1. Daisuke Matsuzaka wasn’t actually that bad. Today in the Boston Herald, the main sports headline is “Sox, Dice-K hit the skids.” In my own Boston Metro, the front-page headline is “Dice-K gets rolled.” Only one paper, the Boston Globe, got the headline right: “Cuffed in Cleveland; Sox trail in series, 2-1, as bats stay quiet.” Matsuzaka’s stuff last night was actually pretty filthy. No, he couldn’t get out of the 5th, which is a black mark against him. But he had 6 strikeouts in 4.2 innings, including one beautiful whiff in which he got Victor Martinez to wave foolishly, stranding two runners. And except for just a few mistakes—two walks and one home run—his breaking balls broke and his fastball fooled ‘em. When the wheels came off in the fifth, it was a dangerous combination of wildness (a single, a wild pitch, and a walk) and bad luck (the ground ball that Dice-K induced found a hole and became a single instead of a double play).
2. What is up with the silent bats last night, guys? This Red Sox lineup has no business being so mystified by the likes of Jake Westbrook. Yet this morning on Boston’s sports radio station, everyone was talking about pitching. (Do you start Beckett on short rest tonight, or do you go with Wakefield? Will we ever see Gagne get the ball again?) But Boston’s only runs of the night came when Jason Varitek awoke from his long slumber to crack that two-run homer. Otherwise, Boston couldn’t get any timely hits. Kevin Youkilis got on base twice, but those hitting after him (the big three of Ortiz, Ramirez, and Lowell) could not drive him in. The Sox loaded the bases with no outs in the second, but couldn’t push a run across. And in a bizarre play in the 4th, Papi’s leadoff double was wasted when, during the next at-bat, Ortiz ran into Manny’s batted ball. (When was the last time you saw that, sports fans? Never mind in the playoffs!) That was a particularly disastrous play for several reasons: it made an out; it stopped the ball from reaching the outfield, snatching away potential extra bases from Ramirez; it almost certainly cost the Red Sox a run, even with Ortiz running; and it completely extinguished whatever momentum the Sox offense had managed to build. Also last night, I noticed that Dustin Pedroia struck out twice. He’d also struck out twice in Game 2. Curious, I looked back to see when he’d last had more than one K in back-to-back games. The answer? He’s never done that before. Not once in the major leagues. Not even in April when he was hitting .182! I have just one thing to say. Dag, yo.
3. The home plate umpire, Brian Gorman, had a very inconsistent strike zone. Buck and McCarver harped on this a bit, but not as much as was warranted. The top-to-bottom was consistent, but the side-to-side never was. It hurt the lineups of both ballclubs at different moments, but the cumulative impact has to affect the strikeout pitcher (Matsuzaka) more than the sinkerballer (Westbrook).
4. I never thought the Sox were going to sweep Cleveland, but after Schilling’s dismal performance in Game 2, they really needed to win Game 3. I mean, Game 2 was a hard loss, but until the 11th (when, as I’ve previously noted, the wheels not only came off, but the entire vehicle vanished and the road disappeared) it could have gone either way. But if your team scores 6 runs, chases Fausto Carmona, and has Curt Schilling on the mound, that’s a game your team ought to win. Nonetheless, having lost that game, you must win the next game, especially when, in that next game, your pitchers limit the opposition to four runs and the pitcher you’re facing got eaten up by New York in his previous outing.
5. It necessarily follows that the Sox absolutely have to win tonight. They just have to. Tim Wakefield has to come up big. And if he doesn’t, Terry Francona has to be quick with the hook, and bring Jon Lester in early (but not, please, in the middle of an inning). And the Sox bats have got to get hot again. I wouldn’t be upset if Ellsbury came in for Drew, either. I want to see the Red Sox stealing and bunting and swinging the bats. And it probably wouldn’t hurt for Manny to take Pedroia aside and ply him with Mannyisms on hitting patiently in the postseason.