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Did somebody say the Arizona Diamondbacks were no good? Travis sees plenty of hope in them as they squeak one out over the champs.
Only two notes before getting to today’s game. First, boxing picked up another fight of the year candidate this weekend, and, though I’m still going with Marquez-Vazquez 3 as the favourite, check out the Amir Khan/Michael Gomez fight here and here. It was my first look at Khan, too, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Also, I put up the latest edition of my Awards Ballot earlier. It can be found by scrolling down on the Travis Time main page or by clicking here.
39-37 Diamondbacks (Dan Haren, 7-4, 3.26) @ 47-31 Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 7-4, 3.87)
Watching this one was more or less a no-brainer. There were only five games on the schedule, and only this and Seattle/Mets had watchable pitching matchups. Of course, I missed a King Felix grand slam in that game, but I’ll take the two teams that actually are division leaders over the two teams that should be.
Of course, coming into this one, Arizona had not exactly been playing the best baseball lately. The only reason they were up 3.5 games on their best divisional competition is because the LA Dodgers are not coming off as real competition. It feels like a foregone conclusion that, no matter how good or bad they actually are, the Diamondbacks are going to make the playoffs based on the fact that they started the season well while the rest of their division did not. So, even with Dan Haren and Josh Beckett facing off in a wonderfully even pitching matchup this evening, Boston was surely the favourite. They’re battling for a division lead with a legitimate Tampa Bay club, a Yankees team that’s never quite out of it, and a surprising group from Baltimore. No matter who they’re up against, they’ll be around in October as well. So we’ll be treating it this way: Two teams that have practically clinched their playoff spots already with two ace-caliber pitchers facing off.
What most amazes me about today’s matchup: Beckett’s on a week rest. Just because. He’s not hurt, but the Boston front office loves being extremely careful with their pitchers, and Beckett on a seven-day break seems to be part of that.
As for the game? It was the pitching duel that we all wanted. Beckett looked more dominant than Haren, winning the strikeout battle 8-5, but Arizona, which had sparingly gotten hits off of Beckett through the first six innings, came through first, as Chris Young doubled off of the Green Monster to score Conor Jackson and make it 1-0. Boston’s insurance run came off as more a stroke of luck than anything. With Sean Casey dropping his appeal and serving the first of a three-game suspension for his involvement in that fantastic Red Sox-Rays brawl a couple weeks ago, and with David Ortiz still on the DL, Kevin Youkilis entered the game as Boston’s only capable guy in the three-spot. Unfortunately, in the top of the 5 th, a warm-up throw bounced and pegged Youkilis in the eye, necessitating his being pulled from the game. That brought up the necessity of bringing in Brandon Moss to play the position, something he’d done in the minors, but something that Terry Francona was apparently hoping to avoid doing at this point in Moss’ Major League career. In the top of the 7 th, it became evident why, as Moss booted a Chris Snyder grounder that could have made an out at the plate, but instead necessitated Moss hustling to tag Snyder, putting Boston down 2-0. It doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but when you end up losing 2-1, it’s a gamebreaker. Boston put up a fight against Haren in the bottom of the 7 th, which he escaped, and against Tony Pena in the 8 th, which resulted in one run, but were completely stymied by Brandon Lyon in the 9 th, and Arizona looked excellent in a 2-1 win.
This is why I love pitching duels. Every run absolutely counts in that scenario, and as long as each team gets their opportunities with runners on, which both certainly did, there’s always excitement in the mix. Beckett and Haren delivered today, and both teams certainly looked worthy of playoff inclusion.
The other brilliant part of this game? Four highlight reel defensive plays. Mike Lowell got it going in the top of the 3 rd, diving to rob a sharp Snyder line drive. In the bottom of the inning, Haren replied by sprawling out to catch a popped-up Coco Crisp bunt, and nearly doubled up Jason Varitek at second for his troubles. One of my favourites, Orlando “O-Dog” Hudson made his submission in the bottom of the 5 th with one of his routine “run-the-other-way-leap-and-throw” plays off of a grounder up the middle. Last but not least came Reynolds, who capped off a fantastic grind-it-out at-bat by Manny Ramirez to get down just as Lowell did, ending the major Boston threat in the 8 th.
I finally had the pleasure today to watch Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy do a NESN broadcast this season. Though there were way too many product tie-ins for my liking, and the annoying trend of fans shouting out the announcers via sign, those two work brilliantly together. They’re definitely one of the best combos in the majors. Some pure luck lead to their fun, as the first pitch of the game was fouled up into the booth, off of Orsillo’s thumb, and into Remy’s right hand. Not only could they have a laugh about it and show the replay, but Remy even tied in a sponsor who advertises for offering medical assistance at Fenway Park, asking them to come upstairs and check Orsillo’s thumb. Even outside of that, the two do a great job of covering both Red Sox news and news throughout the world of baseball. This includes utilizing sideline reporter Heidi Watney to detail the fatigue that’s hit the Boston bullpen, giving updates on how Curt Schilling’s season-ending surgery went earlier that day. Also, you’ve gotta love when they work in random fireworks spottings and a highlight of Randy Johnson beaning a dove in spring training seven years ago, when they probably could have waited two days later (when Johnson actually starts) to show it. Still, I wouldn’t mind if they showed it again on Thursday.
The only real low point of the telecast was Watney’s interview with Michael Chiklis, where it was incredibly tough to determine how big of a fan he actually was, as he vaguely answered the question of his fondest Fenway memory with “Beating the Yankees in 2004”. He very well could have meant games four and five of that ALCS, but if he meant clinching the series, that definitely did not occur at Fenway.
All in all, great game, both teams definitely come off highly. The Verdicts:
The Red Sox verdict: In three looks at them this year, they’ve lost all three times. I know that this team isn’t bad, and I can’t claim to even see any evidence of that, as all three looks that I’ve had of them have all been close games. Today, it just came down to them facing a good pitcher who seemingly knew how to pitch to them. They’ll probably run away with the AL East soon, anyway.
The Diamondbacks verdict: From what I’d been reading on this team, they’d fallen back to earth, and were only getting by through their weak division. Today, they certainly beat something better than a NL West club. When they finally got a threat against Beckett, they capitalized and it was enough to win. Their lineup’s deep, and they’ve got a solid rotation, so they’re undoubtedly a still a threat in the National League. I don’t even mind them, as long as I’m watching them through an objective viewpoint.
June teams left to watch
Chicago White Sox
All of Travis MacKenzie’s work can be found on his site, Travis Time. He also covers sports for the Brock Press. Any questions or comments directed towards Travis can be placed in comments on Travis Time, on any of his Armchair GM posts, or e-mailed to TravisTime@gmail.com