BOSTON — The Red Sox lost on Wednesday for the eighth time in nine games, falling one run shy against Chicago lefty Chris Sale 4-3. That wasn’t really the point.
For Boston, Wednesday was a pivot point. If one were to be blunt, it was the first game in an extended 2015 preseason. The afternoon designation for assignment of catcher A.J. Pierzynski, which led to the promotion of 23-year-old catcher Christian Vazquez, signaled the end of Boston’s title defense. The 2014 season is, for all intents and purposes, over.
With the focus shifted to 2015, the significance of each game similarly changes. The result no longer matters as much as the process does. Sure, that’s far from ideal, but hey, seasons like this are what make 2013 so exceptional.
Wednesday was the first of 72 games to evaluate just what the Red Sox have and what else they’ll soon need. That’s why rookies comprised a majority of the starting nine, with Vazquez joining Brock Holt, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Mookie Betts. You can throw starter Rubby De La Rosa in there as a near-rookie, as well. This is what the rest of the season is liable to look like.
In that regard, Wednesday was a greater success than you could tell by looking at the line score on the Green Monster. In yet another home loss, Boston would have to hang its hat on the little things its lineup did against Sale — if not an All-Star, then as much of an All-Star snub as there exists these days.
Vazquez at the very least made solid contact twice, flying out to deep right and lining to short. Making your major-league debut as a defensive-minded catcher against Sale is a bit like swigging vodka for your first drink. Man, it’ll burn, but everything after will be better by comparison.
Betts, complimented routinely over his first week in the majors for his ability to manage his at-bats, produced Boston’s best off the lanky Chicago lefty. After striking out on seven pitches his first time up, Betts took everything Sale had his second time up before ripping the 11th pitch of the rendezvous off the Monster for a double.
His final at-bat against Sale was his most electrifying, as he beat out a ground ball to deep short by a step, then alertly raced to a second base left uncovered by the White Sox defense. It was ruled an infield double. It helped end Sale’s night and sparked a three-run rally off reliever Jake Petricka. Mike Carp, pinch-hitting for Bogaerts, grounded out with two in scoring position to end the inning.
Bradley provided the defensive highlight of the evening, the week, the month and probably the season with an eye-popping diving catch in right-center of Tyler Flowers’ second-inning fly ball. It was the finest play yet by a center fielder who makes fine plays on the daily.
A 1-8 homestand has afforded little room for optimism, but Bradley’s defense continues toward the transcendent while his offense has started to come around.
And so, on another night where a lineup starring five rookies failed to produce a run, Boston could hang its hat on little things. Jackie Bradley, Jr. made yet another eye-popping defensive play — a diving catch in right-center field that may have been his finest highlight yet.
On the mound, De La Rosa was fairly unremarkable. He allowed a pair of home runs to center field — one on a first-inning changeup to Jose Abreu, the other on a second-inning fastball to Conor Gillaspie. Chicago nicked him for a third run when Mike Napoli was victimized by a bad hop. De La Rosa struck out three and didn’t walk a man.
Unlike in his last full minor-league start, De La Rosa returned to relying more on his fastball, throwing it nearly 65 percent of the time.
Sale allowed a run on four hits in 7 2/3 innings, striking out six.
“In most ways I am content…to think of sportswriting not as a real profession but more as an agreeable frame of mind, a way of going about things rather than things you exactly do or know.”—Frank Bascombe
Alexei Ramirez’s two-run homer off Clay Buchholz in the sixth inning proved too difficult to overcome, and the White Sox took another one-run decision, 3-2, at U.S. Cellular Field on Wednesday night. Boston is staring at Chris Sale and the very real possibility of a three-game sweep directly in the face on Thursday. The Red Sox are already 1-5 on this road trip, and that’s on the heels of a 2-4 homestand.
Every good team experiences an ugly road series like this, in which nothing big goes right and all the little things seem to go wrong. But good teams earn that designation by providing themselves with leeway for that occasional series, and the 2014 Red Sox have yet to do any such thing.
Seventeen days into the season, the Red Sox have already sliced their margin of error to a fillet. A better homestand, and the Red Sox could have better afforded to play fast and loose on the south side; they did, after all, lose two of three here last May.
A better offense, and the Red Sox could get past the first-inning defensive miscues that helped the White Sox promptly negate Boston’s first first-inning run of the season. Handed a 1-0 lead, Buchholz hit Adam Eaton to lead off the game. Daniel Nava couldn’t grasp a pickoff attempt, allowing Eaton to move to second. Ryan Roberts bounced a two-out throw to Nava, allowing Eaton to score in a macabre replay of Tuesday’s ninth inning.
