On to the barn-burner at Texas last night. This is a game that you have to feel pretty pumped about winning, because while you watched it you were repeatedly punching yourself in the nuts. Beckett threw about 70 (68?) pitches through the first 4 innings, and could not locate his curveball to save his life. Watching every at-bat go to 3-2 was nerve-wracking, and I was certain Texas was going to open it up every inning until Beckett got pissed and started mowing people down. His thing seems to be that he needs to be pissed to pitch well, which is fine. In fact, in the historically Irish-dominated hearts of Red Sox nation, anger is the only acceptable emotion - he's going to be a fan favorite in no time.
The real story of the game last night was the bats - or lack thereof. Given Beckett's propensity towards pitching out of trouble, you sort of figured he'd be able to keep us close after the first few escapes. The ongoing issue was - would the Sox ever get on the board? The Rangers had their much-heralded ace that noone's ever heard of Kameron Loe on the mound, and all he did was induce ground balls. Of his 23 outs, 19 came via the ground ball, including two double-plays by Big Papi, who had one of his worst days as a professional hitter (and maybe ever). His final line? 0-4, 2 DPs, 1K, 4 LOB. No bueno.
In the end of course, good things happened. Nixon was able to solve Loe for a dinger on a mistake pitch, and it was enough. Manny had another assist from left field on a Sveum-esque put-out at home plate on Teixeira, who is quite frankly appallingly, embarrassingly slow of foot. Loretta continues to prove his worth, and was the only guy who was consistently on base. Snow hit the ball on the nuts three times, albeit in the end had nothing to show for it. Beckett settled down, and he and Tek seemingly got on the same page, to finish the 6th and 7th innings strong. While Timlin looked pretty damn awful (shocker!) Paps came in to close the game out with a 1-2-3 9th including two Ks.
Anytime you take two of three on the road you can be pretty pleased, even if it is the Rangers. Still, there are some questions remaining at this point. First off, Manny looks terrible. He is hitting .100. He's taking his pitches and getting on base, but he just looks lost on his cuts. One has to assume he'll figure it out, but if he's not hitting things get decidedly easier for other teams. Ditto Youkilis, who is below the Mendoza line still. Tito is a guy who likes to stick with his guys so Youks will get his at-bats, but with Snow making great contact this is something to watch. Let me say this again: as much as I like Youks, Snow has plenty left and I have no problem with him at first nearly every day. The KB, less so.
On the pitching side of things, there are some same-old same-olds. Foulke was passed up for Paps last night, which is indicative of his current situation at less than 100%. This is something that hopefully works itself out over a ration of low-lev situations, but we'll see. Timlin looks like, well, Timlin - too many balls in play, too many base-runners. Eventually his rate of return will fall below what is acceptable for a set-up man in close games. Hopefully that happens next year, but the off-season acquisitions point towards the FO hedging their bets on that. He's on a short leash. Luckily we do now have the simply abysmal David Riske, and of course The Jeep, currently serving time in baseball's Crazy Jail. If Foulke is healthy, and Paps remains in the bullpen, the writing is on the wall for at least one of these guys come summer.
Lastly, but most importantly, will Wake and Bard be able to get on the same page? Bard looked handicapped in game two of the series. and Wake seems to be a guy who needs to know that his pitches aren't going to skate to the backstop. One unsubstantiated rumor mentioned on SOSH has a scout for one MLB club stating that the Sox will have a new backup catcher in the next few weeks. I'm not sure I buy this - how can it help to bring in someone with a completely new learning curve? I would prefer to give Bard some time to settle in before I shoot him, but it may well be that Wakefield can tell whether a guys has the hands necessary to catch the knuckler and has already pulled the plug. Who knows?
If Bard goes and Riske continues to suck like there's no tomorrow, Crisp becomes a very expensive centerfielder. Fortunately, if he continues to play like he has, I doubt you'll hear too many complaints, even from me.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Let's see how our dearly departed are doing, shall we?
Hmm. The Small Sample Size sign is on, but these guys seem to be enjoying their new homes. I'm sure everyone is well aware of Bronson's big game yesterday (win and HR to help his cause), so thus far in 2006, it's a good year to have left Boston. Good. I for one wish them well.
Much more baseball to be played, many more stories to watch, many questions to be answered. It's April, and life is good. Giddy up.