Jered Weaver's lapse in poise costly
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox are like that childhood friend who used to talk you into egging the neighbor's house and running. They seem to bring out the worst in Jered Weaver every time they get together, even years later at the class reunion.
The Los Angeles Angels' ace reverted to an old bad habit in the Angels' 9-5 loss at Fenway Park on Monday night, and the Red Sox -- who else? -- kept him from starting faster than any pitcher in modern baseball history ever has.
He let a bad break get under his skin. Wasn't that the old Jered Weaver?
As Weaver has grown into one of the best pitchers in the American League, he has learned to harness his intensity, but Monday it spilled in a few different directions in a dreadfully long fifth inning, particularly toward home-plate umpire Scott Barry.
Weaver -- and most objective people who watched the replay -- thought he had aging catcher Jason Varitek struck out on a pivotal 2-and-2 pitch, but Barry deemed the fastball a tad low. Varitek wound up walking. It seemed like ages before Dustin Pedroia singled up the middle to drive in the tying and go-ahead runs. That's because it was. Pedroia fought Weaver off for 13 pitches, including seven foul balls after he'd gotten two strikes.
Hours later, Weaver was still clenching his jaw when he talked about the umpire's non-call.
"I thought there was one pitch in particular that could have gotten me out of that inning, but it didn't go my way and led to a big inning," Weaver said.
Weaver (6-1) kept insisting that it didn't lead to his brief unraveling, a moment uncharacteristic of his sizzling start to 2011. Had he won Monday, he would have been the first pitcher in the modern era to win seven games on or before May 2. His composure has largely been steely the past two seasons.
"I don't think so," Weaver said. "I still was battling. I'm not going to let that affect me. The next inning went pretty good. No, I don't think it affected me at all. It affected me in being a long inning."
If it didn't affect him, why couldn't he stop dwelling on it? He said "It always seems to some little thing in Boston that doesn't seem to go my way or the team's way." Weaver hasn't won at Fenway since April of 2009. He has a 7.16 ERA at Fenway Park. Oh, by the way, the Angels have lost 14 of their past 15 games against the Red Sox. They seem to get bad vibes before they ever cross Boylston, their best pitcher included.
Last year, Angels starter Ervin Santana said the Angels expect not to get calls when they travel to Boston or New York. Weaver wouldn't go there Monday, saying, "I'm not going to say what you guys want me to." Nor would Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
"There are always going to be calls that don't go your way. We have to play well enough to absorb them," Scioscia said.
But the Red Sox might have found the only way to beat Weaver this year. They did it slowly, methodically and largely passively, during that endless fifth inning. Only two balls were struck hard, but Weaver's pitch count kept going up and up.
The Red Sox fouled off 34 of Weaver's pitches tonight. That's more than his previous two starts combined and is the most off any pitcher in any game this season, according to ESPN's Stats & Information researchers. Weaver got only 14 called strikes from Barry, his fewest this season.
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Weaver's mound presence is a lot like that of his former mentor's, John Lackey. His gestures have been known to rub opposing hitters the wrong way at times. Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, who has been facing Weaver for since 2002 in their college days, said the other day, "It doesn't really bother me, but I know with some guys it might."
Early in Weaver's career, Scioscia and others had multiple meetings with him about putting bad luck or poor pitches behind him and "getting to the next pitch," in Scioscia's words. It was largely about temper management, which certainly looked like an issue Monday.
"He's getting a lot better with that," catcher Jeff Mathis said before the game. "When he was younger, he'd give up a blooper or not get a call from the umpire and he'd let it kind of get to him a little bit."
It had to be frustrating. Weaver painted the bottom of the strike zone and didn't get rewarded. A .128 hitter got a free pass to first base that he might not have deserved. But if you're the best pitcher in the league -- if that's Weaver is these days -- you find a way to move on.
You could just see it in Weaver's body language. After Barry's ball call, he turned his back on the plate and threw back his head. A pitch later, pitching coach Mike Butcher jogged to the mound. Who knows, Pedroia might have sensed it. Hitters can sniff out that kind of thing. Pedroia fouled off an assortment of nasty sliders and changeups, got a 91-mph fastball on the outer half of the plate and lined it up the middle.
After the inning, Weaver walked over to consult with Barry. He wouldn't reveal what the umpire told him. At this point, who cares?
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. Follow him on Twitter.
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