Category: Dailies

Slumps

If you were to look at the Sox standings on any given day, and match that up against the frequency of my postings, you might notice that I seem to drop off during losing streaks.

It’s not intentional. 

I actually expected, when I first signed up to do this, that losing games would inspire me to write more than winning games would.  I figured there’d be lots of things to criticize and examine, and that it would be a good way to blow off some steam following a loss.  The problem is, there really haven’t been many (if any) losses due to mismanagement or decisions that could be second-guessed.  For the most part, it seems when the team loses, it’s because someone didn’t play up to their end.  Take last night: whenever it’s Josh Beckett’s day to pitch, I anticipate a win.  But Beckett has been off to a slow start (no doubt losing pretty much all of spring training hasn’t helped), and though I think he’s too hard on himself when after the game he’s using all sorts of unprintable words to describe his performance, he’s not entirely wrong that the loss was on him  The bullpen was solid, and there was some hitting — though the hitters did waste what seemed like countless opportunities to get something done.  The point being, I can’t sit here and write three pages about how the manager should have done this or that differently, because there’s nothing to be done.  When it’s Josh Beckett’s turn to pitch, he takes the ball, and you sit back and watch and hope for the best — and more often than not, he doesn’t disappoint.  The freakish barrage of injuries hasn’t helped either, but what’s really impressed me is how the team has stayed competitive in that stretch.  Just last night J.D. Drew had to leave the lineup after straining (and hopefully not breaking) his wrist on a play, and Coco Crisp left shortly after that due to either (depending what paper you read) a headache or stomachache.  Clay Buchholz just landed on the DL thanks to a broken fingernail that didn’t exactly help him with his command a couple nights ago.  It’s just been this revolving door of freak injuries and illnesses, and in my mind it really speaks to the quality of the team and the organization that they’ve been able to keep afloat.  Someday soon all of these players will be healthy, and I fully expect things to pick up as that happens.

You might also notice that I rarely (if ever) write on weekends.

That’s not quite an accident.

Writing this blog has definitely been a nice break point in my day, a good opportunity to put my mind off of work for ten or fifteen minutes a few times a week.  I’ve tried to make the transition to writing more on weekends but it just hasn’t happened.  I’ll try to be a little better about that but I make no promises.

Back on a roll

One week removed from a sweep by the Tampa Bay Rays, the Red Sox turned the tables and swept the Rays at Fenway.

I still think Tampa Bay has a surprisingly good team.  Good enough to compete in the AL East?  That remains to be seen.  But if the Yankees continue to slide (something you can never count on), and Toronto continues to stumble, and if Baltimore starts playing like it’s expected to (they can’t keep winning, can they?), when the dust settles Tampa probably won’t be in last place or even second to last place.  Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re a ways off from winning the division, but they’re no longer the whipping post that all teams can look forward to playing to get some easy wins.  It’s just their (bad) luck to be in the AL East.  Put that team in another division or in the National League, and I think they’d have a shot at the wild card.

Some fans only want their team to win and don’t want other teams to be good, at all.  That’s not the case for me.  While specifically I’m a Red Sox fan (and, to a lesser extent these days, a Mets fan), I’m still generally a big fan of the game of baseball.  A well played ballgame is a well played ballgame is a well played ballgame.  I want to see teams like Tampa have a shot at making it.  The more one-sided it gets, the more boring it is.  I like when you have a $200 million team like the Yankees that’s struggling, or a $120+ million team like the Tigers that can hit a ton but have no pitching and little defense, and then you can have a bargain basement group like the Rays right there with them.  I like anything that takes money out of the equation and proves that you need more than high priced free agents and superstars to make it.

I read something on ESPN that said the Rays had set up what was essentially a “swear jar” for anyone within the organization who accidentally let slip the team’s old name (Devil Rays).  Say “Devil Ray” and you have to put a dollar in the jar.  They’ve also been sending out letters saying as much to broadcasters and journalists, requesting that they donate $1 to the Rays charitable foundation for each slip.  No idea if they’re doing it or not, but it is funny.  Maybe not quite as funny as hiring a big consulting/P.R. firm for millions of dollars to come up with a new team name and have them come back with just “Rays”, but funny nonetheless.

Dueling Again at Fenway

After Tuesday’s spectacularly well-pitched game, I was curious to see what was going to happen on Wednesday.  Would Dice-K, who missed his last start due to the flu, be sufficiently healthy to pitch well?  Would it be the strike throwing machine or the power nibbler?  What would the Toronto pitching be like?  Would our offense hit or sit on the sidelines as they have the last week?

