Game Two of the 1999 ALCS ….. Sox were down a game and Varitek was up in the second with one out. Bang, Tek slams a ball to right-field that missed leaving the yard by about an inch. Unfortunately, it stayed inside, Tek wound up stranded at third and the Sox would lose 3-2.
It turns out that the Sox got that inch back yesterday as Marcus Thames rifled a shot to right-center off Jon Lester that somehow managed to come up an inch short of tying the game at two. Turnabout is fair play although in this instance, I gladly would have traded yesterday’s inch for that inch back in 1999
A lot of attention is being paid this morning to the great job that Boston’s pen did yesterday, and make no mistake about it, Bard and Papelbon were outstanding. As was Lester for that matter. But lost in all the backslapping is the fact that those theatrics don’t happen if Thames’ ball finds another couple of inches. Because if that double had left the yard, I think all of us know how yesterday would have turned out.
That said, yesterday was a terrific win and one that will surely have a moment on my season end top-10 “moments” list. The August 9th inclusion will simply be referred to as “six pitches,” which is all it took Bard to overpower Jeter and Swisher with the bases loaded and the tying runner on second. And as it stands right now, the last of those six pitches is my pitch of the year …. A 99 MPH two-seamer with downward fade to a lefty. In my life, I haven’t seen a more unhittable pitch.
Bard’s performance was so burly yesterday that it has WEEI’s Rob Bradford now asking: Is Bard the most important piece of the Sox roster right now? I am not quite ready to join Bradford in that camp but he does make a pretty compelling argument, the core of which is Bard has simply destroyed opposing hitters in high leverage situations where games are on the line. The evidence here is pretty striking …. In said situations, Bard is giving up hits just 13.3 percent of the time. Good things happen when your pitcher is that stingy in big moments.
That being said, Bard did fade a bit in the 8th yesterday and that brings us to Papelbon, who put out a fire in the eighth and managed to survive a tough save opportunity in the ninth. I, for one, didn’t think Papelbon was going to get through that ninth and I certainly didn’t love that final matchup with Teixiera, especially in that ballpark. But Papelbon manned up, got the K and saved the Sox bacon.
Now it has fallen a bit under the radar, but Papelbon has been EXCELLENT since Denver. You remember Denver, right? Well since then, all Pap has done is throw 16.2 innings, given up one run, yielded six hits, and struck out 17. That is pretty good stuff and it sounds as if one of the big reasons for this success is Pap feels rested and has a live arm. No matter the reason, Pap had great velocity yesterday (96) and he is getting good results from both his split and that little cut-slider he throws.
That brings us to pitcher number three … Jon Lester. Now Lester got a little gassed yesterday and he certainly left a mess but you have to give him credit for six great innings against a tough lineup on a day that the Sox really needed a win. That is heady stuff and hopefully it has Lester back on track and ready to roll down the stretch.
All told, it was a passable weekend for the Sox. It can be argued that they had the matchups in their favor and probably should have won Sunday night. But they are also missing two key guys so a split is hardly the end of the world. And it sets them up to have a decent trip. Now the matchups aren’t great in Toronto but they improve in Texas and right now, I don’t think 4-2 is impossible. However, 3-3 seems more likely and quite frankly, that would suit me just fine. I say that because once we return from Texas, the schedule turns, Pedroia should be back and the stage will be set for this team to finally go on a roll. I’m not banking on it but I think there may be a little more air in Boston’s lungs than most people assume.
[Editor’s Note: In the 1999 game referenced above, Troy O’leary also missed a game-changing and series-changing home run by a matter of inches. I don’t want to rehash the eighth inning of that game but suffice to say it ended in one of the worst at bats in Sox history … thank you Butch Husky. Final thought … had the Sox caught a break in game two, and won game three with Pedro, who knows what would have happened down the line ….. ]
POINTS OF INTEREST:
* Marco Scutaro is now 3-29 in his last seven games and screaming for a day or two off. So please Terry, take a look at what you are doing to your shortstop and back off the accelerator.
* Welcome to the 2010 season Jacoby.
* It looks like the Sox will draw TWO lefties in Toronto and that is not encouraging. So If I were making out the lineup tonight, I play Kalish against the lefty, sit Drew for McDoanld, Hall plays second and Lowrie plays short. One thing that will annoy me this series …. Seeing Eric Patterson in the starting lineup. His time is up.
* Small sample size but on the road this season … Mike Lowell is 7-42 with one extra base hit and just two walks. It saddens me to say but Lowell simply lacks the power to do much damage in bigger ballparks.
FARM REPORT: It was a rather ho-hum night down below but one name worth mentioning is Drake Britton who threw 3.2 solid innings for Greenville. Britton is hardly a kid, having turned 21 in May, so he is pretty old for the Sally league. But he did miss all of 2009 with TJ surgery so he has turned into a bit of a project. Well, that project is bouncing back and over his last nine starts for The Drive, Britton has posted an ERA of 2.40 in 33.2 innings. Reports have him throwing in the mid-90s and that is always interesting when it comes out of a “left” hand. Britton has a ways to go before he seriously gets on the radar but he has tools and he may be one of those guys who could bust out next season and jump a level pretty quickly. So I wouldn’t be shocked if he is seen eating a lobster roll in Portland a year from now.