Results tagged “Jonathan Papelbon” from Who Made You Mirabelli?

Crap

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Crap. Seriously... there's not a whole lot to say. The Red Sox had been playing absolutely uninspired baseball for the last two months now, and today was the culmination of it all. The Red Sox were not defeated by a superior Angels squad. The Red Sox did this to themselves. Papelbon's meltdown is certainly troubling, and could have implications for the future... but for now, it really doesn't matter... does it?

Crap

Down to the Wire

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t1_wagner.jpg

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. 

Pitching Out Of Order

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images.jpgWith all of the roster moves surrounding the trade deadline, there has to be a slight degree of forgiveness if the casual fan hasn't quite memorized the new roster... never mind the line-up. But it's not everyday when the manager forgets who the closer(s) are.

Tuning into a tie game in the ninth against a division rival, one would expect to see... maybe Jonathan Papelbon... maybe Daniel Bard - clearly the closer of the future. No, no, dear friends. Ramon Ramirez. That is what we saw.

Now, for those unfortunate souls watching the game on the trusted MLB.tv, we actually didn't "see" this per se. Instead, we found ourselves cursing the webmaster and then cursing Takashi Saito via ESPN's gamecast... a lovely way to spend an evening indeed.

But back to the pitching. Daniel Bard is, almost unquestionably going to be the closer for the Boston Red Sox at some point in the future, barring injury or trade - although the Fangraph boys think his "untouchable" tag is a bit undeserved. He gave up a two-run jack to Evan Longoria, who despite his uncharacteristically low numbers this season, has a propensity for tattooing young pitchers with not a lot of ball movement when their velocity tails... he is after all a professional ball player. But despite Longoria's jolt to Bard's confidence, the kid looks like the real deal. But the only way to give him a go is to give him a go... in a close situation.

If the Sox management was looking to play tonight a little more conservatively and give Papelbon the green light in the ninth... all well and good. That's what the team pays him for. That is not, however, what they pay Ramon Ramirez for. Nothing against poor Ram Ram - who ended up pitching his way out of a serious tight spot, but what? Why? Huh? So confused... must lay down.

Sure, it was a punch to the gut. The Red Sox should have won Game 2. They should have won it more than once over. Still, losing 2-1 to Tampa Bay isn't the end of the world.

In fact, given the home form of both teams in this series against the other, winning one of the first two games in Tampa Bay was a huge factor. If you'd told Boston fans before the series that the Sox would win one of Games 1 and 2, it would be hard to argue that the Sox weren't right on track.

At the end of the day -- a particularly long and painful, at that -- that's exactly where Boston is: on track. The problem is that the track is a much more narrow and precarious one than they would have been on after a 2-0 series lead. Now the Sox have no room for error, and that's a dangerous position with a knuckleball pitcher taking the mound in Game 4 in chilly and occasionally drizzly Fenway Park.

Jon Lester's Game 3 start is now a must win. Tim Wakefield's Game 4 will have even more pressure sitting on it, and the Rays will certainly have their eyes trained on a win there, particularly if they can get another Andy Sonnanstine start like they got in Game 4 in Chicago.

More important to the series' complexion, however, was Josh Beckett's utter inability to compete in clutch situations. Boston got Beckett three leads, he lost all of them. Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon were all impeccable -- not to mention Manny Delcarmen, who got clutch outs again -- but those outings would have been preserving a win if Beckett had done his job.

Clearly, Beckett isn't the same pitcher everyone saw in the regular season, let alone in the 2007 postseason. Instead of three aces, the Red Sox suddenly have two and a huge question mark, and Terry Francona has to decide what to do with the rotation going forward.

Despite all of those problems, the Sox really are still on track, if barely. Now, if they can augment Dustin Pedroia's offensive awakening with more steady contributions from Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay and anything from the uber-slumping David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox could really be in business.

Will that happen? Time will tell. For the moment, the Sox have to think about an incredibly disappointing Game 2 for another 24 hours, hoping that the next time they get a lead, their starting pitcher will hold it.
We're up against the gun here at WMYM, so we're going to make things easy: Here's my ALCS series breakdown in terms of pitching, hitting and, finally, a flat out prediction. Here's hoping it's more accurate than Andy's stab at the ALDS.