This had to be the most bizarre case of deju-vu I can recall.  It was practically the same game as the previous one; a remake of the same script.
Well, for yet another game in a row, the starting pitching was outstanding, Dice-K throwing seven scoreless innings.  David Ortiz got a ball to land in the front row of seats in right field, 1-0 Sox.  Manny Delcarmen gave up a single to lead off the 8th that led to the score being tied, 1-1.  
Enter the ninth, where again Jonathan Papelbon kept Toronto at bay.  Though Matt Stairs led off with a single, Papelbon was able to pick off the pinch runner.  Dustin Pedroia made yet another great play to end the inning and rob the Blue Jays of a hit.  Then, in the bottom of the ninth, David Ortiz singled, Manny Ramirez walked, and though Mike Lowell struck out, Brandon Moss (subbing for the sore J.D. Drew) hit a single through the middle to center field. Running for Ortiz, Jed Lowrie tried to score from second, but Vernon Wells had a perfect throw, and the Toronto catcher effectively blocked the plate.  So, two ours, Moss on first, Manny on second.  The captain, Jason Varitek, pretty much hit an identical single to the one Moss hit, and this time Manny was able to just barely beat the throw from Wells to win the game.  Two walk off wins, back to back.  Two incredibly well pitched games.
I like what I’m seeing here.  One of the biggest problems the team has had this year has been getting starting pitching to go deep into the game.  Even though the Sox lost the last two games in Tampa, the pitching delivered and allowed the bullpen to be saved from overuse.  It was the same story in Boston for these two games, but the results were quite different.
It would be easy to attack the offense for it’s meager production the past week, but that would  be ignoring that they ended up facing a couple of good pitchers and one great pitcher who were all having fantastic nights.  Good pitching beats good hitting.  The offense will re-ignite at some point, and if they can keep up this pitching, the team will be lethal.

The Duel

After a disastrous three-day road trip to play the Tampa Bay Rays, in which two brilliant pitching performances by Clay Buchholz (8 IP, 2 ER) and Josh Beckett (7 IP, 13 Ks, 1 ER) were wasted by the complete and utter lack of offense, the Sox returned home desperate for a win.  They knew it wasn’t going to be easy, matching the inconsistent Jon Lester up against Toronto ace Roy Halladay.

Unfortunately, while I was at Sera del Fuego’s band practice (show next Tuesday!  5/6 at T.T. The Bears!), my DVR decided it didn’t like me and failed to record a large chunk of the game.  I got to see the first inning and the last three and nothing in between.  Weird.  But I saw enough to be impressed.

Though he didn’t get a decision, Jon Lester pitched eight shutout innings of one-hit ball, in what was probably his best major league performance ever.  Roy Halladay was equally brilliant through eight, but finally coughed up a run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Red Sox a walk-off 1-0 win, David Ortiz drove in by Kevin Youkilis’ single to center.

I know offense is the big crowd draw for baseball these days, but there’s nothing better to me than a great pitcher’s duel.  If Lester can pitch like this more consistently, pounding the strike zone instead of nibbling at the corners, he’ll find lots of success.

Can’t really comment much more since I missed most of it.  Looking forward to Dice-K’s start tonight, and as always, wondering which Dice-K we’ll get.  The strikeout machine or the walks machine?

Masterson wasn’t the only one who had his day spoiled…

Justin Masterson was called up from Double-A Portland to pitch an emergency start against the Anaheim Angels.  It was his major league debut.  Unfortunately, his six innings of work, in which the Angels could only manage two hits, was ruined by an implosion in the bullpen.  As it turns out, so was my enjoyment of the game.

You see, yesterday was one of those rare weekday afternoon games.  The kind of thing where you scratch your head and wonder what genius would schedule a game not only when most adults are working but also when most kids are in school.  Seriously, who was supposed to be able to watch that game?  I set my DVR to record it and figured I’d start watching it once I got home.  I told my colleagues in the office, in an attempt to keep someone from blowing the ending for me (as someone there had done during the first game of the season).  It was pretty dead around there anyhow, so I was able to escape around 4:30 without even the slightest idea of how things were going.  I put on my headphones, turned on my trusty iPod, and walked downstairs to where the shuttle service picks us up and deposits us at the T station in Harvard Square, Cambridge.  But the driver, who shall remain nameless, just couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I figured that the game might be on the van’s radio; that’s why I had the iPod cranked up.  But the guy just couldn’t resist telling me what was going on, despite my pleas that I was taping the game to watch when I got home.  Seriously, no sooner did I say something along the lines of “Please don’t tell me, I’m going to start it when I get home” did he blurt out, “THEY’RE LOSING!  Down by three!!  In the ninth!”  And it’s like, thank you, thank you for that.

