Wednesday , February 28 2024
Multiple offensive explosions highlight Boston’s ascent back to first place in the AL Wild Card Race. Plus, Jerry Remy returns.

A Little Pitching, A Lot of Offense, And A Return Atop The Wild Card

Red Sox Record for the Week of August 17: 4-2

After a three-game sweep of Toronto at the Rogers Centre started the week, Boston lost two of three to New York over the weekend at Fenway. Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers lost two of its three weekend games to Tampa Bay, so the Sox were still able to overtake them for the top spot of the AL Wild Card race by one game — the lead is one-and-a-half games as of Tuesday afternoon.

So how did they do it? All offense, and poor pitching (with a few exceptions). In fact, the Sox scored 53 runs last week in its six games, an average of 8.8 per game. But they also gave up 40 runs, an average of 6.7 per game.

First off, late last Tuesday afternoon (August 18), Josh Beckett found out his pitching coach John Farrell and catcher Jason Varitek both would not be available for that night’s game in Toronto. The former had a family emergency to take care of while ‘Tek revealed he had muscles spasms (and pain) in the neck area, something he’s reportedly been battling for a month or two now. So Victor Martinez was forced to catch his first game with Beckett with only a couple of hours to prepare for it.

That said, the three homers and seven earned runs that Beckett allowed in five and one-third innings was all on him, not V-Mart. It was his worst outing since June and shortest since April. I didn’t see any miscommunication between the Sox ace and V-Mart, nor many V-Mart signs getting shaken off by Beckett. But I did see a ton of fastballs and hanging breaking balls and not much of anything else in his repertoire – very few cutters and changeups. His curveball especially was terrible, as it didn’t break or locate well when he needed it to.

For example, in the fourth, Beckett’s curveball to Vernon Wells sailed upwards, and the next pitch was hit for a double. Later, after shaking off a couple of pitch selections, he hung a curveball over the heart of the plate which Rod Barajas nearly hit for a home run, but was just foul in the left field stands. He did indeed homer off Beckett his next at bat in the sixth, knocking him out of the game. So as bad as Beckett was, he could’ve been even worse.

And Sunday night, Beckett was indeeed worse, as he gave up a season-high four homers to the Yankees and allowed eight earned runs over eight innings. In addition to practically knocking himself out of the Cy Young race with these outings, he is starting to earn not so fan-friendly nicknames like “Way Back Beckett.” Thus, this was a week the ace would like to forget.

Lost in the debate in Boston as to who was more to blame for the Tuesday outing (Beckett, V-Mart or lack of Farrell’s presence), was that the Red Sox won 10-9. David Ortiz –- who wasn’t in the original lineup that night but was slotted in due to Tek’s injury and Dustin Pedroia leaving to see the birth of his son Dylan in Boston — scored the game-winner not long after being intentionally walked. You know Big Papi’s hitting well when he draws an automatic walk -– he solo homered and doubled in two runs earlier in the game. J.D. Drew too wasn’t supposed to play until Wednesday but went 1-4 in his return to the lineup after trying unsuccessfully to wimp out of finishing a game in Texas four days earlier.

Speaking of Wednesday, young stud Clay Buchholz surprisingly out-pitched Roy Halladay in Boston’s 6-1 win, with the kid giving up just one earned run versus Doc’s four earned. And Thursday, Jon Lester pitched eight dominant innings of one-run ball for his 10th win of the ’09 campaign, beating rookie Brett Cecil, who will be remembered for making the boneheaded move of throwing a live ball into the dugout without calling timeout, a costly error in what turned out to be an 8-1 win for Boston.

Friday night (August 21) was a fateful night for Brad Penny. He previously shutout the Yankees June 11 at Fenway over six solid innings, but on this night had a 96-mph fastball that looked like red meat to Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and other Yankee sluggers. They would put up 20 runs to Boston’s 11. In what may turn out to be his last start in a Red Sox uniform, Penny gave up eight of those runs in just four innings. Michael Bowden too got shelled in relief in his brief second stint with the Sox this year before returning to Pawtucket over the weekend, allowing seven runs.

The only highlight of this game for Boston was Jacoby Ellsbury tying Tommy Harper for the Sox single season record for steals (54, set in 1973). Off the field, the highlight was the return of Jerry Remy to the broadcast booth. One of the best baseball analysts in the game, Remy, a former smoker, came down with lung cancer and underwent surgery for it late last year, only to come down with an infection in January and battle bouts of depression that set him back and forced him to leave his job at NESN in April. After a parade of analysts filled his spot for months, it’s great to see the Remdawg back -– but NESN should find a way to have the highly entertaining Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley continue to analyze games too.

