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Globe staff/Jim Davis

Globe staff/Jim Davis

I was nearly jumping for joy with them after an exciting final 2 innings to last night’s game.  Jon Lester continues to build a reputation as a money pitcher, throwing 7 shutout innings that was nearly wasted by a spent bullpen.

Francona made an uncharacteristic mistake, I think, by pulling Okajima.  Another walk, a passed ball and Hunter’s timely hit tied that game.  Maybe Okalima would have surrendered a home run.  I don’t know.  But I didn’t like it then.

After Shields got the heart of our line up out in the 8th, I thought it was going to be another marathon session.  That is until the Angels had a man on 3rd in the 9th.  An incredible play by the Captain to end the threat.  Yes, a bit controversial- but the ball was knocked out by the ground, not the tag.  Like Cal Ripken, it would be interesting to see what the rule book actually states.  I think they made a reasonable call- but I am biased.  [what is different here from a play at the plate is that Varitek clearly had possession & control of the ball prior to the tag- he’d run 90 feet with it.  in a play at the plate, the action happens so fast the ump can’t be sure if the catcher has control of the ball until after the play is done.  if ESPN asked for my opinion to refute their ‘expert analysts’, I suspect they might go ‘hmmm, hadn’t thought of that.’]

It seemed like the Angels got a break on that ground rule double by Bay.  Especially when Teixeira grabbed that screaming line drive down the line.  But another Red Sox rookie came through as Lowrie dumped a single into right field so Bay could get home.  Awesome ending (unless you cheer for the Angels).

Now the Rays- a solid, gutsy team.  When the Rays won the regular season series the Sox were struggling with injuries to Lowell, Drew & Beckett.  Yes, Longoria and Crawford were out too.  What I didn’t know until yesterday was that Drew led the Sox with game-winning RBI, despite missing a good chunk of the season to back injuries.  His effortless defense, combined with that, gives him an edge of Crawford (a player I really like).

So now we see who is better- the battered Sox who just dispatched the team with the best record in baseball, or the upstarts who eliminated a one dimensional team in the White Sox.  Make no mistake- the Rays can win this series.  They are good enough and deep enough.  They got rid of the clubhouse distractions and have lots of character guys who also play very well.  This is no lopsided series.  The Rays have the Red Sox’ respect.

I think the Red Sox will win due to the intangibles.  It is not just having been there before- but succeeding there before.  They’ve developed a great system of scouting teams and prepping players that pays dividends in the playoffs.  They have a few days to put together a game plan they can execute.  That gives them an edge- not a guarantee, but an edge.  It should be fun to watch.

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For hours last night I was wondering what in the world the Angels have to do to actually beat the Red Sox in the post season.  Look at that stat sheet and it should have been a blow out, not a 12-inning barn burner.

The Red Sox should NOT have been in that game.  Beckett was atrocious, but they were only down by 1 thanks to an outfield gaffe with 2 outs that enabled Jacoby to get the 1st 3 RBI single in post-season play.

The Red Sox had plenty of opportunities to put the game away, but failed.  Pedroia has struggled offensively this series.  He’s hitting that ball hard, but not finding any gaps.  If he starts to hit, we’re in good shape.

Lowell, on the other hand, looks like he needs Francona to sit him.  It’s painful watching him out there.  He’s got a huge heart and wants to compete, but those injuries have hobbled him significantly.  It is time for him to sit, putting Kotsay at first.

I was really hoping to seal the deal so Lester could start the next series (in Tampa?).  But if they do play in Tampa, Wake has a good history in the dome so maybe he should start Game 1.  But first the Sox have to beat the Angels.  They are a very good team, so it is not a guarantee.  But only a few teams have won a series after being down 0-2.  The Sox have the confidence to not panic at this point.  And the with Lester pitching in the friendly confines of Fenway, they have a good shot at finishing the series up tonight.

