With surfer-boy looks and sunglasses perched on his head, Kyle Snyder looked, for a second, like a supersized Bronson Arroyo, come back to save a Red Sox pitching staff that recently has succumbed to the disabled list. It was startling, then, when the bright blue Kansas City Royals duffel came into view, slung over Snyder's shoulder. Taking a castoff from the worst franchise in baseball does not often signal positive things for a team in first place in its division.
That seemed to be why, with a swift motion, assistant equipment manager Pookie Jackson snatched the bag from Snyder minutes after he reached his new locker -- the one with the ``Boston Red Sox" tag still not replaced by a ``52 Kyle Snyder" -- and placed it safely out of sight in the giant storage cabinets that ring the clubhouse.
With this move, the Red Sox were hoping merely for a placeholder. But by the end of the fifth inning, the 6-foot-8-inch Snyder -- a former first-round draft choice by the Royals whose career has been stymied by four major arm surgeries -- already had matched his career high in strikeouts with six, five of which had come on his offspeed pitches, on the way to a 6-3 Red Sox win over the Nationals last night in front of 36,252 at Fenway Park.
``He's throwing the ball as well as he has in years," general manager Theo Epstein said of a pitcher who bombed in his sole outing with the Royals this season (2 innings, 9 runs, 5 earned) and didn't fare much better at Triple A Omaha (0-4, 3.88 ERA). ``The scout was optimistic that this could be a sign that he's finally over his injuries, has a chance to reach the great potential he had earlier in his career. Throwing 90, 91 with good sink, locating his fastball well, both sides of the plate, very good changeup, usable curveball."
That would be the ``usable curveball" that struck out Alfonso Soriano swinging three times.
With a fastball that vacillated between 88 and 91 miles per hour and a curveball that hopped between 68 and 71, Snyder allowed three runs in his 67-pitch, five-inning outing that likely will be his last action with the major league club for some time, since the Sox have no need for a fifth starter until July 1, though manager Terry Francona after the game said the team didn't know what it was going to do with Snyder. Of course, the initial need for Snyder was the result of injuries to three starting pitchers -- David Wells, Matt Clement, and Lenny DiNardo -- none of whom has a return date in sight.
Though Snyder left a 91-mile-per-hour fastball over the plate to Jose Vidro for a solo home run in the first, he gave up only single runs in the second (Brian Schneider RBI single) and third innings (Jose Guillen's seventh home run of the year, off the Coke bottle, on another fastball) before taking an early leave.
``Curveball was pretty good," said Snyder, who agreed that he was done at that point in the game, having not pitched for 10 days. ``I really was focused on both my curveball and my changeup. I located my curveball, I'd say, a little better than average today.
``I felt really good, actually, with all of my stuff, fastball coming in at times, got me in a little bit of trouble with the two home runs. But my ability to throw offspeed pitches behind in the count helps me out."
Having thrown those 67 pitches (Francona said he had hoped for about 75-80), Snyder gave way to Jermaine Van Buren, he of the 9.64 ERA, who promptly gave up a double (which should have been a triple) to the triangle in center by Vidro. But after he struck out Guillen looking and walked Daryle Ward, Van Buren induced Ryan Zimmerman to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to keep Snyder's lead intact.
And despite the recent struggles of the bullpen and Jonathan Papelbon not being available in the game, Van Buren, Javier Lopez, Rudy Seanez, and Mike Timlin closed it out without another Nationals run scoring.
``Extremely rewarding," Francona said. ``I think it ends up being great for your ball club, you use everybody."
As for the Red Sox, it was a few runs here and there in support of Snyder, leading to the 4-3 advantage with which he left the hill. Two in the second -- on a double by Jason Varitek, single by Mike Lowell, single by Coco Crisp, and single by Alex Cora -- and two in the fourth -- on an infield single by Crisp, a double by Gabe Kapler, a sacrifice bunt by Cora, and an RBI groundout by Kevin Youkilis -- provided just enough to give Snyder his third career win, before Boston added insurance runs in the seventh and eighth, including the 453d career home run for Manny Ramírez.
And so it was that in most surprising fashion, the Red Sox gained another game on the Yankees in the American League East. Anyone who heard Snyder talking to Varitek before the game -- ``so I've got a curveball" -- might not have been quite confident enough to predict a more-than-acceptable five innings followed by a near-flawless performance from the bullpen.
Designated for assignment last Tuesday, Snyder was pitching for the first time in 10 games, certainly in a place he never would have expected. After he got the news from Kansas City, he was off to see his girlfriend in Miami, before a call came from Epstein Friday. He had been fielding free agent offers, expecting to have no one claim him off waivers.
``I started shaking a little bit," Snyder said. ``It wasn't what I anticipated, obviously. But, under the circumstances, it was one of the best feelings I've ever had.
``Words can't really explain it. It's been a roller coaster of emotions. I can't say enough about the opportunity that I've been given. Where it goes from here, we'll see."