It has not been a pleasant three days of sporting events for Boston sports fans since the Red Sox were gearing up for Game 2 of the ALCS and trying to take a 2-0 lead on the Rays. As is the case so often, things have changed rapidly since early Saturday evening. The Sox lost a 11-inning affair to the Rays in which their hopes were resting on the right shoulder of Mike Timlin. The next night, our beloved Patriots were embarrassed on national TV by a team that didn't have its top receiver playing and whose running back isn't 100 percent. Hope was abound heading into last night's contest as we had our ace going against a guy who could blow up at any moment in Matt Garza. A 10-1 loss later, here we are. Down 2-1 and the momentum from Game 1 has clearly subsided and seems like it was weeks ago.
As we sit here waiting for Game 4, the question no longer is what the Sox need to do. That is the obvious: David Ortiz needs to be David Ortiz while Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Varitek need be factors again. After watching runner after runner stay stranded on base last night the question now is why is this happening?
All of the national pundits are saying that this lineup doesn't have enough firepower to come back from deficits and that this team is clearly missing Mr. Dreadlocks. I don't see lack of firepower as the problem here. The way this offense is run can work, as evidenced in the Angels series. The past two games the Red Sox haven't been "finishing" after doing the little things like putting the lead off man or moving a runner to third with less than two outs. They've had men on base for the most part, they just haven't been able to hit with runners in scoring position. This goes back to the three "black wholes" in the lineup.
I don't think Ortiz is that far off from becoming a force again. His timing is indeed off but baseball really can be a game of confidence. This is ironic because of the way Ortiz jabbed at the Rays after the Game 1 victory but if he can just get a solid, line-drive hit tonight I think it would do wonders for his psyche. David Ortiz is never lacking outward confidence. What I'm wondering is if he's starting to wonder if he's going to get it going for this team in time. Like I said, a hit early on would be huge for him.
As for Ellsbury, his issues are mainly seeded in his mechanics. He is hitting the ball in the air and not putting pressure on the defense, that we know. I think he is trying too hard to drive the ball these days. He is feeling the pressure of a lineup that isn't hitting homeruns (save for the three homer inning in Game 2). Dave Magidan needs to go back to the basics with him and straighten out his now-uppercut swing. It's a very correctable problem and hopefully the adjustments are made.
Going into the series I was aware the 25 homerun-hitting Varitek wouldn't be making an appearance but he is no longer putting up competitive at bats. If he's not going to hit, the least he can do is make the pitcher work and attempt to grind out an at bat. By the end of the game last night, it was apparent to everyone watching that he was meekly hoping to draw a walk.
If any of these three can get it together, the offense will be fine. We don't need the 3-run homer. We need one-third of our lineup to have solid at bats and to have any sort of success with RISP.
Garza was very impressive last night and I knew he had the potential to be that good. I was hoping he would get rattled by a few runners on base but he calmly and effectively squashed each Red Sox rally. He located his fastball with precision and was able to get his breaking ball over when the Sox hitters least expected it (especially David Ortiz).
I know we all expected John Lester to go Orel Hershiser via '88 on us and dominate the whole post season but things don't always turn out that way. Simply put, Lester didn't have it last night. You could tell even in his 1-2-3 first inning there was something off. His fast ball was moving into the heart of the plate, not in on the hands of batters. B.J. Upton was fooled in his first at bat of the game but definitely wasn't in his second. He ended up with a line of 4 ER in 5 2/3 IP but it could have been even worse than that. These Rays hitters were aggressive and ready to pounce on missed locations.
So now the eyes of the Fenway Faithful will be focusing on the amount of movement the knuckle ball of Time Wakefield has tonight. The fact that tonight's game could turn into a shoot-out is the reason why I said last night's game was of such importance. Let's hope the 10-11 mph wind has that knuckler dancing like Mo Vaughn's favorite Foxy Lady employee.