Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Class Is Now In Session

Are you ready for some baseball? I know I am.

It's 71 degrees at City of Palms Park down in sunny Fort Myers, Florida. The only breathing creatures on this earth that could match the excitement that Red Sox fans have for the return of their beloved team would be the Boston College baseball team. The college boys from Beantown got a chance to take batting practice with the Sox and meet and greet their favorite players from the club. The boys from BC chatted with the Sox and took a few pictures, but when it was time for the first pitch, it was all business.

Josh Beckett took the mound in the first inning knowing that he was going to be limited to two innings. Beckett's fastball was cruising into the mitt of Josh Bard in the low 90's, certainly not a bad sign this early on. Although it was Boston College, it's always a good sign to see Beckett retire the first three batters he faces. Three up, three down on just nine pitches made Beckett look like himself again.

Batting second, Rocco Baldelli began his spring with a strikeout at the hands of BC starter, Geoff Oxley. I wouldn't judge his first at bat too crucially; keep in mind it's only February 25.

When Beckett took the mound in the second frame, he faced BC's cleanup hitter with a familiar last name. Sam Shaughnessy, the youngest of three kids that call the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy, "Dad", got up to bat against the flame-throwing Beckett. If it were Curt Schilling on the mound, there's a good chance that Sam may have been icing a nice little bruise after the game, but since Beckett doesn't have a bone to pick with Shaughnessy, he just struck his son out on four pitches.

Knowing that he was only out there for a selected amount of innings, Beckett mixed up his pitches early on by spinning his breaking pitches in between his fastballs to the BC offense. Beckett K'd Robbie Anston to end the second, and that was the day for the Boston ace. It took just 22 pitches to carve through his share of the BC batters without giving up a hit and striking out two.

Clay Buchholz followed Beckett in the third by entering the game and only needing six pitches (five for strikes) to complete his one inning of work.

The two teams remained in a scoreless tie until Boston College took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth. Their lead lasted up until the bottom of the fifth until the Red Sox poured on six runs. The Sox added to their lead in the bottom of the six when shortstop prospect, Yamaico Navarro, crushed the first pitch that he saw way over the CVS sign out in left field.

The game's only other highlights came in the fifth inning when the Sox latest Japanese pitcher made his Spring Training debut. Junichi Tazawa pitched a perfect fifth inning and in a shortened game, Sox prospect, Daniel Bard, came on to pitch the seventh, and final, inning to be played. Bard, who can hit 100 MPH on the gun, struck out two batters in his one inning of work to conclude the game and secure a win for the Boston Red Sox.

It was an unusual day for the Red Sox as the two teams squared off for just seven innings, not nine. 7-1 may seem like a blowout, but last year the Sox crushed BC by a 24-0 score. The closest BC has ever come to defeating the Red Sox down in Fort Myers was back in 2002 when the Sox squeaked out a 2-1 victory. Since 1916, Boston College has played the Red Sox during Spring Training 19 times. They have lost all 19 times.

Final score: Boston College 1, Red Sox 7

In other news, Daisuke Matsuzaka made his first start for Japan in an exhibition game against Australia. The MVP of the World Baseball Classic for the victorious Japanese club struggled in his return to the tournament that he dominated in 2006. Matsuzaka hurled just 1.2 innings giving up two runs on five hits.

The trouble for the 18-game winner with Boston last season didn't start until the second inning. Daisuke began hit outing by striking out three of the first five batters that came to the plate in impressive fashion. However, things soon fell apart as the right-hander surrendered a two-run double not long before getting the hook.

Is this a cause for concern? Absolutely not. If it weren't February, he would have stayed out there and likely would have recovered to have a nice outing. But since it's still the spring, there is no sense in taking any chances.

The Sox action hasn't ended with the conclusion of their 7-1 victory against BC, Boston will be taking on the Minnesota Twins tonight at 7:05pm on NESN in their first Grapefruit League game. Tim Wakefield gets the ball under the lights tonight in what hopes to be the cure to all of our off-season depressions. It's also worth noting that Alex Rodriguez hit a home run in his first Spring Training game, just sayin'.