April 2011

Odds and Ends from Fenway, April 29

  • Matt Albers, who relieved an injured Daisuke Matsuzaka in the fifth, said after Boston’s 5-4 loss to the Mariners that he had as much time as he needed to warm up. Albers was just on the DL because of a strained right lat, but said he wasn’t worried about a flare-up. That injury was minor to begin with. Albers threw two scoreless innings and allowed one hit, striking out and walking one.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury has a season-high eight-game hit streak after going 1-for-4 on Friday night. The last time he had a hit streak that length was July 31 to Aug. 8, 2009.  “Last week or so though, he’s using the whole field, he’s getting on top of the ball when he hits the ball to left field, and he’s hitting a lot of line drives,” manager Terry Francona said before the game.
  • Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz both have a hit streak at six games. Gonzalez has multiple hits in four of those games. He went 2-for-4 Friday and is 12-for-27 during the streak (.444). Gonzalez scored the 500th run of his career in the third inning Friday.
  • The Red Sox were 2-for-4 with runners in scoring position Friday. Boston entered the day hitting .217 with runners on second and/or third, fourth-worst in the Majors and second-worst in the American League (behind Oakland). “We’ve not been real good at it so far,” Francona said before the game. “That’s something we drastically want to improve on.”
  • Bobby Jenks was a stand-up guy when answering questions after he took the loss Friday, waiting by his locker for reporters to return from the media room. In a note possibly related to his performance, and possibly related to nothing, Jenks also appeared to have shaved after the game.
  • Comedic line of the night went to Jason Varitek. Asked what Daisuke Matsuzaka said when he went out to the mound to check on the right-hander in the fifth, the captain responded: “Well, he said it in Japanese, so I don’t really know.”
  • On a 70-degree day in Boston, Mike Cameron jokingly wore a Red Sox ski hat in the clubhouse before batting practice. He went on to hit two home runs.
– Evan Drellich

Memories abound as another homestand starts

There are certain dates that stick out in Red Sox history. April 29, 1986 falls into that category.

That was 25 years ago tonight, against the same opponent that is at Fenway tonight. That was the night Roger Clemens became the Rocket. It was the night a Red Sox team that was projected to be mediocre began to take on the feel of something special.

The 20-strikeout performance was one of the most breathtaking performances in history. I remember watching it on TV. I was 14 at the time and completely mesmerized by what I was watching. The Red Sox had never had a pitcher like this in my lifetime, or maybe anyone’s life time.

Not only was Clemens striking the Mariners out, he was simply blowing the ball by all of them. They weren’t even coming close.

The Celtics were playing the Hawks at the Garden that night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semis, so there was just a modest crowd of 13,444 that filed into Fenway.

But by the late innings, the place began to sound electric, even from TV.

Do you remember the Red Sox actually trailed that game 1-0 going into the bottom of the seventh? Mike Moore was nasty that night for Seattle. But Dwight Evans took care of him with a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh, and the night’s focus turned to the history that was unfolding.

Do you remember Don Baylor dropping the foul popup at first base? If he hadn’t dropped it, Clemens only strikes out 19.

Do you remember how young and thin Clemens was back then? It seemed like he would accomplish just about anything he wanted to in his career. Of course, there have been several twists and turns since then, but that’s not worth going into now.

That was a night that will live on, no matter what happened after. On the night of April 29, 1986, the two athletes that owned Boston were Larry Bird and Clemens. More people went to the Garden to watch Larry that night, but on that occasion, the big story unfolded at Fenway.

Here is the strikeout breakdown:

Phil Bradley whiffed four times; Ken Phelps, Ivan Calderon and Dave Henderson (remember him?) all K’d three times. Spike Owen and Jim Presley both struck out twice.  Gorman Thomas, Danny Tartabull and Steve Yeager each went down once.

Tito in a catch-22

It was the third game of the season, a day game after a night game, and manager Terry Francona was asked if he had thought about giving Jason Varitek his first start of the season.

Francona’s answer that day was, “We’re trying to get Salty going a little bit here.”

More than three weeks later, Saltalamacchia hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm and now Varitek is starting between two to three of every five games.

Sure, the Red Sox want Jarrod Saltalamacchia to gain some confidence.  But thanks to a 2-10 start, they spend tonight at last in the position to get back to .500.

So Francona finds himself balancing the short term vs. the long term. Right now, Varitek seems to be a better short term answer. Coincidence or not, the club is 6-2 when he catches and 4-9 with Saltalamacchia.

Will Saltalamacchia be able to get his confidence back enough so that he can play more regularly?

The story is still evolving, and one of the more interesting ones to watch. Varitek also hasn’t been able to get anything going offensively, but there’s no doubt that he has done a strong job handling the pitching staff.

First of four in Anaheim

Tonight, the Red Sox open a four-game series in Anahiem, where J.D. Drew will lead off, Jason Varitek will catch and the scorching-hot Jed Lowrie will be in the lineup for the sixth straight day.

Varitek and Saltalamacchia will share the catching position this weekend — each guy starting twice.

Prospect Ryan Kalish injured his shoulder today for Pawtucket. At this point, it doesn’t appear to be serious.

Matt Albers is back in the bullpen, activated after a minor lat injury. Alfredo Aceves went back to Pawtucket, where he will be stretched out as a starter.

Varitek wowed by Beckett

Jason Varitek isn’t prone to hyberbole. If anything, he is usually pretty guarded with praise, just like he is with criticism. So it means something when he is as impressed as he was with Josh Beckett’s performance on Sunday night against the Yankees.

