September 2007

A Sunday scratch

Curt Schilling is no longer pitching Sunday. The move is not health-related. Julian Tavarez will take the ball in Game No. 162.

Seems obvious now that Schill is your Game 2 starter.

Other than that, it is pretty quiet here tonight.

AL East champs for the first time since 1995. Not bad. What a surreal scene last night the way everything unfolded here and in Baltimore

I think the Angels are a favorable matchup for the Red Sox. Much better than Cleveland would have been.

Champagne on Dice?

First things first, Clay Buchholz will not pitch again in 2007. The Red Sox weren’t crazy with how he scored on the strength tests conducted by the training staff. With his long-term future in mind, the team will get his focus shifted on next year instead of this October.

No celebrations last night, just a flat-line of an evening with Beckett absent his fastball command the Red Sox absent the big hit in the late innings of the filthy offerings of one Joe Nathan.

So now it’s Dice-K’s turn. I feel like he hasn’t had his signature moment in a Red Sox uniform yet. Maybe tonight can be a start of something if he can pitch a gem for the first time in a long time and the Yankees lose in Baltimore and the Red Sox can, as David Ortiz has been saying the last few days, "get our clubhouse a little dirty".

Dice-K has been much better in his last two starts. Something tells me this is the night where he puts it all together. Let’s face it — they need this guy come October.

By the way, did anyone notice that Ortiz is absolutely obliterating the baseball right now?

And for the second day in a row, i’m dressed casual in the event of champagne spraying everywhere. Last night it was jeans and a golf shirt. Today it’s khakis and a little nicer golf shirt. You have to be prepared, right?

More later,

Ian.

Guess who's back?

I walked into the Red Sox clubhouse today, looked at the lineup card, and the first thing I said to myself was, "No surprises today."

This is because I had my eyes on the No. 4 spot in the lineup, where MIke Lowell was again listed instead of Manny Ramirez. But then I glanced up and, oh what a surprise, Manny Ramirez, he of the 490 career homers, hitting second in the batting order.

Yes, Manny is back after a 24-game absence with a strained oblique. He’ll get 2 or 3 at- bats and then give way to Moss or Kielty.

Live update: First Manny at-bat, he rakes a single to right. As if we needed any more proof that the guy could roll out of bed on a winter morning and hit a line drive somewhere. He’s just such a gifted hitter.

Youkilis pronounced himself ready to play tomorrow night.

Okajima threw a full-fledged side session before the game and will return Thursday. The troops are getting healthy!

Last minute scratch before the game as an ill Coco was replaced by Ellsbury in center.

Tonight’s lineup:
Pedroia 2B
Ramirez LF
Ortiz DH
Lowell 3B
Drew RF
Varitek C
Ellsbury CF
Hinske 1B
Lugo SS

Schilling SP

Later,

Ian.

One more for the road

Road game No. 81 on the season is right here at the Trop, fresh off last night’s wild game, capped by a modest post-game celebration.

For what it’s worth, the Red Sox seem serious about winning the division. Why start on the road if you don’t have to?

I think Francona will manage things fairly normally over the next few days and get guys assorted rest here and there while getting others back in the lineup.

Pedroia is getting a breather today. Still no Manny; Still no Youk.

Wakefield at the Trop. That’s a winning combination for sure. At least it always has been in the past.

Later,

Ian.

Dice-K's turn for a round number

Beckett got his 20th last night. Will Dice-K at last win No. 15 in this one? It’s funny we come back to 15. It seems that in Spring Training, everyone who was asked predicted that Matsuzaka would win somewhere around 15 games. His path to it has been unpredictable. I think Dice-K’s last two starts in the regular season are more crucial than any of the other starters.

By this point, we know Beckett is a horse who can lift this team on his back as long as they play this October. We know that Schilling has started to make a solid adjustment from power pitcher to a guy who can paint corners and give the team six good innings. And Wakefield is Wakefield.

But what about Dice-K? In my mind, the single biggest question regarding the postseason rotation is whether there is a dependable No. 2 guy behind Beckett. That was Dice-K in June and parts of July, and even into early August, when Schilling initially was on the DL.

That has not been Dice-K lately as his performance has fluctuated wildly amid rumblings he’s wearing down. He did pitch with a whole lot of heart in his last start against the Yankees, but 120 pitches in 5 2/3 innings isn’t very efficient. He’s rested in this one, taking the ball for the first time in eight days.

Personally, I think the way Dice-K throws tonight will go a long way toward telling us what kind of pitcher he can be in October. If the rest has indeed refreshed him, this is a very good sign. If his command is off again, there could be red flags.

Stay tuned,

Ian.

Beckett gets the big 2-OH

Good story tonight here in Tampa/St. Pete, with the ace pinning down win No. 20. All year long, Beckett has been the definition of stopper and in this one, he proved it again. Is there another horse you’d rather ride into October? I guess Cleveland has the best of both worlds now with two guys like that.

