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Bob Ryan

One bad pitch can’t spoil a solid outing by Miller

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / June 21, 2011

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Ho-hum. Another night, another big inning. Sunday it was six in the first. Last night it was 10 in the seventh. You want to hear something really, really funny? Some people around here were actually worried when they started the season 2-10.

Since that little tease, the Boston Red Sox are 42-18 and look very much like the team they were supposed to be. If a baseball season really is a marathon, as we’re so often told, those first 12 games didn’t get them very far away from Hopkinton.

And they still have a ways to get to the Newton Hills.

Enough marathon talk.

Baseball is the issue, and long before the altogether bizarre 10-run seventh — consecutive batters being hit by a pitch to drive in a run? — the Red Sox had a very interesting outing from a much-discussed lefthanded pitcher. This was way before the 10-run inning in which only five hits were needed to produce those runs. There really were two distinct phases of this 14-5 interleague victory over the San Diego Padres. This was a 3-3 ballgame entering the seventh.

And so . . .

“I left it out there for him, and he made me pay.’’

The “I’’ is 26-year-old lefthander Andrew Miller. The “he’’ is 33-year-old San Diego second baseman Orlando Hudson. And the “it’’ was a sixth-inning, first-pitch fastball that did not reach its desired location on the inner half of the plate and which the alert veteran turned on in a positively savage manner and drilled a shot that reached the third row of the Monster Seats in approximately 1 1/2 seconds. That two men were on base at the time made the pitching gaffe even worse. With one swing Hudson had equaled single runs the Red Sox had scored in the first, fourth, and fifth innings.

That’s why it was 3-3 entering the seventh.

One pitch can undo a lot of good in this game, but renders the first six innings a footnote for the fans. But for the manager, the first five innings were a ray of sunshine. Starting pitching is becoming something of an issue on this team. The latest news is that Josh Beckett is sick and will miss a start. So manager Terry Francona can use all the starters he can find, whether they’re 44 years old (Tim Wakefield), a talented, but risky pickup with a history of arm trouble (Alfredo Aceves), or, in the case of Andrew Miller, a hard-throwing former phenom who, at 26, remains a classic tease.

A failed veteran of the Detroit and Florida organizations, Miller was signed by the Red Sox in the offseason in the hopes they could be the beneficiaries of an unquestioned talent that had somehow produced nothing better than a 15-26 major league record in parts of five seasons. They sent him to Pawtucket and he has done everything they’ve asked, earning a promotion by allowing three runs or fewer in each of his 13 starts, holding foes to a .181 batting average, while being positively menacing to lefties (9 for 74).

Last night was his first start with the Red Sox, and it will not be his last. For five innings he was superb, scattering four hits, striking out five, and responding to a fourth inning leadoff triple by Jesus Guzman by retiring the next three batters on a popup, strikeout, and fly ball.

Things happened quickly in the sixth. Chase Headley singled and Ryan Ludwick walked to open the inning. Miller fanned Guzman, bringing up Hudson, a two-time All-Star for whom this was not exactly the first rodeo. He may not be a big guy, and he may not have had a home run this season, but he has hit as many as 15 in a season, and let’s just say he put a good swing on the ball. “I’d like to think he was guessing fastball,’’ Miller said.

One out later, Anthony Rizzo, the young man who was a key player in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, hit as long a double as you’re going to see in this park, crushing one to the 420 sign. Out came Francona. That was the end of Miller’s evening.

Later, came the reviews.

“His velocity was good, his changeup was good, and he had a good feel for his breaking ball,’’ Francona said. “He left that fastball out over the plate, and it became a 3-3 game. But he did some good things. When that runner reached third, he executed his pitches.’’

While disappointed he couldn’t hold the lead, Miller felt he had shown he belongs back in the Bigs. There was no question this was an audition start, and so, yes, there was pressure.

“To be completely honest?’’ he said. “I was probably thinking about it quite a bit. I knew I was going to start for a while. It wasn’t as if I found out last night. But, fortunately for me I do have some big-league experience, although not in Boston. I wasn’t as anxious or nervous as some other guy who might come in here.’’

If anyone who thought they knew Miller from his previous major league incarnations, they found out something had changed as early as the first two batters, when his pitch sequence to Chris Denorfia and Jason Bartlett included his quality fastball (ranging from 92-96 miles per hour), a good curve, and a changeup.

A what?

“Two years ago I wouldn’t even think of having a changeup,’’ he pointed out. “Now, it’s huge for me. I got a big double play with it. It was huge for me.’’

It simply was not the same old Andrew Miller, not last night, anyway. He made a mistake to an old pro and he paid a stiff price. That’s baseball. But he came away feeling good about himself, and so did his manager.

Until someone tells him otherwise, Andrew Miller is a member of the Boston Red Sox. “Sometimes you’ve got to catch a break,’’ said Francona, “and maybe we did.’’

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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