If you were in the "which game is going to be the most interesting?" pool when looking at a night in Boston sports that included the Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins, it wouldn't have been wise to pick the one over at Fenway Park.
On the surface, it wasn't that intriguing. The Red Sox, dragging home after their 10-day road trip, play dead-@#!, dropped a 9-2 decision to the Cleveland Indians to snap the Sox' nine-game home winning streak.
There was no playoff intensity, no overtimes, no Eddie House highlights. Nope, nothing like that. Instead it was simply old friend Carl Pavano breaking out his bionic arm to show the Sox he can still make it to 103 pitches (which he hadn't done in almost four years), and a quartet of Cleveland hitters making Red Sox starter Justin Masterson's life a bit more miserable than usual.
But something telling came out of the Sox' debacle. We learned, after sifting through all the debate and concern revolving around David Ortiz' homerless streak, what might be the two most important elements in this Red Sox lineup.
Let's give you a hint: Neither one was playing Wednesday night.
Jacoby Ellsbury sets them up and Kevin Youkilis knocks them down. That's it. Sure, others contribute in major ways, but when those two are on -- which was difficult in this case because of Ellsbury's ailing hamstring and the sore left side of Youkilis -- it becomes a different dynamic.
The Red Sox' leadoff spot, where Ellsbury usually resides and was occupied by J.D. Drew on this occasion, is just 10th in the majors in runs, and 20th in on-base percentage, but it is tops in stolen bases. None of that, however, paints the picture of Ellsbury's importance.
Drew kicked off this game with a single -- adding to his .388 career average when leading off a contest -- but even with the outfielder standing at first with nobody out with the pitcher feeling a bit helpless, it's not the same as if Ellsbury was standing in that spot.
And, this time, it was Bay who stood in for Youkilis in the cleanup spot. In this case, the numbers do help tell the tale. As far as the No. 4 position in the lineup goes, the Sox stand at fourth in RBI, fourth in homers, first in on-base percentage, first in slugging percentage and second in batting average.
Bay entered the game positioning the Sox at the top of the majors for highest on-base and slugging percentage for the No. 6 spot, but that's a dynamic that also feeds off of Youkilis' production.
There was a reason the Red Sox found themselves with the third most runs in the big leagues prior to Youklilis' injury, and quite a bit of it had to do with the player helping make most forget about whatever struggles the hitters before and after him were going through.
Wednesday night, the entire dynamic was thrown for a loop, and the offensive output paid because of it.
The Red Sox left seven runners on, went 2 for 6 with runners in scoring position, grounded into three double plays (one of which, by Jeff Bailey, plated the first run of the game), and managed just two extra-base hits.
"Looking at the lineup I think it was a little more, not shocking, but a little more glaring," Bay said. "Once you get out there and you get in the flow of the game you don't really notice it, but I kind of walked up and said J.D. has the day off, and he kind of thought the same thing. But I don't really think that was an excuse or a crutch. We had our opportunities."
Besides the necessity of two players, in between the Celtics and Bruins updates, there were other things to be learned, and here are some of them ...
THE IMPORTANCE OF ORTIZ' HOME RUNS
Here we are, with Ortiz having played in his 28th game and still living life without a single home run. Does it matter? The Red Sox are, after all, one of the top scoring teams in baseball without a long ball from their DH, and it isn't like Ortiz hasn't contributed at all, having knocked in 14 runs (three more than Jason Varitek, the owner of four homers).
If it does matter this was the time when it would, when the carefully constructed lineup is a bit out of sorts due to injuries to a few key run-producers. Ortiz had one hit, a bloop single into left, but this was the kind of night that the team needed so much more from its big guy.
So, that is understood. When key players are out, Ortiz needs to step up with the long ball. OK. But how about the rest of the time?
Our stat man Gary Mabry went into his numbers machine and came out with some interesting stuff in regards to the importance of having a No. 3.
Gary looked at the players, going back to 1974, who had hit out of their lineup's third spot in at least 140 games, and come away with the least impressive power production, both in terms of the number of home runs and slugging plus on-base percentage (OPS).
While Tony Gwynn's four homers in 1989 tops the charts in terms of fewest HRs, a look at the candidates during this decade might offer some greater enlightenment. The fewest since 2000 was Minnesota's Matt Lawton ('00), who hit 12. Carlos Beltran of the '05 Mets had the second-fewest with 15, while Shawn Green ('03 Dodgers) and Bobby Higginson ('01 Tigers) tied for the next spot at 17.
