9-29-2011: Papelbon’s conditioning and his bounceback year

One positive thing I noticed last night with Jonathan Papelbon; the guy’s lost a LOT of weight compared to last season. I think Paps was really serious about reestablishing himself as a top closer this season (and top free agent), and with the exception of last night, he did quite well. Other pitchers may have struck out more batters, but Paps’ 87 Ks versus 10 strikeouts was good for an 8.70 K/BB ratio, best among full-time closers and third to only Koji Uehara and Rafael Betancourt this season. Not only did he drop his ERA a full run from last year, he posted the best FIP (1.53) and xFIP (2.16) of his career. Papelbon’s fastball really regained its effectiveness, and his splitter became that much better as a result.

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9-6: Sox victimize Indians bullpen again, 5-3

For the second straight game, Boston staged a 9th inning victory against the Cleveland bullpen en route to a 5-3 victory at Jacobs Field. In a matchup of veteran pitchers, Tim Wakefield and Paul Byrd both turned in very strong six-inning outings, but both ended up with no-decisions, as the bullpens decided this one.

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8-6: Sox stage come back on Tribe, 6-4

The Boston Red Sox survived a short outing by Jon Lester and scrapped their way to a 4-4 tie in the top of the 9th. Manny Ramirez played the hero again, pounding a Joe Borowski pitch for his 493rd career home run and a 6-4 advantage, which became the margin of victory. Jonathan Papelbon pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 9th for his 4th save of the young season.

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ALCS Game 7: Another late blowout, Sox going to the big show

Papelbon's Riverdance, part 2Let the good times roll. Our Boston Red Sox advanced to the World Series last night with an 11-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians. It looks like an easy victory from the final, but it was a LOT closer than that, and Sox fans did get to sweat it out in the middle innings before the lineup finally put it away in the 8th.

It all started out with bad flashes of games 2, 3 and 4. The lineup was putting a lot of people on, but the Sox were not cashing in on their opportunities. Bottom of the 1st, Manny Ramirez hits a grounder that hits the lip of the infield and goes over Jhonny Peralta‘s head, scoring Dustin Pedroia from second. Mike Lowell singles, and J.D. Drew comes up with one out and the bases loaded. Anticipation grips Fenway for the man who hit the early grand slam the night before. Is he finally over the hump? Is he locked in? The result? Double play.

In the 2nd, a Jason Varitek double and a Jacoby Ellsbury single put men on the corners. Julio Lugo hits into a double play, which scores Tek, but crushes any rally we could have mustered. 2-0.

Bottom of the 4th, Varitek singles, Ellsbury hits into a fielder’s choice, Lugo singles, and Pedroia hits into yet another double play. The score should have been 6-0 by now; instead, it’s 3-0. Look, I know Jake Westbrook is a groundball pitcher, but this is a little ridiculous. In all, the Red Sox hit into 14 double plays in this series, a new LCS record. By four. And look who’s still standing.

Meanwhile, Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched very well to start. After retiring the first eight hitters, he allowed a single to Casey Blake, then threw a pitch in the dirt to allow him to move up to second base. I swear, that if that guy weren’t in baseball, he’d be a lumberjack or something. He just looks it. Anyway, with Grady Sizemore at the plate, I start to worry a little, but Dice-K rings him up to end the inning. Top of the 4th, it starts up again. Travis Hafner bangs a long one off the Monster for a double, then Ryan Garko doubles with two out to score him. Matsuzaka overthrows a couple of pitches, getting out of his delivery. I worry more, but Peralta grounds out to end it. Top of the 5th, Kenny Lofton bangs yet another one off of the Monster, then gets thrown out at second (called incorrectly, BTW). Two more singles ensue, and I am checking the Sox bullpen. Finally, Hideki Okajima gets up, but is not needed, as Sizemore produces a sac fly and Asdrubal Cabrera whiffs on a nasty letter-high changeup. Matsuzaka’s final line? 88 pitches, 5 IP, 6 hits, 2 runs, no walks and 3 Ks. He can do better, but this was good enough tonight.

