Back in the Swing

When last we met, I was writhing in a pit of despair.

No, scratch that. Writhing implies signs of life. I was existing at the lowest level of human functionality.

The Red Sox, having just completed the worst regular-season collapse in the history of Major League Baseball, were crumbling to greasy, beer-soaked ashes before our eyes. The manager had been strung up and run out of town, a scapegoat for a team that quit. The team themselves, presented with ample time to publicly take responsibility for their actions, instead opted for silence and (at best) feigned indifference. Morale was at an all- time low, and the only beacon of hope presented by the ownership group was Gene Lamont.

Yikes.

With all apologies to Mr. Lamont, when hearing your name alone increases the national average for narcolepsy diagnoses, you are likely not the man most suited for the job of managing a listless baseball team. Once Dale Sveum’s signature hit the dotted line in Chicago, doomsday soothsayers all around New England proclaimed that the end was nigh. Suddenly, the pamphlet-bearing blind prophets clogging Kenmore didn’t seem quite so off base.

Then, riding a proud steed across a sun-drenched mountaintop, Bobby Valentine arrived, and a light appeared at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Admittedly, I had some reservations with the hiring; mainly because Bobby Valentine could very well be insane. I’d been holding out hope for former Pawtucket manager, and current Toronto 1st base coach Torey Lovullo, though there was little basis for my choice. I’d read some high praise from Dan Hoard, former announcer for the Paw Sox while Lovullo was the manager, so I was sold.

Basically, he wasn’t Lamont, and he didn’t claim that he invented the wrap sandwich. Good enough for me.

But, the news came out, and every day I’m learning to approve of the move even more. His dedication, something I’d had reservations about, seems unquestionable. The day after he was hired, he flew to the Dominican Republic to be with the team at David Ortiz’s charity golf tournament. Calling players, rebuilding bridges, doing everything a manager fully committed to the well-being of his team should be.

Then, in the middle of December, new GM Ben Cherington flipped oft-injured Jed Lowrie and a middle of the rotation ceiling Kyle Weiland for Mark Melancon. The closer for Houston in 2011, Melancon likely could have closed should the need arisen for Boston in 2012, but relying heavily on the Ghost of Bobby Jenks as the primary set-up man (assuming Bard and Aceves are destined for spots in the rotation) seemed irresponsible.

Lowrie, who was developing into something of a super-utility man, has battled poor luck and a myriad of injuries over his four years in the majors. While his offense was essentially league-average for 2011, with WAR of just 0.3, his defense had become something of a liability.

No, it was absolutely a liability. At shortstop, his numbers projected over a reasonably full season put him an even twenty runs below an average fielder at the same position. While the backup shortstop for a middling team might be able to accept such production, Lowrie’s time was simply up in Boston. Weiland, needing an opportunity to pitch full-time, will have a shot at joining Houston’s rotation out of Spring Training. Either way. the Astros gained two full-time players, and the Sox gained a valuable relief piece.

But the true Christmas present for Red Sox fans was a belated one; on the afternoon of December 28th, the Red Sox acquired Andrew Bailey from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Josh Reddick and two minor league chips.

SPOILER ALERT: I LOVE THIS TRADE.

In complete seriousness, I expect that this trade can only mean that the Oakland front office has never seen Josh Reddick swing at a curveball. Or, perhaps they figured they needed to balance out the bounty they received on the Gio Gonzalez trade, so they shipped their All-Star closer across the country in exchange for two low-A ball prospects and a left-fielder who has gaping holes in his swing.

Don’t get me wrong; I loved what Reddick brought to the team this year, and was one of his biggest supporters throughout the year. But, when push came to shove, he had no plate discipline. If you’re going to make a career with the Red Sox, you have to make a pitcher work to strike you out. He didn’t.

