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Send them a card

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2009 09:58 AM

Let me be the 657,745th person to say I didn’t expect that last night.

Daisuke Matsuzaka tossing a shutout in his return to the major league mound? That’s surprising enough. The fact that Boston’s 4-1 win over the Angels lasted a mere 2 hours, 45 minutes? Unfathomable.

Matsuzaka’s six-inning outing was his longest since his seven-inning, 2-0 win over the Rays in last October’s ALCS. No surprise it was also his best since then, allowing just three hits and three walks against the Angels, a team he’ll more than likely face again at Fenway Park in Game 3 or 4 of the ALDS.

If this is any sort of preview of the way Red Sox pitching plans to take October by storm, well, all bets are off. It took nearly six months to come to fruition, and all the names may not be the same (two months ago, names like Smoltz and Wakefield were sure bets for playoff starts), but the Red Sox finally have a dangerous rotation built for October.

Through the last turn of the rotation, Sox starters allowed a grand total of four runs, two of them via Paul Byrd, who isn’t likely to be a fall factor. Josh Beckett allowed one run vs. the Rays, same as Clay Buchholz. Jon Lester (masterfully, again) and Matsuzaka follow it all up with zero-run efforts

Over the last seven days, Red Sox pitching is a combined 5-0 with a 1.54 ERA. In September, the arms are 9-4 with a 3.63 ERA.

Only the Chicago White Sox and Angels have better ERAs for the month of September than the Red Sox in the AL, and one reason for the latter’s great number (2.30) was John Lackey, who must love Fenway Park about as much as David Wells did once upon a time. He’s just 2-5 with a 5.75 ERA there for his career.

Nineteen games remain, 14 of them against the Indians, Orioles, Royals, and Blue Jays. Yeah, they’re playing in October all right.

It has been 32 games since last month’s dreadful four-game sweep at Yankee Stadium. That was the jump ship for many fans, you might recall. Over the time spanning July 17-Aug. 9, the Sox went from three games up on the Yankees to 6 1/2 games behind.

But since the sweep, these Red Sox are only 23-9. That’s all.

23-9. That’s a .718 clip, by the way.

It’s worth noting, of course, for all the talk of their AL dominance, the Yankees happen to be a comparable 24-11 since that lost weekend in the Bronx. So, in essence, the difference between the Red Sox battling for the division and “settling” for the wild card was essentially a post-All-Star break stretch – including the sweep in New York - during which they went 7-14.

If they continue on this recent pace, they’ll finish with 98 wins, three more than last year.

With three coming up against the Yankees next weekend, sure the division may still be in play, but that’s not really any sort of priority. Getting to the dance is the only objective with just a little more than a fortnight to go before TBS brings us a special airing of “The Steve Harvey Show” during Game 1 of the ALDS. The Red Sox are very nearly there, with the potential of a Boston-New York ALCS for the first time since…well, you know.

Lester-Beckett-Buchholz-and, now, mind-boggling as it may be, Matsuzaka? Billy Wagner-Daniel Bard-Jonathan Papelbon in the ‘pen? I’ll take my chances.

Not only will I take them, I like them.

A lot.

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