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Sox Bullpen Provides Mixed Relief; Wakefield, An All-Star At Last

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In this post-holiday edition of Dead Red, you’ll find a wrap up of the week that was in Red Sox world. It was a tough week for the best bullpen in the game, but at the end of the weekend, they collectively got their act together to help keep the Sox in first place, with the surging New York Yankees just one game out to start the first full week of July.

Red Sox Record for the Week of June 29: 3-3

Within hours of my last Dead Red column being published, veteran third baseman Mike Lowell was put on the 15-day DL, and with Youkilis moving to this position in his place, Jeff Bailey was recalled from AAA-Pawtucket to play first base. SS/3B Jed Lowrie, still rehabbing in AA-Portland and Pawtucket is still not ready to be activated from the DL and may not be until after the All-Star break. Somewhere, Julio Lugo is breathing a sigh of relief. Bailey meanwhile, is a patient, OBP-type hitter who won’t get you many hits but does draw lots of walks. [Unfortunately, Bailey is now on the 15-day DL as of Monday July 6]

And though the Sox scored an average of six runs per game last week, the offense has been slumping lately and the team’s batting average has fallen below .270. The most notable drop-off in production comes from MVP candidate Jason Bay, who proudly got his U.S. citizenship last Thursday but is striking out left and right lately. He’s struggling to keep his average in the .260s and has only one RBI since June 23 going into Tuesday night.

The real struggles that have impacted Sox games lately came from the once light-out arms of the bullpen. It all came to a head Tuesday, June 30 when after a rain delay in Baltimore, Justin Masterson, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Takashi Saito, and Jonathan Papelbon combined to give up 10 runs in the eighth and ninth innings and blow a 10-1 lead, losing 11-10 when all was said and done.

The happiest player this night was Orioles starter Rich Hill, who, besides being a hometown boy (Milton, Massachusetts) got roughed for 10 runs early by his lifelong hometown team. This likely wasn’t how Hill dreamed up his first outing against the Red Sox, and though he would like to forget about it, his offense mounted a historic comeback that Orioles fans (and Hill) won’t soon forget.

Lost in all this was John Smoltz’s one run over four innings to start the game before the rain clouds came. Who knows how much different the outcome would’ve been if not for the hour-plus rain delay, which prevented Smoltz from continuing this promising outing. “Blame it on the rain,” as those famous frauds Milli Vanilli once sang.

The Red Sox would get its revenge the next day, July 1 by mounting a late comeback of its own, scoring four runs in the ninth and one more in the eleventh (courtesy of Julio Lugo) to beat the O’s 6-5. Papelbon easily sealed the deal in the bottom of the 11th for the 133rd save of his career, passing Bob Stanley’s 132 saves to became the Sox all-time leader in saves.

But Friday, July 3 turned out to be Ramon Ramirez’s turn to have an off-night, as he gave up 2 runs, 2 hits, and eventually a 2-run double to Rob Johnson (of all people) in the Red Sox’s 11-inning lost to Seattle last Friday at Fenway Park.

Saturday turned out to be an old-fashioned pitchers duel between Boston’s steady fifth starter Brad Penny and Seattle’s Garrett Olson. But again, the Boston bullpen was the difference, as Saito walked the bases loaded in the ninth, then gave up the game-winning blooper to Chris Woodward.

On the bright side, Masterson and Okajima recovered on Saturday (in relief of Penny) and Sunday (in relief of a red hot Jon Lester) to combine for 4 1/3 scoreless innings of work. Saito and Ramirez however, have control issues to work through if they are going to be effective again in the near future.

And finally, Sunday was an especially bright day in Red Sox Nation, as six Sox players were voted in or selected to play in the 2009 All-Star game in St. Louis. After practically the entire baseball world rooted for him to get picked, Tim Wakefield was indeed among the Sox selected. It is the first All-Star selection for the 42-year-old, who is in his 17th year in the big leagues. Besides being the team leader in wins (10) going into this week, he is among the most respected Red Sox players on and off the field in the game today.

On the mound, Wakefield is a selfless swingman, who will sacrifice starts and stats in order to help or save the bullpen. And despite the unpredictability of his knuckleball, he is an innings eater – over 2,900 in his career – and for a majority of his career, a durable pitcher who at the end of most seasons has respectable numbers of wins, quality starts and ERA, especially for a veteran at the back of the Sox rotation as he has been for 15 years now.

And so Wakefield’s All-Star selection should be seen not only as a reward for what he’s done for the Red Sox this season but for what he’s done throughout his long career. It was long overdue. Now, Joe Maddon has to find someone (not named George Kottaras) who can actually catch Wakefield come All-Star weekend. Good luck with that, Joe.

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.
  • Tony

    It is a total joke that Wakefield is an all star. Record aside, a 4.30 ERA, 1.354 WHIP and 103 hits in 102 innings. There is not one single stat besides his record that even close to qualifies him.

    AJ Burnett has a 3.83 ERA, 1.356 WHIP, and has only given up 88 hits in 101 innings and he doesn’t even deserve to be an all star. If your era is over 4 you should be automatically excluded.