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Photo by Reuters

Photo by Reuters

Yes, I stayed up well past midnight, though I nearly fell asleep at 9.  I was in the intermediate state where I’m semi-conscious and snoring, but don’t realize it.  This is much to CavWife’s consternation.  I went to bed after Big Papi’s single in the 9th gave the Red Sox another insurance run.  I was confident enough in Papelbon to head to bed.

Keys to the Game

  • Jon Lester– he struggled early but worked his way out of trouble repeatedly.  A rare Jed Lowrie error on what would have been the 3rd out allowed the Angels to score their only run.  Since Lackey was shutting the Sox down, it looked like it may have been enough.  But Lester got better as the game wore on, getting his last 7 batters out.  He was still throwing a mid-high 90’s fastball after 100 pitches.  He continues on the path of establishing himself as an ace.
  • Jason Bay– after striking out twice, Jason got the Sox first hit with a man on base, driving a Lackey mistake into the left field seats to give the Red Sox the lead in the 6th.  He was 2-4 with 2 extra base hits in his first professional playoff game.  No jitters here!
  • Angels’ 8th Inning
  1. Jason Ellsbury made a fantastic catch to start the inning.  The Angels get that hit and the inning could have had a different outcome.  He saved rookie Justin Masterson from a messy situation.  His performance at the plate, and basepaths certainly didn’t hurt matters.  With Ellsbury on track the Red Sox are dangerous.
  2. Vlad moved like he was 300.  He moves like he is in constant pain.  As he sat on first base I was hoping this would be to our advantage.  It did when he tried to take 3rd on Hunter’s bloop single.
  3. Youkilis traps the bloop single and comes up throwing.  It was a great play by Youk to minimize the damage (probably a bit of luck too).  He didn’t give up on the play, and was able to throw out  the creeky Vlad at 3rd by 15 feet.  This kept Masterson out of a serious jam.

Though the Angels dominated the season series, the Red Sox continued their playoff domination of the Angels.  They have now won 10 straight against the Angels dating back to 1986.  They beat them in ’86, ’04 and ’07 on their way to the World Series.  But this series is NOT over- the Angels are a very good team.

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Danny, please smile.  You brought home #17!

This is a happy occasion, let's not quibble about who voted for whom.

I really love this picture.  Like many a Celtic fan, I’ve been frustrated from nearly 20 years.  When I grew up, the Celtics were expected to prevail, and the Sox to fail.  Then the world turned upside down- slowly. 

This seemed so unlikely after the draft lottery fiasco.  But Trader Danny (why the glum face, Danny?) was able to work his plan by trading those chips he’d accumulated into KG and Ray Allen.  Suddenly he had free agents wanting to come to Boston for a chance to be part of something special.  This photo is for all of us who suffer all those many years.

From a CelticsBlog interview Wyc said this:

8. Do you have any untold, behind-the-scenes stories to share with us?   Perhaps something about the KG trade or the Italy trip or even the playoffs?

The first time I saw KG carefully examine each of our 16 championship banners, I knew we were going to likely hang a 17th one. Then he turned to me and promised me we would get number 17. That was unforgettable. Then, I saw KG, Paul and Ray running wind sprints at 8:30 am in early September last year…they were already bonded together and focused. It is a great feeling knowing you are the favorites to win a world championship.

The main players still have the same attitude.  They are working hard already rather than being satisfied with a taste of success.  Go for 2!

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It has been a miserable season for the Red Sox in terms of injuries.  They have been hit hard from the very beginning of the season as Beckett had a back issue.  Those who’ve missed time include Big Papi, Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, Lugo (thankfully), Dice-K, Wake, Colon (the low-risk gamble didn’t really pay off).

But the Red Sox STILL made the playoffs.  Putting the season in context, I’m content with winning the Wild Card.  The Rays had a great season, and despite some significant injuries, held on to win the division.  They almost had the best record in the AL.  But the Sox did suffer far more significant injuries to key keys.

And now they limp into the playoffs, possibly to be decimated by the Angels just like the White Sox destroyed them in 2005.  Lowell’s hip is still bothering him, and that affects not just his fielding but also his hitting.  Lowell is an important part of this team.  He’ll try to play, but we’ll see if he can deliver. 

J.D. Drew MIGHT be okay.  As someone who has had a bad back the last few years, you just never know how it will feel.  If it holds up, he could be an important contributing member of the squad- like in last year’s playoff drive.

Lugo had another setback, which allows Lowrie to have an opportunity to shine.  We won’t miss he of the weak bat and suspect defense.

Papi’s wrist is still a huge question mark.  It is a day-by-day thing.  When your big bat has such issues it doesn’t bode well.

(more…)

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If anyone can find a way to motivate the Patriots after losing Tom Brady to a knee injury (torn ACL & MCL), it is the Master of the Mind Games, Bill Belichick.

These are just the right tools a guy like Coach B needs to motivate a team- they hate you, they think you’re done.  You thought the Patriots were angry after “Spy Gate”, expect them to take this personally.  Tom Brady is their leader, friend and face of the franchise.  I expect most of them to rise to the occasion.  If that translates into victories remains to be seen.  But the opportunity is there.

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While I was on vacation, my dad gifted me with Dan Shaughnessy’s book Reversing the Curse: Inside the History-Making Red Sox Championship Season.  It is one of the MANY books to be written about the 2004 World Series Champions.  This book was actually written as the season progressed, and like the movie Fever Pitch, had the good fortune to be completed with the Sox actually winning the Series for the first time since 1918.

Dan Shaughnessy is an interesting figure in Boston sports.  He grew up in New England (not to far from where I grew up) so he loves Boston sports teams.  The down side is that he is incredibly cynical about Boston sports.  He’s seemingly omnipresent, but his presence is not necessarily a welcome one.  To his credit, he seems to actually show up in the locker rooms to talk to guys rather than hiding in the safe confines of his office after a particularly acerbic piece.  As a result, he is not as endearing a figure to people like me as, say, Bob Ryan or Peter Gammons (why doesn’t he have a book on this????).

The book covers the series from the horrific end, for Sox fans, of the 2003 ALDS.  It covers what happened then and how that event set up the changes that took place in the off season.  After chapters on both of those, he goes month by month to cover the season’s ups and downs.  He uses a nearly conversational-style, often changing time frames which can be confusing.  But he also offers some quick biographical sketches of some of the key figures, like Johnny Damon, David Ortiz etc.

Being CHB, he does not gloss over the various dramas that did inflict the team that season- Nomar’s nearly eternal pout, Pedro’s Dominican Diva act while trying to negotiate via the press, Manny Being Disruptive etc.  He also includes some “insider” information, such as Nomar being informed of the “Trade We Rejoice Never Happened” (that would be Manny for A-Fraud) as it happened.  His public shock and dismay was a sham.

At times the book is burdened by Dan’s cynicism.  He can’t let “the bag job”, as he refers to the Henry-Werner group’s purchase of the team, go.  It is wearisome at times.  But this does not outweigh the many positives of the book.  Nor do the quotes of players using profanity (not a book for the kiddies, folks).

As the Sox rallied to defeat the Yankees I found myself crying all over again.  Who could know that when the Yankees didn’t put them away, the Sox would not just win 4 in a row, but 8.  Kevin Millar was spot on that night.

He also covered some of the more immediate changes that took place after winning the World Series.  I caused me to ponder- what if they had signed Orlando Caberra as I’d wanted.  No Rent-a-Wreck and the wasted 2005 season.  No overpaying Julio Lugo for his weak offense and mastery of committing errors.  The Sox would be well-positioned for Jed Lowry to take over the shortstop position.  Orlando provided steady, often spectacular defense, and enough offense.

Either way… this book is a must for the Red Sox fan.  He writes as one of us, but with more behind the scenes knowledge than one of us.  Even if you don’t like CHB, you’ll appreciate his book.  After all, it has a happy ending.

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