Sweep!

Though I’m not one to resort to name-calling of other teams, in the case of the Texas Rangers, it’s pretty hard not to.  They suck.  Plain and simple.  They had every chance in the world to beat the Red Sox (for at least one game) and couldn’t do it.  They had a huge amount of things going in their favor, the kind of things where fans of the losing team can only cry out, “But it shouldn’t count, you didn’t really face our team!”

Hideki Okajima sitting the whole weekend due to a stiff neck?  Check.

Red-hot Manny Ramirez sitting the last two games?  Check.

Mike Lowell on the DL?  Check.

Super-sub Alex Cora on the DL?  Check.

Josh Beckett’s turn in the rotation coming the day before the series?  Check.

And those Texas Rangers just couldn’t get it done.  Not once.  David Ortiz got his mojo back in a big way, starting off the weekend with a grand slam on Friday.  Manny Ramirez hit a monster on Saturday that would still be traveling to New Hampshire were it not for the light tower it kicked off of.  Tim Wakefield pitched eight innings on Sunday, giving up five runs but really being in control for most of it… a couple home runs killed him, but he hung on and allowed the team to win.  And Clay Buchholz finally got his first win of the season on Monday.

It’s baseball, and everything can change in a heartbeat.  I know this.  But you have to like how these Red Sox are looking so far, after they returned home and settled into a groove, relegating the Japan-West Coast-Canada road trip to memory.  There are still problems, of course.  Starters haven’t been going deep enough into the game, which has resulted in an overworked bullpen.  They’ve survived the strain, for now, but you wonder how long that can go on.  Jon Lester still throws too many pitches, works far too slowly, and more often than not appears very beatable.  That said, after his troubles in the first three innings of Saturday’s game, something seemed to click in him and he started pitching the way we all hoped he would, the way he pitched that World Series game last year.  I never worry about Tim Wakefield; he knows his roll.  Dice-K looked better this time than last and improved to a major league-leading 4-0, although he’s still throwing waaaay too many pitches early on and not challenging hitters who shouldn’t stand a chance against him.  Clay Buchholz still needs to be more consistent in his command, but I’ll take another outing like yesterday’s.

In other words, this is a team starting to get on a roll, with some players looking like they’re turning the corner.  Now we’ll see what happens as they start going up against more competitive teams.  I’m not worried, but I’m not exactly making travel plans for October either, not yet.

Ugly

No matter which way you look at it or what side you were on, last night’s Red Sox/Yankees game was an ugly mess, an embarrassment.

For both teams.

There are no winners when the score gets to 15-9, not in any practical sense.  You don’t get to 15-9 without there being spectacular failures on each side.  Both teams flat out stunk.  And you know what?  I’d be saying the same thing if the Red Sox had come in on top.  Coming in at four hours, eight minutes, this was entirely too long for a nine inning game of no special consequence.

Clay Buchholz looked pretty bad, but I suppose it wasn’t all terrible.  He did have a scoreless inning in the second, I guess that should count for something.  Just seemed that he couldn’t locate the ball.  Whether that was some bad strategy, hoping players would swing and miss those bad pitches, or whether it was an off night, who knows.  Chien-Ming Wang was awful, flat-out awful.  If it seems like I’m being harder on him than Buchholz, it’s not because one’s a Red Sox player and one’s a Yankee.  It’s because Buchholz is the #5 man in Boston’s rotation, and Wang is the #1 man in New York’s.  You expect more out of your #1 guy, you have to.  And after his tremendous start last Friday, you really expected more out of Wang.  And Buchholz… well, he’s got great stuff, undeniably, amazing potential, but I’m still not sold on him being ready for prime time.  For that matter, I’m not sold on Lester either.  I know they’re going to be very good, and very important parts of the rotation for a long time to come.  But Buchholz has looked anything but unhittable, and Lester takes seven hours to pitch four lousy innings.

And no Red Sox starter has pitched 7 innings this season.  Not a one.