  • Charlie

    Obviously Tony, much of the rest of the baseball world disagrees with you. From the MLB Network to Fox and ESPN, you won’t find much quarreling with Wakefield being an All-Star.

    You are looking at this from a Yankees perspective, of course, and I’m not saying that’s wrong but you have to look beyond that perspective and stats to understand why Wakefield is an All-Star. Besides, the only really un-All-star like stat is his ERA, and it’s a respectable 4.14 now going into the All-Star break, to go with an AL league-leading 11 wins (to go with only 3 losses).

    But as you know from reading my first column, Wakefield was the only consistent starter for the Sox, carrying the starting staff for the first 2 months of the season and stopping losing streaks. And people around here (in Boston), thus were talking about him being an All-Star even then.

    But if you really want to go deep into the numbers/stats, Wakefield hasn’t lost a single game (going 5-0 in 7 starts; 2 no decisions) since May 29. Why? Because he keeps his team in nearly every game (especially at Fenway where he’s undefeated at 7-0 this season). When he pitches, the usually Sox win. THAT’S All-Star stuff.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Wakefield has never been an All-Star before, but he’s been a staple of the Red Sox staff since the 90s. No, the numbers aren’t great, but they’re not laughable.

    Joe Maddon even said part of this pick is a tip of the cap to Wakefield’s entire oeuvre. He may very well retire with 200 wins. C’mon, he’s gotta also be an All-Star too.

  • Tony

    There are 25 pitchers in the AL that have a better ERA than Wakefield. I’m not looking at it from a Yankee perspective, you’re sucked in by Red Sox nostalgia. I shouldn’t have used AJ as an example (even though I said he wasn’t an all star either even thoug his stats are the same but the era is lower).

    Forget this crap about he’s old so he deserves to be on the team. Nick Blackburn, Dallas Braden, Jered Weaver, Garza, Sabathia, there are so many pitchers that deserve to be in it over him. I’ll compare him to some non-Yankees

    Wakefield: 4.32 era, 1.354 WHIP
    Blackburn: 2.94, 1.272
    Braden: 3.13, 1.260
    Weaver: 3.15, 1.128
    Garza: 3.70, 1.207
    Sabathia: 3.70, 1.118

    Ok I used one Yankee. I had to. But there are five pitchers who have far better stats than Wakefield but they don’t get to be All Stars because we feel bad for an old knuckleballer on one of the better offensive teams in baseball. Please. The winner of the All Star game gets homefield now. I don’t want my Yankees getting screwed out of home field because some old Charlie Hough wannabe blew the All Star game Aaron Boone-stye.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    I won’t argue those stats, but Tony, is it really that big a deal? If the All-Star game is this sacrosanct event, why do they mandate a player comes from each team? Then we get Lance Carter and Mike Williams and Cesar Izturis as All-Stars. The neighborhood with Tim Wakefield in it isn’t shot to hell; everybody else was already there.

    THEN we can talk about Wakefield. I mean, his stats aren’t great, but remember that Cal Ripken made it in 2001 when he shouldn’t’ve, then ripped the game-winning home run.

    And if you’re really worried about it “counting,” consider: the AL won last year’s game. Who on the NL blew the save? None other than World Series champion Brad Lidge.

  • Tony

    You’re absolutely right, the All Star game shouldn’t be that important. But as long as the MLB attaches home field advatage to it, it is a big deal. And you’re right, they should get rid of the whole every team has a guy in it, with the current rules. Or even better, ditch the home field advantage thing.

    I know teams beat homefield advantage but in baseball it is a bigger factor than in any other sport.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Since 2003, the AL has won every All-Star game, affecting six World Series locations. The winners by league? AL 3, NL 3.

  • Tony

    That may be so but its coincidence. Teams are many times built to the ball park they plan in. Having the World Series home field advantage in a place like Fenway is an advantage. It isn’t the end-all factor as to if a team will win or lose but if there is even such a thing as home field advantage it applies to baseball the most.

  • charlie

    Tony, I know you’re angry about this, but there’s no need for the “Charlie Hough wannabe” cheap shot. Wakefield’s an All-Star. Burnett and Sabathia aren’t. Time to move on.

    Remember, whatever you think of Wakefield’s numbers (and he does lead the AL in wins), just think back a few years ago when Mark Redman of the Royals was selected as an All-Star with an ERA well over 5. I think all of us are in agreement that the every team gets an All-Star rule should be canned so REALLY bad selections like that don’t happen ever again.

  • Tony

    I’m not at all angry about Sabathia or Burnett not making the team. I even specifically said Burnett didn’t belong. I did name four other non-Yankees that deserve it over Wakefield so take that for what you will.

    As I said, lose the homefield advantage rule and I’m fine with Wakefield getting ceremonial nod but with the rules as is its just not right, and no pass mistakes justify it. I believe Redman made the team because they had to have a Royal, which is another stupid rule if the came “counts.”