He got two bottles of Dom Perignon for his efforts — one from clubhouse man Joe Cochran, the other from Curt Schilling. "I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all this champagne," said Beckett. "I’m a beer drinking kind of guy."

 

Beverage of choice aside, not only does Beckett get the win, but the Yankees lose a marathon game to the Blue Jays in 14 innings. Mike Lowell, with the New York game still in progress, uttered late Friday night, "I hope they play 20."

Remember when I basically buried the Yankees in the AL East after a similar marathon loss at Detroit that was delayed several hours by rain? I was wholly wrong that time so I won’t try it again. But you do worry about the toll it might take. And now Rocket Roger — who is finally showing his age — can’t go today because of hamstring issues.

 

It seems that Terry Francona gets bashed a lot in the comments section of this space and I guess that’s what happens when you are a manager of a high-profile team like the Red Sox. But to me, this guy does an extremely good job of looking at the big picture and doing what is best for his team, without caring what the public perception will be.

As the old saying goes, "If you think like a fan, before long, you’ll be sitting with them."

Here is the way he put it today when he was talking about the balancing act between trying to win the division and also just trying to get to the playoffs with a fully functioning baseball team.

“Our goal playing
this year was to win the division and then go further and see how far you can
go and hopefully win a World Series. Now that things haven’t gone very well the last four days. I don’t want to start changing my answers.
Winning the division is huge. It’s important. Does it mean you’re going to win
the World Series? No. does it mean you’re not? No.

"Shoot, the competitiveness in all of us wants to win at everything we ever do. At the same time, I’m not
going to sacrifice our chances of playing further on. We tell you guys what we
think we need to tell you and there’s some things we probably don’t. I, and we
will do what’s in our best interest all the time. Sometimes you have to scuffle
through a little while, we kind of limped through Toronto. I’d rather never do
that, but I’d rather limp then then a couple of weeks from now. That was what
was going to happen if we don’t start getting these guys healthy.”

Well said, Tito. It just seems that everyone is just so obsessed with the Yankees at all times. What would you rather do? Beat out the Yankees for the division or win the World Series?

OK, I’ve said my piece. Now I’m sure most of you will probably fire back at me which is fine. We all have our own take.

Ian.

Red Sox turn lonely eyes to Clay

This is no longer about winning the division. Terry Francona put it best before last night’s game.

"We want to win the division, but it’s not going to help us win the World Series."

Well said. What will help the Red Sox is getting their swagger back before the postseason starts. Dustin Pedroia wasn’t going to blame Eric Gagne for the loss last night. Instead, he looked at himself and the rest of the offense and said, "We’ve got to do a better job."

No Manny, no Youk. That’s difficult to overcome. But as Pedroia said, they need to find a way.

Francona’s move with Gagne last night was one of the most interesting I’ve seen all year long. I know the knee-jerk reaction back home was sure to be, "What is Francona doing? Why is he leaving him in there?" And, I can even understand that reaction in this case.

But look at it from Tito’s side of things. He isn’t just trying to win one game. He is trying to get a key part of his pitching staff back in the right physical and mental frame of mine before they truly need him, which is in October. If Gagne had gotten through that inning last night, it could have been invaluable both for his confidence and the team’s. So Tito took a calculated gamble and lost. But you have to take those gambles sometimes. Keep in mind that Okajima was not available. He’s in the middle of some structured rest right now.

Let’s see what Buchholz can bring tonight. Maybe he can give them that shot of adrenaline that they so badly need.

It will be another fascinating night at the Rogers Centre, that’s for sure. Keep the comments flowing.

In the meantime, here is tonight’s lineup:

Ellsbury CF
Pedroia 2B
Ortiz DH
Lowell 3B
Drew RF
Varitek C
Hinske 1B
Kielty LF
Lugo SS

Buchholz SP

Later,

Ian.

Big Two North of the Border

Those footsteps are real now — the Yankees are just 3 1/2 back. That’s the smallest lead the Red Sox have had since May 1.

Granted, it would take a collapse of EPIC proportions to miss the postseason entirely but the Red Sox do not want to blow the division and homefield. With several guys banged up, they need to take care of business, get their positioning settled, and get guys rested before October.

There is a lot of pressure on two of the organization’s bright young pitchers the next two nights. Tonight, it’s Jon Lester, who has been very uneven and was hit hard in his last start. Tomorrow, it’s the no-hit kid, Clay Buchholz, who will be working on 12 days of rest.

Without Manny and Youkilis, the Red Sox are going to be challenged to produce offensively tonight against A.J. Burnett, who has been nothing short of electric of late.

Later,
Ian.

Sunday night Special — Roger vs. Schill

Here we go. Bring it on. This is why we love Red Sox-Yankees and love the game of baseball — for matchups like this.

Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling. When you think of true power pitchers with perfect fundamentals and fluid deliveries, you think of these two guys. Clemens has obviously been able to do it for a lot longer. Schilling was a relative late bloomer. And of course we all know the story of how Clemens basically told Schilling prior to the 1992 season that he was wasting his talent and it was after that that Curt became one of the elite pitchers in baseball.

