80-52: Game 1 to the Yankees

This is a big series, not so much because of the standings, but because it is a real test for the Sox. As a pitching-first team, this is the type of team they have to be able to shut down in a series. And they have to be able to get to the Yankees’ bullpen early and often.

Johnny Damon played the hero, homering with a man on in the seventh to make it 5-3. After the game, he made a half-joking statement: “It’s taken [the Red Sox] a number of players to replace me. I’m Johnny f’n Damon.” Come on, Johnny. That home run (to the very shortest part of Yankee Stadium) wasn’t long enough for you to talk like that.

I’m a little surprised that Francona stuck with Daisuke Matsuzaka (13-11) in the seventh. Dice-K was right up at 100 pitches, and wasn’t showing his usual form, only striking out two men. His numbers are okay, but not great this late in games; he is more homer-prone (opponents slug about 100 points better against Dice-K after 75 pitches, about the third time through the order). I wouldn’t send him up against the top of this lineup again in that situation, with the game tied 3-3. I know you want to give him a chance for the win, but I’d rather just win. It was Phillips, Cabrera and Damon due up. With the off day the night before, the bullpen was rested and ready; give the ball to Delcarmen or even Snyder for an inning. Oh well.

Joba Chamberlain was all amped up, and pretty impressive, I must say. He was throwing 96-98 mph cheese along with a high-80s changeup and that nasty, nasty mid-80s slider. True to some scouting reports I’ve read, he seems to have some trouble throwing that slider for strikes, more against righties; he lives off of getting people swinging over it as it lands in the dirt. Mike Lowell was able to pull one for a short single into center, but there wasn’t much else going on there. I think the best approach with Chamberlain is to wait it out and sit on the straight fastball, force him to throw that breaking ball for a strike. Chamberlain was very good, but who else does Torre have out there in that bullpen that scares you? No one, not even Mariano Rivera. Torre’s already said he won’t pitch Chamberlain again today, no matter what.

I’m not worried about this series, as I said. As long as we avoid being swept, I’ll be happy. And if I were a bettin’ man, I’d take the Sox tonight, hands down. The most worrisome thing about this first game was not Dice-K’s performance, which was not as bad as you might think, but that both Manny Ramirez and Bobby Kielty left with back pain. Those are our only two right-handed hitting outfielders. We have outfielders we can call up, but none of them bat righty. So we need at least one of these to be very minor, preferably two. Please.

With Mike Mussina floundering, the Yanks are calling up prospect Ian Kennedy, who has had amazing numbers at three levels of the minors this year. He will not start against us, but pitch in their next series, against Tampa. I wouldn’t worry so much about him. Kennedy’s numbers belie his stuff, which is not ace material. He’s projected by most to be a #4 or #5 starter eventually. And that’s eventually, not now.


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