A better defense, and Buchholz wouldn’t have thrown 31 pitches in the opening frame — a full 15 of which came after Roberts’ error. He wouldn’t have been up over the 100-pitch mark in the sixth, then, when he left a 2-1 fastball to the hottest hitter in the American League up over the inner half. Ramirez, who entered the night with a hit in every game this season and a .415 average more than 50 points better than the league’s next-best, deposited that mistake in the Chicago bullpen in left field for a two-run homer.
The Red Sox revved their offense with three straight hits to open the game — a double by Dustin Pedroia, an RBI single from Xander Bogaerts and another single from David Ortiz. The inevitable sputtering came quickly thereafter, as Boston did not register another hit all night.
Despite their inability to connect barrel to ball, the Red Sox had their share of opportunities. Their failure to collect a hit was felt most poignantly in the eighth, when a quartet of White Sox relievers each walked one Boston batter, with a run coming in to score on A.J. Pierzynski’s sacrifice fly. But with the bases loaded, Jackie Bradley, Jr. popped the ball up innocently behind short.
In one stretch in the middle innings, Chicago starter John Danks walked or hit five of 10 Boston batters; the Red Sox stranded all of them, including the sacks loaded in the third.
Danks, a left-hander whom the Red Sox have traditionally hit well, weaved his way through traffic on the bases to allow only the first-inning run over six frames.
Buchholz yielded the three runs (two earned) on six hits over six.
Divisions are not won in April, but the Red Sox need only look at last season for a reminder of the first month’s significance. By the first of May, Boston had already put 8.5 games between it and the preseason favorite Blue Jays. The tone had been set.
The Red Sox hope they are not feeling the other end of that seesaw this April, with a 5-10 record equal to the woebegone starts of 2011 and 2012 through 15 games.
With its emphasis on a moment in sports history just prior to my—and I never know how to put this—sports consciousness kicking in, Dream Team is the rare sports book I knew I needed to read. My earliest sports memories are all around 1992—Laettner’s shot, Sanders’ run through the Cowboys, my first Mets game.
As such, I remember the Dream Team being a big deal—we had posters and T-shirts and all—but I didn’t quite realize how big a deal it was for the sport globally. (I was five.)
Perhaps because the chapters are so short and the pace so breezy, McCallum’s book reads more like a survey than an in-depth analysis. There’s a lingering sense that McCallum got caught between two poles here: sticking to the story of the Dream Team specifically and exploring the shifting dynamic of the NBA in the early 1990s—from the league’s 1980s saviors to its 1990s advancers (with one guy specifically in mind). Focusing strictly on the Dream Team would have left out some of McCallum’s better stories about the personalities in here, Barkley especially. Going the other way, though, would have made this a much longer book, and probably a bit more of a slog.
What you get, then, is a pair of brief representative glimpses of each of the players—one focused on ‘92 and the other an “interlude” from McCallum’s 2011 interviews. McCallum knows the players well enough to avoid extrapolating unnecessarily in these short spaces, which is important. He also probably knows more than what he puts in here.
The Dream Team’s dominance is so self-evident, so taken-for-granted, that there isn’t much in the book about what made the team so much fun to watch. There’s John Stockton calling it “basketball poetry,” but there isn’t much showing to back it up. Maybe that’s impossible to do in text. The chapter breaking down the Dream Team scrimmage offers play-by-play and line-by-line trash talk, but it’s still not the same as actually watching the tape.
Brevity is the soul of lit...reviews: The Third Reich
“The true test of health is lack of boredom.”
I’m kind of at a crossroads with how to feel about Roberto Bolaño. When I first heard about him toward the end of college and when I read 2666, I was all, “Yep. This is one of those ‘Read everything by him’ authors.’” I don’t quite feel that way now, but I’m not sure if it’s a relative lack of satisfaction with his other works or just the fact that more and more of his stuff keeps getting published, making that “everything” more daunting by the month.
The Third Reich is the fifth Bolaño I’ve read, and the one whose basic details interested me the least. I bought it used and cheap, mainly because it came in a nice case. I’m a sports fan who cares deeply about uniforms and an English major who cares deeply about cover art and presentation.
Maybe it’s my reduced enthusiasm for Bolaño that made The Third Reich surprisingly enjoyable. Bolaño’s prose style can be rugged. For someone who focuses so much of his work on writers, he doesn’t write overwhelmingly well himself (in translation, at least). He’s kind of like Dostoevsky that way, which tells you it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
That style lends itself well to The Third Reich, whose protagonist is only a freelance writer — whose primary topic is war-game strategy, at that. Contrary to the madcap pacing of The Savage Detectives, The Third Reich has a narrower focus, which allows it to let events simmer. The action is eventually permeated by a sense of dread; a novel about one man’s monomaniacal obsession isn’t supposed to propel you forward with quite this much force.
