Red Sox Record for the Week of September 21: 2-5
The Red Sox got off to such a hot start in September that there was bound to be a let down at some point. Last week was it, as they lost five of its seven games and with last night’s 11-5 loss to Toronto at Fenway, six of its last eight, with six games left in the regular season.
It’s not for lack of trying though, but lack of meaningful games, as Boston has known for a while now that it, and not the slumping Texas Rangers were eventually going to get the AL Wild Card spot. Therefore, manager Terry Francona has been giving regulars more rest time than usual lately and setting up his pitching staff for the postseason. The Sox are one win or one Texas loss away from getting there for the third season in a row as I write this. Until then, here’s a quick wrap up of the week that was in Red Sox Nation.
We’re Not In Kansas City Anymore
The Sox split its four games (2-2) against the Kansas City Royals last Monday-Thursday, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. They had the game won Monday in Tim Wakefield’s start but the bullpen blew it in a 12-9 loss. More on that later. Tuesday, as predicted in last week’s Dead Red column, Royals ace Zack Greinke overmatched Paul Byrd in a 5-1 win over Boston. In so doing, he picked up his 15th win (to go with 8 losses) on his quest for the Cy Young Award, which he deserves no matter what his win/loss record is or who he plays for. His incredible 2.06 ERA should be enough to win it. An ironic note: Greinke became the first Royals pitcher since Paul Byrd in 2002 to win at least 15 games. He won his 16th vs. Minnesota on Sunday.
Last Wednesday, the Sox not only won its 90th game for the fifth season under Francona, they sent a message to the baseball world by having Victor Martinez catch Josh Beckett instead of Jason Varitek, who has completely lost it at the plate. The first time those two paired up August 18 in Toronto, it was a last-minute decision as Tek came down with severe neck pain. Beckett gave up seven earned runs. This time, in six innings, he gave up 12 hits, just two runs and K’d seven while picking up his 16th win as the Sox won 9-2. That success, even against the Royals, likely means those two will pair up for the postseason as well. And it is the right thing to do.
Finally, on Thursday, the Sox beat KC 10-3 behind Clay Buchholz (7-3), who was brilliant yet again as he went 6.2 IP, allowed zero runs and walks, and struck out five. He is 6-0 with an impressive 2.44 ERA since August 19 (and faces Toronto tonight). Jacoby Ellsbury stole his 65th and 66th bags of ’09 in this game and now has a real shot at a once unheard of milestone in Red Sox history, 70 stolen bases.
Swept In New York? Fuhgeddaboutit
Even though two of the three Sox-Yankees games were nationally televised (Fox, ESPN) this past weekend, the series didn’t have the type of playoff fever you might’ve expected. Sure, there was some talk among Boston fans that a Sox sweep could get them back in the AL East race (to within 2.5 games) even though the Yankees have never blown a lead of at least six games. But Francona and company want to make the playoffs period and could care less how since they have the confidence and veterans to beat anybody anywhere.
Therefore, his lineups this past weekend reflected that sentiment as Jason Bay, J.D. Drew, Alex Gonzalez, and V-Mart all took turns getting days off. They were respectively replaced as starters in the three games by Brian Anderson (LF), Rocco Baldelli (RF), Jed Lowrie (SS) and Varitek, who started Friday and Sunday’s games. You don’t do that level of replacement if you really want to win the series badly.
Though Lester faced Joba Chamberlain Friday night (and left injured in the third inning on the way to a 9-5 win by NY), the only game Sox fans should’ve really had a curious interest in was Saturday’s matchup of CC Sabathia (19-7) against Dice-K (3-6). For the former, it was a possible ALCS preview and for the latter, it was a test to see how good he can be against good hitting in only his third start off the DL. For Dice-K, it was a mild success as he pitched seven innings, stranded 10 runners and surrendered one run. But Sabathia topped that with seven scoreless innings on the way to a 3-0 NY victory. The only other highlight worth noting was newest Supreme Court justice and New York native Sonia Sotomayor’s ceremonial first pitch strike before the game.
By the end of Sunday’s game, it was clear that the Yankees starters and bullpen out-pitched Boston’s in the series, giving up a total of seven runs while Boston pitching surrendered 16. Also noteworthy is that Byrd (1-3), in perhaps his last ever start in the majors, gave up three earned runs in 5.2 innings against the Yankees B-lineup and took the loss in a 4-2 game.
The Sox finished 39-42 on the road for ’09 after its mild success in KC and winless weekend in New York over the weekend. That said, they still have the second-most road wins in the AL right now as well as the second-most home wins (52) in the majors with six more home games to go. That balance will need to continue in the postseason if the Red Sox want to go far. More on that next week when its playoff opponent (likely LA Angels) and schedule is finalized.
Right Back At Ya
It’s always scary when you see a pitcher get hit with a line drive. In that instant, you don’t know if he’s seriously hurt or just temporarily dinged up. Boston fans especially know all too well how careers can take a nose dive if and after said pitcher gets injured on the play, with Bryce Florie and Matt Clement coming to mind for starters.
This past weekend, not once but THREE times did a pitcher get hit with a line drive. It started Friday night at Yankee Stadium when Melky Cabrera’s line drive hit Jon Lester just above the right knee in the thigh area – officially diagnosed as a contusion in the right quadriceps. In Saturday’s Sox-Yankees bout, Jeter ripped one that hit Dice-K’s right shin and then rolled to the third base line – no harm and no foul – for a leadoff single in the first inning. And on Sunday, a Mike Lowell grounder hit eventual game-winner (and Yanks postseason #2 starter) Andy Pettitte’s right foot and bounced over to A-Rod, who ate it as Jason Bay scored the game’s first run in the top of the first inning.
Of these, only the Lester comebacker was truly worrisome, and Francona, who initially thought the kid’s kneecap was broken, barked at Lester not to put much weight on his right leg as he left the field. But Lester got lucky as x-rays came out negative over the weekend, and after a long and successful side session Monday, Francona expects him to make one last regular season start Thursday at Fenway versus Cleveland’s Jeremy Sowers. It just goes to show you that in baseball, you never know what’s going to happen. And thankfully, no serious injuries came about to these vital pitchers.
Other Developments of Note
With an unsuccessful pinch-hit AB Sunday in NY, V-Mart’s career-high and major-league-leading 25-game hitting streak came to an end. Sox reliever Hideki Okajima went to Boston over the weekend to get acupuncture treatment for tightness in his right side and did not pitch in the BOS-NYY series. Also, Sox living legend Johnny “Mr. Red Sox” Pesky celebrated his 90th birthday Sunday and threw out the first pitch at Fenway Monday night, while PawSox reliever Fernando Cabrera rejoined the Red Sox today.
Also this week, look for the Sox bullpen to rebound from a tough week after relievers Manny Delcarmen and Daniel Bard combined to hand KC its 12-9 win in the rain September 21, while Billy Wagner had his worst outing for Boston Saturday after giving up a pivotal two-run single to Johnny Damon. And finally, look for Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz to possibly join teammate Jason Bay in the 30 HR club this week, as they are currently sitting on 27 and 28 homers, respectively.