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5th Inning: Beckett Stumbles

04.18.09 at 9:12 pm ET
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The Orioles proved opportunistic and patient in producing a rally in the fifth. Ninth hitter Cesar Izturis led off with a bunt single, and then sprinted to third when Brian Roberts doubled to left. Josh Beckett then issued back-to-back walks to Adam Jones (who watched three straight balls after falling behind, 1-2) and Nick Markakis (who, like Jones, walked after falling behind 1-2).

For what it’s worth, those walks were about as rare as Kevin Youkilis hitting for the cycle. Entering tonight, Beckett had gone to 1-2 counts against batters on 1,502 occasions. He had issued walks to 78 of them, or roughly one of every 19.3.

Those walks burned Beckett and allowed Baltimore to fight their way back into the game. With the bases still loaded and the O’s trailing 6-1, Aubrey Huff‘s opposite-field lined tagged the Wall for a two-run double. The hit ended up scoring three, however, when shortstop Nick Green dropped the throw from the outfield to allow Markakis, who had stopped at third, to race home.

Beckett eluded further harm when Ty Wigginton‘s liner down the line was caught by a diving Mike Lowell at third. With one out, Beckett then got a comebacker from Luke Scott that turned into a 1-6-5 put-out of Huff, who got caught in no-man’s land between second and third (Scott alertly racing into second during the rundown).

With two outs, Gregg Zaun lined a ball to fairly deep right field, but J.D. Drew settled under it to record the third out. Still, the Orioles are very much back in the game, and Beckett (now up to 98 pitches) will likely soon be handing the ball off to the bullpen. Beckett has allowed runs in just three of the 18 innings he’s thrown thus far this year, but on two occasions, he has been victimized for a crooked number, having given up a three-run inning against the Angels in his last start and a four-run inning tonight.


Adam Eaton‘s night is done after four innings. The carnage: nine hits, six runs, two walks, four strikeouts, one fist pump.

He is replaced by Brian Bass, who should be introduced at Camden Yards by audio of Napoleon Dynamite saying, “I brought you a delicious Bass.” Of course, he might be introduced in the same fashion when on the road, given the 14.73 ERA he lugged into tonight.

Jason Bay led off by smashing a grounder to third for a 5-3 out. He is likely a touch dismayed at the likelihood that the glacial pace of tonight’s game will deny him a chance to wach much, if any, of the Bruins-Canadiens game. (Bay attended Game 1 with his wife on Thursday. “Interesting crowd,” he said.)

Mike Lowell seems to be running a bit more freely, as evidenced by the fact that he chugged into second after doubling down the left-field line. He’s now almost fully six months out from his surgery, a time at which he expected to see further progress with his wheels.

Jason Varitek negotiated a one-out walk, but with runners on first and second, the Sox failed to tack on. Nick Green popped to first, and has now stranded four runners in an 0-for-3 night. Jacoby Ellsbury then grounded a ball up the middle, and was thrown out by a fraction of a step at first.


4th Inning: Beckett, for a Change

04.18.09 at 8:37 pm ET
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Josh Beckett worked a quick top of the fourth, sandwiching a pair of strikeouts (Luke Scott, Felix Pie) around a ground-out to second (Gregg Zaun). Ahead 1-2, Beckett threw a hellacious changeup to Luke Scott that dove down and away as the Orioles‘ D.H. swung over the pitch. THAT was what the pitcher had in mind when he emphasized his work on that pitch during spring training. His change is a fascinating pitch – it is thrown with such velocity (typically registering around 89-90 mph) that it is typically listed on MLB.com’s super-awesome Game Day player as a fastball.

Pie, meanwhile, was overmatched by a 95 mph fastball up in the zone. Beckett now has five punchouts through four innings, and is now up to 20 in 17 frames this year. At the moment, I believe that puts him in a tie for the A.L. lead in ponchados.


After Nick Green flied out to right, Jacoby Ellsbury‘s grounder up the middle resulted in an infield single when second baseman Brian Roberts‘ across-the-body throw arrived too late. It was Ellsbury’s third infield hit of the year, following a 2008 season when he finished third in the A.L. with 34 infield hits. This was, however, Ellsbury’s first infield hit since Opening Day, when he had two.