Westbrook gets himself into a groove and makes it through six innings. The Sox manage absolutely zero at the plate in the 5th and 6th, striking out 4 times in the process. Blech. I am just perplexed by these offensive outages the Sox go through, but I guess as long as they don’t last too long…

Top of the 7th, Okajima is cruising, things seem in control, and then.. Lugo makes one of the most disgusting defensive gaffes I’ve ever seen. On a pop fly to left, he ranges way out of the infield, waves off Manny, then promptly drops the ball. I understand there is some apprehension about Ramirez as a fielder, but I think he can catch a fly ball. Every little leaguer is taught that you let the guy coming forward have it if you have to backpedal. With a one-run lead, I’m thinking, oh no; this could be the game. And surely enough, Franklin Gutierrez smacks a grounder right over the third base bag that goes into foul territory and bounces back into shallow left. The speedy Lofton should score easily from second, except that he doesn’t. The Indians third base coach, Joel Skinner, holds him up, and Okajima gets a double play out of Blake to end the frame. Huge mistake by the Indians to cancel out Lugo’s huge mistake. Still 3-2, and I think that play really weighed on the Cleveland players for the rest of the game.

The Indians bring on Rafael Betancourt, and I am salivating. I have been wanting the Sox to get one more shot at him. My prediction of him being the losing pitcher didn’t come true (I missed it by one run), but he did get lit up pretty good. My guess is that he had to be overused this series (this was his 5th appearance against us), and our guys got to know his stuff a little bit. That home run by Pedroia was the backbreaker, and I named him my player of the game.

Still a little drama left. Okajima gives up a bunt hit to Sizemore to lead it off, and there’s almost a three-way collision at first with him and Pedroia both trying to cover the base. Then Cabrera singles, and it’s getting mildly stressful. Bring on Jonathan Papelbon, who simply annihilates Hafner with a 98 mph fastball, then gets a grounder from Victor Martinez and a long, long, long fly out from Garko. That one hit in almost any other direction makes it a game again.

Bottom of the 8th, the late-night fireworks we’ve come to expect recently. It is just a dogpile, with a Drew RBI single up the middle, a bases loaded, two-out double by Pedey, and the rude greeting to rookie Jensen Lewis by Kevin Youkilis off the Coke bottles way, way up there. Varitek has a popfly fall between Peralta and Lofton, and that bounces out for a ground rule double. Ugly.

The top of the 9th is anti-climactic, except for the final drive by Blake into the triangle, which ends with Coco Crisp crashing into the wall and making the catch. Coco limped off the field afterwards, but today’s reports say that he’s okay. Congrats to Paps on both his first postseason and first two-inning save.

There’s a nice article about how many Boston fans very sportingly clapped for the Indians as they left Fenway at about 1AM last night.

And that’s the story of how the Sox overcame a 3-1 deficit and are now World Series-bound. Despite what a certain player said earlier, the Sox are the better team. So there. See you again Wednesday.

BTW, Josh Beckett was awarded the ALCS MVP. No argument here.

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ALCS Game 5: Beckett wills the Series back to Boston

Once again, C.C. Sabathia was off his game, giving up 10 hits over his six innings of work. But the Red Sox didn’t make him pay for the 14 baserunners he allowed. In fact, he left the game with the score still just 3-1. He allowed baserunners in every inning except the sixth, and hit two batters. The Indians induced two double plays and had lots of lucky breaks; the Manny Ramirez almost-a-home-run single, the Mike Lowell almost-a-double down the third base line. Both of those balls missed by mere inches. Even if Cleveland were to make it past Boston, they’re in serious trouble if their ace is pitching like this.

That Manny ball that hit off the top of the wall is just bad luck, but Manny not getting at least a triple out of that is just bad baseball. After his comments the day before, and getting thrown out at home in the first, it just makes him look like a fool. I just hope that the Series doesn’t come down to a foolish play.

Josh BeckettThe Red Sox were playing sloppy, uninspired ball while Josh Beckett was ringing up Indians all night long. Beckett is making the leap from merely excellent to legendary. His eight innings last night were astonishing, even better than his first start against the Angels. On the road, down 3 games to 1, everything on the line, and Beckett delivers. What a stud. Even the Indians’ one run came on a bloop double by Grady Sizemore, a single, and a double play ball by Travis Hafner. The Indians tried everything, even bringing in an ex-girlfriend of Beckett’s to sing the at the stretch, but it didn’t matter. With the start, Beckett now boasts a 1.17 ERA this postseason in three starts. He’s allowed just 13 hits and fanned 26 in 23 innings of work, and walked 1. Yes, that’s right- ONE guy. Add in his postseason from 2003, and you’re looking at probably the best postseason pitcher EVER (so far).

