3-3 and headed home. 4/9/07 vs. Texas
All things considered this trip could have been worse. Offensively we aren’t even close to clicking yet we still managed to break even on the road. Jon Papelbon was incredible last night. It’s not what he did as much as it is how he did it and who he did it against. I’d bet that most GM’s in the game would have Michael Young as a guy anyone would love to build a franchise around. I’ve never heard a negative thing about him on or off the field. The guys that coached in Texas, Demarlo, Terry, Donny K, all talk incredibly highly of him as a player and even moreso as a man. He’s a throwback who can flat out hit. Very rarely do you see hitters that good get beaten like that, in that situation. Paps stuff is just that good. Some of the sequences they used to finish off the game were outstanding.
David just crushed both of those balls and were it not for the Gold Glover manning first he’d have had a nice three hit night. His numbers belied how well he hit some balls in KC too. If this were the late May series Manny would likely have had 1, if not 2, home runs as he barreled 2 balls to dead center. We swung the bats good tonight against a guy that’s got some uncomfortable stuff for hitters. Vincente has been on the cusp of being a very consistent good pitcher for a few years now. His sinker is heavy and when he’s on he can beat the crap out of the bottom of the strike zone. He seems to have added a slow hook this year as well. Mixed it in nice in a few different situations.
Once again we jump out in the first, this time on David’s first HR of the year. Manny crushed one right behind him that died in deep center. This ballpark is a pure hitter’s haven when it warms up but it seems as if it plays huge when it’s even slightly cold in Arlington.
I certainly felt better warming up than I did 6 days ago. We worked on some stuff, both physical and mental, over the last 5 days to try and get things moving in the right direction. My number one concern coming out of KC was the absence of fastball command. My other stuff was horrid in KC but none of that really factored in when I couldn’t locate my fastball.
I have seen Kenny Lofton quite extensively in the NL and for the most part the game plan we had going in was one I felt would work if I could execute consistently. Started him off with two fastballs to go 0-2 and tried to get after the last pitch which finished the AB on a swinging third strike.
In 2004, we were getting ready for our first home series and going over the Toronto hitters and I can remember a few guys talking about how Cat hit everything against Boston. It’s turned out to be the case as I’ve watched him do it over the last 3 years, series after series. Coming into tonight he was 10-19 off of me and I would guess he’s hit every pitch I have at least once. I thought the plan we went in with was a good one, right up to the point I left the 2-1 change up on the inner half of the plate. Left handed hitters, guys that don’t hit a lot of home runs, usually have the same hot spot. Leave a pitch inner half soft up, or hard down and they can drop the bat head to it. No idea why right hander’s don’t, but it’s seems to be a natural left handed swing path. I actually thought the pitch was a good one out of my hand. The only hope I had was for it to hook foul, which I knew about a third of the way out it was not going to. 1-1 game 2 hitters in. Michael Young comes up next and hammers an overthrown high fastball to right for another hit. Like all AL lineups, things don’t get any easier from this point on. Texeira comes up next. The first few splits I’ve thrown feel good and I am getting it to stay at the bottom of the zone. His AB ends with a called third strike on a fastball on the outside corner. He may not be the 60 HR a year guy anymore, but the HR Sammy hit the night before makes me believe he’s still got his pop. The ball was not traveling well in this series and he hit one to left center that was pretty well struck. I end up getting him to fly out to left on a split that stayed up a bit more than I’d like, but he got out in front and hit it off the end.
Blalock starts the second inning by chasing one of the better splits I threw in the game for strike three. Good curve ball chase to start the AB. Back to back splits to end it. Wilkerson takes a fastball on the corner for strike one, fouls off a ball away for strike two and then chases a fastball for out number two. Laird takes a first pitch curve that I thought was a strike, for a ball, close pitch but Fielding doesn’t think it caught plate. 1-0 slider for a strike puts us even. I then think I can get a ground ball off a good split but instead leave the ball way too high and he hits it to left for a hard single. Two outs and Kinsler up. I am by no means an expert on good hitters, and what it takes to be a good hitter. I know some fundamental stuff but I think this kid is a real good player. He seems very much like Michael Young to me in that he doesn’t get cheated and he squares up a lot of balls, regardless of velocity, that catch a lot of plate. There can be a lot worse people to be compared to than Michael Young. I also read an interview he did talking about how he prepares to face pitchers and he stated that he doesn’t really study pitchers. I found that pretty interesting given that I know Catalanotto is a serious preparation guy. I always like to know who does and who doesn’t study pitchers. Ian takes a fastball for strike one. I had a few different ideas for the 0-1 pitch and Tek catches me off guard with the call for a curve ball. In KC I was in a ‘see and throw’ mode, meaning I wasn’t doing the things Don Kalkstein and I have worked on to ensure that at the very least I am throwing the pitch with conviction, mentally and physically. I throw what I think is a real good curve and he gets out on his front foot and flies out to end the inning.
Third inning starts off as bad as it can. I can’t locate my fastball and end up walking Kenny to start the inning. We’d just gotten two more on David’s second home run and there can be no worse momentum killer, and giver, than a lead off walk. I thought the 3-2 pitch was strike three. Tek was setup outside for a fastball and I misfired it to what I thought was the inside corner, Fielding thought differently and in the end his opinion is the only one that matters. Frank takes 4 pitches and the count goes 2-2. I misfire and catch too much plate with a fastball but he flies out to left. Huge break there. I end up getting out of the inning by again misfiring another fastball that Michael hits into the left center field gap. I can see Coco as the balls going up and there is no question in my mind he’s catching the ball. I then notice Lofton rounding second and think “Holy crap, we might get two”, which is exactly what happens. Lugo grabs the relay and gets it to Youk to end the inning. We are up 3-1 at this point but the first three I’ve made way harder than I know I should.
Texeira leads off the fourth taking a first pitch back door slider for a ball. We follow that up with another backdoor slider that I somehow manage to throw completely across the plate, down and in, instead of down and away, and he is out and front and pulls it foul. I know I am not keeping my head or my front side ‘in’ as I let go of this pitch, and we get away with it. 1-1 change up that I think was a good one, fouled off and the count goes to 1-2. He lays off a split and then hits the next split pretty hard, into the shift for the first out. Sammy goes to 1-2 and I throw a ‘splider’ (which is what I call my split when it doesn’t drop, but instead cuts hard from right to left. I also have a ‘splinker’, which is the reverse of the ‘splider. If I could master either of them I’d throw them 90 times a game), he tips the ball and Tek hangs on for strike three. Hank chases a good split to start the AB, fouls off a fastball and takes two more fastballs that are both bad pitches to run the count 2-2. He fouls off a good split, and then he does what he does so well. There are hitters in the big leagues who are able to “keep the bat in the zone” longer than others. Hank can do that. I throw him a 2-2 split that is a good one, it dives down and to the outer half but he stays back and drags the barrel through and whacks it sharply to center. Wilkerson fouls off 3 fastballs, takes 2 and hits a 2-2 sinker to shortstop that Julio steps on second to end the inning.
I definitely feel the command is now better, which is huge from a confidence standpoint. Knowing I can throw my fastball to either corner changes everything about my approach and thought process. Funny thing is, or not so funny depending on your vantage point, that it can come and go in a pitch.
3-1 game heading into the fifth and Laird is leading off. This is the first game I’ve ever faced him so the game plan was derived from scouting reports and watching him face other righties from ’06 and early this year. A 7 pitch AB sees me completely missing my location 3-2 and actually getting in on him for a fly ball to right. The big pitch for me was missing so badly 2-2 with a fastball. I throw Kinsler a first pitch slider for a strike. Miss in with a good fastball, get a strike on a fastball away and then hang the crap out of a 1-2 split which I never see. I never see it because I am an idiot. I am trying to throw it so hard I pull off with my head and my front side, but he absolutely crushes the ball and fortunately for us Mike doesn’t break any bones catching the line drive for the second out. Kenny comes up a third time and pops out on a first pitch change up. The exact reason I wanted to start using the change was this. Being able to get guys sitting first pitch fastball to make contact, and outs, on a first pitch change. I can’t explain the huge lift a first pitch out can be to a pitcher. It’s huge in any situation but even bigger when it leads off or ends an inning.
I spoke at length in spring training about ‘pitching to contact’ and I am not sure some people understand what that means. Maybe it means different things to different guys but to me it means getting hitters to hit the ball in counts I used to try for the swing and miss. That’s first pitch and behind in the count breaking balls. For years my ‘breaking ball’ was the split for the most part. The split is a pitch I have never, ever, tried to throw for a strike. It gets swung at because it spends ¾ of the time ‘in’ the strike zone, and when thrown right, is a ball when it reaches the plate. I’ve always thrown a very high percentage of strikes but I would bet that a very large portion of those strikes are balls, made strikes by contact or swings and misses. It goes back to a philosophy I tried hard to learn and pitch by which is this. The key to pitching is being able to throw a ball when they are swinging, and a strike when they are taking. The key to that is being able to know when those two will happen. That’s what made the 3-2 walk to Shealy so wrong in KC. I knew he was taking, I knew I could beat him with a fastball, yet I still forced myself to throw a split, a pitch I know I am not throwing for a strike. You never stop learning, you never stop making mistakes, but I think the key to getting better as you get older is making the same mistakes less.
I’m at 79 pitches after 5. If I want any chance of completing this game I need to get quick outs in the 7th and 8th. That goes right down the crapper as Frank leads off the sixth with a 10 pitch at bat. I guide, overthrow or misfire 3 fastballs to go 3-0. Not sure I can be any more pissed at this point but I need to get it going or I’m going to walk the leadoff hitter, who happens to be hitting in front of the meat of this lineup. We stay almost exclusively with fastballs away and he fouls off five straight. One is a foul pop that I am hoping blows back but doesn’t and ends up just out of reach. He tips one that Tek almost hangs on to. He ends the AB by flying out on a fastball down and in that I was trying to throw away Young takes a slider for strike one and then pops the next pitch up to second for out number two. Mark takes a fastball for strike one, fouls off a good 0-1 curveball and then hits a split into the shift for out number three. Two outs on 5 pitches and I still manage a 15 pitch inning.
Vincente had settled down and thrown up zeroes since the third and it’s still a 2 run game. If the tying run is coming up it needs to be via a hit. Rarely will teams put three hits in a row together, but throwing a walk in the mix means you can bloop or chink a run out of one or two singles. I’m at 94 pitches heading into the 7th, which means I need to not only get three outs and not give up any runs, but I need to be efficient. Sammy starts the inning off by getting jammed with a two seam fastball and flying out to left. Pitching to contact is a beautiful thing when it works. Blalock takes a first pitch slider for a ball, then hits a hard ground ball on a 1-0 split for out number two. Wilkerson takes a strike, then two balls, all fastballs, then fouls off the 2-1 pitch that caught a whole lot more plate than it was supposed to. After another foul ball I pretty much empty the tank on the last pitch getting him swinging at a middle down fastball to end the inning.
The bullpen rights the ship before it’s too late and Paps does his thing to close it out.
This much I know. The next five days will be a hell of a lot easier to head to the park than the last five were. When you have to sit on an outing as bad as the one in KC for five days it eats at you. I’d love to tell you I just shrug it off and move on but I don’t. They certainly don’t eat at me like they did when I was 28, but they still linger until you get a good one and a win under your belt. You get your work in, you cheer like hell for your team to beat the everliving crap out of whoever you are playing, but for me there’s still that “Damn I was so bad” moment that happens 2-300 times a day in between a rancid outing and your next start. To combat that we’ve got an awesome group of coaches here this year. John Farrell is a guy that puts in overtime to be good at what he does. You know he’s been watching tape, studying you when you aren’t around and when he comes to you, you know he’s got something that matters to tell you. Don Kalkstein, our “performance coach” is aces too. Even though I absolutely crush him on a daily basis about being the same guy for the Dallas Mavericks (since I am a Suns fan), he busts his butt to do whatever he can, whenever he can. He was instrumental in this game tonight for me, helping me with some things to keep myself mentally on track and where I need to be, regardless of the situation during the game.
The other huge factor in the last five days being bearable are the teammates. We’ve got a phenomenal group of guys on this team. Twenty five guys who all accept their roles and are professionals. Guys like Erik Hinske, Alex Cora, all of them, who approach every day and every game like you hope they do. They prepare, they are ready and they are good people. You can’t sit around dwelling on a bad game or moping around with the “Woe is me” because first off it looks like crap. Spending 5 days moping around basically says I sucked and I feel bad, regardless of how the team is doing. You do that and you send a clear message to your teammates that I don’t think anyone wants to send. You spend more time with your teammates than you do your real family during the baseball season. Being in a clubhouse with a group of players that care about themselves above all else turns the season into a nightmare grind. We don’t have that here. We’ve still got a ways to go to really gel, but it’s coming. There isn’t an ego or personality here that doesn’t fit. We’ve got a group of guys that care about each other and pull for each other, regardless of how they are doing and that is the difference, in addition to talent obviously, in a world championship team and everyone else. I’m sure there are a lot of clubhouses in baseball that feel the same way, but I know in this market, in this city, if you don’t have that close cohesive clubhouse you are fighting an un-winnable uphill battle.
So our trip ends at 3-3. We are on the plane back to Boston, where we will land around 4:30am and spend an off day at home. Something none of us have done for about 8 weeks now. Not to mention none of us got to wake our kids up for Easter. I certainly don’t want that to appear like a whine, even though it is, because there are thousands of men and women sleeping in the deserts of the middle east now, who have not been able to wake their kids up for months on end and are in a lot worse situations than we are. Just sucks to not be able to spend the holidays with the family, no matter how much money you make or what kind of life you lead.
Seattle comes in for the home opener, then we have Anaheim for four leading up to Patriots day and a stinking 10am start. Will definitely be the earliest game I’ve ever been a part of. Looking forward to kicking off another year of sell outs and hearing the Fenway faithful do their thing. Fenway in the summer is unlike any sports environment I’ve ever been a part of and something I am truly thankful to have been able to experience before the end of my career.