AL East Standing: 1st
Weekly Record: 4-1
Current Record: 37-24
(Every Saturday I will attempt to give some brief thoughts on the past week for the Boston Red Sox. It will be filled with hopes, frustrations, exhilaration, pain, and plenty of gawd-awful puns. Speaking of which…)
(Second note: This article features two spoilers from two immensely popular movies from the 80s. Read on at your own risk.)
Let’s Trey Ball!: I wish I could say that’s the lamest excuse for a pun I’ve ever written, but in middle school I regrettably tied together a certain basketball player from French Lick and a certain American novel by Harper Lee. Not a proud moment.
Anyway, I like Trey Ball quite a bit. He didn’t make my top 3 favorite draft prospects, but once Clint Frazier and Colin Moran came off the board, I was pretty much open to any pitcher. And from what scouts say, Trey Ball looks great, a 6’6 lefty with a great fastball and the potential for a knockout curve, and he hasn’t even filled out yet. Plus, I love me a good two-way prospect, and since the Adrian Gonzalez experience turned out so poorly, I’ve been dreading Casey Kelly (who was given up along with Anthony Rizzo. Damn) coming back from Tommy John surgery to lead the Padres to the Series and go all Kit Keller on them, knocking them out on the mound as well as delivering the game-winning hit, in the hypothetical Game 7 of the 2019 World Series of my nightmares.
Luckily, we now have Ball to distract us, adding to a strong cadre of pitchers in the Sox farm, one that will assuredly get even stronger as the Sox look to add more in the later rounds.
Texas Hacksaw Massacre
This was fun. After embarrassing the Sox earlier in the season, Texas came to town looking mighty fearsome, the loss of Josh Hamilton somehow making them even better. But they certainly left New England with a little less strut in their step. For Sox fans, Game 1 was positively delightful, with many mini-victories within the overall 17-5 thrashing. JBJ hit his first home run of his major league career to right. Papi legged out a triple. Nava and Carp (I’m working on a combo name for the pair at least until Victorino returns) combined for 6-8 with four RBIs and 7 runs scored. Iggy continued his torrid season at the plate. Stephen “I’m Nothing Like My Brother” Drew went 4-5 with a home run. And perhaps the most satisfying: Ryan Dempster put in a decidedly solid performance, allowing only three earned in seven strong innings, with six strikeouts on 107 pitches.
The next two games, while lacking in explosive scoring, were just as impressive. Even in a 3-2 loss, John Lackey continues to impress, his ERA on the season down to a sparkly 2.79, throwing a career high 8.71 K/9 and holding batters to a .284 OBP, a career high. I don’t want to get ahead of myself…(alright, twist my arm)…but if we get into October with Lackey still only the No. 3 or 4 starter, Sox fans will be very very happy indeed. The Texan has become full-on likable now, the disastrous 2011 and missed 2012 season distant memories.
And then came Thursday’s game. Lester started off a little shaky, but buckled down from the fourth to the sixth, holding the Rangers to homers by Jeff Baker and Adrian Beltre. Meanwhile, Pedey hit a beautiful high double to dead center, scoring Ellsbury (who returned from injury to go 4-5, his BA now at .280) and Iggy (who somehow had three walks, after only six throughout his entire major league career). Then, in the seventh, Mike “Hacksaw” Napoli hustled to beat out a bases-loaded double play, tying the game in the process. Tazawa, Koji, and Bailey knocked out the 7th, 8th, and 9th. And then, in the bottom of the ninth, Jonny Gomes (picking the perfect night to go 4-5, raising his BA above .200 for the first time in what seems like forever) hit a double, leading to an intentional walk for Pedey, and then….
PAPI: (Cue Thus Spake Zarathustra)
See, Ron Washington got a little too cutesy this time, a bit too clever. Sure, Ortiz had gone 0-3 that night against lefties Derek Holland and Robbie Ross. Lefty Mike Kirkman was already on the mound, this would be the perfect time to force Papi into a double play, before facing Napoli on the final out.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the Rangers coaches decided to put a man on intentionally to pitch TO THE GREATEST CLUTCH HITTER IN RED SOX HISTORY. And not just pitching to him, but insulting him! Questioning his ability as a hitter!
I love The Princess Bride. Spectacular movie. Andre the Giant, Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest with eleven fingers, Peter Falk reading to the kid from The Wonder Years. Fantastic. And this particular inning reminded me greatly of the famous scene featuring The Dread Pirate Roberts and Fezzini, the lisping Sicilian genius played by Wallace Shawn.
Just like Washington, Fezzini was in trouble, The DPR chasing him (the Jonny Gomes Double). But of course, when backed in a corner, is when true genius emerges. The Pedroia walk is the “What in the world could that be” distraction, not just a tactical move to pitch a lefty against Papi, while also messing with his mind a bit. Can’t you just picture Ron cackling in the dugout, knowing without a doubt that he has just won Princess Buttercup fair and square, off to Guilder to claim the bounty?
And of course, Papi’s ensuing homer on the first pitch was the death knell. I haven’t asked a Rangers or even a casual fan if they approve of Papi’s preening following his shot, mostly because I couldn’t care less. To walk Pedey and pitch to him was insulting, and he’s allowed to rub their face in it a little bit. A perfect little storybook moment, a manager’s hubris punished by an aging slugger proving year after year that he still has magic in him.
And not to keep belaboring this point, but just as heartwarming as the hit itself was the team’s reaction.
Watch Napoli go to clap him on the back before he even gets to first base. Watch Gomes hurl his helmet into the air as he hits home. Watch Buchholz’s emphatic bro-hug with Papi, clearly taking pointers from Koji. David Ross, Iggy, Pedey. Watch Bailey, Ellsbury, and Drew sitting at the top step as he hits it before erupting, Bailey jumping around like it was a House of Pain video.
And then watch Michael Kirkman walk off the field before it even cleared the right field wall.
What a sweet, sweet moment.
Checking In With The Reverse Jinx
Seriously. I’m riding this thing ‘til it goes up in flames. Since naming them last week: Will Middlebrooks hit two home runs in his rehab assignment in Pawtucket. Jonny Gomes had the aforementioned 4-5 game against the Rangers. Felix Doubront somehow went six innings with only one run given up despite a shaky start, as part of the Red Sox thrashing the Yankees 11-1.
The only disappointment has been Koji’s cleanshaven face. This isn’t New York, Koji. Let it out, baby, let it out! So, if you’re listening, oh karmic baseball gods, next week will feature Pedro Ciriaco, David Ross, Clayton Mortensen, and the ghost of Koji Uehara’s goatee. Here me oh Karmic gods!
Coming Up: Breaking Down Hacksaw (The Redemption of Mike Napoli)