Sox-Mariners Matinee: Boston Goes For The Sweep

Nick PiccolinoCorrespondent IJuly 23, 2008

With today's Red Sox game being of the afternoon variety, with a potential sweep on the line in Seattle (which hasn't happened since 1993), I figured today would be a good day for my first running diary (I'll forgo any Sleepless in Seattle jokes).

Today's matchup sees Clay Buchholz (2-5, 5.81 ERA) versus Felix Hernandez (7-6, 2.95 ERA).  Buchholz is coming off a few bad starts, while Hernandez comes into this game 5-1 in his last seven starts.  After missing Ellsbury making the first out, here we go (with some side comments from my friend Dave).

4:42 The umpire (Ron Kulpa) that sounds like he's yelling "WHORE" on called strikes is behind the plate, should be an enjoyable afternoon.

4:44 Sox squander a pair of walks in the top of the first, not good against a pitcher with a pretty good track record against Boston over the past few seasons.

4:48 Ichiro hits one just out of Lowrie's reach for a single.  Nice effort on it, but if Julio Lugo were playing today...he would've somehow booted it into the stands.

4:52 Buchholz is a little wild so far today, but manages to strikeout Jose Lopez.  Also, Dave pointed out that on called strikeouts,  Kulpa looks like he should be in Mortal Kombat.

4:55  Off topic, but I really hate these stupid Applebee's commercials with the home-made videos (Their foods not that great either).  I also hate NESN's tendency to play the same five or six commercials during games over and over (and over) again.

4:58  Jed Lowrie extends his hit streak to five games with a floater to right field.  So far I'm really impressed with Lowrie, he plays smooth defense at shortstop and has been giving some really professional at bats thus far. 

Granted, he's been doing this against the Mariners, so it'll be interesting to see what he does once the Sox start facing some of the potential playoff teams in the next few series.  Varitek's up now...

5:01...and lines out to the second baseman, who doubles up Lowrie at first, inning over.  On to the creepy Shining-like Verizon commercial.

5:06  The train behind the stadium keeps blowing it's whistle, prompting this response:

Dave: "That train is really starting to annoy me"

NESN just showed the standings for the AL West.  Would it be jumping the gun to say that with an 8.5 game lead on the Rangers, that the Angels pretty much have the division locked up?

5:08  Adrian Beltre "Sacrifices" Vidro to second, though it looked more like the ball hit off Beltre, and right to Buchholz

Jeremy Reed's up,  I remember rumors at one point a few years ago that had Reed being traded to Boston straight up for Matt Clement.  I won't go any further, just throw in whatever Matt Clement joke you may have.  Go ahead, I'll wait till you're done.

5:13  And we're back, with a quick correction on the broadcast.  Orsillo said that Kenji Johjima was in the last year of his contract.  Actually, Seattle signed him to an extension in April. 

I was pretty confused when they did that, considering the fact that the Mariners seemed pretty high on catching prospect Jeff Clement.  Who knows, maybe that's what got Bill Bavasi fired

5:17  After strangely grounding out in the last inning, Beltre makes a basket catch in foul territory.  I still have trouble believing that this is the same guy who hit 48 home runs for the Dodgers in 2004.

5:20  As JD Drew looks to have a Three Run Home Run (With Dave putting his hands up in pre-celebration), Ichiro tracks it down and makes a great catch (Karmic retribution for having the ball taken from him by a fan yesterday?). 

Sox are getting some good at bats in, but the Mariners keep bailing King Felix out.

5:22 No sooner did I type that when Kevin Youkilis hits it in front of Ichiro, who attempts to chase it down and has it tip off his glove for an E9.  Crisp and Pedroia score, Sox up 2-0.

5:26 Hernandez issues a walk to Lowell, proceeded by a mound visit, we'll see if it helps against Sean Casey...

5:27 Casey K's, inning over.

5:31 Buchholz gets ahead of Brian Lahair, getting him to hit a high chopper back to the mound.  Somehow, he stumbles while trying to field it, trys to gun it to first (which would have been a Web Gem had he gotten the out), Lahair's safe, Francona argues with no success, onto crappy Willie Bloomquist (who proceeds to look terrible in his at-bat, striking out in the process).

5:37  Another close play at first, this one actually going the Sox way.  The replay reveals a lucky break for Boston, as Ichiro was obviously safe.

Overall Buchholz has been pretty good today.  He's been locating his fastball pretty well, and doing a great job of working his way out of trouble.  After starting 2-0 on Jose Lopez, Buchholz worked him inside for an easy pop-up to the shortstop. 

I've noticed a real change in his pitch selection today, seeing a lot more change ups and very few curve balls.

5:49  So much for that improvement I was talking about.  Buchholz gives up a home run to Raul Ibanez on a moderately high fastball, followed by a shot up the middle by Jose Vidro. 2-1 Sox, no outs in the inning so far.

5:52 Turns out Ron Kulpa was the umpire Carl Everett headbutted eight years ago, I wonder if that has anything to do with what he yells after every strike (Which is, for the record, still funny).

5:54 Clay stops the bleeding with two impressive strikeouts and a ground out to third, and Ellsbury kicks off the fifth with a weak grounder to second.  There's been talk that he'll be moved out of the lead off spot once Ortiz gets back, with Pedroia replacing him at the top of the lineup. 

The move might help him figure some things out, and Pedroia's produced out of the lead off spot in the past, so not a bad idea overall in my opinion.

6:08 Garden variety fifth inning, capped with a great play in the hole by Lowrie.  Speaking of holes, Julio Lugo's keeps getting deeper by the day.

6:16 Jed Lowrie up with the bases loaded and a full count.  Yet another chance to firmly nail Lugo to the bench when he returns.  No such luck this time  though, Lowrie doesn't check his swing, and gets rung up by the third base ump.  Varitek follows up with a strikeout, and it's looking like Hernandez may get out of this unscathed.

