Tuesday, May 7, 2013

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

October 20, 2007. Game 6. Boston. The Boston Red Sox are now down 3-2 in the ALCS to the Cleveland Indians after winning Game 5. The Sox need to win Game 6 to extend their season and capture their second World Series Championship in 4 years.

It is the bottom of the first inning and the first three batters reach base against Fausto Carmona (now known as Roberto Hernandez). Fausto had a dominant 2007 in his first full season as a starter finishing in 4th place in the Cy Young voting. But in the first inning of this game he was already in trouble. The next batter was Manny Ramirez, but Fausto struck him out. He was followed by eventual World Series MVP Mike Lowell, but Fausto got him to fly out weakly enough where the runner on third could not score.

Next up was Boston's favorite whipping boy, J.D. "Nancy" Drew. The majority of Red Sox fans hated Drew because he was paid a lot of money, had a lot of injuries (though over his first 4 years in Boston played more games than the "gritty" Kevin Youkilis), didn't hit for a high average or with a lot of power, took a lot of walks and a lot of strike outs looking, was such a great and effortless defender that it looked like he was dogging it, and basically played completely even keeled so it looked like he didn't care. He never cheated. He never assaulted a woman. He never got a DUI. And yet, he was completely hated. And here he was with a golden opportunity to erase that hatred. As he was known to do, Drew worked a 3-1 count, a true hitter's count. The next pitch he deposited deep into the center field seats for what would become the $14 million grand slam.

This was all I could think about last night when J.D.'s younger brother, Stephen went 4-5 with the game tying home run and the walk-off base hit against the Minnesota Twins. Stephen has spent the majority of his time trying to distinguish himself from his brother. Despite similar plate approaches, quiet demeanors, sharing the same last name, batting from the left side, starting slowly, and wearing the same freaking number, ya, J.D. and Stephen are nothing alike. Regardless, Stephen wanted us all to know he wasn't his brother.

Stephen has had an awful start to his season. He missed the first week suffering post concussion symptoms and almost got Wally Pipped by Jose Iglesias. He then hit .154 with a .517 OPS in April with no home runs and 17 strikeouts. His defense was strong as always, but when you don't hit, fans rarely notice your defensive contributions (or managers for that matter; check out past Gold Glove winners and almost all of them had a great offensive season in the years they won the award). Then on May 1 he hit his first home run and his first multi-hit game. Finally, last night he hit the $9.5 million home run and walk-off.

The other star of the night was Clayton Mortensen, the current long reliever for the Sox. With Clay Buchholz leaving too many pitches in the zone, and short starts in the Texas series from every starting pitcher, the bullpen was taxed. They really only had 5 available pitchers and when the ninth inning rolled around they were down to just 2 with a one run lead. The way last night's game slogged along you just knew Joel Hanrahan was not going to protect this lead.

Just a quick aside. Hanrahan clearly did not have it last night and has not had it for most of the season. This is not entirely different from what he did last year though when he walked 5.4 per nine innings. What bothers me is he seems like a guy who makes excuses. This is now the second time he has come up with an injury after a bad outing despite there being no visual evidence. I hate hate hate it when writers call out athletes for not playing through injuries so I guess I am being a major hypocrite here. But we have all played sports with that guy who is having a bad day and then comes up with a mysterious hamstring injury while running out a ground ball so he can just give up or give himself an excuse. I should not be calling Hanrahan out for this, but I can't help but think of "that guy" when I watch him.

Any way, with Hanrahan leaving the game already giving up the tying run, the last man standing was Mortensen. Morensen is a pretty unremarkable pitcher. He doesn't have great stuff, not even averaging 90 MPH on his fastball. He's tall and gangly and has an odd delivery. He has a career 100 ERA+ (meaning his ERA is exactly average over his career). He was a strong addition to the team last year because he could be sent back and forth from Pawtucket when needed, but he does not have that option this year so I suspect he is only on the team until the rest of the bullpen is healthy. But last night he was the man and gave the Sox a chance to win. He got out of the ninth without further damage and then pitched two more scoreless innings working around 2 walks and a single. Then Stephen Drew did his work and Mortensen picked up the W.

It was an ugly game that lasted almost 5 hours and saw the top of the Red Sox lineup hit into 4 killer double plays. Buch scuffled after a week of cheating rumors. Pedro Ciriaco was thrown out trying to steal third with 2 outs in the 8th. Tuesday's starter Ryan Dempster almost had to come into the game in extra innings. But one of the great things about this team and what separates it from the last two years is its depth. Last night the number 9 hitter and the 12th man in the pen took care of business. Just like Ben Cherington drew (no pun intended) it up.

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