BOSTON – The situation was calling out for a pinch runner last night at Fenway Park.
No, make that it was screaming out for a pinch runner.
David Ortiz at second base with two outs in the ninth in a 0-0 game. The same David Ortiz who had missed the previous two games because of a bruised right knee. The same David Ortiz who underwent offseason surgery on his right knee. The same lumbering David Ortiz who doesn’t have any speed to begin with.
But Boston manager Terry Francona didn’t replace Ortiz, the Sox’ designated hitter.
The reason? Actually, there were a couple.
Francona had only one healthy position player left on the bench. That was Jed Lowrie. Jacoby Ellsbury was not available because he is suffering from a sore groin. Another position player was lost from the bench when outfielder Brandon Moss had to take over for J.D. Drew (tight quadriceps) in the fourth.
Lowrie, a rookie infielder, certainly is a faster runner than Ortiz. But in the top of the ninth, second baseman Dustin Pedroia had jammed his left shoulder making a dazzling diving play that robbed Vernon Wells of a two-out RBI single up the middle.
Francona said after the game he wasn’t sure if Pedroia would have been able to go out in the field for a 10th inning, if the game continued. He needed to either save Lowrie, or pinch-run him and lose the DH, forcing him to put the pitcher in the batting order.
Fortunately for Francona, Ortiz and the Sox, when Kevin Youkilis laced his single to center, Wells, the Jays’ center fielder, bobbled the ball when he charged in to field it, so Ortiz, rumbling around third and heading home, was spared a likely collision at the plate and Boston had its 1-0 victory.
In every game, the pitcher will work the opposition’s lineup, trying to feature his strengths and take advantage of the hitters’ weaknesses.
Sometimes, though, the pitcher also has to pitch according to the conditions.
Last night was one of those occasions for Jon Lester.
The weather was nasty for baseball. It was cold and there was a 15-m.p.h. wind. That constitutes pitcher weather.
The hitters do not like any heavy fastballs on the inside of the plate in such conditions, a situation Lester used to his advantage. Mixing in a very effective cutter -- a fastball with a late, sharp break -- Lester was able to get in on the hands of the Jays, especially early.
In the first inning, Lester’s biting cutter shattered David Eckstein’s bat (weak grounder to third) and severely jammed Scott Rolen (soft popup to first). In the second, Shannon Stewart hit a weak roller to first, having been sawed off by a cutter. Similar pitches produced weak grounders by Alex Rios in the third and Rolen in the fourth and Gregg Zaun, the last batter he faced in the game for the final out of the eighth.
That type of command, on such an awful night to hit, helped Lester author eight innings of one-hit shutout baseball last night.
Pedroia said it was no big deal, that his shoulder popped out and was popped back in after his eye-popping defensive gem that preserved a 0-0 score with two outs in the top of the ninth.
But the condition of Pedroia’s shoulder has to be of some concern.
Two years ago in spring training, the shoulder popped out and cost him time that spring. It has happened every now and then since. Only a week ago, Pedroia made a headfirst slide into first base to elude a tag on a wide throw, and seemingly suffered the same fate.
Then there was last night, when it happened again.
He’s a tough kid. No one doubts that. Pedroia and the Sox, though, can only hope the issue doesn’t become more serious, bothering him every time he makes a dive for a ground ball the rest of the season.
When Francona sent Youkilis from first base on a 3-and-2 pitch to Mike Lowell in the second inning there were several circumstances prompting the strategy.
For one, the Red Sox suddenly have found it very difficult to score runs. Boston managed to tally only five runs in suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of the Rays last weekend. Add to that drought the fact that Toronto had its ace right-hander, Roy Halladay, on the mound, and it made sense to put Youkilis, hardly a speedy runner, in motion with one out.
Also factoring into the equation was the hitter – Lowell. It was the first game back for Lowell, who had been on the disabled list. He’s a slow runner who hits into his share of double plays – 19 last year.
As it turned out, Lowell took a curveball for strike three, leaning across the plate, inadvertently though not illegally getting a bit in the way of catcher Gregg Zaun, whose throw to second was high and wide. Youkilis was credited with his first stolen base of the year but wound up stranded.
Drew left last night’s game because of a strained left quadriceps.
And while that left the Red Sox short on outfielders – Ellsbury is suffering from a sore groin – the more distressing aspect of Drew’s play lately is that he is once again looking like the offensive underachiever he was for most of last season.
