Red Sox and the postseason

I have to admit that I was a little worried at the beginning of the first game with the Tampa Bay Rays.  I would have preferred to face Cleveland even with all the drama of Terry Francona coming back to Boston to face his old team and his friend, John Farrell.  But with two games in the win column, I’m not quite with Dan Shaughnessy and ask why we need to go to Tampa at all, but I think the Sox are going to be moving on to maybe face the Detroit Tigers.

My husband calls them the Civil War team because they look like the generals.  Even the babies on the team are trying to grow a little facial hair.  I heard someone, I think it was either Tim Wakefield or Dennis Eckersley describe Sox locker room conversation which includes brands of beard shampoo and conditioner.  And, yes, one of them admitted the other day, it does hurt when someone tugs on it.  It is this year’s gimmick and makes no more sense that the silly “Cowboy Up” Sox in 2004, but they are winning.

So Shaughnessy asks

Do we really have to go to Tampa/St. Pete? Can’t we just forgo the formalities and let the Red Sox advance to the American League Championship Series on sheer style, dominance, karma, and duende?

The Duck Dynasty/ZZ Top/Fidel Castro Red Sox look unbeatable at this hour. They bested the fatigued Rays, 7-4, at Fenway Park again on Saturday night and will send 12-1 Clay Buchholz to the mound to finish the series Monday.

The Sox look like the best team in baseball. No team won more regular-season games (97),  and the Sox have played even better in the first two games of the playoffs. They won the opener, 12-2, with every man in the lineup registering at least one hit and one run. It was more of the same Saturday night (eight of nine starters got hits) as the John Farrell All-Stars bolted to a 5-1 lead, then cruised. David Ortiz hit two monstrous home runs. In games started by Matt Moore and David Price, the Sox have 19 runs and 25 hits.

Koji Uehara gets a lift from David Ortiz after the Red Sox closer finished off Tampa Bay with just 11 pitches.  Notice the little smile on John Farrell.

Koji Uehara gets a lift from David Ortiz after the Red Sox closer finished off Tampa Bay with just 11 pitches. Notice the little smile on John Farrell.

The problem is that we Sox fans know all about karma and all the things that could happen.  We all remember Pedro Martinez melt down and poor Bucky Dent.  Thanks why the next sentence is

It’s a little scary. Baseball is not supposed to be this easy. It’s a hard game. It’ll humble you in an instant.

But the Sox are making it look easy. They hit. They don’t make errors. They run the bases well (great takeout slide by Shane Victorino on Saturday night). They have great beards. They have a closer, Koji Uehara, who throws only strikes and can work a 1-2-3 inning while you make a three-minute egg.

There is this little note in today’s Boston Globe

Since 1995, 22 teams have fallen behind two games to none in the ALDS. Only four have come back to win the series. The last team to do it was the Red Sox in 2003 against Oakland. The Sox also did it in 1999 against Cleveland. The Rays fell behind, 2-0, to Texas in the 2010 ALDS and forced a Game 5, but lost . . .

I probably won’t be watching the game tonight since it is First Monday at Jordan Hall and time for some nice chamber music, but unless Clay Bucholz decides to have a meltdown along with the bullpen or the bats go very cold, all of which has happened this year, I expect to find out when I get home that the sox have moved on to the next round.

And while predictions are dangerous:  Sox and Pirates in the Series with the Sox winning in 5.

Photograph:  barry chin/globe staff

Wake Retires

I only got to see Tim Wakefield pitch once.  That was on September 2 last year against the Texas Rangers when he came in as the relief pitcher for some kid who had already given up a huge lead.  The Sox weren’t hitting – it was the beginning of the slide – but who knew that night.  Anyway, Wake had a decent night.  And as my husband says every time we talk about the game, “Wake should have started.”  Whatever.  The Sox lost that night and the rest of the season is history. 

Tim Wakefield, who for the past 17 seasons has been a mainstay on the Red Sox pitching staff, is retiring from the game. Over his career, the 45-year-old was 200-180 with a 4.41 ERA in 627 appearances. Scroll through the gallery to review Wakefield's career highlights.