I give Josh Beckett a free pass on that because he essentially missed spring training.  He hasn’t had the chance to get stretched out, and with each game he’s gotten better.  He pitched 4 2/3 innings in his first start and looked brilliant through the first three or so before he started getting tired, and last time around, he pitched 6 2/3, looking brilliant through about five before wearing out.  So there’s been measurable progress there, and he’s had great stuff.

But everyone else?

Tim Wakefield is hit or miss, and he’s probably always going to be that way.  With the knuckleball, you just never know… but he knows what he’s doing, and I feel at least when he goes out there that he’s going to give the team a chance to win.  He’s a professional, he doesn’t get rattled easily, and somehow he always finds a way to get outs.  Daisuke Matsuzaka started off the season with a less than stellar start, threw two back-to-back quality starts, and then returned to the ways of old in his fourth start.

But you know what?  All of the pitching in the world can’t help you if your shortstop makes more errors than Hillary Clinton recalling her achievements as first lady.  Who knows what might have happened if Lugo had turned the ground ball that Julian Tavarez so desperately needed into the inning-ending double play it was meant to be?  Then you have a tie score with your best relievers waiting to be used, instead of a deficit not worth using your best guys to hold on to.  I’ll never know what the front office sees in this guy.  Sometimes he hits, more often than not he doesn’t, and even if he does have a multi-hit game, it seems as though he finds the least important moments to get those hits.

Timlin?  It’s hard to tell if he’s been unlucky, had an off night, or if he’s out of gas altogether.

And Jacoby Ellsbury continues to demonstrate that despite what the Pink Hats might say, despite all of the ladies fawning over how “dreamy” he is (note to people in my office: just because I’m in my cubicle doesn’t mean I can’t hear you when you talk about him right outside of it), he’s not ready to be an every day major league player.  He gets fooled each and every time they throw the ball inside on him.  0-5 last night.  Meanwhile, Coco Crisp has been off to a great start but the idiots are too busy demanding he be traded/hung/shot to notice that he should be the everyday center fielder.

In a perfect world, Ellsbury, Lester, and Buchholz would all be headed back to AAA to refine the areas of their game that need the most work.  Wishing these problems away isn’t going to make it so.  Printing more merchandise with their names and numbers to sell to fair-weather fans isn’t going to make them better.  But alas, the surplus of starting pitching we were supposed to have isn’t there, and there’s simply no better options available to the Sox.  (Please remind me why they traded Kason Gabbard for Eric Gagne?  Someone like Gabbard would be perfect right now.  If you had Kason Gabbard, you could send Buchholz back down to the minors to work his problems out.  If you had a healthy Curt Schilling, you could send Lester down too until he figured out where the strike zone was and remembered how to challenge hitters.)

Make no mistake, the Yankees didn’t have a good night either.  I don’t care what team you are, if you give up nine runs, you should lose the ballgame, period.  They stunk; we stunk more.

Games 11, 12, 13: Red Sox vs. Yankees, Round 1

I have to admit, I’ve been saying for a while that I’m a little done with this whole Red Sox-Yankees thing.  The games always go on for like 7 hours, and it just inspires ugliness in the stands, and gets the Pink Hats out in full force.  There shouldn’t be any further appeal, nothing to make these games any more special than any game the Sox play against a good team.  Not since 2004.  For all of the pain the Yankees inflicted on the Sox over the year, the 2004 ALCS is still the best baseball has ever been for me.  That was when it all changed.  That was the year when the universe decided there would be no more.  The year when the Sox started off the ALCS losing the first three games before decided that that was it, that they would take no more.  That history-making beatdown was the ultimate punctuation to the long-standing Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.  Anyone who was on that Yankees team in 2004 will never get over that.  Sure, they’ve moved on, congratulated the winners, been good sports, but I have to believe that in the back of every player’s mind, the back of every coach and manager’s mind, that that one stings.  They’ll forever be the first (and perhaps only) team to be up 3-0 in a best of seven series and find a way to blow it.  Four chances to win one game, and they couldn’t.

