Some things found at Fenway Park over the last few days actually might have meant something when peering into the expanse of the 2010 baseball season.
Curtis Granderson, for instance ...
Before Wednesday night's series finale between the Red Sox and Yankees the newest New York outfielder talked about his the what-could-have-beens when it came to playing for the Sox. Before the Yankees sealed the deal on their offseason acquisition of Granderson, the Red Sox had kicked the tires on the 29-year-old becoming a replacement for Jason Bay before learning Detroit's asking price of either Jacoby Ellsbury or Clay Buchholz.
"I've enjoyed coming here, so who knows what will happen down the line," said Granderson, who hadn't heard the Red Sox rumors, but did believe at one time he was headed to the Cubs.
After the game -- a 3-1, 10-inning victory for the Yankees -- Granderson was still broaching the subject of potentially living the life of a Red Sox. Fenway had, after all, treated him well, most notably thanks to the left-handed hitter's 10th-inning solo homer off of Jonathan Papelbon that landed in the right-field stands.
"The Yankees were actually one of the least one of the least on the list of where I thought it would actually happen. That’s where I’m at right now," he said.
Granderson's presence over the past three games made a difference -- hitting two home runs, scoring three runs, and notching four hits in 12 at-bats -- and, judging by the outfielder's past performance, that doesn't figure to change.
Then there were the series' particulars that might seem inconsequential by the time May rolls around.
After being poked and prodded by the early-early-early-season analysts through his first eight at-bats (all hitless), Ortiz offered a reminder that judging performance off of two games might be a bit silly. On his second at-bat Wednesday night the Red Sox' designated hitter helped supply his team's only run by rifling an RBI single into right field, scoring Dustin Pedroia.
Ortiz wasn't available to the media after the game, but did offer this to WEEI.com prior to his showdown with Yankees starter Andy Pettitte: “I’ve been seeing [expletive] for years here. But what I’ve been seeing after two games, it’s like the season will be over tomorrow.”
The hit offered yet another reminder: It's nice to have some jumping off point in terms of predicting what awaits in '10, but nothing that transpired in the last three games should merit the kind of jumping that some fans kiddingly threaten come September.
The Yankees' 2-3-4 hitters -- Nick Johnson, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez -- are a combined 2-for-36, with Johnson and Teixeira leaving town without a hit. Do you think any of that combination is going to smacked down with the Ortiz treatment. Answer: No.
Still, the series did offer the first glimpse as to what the these two teams are working with, and that's something. Here's a quick look at first impressions:
Perhaps the most telling of the performance came in Wednesday night's game, in which both Pettitte and Lackey answered the call. The Yanks' 37-year-old lefty looked no different than in years past, allowing one run on six hits over six innings, while Lackey did one better by not surrendering a single run over his six-inning outing.
Both teams displayed batting orders that potentially had tough outs from top to bottom. New York's leading hitters for the series were Robinson Cano (.417), Jorge Posada (.417), Nick Swisher (.364), and Granderson (.333), while Red Sox' newcomers Adrian Beltre (.364), Mike Cameron (.300), and Marco Scutaro (.300) all acquitted themselves well.
One interesting aspect of the series came in the form of the Yankees' and Red Sox' hitters' approach. The Sox averaged 3.97 pitches per plate appearance despite Beltre dragging down the average with a 2.67 pace. Five members of the order averaged more than four pitches per plate appearance. The Yanks? They came in at a 3.98 clip.
Both had bumps in the road, as was evidenced by Granderson's homer off Papelbon. But the end of the pens don't seem to be too much of a concern for either club, thanks in large part to the arms of Daniel Bard and Papelbon for the Sox, and the Yankees' Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera.
Getting there, is another matter.
After a rough first outing, Chan Ho Park showed the kind of effectiveness displayed as a Phillie, Wednesday night, for New York, while Scott Schoeneweis offered some optimism from the left side for the Sox. But when it comes to these bullpens, like every other part of the team, successful the last few days or not, the jury is still out.
Here are four more things we could take away from Wednesday night:
LACKEY DID PITCH, AND PITCHED WELL
Lackey was dealing with something, what was not disclosed. But as ESPN.com reported, whatever it was it offered enough of a concern that the Red Sox gave the starter the option of not pitching Wednesday night.
“Honestly, I had a lot of things on my mind today but there was definitely some of that," Lackey said. "There was definitely some added pressure, I wanted to win this series. Being here, for the first time, you want to start off with good impressions, that sort of thing.”
Lackey couldn't have offered much more of a positive impression than he mustered in his six innings of work against the Yanks.
In his 100-pitch outing, Lackey surrendered just three hits while not allowing a single run. He controlled the tempo, kept the ball on the ground to the tune of nine of his 12 outs coming via grounders, and he even gave the appearance of delivering retribution (even if it might have not been the case), plunking Derek Jeter the half-inning after Kevin Youkilis was hit off the head by an Andy Pettitte pitch.
