Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dice-K Dominant

So that's how you silence the goddamn cowbells, and make the fools who got mohawk haircuts - fans and players alike - look downright stupid. Throw six no-hit innings, take a 2-0 lead, strike out 9 guys, and then use your bullpen exactly the way you drew it up five hours earlier. The Sox were downright giddy after winning Game 1 last night in the Catwalk Aquarium Mall, and for good reason. They won only one of nine games there this year.

Last night, though, Matsuzaka took complete control of the game after again pulling a Houdini in the first inning, when he walked the bases-loaded. Through 7-plus innings, he befuddled the Rays with his usual assortment of dips, spins, speeds, angles, and arm slots. In the end, he was a few shades better than Tampa Bay starter James Shields, who was outstanding in his own right (even if he punches like a girl) and the Sox took it 2-0.

The key hits in this one were a sac fly by Jed Lowrie and a ball off the bat of Kevin Youkilis that was boxed around by Carl Crawford, allowing Dustin Pedroia to score the second run. Dice-K, meanwhile, was in a major groove, keeping the Rays hitless until the bottom of the 7th when Crawford roped a single into right. Dice-K came out in the eighth with two men on and nobody out, and watched from the bench as Hideki Okajima and Justin Masterson (another huge double-play grounder) got out of the inning unscathed, and Jonathan Papelbon shut the door in the 9th.

A couple of quick observations:

- Obviously, all eyes tonight will be on Josh Beckett. Will he revert (at least somewhat) to the postseason form that he's known for, or will he struggle like he did his last time out in the ALDS against the Angels? I'm betting on a little bit of rest helping him, and that we'll see a better pitcher tonight. I'm seeing two or three earned runs in his future tonight.

- Beyond surefire AL ROY Evan Longoria and Haverhill, Mass.' own Carlos Pena, the Rays don't have any consistent, legitimate longball threats. With Dice-K doing his thing last night, keeping guys off-balance, you can see why a pure fastball hitter like Longoria would have some trouble, as he did last night with an 0 for 4 performance, which included 2 K's and five men left on base. I'm curious to see if Beckett follows Dice-K's lead in terms of variety and throwing any pitch anytime in the count. Or if Longoria will catch up to a heater. His matchups with Beckett tonight will be worth the price of admission.

- I like Rays' manager Joe Maddon. I didn't like him much during the bad blood games this year, when he was a little too vocal with our guys for my taste. But every time I hear the guy speak, I see more and more why his guys - especially his young guys - enjoy playing for him and respond to his overall philosophy. In some ways, he and Francona have a lot in common. Maddon's a character, no doubt, but I like his mix of pragmatism, calmness and baseball intelligence. His guys only scratched out four hits last night, and failed miserably time and time again with runners on base. It was the kind of offensive offensive game that would drive a day's worth of angry calls to WEEI. After the game, Maddon kept saying he was proud of his guys, that the other pitcher (Dice-K) was just better than our guy (Shields), and that he really liked the effort. It was surely a Pepto-Bismol night for Maddon, and he had to be disappointed about his team's ineptness at the plate - but you know what? You couldn't see one iota of that during his post-game interview, and that's because he knew the last thing he needed to do was publicly criticize his young team before a must-have Game 2. Sort of the anti-Ozzie Guillen. (Come to think of it, I believe the Red Sox had Maddon on their list of candidates when they ultimately signed Francona.)

- Hard-throwing Rays righty Grant Balfour went high, tight and very fast on J.D. Drew last night when he came inside and hit J.D. square on the shoulder. It was a little too close to the head. I don't think he was intentionally throwing at Drew, but I do think he was trying to be extra-aggressive inside, and if he hits him, oh well. If I'm a Rays batter, I'm wondering in the back of my mind if Beckett might try to, um, establish the inside of the plate.

- I still can't believe that an important baseball game is being played in the abomination that is Tropicana Field. It must be so strange going from the Trop to Fenway for the players. Completely different experiences. The only good things about the Trop - okay, three things - are the free parking, the $6 24-ounce Bud Light stands, and the girl's roller derby/keg party outside the stadium right after the game. The ballpark the Rays want to build is gorgeous, and it just may be that being in the high-profile ALCS helps their cause with the city and people down there.

- Final thought - could Beckett maybe a do a little Nuke LaLoosh, and throw the ball a little wide right - maybe so that it collides with Jonny Gomes' face?

2 nites hittn the sack @2:30am, take the split, but we gave away game 2 ...give jacoby a day or 2 off..please...great stuff ...and making history at the
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