One game, I understand. But if you want to go through the checklist of things the Red Sox were trying to improve on from last year to this, cross off actually hitting against a good pitcher (at least for, again, one game).
This moment in time came in the form of the Red Sox' 8-3 win over the Royals Saturday night in Kansas City, and, more importantly, a victory over last season's American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke.
It was the second time this season that the Sox have beaten a top tier pitcher, the first coming when they waited out CC Sabathia on Opening Night and then this one, vs. Greinke.
As our man Lou Merloni pointed out in a blog post in Feb. the Sox struggled against the the likes of Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, John Lackey, Matt Garza, and Greinke last season, allowing the group a combined ERA of 2.42 in 10 decisions.
Our other man, Alex Speier, also offered this: In 2009 the Sox faced 20 of the 42 pitchers who had a sub-4.00 ERA in 162 or more innings. That group (in 36 starts) went 15-10 with a 2.72 ERA.
But last night (as well as Sunday) painted a slightly different picture.
Unlike against Sabathia, early on the Sox didn't use patience as their chief weapon, averaging just 3.65 pitches per plate appearance (after finishing the Yankees series averaging 3.97 per plate appearance). Their first tactic came in the form making the most of opportunity.
While the initial damage was done against Greinke thanks to a fifth inning solo homer, it was Jason Varitek who clearly opened the door with the second half of the Sox' back-to-back blasts. The catcher, who boasted the second-lowest batting average against starters with ERA's under 3.85 (.107 BA), jumped all over a first-pitch curveball for the first of his two homers on the night.
Then, in the seventh (Greinke's last inning), the Red Sox drew 15 pitches in their last four at-bats against the starter, driving the pitch count to 108 and driving the ace from the game. And it was all kicked off by Varitek's leadoff at-bat, in which he saw eight pitches before flying out.
That, of course, paved the way for an appearance by the Royals relievers, and, subsequently, four runs in the final two innings for the Sox.
Here are four more things we soaked in Saturday night:
ALL IS RIGHT IN THE WORLD FOR BECKETT
He is the new owner of a four-year, $68 million contract extension, he is newly engaged, and now Beckett has his mound mojo back after missing it for his first game of the season.
Oh yeah, and he also managed to miss a potential catastrophic moment by just a few inches.
Looking back at the night in Kansas City most will remember it as the game Beckett managed to display the stuff that led the Red Sox to committing toward him for the next four seasons. Through the first six innings the righty had allowed just one, first-inning run while only tossing 73 pitches.
In the seventh he did run into some trouble, allowing two more runs while tossing 32 pitches in the frame, finishing his line for the night: 7 IP, 9H, 4K, BB, 3R. He also induced just five swings and misses, but did keep the ball down with 12 of his 16 outs coming on the ground.
Beckett got big outs in big situations, such as when he induced a weak pop-up back to the mound off the bat of Rick Ankiel for the pitcher's final out of the night. It stranded the potential game-tying run, while allowing the Red Sox to finally breathe easy against a hitter who had notched hits in seven of his previous eight at-bats.
But there was no bigger moment than when a line-drive off the bat of David DeJesus found the back of Beckett's head, slightly changing course before settling int he Red Sox' outfield. The Sox starter merely flinched at the moment of impact, never welcomed a visit from the team's training staff, and simply went about his business.
The realty was that one or two inches toward the mound and that liner potentially alters Beckett's career.
"I was thinking about how may runs they were going to score," he later said when asked what went through his mind at the time. "It didn't hit me that hard."
With the line-drive proving a non-factor, what Beckett could focus on was the kind of execution that went missing on Opening Night. A good example of how things had changed compared to last Sunday evening against the Yankees came in the Royals' first at-bat when the Sox' hurler whipped off two good curveballs against DeJesus, the second setting down the leadoff man on strikes. For the most part, the command of the secondary stuff was back, and so was Beckett's dominance.
"It goes to show if you make pitches, you get outs," Beckett told reporters after improving to 6-0 for his career against the Royals.
WHAT NOW FOR LOWELL?
Mike Lowell has at very least delivered himself something that has eluded the 36-year-old for much of the last few years -- a bit of certainty when heading into the future.
Lowell both texted WEEI.com and told reporters in Kansas City that he would "probably" retire after the 2010 season.
