September 2007

Rude A-Wake-Ning turns into happy ending

So much for Wakefield’s second shaky outing being the big story of the night. The Red Sox come all the way back and turn a possible blowout loss into a blowout win. TGFTDR — Thank God for the Devil Rays.

Ah well, you take what you can get at this stage. Magic number is down to 13. The magical story of Ellsbury continues as he hammers one out of the yard, giving him three homers in the Majors and two in the Minors this season.

And J.D. Drew hits his first Fenway homer since April 22. By the way, Drew now has eight homers on the year and WMP has seven since the trade. But J.D. is taking some great swings now. Maybe he’s at last ready to get it going.

You know  Wakefield is going bad when even the Devil Rays take aim at him. For Wakefield’s entire career, the one constant is that he always beats the Devil Rays. Not this time. For the second start in a row, Wakefield was belted around the park.

He’s so hard to figure out. Before going down with the back injury, Wakefield was as hot as he had been at any time in recent memory. Three starts in a row, no runs allowed. Now he comes back and gets knocked out prior to the fourth inning in two starts in a row.

It is important to try to get Wakefield locked back in before the postseason. He’s the type of guy you need during the exhausting month of October.

later,

Ian.

Dry sky

I must say, when I left my house at 2:30 p.m. today, there was no way I thought there would be a ballgame tonight. It was positively pouring. But how New England weather can change. Now it is pretty dry and brightening and, by all accounts, there will be baseball tonight.

Manny is making small progress, but these oblique injuries are always tough. The Yankees series this weekend for No. 24? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Kazmir really pitched right through that lineup last night. I guess when you consider there was no Manny and no Ortiz, not a huge surprise.

Wakefield and the Devil Rays. That’s a matchup the Red Sox will take every time. He’s 19-2 against them. The one thing that has clearly helped the record is the domed games at the Trop. But it’s hard to account for all the home success. The Devil Rays have undergone a lot of changes over the years, but Wake just lights up whenever he sees those Tampa uniforms.

Tonight’s lineup:
Ellsbury LF
Pedroia 2B
Ortiz DH
Lowell 3B
Drew RF
Youkilis 1B
Crisp CF
Lugo SS
Cash C

Wake SP

3 more weeks

The third to last week of the season starts tonight at Fenway with the first of three against the Rays and there’s a good matchup on tap. Schilling vs. Kazmir. The magic number is 14. But beyond the numbers, there are some issues that bear watching down the stretch:

Will Dice-K get his groove back? For whatever reason, he has gotten way too fastball-happy of late. What happened to that nasty changeup we saw earlier in the season?

Has Papelbon ever been better? I don’t think so. I know he had a season for the ages last year. But it seems like it’s a challenge for a hitter to even make contact against him right now.

Beckett can taste the Cy Young Award: I know, he won’t talk about it. But he has three starts to go and right now is a slight favorite over other worthy candidates like Sabathia and Wang.

What is right about right? We’ve gone over this one over and over. What to do in right field when Manny comes back? I think J.D. Drew will be given as long a leash as possible. But ultimately, Ellsbury will be the guy out there if Drew is a liability with his bat.

Buchholz and the innings. We’re at 143 1/3 and counting. About 17 left to go. Will they take the reins off a little and let him be a factor throughout the playoffs? This is perhaps the most interesting story left in the season.

See you at Fenway a bit later.

Ian.

Pregame prank

I have to say, this was one of the slower pre-games of the year. No news, other than Gagne, who is all but set to return to the bullpen on Monday.

The most amusing moment was a pre-game prank. During the earlier hours of the day, a certain former Red Sox player who now plays for the Orioles must have dispatched a clubhouse kid to do some dirty work for him.

Dustin Pedroia wears number 15 for the Red Sox. Kevin Millar wore number 15 for the Red Sox from 2003-2005. So pasted to the top of Pedroia’s locker was a big sticker with red lettering that said "Millar" and also a large color action shot of Millar in full Red Sox uniform. Millar officially signed the picture "The Original One Five".

The ever-feisty Pedroia laughed about it for a few minutes. But a little bit later, he crumpled the sticker and the picture and put them on the ground. Funny stuff.

Never a dull moment with MIllar, is there? How much do we think he slipped the clubhouse kid to go do that deed? $40 or $50?

Anyway, it’s stifling hot and humid in Baltimore.

Ortiz just absolutely launched one to dead center. 2-0 Red Sox in the first. 28 homers and 98 RBIs for Papi and counting. Pencil him in for 35 and about 110.

And I’m taking predictions on Pats-Jets tomorrow.

Ian.

Prospects for the finish

Can Clay Buchholz pitch out of the bullpen on a short-term basis? Let’s see, bases loaded, nobody out, tie game, sixth inning, nerves running through him. He gets out of it with no runs. I think the kid can handle it.

