|Top 7: Ramon Ramirez unveiled||04.08.09 at 9:29 pm ET|
Ramon Ramirez got off to a terrible start this spring. The man whom the Sox acquired in exchange for Coco Crisp seemed out of sorts in his new environs.
But quietly, the reliever seemed to find some comfort, at least on the mound. By the end of the spring, he had a 4.38 ERA, giving up just one run in his final nine appearances, and punching out 12 batters in 12.1 innings.
Ramirez’ debut as a Red Sox just came and went in the blink of an eye. He showed a lively fastball with good late movement up in the zone, getting Carl Crawford on a swinging strikeout, and getting a pair of harmless fly-outs from Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria. His first appearance of 2009 is now in the books, and Takashi Saito is readying for his.
That’s six up and six down for Delcarmen Ramirez — a fairly impressive total considering that they may represent the fifth and sixth options in the ‘pen.
|Bottom 6: Jason Bay emotes||04.08.09 at 9:23 pm ET|
The Red Sox, helpless against Scott Kazmir for most of the night, seemed onto something. With one out, Kevin Youkilis and Rocco Baldelli collected back-to-back singles, and the row of right-handers in the middle of the Red Sox lineup was threatening damage. Jason Bay then worked the count full. Kazmir’s sixth offering of the at-bat prompted Bay to begin tossing his bat and jogging to first, but a tailing fastball that seemed to run out of the strike zone (at least on NESN replays) was called a strike by home plate umpire Bob Davidson.
Bay is typically a stoic sort on the field, but the called punchout offended his sensibilities. He grabbed his bat and nearly threw it on the ground while screaming. He thought better of chucking the stick, but the cause of his complaint was clear enough. The Sox’ rally was derailed, a potential bases-loaded, one-out situation replaced by a first-and-second, two-out situation. Mike Lowell’s 5-4 fielder’s choice grounder punctuated the inning, as Kazmir escaped a jam for what will (after 111 pitches) almost surely be his last inning of the night.
Rays 5, Red Sox 1
Ramon Ramirez coming on to make his first appearance as a Red Sox
|Top 6: Manny Delcarmen enters||04.08.09 at 9:12 pm ET|
At the beginning of spring training, when Manny Delcarmen met with manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell, he was asked to articulate his goals. Delcarmen didn’t hesitate.
He understands that Jonathan Papelbon is The Closer, and that he would not be pushing past The Closer anytime soon. Delcarmen’s goal, then, was to be the man entrusted with passing the baton to Papelbon by getting through the eighth inning with leads.
Instead, Delcarmen makes his season debut by pitching in the sixth inning of a game in which his team trails by a 5-1 count. That is the role that had been assigned to guys with tenuous holds on major-league spots in recent years, pitchers such as J.C. Romero and Joel Pineiro in 2007 (both released by the Sox that summer) and David Aardsma in 2008 (traded away this offseason).
That Delcarmen seems like he might be responsible for such a juncture of the game suggests a couple of things:
1) The Red Sox bullpen is very, very deep. Delcarmen, after all, has a 2.81 ERA over the last two seasons, the 22nd-best mark among major-league relievers. He enjoyed province over the seventh and eighth innings when his team had the lead for much of the past two seasons for the Red Sox. Now, he may be relegated to “keeping the game where it is” when the Sox are trailing by a couple of runs.
2) Manny Delcarmen, based on his spring training ambitions, can’t be thrilled with this turn of events.
|Bottom 5: Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2009 season begins||04.08.09 at 8:59 pm ET|
Scott Kazmir looks like the same pitcher who nearly eliminated the Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS last year. You may recall that he entrusted a 7-0 lead to his bullpen in that game, thinking that he was due for a ‘W’ in the contest that should have clinched Tampa Bay’s berth in the World Series. You may also recall what Tampa Bay’s bullpen did with that lead, as the Red Sox mounted their historic comeback in an 8-7 win.