One revelation within the revelation was that this move was actually on his radar dating back to when he signed his current three-year contract with the Red Sox, saying that one of the reasons he turned down Philadelphia's four-year offer was because he wasn't sure (hip injury or no hip injury) that he wanted to play beyond the third year.
But now a new question surfaces: How will this decision affect the rest of what figures to be Lowell's final season?
The infielder certainly made a case for his worth in the here of the now, getting the start at third base Saturday night, making all the plays including a diving stop to his right off a Yuniesky Betancourt smash down the line. He also managed a single against Greinke for his first hit of the season.
"It was nice to see him get extended like that, leave his feet. He looked good," Red Sox manager Terry Francona told reporters after the game. "I don't know that he moves like he's 22 years old, but playing third he can drop that bak step and slow a ground ball down as good as anybody."
The performance undeniably raised his stock at least a bit in the eyes of teams who were at least keeping Lowell on their radar heading toward the roster-adjusting month of May. But the question now is will Lowell's decision not to play after '10 season affect any potential trade? The answer is probably not that much.
There is the issue of a team not having the chance to secure a draft pick with Lowell not signing with another team (it isn't likely he would gain Type A status -- yielding two picks -- since the evaluation is a two-year process). But that pick might be in question anyway due to a team's potential reluctance to offer Lowell arbitration with his current $12 million a year price tag.
What will be prioritized is his play in the short-term. And while the part-time situation Lowell finds himself in doesn't lend itself to gaudy production, games like Saturday night offer a step in the right direction in terms of both sides finding a solution to the logjam.
One scout in spring training said a true evaluation couldn't be made until Lowell proved he could still play third base. Judging by his first start of the season, it appears as though he still can. That, however, still isn't going to change his approach toward next year.
"If I hit 30 home runs this year or if I hit three, I don’t think that stance is going to change," Lowell told reporters. "Now whether I want to or not, that’s totally different. I’m pretty confident in what I’ve done and physically what I’m capable of doing. Yeah, you can look at, oh, this is a walk year, the next contract and all that stuff. It doesn’t even enter my mind. If it would, like I said, in the fourth year of my career, I would have been the biggest jerk in spring training and tried to get my way out of here because why not put up numbers when you showed, basically for me, at 65 to 70 percent, I was able to put up respectable numbers. I’d never proclaim that I’m 100 percent right now, but I’m much better than last year. I’ve said that from Day One.”
VARITEK SHOWS HIS WORTH
Nobody is going to suggest that Varitek -- even if he was playing every day -- was going to continue to occupy his current perch as the the Red Sox leader in home runs. The reality is that Varitek got a chance to play Saturday night in large part because Beckett was pitching, he was able to take advantage of two off-speed pitches and offer a reminder that there is still some punch in his at-bat thanks to a pair of home runs. If Greinke reared back and fed a left-handed hitting Varitek a diet of 95 mph fastballs would the results been the same? Probably not. But he didn't, and the captain did his thing. (In 30 games at Kauffman Stadium, Varitek now has nine home runs.)
After everything that Varitek has gone endured this spring, having to deal with the illness of his father, Joe, along with a dramatic role change, this was as much of a feel-good story as the Red Sox could find this early in the season.
The likelihood is that Varitek will still be used based more on the opposing pitcher than whatever Red Sox hurler is sent to the mound. In the last three seasons he is a .218 hitter against right-handers compared to the .259 clip he has against lefties. (Although his home run total during that span is 28 to 16 in favor of hitting from the left-side.) But with Beckett's performance, along with Varitek's small sample size of production hitting from the left side, a more defined role based on the Opening Day starter's turn is something to keep an eye on.
"I'm a work in progress, myself," Varitek told reporters. "Everyone in that role is trying to figure out how much cardio you do -- how much you do this, and work out and stay fresh -- we're all in new areas and we're trying to lean on our coaching staff to help us out. I was just anxious to actually get in the game, that's all I know. I was just very anxious to get into the game."
DAISUKE TAKES ANOTHER STEP FORWARD
And down in Pawtucket ...
Daisuke Matsuzaka took a step in the right direction. Where that direction leads to is, in the short term, an appearance in Buffalo Thursday, and the long term ... to be determined. (While you're waiting check out the Five Things We Learned from Daisuke's day with the PawSox.)