For Oakland, I still feel that the Sox make this deal for Ryan Kalish and a couple of chips. Whether they scouted something more promising in Reddick’s game than Kalish’s, or they were scared off by a lost 2011 for Kalish, we’ll never know. What we do know, however, is that the Red Sox have an All-Star closer to replace their lost All-Star closer, and he’s under team control through 2014.

Oh how quickly the tides can change. With, technically, five starting pitchers in Beckett, Buchholz, Lester, Aceves and Bard, Cherington will be looking for another body, likely one that is more than simply a security blanket. Hideki Kuroda’s name has been linked to Boston in recent news, though the Sox will be reticent to dish out 13 or 14 million to lure him off the west coast. With that in mind, the only available names remaining with any kind of appeal are Joe Saunders and Edwin Jackson. Saunders, non-tendered by Arizona, will likely cost 7 million or so one a one-year deal, while Jackson hit free agency at just the right time and will likely fetch a three-year deal at 30+ million. I doubt the Red Sox will want to commit that kind of years while they have four starters under contract for a number of years already.

Regardless, things are shaping up nicely. Bring it on, Ft. Meyers.

Sox/Mariners – August 13th

As a committed and diligent amateur reporter for the Boston Red Sox, tonight I’ll be providing live-updates of their game tonight against Seattle.

Translation: last night’s activities caused me to wake up and vow never to do them again. I have to honor that commitment for at least one evening, if only to assuage my guilt.

So as with everything, this will be an evolving process. I can’t imagine this will be the only time I either decide voluntarily to do real-time updates or have some assuage-ing to do, so hopefully a system will emerge and the end result will be clean.

So, enjoy. If you’re reading this feel free to leave any suggestions/hate-mail in the comments. I’ll be updating periodically throughout, ideally each half inning.

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Saturday 8/13 — Red Sox @ Seattle

So, that wasn’t ideal. If you made it through all that, congrats. If you didn’t, I don’t blame you, because it was way too long.

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Top of the 9th: 1, 2, 3. The Sox didn’t even make League sweat during his short inning of work.

5-4  Seattle, Bottom of the 8th: Morales and Aceves combine to shut the Mariners down in the 8th, leaving just a one-run hurdle for the top of the ninth. Brandon League in to try and close it out for the Mariners. Keep in mind, this is the same team that just recently lost about 35 games in a row. Chip and a chair.

5-4 Seattle, Top of the 8th: Another GIDP for the Red Sox, as Gonzalez’s single is erased when Pedroia’s ground ball up the middle is stabbed by Jamey Wright who turns the 1-6-3 double play. Ortiz then hit a ball almost as hard as the one some kid launched off me during my freshman year of high school, but unfortunately Ortiz’s ended up foul. The ball hit off me, by the way, went at least 450 feet. Our center fielder turned and sprinted directly away from home plate and the ball still landed well over his head.

But I digress. Ortiz walked and was lifted for McDonald as a pinch runner. On a 2-0 count, after staring down at third for a sign, Reddick took a pitch and McDonald left for 2nd. The throw seemed was online, and McDonald got called out. He chirped for a bit, but left back to the dugout without much protest. The replays showed it was the right call.

5-4 Seattle, Bottom of the 7th: Albers struck out Ichiro and Gutierrez in short succession, before he was yanked in favor of Franklin Morales. Excellent outing for Albers, 1.2 innings with 3 strikeouts and no walks. He was perfect save for an infield single. Morales froze Ackley with a fastball to end the inning.

This game has been boring outside of the bottom of the first and the top of the 6th. I’ve got a good feeling about this half inning, though.

5-4 Seattle, Top of the 7th: Ellsbury reached for the third time tonight, but Crawford bounced into an unlucky double play as Ackley was headed to cover 2nd when Ellsbury took off. One of those nights for the Red Sox, and time is running out to mount that comeback.

5-4 Seattle, Bottom of the 6th: Albers in for Beckett, who threw four good innings and one awful one. Albers allowed an infield single on another questionable decision by Mike Aviles, but escaped otherwise unscathed. The way he carries himself on the mound sort of makes him look like a fatter version of Josh Beckett. Food for thought.

