Where do you start?
Perhaps the best way to roll through what transpired Saturday at Fenway Park is to simply pilfer the outstanding work of the Red Sox media relations department and relay the wave of tidbits that came from the Sox' 16-11 win over the Yankees.
- The 6-0, fourth-inning deficit is the largest hole the Red Sox have escaped against the Yankees since May 16, 1968, at Fenway Park. In that game the Sox were down 9-3 but came on to win, 11-10.
- The victory extends the Red Sox winning streak to nine games, the team's longest such roll since it claimed 12 in a row from June 16-29, 2006. It is the Sox' most prolific streak ever in April. The streak also is the first time the team has won nine straight at any point in its season after beginning the campaign 2-6.
- The game marked the first time since 1987 that both starters on the Red Sox and Yankees allowed eight runs or more (in this case it was Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett supplying the history).
- The Red Sox have now tied the all-time series with the Yankees at Fenway Park at 446-446 with four ties.
And then there was the massive amount of time it took to accomplish these feats. For the second straight game it took the teams four hours and 21 minutes to complete their get-togethers.
"There's that many pitches thrown and it seems like every one of them is of consequence. It drains you," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, referencing the 386 offerings thrown by Saturday's hurlers. "You saw (Jason Varitek) coming off the field, he was drained. They all were. It's a lot of baseball where you're paying attention because every pitch something seems like it happens. Or if you don't pay attention it will happen."
And, as monumental as the win was, the subject regarding the time of game wasn't lost in the clubhouse jubilation.
"It was slow out there," said Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay. "They say the best way to get ready for a baseball season is to put on your spikes and stand out on your lawn for three hours, but if you play for the Red Sox you should stand out there for four straight hours. As long as you're winning you'll stand out there for six hours."
The more time played, the more things that can be learned. For now, we'll stick to five things ...
THE BEST NO. 7 HITTER EVER?
Did you realize that Mike Lowell didn't have his first RBI last season until May 5?
Saturday (April 25) the Red Sox third baseman notched his 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd. And when he was done, he was not only tops among all American League hitters in RBI, but he had also come away with two of the biggest of the Sox' 13 hits.
The third basemen's signature moment this time around came in the seventh inning, after the Red Sox had fallen behind by a run. WIth one out and Kevin Youkilis at third base, New York manager Joe Girardi decided to intentionally walk Jason Bay to set up a double play and get to Lowell. Four pitches later the Sox' No. 7 hitter was depositing a Jonathan Albaladejo pitch over the left field wall for a lead the home team wouldn't relinquish.
An inning later Lowell found the left field wall for a two-run double, tying his career-high for RBI in a single game. During the Sox' current win streak that has seen the third baseman is hitting .447 (17 for 38) with five doubles, three homers and 18 RBI.
A good day. A great one, in fact. But ...
"I'm going to have to say the birth of my kids might rank a little bit above that," Lowell said. "The way I started it was a little extra satisfying finishing this way. I think especially in a situation where they walk the guy in front of you and you're able to come through, that's extra special."
And as for taking the crown of the best No. 7 hitter of all-time, well, there's still some work to be done for Lowell. While he obviously leads all seven-spot hitters in RBI, there are four teams (St. Louis, Detroit, Toronto, and the Dodgers) that boast better batting averages at the spot.
Still, considering the Red Sox' No. 7 hitters were 10th in the majors last year with a .269 batting average, Lowell's presence is certainly a step in the right direction.
"I'm sure he's one of the best No. 7 hitters in the game, although, like he said, it's probably not one of those trophies you want to put up in your office," Bay said. "It's something where guys are getting on in front of him and he's coming through."
A DAY OF ENCOURAGEMENT
David Ortiz knew it was going to be an out before he even got to first base. And he also realized that another day was going to end without a home run, extending his homerless streak to 20 games, the longest since he has been a member of the Red Sox.
Still, a sense of satisfaction came over the slugger as he jogged down the line and watched his line drive settle into the glove of Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher.
"Oh yeah, definitely," said Ortiz when asked if he felt good about the day's events, which included a double and sacrifice fly a day after striking out four times on Friday. "I'm getting there. I feel like I'm getting to the point where I can pull the ball while also going the other way. Today I didn't get to see pitches to drive. That one ball I hit (for a double) A.J. threw me a 3-1 changeup. He was throwing a lot of breaking balls today. That is what has been getting me in trouble. But it's a step in the right direction."
Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan agrees.
"I think he felt pretty good about almost every at-bat," Magadan said. "When he's hitting the ball in the air to the pull-side, not to left but to right, when he's getting that ball to right he's close to being back to where he should be."
But there was perhaps no single moment that told a bigger tale of improvement than Jason Varitek's swing on a first-pitch, 96 mph fastball from Burnett in the fourth inning with the bases loaded. The result was the catcher's third career grand slam, which brought the Sox within a run after initially falling behind, 6-0.
What made the moment so satisfying for Varitek was that it came from the left side of the plate, and debunked the theory that he could no longer catch up to elite fastballs (especially from that side of the plate).