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

PITCHING:

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

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

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

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

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

HITTING:

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

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

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

EDGE: Push

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

RED SOX IN SIX

Here's thanking Andy for being oh-so beautifully wrong, as he's all too happy to admit.

lowriepump1.pngLowrie was the hero, a fitting contribution from just another of the
disparate unexpected stars that have buoyed Boston's season.
(AP)

There will be plenty more tomorrow, including, hopefully, a first-person perspective from Andypants himself, who happened to dig out some fourth row seats. Until then, here's another happy image to contemplate. Admit it, watching Jonathan Papelbon spray champagne just never gets old.

papschampagne1.pngPaps goes crazy, as if he didn't have a
special "celebration alert" beeper on his belt.
(AP)



More Than a Loss

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It's rare that a single game can provide a huge swing in momentum, let alone a single inning. Still, that's exactly how the ninth inning played out on Tuesday. Not only did the Red Sox lose a chance to deliver a painfully crushing blow to Tampa Bay, they lost a chance to slip into the AL East lead during this three game stretch with the Rays, setting the stage for an extremely tough Battle Royale in the Tropicana Dome next week.

All of those factors -- complete with a largely ineffective start from Daisuke Matsuzaka and a rare yet ultra-depressing loss for Jonathan Papelbon -- make the loss to the Rays all too depressing to bear. So we're not going to dwell on it any longer. Instead, WMYM is going to try and think about something more upbeat ... like the Patriots! They always win, right? Nothing could derail the Pats machine! Oh wait ...

Then again, there is this:




So maybe there is hope after all?

Best Foot Forward

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This is the part of the season called keeping pace. Thus, in the interest of putting one foot in front of the next, we bring you Game 2 of the I-90 bookend series: Seattle vs. Boston.

matsuzakasmile.pngLast night's Red Sox win, a 44-0 doozie over the Mariners highlighted by Jon Lester's brilliant eight-inning shut out and Jonathan Papelbon's Houdini impersonation in the aformentioned eighth, a two-pitch double play gem that got Lester out of a bases-loaded jam (though he could hardly be blamed for the last of the three runners), was a return to normalcy.

OK, maybe it wasn't a return to normalcy. After all, how many times this year has Jason Varitek come through with the big homer? Still, it showcased more of the offense pressure fans are used to than Boston flexed in Anaheim. The team's four runs came in two different innings, included an impressive homer and clearly benefitted from hitters showing more patience at the plate, eventually getting to Jerrod Washburn despite the pitcher's relatively impressive stuff.

That brings us to tonight, with Daisuke Matsuzaka heading to the hill for his first start of the second half of the season. His personal campaign -- you can practically call it the "Yes, I really am worth all that cash" season -- kept it's positive trajectory going in his final start before the All-Star break, yet another win with big innings and harrowing escapes more typical of a mid-summer Tom Cruise flick than an mid-summer outing on a pitching rubber.

All of those steps forward, for both Matsuzaka and Boston, will get pushed to the side if they can't put together another game like they did on Monday night. Interestingly, the tables will be turned on the Sox, with their hitters facing off against ulner ligament-less knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, whose 2-4 record comes with the asterisk of limited starting experience -- he's only started seven games this season -- and his relative youth as a knuckleballer. Dickey came up as a fireballing fastball hurler, then converted himself into a gimmick pitcher after he had his ulnar ligament completely removed when one elbow surgery turned into the next without any significant productivity in between.

Dice-K, meantime, has had mixed results against the Mariners himself. After the loss in his Fenway Park debut, in which he was famously outdueled by Felix Hernandez, Matsuzaka hasn't lost against Seattle. Unfortunately, he's only won once, with a whopping three no-decisions thrown in for good measure.

One would think he'd need a bit more run support than in his earlier outing against the M's this year, when he lasted only four innings while giving up three runs. But that all depends on whether Dickey's knuckler moves.

Here's hoping Tim Wakefield hasn't been giving any lessons in the past week.
So, we're part of a semi-annual Red Sox blogger roundtable over at Red Sox Monster, which is chock full of some great Boston bloggers and Sox talk. Still, we thought we'd give you the WMYM take a night early, before you see it with responses from a handful of other bloggers tomorrow. Extra time can't hurt, right?