I don’t know that I’ve seen this discussed before, but in hindsight, the 2004 ALCS shouldn’t have been so surprising.  By that I mean, I knew the Sox could do it (even if I wasn’t convinced they would), and that when you broke it down, it didn’t seem as improbable as one might lead you to believe.  Take Curt Schilling.  The staff ace, he was having a fantastic year for the Sox in his first year, finishing the regular season 21-4 I believe (or was that 21-6?).  He should have won that first game, and if injury hadn’t taken it’s toll, he would have.  I’m just saying, not to take anything at all away from their achievement, but I don’t think the 0-3 start they had to that series was a true reflection of their talent, and that’s why they were able to persevere and come back.  It wasn’t like, say, the Colorado Rockies after Game 3 of the World Series last year; the Rockies didn’t have a chance at that kind of comeback.  They just didn’t have the stuff.  Their first three losses weren’t due to any fluke or freaky circumstance that couldn’t be accounted for, tough luck at the worst time, as the Sox 0-3 hole largely was.

Anyhow, despite having no logical reason to get all pumped up about this series, I found myself drawn in.  Knowing that they play 18 games against each other this season, my blood pressure wasn’t as high as it might have been in previous years, but there’s still something there.  I wonder if it’s just because the Yankees are so high profile that you know everyone on that team.  I follow the entire Sox season but I couldn’t recite the Tampa Bay or Minnesota roster by heart.  I probably could for the Yankees.  That’s why it’s exciting; you know who you’re up against, and somehow it seems more personal in an oddly contradictory fashion.  You know the individual players and that’s something, but they’re all wearing the Yankee uniform, so at the same moment they’re all the same, part of the beast.  Weird.

FRIDAY – BUCHHOLZ VS. WANG
Chien-Ming Wang pitched an outstanding game.  Period.  I don’t really enjoy losing all that much, but as a fan of the game of baseball, I like to see well played games and great performances.  I prefer when it doesn’t happen against my team, but so be it.  Buchholz was actually pretty darn good himself, 6 innings and 1 earned run.  Not bad against a team with hitters that can turn lethal in a second.  One thing that this game made me think back to was Clay’s no-hitter last year, and just how rare such a thing is, how many breaks the pitcher needs to get.  A no-hitter (or perfect game) is the ultimate achievement by a pitcher, but pitchers don’t exist in a vacuum, and it takes some incredible strokes of luck to have the chance to make it through to the end.  Take Wang’s night.  Pedroia gets on in the fourth in what’s initially ruled a hit, later changed to an error on A-Rod’s throw to first, and then contested by both teams after the fact; as far as I’m concerned, it was a hit.  A-Rod didn’t make a bad throw; Pedroia just hit the ball to a spot where A-Rod couldn’t make the standard play, and was able to beat it out.  The official scorer must’ve felt that Wang had a chance to go the distance, not wanting that play to be the thing that took away a no-hitter from the guy.  So it’s no longer a perfect game since a runner has reached base, but it’s still a no-hitter.  Later on, J.D. Drew hits a solo shot to right center that Bobby Abreu should have caught.  I thought he was going to catch it.  Looks like he was leaping for it and hit his back on the bullpen wall, which screwed up his reach.  But as much as I want to see J.D. Drew hit a homer, that was really a ball Abreu could have caught.  You need the guy to make that play to keep a no-hitter going.  Then, in the 9th, Coco Crisp gets onboard with a bunt single that they might have had a chance at.  Those are the breaks you need to walk away with a no-hitter.  Wang gave up two hits and both of them could have been outs just as easily.  The “error” could have been an out as well.

So when you think that all of that went right last September 1 for Clay Buchholz, that’s an incredible achievement.  There were multiple opportunities in that game where the no-hitter could have slipped away, and somehow it all worked out.  That’s magic.  The baseball gods shined down on Buchholz during his game; despite what arguably was a better performance from Wang, the baseball gods were nowhere to be seen.

SATURDAY – BECKETT VS. MUSSINA
Now, I won’t go so far as to say that Mussina has nothing left in the tank, as some have offered.  He’s certainly not an ace or even a #2 guy anymore, but he still looks like the kind of guy that can get you through 5.  So although I’d normally pick Josh Beckett to win that game easily, with Beckett still working his way up to full strength, there was a chance Mussina could be just good enough to squeak by.  Didn’t work out that way, thankfully.