In case you forgot, let's remind you of some of the numbers thrown out by our stat man, Gary from Chapel Hill, when analyzing Varitek's '08 season:
"In 2008, Varitek batted .119 against 'fireballers' (pitchers who averaged more than one strikeout per inning), the second lowest such average in the majors (min. 60 such PA)."
And then there is the issue with the bases loaded ...
"With the bases loaded, Varitek has just 125 RBI in 192 AB (0.651 RBI/AB), the lowest such RBI/AB average since they began tracking the stat in 1974 (min. 140 career AB with bases loaded)."
But that was then, and this is now.
"How many times did he do that last year?" said Magadan of Varitek turning on the Burnett fastball. "Not only that, but after (Friday) night's game. It's not easy to do."
REST DID NOT DO THE BECKETT GOOD
Coming into Saturday Josh Beckett had experienced good success when working on six or more days rest, as was the case this time around because of his five-game suspension. Thirty times it happened, with Beckett turning in a 2.88 ERA.
This time ... not so much.
It would appear as though the added rest might have translated into a pitcher who felt too strong, starting with a first pitch that registered at 96 mph and continuing with sporadic command of that heat. But Beckett said after his worst outing of the season -- a five-inning, 10-hit, eight-run, eight-run, four-walk performance -- feeling too strong was just part of the problem.
"There was some over-throwing, I think that was in the first inning," Beckett said. "I think I did better with that. I can't pinpoint one thing where I say, 'This was why I was (expletive).' All together it was not good. The only thing good that happened today was that we scored more runs than they did."
As for any worries about his physical condition, Beckett said that was not an issue, a notion that would be supported by the fact Red Sox manager Terry Francona let his pitcher stay out longer than any Red Sox pitcher this year (116 pitches).
The bigger issue is Beckett's continued problems with command, as he is averaging 4.9 walks per nine innings after averaging 1.8 the last two seasons.
"I felt fine," he said. "Mentally, I don't feel very good, but physically fine ... Right now I don't feel good mentally. I gave up eight (expletive) runs in a shade over seven hours and three innings. It was just a frustrating game."
(Of course, it was even more frustrating for Beckett's former teammate, A.J. Burnett.)
BULLPENS MIGHT BE THE DIFFERENCE
The Yankees bullpen is not good right now. Mariano Rivera's set-up man, Brian Bruney, is down with an elbow injury and the rest of the collection of characters -- most of which were put on display Saturday -- don't ooze eighth-inning stuff.
The Yankees' relievers have now allowed the fifth-most hits of any bullpen in the game, while giving up the most home runs (14). Conversely, the Red Sox pen has surrendered just four homers, and the fifth-fewest hits.
After Saturday, the combination of Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen have combined to pitch 22 innings without giving up an earned run. This time the duo walked a fine line, with Delcarmen (he of the 98 mph fastball according to the Fenway radar gun) allowing two earned runs, and Ramirez putting runners on second and third in the eighth before getting Melky Cabrera to ground back to the mound for a huge out.
It was the second time this season Ramirez has pitched on back to back days, having done it 17 times last season with Kansas City with less-than-spectacular results (8 runs in 13 2/3 innings). But it worked out for a bullpen that has been tested for the last two games.
"I feel good because when I was pitching in Kansas City I did it a lot. The pitching coach asked me how I felt and I told him I was ready," Ramirez said. "I just was up (in the strike zone) a little bit on the first two batters so I had to concentrate on getting the ball down."
The lone concern for the Sox might be somewhat of a rut run into by closer Jonathan Papelbon. After walking a pair Saturday, Papelbon has now issued five free passes in 8 1/3 innings after allowing just eight walks all last season. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 1.20 (6 strikeouts), having totaled a 9.63 clip last season.
There is also some concern that hitters are sitting on Papelbon's fastball more and more, despite a slight increase in velocity this season.
"I think there's some familiarity (of opposing hitters) to it," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "I think we're seeing higher velocities out of him. Whether that's hitters going out and looking to attack the fastball ... His command within the strike zone probably isn't as sharp right now as it's been at various times. I don't have an exact answer as to why the strikeout totals haven't been two an inning."
PEDROIA IS HUMAN
Dustin Pedroia, the man who not only can win an American League MVP in his second full season, but can also slay a giant in a Dunkin Donuts commercial, made two very un-Pedroia-like plays Saturday.
The first came on Ortiz' sacrifice fly, as Pedroia also tried to advance but was thrown out easily at second base by Swisher.
"I was inspired by (world champion sprinter) Usain Bolt," Pedroia said of the man who threw out the first pitch before Saturday's game. "I thought I was fast on that one."
As it turned out, Pedroia was too fast on the other miscue, over-running a two-out grounder from Johnny Damon that ultimately went under the second baseman's glove for a two-run error that gave the Yankees a one-run lead in the seventh inning. It was the Gold Glover's first miscue of the season after making six last season.
"He actually got a really good jump on it, but just over-ran it," said Red Sox infield coach TIm Bogar. "It's something you just don't see a whole lot. For him it seems like a routine ground ball when for others it is a tough play."