I'd like to believe my appreciation of an entertaining, well-played baseball game -- no matter how many hours it takes to complete and no matter how often the broadcasters with presumably can't-miss dinner reservations whine about it -- trumps the final judgment on the scoreboard.
I'd also like to believe I'm relatively self-aware, though, and so no dose of sodium pentothal is necessary for me to admit that I'd probably be griping today about the insanity of Jason Varitek having the green light on 3-0 had Josh Reddick not sent everyone walking off happily into the night with a 3-2 victory and a one-game lead in the American League East a few innings later.
Actually, I should probably say "griping more," because I'm still dumbstruck (dumbstricken? dumberstruck?) that he was swinging away with two on and one out in the sixth inning in a 1-1 game with first place at stake. But Reddick, who is having a summer that is going to be remembered well for a long time whether he becomes a star or his success proves fleeting, made sure there would be no laments and scapegoats in the aftermath of this ball game, ripping the winning run-scoring single to left off beleaguered Phil Hughes, who was probably wondering like the rest of us why Joe Girardi used Mariano Rivera for just nine pitches.
The highlights are piling up like fan mail for the likable Reddick, whose throw to cut down Russell Martin trying to stretch a single into a double in the fifth inning was also a pivotal play in that it happened a batter before Eduardo Nunez's tying homer. But I have to be honest -- while I hope what we're seeing now is evidence that he is capable of being the Red Sox' right fielder for the next half-dozen seasons or more, I still have a nagging skepticism about his long-term value, and it is for the reason you probably suspect: his command of the strike zone.
Brian MacPherson, the Providence Journal's excellent baseball writer, posted some compelling visual evidence recently that Reddick has been expanding the strike zone recently, most often by falling back into his habit of swinging at high fastballs. While Reddick's statistics remain outstanding -- he's hitting .338 with a .939 OPS -- he endured a 3 for 23 slump in late July before heating up again (he hit .412 over the past week).
Maybe this latest hot stretch is a sign that he is adjusting to the pitchers after they adjust to him, something he's struggled to do during previous stints with the Red Sox. Terry Francona noted that during Reddick's previous at-bat before his winning hit, he swung at a ball that "was probably two feet in front of the plate."
When the game was there to be won, he didn't make the same mistake again. Reddick got a pitch he could handle, smoked it, and the celebration was on. The memory will stick. Here's hoping the lesson will, too.
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I don't know how the Red Sox shortstop situation is going to shake out now that Jed Lowrie is set to return from his latest injury. Marco Scutaro is dependably average, he bats righthanded but the switch-hitting Lowrie is better against lefthanded pitching, the talented but brittle Lowrie can't be trusted to play every day at this point . . . maybe the best thing for Francona to do is to make the call on a day-by-day basis without naming one or the other as the starter.
I do know this much, though: When Mariano Rivera is on the mound, Scutaro is the one you want in the batter's box. It's a puny sample size, but Scutaro has an .896 OPS, one walk-off homer, and last night's huge double against the great Rivera in 16 plate appearances. Have to like that sort of trend if you're a Red Sox fan.
Lowrie is 0 for 3 against Rivera. And just in case you were wondering, Bill Mueller hit .353 with a .918 OPS in 18 plate appearances against Rivera, not including the postseason, when he hit an apparently meaningful single this one time that scored some fast guy from second base.
I'll leave it to you to look up the details.
* * *
Back to the post-victory-complaint of the night. (I can't help myself; is this what it feels like to be Mazz?) There's no logical reason that Varitek hacked at that 3-0 pitch other than that perhaps he thought he might get a meatball from Yankees slopballer Corey Wade. He didn't -- the pitch was out of the strike zone -- and his inability to turn on an 88 mph fastball he apparently guessed was coming is a sign that he's due for another second-half fade, if not already in the middle of it. He's hitting .139 with a .490 OPS since the break.
Varitek has been a true asset this season, but I'm beginning to wonder whether his playing time should diminish to little more than Designated Beckett Caddy, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia emerging as one of the best offensive catchers in the AL.
At least Varitek's night went much better than did that of his longtime Yankee counterpart, Jorge Posada, who learned from his manager (and nemesis?) Joe Girardi that he'd no longer be the designated hitter against righthanded pitchers.
Posada has been brutal since a decent start power-wise, and it's fair to presume he would be designated for assignment by now, with Jesus Montero getting his much-anticipated call to the big leagues, were he not a beloved remnant of the '90s glory days.
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One measure of Adrian Gonzalez's greatness: Even during his perceived slumps, he remains productive. Over the past two weeks, in 55 plate appearances, he's batting .367 with a .928 OPS and nine runs batted in. He still leads the majors in batting (.348), total bases (253) and RBIs (91), while leading the American League in hits (153).
Yet I don't think it's unfair to acknowledge that there have been a few temporary dings in Gonzo's armor lately.
I'm pretty sure he's made more soft outs in key situations in the past week than he has the rest of the season. He seems to have left his power at the Home Run Derby -- he has just one homer in 106 plate appearances since the All-Star break. And while he's batted .326 in that span, his OPS is just .797, which would be just fine if he were Saltalamacchia but mildly concerning for the slugger whose season has been so spectacular that some have touted him as the greatest Red Sox hitter since Ted Williams.
Until he snaps out of it -- and you know him well enough now to know he will any day now -- let's stick to calling him the club's best hitter since Manny.
* * *
I realize that the rivalry in some ways is more intense among the fans than it does the players. Big Papi is friends with A-Rod, for heaven's sake. Not even A-Rod is friends with A-Rod.
So I'm still not quite sure what to make of it when the cameras catch Derek Jeter and Dustin Pedroia joking around after a play at second, which happened a couple of times during this series. I realize they became buddies at the last World Baseball Classic, and it's pretty obvious Jeter, like the rest of us, finds Pedroia both admirable and amusing.
Had either been miked up we'd probably discover that the conversation is hilarious, probably includes the phrase "Laser Show," and is in requirement of a seven-second delay.
But being an increasingly nostalgic grouch who has a picture of Carlton Fisk teeing up Thurman Munson with a right jab hanging in my home office, the fraternizing between Red Sox and Yankees stars is still weird to witness from my perspective.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.