« September 8, 2007
September 10, 2007 »
September 9, 2007
Notebook: Matsuzaka 2007 looks like Beckett 2006
BY STEVEN KRASNER
Journal Sports Writer
BALTIMORE -- Is Daisuke Matsuzaka this year’s version of Josh Beckett, circa 2006?
A year ago, Beckett stubbornly stuck to his hard stuff – fastballs, sliders – especially when he was in trouble, trying to power his way out of the jams.
All too often when catcher Jason Varitek wanted him to mix in changeups and curveballs, Beckett would shake off the Sox captain and try to throw harder and harder, a major reason he gave up a career-high 36 homers and finished the year with an un-ace-like 5.01 earned-run average, despite winning 16 games.
At one point in the season, when asked why he didn’t just insist that Beckett mix in his offspeed pitches more, Varitek said the pitcher has to throw a pitch with conviction. So, he said speaking in general terms, if the catcher puts down the sign for a curve and insists on it, and the pitcher doesn’t think it’s the right pitch to throw, he’s more likely to hang it and pay the price for a bad pitch.
This year Beckett has been mixing in all of his pitches, which is a major reason he is a prime candidate for Cy Young honors, boasting an 18-6 record and a 3.27 earned-run average.
And when he was asked this spring what advice he would give Matsuzaka, Beckett said he would tell the Japanese pitcher to listen to Varitek and trust the always well prepared catcher’s pitch-calling abilities.
Matsuzaka hasn’t done that. In jams, Dice-K goes to his hard stuff, as he did to poor results Saturday night when he was shelled for seven runs in the third inning and eight in his 2 2/3-inning stint. The loss dropped his record to 14-12 and bloated his earned-run average to 4.44.
Maybe he could do that in Japan, where he was a star, costing the Sox a little more than $100 million in posting fees and salary. But, given his 9.57 earned-run average over his last five starts, maybe he needs to alter his approach to getting out of jams in this league.
''There are adjustment periods,'' conceded manager Terry Francona, though noting the Beckett-Matsuzaka comparison isn’t 100-percent dead-on.
''As much as we rely on him (Dice-K) to win, and we have a lot of baseball left, I do think it will be easier for him next year when he comes back. That’s just human nature. I think he feels the responsibility to carry his share and when he goes through some rough times, we have to make sure we help him,'' said Francona, also pointing out the cultural adjustments Dice-K has had to endure in his first season in this country.
Matsuzaka will get an extra day of rest before his next start, Friday night at Fenway Park in the opener of a three-game series against the Yankees.
Francona came very close to getting drilled with a line drive off the bat of Brian Roberts during the Baltimore second baseman’s 10-pitch battle with Beckett in the seventh. Francona had to move quickly to avoid the ball.
''That ball hit about six inches from where I was,'' said Francona. ''If I hadn’t moved, it would have hit my temple. And he (Roberts) had the nerve to laugh. I was like, ‘Just make an out and get out of there.’ ''
Francona’s wish was granted. Roberts struck out.
Back to work
Manny Ramirez, who was permitted to go home to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on Friday, was expected back at Fenway on Sunday afternoon to work with trainer Scott Waugh. Ramirez has been out of action because of a strained oblique.
Reliever Eric Gagne (shoulder tendinitis) felt fine a day after his bullpen session. He could be available to pitch tonight at home against the Devil Rays of the Sox decide the situation warrants bringing him in for his first appearance since Aug. 26.
Luck on their side
The Sox were lucky that a couple of bad slides didn’t disable two of their starters. Mike Lowell made a belated slide at first and was out on a high throw in the fifth, and Kevin Youkilis kind of slid and bounced at second base when he was safe in his stolen-base attempt in the sixth. There was no throw, which Youkilis realized too late to abort his slide, though he tried and landed awkwardly. Then, when Coco Crisp laid down an attempted sacrifice bunt on his own, Youkilis didn’t slide into third, taking mincing steps as he neared the bag, and was out by an eyelash, blunting a budding rally.
Here and there
-- Varitek struck out in his first at-bat yesterday, making it five straight whiffs and six in seven at-bats over a three-game stretch. He snapped out of the funk with a single to right in the fourth.
-- Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to nine games since being recalled from Pawtucket on Sept. 1.
-- Beckett has given up at least one home run in each of his last four starts. The two he coughed up yesterday inflated his season’s total to 14.
-- Doug Mirabelli (hamstring) isn’t likely to be ready to return, so Kevin Cash is expected to catch knuckleballer Tim Wakefield Tuesday night against the Devil Rays.
-- Varitek, a switch-hitter, was at the plate and the count was 2 and 2 when Baltimore right-hander Jeremy Guthrie had to leave the game because of a left oblique strain. Left-hander Jamie Walker took over, so Varitek turned around in the batter’s box, from the left side to the right side. He walked. The walk was charged to Walker.
Posted by Art Martone at 6:27 PM | Permalink
Game story: Sox follow formula in 3-2 win over Orioles
BY STEVEN KRASNER
Journal Sports Writer
BALTIMORE -- Outstanding starting pitching from Cy Young candidate Josh Beckett. Spotless setup relief by Hideki Okajima. And a typically dominant save from virtually unhittable Jonathan Papelbon.