Christopher Gasper has a wonderful column in today’s Boston Globe which sums up how wonderful and how painful it could be to watch Wake pitch. 

It’s not often in sports that you get to say with a reasonable measure of certainty, “Well, we’ll never see that again.’’ But it feels safe to say that we’ll never witness another Tim Wakefield. He has sui generis status in Red Sox history, Knuckleballer Emeritus.

Nudged out the door by the Red Sox’ nonroster (non-) invite to spring training, the noble knuckler called it a career yesterday at age 45 after 19 seasons, the last 17 with the Red Sox. He joined the Sox in 1995 as a reclamation project and exited as the longest-serving pitcher in club history. There is some cosmic mischief in a man who threw the knuckleball, the most asymmetrical pitch in baseball, ending his career with a tidy 200-180 record.

Wakefield is like a Boston sports time capsule. When he was plucked off the scrap heap by then-general manager Dan Duquette on April 26, 1995, Cam Neely was still playing for the Bruins, Curtis Martin, voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this month, had been drafted by the Patriots days earlier, Dominique Wilkins was the Celtics’ leading scorer, and TD Garden was five months away from opening.

But Wakefiled was more than a pitcher winner the Roberto Clemete Award in 2010.

The Roberto Clemente Award is given to the player who best combines outstanding skills on the baseball field with devoted work in the community. In Feb. 2010, Wakefield met with the kids at a school he supports, Space Coast Early Intervention Center, a nationally recognized not-for-profit preschool located in his hometown of Melbourne, Fla., for children with and without special needs.

Gasper again

Yes, sometimes watching Wakefield pitch was like getting a root canal without anesthesia, but if it was that tough to watch, imagine what it was like to be the one on the mound. People always got it wrong, the knuckler didn’t make Wakefield’s career easier. It made it harder. Throwing the knuckleball for a living should enhance Wakefield’s legacy, not diminish it.

The converted first baseman pitched his entire career with a chip on his shoulder because of his signature pitch, his successes attributed to the flukes of a fluttering ball and his failures presented as condemning evidence of why a knuckleball pitcher couldn’t be relied upon.

But even knuckleballers run out of gas eventually. 

Here are two of the best,  Wake and Phil Niekro. 

In Feb. 2000, Wakefield gets some instruction from knuckleball expert Phil Niekro at spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.

Gaspae gets the last word.

Like the pitch he threw, Wakefield will be missed a lot.

 

Baseball trading day and the Red Sox

On the day of the deadline for non-waiver trades, the Red Sox picked up a starting pitcher, Erick Bedard,  from the Mariners.  Does this mean that the outlook for Clay Buchholz returning this season is slim to none?  According to MLB.com

The Red Sox traded four Minor Leaguers in two separate deals. Catcher Tim Federowicz, pitcher Stephen Fife and righty Juan Rodriguez were sent to the Dodgers for outfielder Trayvon Robinson. The Red Sox then dealt Robinson and outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang to the Mariners to complete the exchange for Bedard and Minor League reliever Josh Fields, a right-hander.

I think I agree with Nick Cafardo’s reaction in the blog posting soon after the news broke

Think Tim Federowicz and Chih-Hsien Chiang are going to be pretty good players. Federowicz was certainly the Sox’ most complete catcher. Chiang’s taken a while to get going, but now a pretty good player.

At least Sox didn’t have to give up third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who didn’t play for Portland today giving rise to speculation he might have been involved in a deal.

Still unclear as to why Erik Bedard cost them this much.

I have only had a chance to see Middlebrooks and Chiang when we got to a Portland Sea Dogs – New Hampshire Fisher Cats game a week ago.  I remarked to Bob that Chiang had a good shot of making it.  Middlebrooks didn’t stand out.  So now he will, only for Seattle.

MLB.com had reaction from Kevin Youkilis

Bedard, 32, has made 16 starts, going 4-7 with a 3.45 ERA. In 91 1/3 innings, he has allowed 77 hits and opponents are hitting just .226 against him.

“He’s nasty,” Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis said of Bedard earlier this week. “I think he owns me. When he was pitching against us, when he was healthy, I don’t know if we beat him — he beat up on us. He’s good. He has a great slider. When he’s healthy and he locates pitches, he’s a pretty remarkable pitcher.”

