Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Red Sox 13, Blue Jays 10

Last night was my second visit to Fenway this year for a game. This was the annual game where I take my stepson Marc. Last year, he and I sat through the excruciatingly painful 5+ hour, second game of a doubleheader in the midst of the 5 game Yankee sweep. That sweep effectively ended the Red Sox 2006 season. This year was different in a whole lot of ways. In the morning, Marc and I enjoyed a free tour of Fenway, which was a surprise I had waiting for him. It was one of the fun perks of my Red Sox Nation membership. Now that I’ve seen the field from there, I HAVE to see a game from the Monster Seats. They could be the best seats in all of major league baseball.

Daisuke Matsuzaka started last night for the Red Sox, and when the Jays scored their first run on back to back doubles in the top of the first, I leaned over to Marc and said “Buckle up. This is going to be a high-scoring game.”. Sure enough, in the Sox’ half of the first, Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single, followed by a Dustin Pedroia single. These two seemed to be on base all night for Boston. With men on first and second and nobody out, Mike Lowell lined a shot into the Monster Seats, and the fireworks show was on. Boston went on to score another 2 in the third, again led by Ellsbury and Pedroia, and sent Toronto starter Jesse Litsch to the showers in the fourth, also teeing off on reliever Joe Kennedy for a combined 5 runs. I reminded Marc that we used to beat Kennedy like a rented mule when he was a starter for Tampa Bay, so last night’s performance was just about normal. End of 4, it’s 10-1 Red Sox, Dice K’s, cruising with a strike percentage north of 80%, and it’s looking like a laugher.

Then a strange thing happened: Matsuzaka-san suddenly and completely ran out of gas after 5 innings. He came out to start the top of the 6th, and inexplicably, he went from overpowering to batting practice. Troy Glaus launched a 3-run HR into the Red Sox bullpen, and before Terry Francona could get anyone warm in time, it was a ballgame. What Francona did at the time made some sense: he brought in lefty specialist Javier (The Other Javy) Lopez. The problem was, Lopez couldn’t throw strikes, and when he did, I could have hit him. He faced three batters, retired nobody, let the two inherited runners score (closing the book on Dice K), and allowed two runs of his own on a Matt Stairs 2-run double. Technically, Lopez was charged with two, but he really allowed four. Manny Delcarmen had to come put the fire out, and by the time he did, Toronto had scored 8 runs, and the 10-1 blowout was suddenly a 10-9 ballgame.

Marc turned to me and said “Wow, I guess you weren’t kidding. This is high scoring”. Somehow, even with the horrendous Toronto 6th, the Red Sox never really lost control of the game. They came right back with three runs in the bottom of the 6th to take back momentum. Hideki Okajima coming in after Delcarmen to give Boston another solid bullpen inning helped, too. Everyone in the park knew that Papelbon would be ready to pitch the 9th, and that would shut the door on what the late Ned Martin would have called a “wild and wooly ballgame”.

He did just that, blowing away Aaron Hill and Greg Zaun with 96 mph smoke, and inducing a weak popup to third to end the game.

I’m not sure what the deal is with Dice K. I think it’s important to remember that it’s got to be a much bigger acclimation process to Major League Baseball in the US after being the Big Man in Japan than we’re appreciating. It’s not easy: new league, new stadiums, a 5 man rotation instead of 6, a new ball, new players, new culture. Still, he’s routinely running into high pitch counts, and that one deadly inning per start where he has a tendency to lose his poise. I don’t think that’s cultural. I’m not sure what it is. In either case, we’re going to need him over the next 6-8 weeks.

Here’s also hoping that Manny Ramirez gets healthy soon and Kevin Youkilis snaps out of his recent slump.

No comments: