Braves Get Upper Hand in Japanese Arms Duel

James HulkaAnalyst IJune 20, 2009

Kenshin Kawakami quietly won the match-up between the former Japanese aces at Fenway Park on Friday night, leading the Braves to an 8-2 win over the Boston Red Sox.

It was quiet from Kawakami's perspective as he recorded his first four outs of the game on strikeouts of Dustin Pedroia, J. D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz.

It was anything but quiet while Daisuke Matsuzaka was on the mound.

As I was flipping back and forth between the Braves' broadcast on Peachtree TV and the Red Sox broadcast on NESN, I did notice that analyst Dennis Eckersley couldn't believe the approach the Braves took starting off the game.

First pitch—homerun by Nate McLouth. Third pitch—line drive single by Yunel Escobar. Fourth pitch—line drive double by Chipper Jones.

In the meantime, Joe Simpson and Chip Caray noted that the Braves' aggressive approach to start the game was likely because they expected Dice-K to be more economical, thus throwing more strikes early in the count to try to get ahead, and pitch deeper into the game.

The Braves approach worked, and patience won out as Matsuzaka walked Brian McCann and Garret Anderson in succession to push a second run across. Only a correctly positioned Kevin Youkilis saved Dice-K and the Red Sox from a bigger deficit as Casey Kotchman lined into an unassisted double play to end the inning.

After a two-out walk in the fourth to Kelly Johnson, McLouth added to the scoring by banging an RBI double off the wall to make the score 3-0. Yunel Escobar followed with a bloop single to right that scored McLouth for a 4-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Kawakami seemed to have his way with the Red Sox lineup. He used the big Fenway outfield between the gaps to his advantage as Gold Glovers Nate McLouth and Jeff Francouer chased down a handful of flyouts that weren't squared up by Red Sox hitters.

The only Boston hitter to square up anything was Jason Bay, who doubled in the second and blasted a two-run homerun over the monster in the sixth for the Sox's only runs of the game. Bay also made a sweet sliding catch of Casey Kotchman's fifth inning sacrifice fly, which scored Garret Anderson from third, just before crashing into the wall along the left field line.

Garret Anderson joined McLouth as the other main offensive performer for the Braves. While seemingly everyone was involved in the offense, it was Anderson's 3-for-3 night that stood slightly above the rest.

Anderson drove in the first of his four runs drawing a bases loaded walk in the first. He singled in the third then chased Matsuzaka with an RBI double in the fifth, giving the Braves a 5-0 lead.

His seventh inning RBI single and eighth inning sacrifice fly scored Chipper Jones both times.

I was scratching my head a bit as Bobby Cox paraded out his usual bullpen arms despite a five-run lead at 7-2 in the bottom of the seventh.

However, Peter Moylan, Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez each worked a perfect inning in relief despite working in the series finale in Cincinnati on Thursday afternoon. Each reliever struck out two of the three hitters he faced, with David Ortiz going down for the third time that night to end the game on a 94 mph. fastball from Mike Gonzalez.

With the win and the losses by the Marlins and the Phillies, the Braves moved back into third place in the NL East, a half game ahead of the Marlins, and 4.5 games behind Philadelphia, who lost their fourth straight game at home.

The Braves are now 15-7 all time at Fenway Park in Interleague Play.

Saturday's pitching match-up pairs the starters who won the clinching games of Boston's last two World Series champions—Derek Lowe (7-4, 4.08) and Josh Beckett (7-3, 4.15). Each took the loss in their most recent start, as they both allowed six earned runs in their appearances.

Sunday afternoon's finale, which will be televised nationally on TBS, pits 23-year-old Jair Jurrjens (5-5, 2.89) against 42-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (9-3, 4.39). Wakefield has won his last two starts, giving up five earned runs in his last 12 innings.

Jair Jurrjens has pitched even better, giving up only three earned runs over his last two starts covering eight innings. He took the loss in both games, as one was cut short by rain, but both were not backed up at all by the often listless Braves offense.


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