Monday, April 27, 2009

Red Sox do it again

When you look at this Red Sox lineup, the one thing they lack is a hitter that makes opposing pitchers shake in their cleats. Manny Ramirez is long gone, Big Papi's days of hitting 50+ home runs are behind him, but what this Red Sox offense is still equipped with is consistency, relentlessness and discipline.

There isn't a hitter on the Red Sox roster that pitchers would rather walk with the bases loaded, rather than risk the chance of giving up four, like a Jim Rice in his prime, but when the Red Sox have needed the long ball, Boston has not had to rely on just one bat to come up big when scoring runs have been a necessity.

On Friday night down by two, Jason Bay took Mariano Rivera deep to set up a walk-off blast by Kevin Youkilis. On Saturday, Jason Varitek cranked his third career grand slam followed by Jacoby Ellsbury's first home run of 2009 to close a once six-run gap. When the Sox trailed later in that same game, it was Mike Lowell shooting a three-run rocket into the first row of the Monster seats to give the Sox the lead back. Different names, different situations, same results: clutch.

After closing out a 9-0 home stand to close out their tenth consecutive victory, the Boston Red Sox once again needed somebody to come up big with the game on the line. The Red Sox' success has been a full team effort; from the starting pitching, to the bullpen, to the defense, and of course the offense, with a new hero stepping up each and every night.

On Monday night, Tim Wakefield was up for the task of squaring off with the reigning Cy Young Award-winner, Cliff Lee. The left-hander struggled to open the season, but recently has found himself in a groove, reminiscent to the groove that he pitched in throughout the duration of the entire 2008 season. In game one of this three-game series, Lee was lights out. Unfortunately for Lee and the Indians, so was Tim Wakefield.

Wakefield entered the game coming off back-to-back complete game victories, becoming the oldest pitcher at the age of 42 to do so. On Monday, Wakefield looked to build on his April success with a win over the Tribe. Wakefield and Lee battled inning for inning, putting up zero after zero in a true pitcher's duel.

While the two Red Sox starters squared off with each other, so did the two team's center fielders. While Wakefield and Lee traded shutout frames, Jacoby Ellsbury and Grady Sizemore traded highlight reel catches in center field. With a few nifty plays in center on Monday night, Ellsbury extended his career errorless streak to start a career to 191 games.

Wakefield fluttered his knuckleball for seven shutout innings, giving up just one hit, walking four and striking out five. The Red Sox veteran threw 112 pitches (63 for strikes), facing 27 batters, while lowering his ERA to 1.86 on the season. Cliff Lee pitched just as well over eight innings, shutting the Red Sox out after throwing 106 pitches (70 for strikes), striking out five and walking none.

After both of the game's starters had departed, knowing that a no decision was in their future, Manny Delcarmen posted yet another scoreless inning to keep his ERA at 0.00. Delcarmen turned in a perfect bottom of the eighth with one strike out to send the game into the top of the ninth, still in a scoreless tie.

Former Chicago Cub, Kerry Wood, emerged from the Cleveland bullpen to keep the Tribe in a position to win the game in the bottom of the ninth. Wood walked Pedroia to begin the inning before giving up a single to David Ortiz, who was 2-for-4 on the night. With one out, Jason Bay came to the plate with two men on. With Kerry Wood gassing his fastball towards home plate in the high 90's Bay knew that all it would take was solid contact to break this scoreless tie.

With an 0-1 count, Wood fired a 99 MPH fastball that caught too much of the plate and Bay smashed his fifth home run 408 feet deep into the bleacher seats in left-center field. The bomb for Bay plated the left fielder's 17th, 18th and 19th RBI's of the 2009 season, with each RBI being more significant than the next for Bay.

Jonathan Papelbon was a little shaky out of the pen in the ninth, giving up an earned run on three singles, but the Boston closer did not let the Indians' rally get beyond one run. Papelbon racked up two strikeouts before putting the finishing touches on his fifth save of the season, while converting his tenth straight save dating back to 2008.

Tim Wakefield's third consecutive masterful outing and Jason Bay's second clutch home run in the past four nights handed the Red Sox their eleventh straight victory. The eleven consecutive wins for Boston account for the team's longest winning streak since banging out twelve straight victories from June 16-29 in 2006, all of which came against National League teams.

On Tuesday, Brad Penny (2-0, 7.80 ERA) returns to the mound against Anthony Reyes (1-0, 4.76 ERA). Penny pitched well in his last start against Minnesota, a game in which the right-hander hurled six innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on six hits, while striking out two to earn his second victory in a Red Sox uniform. Anthony Reyes has never faced the Red Sox, but pitched a decent ballgame in his last start (6 IP, 2 R, 4 H, 4 BB, 5 K, ND)

Lugo returns to the lineup tomorrow Tuesday night, who's excited? Not me! I'm going to miss Nick Green.