Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Stud

ALDS Game 1

Red Sox 4, Angels 1
Red Sox lead 1-0

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Dennis Eckersley spent most of the day yesterday telling anyone who would listen that Jon Lester was the Red Sox’ best pitcher. And then Lester went out and proved Eck right, overcoming some early self-inflicted adversity and some Jed Lowrie-inflicted adversity to clamp down emphatically on the Angels. Young Lester doesn’t bring Josh Beckett’s sneering disdain for his opponent to the hill, but the result last night was satisfyingly similar – 7 innings, 0 ER, 6H, 7K.

Justin Masterson showed the smallest of nerves in his single inning of work, but escaped when Kevin Youkilis made a play that went underappreciated in its brilliance as the focus landed on Vlad Guerrero’s baserunning. I submit that Youks’ defensive effort was far more important to the outcome of the play than any mistake on Guerrero’s part. On the play in question, Youkilis sprinted back to try to catch Torii Hunter’s humpback liner, as he half-dove/half-slid in vain, he quickly snapped his glove over the loose ball and sprung to his feet. 99 times out of 100, the fielder in that situation doesn’t cleanly secure the ball. The Angels are notoriously and successfully aggressive on the basepaths. Guerrero, like most baserunners, assumed Youks wouldn’t come up with the ball cleanly as he twisted and slid into the outfield. Youks did, and made Guerrero look bad – and probably won the game for the Sox.

While I’ll give Vlad a pass, other will and should be less generous with some of his teammates. The Angels didn’t look like a 100-win team last night, swinging wildly at balls out of the zone and making at least two critical mistakes. John Lackey owned Jason Bay in the latter’s first two plate appearances, striking out the Sox leftfielder on breaking pitches both times. Then, with a runner on in the 6th, Lackey threw an 0-1 fastball right over the heart of the plate, and Bay first thanked the Lord for his good fortune and then hammered the gift pitch deep into the stands. Later, the purportedly good fielding Gary Matthews looked for all the world like the kid Little League coaches stick in rightfield to hide him from the ball, allowing a Jacoby Ellsbury liner to go right over his head for a three-base error.

Meanwhile, the Sox just kept plugging along behind Lester. Ellsbury was 3-for-5 with 2 SB and a stellar and timely diving catch in the bottom of the 8th, Bay went 2-for-4 with a double in addition to his homer (seeing Manny Ramirez’ 2-for-4, HR, single, 1 RBI performance in Chicago and raising him one total base and one RBI), Jon Papelbon closed out the Angels with minimal drama. Dustin Pedroia reached base twice, and David Ortiz shook off 4 dismal at-bats to single in an insurance run in the 9th.

And I did my part, remaining awake until the game ended at 1:20 am EST. I credit the Angels’ fans and their incredibly lame noisemakers. Once more into the breach for me on Friday night, as Game 2 starts at 9:30. The things I do for this team.

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