During an early part of the Fox coverage, Joe Buck was interviewing Terry Francona, and Tito said that he just wanted to be “one run better” than the Yankees in that game.  Turns out that that was exactly what they were.  Beckett looked brilliant through the first four, pretty good during the next two, and out of gas in the 7th.  But during his last start against the Blue Jays, I thought Beckett looked brilliant through two, pretty good through the next two, and out of gas before the end of the 5th… so that’s a big improvement.  I’m not worried about him at all; couple more starts to get the stamina back where it should be, and that’ll be that.

How about that rain delay?  The ironic part was–of course–if they had just played through from when they first paused the game, they probably would have been fine.  Didn’t seem like it was raining hard enough at the time to justify stopping play, and the game would have been wrapped up not long after that.  But instead, we were treated to a more than two hour delay; fortunately I had been checking the Boston Globe’s live blog, which informed me that the game would be resuming on FX.  Had I not caught that, I would have been one of the many watching in the 9th, with two men out, two strikes on the batter, with the TV just going over to Nascar.  I get that they’re contractually obligated to show pictures of cars racing around a little track as if it was some sort of athletic achievement worthy of spectacle, but would it have been asking too much fo
r them to have waited another fifteen seconds or so for the game to end?

Papelbon looked great, striking out three of the four batters he faced.

SUNDAY – MATSUZAKA VS. HUGHES
Before Sunday night’s game began, I thought, wow, these have been some fast games, at least for Yankees-Red Sox.  Clearly I spoke too soon, as this one went past midnight.  Neither starting pitcher was particularly good.  Hughes was awful, pulled in the third without recording an out.  Matsuzaka looked like the nibbler of last year rather than the in-command guy he’s been the past couple of starts.  I wonder if the unpleasantly cold weather last night threw him off of his game.  Sometimes you just can’t get comfortable.

So despite being treated to a maddeningly slow outing from Dice-K (more than two hours to go five innings, a staggering 116 pitches), he managed to keep the Yankees at bay.  With Papelbon and Okajima needing the night off, and David Ortiz getting a rest as well, I was really hoping for more from Dice-K.  But David Aardsma–that’s right, the guy who I still can’t figure out how he made the team–got through a few batters, and when Timlin proved ineffective, the normally frustrating Javier Lopez somehow managed his way through 1 1/3 scoreless innings.  Manny Delcarmen came on for what was technically not a save situation, but performed brilliantly, finally bringing the game to a close.

Sox win the weekend series, 2-1.  Off to Cleveland we go for two days, before a two day return engagement in the Bronx… 

Games 9 & 10: Ups and downs, not necessarily in that order

WEDNESDAY
Jon Lester had a tough outing on what was supposed to be the first “normal” game of the young season.  There were parts of the game, particularly in his early innings, where he looked really good, and other parts where he seemed less in control.  Despite the loss, though, I still think it was a step in the right direction for him.  One aspect of his game that I’d like to see him work on is his pacing; he works very slowly, and while he seems to be more comfortable that way, I’d prefer it if he was able to speed things up a tad.  Hopefully that comes with experience and maturity.

Losing Mike Lowell isn’t a good thing, but the signing of Sean Casey combined with the brilliant defensive ability of Kevin Youkilis should keep the team balanced for the next few weeks while we wait for Lowell to come off the DL.  I was really impressed at how Youkilis was able to shift from first to third in the middle of the game, no warning, no drills before the game.

All in all, it was inevitable that the Tigers were going to win a game at some point.  Frankly I’m surprised that it didn’t happen sooner.  It’s hard for me to be really upset about the game.

THURSDAY
Fortunately, the Sox did what any good team can do after a loss, which is simply to go home, sleep it off, and come back the next day ready to go.  Youkilis made a few nice plays at third, including one barehanded grab early on in the game (1st? 2nd?) that would have been impressive for anyone, especially so for someone who’s not an everyday third baseman.

