If you'd told me this morning that Daisuke Matsuzaka would pitch a one-hitter over 7 innings and that JD Drew would be hauling ass around the bases for a triple to lead off the game, I'd have thought I was still sleeping, and dreaming you. And that you, in this dream, were on drugs.
But, well, that's exactly what happened, for the third Sox win in a row.
Talk of hitting has faded into the background, at least for me, amid the agony of awful pitching these last couple weeks, but now that the pitching has settled a bit, I'm starting to see the other flaw people have been pointing out in this team. This is why Jed Lowrie has gone from the outhouse to the penthouse in the last week or so -- not only has he been hitting, he's been hitting in a timely fashion, which seems to be the biggest problem with Red Sox bats.
Meanwhile, despite the high score in the end, some of Lowrie's teammates continued to struggle at the plate early on today, especially with runners in scoring position. In the first inning, for example, Lowrie came through with men on after Youk and Papi couldn't.
The technical term for the collective problem the Sox have had offensively so far is known as "having a low Batting Average on Balls in Play," or BABIP. Statmeister blog Dewey's House put up a great post on Red Sox hitters' dismal BABIP on April 15, which also included this reasoning for continued optimism:
"While several Red Sox hitters have struggled mightily in the early-going, there is reason to believe that they will turn things around based on the fact that they haven’t been striking out at an abnormally high rate."
One lingering worry can be found, I would argue, in the person of Carl Crawford. True, Crawford has been getting his bat on the ball -- he was able to foul a couple of pitches off even though he struck out in his first at-bat, ended his second at-bat with a popup, and finally struck a wall-ball RBI double his third time up in the bottom of the sixth.
The hit was encouraging, but with 10 K's in 13 games, I would argue Crawford has still been striking out at a high rate, even if it's not abnormal compared with league average. This is where I'll probably get hit with the Small Sample Size Stick, but that seems like an awful lot of strikeouts to me, and Crawford still has a ways to go before he erases all the question marks in my mind.
But overall, the 9-1 shellacking of the Jays this Marathon Monday is more along the lines of what the Nation has been waiting to see from this team the whole season. And as the game went on, I started to think, maybe there's something to the Dewey's House theory after all: in the third inning, unlike the first, Youk hit a long double to the top of the bullpen wall, just missing a home run, and Papi singled him in when, as Dewey's House had predicted, the ball found a gap under the second baseman's glove. And then, in the sixth, Youk popped an opposite-field homer into the visitor's bullpen...
We're not quite out of the woods yet, but today, we can legitimately hope. And that's definitely something.
Enigma of Daisuke also continues
So what got into Daisuke?
He was working at decent pace, touching the zone more often, and getting ahead of hitters. "There's life on the ball coming out of his hand," was how Jerry Remy described it.
I'd say his skipped start, and more rest, had a lot to do with it. While clearly his best start of the season, and, for that matter, one of his best starts in Red Sox uniform, he earned many of his outs on fly balls, some of which were disconcerting, and still threw a lot of pitches early -- up to 50 by the third inning.
It might've been worse, too, were it not for Jason Varitek.
A majority of those early pitches for Daisuke came in the second inning, when he began missing his spots and issuing walks. That's when, between pitches, while the hitter wasn't looking, Varitek stood and tapped his fingers quickly on his right shoulder, the one that he'd apparently noticed was flying open too soon with Daisuke. The beleaguered fifth starter settled, and left the field that inning still the pitcher of record, without having surrendered a run.
I know we're not supposed to believe the team shows a preference for Varitek when it comes to working with pitchers, but come on. Yesterday was one thing, when Tek caught Josh Beckett in a day game after a night game, but what about today? Was there really any reason Jarrod Saltalamacchia couldn't or shouldn't have caught the game? Yet there was 'Tek, in what might've been Daisuke's famous One Big Inning, turning him around with one small gesture.
So I guess I just don't buy that the team isn't looking to slot Tek in whenever they have doubts about the pitching, despite all the lip service from everyone involved. The problem (and the grain of truth to all the vociferous denials that he's anybody's 'personal catcher') is that 'Tek is hitting .077 on the season with a .220 OPS. He's a coach behind the plate, and a giant hole in the lineup.
Mixed emotions heading into West Coast swing
So, now, the Red Sox head for another ever-dreaded West Coast trip with a relieved fan base, after producing a winning record for the homestand, as well as a streak of three wins in a row for the first time all season. I don't mean to cast aspersions on any of that, when this time two days ago I'd have given just about anything for any sort of win, against anybody -- but let's also not forget they won their first three straight against the team that kind of should be in last place in the division, and would be were it not for the nightmarish start for the Sox.
Then again, the Sox took two out of three from the first place team in the division on this homestand as well. There's still at least as much room for worry as hope, but the opposite, now, is also true.
It didn't have to be this way -- things very well could have gotten truly ugly around here this past week. Instead, we've at least reached the point where the proverbial glass is either half empty or half full, depending on your perspective.
Now we just have to hope that the faucet's still running.