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

When you take a gander at the American League in total, it's hard to see another division grabbing the wild card spot. AL Central? Not by the record of it, and that assumes that the Twins can keep pace with the White Sox. Clearly Detroit's just too old. AL West? Not likely. The Angels are already running away with the division and the A's are too busy trading significant pieces to notice. Where does that leave us? Well, as much as WMYM hates to admit it, that gives us a playoff picture like so: AL East: Red Sox/Yankees, AL Central: White Sox, AL West: Angels. Sure, I'd love to see the Rays keep the Yankees out, too, but as previously stated, it's just too much of a leap of faith on youth ... which is a real shame.
If the Red Sox have had a significant problem this year -- and one could argue they definitely have -- it's undoubtedly been in the bullpen. Unlike 2007, when the team evolved defined roles out of the pen and limited damage and occasionally even paved the way to unlikely wins, think a Wednesday afternoon last May in Toronto, this bullpen has found more ways to scuffle than to solve problems. That's why the bullpen's midseason grade is an unfortunate B-, and barely that, at least according to WMYM.

papscontract.pngWithin 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+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, while Justin Masterson heads down to the minor leagues to learn how to be a reliever, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett get a chance to show they can keep pace with Matsuzaka. If they can, then perhaps Boston can move on and get back to life before the week of July 1-7. Needless to say, that would be a step in the right direction.
In 2006, the Red Sox racked up the best interleague record in history. They steamrolled through the NL East, winning all but two games in a stunning stretch in which their divisional lead grew to its largest of the season.

Everyone remember what happened next. Curt Schilling suffered the first of what eventually became a series of injuries, Jason Varitek went down for nearly the rest of the year with a completely debilitating injury, the pitching collapsed, Jonathan Papelbon's arm fell off at the shoulder, Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen showed they weren't ready for the big time, and the Red Sox gave up what was once a near insurmountable divisional lead in a five-game blaze of glory in Boston, at the hands of the Yankees. It was almost enough to return some of the pre-2004 luster and stigma to that franchise south of Yawkey Way.

Well, the 2007 interleague campaign proved a bit more trying. Sure, the Sox still won a hell of a lot more than the lost, but they lost enough to keep things interesting, perhaps none more than when the Rockies took two of three at Fenway, including losses by Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling.

dicekhouston.pngDice-K got back on track Friday in Texas.
Who needs AC when you've got your heat back.
(AP)

Of course, 2007 ended a lot more satisfyingly than 2006 did. Struggles against the Rockies and, to a lesser extent, the Diamondbacks, may have seemed problematic at the time, but in the end they made the Sox more adaptable come the World Series. And don't think that Beckett didn't appreciate the early looky-loo at the Rockies, despite the momentary setback.

Cut to 2008. The Sox jumped out of the interleague gate with a spark, sweepuing the Brewers and rolling through the Reds and Phillies before hitting the bottom with a thud, dropping two of three to the Cardinals. Since then, they've taken a step forward, though it didn't come without a bumpy road. Think back to last week. Oh, how the days go so fast. Still, a series win against the Diamondbacks, followed by a win Friday night in Houston sets a strong tone for a solid, winning interleague record.

So, one question remains: Is that such a good thing? Simple answer: Yes, it's a good thing. After all, both the 2004 and 2007 teams had good interleague campaigns -- the 2004 squad was 9-9, 2007 was 12-6 -- but you don't want to be TOO good. After all, the post-interleague confidence of 2006 evaporated, leaving a so-so Red Sox team with a fragile psyche that crumbled in the clutch. We've already gone over that meltdown, and it's far too painful to visit twice in a single post.

With that in mind, here's the rest of the Red Sox' interleague slate:
Two in Houston; Lester vs. Backe, Beckett vs. Moehler
One vs. Milwaukee: Date, pitchers TBD
Three more games, which ensures that the Sox will finish the slate with a winning record, even if Boston drops all three. Which is not to say WMYM is lobbying for that alternative, we're just saying that we're superstitious, and the way this interlague slate is shaping up beats the 2006 alternative.

New Red Sox, say hello to the old Red Sox.

