It's a World Series preview! Or maybe not. But let's do a running diary of Red Sox-Phillies, first of a big three-game series in Philly.
Our long national debate is over: David Ortiz will not be in the starting lineup. Look, Terry Francona is coming from the right place in saying he doesn’t want Ortiz’s bat to grow stale sitting for nine straight road games in National League parks, but I can’t envision a scenario in which Francona significantly weakens his team defensively at two positions. Maybe we’ll see "Big Papi" start a game or two, but Adrian Gonzalez rarely sits -- he’s missed only five games since 2007. I think the key will be to get Ortiz a pinch-hit at-bat at a key time, even if it means hitting for somebody besides the pitcher or catcher.
Anyway, I predict a low-scoring game tonight, even though the Red Sox lead the American League in runs scored. Cliff Lee is coming off two consecutive shutouts and has allowed just one run over his previous starts. Josh Beckett hasn’t started in 13 days due to an illness but leads the majors with a 1.86 ERA and has held opponents to a .174 average. The Phillies, meanwhile, are hitting .204 with 17 runs scored in nine interleague games.
Lee throws four pitches in a 1-2-3 inning. Beckett breezes. Considering how fast Lee works, this might end up being the quickest Red Sox game since 1992.
Kevin Youkilis walks on four pitches to lead off the frame. After falling behind, Lee decided not to give, considering the next hitters in the Red Sox order: Darnell McDonald, Jason Varitek and Mike Cameron, three guys hitting .109, .245 and .154, respectively, entering the game. McDonald strikes out on three pitches, Varitek flies to right on an 0-2 pitch, and Cameron sees two curves and then looks at 91 mph fastball down the middle.
Do the Red Sox need to be concerned about their production against left-handers? They’re hitting .278/.356/.425 (BA/OBP/SLG) versus lefties, not too far off their .277/.350/457 line versus righties. They have four guys doing most of the damage: Dustin Pedroia (1.040 OPS), Youkilis (1.035 OPS), Jed Lowrie (1.026 OPS) and Ortiz (1.003 OPS). Gonzalez is hitting .314 with two home runs versus lefties compared to a .384 mark against righties. But Ellsbury (.244), J.D. Drew (.200) and Carl Crawford (.151) all struggle against lefties.
Ryan Howard leads off the bottom of the second inning with a single to left. Victorino grounds into a fielder’s choice and advances to second on Beckett’s wild throw on a pickoff attempt, but Raul Ibanez goes down on strikes. Rookie right fielder Domonic Brown then blasts a 2-2 fastball to dead center for a two-run home run. A nice, easy swing. A very long blast.
Brown has been compared to Darryl Strawberry, but that’s more because at a lean 6-foot-5, he’s built like Strawberry. But while Strawberry had a long, looping swing, Brown’s approach reminds me more of Ken Griffey Jr., although he holds his hands out from his body more than Griffey did. However, the classic left-handed swing and follow-through resembles Junior. NOTE: I’M NOT SAYING HE’S GOING TO BE ANYWHERE NEAR AS GOOD AS KEN GRIFFEY JR.
As Jerry Remy points out on NESN, the pitch was a two-seamer that Beckett tried to get over the inside part of the plate, but instead it came back right over the middle of the plate.
NESN shows the highlights of Jimmy Rollins’ publicity stunt Monday to break Babe Ruth’s Guinness “record” for longest batted ball, listed at 576 feet. Rollins used an illegal composite bat and juiced balls but apparently failed to come within 100 feet of The Babe. Did anybody pause to consider that Rollins is 5-foot-8? Why wasn’t Ryan Howard brought in to do this?
Lee gets Pedroia on a fly to the right-field corner. While Brown might resemble Griffey at the plate, he doesn’t resemble him in the field, looking gangly and a bit awkward going after that ball.
Youkilis fouls off two two-strike pitches and then takes a high fastball for strike three. He dumps his bat and shakes his head, and I can’t tell whether he’s disgusted at the call or disgusted at not knowing how to hit Lee.
Beckett cruises. We’re through four, and the game isn’t much more than an hour old.
McDonald pops weakly to first base. Can you pop strongly to first? Yes, maybe the Red Sox will want to inquire about a right-handed outfielder. Varitek grounds to third on a curveball that was actually belt-high. Pretty good pitch to hit. Lee falls behind Cameron 2-0 and challenges him with a fastball, and Cammy lofts a routine fly to medium-deep right.
In the bottom of the inning, Brown drills a 3-1 high and outside fastball into the left-field corner for a leadoff double. Carlos Ruiz sends him to third with a fly to deep right, and then Lee -- 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position in 2011! -- flies to the warning track for a sac fly. Phillies up 3-0. Lee has five RBIs on the season, which I think is more than the Mariners have from three spots in the lineup.
Scutaro breaks up the no-no with a liner into left-center. He’s erased on Beckett’s double play. In the bottom of the inning, NESN shows the Yankees lighting up Zack Greinke, which is followed by Shane Victorino (having a great season; should be on the All-Star team) drilling a two-run homer to right. Not a good inning for Red Sox fans.
Pedroia walks, but Youkilis grounds into a 6-4-3 double play. Cliff Lee is good. By the way, Lee had a 4.60 ERA in his past five starts against the Red Sox and his team didn’t win any of the games. I’m pretty confident that winless streak is going to end.
Lee gives up a leadoff double to McDonald, which gets Michael Stutes and Juan Perez warming up in the Phillies' bullpen. Yes, those are major league relievers, not hot dog vendors. Lee works through the murderers' row of the Sox lineup, getting Varitek, Cameron and Scutaro. Is this the Red Sox or the Royals?
Bobby Jenks labors through a 25-pitch inning. It’s really hard to defend baseball players as athletes when Jenks is pitching. I think he has the oddest butt-to-gut ratio in the big leagues. He escapes a jam when the plate ump rings up Victorino on a pitch about five inches outside.
Cliff Lee comes out to start the ninth. That Charlie Manuel, he’s a sly one, fooling us by warming up the hot dog vendors last inning. Instead of giving Ortiz an at-bat, Francona hits Drew Sutton for Jenks. You’ll be shocked to know that Sutton strikes out. Ellsbury grounds to third. Pedroia lines softy to third. An absolutely dominant effort by Lee, with only a couple of balls even hit hard.
Lee now has thrown three consecutive shutouts and 33 consecutive scoreless innings. Watch out, Orel Hershiser!
By the way, Cliff Lee has the third-best ERA among Phillies starters.
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