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.