Bobby Valentine’s comments about Kevin Youkilis’ level of effort sent Boston’s media into a feeding frenzy before the team’s early 11:05 game against the Rays. Dustin Pedroia provided the money quote, telling reporters “I don’t really understand what Bobby’s trying to do, but that’s not the way we go about our stuff around here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon,” and saying that Valentine’s tactics might work “Maybe in Japan or something, but over here in the US we’re on a three-game winning streak and we want to feel good and keep it rolling.”
I believe Valentine’s comments were blown out of proportion by a media contingent who smelled blood in the water. However, I think the situation’s similar to the Ozzie Guillen hullabaloo in Miami, as Valentine and Guillen were brought in with some very specific primary aims in mind, and quickly done their best to make the problems worse. Valentine’s job is for the Red Sox clubhouse to stay off of the front page, after players’ locker room demeanor was (rightly or wrongly) determined to be a core cause of the team’s September collapse. Similarly, Ozzie was a large part of Miami’s plan to connect with and market to the massive Hispanic fanbase in Miami, including the city’s Cuban population. Guillen alienated these potential fans with his comments on Fidel Castro’s reign, and Valentine wasted little time in once again creating rifts in the clubhouse and airing the team’s dirty laundry. With all that, it’s easy to forget that the two teams did actually play a meaningful game.
Shields was dominant and efficient, using 115 pitches to get through the first out of the ninth inning before Joe Maddon inserted closer Fernando Rodney to finish the job. Shields struck out five batters and allowed only two walks and four singles. In a way, Daniel Bard was the hard-luck loser, as he went six and two-thirds and allowed only one run. However, in a way, he was also lucky to finish with that line, as he walked seven batters and allowed four hits, while also striking out seven. Bard’s electric stuff has transitioned to his starting role, but is certain to be exposed all the more in the new role if his control continues to desert him. Tampa’s only run came in the seventh. Bard started out the inning by inducing a Jeff Keppinger groundout and then punching out Jose Molina. However, a Sean Rodriguez walk, Desmond Jennings single, and four-pitch walk to Carlos Pena would load the bases with two down. Bard would fail to throw a strike to Evan Longoria, walking the Rays third baseman to chase home the only run of the game, before being relieved by Justin Thomas. Jennings’ 2 for 4, BB line, including a double, made him the biggest offensive producer in a pitching-heavy game.
Minnesota Twins – 7
New York Yankees – 3
The Twins ailing stars, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, gave Twins fans hope by combining to go 5 for 9, including a homer from Morneau and two doubles from Mauer. Carl Pavano recovered from a two-run first to pitch seven innings with only one additional run, giving up seven hits and a walk while fanning six. Freddy Garcia didn’t recover as well from a three-run first frame, as he gave up two more runs in the fifth before exiting the game to take the loss.
Baltimore Orioles – 10
If it weren’t a game between what looks like two of the worst teams in baseball, this probably would have been the game of the night. Chicago rode an impressive night from Phil Humber, who pitched 5.1 innings but allowed only one run, to a seventh-inning 4-1 lead. A Matt Wieters solo bomb in the eighth allowed Baltimore to creep closer, and two more home runs from Nolan Reimold and Adam Jones sent the game to an extra frame, where the Orioles quickly dispensed with any notions of a marathon game by plating six in the tenth. A series of hits and an error gave the Orioles the 6-4 advantage and loaded the bases before Chicago could record an out. After getting two outs and looking like he could potentially preserve the pressure on the Orioles bullpen, Zach Stewart allowed Wieters his second homer of the game, a grand slam that gave this game its final line. A.J. Pierzynski went 3 for 3 with a homer, a double, and a walk in a strong day for the losing side.
