Tuesday, June 3, 2008

With careful observation it's easy to see that this is not last year's Red Sox team. Several key elements are either missing or inconsistent. The most obvious has been Big Papi. He has frequently been out of the line-up and when there has been mostly ineffectual. And now we learn that he will be out indefiNately with a torn wrist tendon. His side kick, Manny Ramirez has been on again off again, hitting his stride early in the season and then backing off when the 500 homer mark drew near. Kevin Youkalis has also struggled at the plate. Instead of his previous dogged patience with each at bat, he has been put in the role of power hitter which is not his greatest attribute. Strikeouts have risen.

But the biggest change is in the pitching staff. Last year, if a Red Sox team took a lead into the 7th, you could bank the win. The trio of Mike Timlin followed by Hideki Okajima and then Jonathan Papelbon to close were virtually invincible. But no longer so. Coming off of 2 stints on the DL, Timlin has been wild and unreliable and has relinquished his role to a committee of Javier Lopez, David Aardsma, Manny Del Carmen and Craig Hanson. Papelbon has been stellar but no longer invincible, having blown back to back saves earlier in the season. And Okajima is no longer as dependible as a set-up man as he was last season. As you'll read below, he blew a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning that the offense had scrapped hard to achieve.

The starting rotation is a shambles due to injuries. Tonight young Justin Masterson takes the mound against the league leading Rays in Boston's return to Fenway. With just two major league starts under his belt, Masterson is plaeed under a lot of pressure.

But you know, this is one of the joys of having a fovorite team to follow, especially if it has been as successful as the Sox, you can appreciate the evolution of a team. Last year's Red Sox were not the team of 2004, and this year's team is not last year's team.


The Red Sox were hoping to end a long road trip by handing the Orioles the four-game broom treatment. However, a meltdown by lefty setup man Hideki Okajima in the bottom of the eighth sent Boston home with a frustrating 6-3 defeat.
Okajima was entrusted with Tim Wakefield's 3-2 lead when he took the mound, but it disappeared amid a flurry of Orioles hits. After the O's struck three straight singles to load the bases with nobody out, Kevin Millar tied it on a sacrifice fly to deep right.
Adam Jones, the highly promising rookie, belted a two-out, three-run double to left to give the Orioles a three-run lead. Left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury crashed into the wall in pursuit of the game-breaking hit, but he never came close.
Instead, the Red Sox literally hit a wall in their quest to break even on the 10-game road trip. After opening the long and winding journey by dropping five out of six in Oakland and Seattle, the Red Sox took three out of four in Baltimore to go 4-6.
In the grand scheme of things, the loss hurt far less than the injury to star slugger David Ortiz, who will be placed on the disabled list before Tuesday's game with a partially torn sheath in his left wrist.
The Red Sox will return to Fenway for a nine-game homestand, starting with three against the first-place Tampa Bay Rays.
"We would have liked to have gone 5-5, but 4-6 isn't bad, considering how we played on the West Coast," said Wakefield.
But things went real bad, real fast for Okajima. Though the lefty had been having plenty of problems with inherited runners this season, he had generally been lights out when coming in with a clean slate. Not this time. His ERA soared from 0.72 to 2.10 in one forgettable inning.
"I felt good out there," Okajima said in a statement he left with interpreter Jeff Yamaguchi. "Nothing went right. Base hit, base hit, base hit. Just gave up a double to finish. What can I say? I'll change my mind-set and refresh myself and look forward to the next game. That's about it."
Jones got a pitch he liked and hammered it.
"He threw one right down the middle and I took it. It wasn't me that was under pressure, it was him," said Jones. "I was just patient with him. He threw a good pitch up and in, 2-1. I've been swinging at that pitch, but I just laid off of it and was patient."
Okajima's struggles spoiled a strong performance for Wakefield, who limited the Orioles to five hits and two runs over seven innings. He walked four and struck out three.
"I felt pretty good," said Wakefield. "Gave up a couple of cheap hits and they scored two runs, but other than that, I felt pretty good."
In the top of the eighth, the Sox went in front for the first time. Kevin Youkilis led off with a walk against Orioles reliever Jim Johnson. Manny Ramirez followed with a single to right. Mike Lowell delivered the clutch hit, an RBI single to right that snapped a 2-2 tie.
But thanks to Okajima's rough patch, the lead was gone in a hurry.
"It just looked like he got a lot of fastballs up and over the plate," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We feel so comfortable getting to him, and we will. On a night he couldn't get to his split, even his breaking ball, he just threw a lot of fastballs where he didn't want to. And he still almost got out of it. We'll hand it over to Oki, and then [Jonathan Papelbon] a lot of days, and come out of here smiling."
Wakefield breezed through the first three innings, but ran into some trouble in the fourth. Aubrey Huff belted an RBI double to right for the first run of the game. Millar, who came into the night hitting .476 against his former teammate Wakefield, slapped an RBI single up the middle to make it 2-0.
Jeremy Guthrie had a shutout going after five against a Boston lineup that was without Ortiz, Jason Varitek and Dustin Pedroia. With one out in the sixth, Ramirez put the Red Sox on the scoreboard by ripping an opposite-field homer to right -- his third in as many games -- to cut the Baltimore lead to 2-1.
With Ortiz on the shelf, Ramirez is looking primed to go on the type of power surge he was on the first few weeks of the season.
"That would be nice to see," Francona said. "He took some good swings. Took some swings without generating aggression, which is good to see."
The Red Sox continued the climb back in the seventh, and the bottom of the order served as the catalyst. Alex Cora drew a one-out walk and Kevin Cash drove him home with a double to right to tie the game at 2.

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