Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I've Seen This Somewhere Before

OK, we're not in unfamiliar territory right now.

It was brutal and painful to watch Game 4 of the ALCS last night. It was the most critical game of the season for the Red Sox and they put in a pitcher who hadn't pitched in 16 days. And not surprisingly, it was a total disaster as the Tampa Bay Rays put another whacking on the Red Sox, 13-4.

I'll spare you all the gory details of last night, as most of you readers know them all by now.

Right now it's a case of the Rays clicking on all cylinders. They are hitting like crazy, balls are finding every gap. Their outfield defense are running down sure doubles in the gap and are using that speed on the bases. They are clearly no fluke whatsoever. They look like a hungry team that wants to win it all. (Don't know what David Ortiz was talking about after Game 1. The Rays sure don't look scared.) Much more than the Red Sox do now.

And as far as the Red Sox go, everything is going wrong. The starting pitching is a total mess, the bullpen was awful yesterday, and the offense looks dead. When Tim Wakefield gave up the three runs in the first, it was a bad blow, but I wasn't discouraged. But the key last night was the bottom of the first. The Red Sox looked like they just rolled over and went to sleep, going meekly 1-2-3. I silently thought to myself among the throng at Professor Thom's, "The Sox are dead tonight. And we're going to hammered again."

And sure enough, the Rays put their foot on the gas pedal and turned it up a notch (and then some). It got ugly, and by the sixth, I was embarrassed to watch the defending world champions playing like it was a bad spring training game.

It's a complete team breakdown. Bad pitching and no offense, especially when it matters. (I saw a stat late in the game that the Red Sox were 4-for-26 with runners in scoring position in the ALCS. Truly awful.) David Ortiz is AWOL, without a home run in the postseason. Jacoby Ellsbury's in a valley, and the bottom of the lineup is a black hole. Terry Francona tried to juggle the lineup without success last night. I give him credit for trying. J.D. Drew led off and went 0-for-5. Coco Crisp killed a rally in the second with a DP. Kevin Cash was the entire offense until the seventh inning with a home run in the third. (So should he be starting Game 5?)

As I opened this post with, we have seen this scenario before. We all know about the amazing, historic comeback of 2004, but this series actually closely mirrors what happened last year against the Indians in the ALCS.

Last October: The Red Sox won Game 1, lost Game 2 in 11 innings, and lost both Games 3 and 4 (however, they were both on the road and were much closer), with Wakefield losing Game 4. Just like this ALCS.

But it is a much more uphill battle for the Red Sox now. They don't have Mike Lowell (and he'll have hip surgery on Monday), Big Papi is clearly hurting, and will have to win the pennant on the road (like in 2004). Too many offensive players are struggling, and they will need their Game 1 winner (this time Daisuke Matsuzaka) to give the club a big spiritual lift.

Curiously, Joe Maddon has now bumped Game 1 pitcher James Shields to a Game 6 if it gets there. Scott Kazmir will go tomorrow night. The Sox have battered Kazmir this season, as they did in Game 2. It has been suggested that Maddon is doing this because the Game 6 plate ump will be Derrel Cousins, who Kazmir had a run-in with earlier this year in Anaheim over his balls and strikes calls. (I remember watching that game in June. Kazmir was absolutely right.)

So now we have an extra day to stew over what happened at Fenway the last two days.

Four teams have come back from 1-3 (or more) to win the AL pennant. And three of them (1986, 2004 and 2007) are the Boston Red Sox.

It's all on the shoulders of Daisuke Matsuzaka now. Keep the Faith.

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