After a sizzling start, Drew has disappeared from the Sox’ offense. Drew was batting .362 on April 17. Since then, he has gone 4 for 31 (.129), dropping his average to .269. Drew has only one extra-base hit – a double – in his last 51 at-bats. That two-bagger, on April 17, is one of only two doubles for the season. He has three homers.
His swing is looking long and feeble. He has been rolling over on pitches, particularly pitches on the outer half of the plate, accounting for weak bouncers to the right side. He already has bounced into five double plays, only three off teammate David Ortiz’s league-leading total in that category.
Drew generated a lot of good will by starring in the postseason last fall. He has quietly fallen into a similar funk to the one he endured a year ago. Now he’s out because of a twinge in his quadriceps. It’s all starting to sound depressingly familiar.
The good news for the Jays was that they were given a leadoff walk in a 0-0 game in the sixth inning.
The bad news for the Jays was that it was catcher Gregg Zaun, one of the team’s slowest runners, who received that base on balls. And the next batter was Alex Rios, one of the team’s best hitters on a team that has been slumping badly at the plate.
So Toronto manager John Gibbons had a dilemma. Should he bunt? The Jays entered last night’s action tied with Cleveland for the most sacrifice bunts (10) in the league. Gibbons let Rios swing away. Rios inexplicably took a 3-and-2 fastball down the middle for a whiff.
Next up was David Eckstein, one of the best at handling the bat. The Sox smelled a hit-and-run. Lester four times threw over to first base, trying to shorten Zaun’s lead and trying to find out if Eckstein might do something in the box that would tip off the Jays’ intentions.
Ultimately, Zaun never moved off first. Eckstein hit a weak grounder to shortstop on a 2-and-1 pitch, a ball Julio Lugo turned into an inning-ending double play, ending what, on this night, constituted a rally – a leadoff walk.
The grounds crew just drew applause as it began the process of removing the tarp. Still, tonight's Red Sox-Toronto game will begin slightly late, at 7:15 p.m.
The rain, which was supposed to have gone away several hours ago, lingered. The tarp has covered the field all afternoon, although players from both teams have gone out to do some light work as the rain has lightened.
Jon Lester, the Boston starter, is doing calisthenics now but has yet to begin throwing. Roy Halladay, the Toronto starter, has yet to head to the bullpen to warm up.
-- Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was unable to make his last scheduled start, last Wednesday against the Angels, because of the flu, is healthy enough to pitch again. Dice-K stayed in Boston and got in his work while the Sox were on the road against the Rays. He'll start tomorrow night, pushed back a day to make sure he's as strong as possible.
-- Curt Schilling missed a couple of days or workouts because of the flu, though he's hardly close to being on the team's pitching radar.
-- Utility infielder Alex Cora, on the disabled list because of elbow troubles, has been cleared to start throwing. Manager Terry Francona hopes that Cora will be able to take grounders and "let it fly" from anywhere in the infield on Friday.
-- Bartolo Colon threw a 35-pitch bullpen session on Monday and is on schedule to throw a similar session tomorrow. Francona said it is "very realistic" that the veteran right-hander, sent to the sidelines because of a strained oblique, will be able to pitch in a game somewhere on May 5.
David Ortiz is back in the lineup as Boston's designated hitter.
Ortiz missed the last two games on the road against Tampa Bay because of a bruised right knee, suffered in a lurching slide in an unsuccessful attempt to beat out the back end of a double play on Friday night.
Impressive rookie outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, though, was forced to the bench because of a sore groin.
Ellsbury thought he'd be able to play, but didn't get treatment on Monday's off day, and isn't in the starting lineup. That is unfortunate for the Red Sox because, even though it's a small sample, Ellsbury has "owned" Toronto's ace right-hander, Roy Halladay, the Jays' starter tonight. Ellsbury is 4 for 6 with 2 homers and 3 RBI in his budding career against Halladay.
Ellsbury is being replaced in the starting lineup by Coco Crisp, who also has taken Ellsbury's spot at the top of the batting order.
As expected, third baseman Mike Lowell was activated from the disabled list today and is in the starting lineup tonight for the game against the Blue Jays.
To make room for Lowell, the Red Sox designated right-handed reliever Bryan Corey for assignment. It was the second time this month Boston has designated Corey.
Lowell had been placed on the DL on April 10 because of a sprained left thumb. He had a three-day rehab assignment with the PawSox that ended on Sunday. On Monday, he worked out at Fenway Park on an off day for the Red Sox, and satisfied manager Terry Francona that he was ready to be activated.
"There's no concern on our part," said Francona this afternoon. "He looks good."
Lowell, who was 3 for 13 with 3 RBI for the PawSox, is looking forward to returning to the lineup.