That, plus a manufactured run of all things on a stolen base by J.D. Drew and Coco Crisp's tie-breaking two-out single in the eighth, was the formula used by the Boston Red Sox in their 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles Sunday at Camden Yards.
It was typical of the way Boston was winning games early in the season, when the Red Sox bolted out to a commanding lead in the American League East. And it's a formula the Sox would like to feature over their final 18 games and into the postseason.
Certainly, Beckett (18-6), who is tied with the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang for the league lead in victories, and Papelbon (35 saves in 37 chances) have been consistent all season. Okajima has had a few lapses recently, but after three days off the left-hander once again looked sharp in holding up his end of the bullpen bargain.
Beckett gave up seven hits, but only two hurt him – solo homers by Melvin Mora in the fourth and Nick Markakis in the sixth, which negated Mike Lowell's two-out, two-run single in the third.The right-hander's pitch count was soaring on another hot and steamy day here when he faced one last challenge.
The Orioles' Dave Roberts was up with a runner at third, two outs and the game tied at 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh.The duo engaged in a 10-pitch duel. Roberts fouled off six pitches in a row as Beckett went to his power game, pumping in one fastball after another, all nine of them in the 94-96-mph range. But Beckett fooled Roberts with a changeup on the final pitch. The ball was in the dirt but Roberts, committed to not letting a sizzling fastball beat him, couldn't hold up his swing on Beckett's 116th and final pitch.
''That was a phenomenal at-bat and even better for us because we got him out,'' said Boston manager Terry Francona. ''That was one of the better hitters in the league against one of the better pitchers. He (Beckett) had to be that good because there was no margin for error.''
''He (Roberts) is a great baseball player, one of the smartest guys I've ever played against,'' said Beckett, who shrugged off talk of a 20-win season and his Cy Young credentials.
Beckett was put in position for a win because the Sox scored in the eighth, and then in came Okajima, to form the bullpen bridge to Papelbon. The left-hander had not been as automatic as he had been earlier. In each of his last six outings, and in nine of his last 10, Okajima had put at least one runner on base, prompting suggestions from the media that he may be getting tired.
On Sunday, though, Okajima looked sharp, needing only 10 pitches to mow down the Orioles in the eighth, racking up one strikeout along the way.
''I don't think Hideki looked tired,'' volunteered Francona with a chuckle. ''I thought his ball had a lot of life.''
But life on Okajima's pitches doesn't compare to what Papelbon delivers.
And while he did cough up a hit – a broken-bat single by Mora with one out, the first hit he had surrendered in 27 at-bats since Aug. 17 – Papelbon had little trouble in finishing off the Orioles. He struck out the final two batters he faced, taking advantage of relatively inexperienced Orioles Scott Moore and Freddie Bynum for swinging strike threes on nasty splitters in the dirt.
''I feel like I'm in a pretty good zone,'' said Papelbon, who has held hitters to a miniscule .041 (2-for-49) batting average since July 28.
''It's a situation where I don't even know what I'm doing. It's not like I'm going home and writing it down. I'm just trying to go out there and repeat it. Today the splitter just felt good. I had good depth on it and when a pitch feels so good, you try to run with it,'' he said.
Posted by Art Martone at 6:24 PM | Permalink
FINAL: Red Sox 3, Orioles 2
BALTIMORE -- Coco Crisp's two-out single in the top of the eighth inning drove in J.D. Drew from second base and lifted the Red Sox to a 3-2 win over the Orioles on Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards.
Josh Beckett pitched seven innings for the victory, his major-league-high 18th. Hideki Okajima pitched a perfect eighth and Jonathan Papelbon finished up for his 35th save. The 35 saves equals the number Papelbon had as a rookie in 2006.
Mike Lowell had given the Red Sox a 2-0 lead with a two-run, two-out single in the top of the third. The Orioles tied the game with solo home runs from Melvin Mora in the fourth and Nick Markakis in the sixth.
Read Steven Krasner's game story and journal on this blog later this evening. In the meantime, go to Projo Stats for the box score and game information.
Posted by Art Martone at 4:59 PM | Permalink
Pregame Notes, Sept. 9
-- Reliever Eric Gagne (shoulder tendinitis) felt fine a day after his bullpen session so manager Terry Francona said he would get together with pitching coach John Farrell to discuss the next step for the right-hander. It's possible Gagne will be cleared to pitch in tomorrow night's game if the opportunity to ease him in arises.
-- Manny Ramirez (oblique), who had been given permission to go home to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on Friday, is expected to work out at Fenway Park today around 3 o'clock with trainer Scott Waugh.
-- Alex Cora is in the starting lineup today at shortstop, with Julio Lugo getting some time off in the day game after a night game. Jason Varitek was back behind the plate for the third straight game in steamy, hot conditions but Francona had talen him out of Saturday night's blowout loss in the sixth inning.
-- Steven Krasner
Posted by Steven Krasner at 11:28 AM | Permalink
Starting Lineups, Sept. 9
R. Hernandez c
L. Hernandez ss
-- Steven Krasner
Posted by Steven Krasner at 11:25 AM | Permalink