127 tidy minutes. Just 223 total pitches. Two home runs from a guy who supposedly couldn’t lift his arms above his shoulders on Wednesday. A clean inning from a struggling closer. And a cheap game winner from the feel good story of 2010. Just a typical night at Fenway Park, right?
Boy, I’m glad I didn’t try to sneak in an early dinner, figuring I could be done in time to watch the final four innings because people going with that game plan last night got crushed. TWO HOURS AND SEVEN MINUTES? Since when the Sox play games with two handles? 2:07 is usually what it takes to play five and a half at Fenway but last night, it was all the Sox needed to pick up win number 48 on the season and draw to within a half-game of first place.
Given the quick pace, you might have thought Greg Maddox and Mark Buerhle were dueling. Instead, it was good old Tim Wakefield and Brad Bergessen doing the honors as each did their best to throw strikes and move the game swiftly along. At one point, Wakefield threw nineteen straight strikes, which led Daisuke Matsusaka to bow his head in shame. Bergessen was just as good, ending the night with 69 strikes in 100 throws. Thankfully, two of Bergessen’s strikes left the yard and a third ended up hitting the Wall. Without this last knock, the game easily could have made it to extras and I hope I don’t have to remind anyone how Boston-Baltimore tiffs have gone this year in extra innings.
Anyways, Wakefield did an excellent job last night controlling a very poor lineup. But this is really the Sox recipe for the next two or three weeks. Get some good starting pitching, scratch out a few big hits, play good defense and hope the pen doesn’t blow it. It worked last night and I have my fingers crosses that it can work three or four more times before the break.
While Wakefield was doing his best to keep the game tight, JD Drew miraculously recovered from his “stiff” neck to smack a couple of opposite field shots. Funny how his neck stiffened on the day he was going to face Matt Garza (3-21 lifetime) and it was fine two days later when he was penciled in to face Brad Bergessen (3-9 lifetime). IT’S A FESTIVUS MIRACLE! To be clear, I am agnostic on Drew. On the one hand, I think his performance has generally been better than it has been perceived and his contract is roughly in-line with his production. But I tell you, it’s hard to be solidly in the corner of a guy who refuses to play hurt, especially in times of great need. I’m not saying he wasn’t sore the other day, but the circumstantial evidence is not very constructive. That said, even though his walks are a bit down this season, Drew is having a pretty solid season and building off last night, hopefully his July of 2010 will end up looking a little bit like his June of 2008.
Also feeling better last night was Jonathan Papelbon whose performance may have been the most surprising of the night. After all, it’s not like we have seen too many clean innings out of Pap in recent days (or months). But last night, in a one run game, Pap came in a shut Baltimore down without incident. More surprising, he got a couple of lefties, which is a god sign given how Pap did against Denver’s southpaws a week ago. At this point, I am comfortable saying Pap remains serviceable but he is hardly automatic anymore. As such, I have prepared myself for four second-half meltdowns and I think if it’s no worse than that, the Sox can be pretty successful.
Other Thoughts ….
* How quickly did Daniel Nava fall out of favor with Terry Francona? The guy struggles in San Francisco and now Eric Patterson is getting his starts? I understand giving him a blow the other night, especially against Matt Garza but I didn’t understand last night’s benching. I guess Francona is trying to limit his exposure but I would be surprised and disappointed if Nava weren’t in tonight to face righty Jeremy Guthrie. In fact, I’d also like to see Patterson also play tonight, but at second.
* FARM REPORT: The big news last night concerns the continuing surge of Michael Bowden. Yielding just one run in 7.2 innings, Bowden has now ripped off 7.5 good starts in a row and seems to have rebounded from a rough 2009 and a slow start to 2010. Bowden’s star had clearly fallen and at the beginning of May, it looked like his future with the organization was in doubt. But he has pulled it together, pitched beautifully for the Pawsox, and now figures into Boston’s 2010 plans. I say that because Bowden might be a guy who could be plugged into middle relief in the not so distant future. In a perfect world, I am sure the Red Sox would like to keep Bowden down at The Bucket all year and not burn his last “option,” but given the big club’s need for relief, Bowden might be a possibility.
* Not going to say these next two are “must wins” but it sure would be nice to pick up a sweep with Lester and Lackey. The matchups in Tampa look awful so if the Sox can nab these two, they can assure themselves of leaving Tampa is pretty good shape regardless of the outcome.