Touching All the Bases

Nine Innings: Turning Points Aren’t Necessary for Red Sox to Head in Right Direction

Playing nine innings while wondering what Mariano Rivera wrote about the first Yankees second baseman he played with, Billy Martin


1. If specific, non-injury-related turning points during a team’s baseball season actually exist, the reality is that they are confirmed only when the season is complete, all of the information is accumulated, and genuine context and perspective are attainable. And even then, what is perceived as a turning point sometimes is not. The greatest example of this is the Nomar Garciaparra trade in 2004. The Sox lost five of nine games immediately after the trade before going on a tear in mid-July. It was a huge and ultimately essential move, but it did not pay off immediately. Of course, none of this keeps us from searching for such turning points, particularly when your inconsistent team needs one. I’ll concede to wondering if we witnessed two this week. Dustin Pedroia‘s grand slam — finally, a big hit with runners on base — and Clay Buchholz‘s steady performance Friday against the A’s both offered signs that things are about to get better. They may not be turning points — the Sox did still manage a frustrating loss over the weekend — but perhaps they do foreshadow better things to come for this team that somehow is just 1.5 games out of first place after so many fits and starts.


2. In the aftermath of Jon Lester‘s pay-the-man, one-hit, 15-strikeout masterpiece against the A’s Saturday, I was curious where it ranks among the best starts of his Red Sox career. Using Game ScoreBill James‘s measurement that begins with a baseline of 50 points, adds one point for each out, one for a strikeout, subtracts two for a hit allowed, that sort of thing — it checked in as his second-best performance with a GS of 93. What was first? Exactly what you figured was — but it was damn close. . Here are Lester’s top five best starts of his career, per Game Score:
May 19, 2008: Right — the no-hittah. Nine strikeouts, two walks, and 130 pitches against Estaban German and the Royals. Game score: 94
May 3, 2014: Every start of his is going to be a referendum on whether they should or shouldn’t offer him a nine-figure deal. And I’m fine with that, especially if he keeps making his case like this. Game score: 93
May 10, 2013: A complete-game one-hitter with five strikeouts vs. the Blue Jays. Game score: 90
June 6, 2009: Complete-game two-hitter with 11 strikeouts in an 8-1 win over the Rangers. Andruw Jones hit third for the Rangers. Chris Davis hit seventh. Game score: 88
April 28, 2010: Seven innings of one-hit ball with 11 strikeouts in a 2-0 win over the Blue Jays. Game score: 84
3. His performance last October gave Lester the cachet reserved for such past Red Sox aces as Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Luis Tiant — he’s now acknowledged as someone you love having on the mound in the postseason. In 13 career playoff appearances (11 starts), he’s 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 76.2 innings. And his two best playoff performances — again, per game score — were his last two. His 7.2 innings of shutout ball against the Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series earned a 76, and his Game 5 start (one earned run in 7.2 innings) wasn’t far behind at 74. If his agents aren’t well aware of this, they should be.
4. In case you were wondering — and you definitely should have been — Pedro Martinez‘s 17-strikeout, one-hit masterpiece against the Yankees in September 1999 checked in with a 98 Game Score.

His Gerald Williams-drilling one-hitter against the Rays — dammit, John Flaherty — the next season also got a 98, and yes, ranking Pedro’s best starts definitely needs to be a separate post around Cooperstown time next summer.
5. By the way, today marks the 16th anniversary of the single best pitching performance I’ve ever seen, vintage Pedro included. I’ve never seen a pitcher so dominant as Kerry Wood was on May 6, 1998 when he struck out 20 Astros and allowed just a dubious infield single. Check out this montage of all 20 of his third strikes:

The last one, a ferocious breaking ball that foreshadows the arm problems that would plague Wood’s career, was probably the most impressive pitch he threw all day. He could have yelled, “slider, gonna break about three feet” and the batter still wouldn’t have had a chance. Oh, and while we’re at it — it had a Game Score of 105, which I suspect matched his velocity that day. Of his slider.


6. I’m not yet ready to suggest Derek Jeter should pull a Mike Schmidt and retire midseason if this keeps up, or that his Fenway farewell will actually come sometime before that final weekend of the regular season. But 100 at-bats into his 20th full or partial season, he looks like Willie Mays ’73. You know about the defense — he should have changed positions a decade ago, and strangely, there hasn’t been a resurgence with the leather coming off an ankle injury at age 40. It’s his bat that is failing him now — he has a .250/.318/.290 slash line through 25 games. That slugging percentage, if you can call it that, is reason enough to wonder whether he’s finished before he’s done playing. And to suggest his slow start is similar to David Ortiz’s in 2009 — when Ortiz had one homer through the first two months — is to ignore that Papi was seven years younger than Jeter is now and coming off a wrist injury. Talk about whistling through Monument Park.


7. Heard recently that the Red Sox’ internal comparison for Jackie Bradley Jr. is Mark Kotsay. That may seem underwhelming upon initial consideration, especially among those who remember Kotsay as the power-free first baseman during the 2008 postseason. But it’s not. It’s actually a great comp and fairly high praise. Look at Kotsay’s numbers between 2001-04, when he had an OPS above .800 three times, had 17 homers once and 15 in another season while playing outstanding center field defense, and that sounds a lot like what we should expect Bradley to become.
8. One more time for all the old time(r)s: Here’s the director’s cut version of my conversation with Alex Speier and Peter Gammons regarding my 50 Best Red Sox Prospects of the Draft Era project. I have the utmost respect for Alex — he writes so many columns that make me say, “Dang, I wish I’d thought of that” — so it was really cool that he had such kind things to say about the project. As for Gammons, well, talking to him about specific columns he wrote that were so influential on me growing up was a bucket-list-caliber thrill, especially since he agreed with many of my conclusions (such as Jim Rice at No. 1 overall, or that Cecil Cooper and Chico Walker got raw deals) and expounded on them with anecdotes about specific players. My only disappointment with the conversation was that it had to end.
9. As for today’s Completely Random Baseball Card:


Pete Vuckovich? Looks like Clu Haywood with a do-it-yourself haircut to me.

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