The hit-by-pitch drew a loud cheer from the grateful Fenway crowd, and hitting a batter was no oddity for Lackey (having been thrown out of his first game of 2009 after nailing Ian Kinsler on the right-hander's initial offering of the season). But with the Red Sox only leading by a run, and Jeter leading off the inning with the heart of the order coming up, deciphering intention wasn't cut-and-dried.
“Yeah, you think I’m trying to hit a guy in a one-run game to lead off an inning? I’ve been around a little bit longer than that,” explained Lackey.
What was certain was Lackey's effectiveness. Of the three Red Sox' starters in the three-game series, it was his performance that offered the most optimism.
"You know what, a lot of first-pitch strikes," noted Red Sox manager Terry Francona of Lackey's approach to hitters, which netted first-pitch strikes on 16 of his 22 batters. "Changed speeds, stayed down in the zone. He really pitched well. would have liked to let him pitch all night. I think it would have been a little irresponsible this early in the season to send him back out. I thought he was terrific.”
It continued a positive trend for Lackey against the Yankees, with the starter having now compiled a 2.76 ERA in his last seven outings vs. New York, having gone at least six innings in each appearance while not have given up more than four runs in any of the games.
THE BIGGEST PITCH NO. 1
Bard said on numerous occasions throughout spring training that one of his goals heading into Season No. 2 was being able to throw his changeup whenever and wherever he wanted.
Wednesday night he wanted to throw it on an 0-2 count to Swisher with two outs in the seventh inning.
"It came from the dugout to Victor. Initially right after I got strike two on him, he fouled another fastball straight back so I immediately thought breaking ball and he put down change," Bard said. "I think either change or slider would have gotten the out or maybe a strikeout."
But it wasn't an out or a strikeout. It resulted in one of the game's biggest hits, a single to right that plated Posada with the game-tying run.
The reason for the result wasn't the type of pitch, said Bard (who has appeared in all three of the Sox' games), but where it ended up (on the inner-half of the plate, belt-high).
"I think it was the right pitch, but it just in a bad location," he said. "If that pitch is six or seven inches lower it's probably an out."
"The other day he threw a really nasty changeup, I think it was also to Swisher, but unfortunately that one stayed straight, it got hit," Martinez said. "That was it."
For Bard, the Swisher hit has been the only hiccup in an otherwise impressive start to his season. In 3 1/3 innings against the Yankees he allowed only the one single, inducing seven grounders to two fly balls.
"I felt good. It was kind of surprising when they asked me how I felt. I felt good. I was absolutely fine out there. I have felt good so far," Bard said. "I kind of expected this, maybe not the first three games of the year but that's how it's happened. I'm happy to be in that role and get those opportunities."
THE BIGGEST PITCH NO. 2
Papelbon was encouraged.
Sure, his 94 mph, 10th-inning fastball to Granderson resulted in a game-winning home run into the right-field stands. But, like Bard, he had no regrets. Right pitch, wrong location.
For Papelbon, it was the other offerings he delivered in his 28-pitch outing that provided the positive take-away. He offered a fastball that touched 96 mph, along with the return of the off-again, on-again splitter, which the closer featured six times.
“I did that very well,” said Papelbon of mixing up his pitches. “I got some broken bats and was able to keep a good mix in there. A couple of first-pitch splits from Swisher and Granderson. I felt like my command was good tonight. It kind of got away from me a little bit, but for the most part I felt like my legs were underneath me and the ball was coming out good. For me if I can go out there and duplicate the way I felt tonight for the rest of the season I’ll be good. I’ll be extremely happy with that.
“I felt really good tonight but it was a classic situation where you make one mistake and you pay for it,” he said. “Obviously it was a poorly executed pitch by me left up out over the plate. With this lineup you’re going to pay for it and that’s the way it is. You make mistakes you pay for it.
“I felt really good tonight. I felt strong. I felt like the ball was coming out of my hand good. Like I said, I was really happy with the way I felt tonight.”
FENWAY TAKES SOME GETTING USED TO
The good news for Mike Cameron came with one out in the fifth, when he darted in to make a sliding catch of Swisher's sinking liner withe the potential tying run at second base.
But, as usually slick-fielding Cameron learned, Fenway giveth and Fenway taketh away.
Just as Jacoby Ellsbury discovered how the ins and out of playing left field on the Sox' home field can present some difficulty, Cameron was presented with the reality that comes with manning center at Fenway, Wednesday night.
With the Red Sox leading by a run, and one out in the seventh, Cameron raced back on Posada's deep fly to center off of reliever Scott Schoeneweis, pulling up and facing the wall in anticipation of a ricochet high off the center field barrier. But what he witnessed was the ball hitting just about where the ground meets the structure, allowing what would be the game-tying run to reach.
"WIth the ball Posada hit, I just have to remember to be aggressive," Cameron said. "You can't concede and just go and play it. I thought it was farther than it was. For me it's more about staying aggressive."
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