The lowest numbers of homers for a No. 3 hitter this decade on a World Series winner came from the Yankees' Paul O'Neill, whose 19 homers were enough to complement cleanup hitter Bernie Williams' 30.
The fewest for a Red Sox' three-hole hitter this decade? Nomar Garciaparra, who had 28 in 2003 while hitting in front of Manny Ramirez (37 homers that season). There were also a total of six hitters in that lineup in '03 who had at least 25 homers.
As for OPS, Ortiz is trending to a historic low for No. 3 hitters who have filled the spot in at least 140 games. Now, if the Sox DH could climb up from his current level of .669 (putting the Red Sox' No. 3 spot as the fifth-worst in the majors), he could match the player who is currently carrying the worst OPS since '74, the Yankees' Thurman Munson, who came in at .702 in 1978. (And we know how '78 worked out for Munson and his New Yorkers.)
But in terms of this decade, comparisons for the way Ortiz is headed go to Beltran's '05 year (.745), O'Neill's '00 season (.759), and Washington's Ryan Zimmerman's '07 campaign (.788). There was also the ninth-worst OPS among the No. 3 hitters, that of Boston's Carl Yastrzemski (.777) in 1975.
So the moral of the story is that there is hope if Ortiz' power doesn't become prolific once more, it's just that you better have a Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, and Carlton Fisk not taking time off while hitting around you.
ORTIZ' ONE-TIME POTENTIAL REPLACEMENT WAS IN THE VISITORS' CLUBHOUSE
Matt LaPorta remembered his last visit to Fenway Park prior to Wednesday night.
"I think the Red Sox were playing the Indians," he said. "I thought I hit the ball pretty well."
Talk about a coincidence.
LaPorta is now a member of Cleveland, having been recently called up to the majors to help replace the injured Travis Hafner. The 24-year-old, who came to the Indians as the centerpiece of the C.C. Sabathia trade with Milwaukee, is considered in many circles to be one of the best power-hitting prospects in all of baseball.
It has been less than two years since LaPorta was taken by the Brewers with the seventh overall pick in the '07 draft. One year prior to that, however, it was the Red Sox who chose the University of Florida first baseman in the 14th round with the 433rd overall pick.
That was why LaPorta found himself in Fenway that day three years ago, working out in front of the Red Sox' brass in an attempt to show them he was worth what he and his then-advisor, Scott Boras, were asking for. And while he did impress, it wasn't enough to convince the Sox that LaPorta had turned the corner from what had been a lackluster college season in which he had been hampered by a torn oblique muscle.
"I really wanted to sign, but at the same time there was a lot of things I wanted to accomplish at school. It was like, 'OK, which way do I really want to go?' I thought it through and realized I really wanted to go back to college," he remembered. "There was no pressure. Whatever happened was going to happen was going to happen."
It was believed that LaPorta might have been drafted as high as the second round if not for the combination of the oblique injury ("I didn't feel 100 percent until after playing in the Cape (Cod) League that summer") and the asking price of Boras.
"I knew the kind of player I was. I knew I had a down year but I knew I was going to be OK," said LaPorta. "Rounds really don't make a difference when you're dealing with teams like the Red Sox. I gained a lot of maturity through the process."
LaPorta wasn't in the lineup Wednesday night, but has played in three games with Cleveland, notching one hit (a home run) in 10 at-bats.
MASTERSON GOES INTO UNCHARTERED (AND CHARTED) TERRITORY
For the second straight outing, Red Sox starter Justin Masterson saw the big inning come back to haunt him. This time the pivotal frames came in increments of three runs, in both the fifth and seventh innings. It all led to the pitcher's first loss in eight career Fenway Park starts.
While Masterson fell a third of an inning short of matching his career-longest stint, his 112 pitches did mark a new top mark for him. The problem was that too many of the back-end of that pitch total weren't placed quite where the righty had hoped.
"Hopefully," he said at the end of one of his post-game comments, "soon enough my pitches will start listening to me and doing what they're supposed to do."
One thing Masterson wasn't able to do enough of against the Indians is make his pitches miss the bats of left-handed hitters, especially.
