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2007: Diary of a Season
Lake Monsters 9, Spinners 3
While the Red Sox left for a road trip, I took advantage of a sunny Saturday to go see their short-season Single A affiliate, the Lowell Spinners. The Spinners' season had just started the previous week, and I didn't know anything about any of the players yet, but I was sure I'd be seeing some of them in spring training games or in Double A in a couple of years. The first base bag at LeLacheur Park had special significance this year. The Spinners had purchased the actual first base bag that was used in Yankee Stadium in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, where Bronson Arroyo was standing when Alex Rodriguez slapped the ball out of his hand, and they were using it in all their games this year.
Miguel Socolovich started, and he did OK, considering that it was still early in the season. In four innings of work, the only hit he gave up was to the first batter of the game. But three walks, a hit batsman, and a wild pitch plated two runs for the Vermont Lake Monsters in the third. The Spinners were able to get both runs back in the bottom of the inning. Jorge Jimenez and Rafael Cabreja both reached on hits, and then one run scored on a wild pitch, and another on a sacrifice fly. The Spinners took the lead the next inning on a walk and a double by Ty Weeden. But that was it for Lowell's offense, and the two pitchers who followed Socolovich had much less success. Wildness was the theme of the day, and it was costly for all the pitchers. Two walks, a stolen base, a wild pitch, and a sac fly got the tying run in in the fifth. In the eighth and ninth, there were three more walks, another hit-by-pitch, and three more wild pitches, which combined for six more Vermont runs. It could have been worse, but two runners were thrown out at the plate. One was retired on a good play by Carlos Fernandez in left field, as he caught a fly ball and threw home in time to nail the baserunner who had tagged up at third, and the other was thrown out by the catcher as he tried to score on one of the wild pitches. It may not have been the prettiest game ever played, but at least it was an inexpensive afternoon in good weather, and it gave me a look at some of the newest members of the Red Sox organization.
Rangers 2, Red Sox 1
After finishing up a sweep of the Giants, the Red Sox went on a road trip that started off well, as they won two of three in Atlanta and two of three in San Diego, but ended with a sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners. Then they returned home and split the first two games of their series against Texas. The good thing was that the other teams in the East were struggling too, so they remained 10.5 games ahead of the second-place Blue Jays and 11 games over the Yankees. On Sunday, they faced the Rangers again, with Julian Tavarez taking on Kameron Loe.
It was a typical start for Tavarez. He lived dangerously, with two baserunners in every inning except the second. But as usual, he was helped out by a couple of double plays, and always seemed to squirm his way out of trouble. The Rangers squeaked out a run in the fourth on an infield hit and two singles. The Red Sox tied it in the fifth with a run on three hits of their own, by Alex Cora, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis. Today was my first chance to see Jacoby Ellsbury, the highly-touted centerfield prospect, at the major league level. (I had seen him before in spring training and in the minors.) He had just been called up and made his major league debut the night before. But in this game, he went 0-for-4, and none of his teammates could string anything together either. Tavarez walked the first batter of the sixth, and one out later he came around to score the go-ahead run for the Rangers. It was frustrating to waste a good outing by Tavarez, but Javier Lopez, Manny Delcarmen, and Hideki Okajima held Texas scoreless the rest of the way, and the Sox still had a chance in the bottom of the ninth. Dustin Pedroia walked and was replaced by pinch-runner Julio Lugo. With two outs, Big Papi came to the plate. We had become so accustomed to Papi always coming through in these spots, that it actually came as a shock to me when he popped up to end the game. There had only been one walkoff win for the Red Sox all year - a 6-run comeback against the Orioles on Mother's Day - and now that we were half-way through the season, that was starting to become disturbing.
Blue Jays 2, Red Sox 1
The Red Sox continued on at an unimpressive clip for the next week. No sooner had they finished sweeping the Devil Rays, than they were getting swept by the Tigers. Josh Beckett started the All-Star Game, with David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Manny Ramirez, Jonathan Papelbon, and Hideki Okajima joining him from the Sox. Beckett picked up the win, and the A.L. gained home-field advantage for the World Series. After the break, the Sox took two of three from the Blue Jays, and the two teams met up again on Sunday for the fourth game of the series, with Beckett going against Jesse Litsch. Manny made a nice leaping catch in left to retire the first batter and start the game off on a good note. He and Big Papi both reached base in the bottom of the inning, but they were both stranded. Beckett allowed two doubles and a single in the second, plating two runs for the Jays.
It was really hot. The gametime temperature was 88, but it was hotter in the direct sun, and being nestled in the bleachers among a throng of people made it more uncomfortable. I felt like I was stuck to my seat. (At least we were near the aisle, so that when the vendor selling the squirt bottles with fans on top came by, he misted us and it felt good.) On the field, the Red Sox' bats seemed as listless as we felt. They had the lead runner on in both the second and third, but both times double plays killed the chance for a rally. Finally, in the sixth, doubles by Alex Cora and Big Papi got the Red Sox on the board, but they still trailed 2-1. It was frustrating, since my last game had also been a 2-1 loss. Where had all the offense gone? J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo had been in slumps all season. Even Ortiz and Ramirez weren't putting up the power numbers they usually do. It was due to their strong starting pitching and excellent bullpen (plus the good defense that picked up where they had left off last year) that the Red Sox had a 10-game lead in the division. But all these 2-1 games started to remind me of my time in Atlanta, where I lived for a couple of years in the late 1990's. The Braves always had great pitching, and having four (and sometimes five) really good starters enabled them to have an advantage over their opponents almost every night during the season, and they'd easily cruise to the division lead. But in the playoffs, when teams only need three or four starters, their one or two remaining starters would be wasted. Then since they were facing other teams' best pitchers every night, their hitters could be silenced, and they'd struggle to win in the postseason. I started to worry that that kind of thing was going on here. Beckett went eight innings and gave up only two runs, but Litsch and three Toronto relievers combined to keep the Sox bats from scoring more than one run, despite their eleven hits.
Royals 6, Red Sox 5
Kason Gabbard pitched a complete-game three-hit shutout against Kansas City the following night, but the Sox dropped the second game of the series on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I was back at Fenway for the final game of the Royals series. Julian Tavarez was pitching, and the first batter hit a fly into left field. Manny Ramirez leaped up against the Green Monster to make the catch. It was strange, because he had made a very similar leaping catch on the first play of the game three days ago, the last time I had come to a game. I hoped the whole day didn't go exactly like that one. In fact, I had been to two frustrating 2-1 losses in a row, so I really wanted to see some offense tonight. Tavarez made it through the first three innings with only one baserunner, an infield single in the second. In the fourth, he ran into a little trouble. Two singles opened the inning, then a groundout, a sac fly, and two more singles gave the Royals a 2-0 lead. Oh no, not again!
This time, though, the offense was able to get something going. Manny led off the fourth with a hit, and Kevin Youkilis followed with a walk. Mike Lowell singled to load the bases. Jason Varitek's fielder's choice was the first out of the inning, but it got a run home. After Coco Crisp's walk reloaded the bases, Julio Lugo's double and J.D. Drew's sacrifice fly scored three more. Finally, they had scored more than one run in a game, and it gave them a 4-2 lead. Much better!
But not for long. I saw the following stats on NESN the next day: In the first three innings of his games, opponents were hitting only .200 off Tavarez. In the middle innings, they were hitting close to .300, and from the 7th inning on, he had an opponents' batting average of almost .400. Today, he melted down in the fifth inning, just as he started his third trip through the order. Before we knew what had happened, he had given up four more runs, and the Sox were down 6-4. Mike Timlin came in and Tek threw out a runner (the first of two runners caught stealing in the game) to end the inning, but the damage had been done. Manny gave us some hope when he homered in the fifth to make it 6-5. But again, there was no late-game rally, and it ended up another frustrating one-run loss. The next day I tallied up the Red Sox' record in one-run games. They had been 3-1 in April, 5-2 in May, 6-5 in June, and were now 0-6 so far in July. Normally one-run losses would be indicative of a bad bullpen, but this year the bullpen had been outstanding. It still doesn't sound right for a Red Sox fan to say this, but it was the lack of timely, clutch hitting that was killing them!
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