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The Red Sox opened this week with the team that ended their 2008 campaign in the Americal League Championship Series, the Rays, at home and then ventured out west for a series with the Angels. The team dropped two of three in each series, averting what could be a disasterous start, but digging a bit of an early hole.
It is still very early and the opponents were quality teams, so the red flags should not be flying yet, but the start is more of a disappointment perhaps than expected. This week, the road trip continues in Oakland before the Sox return to Fenway for a series with the Orioles.
The Red Sox opened the season on a high note after taking Game 1 from the Rays despite the first game being postponed by rain to Tuesday. Josh Beckett was dominant, and if that game was any indication of the season, he is in Cy Young form. He went seven strong innings and allowed one run on two hits and three walks and struck out 10 to earn the win in the Sox’ 5-3 victory. Hideki Okajima looked shaky, but Justin Masterson cleaned up the mess and set up Jonathan Papelbon, who mowed down the Rays for the first save of the season. Dustin Pedrioa and Jason Varitek homered and Kevin Youkilis had two hits in the win. Everyone except Jacoby Ellsbury had a hit for the Red Sox.
The shoe (or cleat) was on the other foot in Game 2 as the Rays got the dominant pitching from Scott Kazmir. Kazmir went six innings allowing only one run, on five hits and three walks, and struck out four. He was not as sharp as Beckett was the prior day, but plenty to get the job done. Akinori Iwamura, out of the nine spot, combined with the top of the order to give the Rays plenty of offensive punch. Iwamura, Josh Bartlett, and Carl Crawford had three hits apiece while Evan Longoria added two, including a home run.
Youk had three for the Red Sox, as they got eight more hits in the game. However, Jon Lester ran into trouble in the fifth desptie comlpeting the frame. He gave up five runs in his five IP with five strikeouts, but he gave up eight hits and two free passes. Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez each provided a perfect inning and Takashi Saito and Javier Lopez each allowed one in their innings to run the final score to 7-2.
Daisuke Matsuzaka got the Game 3 call and looked as wild as last season, however, he failed to dance out of the trouble he made for himself. He hit 100 pitches in sixth inning when he was pulled, but he threw a wild pitch and hit a batter while allowing nine hits, three home runs, and three walks. He struck out five and gave up four in his 5.1 innings. Delcarmen walked two in his inning and Ramirez had a perfect five-out appearance. Okajima made things exciting while getting two outs, but Masterson finished up for him, getting the last out in the tough 4-3 loss.
Youkilis continued his torrid hitting, collecting three of Boston’s seven hits. Tampa Bay starter Matt Garza pitched very well, allowing only one in his seven innings. The Red Sox made a game of it though, scratching for one in the eighth and one in the ninth off Troy Percival. Longoria and Varitek each had their second home run of the series.
After dropping two of three at home, the Red Sox made the long journey west to Anaheim to face the Angels in the first game since rookie Nick Adenhart’s tragic death. One of his closest friends on the team, Jared Weaver, honored his fallen teammate with an eight-strikeout performance and allowed no earned runs while taking the Angels into the seventh. The Angels strung together hits in the second to get three off Tim Wakefield, who was a bit wild in his season debut as he allowed six hits and five walks in six innings of work. He allowed only three runs, but whiffed only four in the loss. Even Masterson was touched up for three in his inning of work. Youkilis had his fourth multi-hit game to open the season and Ellsbury added two as well in the 6-3 loss.
Brad Penny made his Red Sox debut in the middle game of the set and led the Red Sox to a 5-4 victory. He pitched pretty well in his 86-pitch appearance, allowing three runs, but lasted six innings as he was pretty efficient. He only struck out two, but also only walked two and yielded five hits, two of them were Mike Napoli home runs. Penny’s outing could have been much better if he could have figured out the Angel backstop.
Youk walked once and got no hits, the first time he was held hitless on the young season, but Jason Bay picked up for him, dropping two bombs over the left field fence and Mike Lowell added another one for the same group of fans as well. Perhaps the most impressive was Ramon Ramirez’ five-out appearance. He allowed a hit, but no runs and looked very good again.
Papelbon came on in the eighth to face Vladimir Guerrero and induced a flyout before embarking on an interesting ninth, not something the Red Sox fans are accustomed to with him. Torii Hunter took him deep to center and then he loaded the bases with a hit and two walks before finishing off Howie Kendrick in a ten-pitch, all strike at bat. Kendrick fouled off pitch after pitch before flying out to Rocco Baldelli in right to end the game. Baldelli also went 2-4 in his second start as a Sox and Varitek added two more hits.
The Red Sox wrapped up the series on Easter with a 5-4 loss in a game marked with brawls. Beckett was not the same sharp self he was in the opener, as he got touched for four runs in six innings with eight hits and two walks, but he did strike out five. Youkilis and J.D. Drew went back to back in the second inning to give the Red Sox the early lead that they could not hold. Kendrick was involved in the two innings the Angels scored on Beckett as he got three hits on the day. The Red Sox answered the Angels insurance run twice, including one in the ninth, but came up short. Vlad Guerrero homered in the last of the eighth to provide the winning margin.
The Red Sox slow start has them in the AL East basement, two and a half back of the high-flying Blue Jays already. As it usually is with the beginning of the season, eyes are usually focused in a little closer on the new acquisitions as well as anyone who may have just re-signed, as is the case with Varitek this year, who is off to a .278 start and tied for the team lead with two home runs.
As for the new guys, Saito’s lone appearance was one to be forgotten and Penny looked okay, certainly worth his deal so far, but no one has stood out like Ramon Ramirez. It is early yet, but he has pitched 4.1 innings over three appearances and allowed only one hit. The Red Sox will have found a very valuable bullpen arm if he keeps pitching like this.
As for Sox veterans, Youk is leading the team so far, going 12-23 (.522) and has a .577 OBP when his three walks are thrown in and also has one home run. Jason Bay leads the team with six RBI and Manny Delcarmen should also be noted for his two perfect outings so far as well.
On the flip side, Jed Lowrie is off to an atrocious 1-18 start with eight punchouts. Will Red Sox Nation look forward to Julio Lugo’s return? Reigning MVP Pedroia is also only 4-24 to start the season.
The Red Sox should be able to bounce back against the so far offensively challeged A’s, who have but one home run so far this season. Jon Lester faces Dallas Braden in the opener, Dice-K and Dana Eveland tangle in the second game, and the series concludes with Wakefield against Brett Anderson. The A’s, like the Red Sox, were expected to compete for their division and both teams find themselves in their division cellar.
The Sox will then return home to play the Orioles, and for the first time this season in a four-game set. Baltimore gets the meat of the pitching staff as they face Penny, Beckett, Lester, and Dice-K while they will deal Mark Guthrie, Adam Eaton, Koji Uehara, and Alfredo Simon. The Orioles are off to a 4-2 start after taking two of three for two of the teams expected to seriously contend for the division: New York and Tampa Bay. Adam Jones is hitting .409 and now justifying the Erik Bedard deal after a spotty rookie campaign.