|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
|Top 3: Blindfold removed||04.08.09 at 8:14 pm ET|
After a quick bottom of the second for the Sox, the Rays have jumped onto the board in the third thanks to a most unusual development. Jon Lester yielded a leadoff double to Aki Iwamura, an infield single by Jason Bartlett (on which Iwamura was unable to advance) and, finally, an infield single to first by Carl Crawford. On Crawford’s hit, first baseman Kevin Youkilis made an impressive stab of the ball with a diving play to his right, but his throw hit Bartlett and deflected into left field, allowing Crawford to score. Youkilis, who went through all of the 2007 season without an error and committed just four last year, was charged with the E3. Somewhere, a society of Stuffy McInnis loyalists smiles.
Though Lester gave up a run, the way in which he limited damage was fairly fascinating. With runners on first and second and no outs, the Rays could have added on to their lead. But Lester surprised Evan Longoria of the Rays with a 1-2 changeup that the reigning Rookie of the Year rolled to short for a 6-4-3 double play. Lester spent much of the spring, of course, working to refine his change for precisely that sort of reason. Last year, he would throw the pitch roughly five or seven times a game, but rarely to any real effect. This time, as it dove down and away from Longoria, the result was a key twin-killing that allowed Lester to escape unscathed when Carlos Pena grounded (yes, contact for Pena) to second for the final out of the inning.
Rays lead 1-0.
|Top 2: Rays hitters enter batter’s box with cigarette and blindfold||04.08.09 at 7:51 pm ET|
Scott Kazmir and Jon Lester, two of the more uncomfortable left-handed pitchers to face in the American League, are surely no treat in the frigid weather. Lester, in particular, thanks to the aforementioned cutter, seems all but guaranteed to create misery in the hands and minds of opposing hitters.
That much seems apparent through his first two innings of work. Lester, after striking out a pair in the first, issued a leadoff walk to Rays hitter (and World Series bling-wearer) Pat Burrell, but then struck out hte next three hitters: Dioner Navarro looking on a sweeping curve, Ben Zobrist swinging on a curve that dropped on his shoes and Gabe Kapler on a 93 mph fastball that tailed up and away from the former Red Sox.
That’s five strikeouts in two innings. In case you were wondering, Lester’s career high in strikeouts is 10, achieved against the hapless Nationals in 2006.
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