It's a long story. But I missed yesterday's game.
However, through the cobbled-together evidence of an excited voicemail message from my father, video highlights on RedSox.com, ESPN and the accounts of my friend Ryan, who caught the ninth inning of the game at a bar last night, I have ascertained it was another noteworthy start for Commander Kickass of the Fuck Yeah Brigade.
Beckett's strikeout highlights on the official site after a game like that one are always worth a gander. And in the beginning of that game yesterday, just from the clipped-together snippets of out-pitches, it was clear Josh was one big scary tower of swagger. You could tell he knew he had his good stuff from the very beginning, and that came through in the frequent recurrence, even in highlights, of what I refer to as his "out move", a difficult-to-describe, but trademark, fluidity to the coordination of his right leg with his left shoulder as he follows through on a pitch. This season, there has been a strong correlation between the degree to which he's "on" and the number of times his deliveries follow that pattern. Yesterday it was out in force.
I might have selected a different gem pitch of the game if I'd been watching, but alas, I have to rely on the judgment of mlb.com editors. I will say, though, that of the pitches I've seen, the last strike to Nick Markakis for the eighth and final strikeout of the game is the standout. 97 mph according to the FOX gun, and on the outside corner; even Markakis glanced back at Josh as he walked back to the dugout in acknowledgment. That particular pitch also included another mannerism I've begun to notice lately--after a particularly beautiful execution, Beckett will sometimes add a little flourish by drawing his right hand back up, flicking his wrist, after letting go of the ball. It's something Pedro also used to do; I mean that as both a compliment to Beckett and a nod to how much I miss watching Pedro pitch for the Sox.
Add to the list of reasons I kick myself for missing this game the small scraps of video footage I've seen that cover the meltdown in the ninth inning, namely, the mlb.com reel from FOX has a few moments of Josh looking pained on the mound as Tito approaches.
Yes, I said looking pained. I've never seen an expression on his face like this--well, I've hardly ever seen an expression on his face, period. And yet like most things about Josh other than the brilliance of his pitching, this face was difficult to put a descriptive finger on. It was a combination of things: anger, frustration, chagrin, but above it all it looked almost like Beckett was irritated to be woken out of a dream. He looked disoriented like that.
Ryan said that Beckett returned to the dugout and sat alone on the bench, ranting and raving to no one. However, I have found no footage of this. Administering yet another self-kick as we speak. What I have seen replayed several times now, however, is the fact that Josh sprinted from the mound to the dugout rather than his usual cocky stroll. When asked afterwards about that, he answered with his usual eloquence: "Don't know. Just didn't want to be there, I guess."
Further enigmatic behavior notwithstanding, I think it's official at this point, unless Curt starts completely throwin' it down as of today, that Beckett is the ace of this staff. You can see it in what his appearance on the mound did for the series this weekend--he was the one who came in after a gonad-crushing loss to say, "All right, enough of all this foolishness." He's officially taken that mantle from Curt right now, and is also sporting a downright sexy 1.65 ERA on the road this season, even with the two runs yesterday.
I also want to say that even though I missed the vast majority of this game, the cluelessness of FOX announcers has still come painfully to my attention. The FOX announcer in question here was heard to remark as Beckett ran screaming from the field in the ninth that that you rarely see an away crowd give a visiting pitcher such an ovation.
Which is a nice thought, but is this announcer watching his own video feed? Can he see the proportion of fans in Red Sox gear right before his very eyes? Has no one filled him in on the general state of things whenever the Red Sox visit Camden Yards? It hasn't been noted, as I have heard discussed elsewhere, that this weekend was an attendance record for Camden Yards, and it wasn't full of fans wearing orange? How are these guys getting paid what they are paid for this level of inanity?
Updated: The only thing cuter than Lexi Alden, the 11-year-old cancer survivor who was shown running around kissing ballplayers before today's game, was Julian Tavarez when she approached while he was stretching. He first asked her to repeat her request for a kiss several times, then looked around to see if anyone could vouch for her, and finally allowed her to peck him on the cheek. Then he watched her toddle off with a look of complete mystification on his face.
Schilling looked good. His fastball was (roughly? Radar guns at the park and in the NESN studios were inconsistent) between 87 and 91. He went 6 strong innings, surrendering one unearned run. Though he oddly had no K's on the game, he also had no walks and it was a solid performance.
Just as I was breathing a sigh of relief, however, everything somehow went terribly wrong. I'm sure there are plenty of people already reaching a consensus on who the goat is in this one--Eric Gagne for choking for the second time in three days; Tito for going to him rather than Okajima in the eighth; the Sox offense for failing once again to produce as they are capable, particularly with the heart of the order up in the 10th; Tito for going to Snyder; Varitek for calling a curveball on Millar after one of Snyder's slow curves had just gone by; Snyder for hanging that second curve; God himself or Santa Claus.
The truth is probably all of the above. Gagne has so far not performed up to expectations and once again I'm feeling the folly of having given my heart away to his curly-haired, French Canadian ass at first sight. Tito going to Gagne in the eighth can be criticized, but then again, so can his overuse of Okajima in the first half of the season. Gagne was procured with precisely this situation in mind, the better to take some of the load off Okajima. Truly, the offense has continued to be awful with men on and failed to capitalize on mediocre pitchers, but they did supply the lead for the majority of the game until Gagne's appearance. I guess the Snyder / Papelbon decision is questionable, but by the time Snyder was pitching, the heart of the Sox offense had also earned some culpability in extra innings. The curveball was probably the only pitch to call in that situation with Millar sitting on a fastball, and one hanging curveball can't possibly bear ALL the blame for this loss. (This may be where God / Santa Claus came in.)
So I know they're going to happen, but it doesn't mean I'm looking forward to the Francona / Gagne-sucks-get-him-out-of-here monologues that are sure to be delivered in the next 24 hours. This was a team loss, and just one more reason for me to worry not necessarily just about making the playoffs, but about what this team expects to accomplish this year overall. What's especially scary is trying to figure out exactly what the key underlying issue is, the better to figure out how these problems can be addressed.
So, is it a psychological issue--are the Red Sox players taking things for granted? Is it just the luck of the draw? Is it the offense? Is it just an uncharacteristically, and probably rare, weekend of underachievement for the much-vaunted Red Sox bullpen? Is it a reason to worry about Gagne? Is it a bump in the road? Right now, it's looking, dauntingly, just like the reasons for this loss: all of the above.
I'm not saying that with series against the Devil Rays for the Sox and the Tigers and Angels coming up for the Yankees, that we might not have our swagger completely back by this same time next week. Every bullpen's going to have a couple of off days, better to have them in August than October, etc.
But let's also not forget that this series against Baltimore was supposed to kick off the "easy" portion of the schedule this month for the Sox. If things keep going like this, with a complex combination of potentially fatal flaws for this team continuing to rear their ugly heads even against mediocre opponents, we could look back on this weekend as a foreshadowing of disappointment to come.