Daisuke went six innings and allowed no runs and three hits en route to a Boston 4-1 win over the Angels. It wasn't a perfect game; Daisuke walked three batters and threw 93 pitches through six innings. But he looked so much better. He was challenging hitters, making them hit his fastball. And he is in much better physical shape. All of that together gave us the Daisuke from 2008. And that is who he is. He's a pitcher that will give up some walks and work the corners. But when he combines that with being aggressive as well, he'll win his fair share of games. Daisuke looked great last night, and if that continues then the rest of baseball is on notice because Boston will have four quality starters going (yes, Buchholz is now a quality starter until he proves otherwise).
Daisuke's great effort would have been wasted without the bullpen coming through. And it did in fine fashion. Ramon Ramirez pitched the seventh and had his best outing in a while, getting the side out on 12 pitches. It looks like the trouble he was having in late August may be behind him. Wagner and Bard combined to close down the Angels in the eighth. And then Paps came on in the ninth. He gave up one run on two hits but the Angels never really threatened.
It was a real pitcher's duel for a while, with John Lackey (aka - The most desirable AL pitching free agent in 2010) matching Daisuke. But that fell apart in the sixth with a strange sequence. Boston had runners at first (Ellsbury) and second (Gonzalez) with no outs. Pedroia laid a bunt down the third base line that Lackey grabbed. But then he tried to throw off of one knee, which almost always results in something bad happening for the thrower. Sure enough, the ball bounced on the throw and got away from the third baseman, allowing Gonzalez to make it home with the first run of the game. That seemed to take the air out of Lackey; he got a second out then loaded the bases on a walk before Ortiz laced a single to left to score Ellsbury and make it 2-0.
Ortiz would also hit a homer in the eighth to make the score 4-0 going into the ninth. Ortiz ended up going 2-4 with a run scored and two RBI. He's current having his best month since June, hitting .282 with a .865 OPS. His 24 homers and 83 RBI aren't bad either, especially when you consider where he was in May. I think there are still questions about whether Ortiz will be back next year. But if he can stay healthy and show this level of production, he'll still be swinging a bat for the Sox in 2010.
Ellsbury also looked good, going 2-4 with a run scored. He is now batting .300 on the year. And while his overall OBP (currently .350) is a little low for a leadoff batter, it has improved leaps and bounds the past couple of months. If Ellsbury can keep getting on base this way, his OPS will get over .400 for September, which is outstanding. He is really growing into the leadoff spot.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that Boston's win combined with the Yankees losing to Toronto means their lead is down to 6.5 games? And that we have three more to play head-to-head? It's not over yet, Aviv. And all the cheap elbows Posada can throw won't change that.
So now Boston goes into tonight with Paul Byrd facing Joe Saunders. Saunders has been on a roll, winning his last four decisions. The Sox faced him back in April and tagged a loss on him. Byrd is coming off a redemptive outing against the Orioles where he allowed two runs on six hits in five innings en route to a 7-5 Boston win. Byrd can give you a great game or a lousy game. It all depends on if he can locate his pitches. When he can do that, he can rely on his knowledge and experience to get batters out. But if he can't locate his pitches, batters will tee off on his fastball all night long.