely without Hunter, at least anymore. Clearly, the kid has a way to go.
So does Lee Gronkiewicz, who gave up a whopping three runs on three hits before he could finish off the Dodgers. Yikes. His 18.00 ERA makes Jones' 10.80 look downright thrifty. Somehow the Sox reserves managed a run in the bottom of the ninth, but needless to say that was a bit too little too late, leaving a lot of fans to head home - or at least back to a hotel - with a sickening feeling in their stomach after watching Torre leave a field smiling. Again.
Well, some things just don't change, do they. We'll see what home grown talent can do about that.