Seriously, it’s not just about winning or losing.  Had I not had the game spoiled for me, I would have enjoyed watching Masterson’s six great innings.  I would have been dismayed at the damage the bullpen did, but I would have still had the experience of enjoying the game.  Win or lose, it’s still fun to watch assuming it’s well-played, and most of the time it is.  But once you know the outcome, win or lose, it becomes so much harder to watch.  At least for me.  I have no more interest in watching a game they win if the outcome’s been spoiled than I do a game that they lose.  It’s not about the score, it’s about the game.  And it was blown for me.

When I got home, I turned on the DVR and fast forwarded through to the bottom of the ninth.  At least I could watch the Sox’ final turn at bat not knowing the outcome.  But even with David Ortiz hitting a two run homer to bring the team within striking distance, it was hard to muster much enthusiasm.  Not when I had been deprived of the fun of watching it all.

What part of “Please don’t tell me, I’m going to watch it when I get home” was unclear?  I’m dying to know so I can phrase it better next time.

Spoke too soon

Remind me not to marvel at how the team seems to win against all odds.  That seemed to kill it.  Still, as far as I can remember, the six game winning streak the Sox had going until last night was longer than any they had during the regular season in all of 2007.  Last year’s team was the anti-streak.  They were a model of consistency, never getting too hot, but never getting too cold either.  After a brilliant start, they actually spent most of the season playing what seemed like win-one-lose-one ball.  So at the least, this has been better to watch.

As soon as I found out Jon Lester would be making an emergency start on three days rest (a first for him) in place of Dice-K (flu-like symptoms), I was worried.  I’ve never been, as a rule, impressed with Lester, though I see potential for him to be a lot better.  For a guy that nibbles incessantly at the plate and walks a plethora of hitters, starting on three days rest seemed like an awful idea.  I guess there was no other option, but still.  Before the game started, I predicted Lester would go four innings and give up four runs.  OK, so he went five innings, giving up four.  He wasn’t dreadful, and while his first couple innings were spotty, he really seemed to turn it around as the game went on.  He gave the club a chance to win, which is really all they could have asked for.

And props to my fellow Long Island native, Craig Hansen, pitching in the bigs for the first time since 2006.  Sure, you could focus on the Glen Cove-raised Hansen giving up the decisive run, but I think that’s missing the point.  In 2006, he didn’t look all that good on the mound, and in 2007 he was more or less dreadful at the AAA level.  Last night he looked very good.  Made a mistake with that one pitch and paid for it, but what I saw last night out of him was better than anything I saw in 2006.  He’s already been optioned back to Pawtucket, but it looks like there may be an opportunity for him to help this club in a big way later in the season.  I much prefer to see the homegrown talent over free agent signings and trades, so if this kid can continue to turn it around, it would be great for the team.

So, in the end, a team missing Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell, Alex Cora, Coco Crisp, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Manny Delcarmen was able to keep it a close game ’til the end.  That they didn’t embarrass themselves was already a pretty good thing in my eyes.  That they kept themselves in it against a very good Angels ballclub really says something.  They didn’t come back this time, but that doesn’t mean they won’t in the future.

Justin Masterson, one of the top prospects in the organization, is temporarily being bumped up from Double-A ball to start this afternoon (Lester’s originally scheduled start).  Trying to decide if I should just follow the highlights on the internet or radio, or wait until I get home to watch it on DVR.  Guess we’ll just see how busy work gets in the next couple hours.  I honestly wouldn’t mind waiting and checking it out later.  It’s the guy’s first major league start.  Call me sentimental, but that’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing.

Hot streak!

How do you praise your team without jinxing it?

On a night where ace Josh Beckett had to be pulled at the last moment, where the team’s captain and catcher, Jason Varitek, was home with the flu, where one of the best pitchers in the bullpen (Manny Delcarmen), sat at home with the same ailment, when the World Series MVP (Mike Lowell) is on the DL and so is your super-sub reserve (Alex Cora), on a night when Coco Crisp still isn’t ready to play, and you’ve basically got no bench, just not getting embarrassed going against a great team like the Angels would seem to be enough.

And somehow, despite being down 5-1 at one point, the Sox came up huge in the late innings (yet again) to pull ahead 7-6.

If you’re the opposing team, the only thing less comforting than a small, late inning lead, it would seem, is a large late inning lead.  I’m not sure how they keep pulling this off night after night, but it’s pretty amazing to watch.  Every night it’s someone else coming through, a real team effort.  This, right now, is some pretty great baseball.