For the first time in a while, Josh Beckett had a solid, if not spectacular start. Unfortunately, Boston's bats pulled one of their all-too common disappearing acts and Chicago won 5-1, taking three of four from Boston in the series.
Beckett looked more like the pitcher we remember from July. He allowed no home runs, went seven innings and allowed three runs on six hits. He threw 67% of his pitches for strikes and threw a first-pitch strike to 20 of 29 batters (69% success rate). Those are solid numbers. He even allowed fewer hits than Mark Buehrle over the same number of innings (Buehrle had eight). But Boston was never able to string their hits into a solid run. Chicago did and that was the difference.
The bigger problem yesterday was the continuing troubles of Hideki Okajima. Oki has allowed at least one hit and one run in each of his last four appearances. His ERA has ballooned from 2.68 to 3.56. Yesterday Oki's contribution was allowing a two-run shot in the eighth that put the game out of reach. I don't know what his problem is (tipping a pitch?) but if he can't correct it that will put more pressure and wear on the rest of the bullpen.
So now Beckett is 14-6 and still looking for that 15th win. I am confident he will get it. He looked a lot better yesterday than he has in the previous four starts or so. He'll get it going again.
One day after looking like they had gotten back on track, Boston's lineup went quiet once again. Except for a brief flurry in the first that was highlighted by Ellsbury's 60th steal and Youk's RBI single, Boston hardly threatened again. They had a golden chance in the fifth with the bases loaded and two outs, but V-Mart flied out. And that was pretty much it. There was a complete power outage from the 5-9 batters. Baldelli went 0-4 from the seventh slot and saw a total of nine pitches in those four at-bats. Nine! The whole lineup was pretty impatient at the plate. Only three batters averaged four pitches or more per plate appearance. That was Lowell, Pedroia and Martinez. I'm not suggesting that the whole lineup have those kinds of numbers. But the Sox stress plate discipline and it didn't look like there was that much on Sunday.
Anyway, congrats to Ellsbury for cracking 60 steals. He's the first AL player to crack that plateau since Chone Figgins stole 62 bases in 2005. If Ellsbury gets to 67, that will be the most bases stolen in a season in the AL since Rickey Henderson stole 66 in 1998. If Ellsbury feels like shooting for the moon, 74 stolen bases would get him into the all-time top 100 for single-season stolen bases, tied with Lou Brock (he stole 74 in 1966) for 96th place.
The Sox leave Chicago and come back to the friendly confines of Fenway for a quick two games with the Orioles. Ideally, this will be a chance for the Sox to get back on track. While Boston is still not out of it in the AL East...it's going to be tough. The Yankees' epic second half has propelled them into a nine-game lead and their magic number is (I believe) seventeen. The Sox have a 2.5 game lead on the Rangers for the wild-card. Either way, the Sox have to start winning and keep winning. Tonight Boston sends Buchholz to the mound to face David Hernandez. Hernandez has faced Boston twice, once at home and once away. In Boston he shut the Sox down. In Baltimore he was chased out in the fifth inning. Here's hoping he brought some of that Baltimore feeling with him to Fenway tonight.
Meanwhile, Clay is finding his major league feet. Except for that bad outing against the White Sox on August 24th, he hasn't allowed more than three runs in five of his last six starts. And he has gone six or more innings in each of those starts. He's run off three wins in his last four starts. All in all, Clay is finally showing that consistency that a pitcher needs in order to stick in the majors.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
It's hard to carry a team when the bats go quiet.