Penny is now slated to long relieve either Tim Wakefield -– with V-Mart as Wake’s catcher -– in his return from the DL tomorrow or Junichi Tazawa on Thursday. Or if neither happens, pitch a simulated game in Boston Friday.

Speaking of Jeter, over the weekend, newly elected Hall of Famer Jim Rice addressed Little Leaguers in Williamsport and made some comments about today’s players, how they don’t compare with those of his era and other statements that made him sound like a grumpy old man. And then he allegedly lumped in Jeter with A-Rod and Manny as players kids shouldn’t look up to.

First of all, I don’t understand Rice’s criticism of players who wear baggy pants and have dreadlocks. Does he not realize players wore baggy pants for decades going back at least 60 years and many probably had funky or long hair styles in the ‘70s, during his heyday? I don’t see the big deal there. Also, I can understand frowning on Manny and A-Rod given recent revelations about PED use, but Jeter? Even the most ardent Yankee hater would have to admit that Jeter is as classy a major leaguer as they come and plays the game right -– though his penchant for diving over the plate to hit does annoy me from time to time.

Rice is now saying he was misquoted, but I’m not sure many are going to buy it. He thinks his generation of players is better than ours. That’s fine but at least next time, he ought to use better examples of why that is.

Saturday, the Sox got its revenge in a 14-1 rout that broke a five game losing streak to the Yanks, as they shelled A.J. Burnett for nine runs, the most in his career for five innings of work. 13 of Boston’s 14 runs came with two outs -– the Sox lead the majors in two-out runs.

Meanwhile, catcher Jorge Posada and Burnett were not on the same page, as it turned out. For example, Burnett wanted to but didn’t use his curveball enough because Posada thought Sox hitters “were on it.” And Burnett could be seen muttering to himself something like, “Why would I throw that pitch” after Ortiz took him deep in the bottom of the fifth inning. It goes to show you that even veteran pitchers and catchers have miscommunication and disagreement sometimes -– that didn’t happen with Beckett and V-Mart as far as I know.

Tazawa, on the other hand, had his best outing of his young career, throwing six shutout innings on 99 pitches. His composure will equally impressive, as he got a groundball from Melky Cabrera to turn a 4-6-3 double play to end the sixth, his outing, and keep the Yankees off the scoreboard.

On Sunday night, neither 14-game winners CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett were sharp. But Sabathia did enough to win his league-leading 15th game, allowing just three earned runs. Beckett, meanwhile had a rare second bad start in a row and in total, gave up 15 earned runs this week. Just hours earlier, John Smoltz made his debut with St. Louis and wouldn’t you know, pitched five scoreless innings for a win against one of the worst offenses in baseball, the San Diego Padres. When he does this good or better against a higher quality offense, then I’ll be impressed.

And in my final thought on the Sunday night game, I thought it was a mistake for Terry Francona to sit Ortiz against CC Sabathia. He was 7-for-23 (.304 average) lifetime against him and has been red hot of late. He had hit five homers in his last eight games going into Sunday, and the Sox were 18-2 when he homers as of August 21. Mike Lowell is 2-for-13 lifetime vs. Sabathia, for a .154 average. Therefore, I would’ve preferred that Lowell sat for a second straight game but pinch-hit if needed and have Ortiz and his hot bat DH.

As it happened, Lowell DH-ed and got two hits off Sabathia, but Beckett, even with his regular catcher (Varitek instead of V-Mart) sucked and the Sox offense didn’t come through to bail him out like they did in Toronto.

This week, the Sox are looking to hold onto and expand its Wild Card lead and get a quality reliever to help the bullpen. I’ve always said the Sox needed another veteran lefty to help out Hideki Okajima.

This afternoon, the Sox got that help in Billy Wagner, who is on his way to Boston in exchange for two midlevel prospects. This former closer is coming off of Tommy John surgery so I wouldn’t expect to see him pitch much so soon. But by this time next week, we’ll have a little bit better idea of how he fits into one of the best bullpens in baseball. We’ll also find out how well Tim Wakefield did in his return to the rotation, how well Beckett recovers from his recent outings, what Boston’s plans are for Brad Penny, and likely crown Jacoby Ellsbury the new Red Sox stolen base king.

In other words, it will be another fascinating week in Red Sox Nation.

About Charlie Doherty

Senior Music Editor and Culture & Society (Sports) Editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Prior writing/freelancing ventures: copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. Keep up with me on

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