Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The Bruins came into last night's game with the Maple Leafs a mere 2 points ahead of Washington for the 8th and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, were on the brink of elimination, essentially needing 4 points in their home and home series against the Bruins. Furthermore, leading Bruins scorer Marc Savard would be out for both games after Montreal's Steve Begin delivered a cheap cross-check to Savard over the weekend.
But the Bruins came out strong. 3:57 into the game, Glen Murray scored on the power play to put the Bruins ahead 1-0, a lead which they would not forfeit. David Krejci scored 1:12 into the second period, and Marco Sturm added a nifty power play score to make it a 3-0 game.
In the 3rd, it was 3-1 until Milan Lucic took advantage of Toronto's defensemen pinching to spring a breakaway with Shawn Thornton. A nice leading pass to Thornton led to the dagger goal. Phil Kessel scored at 16:16, and Jeremy Reich added an empty netter to end the game at 6-2.
With the Washington Capitals winning, the Bruins' lead is still 2 points, but they have a game in hand over Washington. The Maple Leafs are all but mathematically eliminated, 6 points behind Boston, with three teams in between them and the Bruins.
The two teams fly to Boston for a game on Thursday night. Then it's back-to-back games on the weekend against Ottawa and Buffalo.
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Starting the season in Japan and at 6 AM was strange enough. But this morning's Red Sox game against Oakland surpassed strangeness, and entered the surreal.
After a very unique opening ceremony (including the mispronunciation of Clay Buchholz's (Byook-holtz) and Jacoby Ellsbury's (Jakob-ee) names, Daisuke Matsuzaka took the mound and was unimpressive. In fact, by the 2nd inning, I wanted him out of there. He was already 58 pitches deep by then, and had thrown 4 walks.
A solo homerun by Mark Ellis in the bottom of the 1st started the scoring. Daisuke followed that up with two walks and a hit batsmen. A bases loaded fielder's choice scored Oakland's second run. Although, Matsuzaka himself made a great play on the ball himself, looking more like a ranging short-stop with a barehanded pickup and an off-balance throw to first.
Matsuzaka was on the verge of a quick and scoreless 2nd inning when all hell broke loose. With a run and 2 outs, Matsuzaka got ahead of Mark Ellis 0-2...then walked him. Daric Barton also found himself in an 0-2 count before walking. A somewhat generous called third strike on Jack Cust ended the inning without any damage, but Daisuke was already up to 58 pitches.
The Sox threatened in the third. Lugo hit a hard line drive single up the middle. Youkilis scorched a ball up the third base line, but Jack Hannahan was there. Youkilis legged out the infield single, but Hannahan prevented extra bases, and possibly a run scored. Ortiz hit a bullet, but right into the overshift, and the inning ended with no runs scored.
Daisuke once again got a pair of quick outs in the 3rd. Then he walked Hannahan, and my stomach fell. At that point, it seemed as though the 3rd might be his last inning of work. Kurt Suzuki hit a hard line drive, but Lugo leaped into the sky to grab it and prevent the inning from getting any worse.
Dice-K had an 8 pitch 1-2-3 4th inning, which was precisely what he and the Sox needed. He then retired the side in order in the 5th. But at 95 pitches in a late March game, he was done. He went 5, allowed 2 hits, 2 earned runs, 5 walks, 1 homer. He was lucky that it wasn't worse, but he also was able to settle down for those last 6 outs he got.
In the 6th, a Pedroia double and a Youkilis walk started a Red Sox rally. Manny knocked them in with a double to left. Then Brandon Moss - who was in for JD Drew who was scratched due to a back problem - singled to knock in Manny. Then the parade of former Sox pitchers started with Alan Embree, who struck out Varitek to end the inning and the rally.
The 3-2 lead didn't last very long. Kyle Snyder came in and was greeted with a leadoff single, and a two run homer struck by Hannahan. Snyder settled and retired the next 4 men he faced before Javier Lopez got the ball, and got two outs to end the 7th inning.
Bryan Corey made his Red Sox debut and recorded a perfect 8th inning, as did Keith Foulke, who replaced Embree. I'm surprised Hipolito Pichardo didn't come out of Oakland's bullpen.
Closer Huston Street came in to pitch the 9th. But Brandon Moss erased the lead with a 1 out solo homerun, his first in Major League Baseball. With the game tied at 4, Okajima came in to pitch the 9th. He allowed a walk, but that was about it.
Lugo led off the top of the 10th with a single. Pedroia bunted him over to 2nd, Youk struck out, Street intentionally walked Ortiz, then Manny knocked in Lugo and Papi with a double to right. Lenny DiNardo came in and got the last out of the inning, but the Sox had a 6-4 lead with Papelbon coming out of the pen to pitch the bottom of the 10th.
Coco Crisp made his first appearance of the season pinch running for Manny in the 10th. He traded places with Ellsbury and patrolled center-field in the bottom of the inning. Cora also came in as a defensive replacement for Lugo.
Papelbon allowed a very rare leadoff walk to Barton. Cust went down swinging, but Emil Brown hit an RBI double to make it a one run game. Brown got caught in the rundown and was eliminated by your standard 9-4-3-5-6-3 play.
But the A's weren't done, Bobby Crosby and Jack Hannahan each hit singles. But Paps induced a groundout from Kurt Suzuki to end an insane opening game.
The Man of the Game is Manny Ramirez. He went 2 for 5 with a pair of doubles, and 4 RBI. He also scored a run. The only Sox scoring he wasn't involved in was Moss's solo homer.
That's about $10,000, by the way.
Brandon Moss gets an honorable mention for his day; an outfield assist, and a game-tying homerun are both very nice.
It was hard to tell if Daisuke's struggles were due to nerves, or merely a continuation of his problems from last year. In 2007, he had tremendous difficulty at times, especially with putting batters away after getting ahead, and missing with his pitches. Only 51 of his 95 pitches were strikes, and many of the strikes he threw missed their intended targets. Fortunately, the A's aren't a very good hitting team and were unable to fully punish Daisuke or the Sox for his subpar outing.
Terry Francona once again wore his pullover, spurning the Terry Francona rule forbidding the use of such apparrel. I wonder if MLB will back up their threats and fine him.
I didn't understand Jason Varitek batting 7th, in between Moss and Ellsbury. I didn't mind Moss hitting ahead of Ellsbury, but to divide two quick outfielders who can hit with a slow catcher who can't hit just doesn't make much sense.
The Red Sox send Jon Lester to the mound tomorrow morning/night/whatever, to face Rich Harden.
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