Wednesday, July 25, 2007

WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND: SOX LOSE, 1-0

It came down to one pitch. To be honest I'm not even sure if it was a bad one or not. The pitch in question was a Josh Beckett fastball that Franklin Gutierrez hit over the left field wall to lead off the third inning. That pitch turned out to be the difference in the game, as the Indians Fausto Carmona was masterful through eight shutout innings. Joe Borowski lucked into a successful ninth for the save (I hate Joe Borowski).

Despite excellence on the mound, the Red Sox had opportunities to score but fouled them up. In spectacularly painful fashion, three Red Sox runners were thrown out on the bases, and all in the midst of important scoring opportunities.

The first was Coco Crisp, who was thrown out at home (AARG!!) trying to score from second on a David Ortiz single with two outs in the sixth. Had Crisp held off, Manny Ramirez would have batted with runners on first and third and two down. Manny would later get screwed out of another attempt to tie the game. More on that in a moment. I'm sure you can't wait.

After singling to lead off the eighth, Jason Varitek became the second to be thrown out. With Alex Cora up and one out, Varitek ran on the pitch. Either he incorrectly thought the hit and run was on or it was but Cora missed the sign. In any case, the end result was Varitek was thrown out by a large margin. Jason Varitek has many skills. Running fast isn't one of them.

The final indignity came when Julio Lugo was thrown out trying to steal second base in the eighth inning. Some of you may note that the eight is the same inning Varitek was thrown out in. Others of you may have seen it and are too busy trying to stick your hair back into your scalp. May I suggest staples?

Getting thrown out meant that, well, the inning was over. But, as Coco was in the midst of his at-bat when Lugo was thrown out, Coco had to hit again leading off the ninth. This meant that Manny was no longer guaranteed to hit in the ninth. Predictably, the Sox went down 1-2-3 in the ninth, stranding Manny in the on-deck circle.

When not helping the Indians out on the basepaths,
the Red Sox offense was held in fetal-like check by Carmona. The game remained close only because Josh Beckett was magnificent. Besides the homer to Gutierrez, Beckett allowed only one other hit hard ball all night, and Travis Hafner's line drive was caught by J.D. Drew in the seventh.

One could make a fair case that Beckett actually out-pitched Carmona, although the scoreboard would dispute that notion. Beckett struck out seven in eight innings, giving up only four hits and walking none. In fact, the Indians didn't get a runner past first base all night with the exception of the Gutierrez homer.
Carmona gave up four hits as well, but walked two, hit a batter, and had several balls hit quite hard off him, but none of them fell in for hits.

Hopefully the Sox can take tomorrow's game. Three out of four in Cleveland against a very good Indians team would be an accomplishment, but more than that, it would prevent the Red Sox lead from shrinking again. Its all fun and games until the lead shrinks below 7, and then someone gets hurt. Like, for example, my couch pillows.

Some notes on today's game...

*It takes a close game to remind me how much I miss Orsillo and Remy. Or, conversely, how much I hate the Indians announcers. These clowns spent half the night claiming pitches that are shown to be out of the strike zone by their own K Zone thingy are strikes, or calling mediocre defensive plays made by Cleveland fielders, "Great! Just great!"

Just your garden variety homerism, but still exceptionally irritating. There was a whole lot of agreement in the booth. Cries of "You are right! Ha ha! You are SO right!" filled my living room until I couldn't take it anymore and shut off the volume. Is it not possible to support the team that employs you without kissing their ass and talking down to the other team?

*The Sox just can't do anything in the ninth inning this season. Its certainly just an unlucky statistical oddity, but its a fact just the same. Here are the OPS the Sox have generated by inning:

1: .950
2: .698
3: .868
4: .806
5: .751
6: .872
7: .723
8: .832
9: .593 (!)

Now sing that little song we all learned in kindergarten, "Which of these things doesn't belong?" For the season the Red Sox team OPS is .798, meaning the Sox are giving up about .200 points of OPS in the ninth, the exact time when you need to turn it up to win.

Imagine if, instead of following their normal lineup, the Red Sox just sent Wily Mo Pena
up to hit in perpetuity every time the ninth inning rolled around. "Ghost runner on fir... oh wait. Never mind. He struck out again." Scary, huh? Based on production, thats effectively what the Sox have done this year. I'd expect and hope this would creep back towards normal soon, though obviously tonight wasn't particularly helpful on this front.

*The trade deadline is fast approaching. It should be interesting to see what Theo does. Many people seem to think the Red Sox bullpen should be bolstered, but I don't see anything wrong with the pen. Especially if Clay Bucholz comes up September first to pitch out of the pen Papelbon style.

If it were me, I'd work on upgrading the bench. To illustrate the point, here is each bench player's OPS:

Alex Cora: .743
Eric Hinske: .741
Wily Mo Pena: .610
Doug Mirabelli: .565

Mirabelli has been hideous, but theres no other option to catch Wakefield right now, so he'll likely stay. Cora and Hinske are incredibly versatile, even though neither of them are getting on base much. Not ideal, but probably not going to get appreciably better without giving up more than the Sox want to in trade.

That leaves Pena and his anemic OPS. Thats the one hole on the team that the Sox need to fill. I like the guy, but Pena, as talented as he is, has to go. He'll have to blossom somewhere else. The Sox need someone who can get on base competently now and Pena isn't that guy.

AL East: New York, Baltimore, and Toronto won. Tampa lost. The Red Sox lead shrinks to 6.5 games over New York, 9.5 over Toronto, 13.5 over Baltimore. Tampa remains 22.5 games back.

Tomorrow (Wednesday): The Red Sox close out their four game series with Cleveland. To win the series the Sox will have to win tomorrow. Kason Gabbard goes for Boston. He'll be opposed by Cliff Lee. Game time 7:05pm EST.

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