Anyhoo, Kazmir had allowed just two hits through the first four innings, and made quick work of the first two outs of the fifth. But Jacoby Ellsbury, who was hitless in his first six at-bats of the year — indeed, he had not gotten the ball out of the infield — chopped a ball to short that he beat out for a single.
Though Ellsbury was stranded when Dustin Pedroia grounded out to third, there had to be some measure of relief for the Sox centerfielder, who was benched after going hitless against the Rays in the first four games of the ALCS. His 2009 season no longer features across the board zeros.
Lester, by the way, is done after five innings, eight hits, two walks, five runs and five strikeouts. Apparently, the Rays escaped the firing squad.
|Top 5: Squeeze! And Launch! Rays do it all||04.08.09 at 8:49 pm ET|
Looking to characterize the Rays’ offensive philosophy? Good luck.
Last year, Tampa Bay led the majors in steals (142) but had the fewest sacrifice bunts (23) in baseball. Their offense was a power-and-speed proposition, as the Rays also slugged 180 homers, tied for ninth most in the majors.
Against Jon Lester and the Red Sox, they just manufactured a four-run rally that featured … well, everything.
Gabe Kapler led off with a walk, and advanced to third on a hit-and-run single to left (through the vacated shortstop hole) by Akinori Iwamura. Jason Bartlett then followed with a safety squeeze, dumping the ball just a few feet in front of the plate. Lester fielded it and helplessly flipped home, long after Kapler had crossed the dish to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.
Lester’s night may be over, as Manny Delcarmen is warming through the bottom of the fifth.
Carl Crawford then plopped a single to left-field line that fell between shortstop Jed Lowrie and left fielder Jason Bay to load the bases, and though Evan Longoria grounded into a run-scoring double play, Carlos Pena added to the damage by crushing a ball into the bleachers in straightaway centerfield.
Power. Patience. Aggressiveness on the bases. A multifarious rally netted the Rays four runs, giving them a 5-1 lead.
Lester, incidentally, has not struck out a batter since the second.
|Top 4: Baldelli familiarizes himself with Fenway turf||04.08.09 at 8:31 pm ET|
Though Rocco Baldelli’s first at-bat as a Red Sox was nothing to write home about — but then, who writes home anymore? — he made an impression (quite literally) in Fenway Park in the top of the fourth. Playing right field, Baldelli raced in on a shallow fly ball from Dioner Navarro and made a diving catch just off the turf. It was a great grab that underscored the notion that the athletic Baldelli is indeed a superb defender capable of playing anywhere in the outfield.
By the way, for those wondering about Baldelli’s availability, manager Terry Francona pointed out that during spring training, he played four straight days in a stretch. Granted, two of those were pinch-hitting appearances, and one was a D.H. assignment, but nonetheless, it was considered a promising sign for a player whose channelopathy (a condition that leaves the body fatigued) once seemed to present a danger to his ability to play at all.
Baldelli popped out to right in the bottom of the fourth, and Rays starter Scott Kazmir quickly retired Jason Bay (fly to right) and Mike Lowell (liner to center) to continue what appears to be a pitching duel of impressive 25-year-old southpaws.
|Bottom 3: Red Sox MVP guys tie the game||04.08.09 at 8:25 pm ET|
Dustin Pedroia jumpstarted the Red Sox season with an Opening Day homer in the first inning, and repeated the feat by injecting life into his team’s lineup in the third inning against Scott Kazmir. Kazmir recorded seven outs without allowing a hit to start the game, but Pedroia doubled to left center (over the head of center fielder Gabe Kapler). Then, with two outs, Kevin Youkilis delivered a single up the middle. Though there might have been a play at the plate on a strong throw by Kapler, Rays first baseman Carlos Pena cut off the throw to retire Youkilis, who was advancing towards second.
It is worth recalling Youkilis’ outrageously good numbers of a year ago with two outs and runners in scoring position. In 2008, he hit .328/.461/.492/.952 in those situations. His .952 OPS in such marks was 13th best in the A.L. David Ortiz led the A.L. with a 1.362 line in those circumstances.
Rays 1, Red Sox 1
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