Where did the performance rate in terms of pure stuff?

“Best I’ve seen him. As far as complete, absolutely,” said Varitek.

Beckett is at his best when his power can be off-set with his non-power stuff. He had all that stuff going against the Yankees.

“Very good,” Varitek said. “He had a good feel for his curveball. I think the power on his four-seamer set all that up.”

Did Varitek see a game like this coming?

“Some outings, you saw the power out of him in spring,” Varitek said. “It was no secret he was making some adjustments, making some mechanical adjustments and doing things. It’s not always an adjustment you can snap your fingers and make overnight. It’s a very good lineup. They were one man down [Alex Rodriguez], but the guy who took his place is pretty good himself. It was a very big start for us.”

Of course, with Varitek behind the plate for Beckett’s masterpiece, there will probably be public obsession now with whether the captain should handle all of Beckett’s starts. But manager Terry Francona doesn’t seem inclined to go in that direction. Instead, he will work in whatever direction gives him the best matchups, and also provides the most rest for the starting catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Captain debuts for 0-4 Sox

Headed to the park with an 0-4 lineup, the Red Sox have made one change to the lineup tonight, giving captain Jason Varitek his first start of the season behind the plate.

It is adverse moments like these when the Red Sox probably benefit most from still having Varitek around. He has a way of holding the team together, particularly the pitching staff.

Red Sox starters are 0-for-4 in quality starts, and perhaps Varitek’s presence can help Daisuke Matsuzaka change that trend tonight.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is clearly struggling at the plate right now, and he’s probably feeling the burden of what is taking place from the mound, so his day off is well-timed by manager Terry Francona.

According to research done by ESPN, no team has ever won the World Series after going 0-4. I wouldn’t read much, or really anything, into that stat. For starters, there aren’t a ton of teams that get off to 0-4 starts, and even less with the caliber of players this roster has. How many World Series teams have had at least one four-game losing streak? I would venture to say, almost all of them.

Road trip shifts to Cleveland with new lineup

Here we are in Cleveland, where the Red Sox, after a month and a half in Fort Myers and then a weekend in Texas, are now faced with cold weather for the first time.

Josh Beckett is on the mound, taking the ball at this field for the first time since he saved a championship season for the Red Sox in Game 5 of the 2007 ALCS.

At gametime, it is expected to be 42 degrees, but weather.com says that it will “feel like 35″.

At any rate, manager Terry Francona has made another adjustment to the lineup.

Carl Crawford will bat second and Dustin Pedroia moves to the three-hole.

Here is the new entire alignment:

Ellsbury CF

Crawford LF

Pedroia 2B

Gonzalez 1B

Youkilis 3B

Ortiz DH

Drew RF

Saltalamacchia C

Scutaro SS

Beckett SP

Ortiz starting fast this year

His previous two seasons marred badly by anemic starts, David Ortiz has come out of the gate swinging this year.

He just clubbed home run No. 2 on the season, a shot to right against Rangers righty Colby Lewis.

Not many teams have a No. 6 hitter with the power potential of Big Papi. Last year, Ortiz didn’t go deep for the first time until April 23. It was far worse in 2009, as he didn’t hit his first homer until May 20 and his second until June 6.

Combined over the last two years, Ortiz hit .196 with one homer and 15 RBIs in April.

As a DH, Ortiz now has 1,003 RBIs, tying him with Edgar Martinez for first all-time among DH’s.

No April Fools Joke — Opening Day in Texas

The dawn of another baseball season for the Red Sox brings back memories, a lot of them, on Opening Days past.

I started watching the Red Sox in mid-April of 1980, so this is my 31st year keeping tabs on this team from start to finish of a season. Here are the Openers I remember off the top of my head. I’d be curious to hear all of you chime in on yours.

Opening Day, 1981: Carlton Fisk, playing his first game with the White Sox, stuns and angers everyone at Fenway by belting a game-winning three-run homer against Bob Stanley in the top of the eighth. This one was a crusher.

Opening Day, 1983: This was my first Opening Day as a fan. My mother let my sister and I skip school so we could go to the game. It was freezing. I remember Eckersley got shelled. It was Yaz’s last Opener so it was cool to be there. Blue Jays beat the Sox, 7-1.

Opening Day, 1985: A hyped Red Sox team — they had finished the ’84 season with a great second half — come sout of the gate with a 9-1 win over the Yankees at Fenway. Oil Can went the distance. Rice, Armas and Evans all went deep. They swept the Yankees, but it was not a good season.

Opening Day, 1986:  From the late, great voice of Ned Martin: “We are ready for the first pitch of the 1986 season and here it is, flyball, deep left-center, and … GONE !!!” Ned was stunned. Even he had never seen the first pitch of a seaosn hit out of the park. And the pitcher was Jack Morris. But Kirk Gibson dominated this game, belting two homers, including the game-winner against Sammy Stewart on an 0-2 pitch.

Opening Day, 1988: Lee Smith, the prized new acquisition, gives up a two-run homer to Alan Trammell in the 10th. The headline in the next day’s Herald? “Wait till next year”.

Opening Day, 1991: Jack Clark belts a grand slam at SkyDome. Unfortunately, the rest of his time with the Red sox didn’t go as well.

Opening Day, 2003: Tropicana Field. Bullpen by committee. Walkoff homer by Carl Crawford against Chad Fox. Ouch.

So those are the ones that stand out.

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