What was a pitchers' duel was broken open in the ninth inning thanks to the bat of Jason Bay, who's about as popular a player as there is in Boston these days. He has demonstrated a remarkable knack for getting the key hit in a game. Last night it was his three-run blast off one-time starting phenom Kerry Wood that made the difference. Bay is now batting .344 for the year and has a 1.211 OPS. If it wasn't for Youk's insanely hot start, Bay would be the front runner for Player of the Month.
Actually, here's a little comparison you may find interesting:
Jason Bay: 19 G .344 BA 1.211 OPS 5 HR 19 RBI
Player XXX: 19 G .342 BA 1.127 OPS 6 HR 20 RBI
Player XXX is Manny Ramirez over his first 19 games of 2008. The Sox have lost little if anything in the production they get from left field and have improved their defense. Trading for Jason Bay (provided Theo signs him to an extension, hint hint) may prove to be one of Theo's better moves in hindsight.
What was really enjoyable about last night's game was the starting pitching. A dual shut-out through eight innings and some fine pitching from both starters. But Tim Wakefield is going through a late-career Renaissance so far in 2009. In four games he has given up just six earned runs. He has allowed a total of nine hits in his last three games (23 innings total). Using the Bill James Game Score metric*, Wakes' performance last night is one of the 10 best pitching performances in the AL so far this year. It's a shame he didn't get the win last night (not that Delcarmen didn't deserve it). Wakefield is 2-1 on the year with a 1.86 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. By comparison, a certain expensive "ace" starting pitcher located in a rather large city is currently 1-2 with a 4.73 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP. Now, is it fair of me to make that comparison this early in the year? Perhaps not...but who cares? The fact that a $4M per year knuckleballer is out-pitching Moneybags Sabathia is freaking hilarious.
There was some bad last night. Papelbon got his fifth save in an ugly fashion, giving up three hits and a run before locking it down. He has a tendency to do this from time to time. And that makes the emergence of Daniel Bard an interesting thing to watch. He is currently rolling in Pawtucket (3 SV, 1.69 ERA, 18 K, 3 walks) and he did the same in Portland last year. Bard gives every sign of being a reliable closer in the near future in the majors. If Papelbon continues to look shaky or demands too much money in free agency (which he insists he is going to try three years from now), do not be surprised to see Bard become the new closer for the Sox.
That was really the only bad spot. You can't hate on players for not hitting much when the opposing pitcher just has his groove going. And Papi went 2-4, making his re-emergence look more solid. Although a home run from his bat wouldn't hurt either.
But how much can I really complain? The Sox have won 11 in a row and are tied for first with two games in hand on the Jays. The Yankees are mired in third with a sub-.500 record. And so far I haven't caught the swine flu. Life is good!
First Pitch Strikes
I went into this expecting a low percentage because, let's be honest, not even the pitcher always knows where a knuckleball is going. Out of 27 batters, Wakefield got a first pitch strike/out on 15 of them. That is a 55.5% success rate. Normally, that is average at best. But with the knuckleball, that's a good number. If you are locating a knuckleball on over half of your initial pitches to batters, you have your stuff working that night. There are a lot of conventional pitchers that would love to have that kind of rate.
April 28 / Away against Cleveland / Penny vs. Reyes / 7:05 PM : The undefeated Brad Penny, it should be noted.
* Here's how it works (from ESPN): Start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.