So that’s the story; Beckett just put the Red Sox on his back and carried them back to Boston for game 6. Never mind the score. All that came after, and is why I think we can still take this Series. Let me explain:

In the top of the 8th, everything started to fall apart for the Cleveland Indians. Rafael Perez came out of the bullpen and walked J.D. Drew after getting ahead 0-2. After a Jason Varitek flyball, Coco Crisp grounded to Perez, who bounced a throw to second, making both runners safe. This is where an inexperienced team like the Indians implodes. Pesky Julio Lugo drag bunts for a base hit, and we have ’em loaded. Eric Wedge calls in Tom Mastny, but it’s too late. A passed ball by Victor Martinez allows one run to score, and Dustin Pedroia walks to load the bases again. Not to be outdone, Kevin Youkilis walks too, forcing home a run. And now you got David Ortiz at the plate, bases loaded, one out, and Manny on deck. Heart attack for Mastny. He manages to get out the inning with just one more run, but I think this kind of inning is psychologically damaging in your last home game, going to Fenway, where the fans rock the rafters.

If we can win the next one, Jake Westbrook hasn’t got a prayer. I’m calling it right now, game 7, Rafael Betancourt is gonna be the losing pitcher. Write it down. I think the Indians are ready to fall, they just need a little push. And we’re looking to Curt Schilling to give it to them.

NEWS FLASH: Jerry Remy said on the radio this morning that nothing’s confirmed yet, but don’t be surprised if you see Jacoby Ellsbury in centerfield tomorrow night! Maybe he proved last night to Tito that he won’t freak out if he actually got some playing time.

ALCS Game 4: 7-run inning dooms Sox

I was SO frustrated last night. The Red Sox could not get anything off Cleveland starter Paul Byrd, despite his eminent hittability. The first four innings consisted of our hitters taking strike 1 (why on earth would you take an 85 mph fastball right over the plate, when you know he’s gonna throw it???), mishitting for a fly ball, grounding into a double play, or else lining it right at somebody. This seems sickeningly familiar, when the Red Sox went through their summer offensive struggles. All of a sudden, everyone’s pressing; we’re behind, we have to do something! Guys! Just relax and play your game; you are the better team, you have to believe that!

I have to give Cleveland’s defense some serious credit, they have positioned themselves beautifully and made some tough plays, last night and in this Series. Asdrubal Cabrera and Franklin Gutierrez are solid defensively and cover a lot of ground out there.

I have to take issue with Terry Francona once again about his hook. Tim Wakefield was out there pitching very well, but they guy had 18 days off or something like that, plus his shoulder’s still not 100%. You don’t expect him to give you long innings, so you should be prepared to yank him at the first sign of trouble. You could see it in that he was throwing everything about 5-10 mph slower than he usually does; his knuckler was hovering in the mid-60s all night. And in the 5th, when you see him hit a batter and his knuckleball start to get up in an even above the zone, you have to pull him. I don’t care how well he’d been doing before that. That play on Cabrera’s grounder just killed us. Wakefield knocked it down with his glove, and that made it an infield single instead of an inning-ending double play. I don’t care how much of a veteran you are, you have to be kicking yourself after that one, because it could have been 1-0. Then Wake got away with a really high knuckler to Travis Hafner, but that could have been hit a country mile. You don’t leave him in there for face Victor Martinez! Francona should have pulled him sometime in there, not after the fact.

I liked the idea of bringing Manny Delcarmen in after Wakefield. After looking at 65 mph knuckeballs all night, it must have looked like Delcarmen was dealing at 110 mph to the Cleveland hitters. But he was struggling with his control again, and I think you have to lift him after Jhonny Peralta‘s home run and Kenny Lofton‘s single. To not do so cost us another run. MDC was struggling with overthrowing again, and his control and mechanics got all screwed up.

Why has our vaunted bullpen been so bad? Look no further than the last three starts. 4 2/3 innings each. When your starters can’t give you even 5 innings, any bullpen is going to be in trouble. It’s just frustrating, because I know we’re a better team than these guys.

The record back-to-back-to-back home runs by Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez really didn’t matter that much to me. I’m sure they came out, fire in their nostrils, wanting to make a statement. I just felt like it was a waste, behind 7-0, to hit 3 solo home runs. Manny, you’re such a dork for celebrating a meaningless home run in a playoff game, especially when we’re falling behind 3 games to 1. Grow up.

Jon Lester came in and gave 3 innings of scoreless relief, but with the Sox deflated from that monster inning, I don’t think it mattered. And it doesn’t mean the Sox will start him in game 7.

