Thursday, August 27, 2009

Welcome Back, Wakes

Yes, everyone is buzzing about Big Papi's walk-off homer in the ninth to give the Sox a 3-2 win over Chicago. And so will I in a few paragraphs. But the real story is the return of Tim Wakefield to the mound.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet your #3 starter.

"Can Wakefield pitch effectively?" That was the big question going into last night's game. I think that Wakes answered it rather emphatically. He scattered six hits over seven innings and allowed just one run. He threw 78% of his pitches for strikes last night and threw first-pitch strikes to 74% of the batters he faced. He faced the minimum number of batters (9) between the second and fourth innings. It was everything we all hoped his comeback would be. Everything except a win, that is.

That's because Ramon Ramirez made a bad choice and allowed Scott Podsednik (who has been crushing the ball in this series) to hit a pinch-hit homer in the top of the eighth to tie the game at two. Wakefield should have had his 12th win of the year last night. Instead, he'll have to settle for lifting the hearts of Boston fans everywhere. And showing that the Red Sox have three effective starters come the post-season. Daniel Bard came on with two out in the eighth and owned the White Sox, striking out three of the four batters he faced while hitting triple digits on more than one pitch. He also picked up his first win courtesy of Ortiz's ninth game-winning homer in a Boston uniform.

It wasn't a Monster shot, just a simple curl around the Pesky Pole in right. But Ortiz's game-winning blast was a welcome sight in what has been a rough professional year for him. And while there is a bittersweet tinge now to the vision of Papi rounding the bases, seeing the Sox grab a close game is another welcome sight as we stand on the cusp of September.

Ortiz hit two homers in total last night. Alex Gonzalez hit a third. All were solo shots and accounted (obviously) for all of Boston's runs. If there was one downside to Boston's play last night it was Gavin Floyd baffling the lineup most of the night. Gonzalez and Ortiz were the only batters to have a multiple-hit game. Floyd is a good pitcher so it wasn't odd to see him stifling a lineup. But after Boston's recent offensive explosion, it was weird watching them go 0-5 with runners in scoring position and struggling to scratch out a couple of hits.

But all's well that ends well and now Boston stands on the verge of sweeping the White Sox. But standing in their way is John Danks, a solid lefty who got tagged with a loss last year against the Sox but pitched very well in that game (two runs and two hits in seven innings). Boston counters with Junichi Tazawa, who is coming off a damn fine performance against the Yankees. Tazawa has yet to put two solid performances back-to-back this year. Hopefully he can get that done tonight. He has all the talent in the world and is fearless on the mound. Pitching the Sox to their eighth win in ten games would be a great step forward for Tazawa.

And I guess we have to briefly talk about Papelbon and Wagner...well, what Theo Epstein had to say about Paps' earlier comments regarding a possible trade for Wagner. Here's the quote from Theo:

"I think Pap feels he was misunderstood," Epstein said. "He's not a Rhodes Scholar to begin with. When I talked to him directly about it he couldn't have been more excited. When we had our window (to speak to Wagner), Pap went out of his way to make sure he knew he was more than welcome here."

"He's not a Rhodes Scholar to begin with." Ow. Did the GM just call his closer a moron?

This may just be playful banter...but could it be something else? We all know the Sox don't like people making waves and making outlandish quotes to the press. We also know that Papelbon tends to do just that. And that has some people considering a interesting, if unlikely, scenario:

Though this is mostly speculation, there's an outside chance, too, the Red Sox could wind up keeping Wagner and dealing incumbent closer Jonathan Papelbon over the winter. Papelbon is taking over the old Curt Schilling role of the over-opinionated, ill-informed motor mouth.


That fits into a theory going around the game that the Red Sox might be tiring of Papelbon's act and could consider using Wagner as closer next year, with relief prodigy Daniel Bard playing the role of setup man and protégé. Papelbon would fetch a lot in trade, though that still seems like a somewhat far-fetched scenario.

I think it's rather far-fetched as well. But completely out of the realm of possibility? I don't think you can go that far. Bard was declared untouchable during trade time. The Sox said they wouldn't pick up Wagner's option because he wants to close. But if he pitches well and the Sox offered him the chance to close, wouldn't he take it? And Theo's comment was pretty strong.

I still don't see it happening. Papelbon has 30+ saves in each of his first four seasons in the majors. You don't trade away someone like that at the age of 28. Do you?

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