The First Fortnight
ProBaseball-fans.com Boston Red Sox Correspondent Elizabeth Dreeson brings us her latest update on Red Sox Nation.
There was a lot of optimism going into Opening Day for the Boston Red Sox. As usual, the experts have them slotted in what should be an intense competition for the American League East Division Title. On paper, the Red Sox are a very formidable team; they are solid all the way through. They have a strong lineup, a great pitching staff, and a deep bench. Opening Day at Fenway Park was glorious as the Red Sox picked up right where they left off: facing the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays had beaten the Red Sox 3-1 to go to the World Series, but lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. Josh Beckett looked much more similar to his 2007 self; he went seven innings, and struck out ten batters.
Unfortunately, the Opening Day momentum did not stay much longer. The Red Sox dropped the next two games—and the series—to the Rays. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had skipped out on the majority of Spring Training to play on Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic, was merely mediocre, and so was the Red Sox offense. In Jon Lester’s start against the Rays, he had one bad inning in which he surrendered four runs, while the offense continued to remain dormant.
The only Red Sox that truly came out of the gate swinging was first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who played on Team USA during the World Baseball Classic. He has had several multi-hit games in just the first two weeks. The rest of the Red Sox offense continued to be sluggish during the West Coast series.
After the Red Sox lost their opening series to the Tampa Bay Rays, they went on to play the California Angels in Anaheim, but not at the brightest of times. Nick Adenhart, the top prospect in the Angels organization, had just been killed in a tragic car accident. Tim Wakefield took the mound that night, though Jered Weaver, the starting pitcher for the Angels, was the hero. He pitched six solid innings and struck out eight, and as he walked off the field to a standing ovation, he pointed to the sky. According to sources, Adenhart was supposed to move in with Weaver at the end of that week.
Brad Penny took the ball for the next game, making his first start in a Red Sox uniform. He allowed three runs on five hits over six innings in his debut, as the Sox barely hung on for a win. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon loaded up the bases, only to have Howard Kendrick line out to right fielder Rocco Baldelli to end the game. The offense had begun to awaken by the middle of the Angels series, but the Red Sox were still having trouble converting runners on base to runs.
The Red Sox then made their way to Oakland, where Jon Lester struggled in his second consecutive outing. The lefty struggled in the second inning, which is where he gave up five of his six runs. The lackluster offense provided little run support for Lester, and Javier Lopez and Takashi Saito struggled to keep the game close when they came out of the bullpen.
Meanwhile, Jed Lowrie’s day of rest quickly turned to perhaps a season of rehabilitation when his ailing left wrist was discovered. After seeing some specialists, Lowrie is leaning towards having surgery on his wrist, but fortunately, he could be back by the All-Star break. Unfortunately, Lowrie is not the only one sustaining an injury.
In the second game in the Oakland series, Daisuke Matsuzaka did not make it past the first inning, in which he gave up five runs while throwing almost fifty pitches. This came even after he received a three run cushion thanks to hits by Kevin Youkilis and JD Drew. On the night that the Red Sox needed their bullpen the most, they lived up to the “best bullpen in baseball” record that some have claimed that they are. The bullpen combined to throw ten scoreless innings—four alone by Justin Masterson. Around 2:30 am, Javier Lopez loaded up the bases in the bottom of the twelfth, and gave up a walk-off single to Travis Buck. However even with this loss, it looked as though things were finally coming together for the Red Sox.
In the final game of the series, Tim Wakefield gave the bullpen a well-needed day off, and even flirted with a no hitter. Going into the sixth inning, Wakefield barely had fifty pitches. Wakefield carried his no-hitter into the eighth inning, only to have Kurt Suzuki hit a single right over the head of shortstop Nick Green. Although the no-no was spoiled, some dazzling defensive plays by centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and shortstop Nick Green accompanied Wakefield’s performance. The Red Sox went on to win their only game of the series 8-2 thanks to a six run eighth inning in which the Oakland staff faced eleven Red Sox batters.
The Red Sox finally returned to Fenway Park after their tough series on the road. They faced two problems: Jed Lowrie’s wrist, and Daisuke Matsuzaka’s shoulder. Matsuzaka was placed on the 15-Day disabled list due to shoulder fatigue. This fatigue potentially came from his most-valuable-player caliber performances in the World Baseball Classic. His rehab assignment may include an extended Spring Training because his time spent with the Red Sox this spring was so short.
The Red Sox, from the cellar of the division, took on the Baltimore Orioles, and Red Sox starter Brad Penny did not get off to a good start. Brad Penny gave up seven runs in the second inning—including walking in a run—to put the Red Sox down 7-0. This did not discourage their awakening offense though. The Red Sox retaliated for four runs in the bottom of the second thanks to a two-run shot by left-fielder Jason Bay, and numerous hits from the rest of the order. The Sox came all the way back in the sixth and took the lead 10-8, and once again the Red Sox bullpen came through.
In the second game of the series, Josh Beckett picked up his second win of the season albeit giving up four runs in the fifth inning. The Red Sox were lifted by a huge three run home run by first baseman Kevin Youkilis. On Sunday, Jon Lester finally returned to his vintage form. In seven innings he struck out nine batters to help lead the Red Sox to their fourth victory in a row. Takashi Saito got his first save of the season while Jonathan Papelbon had the day off.
In Monday’s game—starting at 11 am because of the Boston Marathon—Justin Masterson was the starting, and winning pitcher. Masterson continued to train as a starter throughout the offseason and during the spring to ensure that he would be ready for a situation like this. The young right hander gave up one run over five innings, and struck out three, and helped lead the Red Sox to their first sweep of the season. Dustin Pedroia helped lead the Red Sox to their 12-1 victory over the Orioles by banging four hits, and scoring and driving in three runs. David Ortiz also attempted to get out of his early season slump by hitting a double and a triple.
The Red Sox will face the Twins for a quick two game series before going on to playing the New York Yankees right at home. Josh Beckett will not miss a start during his five game suspension for throwing at Abreu’s head in his start, he will merely flip flop with Lester, which is possible because of the upcoming offday.
By: Elizabeth Dreeson
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