Tonight the Sox travel to the Toilet to take on Ichabod Crane and the Spankees in one of the more hyped-up games of the year. Sometimes-ace, sometimes-whippingboy Josh Beckett takes the mound for the Sox, so the Johnson-Beckett matchup has fans and media on both sides of the field salivating and taking their medication. As I posted at ArmchairGM, this game is going to be an even more savage hate-fest than usual.
It boils down to this, and I won't spend much time on it. Randy Johnson, whom I affectionately call Ichabod Crane, is a complete and utter douchebag. Everyone hates him, but Sox fans really hate him, because he wears the pinstripes. Josh Beckett is a punk, and is kind of annoying even to me. Yankees fans despise him due to a certain game 6 shutout in the 2003 World Series. Essentially, what we have here is the makings of the complete overthrow of civilization at Yankee Stadium tonight. Given that on any given night the citizenry of that hallowed ground are about as evolved as Lucan, this could be really frightening.
As far as the actual baseball is concerned, it's hard to predict how either of these power pitchers will perform. Both have had mixed results thus far this season, and both would probably care to forget their last start.
Beckett has had control issues all season, and is pretty steadily averaging a 60%-40% strike to ball ratio with his pitches. Overall his K/BB totals are 23/16 - not ace numbers. In back to back April games against Cleveland and Toronto he was bitten by the homerun bug and gave up 3 taters in each outing. After having three stellar starts in his first three games, this was troubling. His last effort against Toronto was plebeian (4 ER in 5 innings) but at least was devoid of the long ball. This will be a defining start for the young turk. The Sox paid too much to get him for him to wither in games such as these. His pedigree is the gem from the 2003 Series in this very stadium, so he should have the background to come up big, but we'll see. I'm starting to wonder if he isn't bothered by something physically.
Johnson has been more erratic than Beckett. He's basically had three solid outings followed by a shellacking followed by a gem followed by two poor games. it should be noted that two of the "gems" came against KC and Baltimore, so they should be taken with a grain of salt. Most recently Tampa Bay took him for 5 runs in 6 2/3 innings. Despite his Southern disfigurement and his ability to make small children cry RJ is still capable of beating any team on the planet, and has proven that over the course of too many years. Also, Loretta, Ramirez, Lowell, Varitek, and Pena are hitting a collective .213 versus LHP in 2006, with an aggregate OPS of .664. No bueno.
Both pitchers are susceptible to poor first innings, so the key for the Sox will be forcing Johnson to throw strikes and make pitches early, and for guys to get on base an keep Ichabod out of his rhythm. Ditto for the Yanks though, as Beckett has shown a tendency to be wild out of the gate. As always in this series (or any other, really; but these are two teams who see a lot of pitches as a tactic), free passes can be the difference between a win and a loss. The guy who keeps the ball around the plate will be the last man standing.
The Sox do have one clear advantage and that is defensively. The Sox are superior at every infield position, and if rumors are true, the Yanks' centerfielder throws like a girl. If Beckett can keep the ball in the park, this will help him out. That's a pretty big if, granted, but still worth mentioning.
I think the Sox will struggle in this game, and I will frankly be surprised if Beckett gets out of this with fewer than 4 ER under his belt, but if Boston can get to NY's middle relief (I do not buy the Farnsworth hype) I think they have a chance. Either way, it will be a rager to watch. Have beer close by, and try to send the kids to their rooms. Better yet, go to a bar or someone's basement to watch this game. It's tailor made to engender behavior that will make your significant other question your relationship, and scar your children for life. By now we Sox fans don't care about silly things like "maturity" and "sportsmanship", but nobody wants to listen to the grief, do we?