The trio of Asdrubal Cabrera, Victor Martintez, and Shin-Soo Choo -- all hitting from the left side -- combined to go 9 for 15 with six runs and six RBI. Lefties are now hitting .314 off Masterson, compared to a .231 for righties, a split that also plagued the hurler to a lesser extent last season.
Another concern for Masterson is how effective hitters have been when facing him for a third time. The pitcher has watched his opponents' batting average go from .229 for both his first and second time through a lineup, to .435 in his third time facing the hitters.
"Really it just goes back to what I was just talking about, and that's hitting your spots and making pitches," he said. "That's what you have to do continually. Really, it comes down to being consistent. And at times the last few games haven't been consistent in an overall sense. So we need to kind of lock that up and start being consistent. That's what major league ballplayers are supposed to do."
One player who is still weeks away from being a major leaguer again, shortstop Jed Lowrie, was back in the Red Sox clubhouse.
Lowrie, was back at Fenway Park after spending the last few weeks in Arizona, where he underwent surgery to remove an ulnar styloid bone in his injured left wrist, reiterating that the doctors told him that a rough estimate as to when he could return to playing would be 6-8 weeks.
But what was interesting was that Lowrie said the fracture in the bone didn’t come in the fielding incident that first led to the pain, last May. Doctors told the shortstop that he had the fracture for years, although neither the player, or his mother, could recall a time during his 25 years that would lead to such an injury.
With the fractured bone already dislodged, what the injury last season actually did was break up the scar tissue that was doing the job of the bone for all these years. As the season progressed the scar tissue became less and less reliable, causing the pain and problems Lowrie experienced in the postseason. The scar tissue built itself up with rest in the offseason, leading to the optimism of spring training.
But as the spring moved along, the same problem occurred, with the scar tissue not able to do the job of the bone, ultimately forcing the surgery. The inch-long bone was removed (since it served no purpose) and the scar tissue continues to be broken up until it is no longer needed.
In short, no bone and no scar tissue is better than a fractured bone and here-today, gone-tomorrow scar tissue.
THOUGHTS OF JOBA STILL LINGERED
A day after Joba Chamberlain hit Jason Bay in the back in the fifth inning of what turned into a Red Sox win over the Yankees, Tuesday night in New York — and a few hours after Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell told Dale and Holley on WEEI that "those things aren’t forgotten" in analyzing Chamberlain’s motives — opinions on the matter could be heard in the Sox’ clubhouse.
First, Josh Beckett, the pitcher on the mound for the Sox following Chamberlain’s pitch, would only say, “Everybody has a job to do and mine is not to delegate blame, or purpose, or intent. Things have a way of working themselves out, that’s the way I look at it. That stuff always has a way of working itself out."
Like Farrell, Jon Lester was a bit more pointed in his remarks.
“It’s one of those deals where I’m all for throwing in, but there comes a point where somebody, whether it be baseball or the opponent, has to step in and say enough is enough,” said the Sox hurler. “Balls have gone over guys' heads and gone up too close. There’s a difference between throwing in and making a point and he definitely tries to make some points. I don’t know if he’s trying to hit him there or not, but he did and it looks bad because J-Bay did hit a home run off of him, along with the history with us and other players. He always comes back and says, 'The ball slipped, I wasn’t trying to hit anybody.' One time you can fool us, two times you can maybe say OK, but it’s gotten old. In baseball it’s one of those deals where you can’t really think there’s a punishment necessary. It’s one of those deals where we might have to police it ourselves a little bit more, I don’t know.”
The Red Sox and Yankees next meet for a three-game series at Fenway Park, starting June 9.
THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS WERE WITH THE REM DAWG
While some, like Terry Francona, knew of Jerry Remy's lung cancer surgery last year -- which led to the pneumonia and infection that has currently sidelined the Red Sox analyst -- most had no idea about what ailed Remy. So when NESN released a statement regarding his situation, which was followed by the Red Dawg's own words in his blog, it sent shock waves throughout Fenway Park.
Remy announced he will be taking a leave of absence while recovering from the infection.
"Everyone loves the RemDawg," said Red Sox second baseman Dusitn Pedroia. "He has that personality that is a little bit different. In between innings you go in there, and (Dennis Eckersley) does a good job but he's not the Rem Dawg. That was a little different the last couple of games. Yeah, we're going to miss him."