Boston rolled into Baltimore on Friday trailing the Yankees by six in the AL East and leading the Rangers by seven in the wild-card. As of this morning, those numbers are five and eight. The Sox have won 11 of their last 13 games and are peaking at the perfect time. And the three-game set over the weekend with the O's was a perfect example of that.
Friday gave us the Prodigal Son cementing his position as the #3 playoff starter. Buchholz went six innings and allowed just one run on five hits to lead Boston to a 3-1 win and his sixth win of the year. Bard, Oki and Paps closed it out. Ellsbury picked up his 62nd steal and Jason Bay hit his team-leading 34th homer.
Saturday was a gutshot to the Orioles. Leading the Sox 3-2 going into the sixth, they allowed nine runs over the next three innings and the Sox rolled to a 11-5 win. Lester picked up his 14th win but more importantly he showed that he could pitch the Sox to a win without having his best stuff.
Lester gave up 10 hits in six innings and allowed three runs. He struck out just four batters and threw first-pitch strikes to just 44% of the batters he faced. But he gutted it out and got the win. Wagner and Saito cleanly got the Sox to the ninth inning before Delcarmen came on and briefly gave the Orioles a spark of hope by allowing two solo shots and not getting a single out from the four batters he faced. That brought Ramon Ramirez on and he finished the game without any more damage.
I don't want to sound like I am picking on Delcarmen, because I like the kid and I think he has a ton of talent. But he has been brutal in September:13.50 ERA in five games with 2.2 innings pitched to his credit, along with three homers and five walks. Batters are hitting .438 off him for the month. I'm guessing he must be tired or something, but at this juncture I don't want to see him at all when the game is on the line.
The big bat on Saturday belong to, of all people, J.D. Drew as he went 3-5 with four RBI, three of which came on a three-run blast in the eighth. Mike Lowell also had a strong game, going 3-4 with two RBI. In fact, every starter had at least one hit. And a shout out to Josh Reddick, who went 1-2 with a walk and hit the second homer of his major-league career. The kid has a ton of talent and he will be fun to watch in the years ahead.
And that brought us to Sunday and Daisuke. The odds of Daisuke repeating his incredible comeback performance were slim. And he didn't. But he pitched well enough for his second straight win and led the Sox to a 9-3 win and sweep of the Orioles.
Daisuke went 5.1 innings and allowed three runs on eight hits. More impressively, he struck out five while walking just one batter. He threw first-pitch strikes to 66% of the batters he faced and 66% of his overall pitches were strikes. It was a solid outing and just what the Sox wanted to see from him. Ramirez, Oki and Saito finished the game with little drama (three walks and a hit among them).
Ellsbury continues to improve at leadoff. He went 3-4 with two runs scored and three RBI, including his eighth homer of the year (a solo shot) in the seventh. He's hitting .304 for the year and now has a OBP of .356 overall. But that doesn't reflect has good he has been in September. Ellsbury is batting .308 and has an OBP of .392 for the month. Even more impressive: in his last six games Ellsbury is hitting .423, has an OBP of .483 and no, that is not a mistype. Oh, and he picked up his 63rd steal of the year to boot.
Then you have Victor Martinez. He's hitting .331 with a .907 OPS since coming to Boston. He went 2-4 with a run scored and a RBI and is now riding a 19-game hitting streak dating back to August 28. And while correlation does not imply causation, Boston is 29-17 since trading for V-Mart and 16-5 since his hitting streak began. He has been a huge influence on this lineup. Just the luxury alone of being able to place Youk into the cleanup slot and having Bay hit fifth or Papi hit sixth has transformed the offensive power of the Sox.
This year the Sox have scored 9+ runs in 22 games; 12 of those were before the break. The Sox went 16 games between the last two 9+ run games of the first-half of the season (between June 23 and July 11) and another 16 games before their next 9+ run game on August 2. Those were the two longest streaks the Sox went all year without scoring 9+ runs in a game. Since Martinez has joined the squad, the longest stretch between two 9+ run games has been a pair of 13 game stretches during that brutal August. But since September 1, the longest gap between two 9+ run games for the Sox has been three games. This is a long way of saying that not only has Boston's offense improved greatly with V-Mart in the lineup, but that they are peaking at the right time.
Since September 1, the Sox are 13-5 and the Yankees are 12-7. Over the past week, the Sox are 6-1 and the Yanks are 4-3. The trend lines are beginning to narrow between the two and the question is whether the Yankees built up a big enough lead over the past couple of months when they looked near immortal to hold off the Sox for the AL East title. As I said before, this race isn't over yet. You never give up until the math says different. Especially now as the Yankees have to play in their personal House of Horrors (Anaheim) while the Sox get four games with the Royals before the two teams clash one last time this season in the Bronx over the weekend. It is very, very plausible that the Sox and Yanks could be playing for the AL East lead this weekend.
But before that happens the Sox have to take care of business in Kansas City. Baring a late scratch, Tim Wakefield will be looking for his 12th win tonight. I make no excuses for my very public cheer-leading for Wakefield. He is the consummate professional, plays hard, plays hurt (if possible) and is the only guy playing on the Sox now who was on the team back during my post-college days in Boston**. We go way back, Wakes and I. He'd have to kill a puppy on live television to get me to say a bad thing about him. He faces someone most Sox fans should recognize; Lenny DiNardo. DiNardo was on the 2004 roster and bounced up and down between Boston and the Bucket until the A's claimed him off waivers in 2007. Now he's with the Royals, the poor bastard. He's 0-1 in two starts with a 5.23 ERA. But don't let that fool you; DiNardo has talent and when he can put it all together he is very effective. Unfortunately for him, he has the Royals behind him.
* Baltimore fans (all 17 of you), take that jibe gently. Angleos gets a lot of things right. Ticket prices, amenities, food, hiring Andy McPhail...all good things. But he just can't get the personnel decisions correct. If Angelos would take his hands off of that area, your team would improve by leaps and bounds. I suggest you start by trading Markakis to Boston...
** This would be 1995, Wakefield's first year in Boston. The other four starters for the Sox? They were Erik Hanson, Roger Clemens, Zane Smith and Vaughn Eshelman. All four are out of the game now but Wakefield keeps chugging along. The lesson, kids, is simple: Learn to throw the knuckler. Oh, and using steroids while allowing your trainer to shoot them in your wife's butt and then selling her down the river to try and salvage your drug-riddled career is not, repeat not a good idea. Yes, I still hate Clemens. Why do you ask?