The Boston Red Sox are doing their part to produce an exciting new collection of October heroes in this, the first decade of the 21st century.
In 2004, it was veteran right-hander Curt Schilling, blood oozing from his sock as he kept a promise he had made about making 55,000 Yankees fans shut up.
In 2007, it was Josh Beckett, who in four postseason starts, all victories, registered a 1.20 ERA.
Schilling hasn't pitched all season, and may retire. Beckett is ailing, though he says he is not ailing. Call it what you want, but he's been shelled in two postseason starts.
The logical successor as Boston's next great October pitcher, its next contribution to the first chapter of the “History of 21st Century Baseball” was going to Jon Lester.
A year ago, the young left-hander overcame cancer and then pitched and won the clinching game in the 2007 World Series. A week ago, he submitted two — not one, two — masterpieces as the Red Sox rolled past the jittery Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the American League Division Series.
In Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, Lester was the smart bet to keep on 'truckin.' If the back-to-back brilliant postseason outings — three, if you count last year's World Series — were not enough, consider that Lester was 11-1 with a 2.49 ERA at Fenway in festive, raucous Fenway this season.
But Fenway was neither festive nor raucous on Monday, this because Lester failed to burnish his October credentials. He didn't make it out of the sixth inning in the Red Sox's 9-1 loss to the Rays, who banged out 13 hits and tied an ALCS record with four home runs.
And while Fenway may have been deadly silent, let it be known that not everyone in New England was mournful. Two of the Rays' four home runs were produced by Carlos Pena, who rooted for the Red Sox growing up in Haverhill, Mass., and Rocco Baldelli, who was a diehard Sox fan as a kid growing up in Cumberland, R.I.
But if a burgeoning postseason hero such as Lester can't stop the Rays, can anyone? Following their inability to do much with Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 1, the Rays, for years relegated to the barrel shed of the American League East, have claimed back-to-back victories in games started by Lester and Beckett, both October masters.
While it would be folly to call Tuesday's Game 4 a “must win” for the Red Sox — this “must win” thing is the most overused and misused term in sports — what is true is that the defending World Series champions suddenly have a pitching crisis on their hands.
Then, too, there is the rust factor: Wakefield hasn't pitched since a five-inning tuneup against the Yankees on Sept. 28.
“I really don't have a concern,” said Wakefield, asked about the long layoff. “I've been working hard with (pitching coach) John Farrell between the last time I threw . . . threw a couple of sides, played a lot of flat ground work during the ALDS and have thrown two sides since then, so I feel I'm ready to go.”
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
And now it's Wakefield on the mound in Game 4, back to Matsuzaka in Game 5, and, one assumes, Beckett again in Game 6.
And have we mentioned that the Red Sox haven't been hitting? Boston's slugging icon, David Ortiz, is 0-for-10 with three strikeouts. Jacoby Ellsbury, who hit .438 in the World Series last year, is 0-for-14. Veteran catcher Jason Varitek is 0-for-10. In Game 2, Red Sox manager Terry Francona sent up a pinch-hitter for him.
During his postgame meet-and-greet with the media Monday, Francona was asked if the Rays' back-to-back victories over the Red Sox have given them “confidence.”
OK, it was a lame question. But Francona provided a good, honest answer: “You'll have to ask Joe that,” he said, referring to Rays Manager Joe Maddon.
Nobody felt a need to run down the hall and check in with Maddon on this one.
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