Saturday, September 08, 2007

Lil' Romeo

Games 141 & 142 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Orioles 6
Red Sox 4, Orioles 0
Record: 86-56

"The guy's an idiot. I dropped my bat. It kind of freaked me out...I was upset they took him out of the game. He's good to hit. He's 9-15. The guy [stinks]."

While those words will likely earn Dustin Pedroia a fastball in his ribs, courtesy of a Baltimore pitcher, they'll do nothing to diminish Red Sox Nation's growing love affair with the diminutive second sacker. Baltimore's Daniel Cabrera, the real-world manifestation of Nuke Laloosh's million-dollar arm and 5-cent head, whistled a fastball behind Pedroia's ear one pitch after being distracted into balking Coco Crisp home from 3rd with 2 outs in the top of the 4th. Benches (sorta) emptied, with several Sox players (and several of his own teammates) yelling at Cabrera while the 6'7" righthander had a tantrum on the mound.

To his credit, Oriole broadcaster Jim Palmer, who knows a thing or 2 about pitching, lambasted Cabrera for his immaturity and blamed him entirely for allowing Crisp to distract him into the balk. I listen to Palmer quite a bit, living in the O's broadcast area, and he's generally a bright spot for a franchise that has had so very few since Peter Angelos purchased the team in the mid-90s.

In addition to Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury continues to spark the Sox in Manny Ramirez' absence. The rookie scored the 4th run in the 8th inning, singling and stealing second before racing around the bases on a sharp single to left. There aren't 10 other major leaguers who would've scored on the play. Ellsbury also made a terrific catch while banging into the leftfield wall in the bottom of the same inning.

Jon Lester went 7 solid innings, walking only 2 while allowing 4 hits. His command seems at times to be an ephemeral thing, so the relatively good control he displayed last night is an extremely positive development. Manny the Carmen got a taste of 9th inning pressure, closing down the Orioles with only a single hit against him. The kids, once again, are alright.

The ability of Boston's young players to contribute meaningfully may be the single biggest difference between the late stages of this season and the same time last year. The 2006 Sox got hurt and completely cratered, having to start guys like Jason Johnson, Devern Hansack, David Pauley, and Kevin Jarvis in the midst of a pennant race. The upgrade to Clay Buchholz and a healthy Lester to begin games and Hideki Okajima, a confident Delcarmen and a healthy Jonathan Papelbon at the back of the pen is dramatic. Toss in Ellsbury and Pedroia in place of people like Willie Harris, Dustan Mohr, and Gabe Kapler, and the effect is multiplied.

The 2006 Sox went 23-34 after August 1 to finish with 86 wins. The 2007 squad just matched that win total, and are 21-14 since 8/1 - the same .600 winning percentage they've carried for the full season. What a difference a year (and some new blood) makes.

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