I don’t think starting Josh Beckett on short rest necessarily would have helped things. The way our offense was tonight, even he might have had a hard time winning. What if we lost, and then you’ve got Wakefield vs. C.C. Sabathia for game 5? As it is, we need to do a lot to win, but our pitchers are rested and we have a good shot in each game. I do like us for Thursday’s game, however. Jerry Remy said this morning that he was worried about Sabathia putting together a great outing, but I think that throwing 250 1/3 innings this year already has taxed him, and he may be losing it. Come on, guys, it’s bleak, but we can still win this thing. I believe we are the better team, and we can expose this Cleveland bullpen for the frauds they are (except for Rafael Betancourt, I’ve given up on the Sox ever hitting him).

As for the whole outfield controversy: I think starting Jacoby Ellsbury in right for this game would have been okay. I know Drew is the proven guy, but sometimes you gotta take a risk, especially when things are not going well. That said, I don’t think J.D. Drew is the primary reason we are losing.

ALCS Game 2: Starters lifted early, Gagne and Lopez blow it

On this cold night in New England, neither Fausto Carmona nor Curt Schilling could make it past five innings. Despite featuring his heavy sinker inside to righties and low and away to lefties, Carmona couldn’t get hitters to bite often enough. Schilling was mistake prone and had several mistakes up in the zone, which led to two home runs by Jhonny Peralta and Grady Sizemore. The weather made it really hard for pitchers to get a good feel or get in a groove, and as it got colder, I think it probably bothered the bats as well.

Anyone else think Carmona’s ears are too small and elvish for his head? He must be half Vulcan.

Manager Eric Wedge made an interesting decision in the 5th, wouldn’t you say? He brought in his prize lefty, Rafael Perez to face David Ortiz, then he leaves him in there to face a red-hot Manny Ramirez, who happens to be one of the top hitters in the game against lefties. Okay, maybe that’s defensible, but why leave him in against Mike Lowell? And you definitely have to pull him in the post-season after giving up two back-to-back home runs, lefty or no lefty. That should have cost them the game right there, but the drama wasn’t over. The inning ended with a double play, but was there anyone else out there that thought Drew’s takeout slide into second was really weak? He was practically there before he started sliding.

In the 6th, Manny Delcarmen came out throwing 97 mph heat, but he couldn’t get his curve over for strikes, and the Indians started sitting on the heater. That allowed them to tie the game. Jensen Lewis managed to go 2 1/3, and Rafael Betancourt came out and kept the Sox at bay for 2 1/3.

Lowell had a long at-bat in the 8th, and even though he ended up striking out, he did exactly what the Red Sox preach to their hitters. I don’t know who said it, but the commentators said something like, “he shown no sign that he can get around on that fastball”. This is technique, not lack of ability. Anyone who’s watched Lowell all year knows that 95 mph is not too fast for him. He was sitting on Betancourt’s fastball, waiting for a mistake. Give credit to Betancourt though, he ended up getting Lowell on a very good breaking ball that dropped in.

Kevin Youkilis had a great at bat in the 9th, battling Betancourt with foul after foul. He finally got one to hit and pulled it into the left-center alley, but Sizemore managed to put it away to bring on the 10th. This left the Indians with little choice: we’re pitching Jonathan Papelbon in the 10th, while they’re trotting out Tom Mastny. That should have been the game. Should have.

Eric Gagne comes out for the 11th, and after striking out Casey Blake (their #9 hitter), he allows a hit and a walk. Javier Lopez comes out and gives up an RBI hit to Trot Nixon. Gagne is the goat again, and Lopez is just not effective. He can’t get lefties out, so why is he on the roster? Julian Tavarez would be a better choice. Lester’s outing was disappointing and embarrassing too, but I think it was pretty much over by then anyway.

I continue to be annoyed by announcers who don’t know what they’re talking about. Tim McCarver, that means you. In the 2nd inning, these guys were saying what a great at-bat J.D. Drew had because he went the other way on Carmona’s outside sinker. Uh, pounding it into the ground doesn’t really count as “going the other way”. There was nothing good about that at-bat, and he took a perfectly good 1-2 pitch before swinging. In the 4th inning, they were talking about “the silence at Fenway”. WTF? That could have been because nothing was going on at the time. I don’t think Carmona or the Indians did anything to take the crowd out of this game. Then in the 5th, they say how “someone” was playing the triangle in the Red Sox bullpen. That guy’s name is Jon Lester. Here’s a neat idea – why don’t you try familiarizing yourself with the teams you’re covering before you enter the broadcast booth? Sheesh. And they kept going on and on about Mastny’s “performance”. He did a good job, but it wasn’t that great.

This was a disappointing game to lose; I think we could have pulled it out, but that’s the playoffs, right? Anyway, I am still not worried about this series yet. We get Westbrook and Byrd next.