Commentary

For the Red Sox, it's not all bad

Updated: April 11, 2011, 8:22 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Ten things to ponder nine games into the Red Sox season:

1. The owner through all of this? Cool Hand John

Owner John W. Henry, who was in the clubhouse briefly after the Boston Red Sox beat the New York Yankees 4-0 Sunday night, said he wasn't overly concerned about the team's season-opening losing streak.

"If this happens in the middle of a season, it's a hiccup," he said. "It's unpleasant. To start the season, it's magnified."

How did it play in the owner's suite?

"When you're not hitting and not pitching, it's what can you do? We know we have a good team, so we don't get -- we get concerned, but we don't live and die as much. Well, Tom [Werner] does, and you know Larry [Lucchino] does. I don't, but they do."

When Dennys Reyes implodes, or Darnell McDonald slips, are you on the phone, saying to Tom, "What did we just see?"

"We've got so much going on, so much business we need to talk about. Speaking of that, I need to ask a question."

End of interview. Henry went to chat with Theo Epstein and Terry Francona in the manager's office.

2. Good riddance to the guy who has been posing as Josh Beckett for the better part of a year

Red Sox fans suspected the No. 19 who showed up Sunday night at the Fens had ridden off into the sunset, never to be seen again, even though the Sox had stuffed an extra $68 million into his saddlebags last April with a four-year contract extension.

But in the spring, catcher Jason Varitek had matched up the man with the missing person on the back of the milk carton. How did Varitek know it was the real Beckett?

"He has his power back," Varitek said.

Indeed he does, based on the magnificent performance Beckett turned in Sunday night against the Yankees, a team that pummeled him last year, scoring 31 runs, the most the Yankees have scored against any pitcher since Early Wynn in 1958.

Even the Bombers came away impressed.

"He was as good as I've seen him, since I can't remember when," said Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who struck out on three pitches in the fourth and rolled out in his other three at-bats.

Beckett shut out the Yankees over eight innings on two hits, a ground-ball single by Eric Chavez in the third and a one-out line single by Robinson Cano in the fourth.

He struck out 10, the 11th 10-K performance of his career and first since July 27, 2009. He set down the last 14 batters he faced.

Beckett allowed only four fair balls to be hit in the air all night -- a lineout by Cano to the track in the second, Cano's single in the fourth, Cano's pop to short in the seventh, and a fly to right by Russell Martin in the eighth, the last batter he faced.

Beckett's fastball touched 95. His curveball had bite, his changeup depth, his cutter great side-to-side action. He worked ahead of hitters all night, throwing 18 of 27 first-pitch strikes, including on nine of the last 12 batters.

He gave an embattled staff exactly what it needed, what a stopper delivers.

"It was huge," Varitek said. "He pitched eight strong, perfect innings.

"He's done a great job of getting his changeup to where it is now, but it still goes off his location when he cuts the ball, four-seams the ball, sink the ball."

3. A new rallying cry

How's this one, from Dustin Pedroia? "We're four games out with 153 to play. Long way away. I'm not very smart, but it looks doable, what do you think? Arizona State education kind of paid off."

4. Don't stop him, he's on a roll

[+] EnlargeDustin Pedroia
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonDustin Pedroia continued to hit just about everything thrown his way, notching his third straight three-hit game.

More from one of ASU's finest: "Everybody knows what type of team we have. The expectation, everyone told us how good we were, then we go to Texas and they punch us right in the mouth. We have to respond to it. The only thing we can do is go out and play."

Oh, we probably should mention that Pedroia had three more hits Sunday, giving him three in each of the three games against the Bombers, and he made what Varitek called the biggest play of the game, turning a tough double play on the Yankees' fastest runner, Brett Gardner, to end a New York uprising in the third.

5. Glass half-empty: Sox left 16 men on base. Glass half full: Sox scored four more runs than New York

For much of the night, Sunday's lack of clutch hitting bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the day before, when the Sox managed one hit in 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Through six innings, the count stood at 1-for-8 with RISP, and the Sox had left a dozen men on base against CC Sabathia. They also had a run taken off the board when Kevin Youkilis was called out for runner's interference when he slid straight at Derek Jeter and made no discernible effort to reach second base, according to umpire Mark Wegner.

But then Marco Scutaro cracked a two-run double with the bases loaded in the seventh off reliever Joba Chamberlain.

Scutaro hits ninth in the Sox order. He was the only player in the Sox starting lineup, including pitcher Josh Beckett, who has not been on an All-Star team. But with the bases loaded, he becomes a man possessed. He is now hitting .337 (28-for-83) with the sacks full, .563 since joining the Red Sox (9-for-16).

6. Return of the personal catcher?

Nothing will irk Varitek more than to hear the suggestion that Beckett is a better pitcher when he, rather than Jarrod Saltalamacchia, is behind the plate. It drove Varitek nuts last season when people said the same thing about Daisuke Matsuzaka, when he wasn't clicking with Victor Martinez. Francona has said he doesn't want to assign a pitcher a specific catcher. But coming off Sunday's performance, there's a better chance you'll see David Ortiz batting right-handed than Salty behind the dish for Beckett's next scheduled start.

7. Lineup roulette

Nine games, eight different batting orders. Sunday night's variation had Mike Cameron in center field, batting sixth, and Jacoby Ellsbury sitting against Sabathia (1-for-13, 6 Ks). There's more tinkering ahead, no doubt, although a dozen hits Sunday raised the team batting average to .231, just five percentage points behind the Bombers.

The Sox appear to have dodged a bullet after Adrian Gonzalez was hit in the left knuckles by Sabathia. His left pinkie was swollen, but no X-rays were taken and Gonzalez said he's OK.

8. C.C. Rider?

Carl Crawford was 0-for-5 Sunday, and went 1-for-15 against the Yankees. All 15 at-bats came in the leadoff spot, where he never liked to hit when he was with Tampa Bay. The good: He hit three balls hard Sunday and had a hit taken away from him by a Mark Teixeira diving stop. The bad: He's now batting .132, and will get double scrutiny the next few days, as the Rays (his old team) are in for three. Maybe seeing some familiar faces will help. At least no one will be drawing any comparisons to Manny.

9. Issues? The Yanks have a few, too

The most worrisome, of course, being Phil Hughes, whose velocity has vanished. Their captain, Jeter, has one extra-base hit in the first nine games. Teixeira, after four early home runs, is back to his April swooning, now hitless in his last 18 at-bats, including 0-for-12 in the series. The DH, Jorge Posada, struck out all three times Sunday and is 0 for his last 17, including 0-for-7 in the series. A-Rod came down with flu-like symptoms and missed Sunday's finale. And they get the red-hot Rangers next weekend.

10. Rays of no hope?

As bad as it has been for the Sox, it could always be worse. Take Tampa Bay. Please.

The Rays, who had to blow up their team in the offseason for financial reasons, are 1-8. They have scored two runs or fewer seven times, one run or fewer five times. Their best player, Evan Longoria, is on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle. Manny Ramirez failed another drug test and bailed on them, his legacy as a Ray one lousy hit in 17 at-bats and another trail of broken promises. They are the only team in baseball whose collective batting average is below the Mendoza Line (.163). And now they come to Boston facing the possibility of a beatdown by the former face of their franchise, Crawford.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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