5-4 Seattle, Top of the 6th: That’s more like it. The official scorer for tonight’s game, apparently determined not to dish out any errors, credited Marco Scutaro with a triple on a ball that Casper Wells should have caught in left. The error/triple proved immediately costly, as Ellsbury launched his 20th home run of the season, a two run shot about ten rows back in right. Ells becomes the first 20/20 player for the Sox since Nomar. Crawford followed up with solid contact, but Gutierrez tracked it down in center. With the shift on and mired in a power slump, Adrian Gonzalez fooled everyone by bunting a ball to the vacated area on the left side of the infield for a single. That set the stage for Dustin Pedroia, who went with a pitch away for the 2nd 2-run home run of the inning.

Ortiz hit a ball physically through Carp at first, defying physics, logic, and the shift. Reddick K’ed, and while Aviles ripped a single to right, ‘Tek ended the inning when he lined out to 2nd.

One note: Josh Reddick has done a tremendous job as the every-day right fielder this year, but he really needs to work on pitch recognition and selection. Scouts have noticed that he struggles against anything with a bend to it, and it’s showing. That being said, he’s hitting above .300 still, and last night he hit a home run the landed in Vancouver, so what do I know, right?

5-0 Seattle, Bottom of the 5th: Wilson “doubled” past Aviles down the line to left, but the Sox third baseman didn’t exactly put a particularly athletic effort into his fielding attempt. After Ichiro struck out on Beckett’s best curve of the night, Aviles misplayed another ball he should have charged, allowing Gutierrez an infield single. Beckett struck out Ackley and then walked Carp, loading the bases for Wily Mo Pena.

Wily Mo did what Wily Mo does; he swung as hard as he possibly could as a few pitches, didn’t come close to making contact, and stuck out. Becket out of a bases-loaded jam, and the deficit holds at 5.

5-0 Seattle, Top of the 5th: Ortiz walked, but Reddick, Aviles, and Varitek all had a competition to display the most futile way to record an out. Varitek won, FYI.

5-0 Seattle, Bottom of the 4th:  Nothing happening for Seattle as Beckett is back to looking like a starter who doesn’t give up five runs to a group of guys batting .200 as a team. Wells struck out looking, Josh Bard flew out to right, and Rodriguez grounded out unassisted to first.

Can someone please give Josh Bard a concussion test? Seriously how is he alive.

5-0 Seattle, Top of the 4th: Update from the last inning before I go any further: Ackley grounded out to first with Beckett covering. Now, wasn’t that exciting?

Rough inning for Hernandez; after getting ahead of Ellsbury 0-2, he walked him and promptly sent him to 2nd on a throwing error. Crawford bounced a ball over the mound, and again Hernandez’s brain farted up on him when he wasn’t sure which base to throw to. Adrian Gonzalez grounded out to Carp at first, and then things got a little dicey. With one out and Ellsbury on third, Pedroia sent a fly ball to medium depth in right. Ichiro, who still has one of the best arms in baseball, settled under it and fired an absolute beam to the plate, clearly ahead of Ellsbury. After a heavy collision at the plate, in which Josh Bard probably shouldn’t have survived, the umpire initially called Ellsbury safe when, after a solid five seconds, Josh Bard’s completely unconscious body dropped the baseball.

Hernandez was not happy. Then the umpires thought about it for a moment, and reversed the call. This made Francona unhappy.

Terry will now be watching the remainder of the game from the clubhouse. Ellsbury, though, was clearly out.

5-0 Seattle, Bottom of the 3rd: Dustin Ackley did something, but it happened really quickly and I was in the kitchen getting something to eat. He’s not on base, though, so I can say with certainty that he’s out. I was back in time to see Beckett strike out Mike Carp on a high fastball, and Orsillo and Remy just stole my thunder about Beckett’s curveball. He got caught in the first inning with a couple lazy fastballs and seeing-eye grounders, but his curveball looks sharp.