"I don't think anybody's 100 percent now, but I'm back and ready to play," said Lowell this afternoon. "I felt like I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. I'm excited to play tonight."
``I was most anxious to be seeing pitches. I was able to do that the three days I was there. I felt comfortable,'' Lowell said. ``I'm glad I did it. I'm even happier to be here.''
Lowell has had a special insert made for his glove to protect his thumb.
``I think even if I feel fantastic, I'm going to wear it the rest of the year,'' he said. ``It holds the joint from going where they don't want it to go. It doesn't really bother me, so I think I should wear it. If I don't wear it one day and then I test it and I hurt it again I'm going to feel like I'm an idiot for trying that.''
``Like anything, it takes some time getting used to,'' he added. ``But I feel comfortable enough you could say so I don't think it's going to be a major problem.''
Lowell's return helps solidify the Red Sox' lineup, especially with first baseman Sean Casey on the DL because of a strained right hip. Lowell, who usually bats fifth, will hit sixth tonight because Kevin Youkilis, in the fifth slot, has been solid. Lowell's return allows Francona to slide down slumping J.D. Drew to the seventh spot. Drew is in a 4-for-30 skid.
Corey first was sliced from the Sox' roster on April 11, eventually re-signed and assigned to Pawtucket. Corey was recalled last Friday and pitched in one game over the weekend on the road against Tampa Bay(on April 25, a scoreless 1 2/3-inning stint. The Lowell-for-Corey swap reduces the roster to 12 pitchers.
Click the play button below to hear Sean's comments, recorded this morning. Today's topics: Jacoby Ellsbury's 17-for-17 stolen-base streak, Bartolo Colon's path back to the mound, the Toronto Blue Jays struggling early in the season, and the latest Roger Clemens scandal.
-- McDonald's piece on Jacoby Ellsbury, whose base-stealing prowess (as evidenced above) led the Rays' Carl Crawford to exhort the Sox to give the young man the green light whenever he's on the bases. McDonald also talks to Tommy Harper, who helped Ellsbury hone his baserunning skills as a Red Sox consultant and who believes his former pupil will break his Red Sox single-season stolen-base record of 54, set in 1973.
-- Bradford notes that opposing hitters have swung and missed at an astounding 41.5 percent of Jonathan Papelbon's pitches this year and analyzes why that is (beyond pitching coach John Farrell's summation that Papelbon "throws the heck out of the ball").
-- Even somebody else's off-day stories have a Red Sox tinge. In Los Angeles, Derek Lowe compares playing on the West Coast with playing in the East and concludes: "Some people who have played this game for a long time say there is a certain mentality out here, that it's more about entertainment than winning . . . I'm not saying that's true, but a lot of people say that about Southern California." (dailybreeze.com)
LOOKING BACK: The Rays -- or at least the people who've watched them for these last miserable 10 years -- are still pinching themselves over the weekend sweep of the sox. (Bradenton Herald) And the good news just keeps on coming, as Scott Kazmir pitches 5 1/3 strong rehab innings in Durham and pronounces himself good to go (Tampa Tribune). He's scheduled to make his season debut with Tampa Bay on Saturday night against the Red Sox at Fenway. And now, says the Tribune, the Rays suddenly have too much pitching. (This, of course, is the giddiness that comes with the rush of first-time success; as Terry Francona and Theo Epstein always say, the minute you think you have too much pitching is the time you should go out and get some more, because you never, never, never have too much pitching.) But the St. Petersburg Times says there's no question the Rays have plenty of good pitchers in their bullpen, which, as anyone who played them 18 or 19 times a year knows, had been a toxic waste dump prior to this season.
GO FIGURE: Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times notes that of the 16 "new" managers the Red Sox have hired in franchise history, only four ever were hired again . . . but almost all of them did well with the Sox. "They come. They win. They disappear," he concludes. Among the familiar names on this list (at least to me) are Joe Morgan and Eddie Kasko.
SEE YA: The blog My Pinstripes presents a litany of complaints against Yankee TV announcer Michael Kay under the misleading heading "Michael Kay, Yea or Nay?" (Misleading because it's all Nay with no Yea.)
STORY? WHAT STORY? MAYBE IT'S A STORY TO YOU, BUT IT'S NOT A STORY TO ME: Adam Rubin of the Daily News prints the transcript of an interview with Carlos Delgado in which the Mets' first baseman says his decision not to acknowledge the fans' pleas for a curtain call Sunday was not a snub, but that he's not surprised the story has grown to apocalyptic importance in New York.