Sean Casey certainly had himself a good night, getting some nice hits, making some good plays.  And how about that Kevin Cash, you know, the guy who wasn’t supposed to be able to hit anything?  J.D. Drew is off to a great start too; I’m finally starting to see what it was that the front office saw in him.  Hope he keeps it up.  And I’m not worried about David Ortiz.  He’s going to hit.  Probably sooner vs. later.  At some point everything is going to click into place and he’s going to make a lot of opposing pitchers pay dearly.

With Lowell on the DL and Alex Cora’s elbow acting up a little, Jed Lowrie was called up from AAA.  He’ll be making his major league debut whenever he finds himself in a game.

About 3 1/2 hours until the first Red Sox vs. Yankees game of 2008 begins… hopefully… there’s some rain in the forecast…  

Game 8: (The Last) Opening Day, 2008

Still can’t believe I was there…

The whole thing’s been covered endlessly, so I won’t waste space recapping what’s freely available elsewhere.  So here are a few things I took away from the day:

1) I learned a very valuable lesson.  As it turns out, it’s not so much
the heat on any given day that will give you a sunburn, it’s the sun. 
So despite being about 45-50 degrees, I managed to get a sunburn on the
left (and only left) side of my face.  I look ridiculous.  I feel
ridiculous too.

2) I was surrounded in the stands before the game with people who seemed like they wouldn’t be able to enjoy any aspect of their life until Coco Crisp gets traded.  I’ve been over that before so no need to say the same thing 500 times, but I really don’t get it.  Has nobody been watching the brilliant defense he put up all through 2007?  I’ve never seen anyone play center field that well, he should have won the Gold Glove, and I’ve heard enough of people bashing the poor guy.  No wonder he wanted out; how could you want to stay on a team when everyone’s already counting down the seconds til you leave?  But for better or worse, I stand by my assertion that Jacoby Ellsbury isn’t quite there yet.  He’s undeniably the centerfielder of the future for the Red Sox, but I’m not positive that that future has begun yet.  Coco’s defense is still miles above Ellsbury’s (all the speed in the world doesn’t help you if you don’t know the best routes to the ball or how to read the hit off the bad), and I don’t think he’s going to be the .350 hitter that he was in limited appearances last year.

3) They have volunteers collecting recyclables in-between innings, which is a great idea, but I’m baffled that they will only take plastic bottles, and not the zillions of plastic cups that beer gets sold in.  I should point out that the beer cups have big “recycle” symbols on them too!  I truly hope that whoever came up with that boneheaded restriction will rethink it before the year’s out.

4) Seeing Eric Gagne’s name (in this case, announced during the ring ceremony) still infuriates me.  Hey, I hated that trade when it was just a rumor; it was a bad idea before it even happened, and that was going on the assumption that he’d actually play well.  He sucked, and he cost us Kason Gabbard, a lefty I happened to like.  With some of the current uncertainties on our current pitching staff, having someone like Gabbard around would have been a good thing.

5) I wonder if that hawk’s gonna show up over the weekend when the Yankees get to town.

6) Apparently the section that I was sitting in knew nothing about defense.  I’m sitting there, surrounded on all sides, listening to people talk over and over about so and so not hitting and so and so not being any good.  It amazes me how some people see this game as all about hitting and scoring, and forget that defense is at least half the game.  So what that Kevin Cash isn’t known for his hitting?  That’s not what he’s there for.

7) Doug Mirabelli looked like a pimp.  Rock on, Dougie!  I agree with the team’s decision to cut him from the roster, but that doesn’t make it any easier on the guy.  And speaking of cuts, I hope that Kyle Snyder lands somewhere soon; he’s one of those guys that I’ll be rooting for regardless of where he ends up.  Snyder and Julian Tavarez basically serve the same role in the bullpen, and if I needed to free up a spot, I probably would have done the same thing.  Tavarez gives you everything Synder does, and he’s also got one of those rubber arms where he can start a game with practically zero notice, and that’s a valuable commodity.  Plus he’s amusing as all hell to watch play.

