Playing nine innings while being surprised that Jarrod Saltamacchia's arm didn't shatter like so many doomed Louisville Sluggers to come in contact with Mariano Rivera's cutter through the years . . .
1. I guess five wins against CC Sabathia in one regular season is probably too much for the Red Sox to ask; heck, being 4-0 against him this season entering last night's game seemed on the fringe of greed. Even though he didn't have his best command last night, that was an admirable pitching performance. He hit 95 miles per hour effortlessly, kept the ball down as if his next meal depended on it, and made Adrian Gonzalez look like an imposter in the batter's box. His performance was an impressive mix of ability, savvy and relentlessness, though I still like the Sox' chances against him in the postseason. He does have a 6.39 ERA against them this year, and he was in and out of danger all night; chances are the Sox won't go 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position again. It will be interesting to see where Sabathia ends up historically. While his girth may abbreviate his career, he's smart enough to get by as a Tanana-ish junkballing lefty even after his best stuff fades, and he's the best bet to be baseball's next 300-game winner. He's fourth among active players with 175 victories and he just turned 31 in July. Wakefield is first among active pitchers in wins (and losses), while 34-year-old Roy Halladay is second (185). It may surprise you who is third on the list -- Tim Hudson, who has 178 wins. Old friend Derek Lowe is sixth with 165, which makes you wonder where he might be had he become a full-time starter before his 21-win 2002 season at age 29.
2. John Lackey seems to be winning the begrudging respect of Red Sox fans, at least that segment that can temporarily forget about his salary and respect his knack for pitching six-plus innings and give up three or four runs. (I suspect these same people remember John Burkett's work fondly and are going to be stunned when Tim Wakefield is one-and-done on the Hall of Fame ballot.) But Lackey really could have boosted his popularity last night had he channeled his inner Pedro when asked whether he hit a certain .688-OPSing Yankee showboat catcher on purpose: "Who is Francisco Cervelli?" He's A.J. Pierzynski with a giant helmet and without the talent.
3. Terry Francona has handled the delicate balance betweenWakefield's proud and prolonged pursuit of 200 wins and what's best for the Red Sox with extraordinary grace. Since winning No. 199 -- a 6.1-inning, 7-run grinder July 24 -- Wakefield has made six starts, with one hard-luck loss, two losses he probably deserved, and three no-decisions. Francona has given Wakefield every chance to get the milestone win, but there have also been a couple of occasions where the pitcher looked annoyed to be coming out of a tight game and Tito didn't hesitate to take the ball. Skipping Wakefield's turn in the rotation is one more decision that might have been difficult when the pitcher's personal goals were considered, but really shouldn't be difficult at all when sentiment is removed from the equation. That's not always the easiest thing to do, though, and Francona deserves credit for making the right decisions for the Red Sox -- as usual.
4. Tough to watch Darnell McDonald whiff with the bases loaded and the Sox down three runs in the seventh inning last night. But any howls that the Red Sox need a significant upgrade for a backup righthanded-hitting outfielder probably haven't noticed that McDonald has been dependable in the second half, going .264/.355/.509, with three homers in 62 plate appearances. Now, if he could just get that batting average above .200.
5. He's wearing the years a little more noticeably than the last time we saw him, but it's always cool to see Oil Can Boyd put in an appearance at Fenway. He was, as Peter Abraham reported in his notebook this morning, on the field for batting practice and in the legends' suite last night. But given his have-curveball, will-travel attitude and affinity for pitching, I wouldn't be stunned if he tried to talk Terry Francona into giving him a turn in the rotation. After all, when he was Tim Wakefield's age (45), The Can put up a 3.83 ERA in 17 games for the 2005 Brockton Rox.
6. Isn't it about time Curt Young got some additional kudos for his work during his first season as the Red Sox' pitching coach? John Farrell was a tough act to follow, an open-minded and extraordinarily prepared coach who deserved the opportunity he has in Toronto. And yet the argument can be made that his successor is getting positive results or seeing genuine progress from more pitchers than he ever did. Josh Beckett is pitching as well as he has since -- well, when? The beginning of the 2008 season? Jonathan Papelbon has found his dominant form. Andrew Miller and Franklin Morales are dropping hints that they can live up to their once-vast promise. Matt Albers has struggled lately but the first half of his season is the best he's pitched in his career. The Red Sox have a diverse staff in terms of ability and stuff, and from this perch it sure appears that Young has done a fine job getting the best out of just about everyone.
7. Ultimate Zone Rating is justifiably regarded as a flawed metric, and it's common sense that the results alone should never be considered be-all, end-all in assessing a defensive player. But the data is fun to consider -- Jacoby Ellsbury, good! Curtis Granderson, bad! -- and it can be an element that helps you arrive at a conclusion even if it is not a conclusion in itself. When Brett Gardner ranged to his left and made an outstanding/exasperating catch on a Marco Scutaro liner in the eighth (Bob Ryan described the play as "the baseball equivalent of catching a ball in Saugus that left someone’s bat on Boston Common"), I peaked at his UZR out of curiosity and discovered he's leading all major leaguers in the metric this season. Then again, Nick Swisher, the Yankees right fielder, has the best UZR in the majors at his position, and he often fields the ball like he suspects someone pulled a pin from it before heaving it from a bunker.
8. My colleague Mr. Cafardo would probably file this under Apropos of Nothing, but between Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones, the Yankees have 16 Gold Gloves on their bench. Though both have been useful as role players this season -- particularly Jones, who has 11 homers and an .868 OPS in 164 plate appearances -- there is also an element of "what if" to both of their careers. Jones was on a Cooperstown path before ballooning in his early 30s -- he hit 51 homers just six years ago at age 28. Perhaps this comes as a surprise, but so was Chavez, who, at age 27, had six seasons in which he hit between 26 and 34 homers and all six of his Gold Gloves. He was Ryan Zimmerman before Ryan Zimmerman.
9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:
Pat Rockett. Great baseball name. Not-so-great baseball player, to be kind, as FanGraphs' Dave Cameron noted in a terrific piece yesterday that searched for the answer to this question: Is Adam Dunn having the worst season a proven good player has ever had? (Short answer: Yup. But read the post anyway. It's good stuff.)
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.