6:21 After two big strikeouts, Felix walks Coco on four pitches, 3-1 Boston. Now for an appearance by old friend (and Steinbrenner punching bag) Mel Stottlemyre.  Ellsbury pops out to first, Sox once again don't cash in on a perfect opportunity to seal this game early. 

On the upside, it looks like Hernandez is done for the night, now for the weak underbelly that is the Mariners middle relief.

6:33 Just saw Justin Masterson warming up, looks like Buchholz is almost done for the day too.

6:35 Guess he wasn't warming up fast enough, Buchholz gives up a two run shot to Jose Vidro, tieing the game, followed by a walk. Farrell comes out for a reassuring mound visit, a pitching change would've been more reassuring for me.

6:39 After another hit, Francona makes the change, bringing in Masterson.  It's not like it was out of line for Francona to think he could at least get the sixth out of Buchholz, just ended up being an unfortunate turn of events.  All I gotta say is, this is a hell of a situation to bring a young pitcher into for their first relief appearance.

6:44  Quick pair of strikeouts by Masterson, making both batters look pretty foolish.  So far he doesn't seem to be phased at all.

6:50  J.J. Putz comes in for a rare seventh inning appearance, gets out of the inning with a strike out/throw out of Drew and Pedroia.

6:55  Masterson's back for another inning, and Remy makes the Jordan's furniture guy look foolish in the on screen ad (as per usual).  Masterson pitches a clean inning capped off with a nice catch by Ellsbury. Sox once again go quietly in the top of the next inning.

7:10  Masterson pitches his second perfect inning of the night, and of course Orsillo makes the "Masterson is Masterful" remark.

7:20 After two and two—thirds of excellent relief, Francona puts Okajima in for the 9th.  I was extremely impressed with Masterson's appearance tonight.  More on that later though, we've got a fan on the field!

7:22 Someone runs onto the field, but (as usual) we're not able to see it (And of course, Remy makes a comment about how good this fan is at juking the security guards).  When the announcers do that, I feel like their just gloating about the fact that they can see what's happening and we can't. Sons of bitches!

7:22 Ron Kulpa continues with the "WHORE" call, I'm gonna miss him after today.  Hopefully the Sox get Jim "STRIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKE!" Joyce for the Yankees series.

7:25 Whoa! Ellsbury literally comes out of nowhere to catch a ball Coco and Lowrie appeared to have given up on.  Yet another nice play in what's becoming a highlight reel sort of night for Jacoby.

Okajima seemed to be cruising along in the ninth with two fairly easy outs, until he surrendered a hit, which brought Francona out really fast with the hook and the call for Delcarmen.  Over the past week or so Francona has been very vocal in his support for Okajima, saying they have not lost any faith in him at all. 

But, when you're making a move like this, you can't help but wonder if Terry really believes that himself.  Granted, he's doing this so he can play the righty—righty percentages, but it's still something to think about.

Meanwhile, pitches one and a third scoreless, time for some free baseball!

7:40  After a walk by Drew, Youkilis hits a floater that's dropping quickly... too bad it dropped right into Ichiro's glove for the out, followed by Drew getting caught on the basepaths for a double play at first.

7:57  Bottom of the 10th went by pretty uneventfully, while the top of the 11th had the Sox stranding a pair of runners. Just my luck that I pick an extra inning game for my first running diary.

8:01 Pap comes in, and fumbles a come-backer, missing the play.  I've seen this story before, and I don't like the ending.

8:05 Betancourt gets a single, moves Vidro to third, here we go...

8:08 Johjima puts a scare into me with a foul ball down the left field line.

8:09 Grounder to Lowell, double play, Boston's out of the inning with no damage.  That was a real close one.

8:16 Crappy Willie Bloomquist drops the ball! He had it tracked in center, and it just fell out of his glove, bases loaded with one out!

Two runs in for the Sox on a Mike Lowell (aka The Professional) single, Sox take a 5-3 lead

8:22 Apparently JD Drew hurt his knee going into home earlier, cue the obligatory three days off.  Also, Youk with another single and another run for the Sox, hopefully that's enough insurance for the win

8:35 Craig Hansen in for the save (Hold your breath Sox fans).  He made two quick outs, and now he just walked the bases loaded! This win just won't come easy.  Either that or they don't want me to stop doing my running diary.

8:38 3-1 count on Vidro, and Hansen gets him to chop out to Pedroia, ballgame over, Sox win (finally).

All in all a very entertaining game (very worthy of being the 5,000th game for the Mariners franchise, which I didn't find out was the case until after the game).  But anyways, Sox fans can take a few things away from this win.

First of all, the worries about Justin Masterson going to the bullpen have been allayed for the moment.  In a high pressure situation, Masterson pitched a gem in relief, keeping Boston in the game, and earning my player of the game award (narrowly edging out Mike Lowell). 

Mike Lowell may have knocked in the winning runs, but without Masterson's pitching performance, the Sox would not be in that position.

I feel that Masterson can be used in both a set—up role and in long reliever this season if needed.  He'll be able to give much needed rest to Delcarmen and Okajima, keeping them fresh for their roles.

Buchholz (5.1 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K) on the other hand, is still suffering from old habits.  After giving up a home run to Ibanez, he got very curve ball happy.  Once he loses faith in his fastball, he trys to throw that curve ball constantly.  He needs to learn to trust his fastball no matter what.  When he's throwing well, he can paint the strike zone at 95 mph with it.

The Red Sox are off tomorrow, with a weekend series with the Yankees to follow.  The pitching match-up has Josh Beckett facing Joba Chamberlain.  Until then, take care everybody, and Go Sox.


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