Red Sox record for the week of May 17-23: 5-2
It was a wild week of baseball for the BoSox, to say the least. With road trips to three different stadiums in New York, Minnesota, and Pennsylanvia in the previous seven days, Sox fans should feel relieved they got five wins out of it. At 24-21 through Sunday, the Sox are a season-high three games over .500.
Even better, after winning its last five out of six games (through Sunday), the Sox are suddenly 2 1/2 games back of the Yankees for a playoff spot, the AL Wild Card, as they start a new and big week on the road again versus AL East division-leading Tampa Bay for three starting tonight, then finally come home against Kansas City for four games. Speaking of the Sox and Yankees…
BoSox Do A Split In The Bronx
It got off to a rocky start, with last Monday’s crazy 11-9 loss at Yankee Stadium, the eighth consecutive time the Sox had lost there, which was the longest losing streak in New York for Boston since 1960. After coming back from an early five-run deficit against Phil Hughes, who struggled mightily for the first time this year, the Sox got itself a 9-7 lead, thanks to Victor Martinez homering from both sides of the plate, along with three other Sox homers (from David Ortiz, J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis).
Then closer Jonathan Papelbon blew his first save of 2010 in the bottom of the ninth, his first since last July, by allowing a two-run shot to a familiar foe, A-Rod, and then another two-run bomb to Marcus Thames to win it in walk-off fashion. Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka allowed the first seven New York runs, then seemingly blamed catcher Victor Martinez for his troubles after the game.
To the relief of Sox fans everywhere, the next night (Tuesday, May 18) the Sox not only broke its losing streak in the Bronx but was able to overcome a five-run deficit again and this time win it, 7-6. After Joba Chamberlain blew CC Sabathia’s 5-1 lead, the Sox rallied late and took the lead in the top of the ninth when an inexplicably shallow Randy Winn couldn’t get to a Jeremy Hermida blast into left field for a tie-breaking two-run double off of Mariano Rivera, who has a long history of troubles against Boston. Papelbon gave up a run in the bottom of the inning but this time redeemed himself to close it out for his 10th save.
A silly and unnecessary controversy happened during the game when Sox pitching coach John Farrell visited the mound to check on starter Josh Beckett, then signaled to the bullpen for Manny Delcarmen to take the ailing starter’s place. Yankees manager Joe Girardi officially protested the game because of the sudden and — at least in his eyes — non-injury-based move to replace a struggling pitcher.
The Yankees skipper apparently did not see that one of the umpires, according to Terry Francona, signaled to the bullpen and approved this move. Beckett was put on the 15-day DL the next day with a lower back strain and is not eligible to pitch again until at least June 2. Tim Wakefield has and will continue to pitch in his place for the time being.
Sox Get Fresh Blood: Jacoby Ellsbury, Joe Nelson, Angel Sanchez
Other moves the Sox have made of late including designating reliever Scott Schoeneweis and recently acquired outfielder Jonathan Van Every for assignment, and calling up reliever Joe Nelson (who had a great spring training) and infielder Angel Sanchez up from Pawtucket. Most importantly, Jacoby Ellsbury came back from the DL on Saturday and though struggled at the plate, looked good defensively, especially on a diving catch Sunday in Philly.
With Mike Cameron due back soon, it looks like either the feel good story of the Sox season so far, Darnell McDonald might have to go back down to Pawtucket. That is, unless the Sox let struggling but more experienced reserve outfielder/infielder go instead. It will be a tough call for the Sox front office to make, for sure.
Run Prevention Finally Arrives
The Sox had a short two-game homestand versus Minnesota, and won both games the way you’d have expected them to coming into this season: pitching. Clay Buchholz picked up his team-leading fifth win on Wednesday night after going eight strong innings and allowing two runs in a rare low-scoring 3-2 win, with Daniel Bard closing it out for his first save of the season (since Papelbon needed a rest). Then Jon Lester pitched an extremely rare complete game as part of Boston’s 6-3 win on Thursday, and is now 4-2 on the year.
Then, despite another disappointing outing by veteran starter John Lackey (4-3, 5.07 ERA) on Friday night in Philly to start Interleague play, Sox pitching once again turned out back-to-back fantastic outings and this time, it was from the back of the rotation.
Whether or not there’s lingering tension between V-Mart and Dice-K, it’s still a noticeable fact that the Japanese star’s best outing of the year going into Saturday night happened when Jason Varitek called the game on May 11, when the pitcher struck out nine, walked none and earned his second win of 2010. So manager Terry Francona made the smart choice of letting ‘Tek catch him once again.
To the surprise of the baseball world, Dice-K (now 3-1) pitched 7 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball before the Phillies’ Juan Castro hit a flair for a single just over the reach of a hustling shortstop Marco Scutaro’s glove to break it up. He was done after eight but the Sox would go on to win 5-0.
And finally, in what looked like a total mismatch on paper, knuckleballer and spot-starter Tim Wakefield (1-2) got the call to go against the doc, Roy Halladay and turned the tables on expectations as he, not the Phillies ace, pitched eight scoreless innings, while Halladay allowed seven runs, six of them earned. Sox won 8-3 and the series, two games to one. Wake, for his cause, has now surrendered just 3 earned runs in his last 18 1/3 innings. That is admirable for an aging veteran who doesn’t know if he’s starting or long relieving every other week.
What To Look For: Dustin Pedroia to snap out of his longest slump of the year. He is batting .261 through May 23 and 0-for-16 going back four games to May 20. And watch switch hitter Victor Martinez slow down a bit but continue to do relatively well at the plate in the heart of the Sox batting order, as he has raised his BA 32 points from May 18 to May 23 (from .227 to .259).
Dice-K image used courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr