For some background information, Cust led the American League in strikeouts in 2007 and 2008, and his 110 strikeouts this year have him in the hunt for another coveted AL strikeout title. While it's true he eclipsed the 100-mark in walks both years, his total this year before Monday had him well off the league lead.
Then the A's rolled into Boston, and "Friendly Fenway" took on a whole new meaning for Cust. In the series opener, Josh Beckett walked Cust in the sixth inning. Considering the Sox were up 6-0, it wasn't a big deal. It was, however, a sign of things to come.
(As a side note, Cust stayed true to form by striking out twice in that game.)
Then came Tuesday night's heartbreaker at the Fens. While Nick Green's impressive back-to-back throwing errors are the lasting memories from the A's ninth-inning comeback, that ninth inning started with Jonathan Papelbon walking Cust. Clay Buchholz had also walked him earlier in the game.
(Still, Cust was Cust, striking out twice.)
Then came Wednesday night, when things just got out of hand. Brad Penny walked Cust in the opening frame, as the burly righty threw one of the worst innings of the modern era. It got worse, though, as Penny walked Cust to lead off the fifth before Justin Masterson took his turn walking Cust to lead off the seventh. Whether it was due to lack of command or peer pressure in the bullpen, Ramon Ramirez made sure to walk Cust in the ninth, giving Cust his fourth free pass of the night.
Even worse is that Cust didn't strike out Wednesday night — a feat he hasn't accomplished in the past six games and something he's only done four times in the month of July.
"So what?" you say. Well, consider this: In 437 major league games, Cust has never walked four times in a game. He has, however, struck out four times in a game nine times. He's walked three times in a game just six times.
Heading into the series at Fenway, he had 46 walks in 94 games, an average of about 0.5 walks per game. In the three games against the Red Sox, he has seven walks, which account for 13 percent of his season total in just 3 percent of the season. In the past seven days, just one player (Bobby Abreu) in the majors walked more than Cust has in the past three games.
While Cust's 16 homers on the year might have pitchers worried, at some point you have to go after the guy who strikes out at a Bellhornian pace.
Cust isn't a doubles hitter and he's not a contact guy, and his power numbers don't warrant his receiving the Bonds treatment.
Fortunately for the Red Sox, Jon Lester will be on the mound Thursday afternoon, coming off a nine-strikeout performance against the Orioles. His 146 strikeouts are most on the team and third in the AL, though his 41 walks are also tops on the team.
It's not unrealistic to hope Lester can allowed Cust to reach the milestone of 10 four-strikeout games in his career, but watching another four-walk performance might just be too much for the Fenway faithful to take..
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