Friday, April 09, 2004

Game 4 - Red Sox
Mama Told Me There'd Be Days Like This (Especially without Nomar and Trot)

Orioles 3, Red Sox 2 (13)
Record: 2-2

I've got a hunch that Sox fans will be nervously sitting through more than our fair share of games like last night's for the first 4 or 5 weeks of the regular season. Very respectable pitching (not withstanding 13 walks) was undermined by anemic offense, and the O's won the war of attrition against the Sox bullpen, winning the game in the bottom of the 13th when Boston's Bobby Jones walked 4 men, including Larry Bigbie with the bases loaded. (Random historical aside: I would have thought that having Bobby Jones on the hill on the first day of the Masters would be a good omen.)

What a difference a year makes (with an assist from injuries). Here's the simple truth: Without Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon in the lineup, the Sox' offense is only slightly better than ordinary. The 6-9 slots in last night's lineup were filled by David McCarty, Mark Bellhorn, Doug Mirabelli, and Pokey Reese. All decent ballplayers, but 3 of the 4 noted much more for their defense and versatility than for their bats. For the series, the 7-9 spots in the order were a robust 6 for 42. Last year, on any given night, 6-9 read Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon, Bill Mueller, and Jason Varitek, in some order. All four of those guys drove in more than 85 runs, and Mueller won the batting title. So rehab well, Nomie and Trot, we're all gnawing on our fingernails and hoping the pitching staff continues to shine.

The real bright spot here is that the aforementioned pitching staff looks like it will keep the Sox in nearly every game. Tim Wakefield wasn't brilliant last night, but he scrapped and gutted his way through 5 2/3 innings. Alan Embree was filthy for an inning, striking out three of the four O's he faced. Mike Timlin walked another guy, but got out of it with a nasty K of Rafael Palmeiro. Scott Williamson looked dominant, and Keith Foulke, while a little shaky, buckled down to get out of a runner on third, no-out jam in the 10th. The Sox are sporting a 2.49 team ERA through 4 games, a number that will cover a lot of offensive shortcomings.

For what it's worth, I love Tim Wakefield - if he's not my favorite Sox player, he's at least in the conversation - and respect the hell out of his team-first attitude and competitive nature. It's just that watching him pitch drives me batshit. Even when he's lights-out, it seems like he's one batter away from completely losing command of his knuckler and running off a streak 12 straight balls. Happened last night in the 4th inning, after Wake had battled through three innings of off-and-on control issues. He walked three in the 4th and paid for it when David Segui ripped a liner back through the box to score the O's first two runs. And then, just like that, he was back in control, getting out of the inning without further ado.

Home opener this afternoon in Fenway. Wonder if my boss is expecting me to get anything done after 3:05.

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