Maybe not acid. Maybe shrooms. Or peyote. Or ayahuasca. Whatever their hallucinogenic substance of choice, the umpires out in Anaheim seemed to have consumed it in large quantities before both of the last two games, but last night especially.
At home plate, the strike zone was of an irregular, ever-shifting shape. Mike Scioscia was out bitching in the third inning when Jarrod Saltalamacchia was ruled safe on a close play at third base -- the ump in that instance seemed to think a white thumb protector that flew off Salty's hand as he slid face-first in the dirt was the ball coming out of Alberto Callaspo's glove. No amount of exposure to the Mike Scioscia Face could get them to reverse their decision. Salty would go on to score.
But it wasn't just the Angels -- frustration on the Boston side with the umpires seemed to reach a boiling point as well last night, for hitters and pitchers alike. Terry Francona reportedly had to come out and haul a spitting-mad Dustin Pedroia away from the ump in the middle of the third inning. There were times Jon Lester, too, was doing deep-knee-bends of frustration on the mound at a non-call -- and it's not as if he's all John Lackey with the staring in at umpires and whatnot.
I seem to recall umpires having a pretty terrible season last year, and why does it always seem like the umpiriing is particularly hair-raising whenever it's Sox vs. Angels? Especially in Anaheim? Whatever the reason, If they don't get it together soon, next thing you know we'll have Big Papi hucking bats from the dugout onto the field again.
Despite the delusional behavior going on with the men in black, Lester delivered another stellar outing, and was credited with the win. He surrendered no runs, struck out eight and walked only 2. The only issue was pitch count -- he reached a full count on hitters at least eight times and had 111 pitches after six, meaning Tito's lonely eyes had to turn to the depleted bullpen for help.
On came Matt Albers. He surrendered one run, but chewed up a full inning. OK. The score was still 4-1 Red Sox. Then came Bobby Jenks.
Jenks immediately surrendered a double to Howie Kendrick, and then a run when Bobby Abreu batted Kendrick in on a single. The Red Sox lead was now cut in half -- 4-2 -- and were it not for an error by center fielder Peter Bourjos in the top of the fourth, it might've been a tie game.
But the Official Low Point was still to follow, in the form of a passed ball by Salty in the eighth inning that made it a one-run game.
As I said to some of the people who've been a tad on the snarky side about giving Varitek credit for settling Daisuke Matsuzaka, I really don't have an answer for the Catching Situation right now. If I have any strong opinion, it's that we're on the horns of a dilemma that won't solve itself anytime soon without a drastic change in performance from one or both of them.
Basically, on the one hand, we have a young guy who can swing the bat and run the basepaths, and on the other, we have an old guy who can call a game, and at least play less-than-egregious defense behind the plate.
I don't think we can just dismiss that play last night, either -- that ball in the eighth went right through the wickets on Salty, all the way to the backstop, and in turn forced Francona to have to call on Jonathan Papelbon to earn his third straight save. Had it not been for the even worse error by Bourjos earlier on, that might've been the winning run, instead of merely making things too close for comfort.
Again, I don't really have an ultimate answer, here, but that gaffe -- along with the five stolen bases for the Angels last night, which at times didn't earn even a cursory throw over -- that's, uh, bad. Too bad just to gloss over.
Meanwhile, I don't delude myself that Tek's been swinging anything other than a wet noodle, with a miniscule batting average of .043 and a measly OBP of .185. As I believe I was careful to note in my post about Daisuke and 'Tek, I am not blind to the fact that he's a giant hole in the lineup, a black hole, even, which displaces all other objects around it with the force of its suckitude. This is also quite bad.
However, glibly dismissing the role Varitek has played with the pitching staff is also reductivist, not to mention a bit tiresome after a while, with all the "Varitek wouldn't have let that happen" remarks over the last couple days. I get it. Varitek doesn't actually pitch the ball. Nor can he throw runners out to save his life.
But in a season in which he was supposed to be playing a minor backup role, we've really found ourselves with more of a platoon. Varitek has appeared in 9 games so far, compared with Salty's 13. I could be missing something, but I don't think that was supposed to be the ratio of appearances when the season began. And I also know there have been times, like Beckett's last two starts, when Varitek started even though there was no discernible reason Salty couldn't.
Why do you think that is?