Heidi Watney (Heidi, I’m single. Call me!) did an in-game piece where she said that Pena, now 29, considers himself a “smarter hitter” at this state of his career. That’s good, but he really couldn’t digress too far to begin with.

5-0 Seattle, Top of the 3rd: Mike Aviles sent a scorching bullet down the third base line for the Sox first baserunner of the night. In actuality, it was a little nub that ended up about 40 feet up the line. Beggars can’t be choosers. Varitek quickly bounced into what should have been a double play but for a poor throw by Wilson that Hernandez wasn’t able to scoop. Scutaro obliged and gave Seattle another chance to turn the twin killing, and this time they managed to get it right.  Unconventional, but another three up, three down for Hernandez.

When the bottom third of our order is Aviles, Varitek, and Scutaro, the top six need to put it into overdrive. Or at least shift out of park.

5-0 Seattle, Bottom of the 2nd: Josh Beckett shouldn’t buy a lottery ticket tonight. On a good pitch low and on the outside edge of the plate, Jack Wilson reached out and landed an accident just in front of Reddick in right. Stifler Reddick looked like he might have had a play on it if he’d laid out, but that’s significantly easier for me to say from a laptop in my TV room than it would be in real life. Ichiro erased Wilson’s single when he sawed his bat off into a 3-6-3 double play. Gutierrez ended the inning on a crisp play by Scutaro.

So now I’m sitting here muttering “noonan” at the TV on each of Hernandez’s pitches. Helluva Saturday, folks.

5-0 Seattle, Top of the 2nd: Pedroia, likely the shortest cleanup hitter in MLB history, led off with a foul pop handled by Carp at first. After Ortiz didn’t hit a home run as I predict he will four out of five times he’s at bat, Reddick grounded out 6-3. Six up, six down for Boston.

5-0 Seattle, Bottom of the 1st: Josh Beckett, having easily his best season since 2007, grooved a first-pitch fastball to Ichiro, gambling that he wouldn’t swing. He swung, and some fan 560 feet from the plate ended up with a surprised look and a souvenir baseball. The homer was just Ichiro’s 2nd of the season, and after one pitch the Sox found themselves sitting in a one-run hole. Gutierrez followed with a single to left, Ackley a double over Reddick’s head in right, and Mike Carp brought both in with another single to right. Wily Mo Pena, who struck out approximately 600% of the time during his tenure with the Red Sox, managed to fly out to center. Casper “Almost as pale as the Ghost” Wells took out his frustration for being traded for a guy named “Fister”, and launched another fastball out over the wall in left-center. Josh Bard, another former Sox cog, struck out looking on a nasty curveball. Mercifully, Luis Rodriguez squibbed out to the pitcher to end the inning.

In a 5-0 hole against the reigning Cy Young award winner. Glad I chose such a delightful game to liveblog.

No score, Top of the 1st: Ellsbury got jammed by a good slider from Felix Hernandez, breaking his bat and popping out to short. Crawford, hitting 2nd in place of Pedroia who took Youk’s spot in cleanup, sent a ground ball towards center, but Dustin Ackley quickly collected and threw to first for the out. Gonzalez, who thankfully took a break from filming terrible Dunkin Donuts commercials, made solid contact with a fastball down, but hit it directly at Gutierrez in center. 1-2-3 for the Sox; Beckett in to face Ichiro.

Pregame (9:57 PM): Not much stirring for the Sox, though Youkilis is out of the lineup again due to a case of “general soreness”. As my father astutely pointed out, Youkilis fouls a ball off his left leg at the very least once per game, so the fact that he’s sore isn’t particularly surprising. Also, according to the Boston Globe, J. D. Drew has begun his rehabilitation from a shoulder injury. Can you hear that noise? That’s the masses rejoicing.

Or was it a yawn? Actually I think it was a yawn. Take your time, J.D.