8) The newly-recorded Neil Diamond “Sweet Caroline” video played on the scoreboard during the 8th inning was an embarrassment.  Completely cringe-worthy.  Shameless.  And not in a good way.  I felt icky just watching it.

9) Between innings, they played the White Stripes’ song “Icky Thump” over the PA; last season I listened to that song on my baseball playlist, frequently using it in the same way the team did.  I think I should be getting some kind of royalty on that.

10) A magnificent ceremony.  I never thought I’d hear the Boston Pops covering Dropkick Murphys, but there you have it.  Really touching to see Bill Buckner getting a standing ovation.  Now that it’s over, I’m looking forward to baseball as normal resuming, meaning more than two or three games in a row without a day off, back to back games with normal start times, and just some great baseball.

Games 5, 6, 7: These count?

Swept by Toronto.

No, dear reader, it’s not September 2007, although one couldn’t help but remember that disastrous trip up north last fall.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this team (well, counting last year’s too) looking more out of it.  Another flight, another trip through customs, another opening day ceremony… now I’m just watching all of this on TV and I’ve had enough of it, I can’t imagine what it must be like to be on the Red Sox, having to go through some out of the way travel only to arrive for seemingly endless hours of ceremony before a single pitch gets thrown.  Though no one on the team was going to come out and complain, this is a team that very badly needs to get some equilibrium back, and the best way to do that for them is to go home.  Fortunately, that’s up next.  It’s somehow weird to me that these games are even counting, since it’s been a pattern of games that don’t count followed by games that do followed by games that don’t followed by more games that do… you figure somehow these might not count.  The Sox haven’t even had a consistent schedule… couple here, couple there, these count, those don’t, etc.  I gotta say, just from a fan’s point of view, that I’m sick of all the interruptions.  One of my favorite things about baseball is that it’s always on, that tomorrow’s always another day, that after a loss you come right back and win one, or after a win you wake up with a clean slate and look to keep it up.  This weekend we had three games in a row, and that’s the longest stretch of uninterrupted games so far.  I’m looking forward to having more than two or three games without a day off in between.  Then we’ll see some momentum.

FRIDAY: WAKEFIELD VS. MARCUM
Gotta say, this was the best of the three games to watch.  Marcum pitched a great game for Toronto, and Wakefield was quite good through the first five.  It’s really hard for me to go into panic mode watching a good team get played by another good team, and watching hitters get stifled by a pitcher who’s got everything working that day.  Plus, it was the Blue Jays’ home opener, and maybe it’s just me not wanting to mess with karma since I’m going to the Sox’ home opener, but I can’t begrudge a team for winning their first home game for their fans.  It was an exciting contest and I’m looking forward to seeing Wakefield’s next start.

SATURDAY: BUCHHOLZ
Disappointing, but not a terrible outing from Buccholz.  Sean Casey’s error at first really killed them.  You hate to put it all on one player, but sometimes it just works out that way.  If Casey doesn’t goof up, the game’s still winnable.  I’m not ready to take away his #22 just yet.  He’ll have a better day.  The irony, though… Kevin Youkilis breaks the all-time record for consecutive errorless games at first, and then he gets a day off and what happens… yep, an error at first that kills the game.

SUNDAY: BECKETT RETURNS
Beckett looked fantastic through the first three, a little tired but still good in the fourth, and out of gas in the fifth.  He’s one Manny Delcarmen pitch away from not finding himself on the losing end of this one, so what can you do?  For a guy that hasn’t had a chance to pitch competitively basically all spring, who hasn’t really faced major league hitters yet, I think he did well.  Next start should be back to normal.

THANKS, LUGO!
Three errors in one game on Sunday, one on Friday, can’t really hit worth a damn… this was the guy they spent millions to bring to Boston?  I don’t think he’s the worst player I’ve ever seen, but coming a year after Alex Gonzalez, the best defensive shortstop I’ve ever seen, Lugo’s deficiencies are glaring.  Maybe I’m being too hard on the guy, but my heart still skips a beat whenever things set up for Lugo to make a routine play.  Since Lugo hasn’t exactly done a great job of hitting, the decision to sign him long-term looks even sillier now.  You really wonder what’s gonna happen to him if this keeps up, barely hitting above .200 and continuing to play a below-average shortstop.  I wonder if Jed Lowrie will find his way up in September a la Dustin Pedroia in ’06.  Something tells me that Lugo doesn’t finish out  his four-year contract (three remaining, including this one) in a Boston uniform.