When he’s healthy is the key.  So the Sox will likely give Bedard Andrew Miller’s spot in the rotation.  Andrew Miller struggled again today even though the Red Sox rallied to beat the White Sox again.  His problem has been walks, but today he gave up 10 hits instead.  The other pitcher who could be pulled out the rotation is Tim Wakefield who is actually having a pretty decent year for a guy who will be 45 in 2 days.  He just got  his 2000th strikeout and will probably get win 200 next time out.  Yes, the knuckleball is unpredictable, but I can’t see replacing him with Bedard.  You can call me sentimental, but let’s let Wake finish the year in the rotation.

And we also got a utility infielder, Mike Aviles.  A sign perhaps that as optimistic as everyone is sounding about Jed Lowrie, they are worried about him staying healthy.  He arrived in Chicago last night

Aviles, who was in Cleveland with the Royals, arrived in Chicago in the third inning, put on his new uniform with No. 3 on the back, and played the bottom of the ninth inning at third base.

The 30-year-old has played second base, third base, and shortstop this season. The righthanded-hitting Aviles is batting .222 this season, but is at .309 with a .944 OPS in 55 at-bats against lefthanded pitchers. He is a career .296 hitter against lefties.

Playing off the bench for the Red Sox, Aviles said, is not a problem.

“The situation here is completely different,’’ he said. “We’re in first place and we have an opportunity to win a world championship. It’s going to take more than 25 guys to do that. I’m more than happy to be one of those guys.’’

And the Red Sox are rolling.

Tim Wakefield: All-Star

Tim Wakefield and I arrived in Boston around the same time.  I moved here in the fall 1994.  1995 was my first season watching the Red Sox. (I confess that I had live for many years in what was then Atlanta’s triple A city, Richmond, VA within walking distance of the ballpark and watched all the many Atlanta stars get their start.)  1995 was Wake’s first season with the Sox.  So I feel a special bond with Wake and feel so happy for his making the All-Star team.

 

The New York Times’ David Waldstein wrote

The Boston Red Sox will send the largest delegation of players to the 80th All-Star Game in St. Louis with six, and among them is one who has waited 17 years for the honor.

Tim Wakefield, the 42-year-old knuckleballer who has pitched in 18 postseason games, was named to his first All-Star team Sunday by Joe Maddon, the American League manager, after posting a 10-3 record for Boston. Wakefield will join second baseman Dustin Pedroia, outfielder Jason Bay, first baseman Kevin Youkilis, starter Josh Beckett and closer Jonathan Papelbon from the division-leading Red Sox.

Bob Ryan wrote one of his great columns this morning in the Boston Globe.

It has been 14 years since Tim Wakefield put on the finest demonstration of knuckleball pitching in the history of baseball.

No knuckleballer – not Hoyt Wilhelm, not Phil Niekro, not Belmont’s Wilbur Wood – ever has been as dominant over a stretch of time as Wakefield was in 1995 when he went 14-1 at the beginning of his Red Sox career. He flirted with a no-hitter or two, he pitched a 10-inning complete game against the Mariners, and he jump-started the Sox as they won the AL East. It was a virtuoso performance of the highest order.

Tim Wakefield is not going to Cooperstown. What he has done is make himself an indispensable member of 15 Red Sox pitching staffs. He has been a comfort to managers and a great teammate. What he did 14 summers ago set an unattainable standard, not only for himself, but for any knuckleballer past, present, or future. Were that all he ever did in service of the Red Sox, it would have been enough for the fans to remember him fondly.

But here he is, 15 summers into his Red Sox career. He is the franchise leader in starts, walks, and, yes, losses. He trails only Cy Young and Roger Clemens in victories. He is second to Clemens in strikeouts. He even shows up among the leaders in saves. If there was a category for Taking One For The Team, he’d be the clear leader in that one, too. He is the Grand Old Man of the Boston pitching staff.

Four weeks shy of his 43d birthday, he is also a first-time All-Star.

Congratulations, Wake.  You deserve the big hug from David Ortiz.  Consider that a hug from all of us.