Sunday, April 19, 2009

A wild and woolly ballgame

I was at Fenway for Friday night's game against the Orioles. They were coming home after a brutal west coast road trip, but they should have left Brad Penny in the Pacific time zone. He wasn't just bad, he was awful. I'm talking Way Back Wasdin awful. In the second inning, he loaded the bases, walked in a couple runs, then allowed a grand slam home run to Nick Markakis. Since the Red Sox bullpen needed some protection from their Angels-A's debacles, Terry Francona was hesitant to force another 7 inning bullpen game at the outset of a 4 game weekend series. He stuck with Penny's high wire act for a couple more innings, and managed to live through it.

Thank God the Red Sox were playing the Orioles who, frankly, suck. They're the new Rangers: a potent offense, backed by mediocre pitching and a complete indifference to fundamental baseball. What was always known as The Oriole Way has been dead since Cal Ripken, Jr rode off into the sunset. Friday night, Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie couldn't handle the riches of a 7 run lead, and he was saddled with an atrocious defense behind him. Within a few innings, the lead was gone, and the Red Sox went on to a 10-8 win.

Some observations:
  • When JD Drew is healthy, which admittedly isn't enough, he can be a bona fide all star. Against Baltimore on Friday night, Drew homered, tripled, walked three times and scored three of Boston's 10 runs.
  • Same for Jason Bay, though he's not nearly as injury prone as Drew. Friday night, Bay also homered and knocked in three.
  • The MVP of the game was neither of the above. It was Manny Delcarmen, who came in after Penny's hideous start and slammed the door on the Orioles, giving the Red Sox the breathing room they needed to get back in the game. The local kid threw shutout ball for 2 2/3 innings (the longest outing of his career), striking out two. Francona NEEDED someone to be a bridge to the later innings. If Delcarmen had allowed more runs, the hole would have been too big to dig out of, even against a deplorable O's bullpen.
  • I'm very worried about David Ortiz. He was 0 for 4, struck out three times and left 5 men on base (including striking out with the bases loaded in a critical situation). It isn't just that Ortiz isn't hitting his weight, and it isn't just that he's striking out. It's that he looks old and creaky. His bad speed is embarrassingly slow, and his mechanics are a mess. Has Big Papi not recovered from his injury prone 2008? Has he, as many have wondered, hit the wall at the age of 33? Of course it's only April, and of course there's a long season ahead, but Ortiz can't be a black hole in this lineup. The Boston offensive attack is predicated on unremitting pressure from Pedroia through Lowell, and if Ortiz won't lay off high inside pitches as he used to, and can't catch up to fastballs in his wheelhouse, opposing pitchers will be able to start pitching far more selectively, rallies will die faster than they should, and horrendous appearances by old fat stiffs like Brad Penny will come with penalties when we're not facing creampuff staffs like Baltimore.
  • Early on, the bullpen looks tremendous, and saved Penny's bacon. Ramon Ramirez has been superb. I already mentioned Delcarmen above, but Takashi Saito gives Francona a setup horse who can also double as insurance for when Jonathan Papelbon needs a day off, as he did this afternoon in Boston's third straigh win against the Birds, this time on the strength of a great John Lester start.
  • Nick Green could be this year's pleasant low cost, high impact surprise. He's got a cannon for an arm (did you know that? I sure didn't), and rocketed a clutch RBI double to the base of the centerfield wall on Friday night as part of the 10 run onslaught. Jed Lowrie might be out for the year, and we already know how little faith I have in Julio Lugo. If Green can be the everyday shortstop and a reliable guy at the bottom of the order, that would help a lot.
During the week that marked the passing of both Harry Kalas and Merle Harmon, I was reminded of the late, great Ned Martin in trying to summarize Friday's game. He deserves the last word. Martin would have called Friday's improbable comeback "a wild and woolly ballgame and a 10-8 win by the Red Sox. "

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