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View from the Monster 6-3

The Red Sox completed their road trip this week, beginning in Seattle with a visit to the Mariners. The Sox took the first game, but dropped the final two, scoring a mere eight runs in the series, capping it by being shut out 1-0 in the finale. They dropped five of six on the West Coast and just could not score runs.

Bartolo Colon led the Red Sox by Seattle 5-3 in the first game, throwing 85 pitches over seven innings, while allowing only one run to earn his second Red Sox victory. Hideki Okajima continues to provide solid relief, pitching a scoreless inning. Jonathan Papelbon, in a non-save situation, made things a little interesting by allowing two ninth inning unearned runs, thanks to his own error. In a balanced hitting attack, David Ortiz added his 12th home run of the season.

The middle game of the series provided a couple storylines despite the loss. Manny Ramirez homered for the first time in 15 days, the 499th of his career while Daisuke Matsuzaka had to leave the game due to tightness in his shoulder, seemingly aggravated by a first base collision, though he stayed in the game to finish his inning. David Aardsma, Manny Delcarmen, and Okajima combined for four scoreless relief innings, but Mike Timlin took the loss after allowing a ninth inning run.

In the finale, the Mariners earned their first shutout of the season as Erik Bedard struck out eight Sox batters over seven innings while issuing three free passes and only allowing two hits. J. J. Putz picked up the save despite allowing two walks, making a tough luck loser of Tim Wakefield, who made only one mistake: Yuniesky Betancourt‘s third inning home run.

While they could not score, the Red Sox did get a lot of baserunners due to the six walks, and they ran the counts deep which is the gameplan. Like a hitter can have a productive out, by moving a runner over or taking a lot of pitches, you can probably call this a productive loss because the team kept to it’s hitting philiosophy and got the complete game from Wakefield, which gives the bullpen two days of rest including a travel day following the loss.

The Red Sox ended this road trip just like the last one by stopping in Baltimore on the way home. After dropping both games two weeks ago, the Red Sox returned the favor by taking three of four. Josh Beckett started the first game of the series and pitched well for his six innings, though it took him 118 pitches to get through the outing. He allowed two runs on four hits and two walks and struck out an impressive ten Orioles. Daniel Cabrera only struck out two in his seven innings, but also only allowed two runs on six hits and two walks and, like Beckett, left a 2-2 tie for the bullpen.

Neither offense could push a run across the plate until the 13th inning as the bullpens pitched a combined 11 scoreless innings. However, in that unlucky Orioles inning, they made a couple costly fielding mistakes (four total in the game) allowing the Red Sox to plate three, and making an eventual loser of ex-Sox pitcher Chad Bradford. The righty did not allow an earned run, but did not record an out either.

Papelbon pitched a dominant ninth inning for the save. He threw 10 pitches, seven of them strikes, and recorded two strikeouts in his inning. The second game FINALLY saw Manny get number 500! He has looked like he was pressing as he approached the milestone, so hopefully he will loosen up at the plate now that he is on the road to 600. I am sure we would have all liked to see it happen at Fenway, but at least he did it in front of a lot of Red Sox fans in Baltimore, where Red Sox Nation always shows up in droves (in my opinion, second only to Tampa Bay in terms of Red Sox fans filling opposing ballparks).

Jon Lester went five innings and 102 pitches while allowing the three Oriole runs. Aardsma, Okajima, and Papelbon combined for four more scoreless innings of relief, with Pap earning the save for the second game in a row. Colon earned his second win of the week in the third game in what appeared to be his weakest outing for the big club this season, giving up four runs over six. However, he did throw 103 pitches which is a sign that his shoulder is feeling good. The Red Sox have brought him along slowly to preserve his shoulder, but he appears to be stretching out as planned. I am sure the Red Sox will avoid pushing him too hard, but it is great to see him throw that many pitches.

Colon did not have to be especially sharp as the Red Sox hammered out 16 hits to score the 9-4 victory. Manny hit No. 501 and added two other hits and seems to be back to his usual self at the plate. Mike Lowell and J. D. Drew each added a home run, while Jacoby Ellsbury added three more hits. Javier Lopez, Craig Hansen, and Delcarmen threw three more shutout innings of relief. Middle relief is definitely the spottiest role in the game today, but the Red Sox sure seem to have a corps that can get the job done, though it helps that the starters consistently get them into sixth or seventh inning. The relievers did not allow a run to the Orioles in the first three games, fourteen innings in total, but the streak was snapped in the fourth game in a big way.

Okajima was tagged for four in two-thirds innings of work and took the loss as he tried to preserve the win for Wakefield. Manny homered again as he and Lowell each had two hits for the Sox to lead the offense. George Sherrill recorded his 18th save with an exciting ninth inning, allowing two walks to bring Manny up, who dashed our hopes with a flyout to right field to end the game.

The Red Sox return home in second place to host the American League’s top team and East Division leader for three games. It must be the Yankees, right? Wrong! The rebranded Tampa Bay Rays have really turned around this season and would be the team in front of the Red Sox. They are currently 13 games over .500 for the first time in franchise history and are the most positive surprise in baseball this season. I still cannot see this team competing all year long, but I did not see them even sticking around this long, so what do i know!

The Rays do have some holes offensively and could use a better closer (Troy Percival recently hit the disabled list and Al Reyes and Dan Wheeler only have a combined season of experience in the role), so if they are around at the deadline, it will be interesting to see if they try to acquire one. What they do have is a core of exciting young players, including B. J. Upton and Evan Longoria and good starting pitching led by Scott Kazmir, who the Red Sox will luckily avoid.

The last time these teams played, Tampa swept the Sox down South, so hopefully the Red Sox can return the favor. Justin Masterson gets Dice-K’s start, opposing Matt Garza, Beckett faces Edwin Jackson, and Lester draws James Shields in the finale. Beckett should dominate his matchup as Jackson is the wildest Tampa starter, as measured by WHIP (1.45). The others have the potential to be pitcher’s duels, though the Sox do play better offensively at Fenway. I think the Sox will grab two of these three.

Before the Red Sox wrap up the homestand with a visit from the Orioles, they will play host to the familiar Mariners. Colon and Felix Hernandez will face off in a rematch of their battle in Seattle, as Colon goes for 4-0. Wakefield will draw Miguel Batista and Masterson, again filling in for Matsuzaka, will face Jarrod Washburn. With the series at home, I expect the Red Sox to get more on offense, against this statistically bad Mariners pitching staff. Safeco Field does mask some of the M’s pitching problems, but in Fenway’s friendly hitting confines, the Red Sox will expose them. The Red Sox should be able to get at least two more here.

Notes:

  • Dice-K’s shoulder forced him to the disabled list, eligible to return June 12; Jeff Bailey was recalled after a brief callup last season and pinch hit in each Orioles game, going 0-4.
  • Big Papi sprained his left wrist and has now missed the last two games.
  • Recent Red Sox castoff Julian Tavarez signed on with the Brewers.
  • With Manny off the milestone chase, Ken Griffey, Jr. has the spotlight to himself as he sits on 599. If he has a drought like Manny, we may see him hit the milestone in Cincinnati against the Red Sox.

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