"We’re sitting on the bench in San Diego," Ellis says, "and I ask him, ‘What would you do to make this team better?’ He says, ‘Let me get back to you.’ That’s the one thing about Zack. He won’t give you an answer right away. He’ll go do research.
"He comes back an hour and a half later and says, ‘I thought about what you said to make the team better. The first thing I’d do is trade you and sign (Braves impending free agent Brian) McCann this winter.’"
“‘You’re the one position on this team that we can upgrade,’” Ellis continues, recounting what Greinke told him. “‘You’re a good player. You’ll catch on somewhere for sure. We can probably get a nice Double-A starting pitching prospect for you.’”
Late on yesterday’s dazzling, post-summer afternoon in the Bronx, each batter and infielder moved and ran with his own autumnal sharp-shadow cutout barely attached at the foot. The brilliant, reminding light was relentless; it never let us up, enamelling…
After Week 2, your favorite NFL team is 2-0. Here’s how to characterize their success so far, from teams that are fulfilling expectations (Broncos) to those taking advantage of their schedule (Texans) to the just plain lucky (Dolphins).
“Part of the dark magic of the game is that even after you analyze everything that can be measured, then given some vague weight to intangibles, many teams’ seasons still don’t seem to make sense. That is because no word is more central over a six long months than ‘team.’”—Thomas Boswell (via mightyflynn)
BOSTON — Trading for Jake Peavy looks wiser now, and Peavy hasn’t even taken the hill.
The value of an additional starter was highlighted on Thursday night, when Henry Blanco’s grand slam highlighted the Mariners’ 7-2 victory Red Sox at Fenway Park. In salvaging the series finale, Seattle avoided the sweep at Fenway Park. Boston dropped back into a first-place tie with the idle Rays, though technically it sits percentage points behind Tampa Bay.
Matched up with Felix Hernandez, Dempster didn’t give his offense much of a chance. The right-hander tiptoed his way through trouble early in the contest, before falling off the wire in the fifth.
Kyle Seager started the frame with a triple, aided by Shane Victorino’s misplay in the right-field corner. Kendrys Morales brought him home with a first-pitch single. An out later, Justin Smoak doubled off the very top of the Green Monster. After walking Dustin Ackley, Dempster wasn’t so lucky with Blanco. The lifelong backup catcher whipped an 0-1 fastball inside the Fisk Pole to put the game out of reach.
Blanco has two homers this year; both have been grand slams.
Seager and Morales, meanwhile, have been two of the biggest thorns in Boston’s side this season. Seager reached base three more times and Morales had four more hits on Thursday. In seven games against the Red Sox this season, Seager is 13-for-35 (.419) with four extra-base hits. Morales is 16-for-31 (.516) with four extra-base hits.
Dempster had made a habit of allowing only solo home runs this year — 18 of the 20 long balls hit against him this season had come with nobody on. Blanco made sure he was an outlier Thursday.
Dempster allowed a season-high seven earned runs in six innings. He walked five and struck out six.
This is the fourth straight start in which Dempster has appeared in some way diminished, in either effectiveness or velocity. He’s been knocked around in three of those, and in the lone outlier, he barely touched 90 miles per hour. (His normal velocity was back on Thursday, for what it’s worth.)
It was in late May that Dempster experienced a similarly futile phase. At that point, he was dealing with a groin issue. His recent results at the very least suggest the possibility of a recurrence.
Dempster rebounded from that slump in May. He came back to toss quality starts in seven of his next eight outings. But for the time being, he appears vulnerable.
And that’s in part why Peavy is a Red Sox now. It’s not Dempster’s struggles specifically that motivated a move for Peavy; Clay Buchholz’s uncertain health was a bigger single factor.
But the general uneasiness about the rotation — and the present lack of clear and suitable backup plans — inspired Boston to pursue Peavy aggressively. Peavy’s arrival Thursday forced the Sox to send the hitherto effective Brandon Workman to Pawtucket; the plan is for the rookie to return to the bullpen soon enough.
But if Dempster proves to be injured or continues to be ineffective, Workman could find himself in the rotation quickly. Even if Dempster rights the ship, he could prove to be the odd man out if and when Buchholz gets back on a mound.
So while Dempster’s start Thursday was disconcerting, it would have been more so had Peavy not been in the fold.
Dempster’s woes rendered the workmanlike dominance of Hernandez less noteworthy on Thursday. Seattle’s star right-hander was unusually shaky early in the contest, allowing four hits to the first 10 men he faced. He settled in from there, however, limiting the Red Sox to just two more in his seven innings. He struck out eight and walked two.
Hernandez has won his last four starts against Boston.