Well we finally made it back from Fenway around 1am last night - the game was an excruciating contest for everyone, even before the eighth inning meltdown. Slow-working pitchers, poor plate umpiring, sloppy fielding. The game had it all. A few thoughts about the affair, as we get ready for today's stellar pitching matchup:
- The Red Sox missed a ton of chances to push the lead past five. That being said, the lead could easily have been much smaller than five as the Yankees blew several chances as well. So, no complaining from SFs about five run leads going into the eighth inning. Missed chances go both ways. The "we should have had more than seven" complaint doesn't cut it for me.
- Daisuke gutted it out, he mixed up his pitches far better than in his last couple of starts. He wasn't great - it seems like when he misses he misses by a mile, and that doesn't create enough deception to unsteady the hitters. But he made pitches when he needed to, and the diverse repertoire made his fastball that much more effective. It was an encouraging effort (against a relentless, all-world offense), if not a totally reassuring one.
- Re: that all-world offense. It's scary. Moreso in person than watching on TV for some reason. I don't think it quite hits you on the telly since you don't see the on-deck circle. But at the game, you are always looking at two guys, not one, the hitter and who's next. This has a rather intimidating effect, at least as a fan. The Bombers are just that, Bombers. Very impressive.
- The stadium didn't lose energy (I did, though!) after the six-run outburst. It was actually kind of refreshing: most of the crowd stuck it out to the very end and was pretty darn boisterous. The stereotype of the beleaguered, energy-less, gut-punched fan didn't apply on the whole: the crowd stuck by their team. In fact, it was a YF (who shall remain nameless!) that gave the "this game is over, wanna take a walk around the stadium?" line as the eighth began. So much for stereotypes.
- JD Drew was treated poorly, despite having a very nice game at the plate. I am going to continue to stick by him and predict that he has a good chance to make noise in the postseason. Jason Varitek, who gets a free pass from his travails for obvious reasons, looks to be a far worse option at the plate right now, his bat visibly slow in person. He's an offensive liability, majorly so. I dread him coming to the plate.
- The Sox could really use Manny (duh). The bench isn't deep enough to take this kind of hit for any duration. When there is no better option than Bobby Kielty from his bad side in the ninth inning of a one-run game with a man on against your arch-rival that's pretty bad news. If Manny's not around in a couple of weeks and at least 85/90%, the Sox are dead meat. His absence is glaring. That said, the Sox had Andy Pettitte (who was plodding and utterly hittable) and the Yankees dead to rights without their HoF left-fielder, so that has to be worth something.
- Hideki Okajima looked done from the moment he came in. I remarked to YF after his first or second pitch (having watched him up close through a set of binoculars) that he looked strained, his body english was terrible, and his face grimaced between every pitch like he was in dire need of a laxative. YF was able to call almost every single pitch of Oki's without seeing what hit the plate, and is pretty sure he's tipping due to a change in motion from fastball to curve or change. He might be right.
- Re: Oki - he never should have started the eighth. We questioned this at the game when he re-emerged from the dugout. He did his job in the seventh, he sat on the bench and got cool, he's most definitely overworked based on his personal history, and Gagne, MDC, and Paps (and Buck, even) were all still available. If Tito isn't going to trust Gagne (who, despite the Damon hit, looked fantastic live) with a five run lead in the eighth with a 5.5 game division cushion then when is he going to trust him? At the very least Tito should have had a couple of guys up and warming when the inning started. The homers from Giambi and Cano weren't scrape jobs -- Cano's in particular was a monstrous shot, and that should have been it for Hideki, had someone been ready - Papelbon was up too late, he didn't warm for all that long. This was the key to the game, at least tactically: Tito was fatally unprepared for Okajima's struggles.
So today we go back for more. It's going to be cooler, maybe a little gray at first pitch, which sounds right based on last night's affair. But the forecast calls for sun by the middle of the game, and we've got our ace on the mound. And a four game loss-column lead. Let the weather be a metaphor for today's action. Go Sox!