Wednesday, April 7, 2010

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As the game progressed last night, as a Sox fan you got the sinking feeling you had seen this all before. The pitching problems, the fielding miscues, the back-and-forth scoreboard.

The problem was, you sensed you were watching it from the other side.

New York's 6-4 win over the Sox last night was very similar to Boston's 9-7 victory on Opening Night. Both starting pitchers struggled (both Lester and Burnett went just five innings) and the lead changed hands numerous times. But other pieces were reflections of Opening Night. Cano's fielding miscue on Sunday opened the door for a Boston win. Last night, Marco Scutaro's errant throw in the 8th set off New York's final push for the win. Sunday night saw New York's bullpen fail at a critical moment. Last night, it was Hideki Okajima walking in what proved to be the winning run.

But that's the nature of this series. Boston and New York, built as no two other teams are in the majors today, basically beat the piss out of each other for 18 games. The season series always ends up tied or with one team winning just a game or two more. It's not surprising at all to see these teams split the first two games. Hopefully, the Sox pick up the rubber match tonight with Lackey taking the mound. He's had decent success against New York over the last three years.

Even with the loss, there was some positive news. Manny Delcarmen looked more mature on the mound. Last year with runners on, he would have panicked. Last night he buckled down and got out of the sixth without allowing a run. Ellsbury went 2-5 with two runs scored, a stolen base and a nice running catch in left. Adrian Beltre continued to make Theo look like a genius early in the year with a 2-4 night. And V-Mart went 2-3 with a walk and a two-run blast in the third, showing that he can be the big bat that Jason Bay was in 2009.

But then there is Papi.

It must be said that it is just two games. And other batters are starting just as slowly as David Ortiz (Mark Teixeira is also sporting a .000 average right now). But the fact is that because of last season, he is going to be questioned about his slow start, fair or not.

And that means he can't lose his cool like he did last night.

BOSTON -- After going hitless Tuesday for a second straight game to start the season, Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz lashed out at reporters when reminded that his struggles last April and May would be a hot topic if he was slow at the start of this season as well.

"Good," he said, turning to face the reporters encircling him. "You guys wait till [expletive] happens, then you can talk [expletive]. Two [expletive] games, and already you [expletives] are going crazy.

"What's up with that, man? [Expletive]. [Expletive] 160 games left. That's a [expletive]. One of you [expletives] got to go ahead and hit for me."

Is it fair to Ortiz to ask these questions? Maybe, maybe not. People seem to remember his slow start a hell of a lot more than the fact he ended the year with 28 homers and 99 RBI, numbers that put him in the top 20 in the AL for both categories. It was a categorically lower season for Papi, but one a lot of players would kill to have.

With that in mind...personally, I think he's struggling a little. His bat speed looks to be just a bit off, and that is resulting in him fouling off pitches he used to crush two or three years ago. But I am certainly not going to call for him to be replaced on the basis of just two games. That's a knee-jerk reaction. If he is still struggling like this come the end of April? Then Francona is going to have a tough choice to make. Because Mike Lowell is sitting on that bench. And while his defense has gone downhill, his bat hasn't.

It just doesn't make sense to judge Ortiz on the basis of facing two pitchers like Sabathia and Burnett, any more than it would make sense to judge Teixeia after facing Beckett and Lester. Everyone calling for a change needs to take a breath and chill out. But Ortiz needs to take a breath as well. Those questions won't stop coming until he starts hitting the ball. So rather than rant at the press, I would hope Papi uses that dissent and doubt to fuel his bat.

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