Monday, August 31, 2009

Have You Heard, About The Byrd?

Did we have any right to expect such a great result yesterday? Did we have any reason to think that Paul Byrd, less than a month removed from signing a minor league deal with the Sox, would outduel Roy Halladay? And yet when Byrd left after six innings, he was holding a 4-0 lead and had utterly baffled the Blue Jays. By the end, the Sox had won 7-0 and Byrd had his first win of the year.

He probably could have gone longer; Byrd threw just 83 pitches in those six innings. He threw 64% of his pitches for strikes and threw a first-pitch strike to 63% of the batters he faced. The interesting thing is that of the 53 pitches he threw for strikes, only one was a swinging strike. Byrd showed everyone the meaning of the phrase "pitching to contact" yesterday. He relied on the defense to get the outs and they did just that. It was a great display of veteran pitching. And it should make Boston fans a little calmer for now as we head into September and the expanded roster.

The bullpen did a nice job of closing things out. Delcarmen gave up a walk in the seventh but that was it. And Saito made things interesting in the ninth before finally shutting the door. And then there was the eighth inning...

Yes, let me say it now: Billy Wagner looked good. If...IF he looks like that the rest of the year, I will issue a huge mea culpa. So far, he's off to a better start than Eric Gagne. Of course, that is a pretty low bar to clear. But if Wagner can pull that off when he steps on the mound, and he doesn't send the clubhouse into a tailspin in the process, then maybe this deal has a chance to work after all.

Jason Bay got the day off in an act of mercy towards the Jays. So Rocco Baldelli started in left and promptly jacked a solo shot to left in the second to make it 2-0. In the first, Youk had doubled in V-Mart. Youk ended up going 2-3 with three RBI. Ellsbury went 1-4 with a run scored and Pedroia went 1-4 with two runs scored. Even Alex Gonzalez got into the act, going 2-3 with a run scored and a RBI single in the fourth. All in all, eight of nine Boston starters had at least one hit and six of nine starters scored at least one run. Just a note on Gonzalez; he is 10-27 in his last eight games with two homers and four RBI. His is hitting .370 and has a 1.037 OPS over that span. Since he joined the Sox, he is hitting .296 with an .815 OPS. We dealt for his glove...getting this kind of hitting out of the nine-spot is a huge bonus.

And so the Sox closed out their homestand with a sweep of the Jays and winning six of their last eight games. They're 22 games over .500 and 3.5 games ahead of the Rangers in the wild-card race. And they are still just six back of the Yankees for the AL East lead with 32 games left to play. After all that angst we've been through since the All-Star break, the Sox are in a pretty good place heading into the last month of the season.

But they have a critical series coming up. The Sox play three in Tampa to kick off a seven-game road trip starting tomorrow. Tampa has plagued Boston all year. Hopefully that will change on Tuesday. The series kicks off with Lester facing Andy Sonnastine. Sonnastine has had a rough year, going 6-7 with a 6.61 ERA. He has 3-3 in his last six games. He faced the Sox once this year in May and got the win, going 5.2 innings and allowing two runs in a 6-2 Tampa victory. Hopefully that won't happen tomorrow night. Lester hasn't given up more than three earned runs in a game in his last five starts. In three of those starts he gave up just one run. But he has just one decision (a win against the Jays on August 20) in his last six outings. He should be 13-8 or so at this point. But as long as he keeps pitching well and the Sox win, I'd wager he'll be happy.

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