When you split a four-game set with the Royals, your first instinct is to say "Wasted opportunity." And in many ways, Boston dropping two of four to the Royals was a wasted opportunity.
I figured that Boston would take three. And that Greinke would be the only loss. Sure enough, I was right. The only consolation from the Sox getting handcuffed by Zach is that it proves he deserves the AL Cy Young and now Aviv has to stop being a homer and talking up Sabathia. So there's that.
Losing that first game was tough, though. And while they hammered the Royals in the last two games...well, sometimes those missed opportunities loom big. Especially in the waning days of the season.
But the Sox took care of business on Wednesday and Thursday. And what made Thursday's 10-3 victory so satisfying was how Buchholz manned up for his start.
Clay has a head cold. One of those nasty ones that clogs every opening and makes you want to sleep for hours. Instead of giving in, he strapped the cleats on and went 5.2 innings, gave up no runs on five hits and struck out eight. It was the kind of thing you want to see from all of your players. I have no questions about his mental toughness anymore. When you man up like that, it proves you belong in the bigs.
The only downside on the pitching was Ramon Ramirez imploding against his old team. Three runs on three hits in 2/3 of an inning jacked his ERA by almost half-a-run in a single night. Granted, that last run came when Saito allowed his inherited runner to get home before closing out the eighth. But Saito made up for that with a solid ninth inning that included two strikeouts.
Starting August 19, Buchholz hasn't lost in his last eight starts. He is 6-0 in that span and has lowered his ERA from 5.02 to 3.21 as well. He has cut down on his walks, increased his strikeouts and improved his overall game. Even more notable; in September Buchholz is 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA in five starts. That's just flat-out dominant. And it now begs the question of whether the Sox want to, or even could afford to, trade Buchholz for other parts in the off-season.
He's an effective pitcher now and under Boston's control for a few more years. That's the kind of chit the Sox are loathe to trade. But on the other side, Buchholz's trade value is even higher now. This will be the big story to watch in the off-season.
On the bat side, the story has to begin with Victor Martinez. He went 2-5 with a walk and extended his hitting streak to 23 games. The Boston record is 34, set by Dom DiMaggio in 1949. Both Tris Speaker and Nomar Garciaparra had 30 game hit streaks for the Sox. So V-Mart is approaching some fine company. If he can close out the season and keep the streak going, he'll have hit in 33 straight games. Which would make Opening Day 2010 a very interesting game to watch.
Ellsbury went 3-6 with two runs scored and a RBI. He is now consistently productive from the lead-off position, making those growing pains from the start of the year worthwhile. Oh, and he stole his 65th and 66th base of the year last night. 70 steals looks like a very attainable goal for Ellsbury in 2009.
But the whomping stick belonged to David Ortiz. He went 3-5 with three RBI and a run scored. Two of those RBI came in the ninth with a bases-clearing double that closed out the scoring at 10-3. The first RBI came on a solo shot in the fourth, Ortiz's 26th of the year.
It is almost impossible to believe that David Ortiz, with the horrific start he had in 2009, is within striking distance of 30 homers and 100 RBI. He is currently at 26 homers and 91 RBI. It's an impressive turnaround. Still...I think the Sox have a lot of thinking to do in the off-season about the makeup of the team for 2010.
And now it comes down to the big series. Three games in New York with the Sox 5.5 games back of the Yankees. Much to Aviv's chagrin, the Yanks still haven't closed out the AL East. And with the Angels looming as the matchup for the wild-card, winning the AL East matters a whole hell of a lot to the Yankees.
So we get the two shining youngsters of the respective franchises this evening, with Chamberlain and Lester facing off. The Yankees have home-field advantage, but even Aviv would be forced to admit the Sox have the better pitcher on the mound. It will be a great start to a critical series. Either the Yankees will seal the deal or the Sox will make things very uncomfortable for them over the last week of the season.