Which brings me to my next point, which is the Lugo and J.D. Drew signings.  I don’t recall hearing any big hype around either of those guys before they were signed and overpaid, and I’m still not sure what the front office saw in these guys to make them overpay so drastically.  They’re not bad, but they’re average… neither Drew nor Lugo has provided the team with anything that they couldn’t get for ten times less.  And if Drew hadn’t been signed, there wouldn’t be a logjam in the outfield.  Coco Crisp would play center, Ellsbury would play right, Bobby Kielty would be the backup, and in a couple years when Crisp’s deal ran out, Ellsbury would move to center and Brandon Moss could take over in right.  Alex Gonzalez could have been signed to an extension after ’06 (did I mention I loved that infield that year?), and Lowrie could have taken over some point this year or next.  Lots of money saved, more homegrown players on the field (which I prefer over high-priced imports, just more fun that way to watch them grow up), win-win for everyone.  Whenever I have this conversation with people, they point out that being a top rated prospect is not a guarantee of success, and that’s true… but I’m not asking any of these minor league kids to step up and be Manny Ramirez.  I’m asking them to hit better than Lugo, or to look more alive than Drew, and either way, that doesn’t seem like too much of a tall order.  Long term free agent signings aren’t a guarantee either (see: Yankees, The, 2001-2007).

Tomorrow’s opening day, and I’ll be there… hopefully with some cool things to write about afterwards!

Game 4: Lester comes through, bats start to warm up

I followed the first three innings of this one online before rushing home, discovering my cable box was out of whack, unplugging it and hoping that would fix it (it did), and finally getting NESN on just in time to watch them waste a bases-loaded opportunity.  Scoreless after six, this was another well pitched game, the kind I really like.  Lester works a little slower than I’d like, but that’s a small complaint when you see him pitch like he did today.

LESTER
Everything he was supposed to be in his first start, everything he showed during the fourth game of the World Series, it all came out today.  6 2/3 scoreless innings, this from a guy who didn’t make it past four barely a week ago.  Just as Dice-K bounced back masterfully last night, Lester was equally impressive today.  Was it the trip to Japan and the unfamiliar atmosphere and jet lag and all of that stuff that made these guys lackluster last week, was it that it was basically still spring training time of the year?  Maybe one, maybe both.  But back in semi-familiar locations and routines, things are starting to look up.  I’m really psyched to see if this translates to the rest of the rotation.  I’m looking forward to Wakefield’s start (in a dome, his preference), wondering if Buchholz can get it together for his start,  and wondering what we’ll see when Josh Beckett returns and faces major league hitters for the first time in ’08.  I hope these last couple of games set the tone for the start of the season: well pitched games, well-played, with hits coming when they’re needed most.

YOUK
Kevin Youkilis just got the Major League record for most consecutive games at first without an error, a nice thing to have in addition to that (well-deserved) Gold Glove he won for last season.

BATS!
Though they wasted plenty of opportunities early on, the bats really started coming to life at the end.  David Ortiz broke out of his 0-12 start with a single, and followed that up with a two-run homer later on.  Varitek, Crisp, Cora, Pedroia and Youkilis all single consecutively, bringing it to 4-0 in the 8th.  Varitek added a solo homer in the 9th.  Tight pitching matchup all through the beginning, and then towards the end the bats wake up.  Brian Corey pitched 1 1/3 innings, flirted with trouble a couple times but kept it scoreless, and then Manny Delcarmen finished it in the 9th.

I LOVE MLB EXTRA INNINGS
Seriously… I’m lucky to live in an area where I don’t have any blackout restrictions, and I’m watching the Mets come alive… 3-0 against the Marlins early on… I love baseball time of year.