Here we are, and both these guys can still bring it, though not at the levels they’ve done it in the past. The great thing about tonight is that you know the 41-year-old Schilling and the 45-year-old Clemens are both going to have something extra in the tank for this one. I’d say that, in the first inning especially, both guys are going to have an extra mile per hour or two on their heater.

What will the reaction for Clemens be? I’m guessing almost all boos. Remember, the last time he pitched a regular season game here in September of 2003, Clemens was given a hero’s applause. In a classy gesture, Red Sox fans gave him a nice good-bye after years of booing him. Of course, they thought he was retiring at the time. There wasn’t a whole lot of love in the air when Clemens pitched against Pedro in Game 3 of that 2003 ALCS. We all remember it. Pedro hits Karim. Clemens throws an innocent fastball that Manny over-reacts to. Pedro side swipes Zimmer and has no choice but to push him to the ground. Clemens was cool amid it all, pitching a great game and winning and saying after the game, "Whatever game they want to play, we’ll play."

Now he’s back at Fenway again after teasing the Red Sox in two consecutive years that just maybe he would return to Boston for the true twilight of his career. But he chose Houston in ’06, even when the Red Sox offered similar money. This time around, the Yankees offered far more than either Houston or Boston, and Clemens went back to the Bronx and shunned the Sox once again.

I’m thinking these fans — who were, by the way, ready to welcome him back — won’t let that be forgotten tonight.

Schilling? This is his time of year. He always comes through in big games and I wouldn’t expect tonight to be any different. And yes, he’s pitching for a new contract and a gem tonight wouldn’t hurt that quest.

Let’s get this game going. The weather is perfect. Great night for a prime time matchup. Bring it on!

Lineups:

Red Sox

Ellsbury CF
Pedroia 2B
Ortiz DH
Lowell 3B
Drew RF
Varitek C
Hinske 1B
Crisp CF
Lugo SS
Schilling SP

Yankees

Damon LF
Jeter SS
Abreu RF
A-Rod 3B
Posada DH
Cano 2B
Cabrera CF
Mientkiewicz 1B
Molina C

Clemens SP

later,

Ian.

Going for the jugular

By the way, no Manny tonight, and possibly not at all this weekend,though he is making good progress. matter of fact, he put one off the
Coke Bottles in batting practice.

Coco was scratched at the last minute with a sore left hip. Ellsbury will play center.

Now to the series itself:

Back on May 29, when the Red Sox led the Yankees by 14 1/2 games in the American League East, who could possibly have thought this final meeting between the teams would have some meaning?

In actuality, it’s a pleasant surprise because of the way that it’s happened. The Red Sox have played well. The Yankees have been nearly unstoppable. Boston still holds a 5 1/2 game lead in the division, but the teams are still just close enough to keep the intensity burning.

Honestly, everything is more fun when the Yankees and Red Sox are chasing for the same thing. I would guess that in about three weeks, both teams are going to be eyeing a ticket to the American League Championship Series, where they could meet each other for the third time in five years. That would have all the makings of another epic showdown — right up there with ’03 and ’04.

The immediate task for the Red Sox this weekend is to make some type of stand against the Yankees to prove to themselves that they can beat this team in a big game. Last year, the Yankees won every big game between the two. And ever since the Red Sox cleaned up on the Yankees earlier this year, taking five of the first six, New York has owned Boston.

The Red Sox would like to shake that feeling before the postseason. Some real fun pitching matchups in store for the weekend.

Friday: Dice-K vs. Pettite; Dice-K was horrible in his last start but does that instantly make everyong forget how good he was at times earlier this season? This is a cross roads type of start for Matsuzaka’s rookie year. As for Pettitte, he always seems to keep the Yankees close in big games o I wouldn’t expect tonight to be any different.

Saturday: Beckett vs. Wang: Nothing short of the battle for American League Cy Young Award right in everyone’s face. Right now, the edge goes to Beckett. But if the Yankees belt Beckett around like they did last time and Wang hurls another gem, the momentum could shift.

Sunday: Schilling vs. Clemens: Enuf said. A borderline future Hall of Famer against a no questions asked, 100 percent guaranteed Hall of Famer. I know that Schilling doesn’t throw in the mid 90s anymore. But in a big game, you still have to like it when this guy takes the ball. Overall, Schilling has been a better big game pitcher in my opinion than Clemens. Let’s see what happens on Sunday.

My prediction: Red Sox take 2 out of 3, increase the lead to 6 1/2 and basically wrap up the division. The only way the Yankees have a real chance at winning the division is if they sweep.

Tonight’s lineup:

Lugo SS
Pedroia 2B
Oritz DH
Lowell 3B
Youkilis 1B
Drew RF
Varitek C
Kielty LF
Ellsbury CF

Matsuzaka SP

Later,

Ian.

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