As I watched the 11 inning, five hour and 27 minute, back-and-forth affair between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox in Game Two of the ALCS, I learned quite a bit about both squads.
Here's what I've come to conclude.
Josh Beckett = Huh?
What has happened to Beckett? He was given an early lead from the Sox offense and he managed to give up that lead...wait for it...three separate times (see Francona's Follies below). Beckett was the 2003 World Series MVP for the Florida Marlins. Just last season, he was the easy choice for MVP for the Red Sox in the ALCS over the Indians.
2008 has obviously not been Beckett's year, and he showed his mortality throughout the season, as he followed up last year's 20-7 record with a disappointing 12-10 record this season in 27 starts.
This season also marked only the second time in his career that he has finished a season with an ERA over four. However, one thing that has been as consistent as facial hair on Kevin Youkilis is Beckett's ability to shut opponents down in the playoffs. In his playoff career, he has only had a series ERA over three once (3.26 in 2003 against the Cubs), but this season, in his two playoff starts, he is holding down an ERA over 11. Good thing there is a guy named John Lester in that rotation.
Look, Terry Francona is a great guy and often times a great manager. But is anyone else curious as to why he left Beckett in for so long the other night? Why did Beckett even get the chance to surrender the lead a third time?
J.D. Drew has no arm
Has anyone ever done testing to see if, in fact, J.D. Drew has a right arm? With the way he came up throwing on that shallow flyball off of Upton's bat had to leave Sox fans wanting proof that there is an actual arm coming out of that jersey.
Drew almost had to waive off the first and second basemen to make the play and yet he still couldn’t' get that ball to home in the air...what?! I know several men in the geriatric unit at Boston's South Cove Manor nursing home who would have been able to put enough air under that throw (much less keep it on line).
If I'm Tampa Bay and I have a guy on third base with less than two outs...forget swinging for the fences...I'm swinging for Drew.
Tampa has weaknesses
It is so much fun to think about the Rays winning the World Series (unless you are a Boston, L.A., or Phillies fan). But one thing we have seen in these first two games against the Sox that we didn't see in the series against Chicago is that Tampa has some things to be worried about.
Scott Kazmir did his best impression of Charlie Sheen in Major League, as he became a little wild again. He threw a whopping 38 pitches in the first inning, and if I'm Tampa Bay, I am a little concerned. An inconsistent offense (zero runs in Game One and nine runs in Game Two) seems to be the story for the first two games of this ALCS, and with the Rays having to face Lester at Fenway today, they better hope their Game Two offense shows up.
Who needs David Ortiz? The Sox obviously don't. Lately, it seems as though Ortiz has been swinging with a No. 2 pencil instead of a baseball bat. He is 0-for-6 in the ALCS and only 4-for-23 (.173) in the 2008 postseason. But who cares? It hasn't hurt the Sox at all...they have shown that they can win without his or the former left-fielder's bat in the lineup.
Jason Bay is plain smoking the ball this postseason, hitting .440 in the playoffs (11-for-25), not to mention the three dingers and nine RBI to go along with it. Dustin Pedroia has worked out the kinks from the Divisional Series (where he was 1-for-17) and has hit .500 in the first two games against the Rays (4-for-8).
Pitchers have had about as much success against Youkilis as a razor blade has against his beard, and Coco Crisp has proved that he is more than just a cool name, but that he can swing the lumber as well.
From Cinderella to Legitimate
The Rays did prove on Saturday night that they are not just Cinderellas. They were not the "little guys" who were going to give into the tradition and talent of Boston. They proved that they can battle back and win games, even when the odds are stacked against them.
One thing is for certain: This series is sure to provide many more highlights, and I plan to be there for all of them.