OK, there isn't that much crossover between the front offices of Arizona and Boston, but there is a lot. After all, Theo's Epstein's former go-to guy is the man responsible for the Diamondbacks rising through the NL West like a phoenix, which is appropriate since they, well, they play in Phoenix.


Currently on the scoreboard at Fenway: Milli Vanilli

No more bad puns in this post. WMYM promises. But it's hard to resist sometimes when the crossover is so obvious, as are the results.Since Epstein took over, the Red Sox have won two World Series in six years. Since Josh Byrnes left the friendly confines of the Fens for the sweltering realm of Bank One Ballpark, the Diamondbacks have gone from contraction lookalikes to legitimate contenders, if not favorites, to pitch and small-ball their way to the NL title.

And it's not all small-ball, either. Eric Byrnes has flashed a bit more power than his diminishing role in Oakland seemed to indicate he'd pull off, though he's clearly only the second best power hitter on the roster. Naturally, that role belongs to a starting pitcher, Micah Owings, who might just be the best power hitting starting pitcher since, well, Babe Ruth? Don't cringe, we're serious. In fact, Arizona NOT using Owings as the DH just caused WMYM to let out a sigh of relief. A big one.

Tonight, however, truly will be all about the pitching, with aces Josh Beckett and Dan Haren dueling it out in Fenway. With both J.D. (Boston) and Stephen (Arizona) Drew swinging hot bats, they could provide a compelling subplot, but it seems destined to fall into subhed categories because of the arms on the mound. Sure, Beckett hasn't been at his best vintage throughout much of the season, but when he's on he can be one of the game's best. As can Haren, who's hardly been any more consistent than Beckett this year: Both carry a 7-4 record with an ERA in the 3's into the game.

What should fans expect? Well, if past experience is any kind of a predictor, they should probably expect a lot of outs, punctuated briefly by breaks between innings. And maybe one or two hits. But NOT any walks. You're not going to see them. WMYM is calling it now.

For what it's worth, here's what to look forward to for the rest of the series, which really could be a doozie. Justin Masterson vs. Doug Davis? Yes please. And we'll take a helping of the Big Unit vs. Tim Wakefield old-agers start, too.
The weekend turned out to look a lot more like option B, than A, with Wakefield providing a shaky outing on Friday and Daisuke Matsuzaka returning with the shortest, and ugliest, outing of his brief MLB career. In fact, it was the shortest outing of his ENTIRE career, going back to Japanese little league, which is a fairly stunning realization.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Ask and ye shall receive. At least that's often the case with Manny Ramirez, a man who defies so many conventions that he could easily spend his winters doubling as a Caribbean Santa Claus without getting WMYM to so much as furrow a brow.

manramblast.jpgThis is what a ManRam superblast looks like. Just brace for the impact, ball. (AP)

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.
WMYM is planning on being out in Charm City itself at tonight's Jon Lester-Manny Ramirez homer No. 500 Orioles extravaganza, but we're not sure how much baseball we'll be watching. That's because the most serious thunderstorms to hit the nation's capital region swooped in earlier this afternoon, dropping lightning bolts and buckets of rain and throwing the very existence of tonight's game into question, since pockets of rain are expected to keep hovering around the area all night. Not a pleasant forecast, to be honest, so if anyone else in the area might head out there, it's probably worth monitoring Extra Bases.

manramtrot.pngOf 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.

CLOSER: √+
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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SET-UP RELIEF: N/A
Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINEUP: √+
Now we're talking. Vintage All-Star stuff from Big Papi made up for another relatively quiet afternoon from Manny Ramirez, who is STILL stuck on 497 in this interminable quest for 500 homers. And is anyone surprised that both Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis both had three hits apiece? They shouldn't be. That duo, now split on different slots of the order after last season as table-setting toppers, are becoming just as important to the success of the Red Sox lineups as Ortiz and Ramirez. It's the truth, even if it doesn't receive the hype.
It wasn't an Instant Classic, but Daisuke Matsuzaka earned his sixth win of the season on Saturday night in Minnesota. If you were watching the game on the MLB Game Plan and were forced to listen to Minnesota play-by-play men, you might not know that. But he did.

dice-ktwins.jpgHowever, 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.

CLOSER: √+
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.


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