For one night at the very least, the Red Sox quelled the uprising that had started to percolate among Red Sox fans, who were so quick to succumb to pathetic depths of desperation. Because there's nothing like furthering the disconsolate myth that there is no more gloomy place to live than in New England as a baseball fan.
But Monday's 3-0 win over the should-be-better-than-they-are Tampa Rays came just in time, keeping the Yankees at bay and making a winner out of Tim Wakefield, who even with 14 wins to his credit in '07 remarkably still needs to quiet down a good amount of the public who want him banished to the bullpen.
Which might also hint to the one-time true description of Sox fans as the most knowledgeable fans in the game, but we digress.
For tonight is all about Jon Lester's return to Fenway Park, where he will pitch for the first time since being diagnosed with cancer late last summer. In what does indeed promise to be a special evening -- Jimmy Fund Telethon weekend upcoming coincidentally -- there will be an extra je ne sais quoi around the old ballyard, as Red Sox fans welcome the young lefty back from an ordeal that everyone followed closely, from his diagnosis to his rehab to his less than stellar return to the major leagues these last few weeks.
Despite the struggles of Eric Gagne (we're putting an immediate end to the uninspired Eric Gag-me references) and the grumbling of a panicked minority that make Eeyore sound like a public relations spin artist, what's to complain about? The Red Sox have been in first since April, and have the easiest portion of their schedule still to come. Josh Beckett could be on his way to winning the Cy Young award. Dustin Pedroia, Hideki Okajima, and Daisuke Matsuzaka are a trio of favorites for AL Rookie of the Year. There's even a new "Sox Appeal" tomorrow afternoon on NESN.
But Lester's return to Fenway is something for which Sox fans have been waiting for almost 365 days now, and should inject an added buzz into the air this evening. And based on the opposition, Lester and the Sox are going to need every ounce of it.
Devil Rays ace lefty Scott Kazmir goes for his sixth career win against the Red Sox, which might not sound like much, until you inspect just how he has dominated them over the years: A 2.55 ERA, .215 batting average against, 83 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings.
And don't look now, but Kazmir has been even nastier of late against anybody. In a rare duel of 23-year-old lefthanders, Lester will indeed have his work cut out for him against Kazmir, who has been arguably the most dominant pitcher in baseball since the All-Star break. He's 4-1 over that span, beating the Yankees, Angels, Tigers, and Orioles, not exactly the flotsams of the American League. Over 38 2/3 innings, Kazmir has allowed five earned runs (1.15 ERA), three of them in a 3-0 loss to Baltimore on July 24. In all four of his wins since July 13, he's allowed one run or fewer. In the one no-decision, he tossed six shutout innings in a 5-2 win over the Red Sox on July 29.
All this after he was a middling 5-6 with a 4.41 ERA on July 8, following a rare loss to Boston and another to the Royals. According to the Tampa Tribune, his recent run of success has had much to do with simply shifting over to the left side of the pitching rubber, where he has better command of his fastball and slider.
"It feels like I can throw the ball where I want, which is something that a pitcher needs," Kazmir told Carter Gaddis. "Now I feel I can set up hitters and not just try to throw it by them. I feel confident."
Like he needs much against the Red Sox. Even if it might just be now emerging as one of the top pitchers in the game, Boston has regarded him as such for some time. Ask Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, who are a combined 9-for-66 (.136) in their careers against him with 20 strikeouts. For a Red Sox lineup that struggles to find runs on a nightly basis, Kazmir's presence tonight will not be a welcome one.
For all the talk of Ted Lilly being a Red Sox killer, the current Cub actually has a losing record (5-6) against the Sox. Dave Stewart was 17-10 in his career vs. Boston, but with a 5.04 ERA. Kazmir's numbers in comparison are simply dazzling, the most enigmatic hurler any Red Sox team has gone up against in recent history.
It's not even close to the toughest battle Lester has had to endure, but Kazmir still poses quite the challenge in what should be "one of those nights” at Fenway. Even the downtrodden might have to admit that, no?