Monday, June 12, 2006

Prime Mover

Games 58 through 61 – Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Rangers 3
Rangers 7, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 5, Rangers 4
Rangers 13, Red Sox 6

Record: 36-25

Generally, a home split against the Rangers wouldn’t inspire a great deal of optimism from this corner of MLC, but the volume of good vibrations coming from the Fens this weekend dramatically overshadowed any corresponding negatives. The Sox’ pitching woes and the weather-compressed schedule meant that 2 of the 4 games featured rookie starters with a combined total of 2 major league starts facing one of the AL’s top offenses, incessant rains delayed 2 games and cancelled 1, the Sox lost leads in both wins, and Jonathan Papelbon blew his first save – and the good guys still gained 2 games on the Yankees.

Of all the noteworthy events, Papelbon’s performance on Friday night has big ramifications. The Nation’s held its collective breath all season as the first-year closer ran off saves in 20 straight opportunities, knowing that the law of averages dictated that he’d blow one sooner of later and wondering how he’d handle the inevitable disappointment. I don’t think anyone expected Papelbon to pass the test as fully and emphatically as he did. After entering the game in the top of the 8th with 2 on and 2 out and giving up a game-tying single to Hank Blaylock, Papelbon got downright ornery. Mike Lowell got him the lead back in the bottom of the 8th and Papelbon blew the doors off the Ranger lineup in the 9th, striking out the side with a fearsome rage in his eyes. The lesson to AL hitters – don’t get him angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Jon Lester got his first big-league start on Saturday, and thanks to the magic of Fox Baseball’s monopoly I got to watch exactly none of it. He only last 4 2/3 innings, struggling with his command while walking 4 batters and allowing 3 runs, and left the game with the score tied at 3. The Sox web cognoscenti opined that he had good stuff and marginal command – a C+ outing in his big league debut. The bullpen didn’t help much, as first Julian Taverez and then Keith Foulke gave up 2-run frames to the Rangers to cost the Sox the game.

The Sunday doubleheader looked to be headed for a worst-case scenario as the Sox trailed, 4-2, entering the 9th in the first game with rookie David Pauley slated to start the nightcap. Ebby Calvin Beckett pitched better than he had in recent outings, but he only lasted 5 1/3 innings and he gave up yet another longball to a mediocre hitter, letting Kevin Mench take him over the Monster to stake the Rangers to a 2-run lead.

Trot Nixon and Coco Crisp reached base with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th, and my only advice to Mark Loretta was, “No double plays. No double plays.” Loretta dutifully obeyed, lifting a lazy fly to center to bring Papi to the plate.

Sox fans have been so spoiled by David Ortiz’ consistent late-game heroics that we now expect him to deliver us from evil every time he comes to the plate. It’s a measure of his talent and flair for the moment that he seems to always reward that expectation – and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t ever get old. Even down 0-2 to Ranger closer Akinori Otsuka, I felt nothing but confidence, and I knew the ball was gone before Ortiz even swung – Papi doesn’t miss the ball when the pitcher leaves it over the plate on the inside half. As the ball rocketed over the Ranger bullpen, I joined the Fenway crown in an arms-up victory salute, and then high-fived my youngest daughter as we danced around the living room.

With that victory feather in my cap, I took my daughter to a birthday party and didn’t get home until the Sox trailed, 5-0, in the nightcap. The blowout final score hides the fact that the Sox showed some stones, coming back from 6-0 down to get within 2 runs before being betrayed once again by the bullpen (and once again by Tavarez and Foulke, with a little Rudy Seanez thrown in just for fun). Mike Timlin threw a simulated game yesterday, and Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen showed flashes – boy, do the Sox need all 3 of those guys to pitch in, as it turns out Tavarez and Seanez not only respectively bear a physical resemblance to Freddy Krueger and Manual Noriega, they inflict similar amounts of terror. Terry Francona was admittedly constrained by the schedule, but it’s never any fun to see Willie Harris playing leftfield with Manny Ramirez on the bench. At least yesterday Tito had an excuse for his traditional Pawtucket Sunday lineup choice.

So we’ll take 2-2 for the weekend – could’ve been a lot worse. Just ask the people in the Bronx.


"Editor's" Note: Just below, I noted that the legal aspect of baseball’s steroid scandal isn’t getting anywhere near as much play as it should. Looks like I’m not the only one who thinks that.

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