Sunday, April 29, 2007

2 of 3 Ain't Bad

Its April. Not even May yet. You can't win or lose the World Series now, or any time soon. Still, you just get the sense that this is a special team.

The surging Red Sox took two out of three at Yankee Stadium, dropping the only game that I had them favored in. The Sox won 7-4 today on a series of homers by David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Cora...? Yes, Alex Cora, who also tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly.

Despite their hitting prowess, the Sox won this one on the strength of their bullpen. His Craziness, Julian Tavarez pitched into the sixth inning, but when Julio Lugo threw a easy grounder away, Terry Francona didn't hesitate to go to his bullpen. Francona managed like a champ today, going to his best non-closer reliever, Hideki Okajima, in the sixth inning with no outs to protect a tenuous one run lead.

Okajima came on with Jeter at first, no outs. His only blemish was giving up a single to A-Rod on a good low and away off speed pitch. It was a great piece of hitting by A-Rod, but it wouldn't be enough, as Okajima left the two runners
stranded. Francona left Okajima in to pitch the seventh with great results as the Yankees didn't get a guy on base. Okajima struck out four in two innings of work.

Francona's vision to see he had already gotten the best out of Tavarez and willingness to go to one of his better relievers at a point often considered early in the game and thus only suitable for a lesser reliever, played a huge part in today's win. Francona recognized the high leverage of the situation and made sure to bring in someone who could get the outs. It helps, of course, that the trio of Papelbon, Okajima, and Donnelly can do no wrong at the moment. Imagine how good the team would be if they hadn't traded Cla Merideth? But I digress...

While Francona was managing the game perfectly, Joe Torre inexplicably went to the bullpen early after 6 innings from his starter, Wang. Wang had thrown only 83 pitches but for some reason despite all the usage his bullpen has already experienced, Torre thought that was enough. YES was speculating that Wang had developed blisters on his pitching hand, but that remains unsubstantiated. If that is true, then its understandable. If not, it was negligent. Torre allowed the Red Sox to take advantage of a mediocre Yankees bullpen, piling on for three more runs to break the game open.

That the Red Sox went into the eighth inning leading by four runs allowed them to put Mike Timlin into the game. True to form, Timlin gave up a solo homer to Derek Jeter and a single to Bobby Abreu on a terrible split fingered pitch, but he was able to get A-Rod to bounce into a double play to end the inning. The Red Sox were able to take that kind of chance because of the two run homer from Manny Ramirez in the top of the eighth.

Francona wasn't taking any chances in the ninth even with a three run lead. He brought Papelbon on to record the save, which.. YAWN... he did.

After all the bluster about the Yankees ending their winning streak and sending out their best pitcher to face Boston and win the series, they lost again. Maybe more importantly to them, they lost a match up that heavily favored them. Playing at home, the Yankees sent their number one pitcher against Boston's number five pitcher, and still lost. Decisively.

AL East: With the 7-4 win, the Red Sox are now 16-8 overall, and 5-1 against the Yankees this season. Their lead over NY returns to 6.5 games. Their lead in the division remains at 4.0 games, as Toronto beat Texas, 7-3. Baltimore lost to Cleveland, dropping to 4.5 back. The Red Sox lead Tampa by 6.0, pending the outcome of their game in Oakland.

Tomorrow: The Red Sox get a well deserved rest on Monday before playing a two game set against Oakland in the Fens. Curt Schilling will face Joe Blanton on Tuesday, and Josh Beckett looks to go 6-0 against Chad Guadin on Wednesday. Both games are scheduled for 7:05pm.

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