Detroit Tigers – 3
Kansas City Royals – 2
Justin Verlander went 131 pitches but finished the job against the Royals. Verlander was afforded a lead before he stepped foot on the mound by an Austin Jackson leadoff home run, but quickly gave that lead up by allowing an Alex Gordon double, followed by a sacrifice, a walk, and a Billy Butler single that plated Gordon and put runners at first and second with only one down. Verlander worked out of the jam by punching out Jeff Francoeur and Mike Moustakas, starting a streak in which he retired 11 consecutive batters, including six strikeouts. Verlander allowed a leadoff single in the ninth to Billy Butler, and while two consecutive groundouts moved pinch-runner Jason Bourgeois to second and then third, they didn’t actually get Kansas City any closer to tying the game up. Humberto Quintero singled to score Bourgeois, before Verlander gave up a walk and hit Alcides Escobar to load the bases. To Jim Leyland’s credit, however, he rode his ace even with his rising pitch count and with Jose Valverde in the pen. We’ll see whether decisions like this come back to haunt the Tigers, as Verlander threw 271 innings last year including the playoffs. He’s shown extraordinary durability, but testing that durability with an 131 pitch start in April seems a little cavalier when you consider how mediocre the Tigers rotation looks if their crown jewel is forced to miss any starts. The only pitcher to throw more than Verlander’s 271 innings in 2011, including the playoffs? Chris Carpenter, who augmented his 237.1 inning regular season workload with 36 playoff innings to top Verlander’s total by just two total innings. Probably not coincidentally, Carpenter’s been sidelined since the start of the year with a nerve problem in his shoulder, and the team still doesn’t even have a timetable as to when he can begin throwing a ball, much less start actually pitching on a rehab assignment.
Los Angeles Angels – 6
Jered Weaver went 6.2 innings, allowing no runs on five hits and a walk against six strikeouts. Weaver’s bullpen did the rest of the work, as Kendry Morales did the heavy lifting for the Angels offense, with a three-run first-inning homer and an RBI double giving him a 3 for 4 day with 4 RBIs. Sabermetric darling Brandon McCarthy (check out his ESPN the Mag cover) dropped to 0-2, allowing five runs on 11 hits while going seven.
Tim Lincecum’s velocity was once again down in a tough first inning, but Lincecum bounced back to retire 15 of the next 19 batters he faced and register six gutty innings in a start that should give some hope to Giants fans panicked over Lincecum’s ugly start to the season, despite his being responsible for all five Phillies runs. Lincecum struck out six and walked only one batter while giving up eight hits, but four of the hits and the walk came in the first inning, so Lincecum’s bounce-back is a positive sign. Lincecum was outdueled by Roy Halladay, who was strong over eight innings. Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and Laynce Nix did the early damage, with Nix’s double plating two runs to cap the scoring for the frame.
Washington Nationals – 6
Houston Astros – 3
Stephen Strasburg moved to 2-0 after giving up two runs in six innings of work. Strasburg was unusually hittable, giving up six to the lowly Astros offense, but did strike out five while walking only one. Stephen Lombardozzi and Ryan Zimmerman each had multi-hit, multi-RBI games and Wilson Ramos added a solo shot to stick Kyle Weiland with his second loss.
New York Mets – 6
Atlanta Braves – 1
Dillon Gee was masterful, allowing only four hits and a single run in seven innings, while striking out five and walking one. The Mets’ offense was led by a three-run bomb from breakout candidate Ike Davis off starter Tommy Hanson and a Jason Bay solo shot in the ninth. Bay also made an excellent play in left to rob a home run. Mets fans would love to see Bay start to provide some returns on his albatross of a contract, and likely won’t be picky about whether he does it with the bat or glove.
San Diego Padres – 7
Colorado Rockies – 1
Cory Luebke continued to prove that, with Mat Latos gone, he’s the ace of San Diego’s staff, giving up a single run in seven innings against a dangerous Rockies offense playing in the comfort of their home ballpark. Chase Headley and Nick Hundley each finished 3 for 5, with Headley doubling three times and Hundley driving him in with a base hit on each occasion. Jeremy Guthrie gave up six runs in seven innings to take the loss.
Pittsburgh Pirates – 1
Pittsburgh’s offense continued to struggle, scoring their 18th run of the year in the first but failing to add on as the Diamondbacks slowly took over this game. Pittsburgh’s last in the league in runs, and the 29th team, Oakland, has 10 more runs than Pittsburgh. The Cardinals lead the league with 57 runs, or more than three times the Pirates’ total. At this rate, the Pirates will score their 57th run sometime around their May 11-13 series against Houston. Joe Saunders was the latest recipient of the Buccos general aversion to hitting the ball, giving up a run on six hits and two walks in seven innings, while striking out five. Erik Bedard needed 97 pitches to finish five innings, but gave up only two runs.
Twitter question of the day: Can the Tigers still make the playoffs if Justin Verlander misses significant time this season? (Let’s say, for the sake of argument, two months or more)
Questions or comments are welcome in 140 characters or less @saberbythebay.