|Notes and Observations, Week 3: Offense Struggles, Patriots Top Raiders 16-9||If the Playoffs Started Today – MLB Week 24||Connelly’s Top Ten: Average Patriots Make Sunday Boring||Week 3 Preview: Raiders at Patriots, Sept. 21, 2014|
If the Red Sox want to get a fresh lease on the season, they’d do well to seize the spirit of Sunday’s 9-3 win over Yankees and start printing shirts with a new mantra: Win Ugly. While it certainly won’t be played on ESPNClassic anytime soon, the Sox staved off a sweep behind a steady performance from Jon Lester (3-2), and 3 RBI’s from Jeremy Hermida. Seven starters had a hit, five had RBI’s, and the Sox shellacked Yankees starter A.J. Burnett (4-1), handing him his first loss of the season.
It started early on the chilly Sunday night for the Sox, who capitalized on Marcus Thames’s error in the second inning. It appeared that the wind, which blew out to right field all night, played with the fly ball, hit by Hermida, just enough to distract Thames. The ball bounced off the left-fielder’s glove, allowing J.D. Drew to score. And while he didn’t get credit for an RBI on the play, Hermida hit the ball sharply enough to make it a tough play in left-field. On Sunday, that was enough to get the bats going.
With Lester quickly setting down the Yankees in the top of the third, the Sox were chomping at the bit to get another shot at Burnett, who has not pitched well at Fenway since joining the Yanks. Marco Scutaro walked, and Dustin Pedroia doubled down the left-field line to put two men in scoring position for the BoSox. After a mild first two innings (perhaps soured by Friday and Saturday’s sorry performances), the Fenway faithful finally came alive. Three batters later, with Kevin Youkilis having walked to first, J.D. Drew hit a sac fly that brought home Scutaro, putting the Sox up 2-0 and giving them a lead that they would never relinquish.
At this point in the game, which I was lucky enough to attend, I informed the Sox fans sitting near me that watching David Ortiz bat this season was akin to sending your child out to ride a bike even though you know they’re going to crash, but having to watch them crash over and over and over until you want to turn the bike into scrap metal for their sake. I was overjoyed, however, to put my foot in my mouth just moments later when the big fella scorched a ground-rule double down the right-field line. It was Ortiz’s only hit of the night, and can perhaps be attributed to the fact that Burnett’s fastball was only hitting 94, even early in the game, but it was the type of confidence-boosting smash that might (fingers crossed) start turning around Ortiz’s hitting.
Bucking this season’s trend of following a big hit with a cringe-inducing out, the Sox continued to pour on the offense. Beltre followed Ortiz’s double with another double, putting the ball between Thames and speedster Brett Gardner, and putting the Sox up 5-0. This, it seemed, fit perfectly the offseason expectations for this team; the Sox had yet to hit a home run, but the barrage of good, patient hitters was too much for Burnett, and a sac fly, two walks, and three doubles turned into five runs in the blink of an eye.
Puzzlingly, Joe Girardi left Burnett in to face Hermida. Now, Hermida’s not the most most menacing batter in the league, but he’d already gotten good contact in the second inning, and he’s a lefty. At this point, when you’re only down five runs and you’ve got the most feared lineup in baseball, don’t you bring in a reliever? Maybe a Yankee fan could explain this to me, but Burnett clearly didn’t have his best stuff Sunday; of his four strikeouts, two of them were attributed to Darnell McDonald, who is probably an awesome guy but looked only slightly better than your average fan would have at the plate. The bottom of the Sox lineup isn’t particularly intimidating, but in retrospect, Girardi made the wrong decision. I’m not even sure anyone was up in the bullpen at this point, and for as good as Burnett’s been this year (and he’s been VERY good), Girardi can’t fall victim to Grady Little Syndrome and leave a starter in there just because he’s supremely talented. With how good the Rays have been, wins in the division are key, greatest rivalry in pro sports notwithstanding, and I thought the Yanks, at this point, handed the Sox a game that was still winnable.
Back on the field, Hermida made Girardi pay for his decision, dropping a single into shallow left-field for his first official RBI of the night. At the end of the inning, the Red Sox were up 6-0 and the Yanks were yet to record a hit.
That changed abruptly when Nick Swisher, the first batter of the 4th, went yard on Lester. After striking out Mark Teixeira (whose 0-3 performance reminded Yankee fans that, despite his Saturday night outburst, Teixeira is hitting as miserably as any first basemen in the AL), Lester gave up another bomb to Alex Rodriguez. When Robinson Cano reached on a single, it seemed as though Lester might be losing steam in the face of the vaunted Yankees lineup. But the southpaw quickly regained his composure, striking out Posada and Thames to neutralize the threat. In the break between innings, Joe Girardi, who falls under the category of Shorter In Real Life Than On TV, got himself tossed for arguing balls and strikes. During the interaction between he and plate umpire Tim McLellan, Girardi looked very tame until the ejection, which leads me to believe that the Yanks’ manager was arguing, mostly, as a way to get himself tossed and challenge his team to wake up and play. I love this move from managers, and while it didn’t work, it shows that, even when he’s not making great decisions (see: Burnett, A.J.), Girardi understands the psychological aspect of the game damn well.
Fortunately for the Sox, the Yanks took Girardi getting the heave as permission to sleep through the next five innings. Lester allowed only one more hit, trusting in his defense to track down several well-hit balls by the villains in pinstripes. For some security runs, Youkilis had an RBI double in the 5th, and an inning later, Hermida, who accounted for 5 of Boston’s runs, hit the Sox’ only home run of the night, an impressive shot to right-field.
Yes, Hermida was awesome, and we look forward to some repeat performances from the former Marlin, but Lester was the key Sunday. After giving up 24 runs in the past two games, the pitching staff needed a good performance, and it got a great one from the lefty. 2 earned runs in 7 IP, 7 K’s, and some much-needed rest for the bullpen is the stuff SotG’s are made of.
Hard not to go with the aforementioned McDonald, for whom the term “overmatched” only begins to describe how he looked Sunday, but he’s supposed to be crappy. Martinez, who was brought in to be the glue of this offense at the 3-spot, especially against the Yankees, was 0-for-5. What’s more, he only saw 17 pitches in those 5 AB’s. If you’re not going to get on base, at least make the hurlers work. Yikes.
W: Jon Lester (3-2)
L: A.J. Burnett (4-1)