This is one of the more interesting stretch runs in recent Red Sox memory because of the youth factor. What role will Buchholz play in the postseason? I think for exactly what he did last night. Come in during a tie or tight game and fire two or three innings. Of course, there is the innings dilemma. He’s now at about 143, which gives him 12 to 15 left during the season. Can that be extended a little during the postseason? That is the big question.

Then there is the case of Ellsbury. Manny will probably be back in the lineup in a week or so. Who sits? Ellsbury or Drew? There’s going to be a large public outcry for Ellsbury to get the bulk of the at-bats, we all know that. But that could have ramifications beyond this season. Burying Drew in year one of a five-year contract? Not sure where the Red Sox would be able to go from there. Also, Ellsbury barely has any experience in right field, not that he couldn’t make that adjustment. As I was typing all this, Drew belted a double to left.

Maybe by the time Manny comes back, Drew will be hot again and Ellsbury will have cooled off. These are tough choices for a manager to make. Then again, they are good types of decisions.

It’s interesting that Brandon Moss is going to play first base in the Dominican this winter. Manny, Coco, Drew and Ellsbury fill out the outfield. By going to first, perhaps Moss creates a way to make the team next year. Could he be next year’s Eric Hinske with more at-bats? I suppose a lot of that depends on what happens with Lowell this winter. Would the Red Sox consider going with Moss at first and Youkilis at third?

I’m just throwing it all out there. That’s all.

More later,

Ian.

Buchholz to the bullpen

From a no-hitter to the bullpen? That is the situation that has unfolded for Clay Buchholz. He will be used out of the bullpen in a structured role. It is all in line with the organization keeping a ceiling on his innings for the season. Don’t rule out Buchholz getting another start this season, particularly when and if the Red Sox clinch the division.

It seems clear the the organizational threshold for Buchholz this season is somewhere around 160 innings. He’s at 140 1/3 right now.

Papelbon in 2005 was on the exact same program. He wound up with 152 2/3 including playoffs. Obviously the Red Sox had left a little wiggle room for the ALCS and World Series that never came, which probably would have put Paps up around 160.

This seems like a good plan for Buchholz going forward. This will give them the perfect testing ground to see how he can do in this role and see if it really is a viable option for October.

This scenario is one in which many of us have sort of been expecting all along, and now it seems to be coming to fruition. We just didn’t expect the no-hitter right before!

At any rate, Buchholz’s adaptation to the bullpen figures to be about the most interesting story to follow between now and the end of the regular season.

For those who like to keep track of such things: Jacoby Ellsbury has two homers at Fenway in the last three days. J.D. Drew has two homers at Fenway all year, and none since April.

Another update: Ellsbury just tripled in the sixth inning and now needs a double for the cycle. The last Red Sox player to hit for the cycle was one John Valentin on June 6, 1996.

More later,

Ian.

A no-no for the ages

First things first. I missed the no-hitter. That said, I watched every single pitch of that game on television while in Rhode Island at the home of my in-laws. I sat back in a comfortable chair and didn’t get up. I was mystified by what I was watching.

Typically, when I’m off duty, I do not watch every pitch of a game. I might check in on some of the game, but I go back and forth doing other stuff. This time I was gripped by Buchholz. I knew he was pitching and that’s why I wanted to watch the game in the first place.

What jumped out was his offspeed stuff. His curve and his changeup both looked unhittable. He has that certain something. This is the way I remember feeling when Roger Clemens first came up in 1984 and when Jonathan Papelbon — then known as Jon Papelbon — made his MLB debut on the Manny didn’t get traded day of July 31, 2005 against the Twins. It’s exciting when you feel like another star is coming along.

At first, I was pretty bummed out not to actually be covering the game. But that passed pretty quickly as I relished taking in the moment as a pure spectator. It was much the same feeling as I had while watching the Patriots win the Super Bowl against the Rams in 2002. It was the same type of utter disbelief in seeing such a great sporting event. I think this is why we all love sports in the first place, for the chance you might one night flip on the TV and see a night like this.

When I lived in New York and frequently covered the Yankees and Mets — among other pro teams — for a different publication, I missed two perfect games. On May 17, 1998, I was covering the NBA draft lottery in Secaucus while David Wells got 27 up and 27 down against the Twins. And when David Cone pulled off the same miraculous feat on July 18, 1999 against the Expos, I was on my parents’ boat in Hull. Oh well.

I finally saw my first — and still only — no-no on April 27, 2002. Derek Lowe put on quite a show that day. But even I admit that this one had more drama and was a better storyline though D. Lowe was also a great story at the time coming off his disastrous year as a closer and turning in a Cy Young Award caliber season.

So what happens to Buchholz for the rest of the season? Look for the Red Sox to be extremely coy on that subject. However, he will play a role in some form or fashion, though he won’t be overtaxed. I don’t think the club wants him to pitch more than 160 innings total this season. He’s at about 140 right now.

Stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy your Labor Day and soak in what was a truly great Saturday night at Fenway.

Ian.

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