Last night was, by far, Smoltz's best performance to date. His five innings of four-hit, one run ball were impressive. His seven strikeouts were, in my opinion, more impressive. Even with a poor first-strike percentage (42% of batters), Smoltz was able to get a lot of fouls and then come back with a perfectly-placed strike. The third inning was a perfect example of this. All three outs were strikeouts looking. Two of those three batters started their count 1-0 and pushed it to 2-1. But Smoltz was able to battle the count and get the batters out with some crafty pitching.
The result was that after five innings the Sox were ahead by a score of 9-1. That was thanks in part to three runs in the first, a two-run shot by Youk in the second and David Ortiz's 1,000 hit with the Red Sox, a two-run blast that put the Sox up 9-0.
And then the bullpen got involved. In particular, Justin Masterson.
Now, I have seen this kid pitch in person in Portland. He is the real deal, a definite major league talent. But the wheels have come off in eye-popping fashion in his past two outings, to the point where you wonder if Masterson isn't tipping off his pitches.
Masterson started off fine, striking out Teahen. But then he went like this: single, two-run homer, walk, single, single (scoring run). It was brutal and completely unlike Masterson. I really think that KC discovered something in his delivery that is tipping off what he is throwing, because Masterson has been completely ineffective against the Royals.
And his reliever, Delcarmen, hasn't been much better. In his past three appearances, Delcarmen has either given up two runs or allowed two inherited runners to score. Last night he walked his first batter, lucked out when the next batter hit a shot to right and Drew was able to get the force out at home, and then gave up a two-run single to make it 9-6. I think with Delcarmen, the issue is a mental one. His name has been bandied about in trade talks. He needs to put that aside and focus on the game.
Oki then came on and got the third out, but surrendered a homer and two singles to start the seventh. That opened the door for Daniel Bard to come out. And Bard was the first reliever to impress all night. He has phenominal control for a pitcher that throws a fastball between 97-100 on every pitch. He struck out Brayan Pena on a 99 MPH fastball that singed the upper outside corner while Pena just stared at it. It was an impressive sight.
As a reward for finding an effective pitcher in the pen, the Boston bats responded with a five-run bottom of the seventh that sealed up the game. The highlights were a bases-loaded throwing error by Olivo that allowed Jason Bay to score and kept 'Tek from hitting into a double play, and Nick Green's bases-loaded two-run single. You know, Nick Green the one-time Yankee? Really, Aviv, we can't thank you guys enough for him.
Bard gave up two runs in the eighth, but neither would have happened if not for Aaron Bates botching a routine out at first. So they were both unearned. The Sox tacked up three more in the bottom of the eighth (including Youk's second homer) and then as the rain started coming down in sheets, Saito closed out the ninth in efficient fashion. And with that Smoltz got his first win with Boston.
This was a big win for the Sox. Combined with a second straight choke-job by the Yankees in Anaheim, Boston is now up in the AL East by two games. This guarantees that the Sox will enter the All-Star break in sole possession of first. It was also important because it means the Sox will do no worse than 5-5 on this homestand. Now, that isn't nearly the ideal record you want after a 10-game stint at home. But considering how lousy the Sox looked at times during this homestand, knowing they can't do worse than .500 isn't a bad thing.
But hopefully they can make it 6-4. And Boston has a great shot at that with Josh Beckett taking the mound. He's facing Bruce Chen.....wait, Bruce Chen? Really?
Yes, really. After spending all of 2008 out of the majors, he's back. Chen signed a minor league deal with the Royals and was called up June 27th. He's 0-3 with a 6.88 ERA since then, so not much has changed. The Sox should be able to tee off on him.