Dustin Pedroia followed Ellsbury by lining out to left (not a lot of swings and misses against Eaton, whom the Rangers inexplicably acquired a couple years ago in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez (!) and Chris Young), but David Ortiz again stayed back nicely on a curveball to whack a single to right and put runners on the corners. (A bit surprising to see the O’s go away from the fastballs up in the zone that prove so effective on Friday.)

Kevin Youkilis then continued his excellent game by lining a single back up the middle for his fourth RBI of the night. Youkilis is a triple short of the cycle. He has eight career triples in 2,318 major-league plate appearances, so let’s peg the odds of him becoming the fourth player in a week to hit for the cycle at roughly 0.0009 percent.

J.D. Drew then whiffed on a check-swing, the second time tonight he’s punched out. Remarkably, Eaton pumped his fist after the strikeout. One can only imagine how excited he would be if his ERA fell into single digits. (It’s currently at 11.25.)


Third inning: More crooked numbers for the Sox

04.18.09 at 8:17 pm ET
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Josh Beckett seemed like he was in a nice groove, but after retiring the first two hitters of the third (Brian Roberts – fly to left; Adam Jones – 5-3) he lost the strike zone. Eight of his next 10 pitches were for balls, leading to walks of Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff. (It would have been 8 of 9 pitches, but the Doug Eddings strike zone reached Brookline, gifting Beckett a called strike on a fastball that missed the outside corner by more than six inches.)

Ty Wigginton, after a first-pitch ball, inexplicably decided that it would be an excellent idea to swing at an 0-1 curveball down. He flied meekly to right, allowing Beckett to escape the jam. Even with the control lapse, Beckett has thrown 50 pitches through three innings, suggesting that he might be able to make it into the seventh inning, a rare event for a Boston starter this year.

The Sox rotation has simply not found a rhythm thus far. Entering today, the team has gotten six or more innings out of starters just twice – Josh Beckett on Opening Day and Tim Wakefield on Wednesday. The Red Sox bullpen is good, and can pick up some of that slack, but as Terry Francona said, “We don’t want them throwing 110 innings.” He wasn’t speaking entirely facetiously – entering tonight, Manny Delcarmen (7 innings) was on pace to throw 113 innings this year, and Ramon Ramirez (7.1) was staring at a 115-inning load.


After Jacoby Ellsbury opened with a fly-out to right, Dustin Pedroia dumped a single into right that was abetted by what seemed like an out-of-position Nick Markakis in right. Markakis plays a verrrrrry deep right field, even for Pedroia, whose opposite field pop isn’t much to speak of. Last year, just 10 of his 73 extra-base hits were to right.

David Ortiz fell behind Orioles hurler Adam Eaton, falling to 0-2. But he stayed back on a curve, and plunked it into left just in front of O’s left-fielder Felix Pie. That brought up Kevin Youkilis with two-on and one-out: not good times for Eaton.

Eaton left a changeup at the belt. Youkilis jumped on the batting practice, 82 mph offering, parking it into the Monster Seats for a three-run homer. Youkilis has now reached base in all 11 Red Sox games this year, and he has eight multi-hit games, most in the majors. Just putting it out there: is he the best hitter in the American League right now? (Others on the short list might be Miguel Cabrera and Evan Longoria. The Yankees third baseman may end up back in that discussion when he comes back from injury.) Youkilis is hitting .452 with a 1.283 OPS.

J.D. Drew struck out looking thanks to the Eddings-colored glasses (a fastball six inches outside), but the Sox kept pushing.

Jason Bay walked on four pitches and stole second. His first steal of the year put him in scoring position, allowing him to score on Mike Lowell‘s single off the Wall. Bay must have drawn some satisfaction from the turn of events: he suggested this spring that one of his goals was to reintegrate steals into his game. He stole 21 bags in 2005, but since has recorded seasons of 11, 4 and 10.

Jason Varitek followed by flying out to center, but the Sox put up a four-run fourth. The Sox have now scored 21 runs in their last 13 innings.


2nd inning: Beckett Escapes a Jam, Varitek Gives a Lead

04.18.09 at 7:48 pm ET
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The two pitchers would do well to offer home-plate umpire Doug Eddings a pint after the game.

Adam Eaton was the beneficiary of the ump’s interpretation of the strike zone in the first inning, but it was Josh Beckett who really capitalized on what seems to be a liberal definition of the outer edge of the plate in the top of the second. After Ty Wigginton opened the inning with a ground out, Luke Scott rapped a single and Gregg Zaun whacked a double off the Wall in left-center to put runners on second and third with one out. That brought Felix Pie to the plate with a chance to plate a run even on an out.

Pie fell behind 0-2, then laid off a couple pitches out of the strike zone. On a 2-2 pitch, Beckett delivered a curveball away that never appeared to bend over the plate. Eddings, however, felt otherwise, punching out Pie for the crucial second out. Cesar Izturis then ended the threat by grounding a ball up the middle; Sox shortstop Nick Green ranged far to his left to pick the ball, and Kevin Youkilis made an excellent stretch to keep his toe on the bag while receiving the throw to record the third out of the inning. To this stage of the season, Beckett has held opponents to a 4-for-17 (.235) average with runners in scoring position. He has yet to give up an extra-base hit with a man on second or third.

Green, by the way, is as improbable a starting shortstop for the Sox as Mark Kotsay was a starting first baseman during last year’s playoffs. When Green signed with the club, he assumed he would be in Triple-A, serving as a backup in case Dustin Pedroia was injured at second. The Sox knew that he had some shortstop experience on his resume, but the club viewed him primarily as a second baseman until they saw how strong his arm was in the Grapefruit League season. They started giving him some time at short with Julio Lugo out, and were convinced he could handle the position. To this point, nothing has suggested otherwise.

Tangent: Lugo continued his rehab in Fort Myers today, playing four innings at short and getting six at-bats. A rehab assignment next week seems like a reasonable expectation.


Kevin Youkilis apparently took personal offense at his 0-for-4 night on Friday, lining a fastball up in the zone down the left field line for a double. Youkilis, it is worth mentioning, said that he was suffering no ill effects after getting a Danys Baez pitch off the helmet on Saturday.

J.D. Drew followed with a lineout to center, and then Orioles starter Adam Eaton proceeded with kid gloves against Jason Bay. Bay walked for the 12th time this year. His OBP is better than .500.

Mike Lowell (a career 0-for-10 against Eaton) followed with a lineout to center, but with two outs, Jason Varitek (batting left-handed against the right-handed Eaton) ripped a double down the right-field line to score Youkilis with the game’s first run. Nick Green‘s comebacker ended the inning, but the Sox have an early lead, and Eaton’s pitch count is at 39 after two innings.

All three of Varitek’s RBIs this year have come while batting left-handed. He’s now hitting .227 from that side of the plate.


1st Inning: Beckett, Eaton make quick work of first

04.18.09 at 7:33 pm ET
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Josh Beckett, as is per his wont, came out firing. In the first inning, 12 of his 15 pitches were fastballs registering from 94-96 mph. He added in a couple of curves and one swing-and-miss change to the very impressive Nick Markakis. Beckett struck out the first two batters of the game (Brian Roberts and Adam Jones, both on 94 mph fastballs), gave up a single to Markakis on a curveball that stayed up, then got Aubrey Huff on a first-pitch fastball that led to a groundout.

Adam Eaton, no doubt relieved not to see Josh Beckett (4-for-8, three doubles, a walk) in the lineup, was nearly as impressive in the bottom of the first. He took advantage of a strike zone that the Sox considered generous to rifle through a 1-2-3 inning, getting Jacoby Ellsbury on a lineout to right, Dustin Pedroia on a strikeout looking (Pedroia did not like the call) at a 91 mph fastball and David Ortiz looking on a nice curve that may or may not have caught the outer edge of the plate.

Pedroia has struck out just four times thus far this year, so for him, his early-season slump seems a matter of balls finding holes. Ortiz is another story, as he has now struck out 12 times and walked just six times. He seems to be getting crossed up at the plate quite a bit.


Red Sox vs. Orioles Matchups, 4/18

04.18.09 at 1:20 pm ET
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David Ortiz is struggling. What to do?

If the Red Sox truly wanted to think outside the box, they could consider sitting Ortiz for a day and abandoning the designated hitter in order to let Josh Beckett hit.

Obviously, that fictitious scenario is not going to happen in this lifetime. Nonetheless, it’s not quite TOTALLY ABSURD in the Ignatius Reilly sort of fashion. Beckett, after all, has achieved totally absurd success in the batter’s box against Adam Eaton, who starts for the Orioles on Saturday. Beckett is 4-for-8 with three doubles and a walk against his counterpart, good for a .500 average, .556 OBP and .875 slugging mark against Eaton.

Beckett is one of the few members of the Sox with any experience against Eaton, who has spent most of the non-injured portion of his career in the National League as a member of the Padres and Phillies. Here are the numbers of the four position players on the Sox who have faced the right-hander:

Rocco Baldelli (3 plate appearances): .333 average / .333 OBP / .333 slugging
Jason Bay (3): .500 / .333 / 2.000
J.D. Drew (9): .500 / .667 / .500
Mike Lowell (11): .000 / .091 / .000

Here are Beckett’s numbers (as a pitcher) against the Orioles:

Adam Eaton (6): .000 / .333 / .000
Ryan Freel (3): .333 / .333 / .333
Aubrey Huff (31): .300 / .323 /. 433
Cesar Izturis (10): .125 / .300 / .125
Adam Jones (12): .250 / .250 / .333
Nick Markakis (28): .269 / .321 / .423
Chad Moeller (8): .125 / .125 / .250
Brian Roberts (28): .308 / .357 / .577
Luke Scott (10): .625 / .700 / 1.000
Ty Wigginton (23): .364 / .391 / .909
Gregg Zaun (9): .111 / .111 / .222

Ninth inning: Sox Win, 10-8

04.17.09 at 10:46 pm ET
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For a couple moments, the crowd at Fenway was left to hold its breath. After Ty Wigginton’s infield single to third base to lead off the ninth, both Luke Scott and Gregg Zaun flied out to deep-ish right. But their shots landed harmlessly in the glove of J.D. Drew, and with two outs, closer Jonathan Papelbon elevated a 96 mph fastball, blowing it by pinch-hitter Felix Pie for his third save of the year.

The Red Sox wiped out a 7-0 deficit thanks to an offense that came to life and a bullpen that allowed no runs in six innings. Manny Delcarmen got a well-deserved ‘W.’

For the Orioles, who entered 6-3, the contest offered a reminder that the promise of their lineup will go for naught if they don’t have pitching to match. Even before the game, O’s skipper Dave Trembley sighed that “it’s pitching – pitching and defense is what it’s all about,” and in this game, his team lacked both, resulting in defeat.

8th inning: Okajima Escapes Peril, Drew Matches Career High

04.17.09 at 10:29 pm ET
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It’s not looking good for Hunter Jones’ debut. For Jones and his mother, that’s probably a bit disappointing. For the Red Sox, not so much.

Thanks to outstanding work from Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez, the Sox are traveling a surprisingly direct path from Brad Penny‘s horrific outing through the bullpen assembly line.

Ramirez returned for a third inning of work at the start of the eighth. He appeared to tire, however, as Cesar Izturis lined to left to start the inning, preceding a single by Brian Roberts and a Wall-scraping single by Adam Jones. Jones has now been on base four times, continuing his run as a darling of fantasy baseball in April.

With runners on first and second, the Sox went to Hideki Okajima, an interesting decision for two reasons: 1) Jonathan Papelbon was also warming in the bullpen; and 2) Okajima allowed 13 of the 25 runners (52 percent) whom he inherited last year to score, resulting in an effort to avoid him in situations where the bases weren’t empty for a couple months last year.

But, in his first situation with inherited runners in 2009, Okajima stifled the O’s. He got Nick Markakis to fly to the warning track in center (runners advancing to second and third) and then, in a fashion worthy of the Japanese comic-book “Ace” from which his delivery draws its inspiration, he struck out Aubrey Huff on what appeared to be his split-change to end the inning.

If +/- was measured in baseball, Huff would be roughly -5 tonight.


J.D. Drew‘s hopes of a cycle have been dashed by his patience at the plate. He has coupled his homer and triple with three walks. Drew has matched a career high, achieved seven previous times (most recently last August 1), by reaching base five times. Feeling peckish, Drew got caught stealing.

The Sox went relatively quietly against Albers in the eighth, and Jonathan Papelbon is making the final paces to the mound where he hopes to close out a Red Sox win.


7th inning: Relievers remain in charge

04.17.09 at 10:09 pm ET
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In many ways, one would have thought that the fact that Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez have often been the first relievers into the game for the Red Sox would suggest that their contributions have been relatively unimportant. Not so.

According to Baseball Prospectus, no reliever for the Sox has been more valuable than Ramirez, who has been worth roughly half a win more than an average reliever thus far this year owing to the highly leveraged situations in which he’s been operating. Ramirez has continued that trend tonight, wiping out a two-on, two-out rally in the sixth and then going 1-2-3 to preserve the Red Sox’ 10-8 lead in the seventh. Ramirez has now started his Red Sox career with seven scoreless innings spanning five appearances. (Coco Crisp, for what it’s worth, is hitting .226 but with a staggering .965 OPS thanks to a homer and THREE triples thus far this year.)


Apparently, the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area has made a collective effort to get good-hit/no-field first baseman. Adam Dunn of the Nationals and Aubrey Huff of the Orioles would make formidable competitors in an effort to determine who that turn of the phrase more aptly fits.

Huff continued his rough glove night, diving sloppily in an effort to field a Nick Green chopper, and instead eflecting the ball for a single. Reliever Matt Albers (another Astros castoff, part of the Miguel Tejada trade that now appears obscenely lopsided) then gave up a single to left-center by Jacoby Ellsbury and walked Dustin Pedroia to load the bases.

But David Ortiz once again was overmatched, striking out for the third time of the game by swinging through on a fastball up. Albers then completed a Houdini by getting Kevin Youkilis to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.

So the Red Sox do not add to their lead, but still enter the eighth inning with a two run lead.


6th inning: Red Sox push ahead

04.17.09 at 9:35 pm ET
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Manny Delcarmen quickly dispatched both Brian Roberts and Adam Jones to start the inning, concluding his career-long outing by recording eight outings on a tidy 33 pitches. That pitch count is not obscenely high for Delcarmen, who has thrown 30 or more pitches a dozen times, including four outings when he threw 35 or more. That being the case, it is not unreasonable to think that he will be available again by Sunday.

With two outs and left-handed mashers Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff due up, the Sox summoned southpaw Javier Lopez from the bullpen. But the move backfired, as Lopez walked Markakis and gave up a single to left to Huff. The baserunners chased Lopez from the game, as the Sox went to Ramon Ramirez to face right-hander Ty Wiggington. Ramirez, who entered tonight having held righties to a .196 average and .271 OBP, got Wigginton on a first pitch fly to left that preserved the tie.


It would be a mistake to suggest that Dustin Pedroia is destroying the ball. He blooped a first-inning ball just under the glove (and off the face) of center fielder Adam Jones for a double, singled to first base in the second and bounced a single through the left side of the infield to open the sixth. Nonetheless, there are times when the process is important, and other times when the outcome reigns supreme, and in this case, the Sox will probably take Pedroia’s first three-hit game of the year in any form that it takes. It is the 38th career three-hit game of Pedroia’s career.

David Ortiz followed by striking out on a fastball up-and-in, a spot that the Sox have now twice gone to for a punchout of the slugger tonight. Until Ortiz proves that he can handle that pitch – the same one with which he struggled down the stretch last year – opponents will keep pounding him there.

The next pitch by Orioles pitcher Danys Baez was terrifying. His 93 mph fastball caromed off the helmet of Kevin Youkilis. There was no question of intent, as Baez visibly cringed when he saw the pitch hit Youkilis in the dome.

Thankfully, Youkilis hopped back up and jogged to first. Baez seemed to become a bit unnerved by the incident, throwing six of his next seven pitches for balls (walking J.D. Drew to load the bases in the process), resulting in a visit to the mound by pitching coach Rick Kranitz. Baez seemed to regroup, working back to even in the count against Jason Bay.

But on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Bay flied to medium depth in center, plenty deep enough to plate Pedroia and put the Red Sox ahead, 9-8, with Youkilis advancing to third on the play. One batter later, Mike Lowell lined a hanging splitter up the middle for a run-scoring single that put the Sox up 10-8. Lowell is now 4-for-10 this year with two outs and runners in scoring position.

Jason Varitek fouled out to third, but with two runs, the Sox now have an improbable 10-8 lead. With 19 runs in their last 15 innings, the slump talk has now been tabled.


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