Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In Beckett We Trust

Since May 15, Josh Beckett has won seven games. Six of those wins have followed a Boston loss. He is to this team what Clemens was to the Sox back in the 80s; the ace who rights the listing ship.


Last night Beckett registered that sixth win, leading the Sox to a 5-2 win over Oakland. Beckett pitched 6.2 innings and gave up two runs on six hits, which isn't a bad line at all. But it seemed a lot harder than that for Beckett. I don't know if it was the weather or what, but his location was a little off (first-pitch strikes were only 55%, total strikes (73 of 107 pitches) were a little better at 68%). He wasn't getting a lot of batters to swing and miss, and there was that first inning homer Beckett gave up to Hairston which hit the Monster lights.


It's not that Beckett was bad; after the homer the only really hard hit off Beckett was a double by Sweeney in the fifth that led to Oakland's other run. He just didn't seem 100%. So I think Tito made the right move by pulling him in the seventh, even though it was obvious to everyone watching that Beckett wasn't pleased with the decision. It's a marathon, not a sprint. And with the game in hand at that point, the right move is to let the bullpen lock the win down.


And the pen came through. Oki closed out the seventh, Masterson pitched a clean eighth and Paps struck out the side in the ninth (along with one hit) to rack up his 21st save of the year


On the other side, it was nice to see the Boston bats finally show some life. That was to be expected with Boston facing Dana Eveland, who frankly isn't a great pitcher. And when Bay cranked that shot over the Monster to tie it at 1-1 in the second, you had a feeling things were going to happen. Sure enough, Ortiz got on base with a double, 'Tek singled and Ellsbury walked to load the bases with no outs. And while Nick Green grounding into a double play isn't exactly the way you want him to earn a RBI, it got the job done and put the Sox up 2-1.


And then the third inning came, which looked a lot like the seventh inning from Sunday's win over Seattle. Eight batters came to the plate. With the bases loaded, 'Tek singled Drew and Bay home to boost Boston's lead to 4-1. After an Ellsbury walk, that was it for Eveland. Knocking him out in the third was important not only for last night's win but for tonight as well. Oakland was forced to tax their pen and that will have ramifications in tonight's game.


Although Green's bat was less than timely last night, he was a monster in the field. He ranged deep a couple of times to snag grounders and fire to first for the out. He has improved dramatically since the beginning of the season. And with that cannon he calls a throwing arm, he is making some spectacular plays seem routine.


Look at the fifth inning; Oakland had two outs but scored their second run and had runners on second and third. Orlando Cabrera hit a grounder to short that would have scored at least one run if someone like, oh, Julio Lugo was playing short. But Green went after the ball, avoided tangling himself with Adam Kennedy and fired to first for the out. Comeback over. If you had to point to the best off-season signing for the Sox, Green is near the top of the list. Can you imagine Lugo playing game after game? Ugh...


Bay seems to be slowly turning around his slump. Last night's 2-3 with a homer, RBI and two runs scored sure helped. In July so far he is batting .360 with an .836 OPS, a far cry above June's .301/.701 averages. Over the last six games in June, Bay had two hits, one run scored, no RBI and one walk. In the first six games for July, he has five hits, four runs scored, one RBI and four walks. It's good to see him turning it around, because the Sox will need his bat in the second-half of the season.


Ellsbury is thriving in the lower half of the order. He has gotten at least one hit in eight of his last nine games. The one game he went hitless in was the 6-0 loss on Monday night, which also happened to be the one game where Ellsbury hit leadoff. It's frustrating to watch a .300 hitter with an OBP over .350 do better batting 6th or 7th than leadoff. But the bottom line is that Ellsbury is productive in that spot and that's a fine sight better that watching him go hitless at leadoff. He also had his 36th steal of the year. Baring an unforeseen incident, Ellsbury will shatter the Boston single-season steals record well before the end of the year.


And so we come to tonight's rubber match (weather permitting). Newly-minted All-Star Tim Wakefield will go for his 11th win of the year, facing off against Trevor Cahill. Cahill is 5-7 with a 4.55 ERA, but the Sox have never seen him before. And that is a situation that can put the Boston bats to sleep. Cahill was one of the top prospects in baseball last year, so he's no chump. But if Boston can knock him out early, they'll get into a bullpen that saw a lot of work last night.

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