We'll run through the highlights of the last seven days, exploring the main themes, the standout players and the odd occurrences that make baseball so great.
Without further ado, let's get this party started:
"I told him [Tuesday] night in about the eighth inning [that he wasn't starting on Wednesday]," manager Terry Francona said of giving Martinez some much-needed rest. "I told him I wasn't going to answer my phone. I said, 'Don't even try.' He fought me a little bit, which I actually really like, but I thought it was in his best interest not to play."
But when Francona called on him to pinch hit in the seventh, V-Mart was ready. He belted a go-ahead, three-run double that gave Boston a lead it wouldn't relinquish as the team went on to earn a 7-5 win over the Orioles.
"I told myself, 'He's going to throw a strike right here,'" Martinez said of Baltimore reliever Danys Baez. "I just looked for a good pitch to hit, didn't try to do too much and put a good swing on the ball. That's what I did. When you put a good swing on the ball, anything can happen."
"Every time I go to the plate, I try to put together good at-bats and be a tough out," Martinez told MLB.com. "That's it."
The switch-hitting native of Venezuela is 11-for-27 (.407) lifetime as a pinch-hitter.
And having left Cleveland for the relative playoff Mecca of Boston, Martinez is happy to be where he is.
"When you're in the middle of a race, it's always interesting," Martinez said. "Every game means something. You go to the ballpark every day and know that you're playing for something. That's a good feeling."
Lester Leading the Way
He's won three of his last four starts, the Red Sox have won each of his last five starts and his ERA since the start of June (over 17 games and 115 1/3 innings) is 2.18. He's third in the AL in strikeouts with 204. I'll spare you the stats, but supposed staff leader Josh Beckett hasn't been that good. Not even close.
Who gets the ball in Game 1 of this weekend's series against the Rays? Jon Lester, arguably the new ace of the Red Sox staff.
After some early-season missteps, Clay Buchholz has been straight-up dealing of late. Much like Lester above, the 25-year-old Texas native has won four of his last five starts and the Red Sox have won each of those five games. Throw out his blowup against the White Sox on Aug. 24 — a game the Sox ended up winning 12-8 — and Buchholz's ERA over the last month is a sterling 1.79.
With the playoffs (hopefully) approaching, the Red Sox are hoping that a reliable third starter will rise to the surface. And with continued concerns about several members of the rotation — would you really want to turn to Paul Byrd in a meaningful postseason matchup against the Rangers or Yankees? — Buchholz seems to be gaining momentum at precisely the right time.
Tim Still Tuning
Forty-three-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was 11-3 at the All-Star break. But he took the term a bit too literally. Since being named an All-Star for the first time in his 17-year career, Wakefield has been ? well ? broken. He missed more than six weeks with serious back problems that didn't affect his throwing, but that severely hampered his ability to move around the mound and field his position.
After several cortisone shots to reduce the pain, Wake was stellar in his return on Aug. 26. But he was slightly less impressive last Saturday in allowing four earned runs in six innings in a loss to the White Sox in Chicago.
Wake reportedly had another cortisone shot on Thursday, but team officials have said he probably won't pitch again on regular rest for the remainder of the season. In fact, he's not penciled in to start again until Sept. 19.
In all likelihood, the Sox management will be very careful with Wakefield the rest of the regular season. But once the playoffs begin, the kid gloves will come off. If Francona needs Wake to step in and start a Game 3 or 4 of a series, you better believe he's gonna be ready.
Pitching for the Class-A Salem (Va.) Red Sox on Wednesday, in what could be his last tuneup start before returning to the bigs, Daisuke Matsuzaka held the Winston-Salem Dash to just one run on three hits over 6 2/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked one while throwing 89 pitches.
Salem manager Chad Epperson told WEEI.com that Dice-K's fastball was regularly around 91-92 mph and topped out at 93. He also said that he mixed the heater effectively with a cutter, slider and changeup.
?He was impressive. Overall, it was a solid outing,? Epperson told WEEI. ?He got out there in the first two innings and was trying to get the mix of his pitches and get a feel for them. And then in the third inning, he found the feel for his cutter and fastball and it was fun to watch. It was like, ?Wow.'?
There's talk that Matsuzaka could return to the big-league club by next week to pitch Tuesday or Wednesday against the first-place Angels. Here's hoping he has the same success against names like Kendry Morales, Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter as he did against Winston-Salem's Dale Mollenhauer, Greg Paiml and Seth Loman.
While Boston's rotation — Lester aside — has struggled to find consistency, the bullpen has not only been a huge part of the team's success so far this season, but it could be a big reason to fear the Red Sox in the postseason.
Maybe it's best to take the struggling Hideki Okajima (OK, Okie's still 5-0, but he's allowed runs in each of his last four appearances for a 27.00 ERA) and Manny Delcarmen (10.80 ERA this month) out of the argument. But whether it's Ramon Ramirez (7-4, 2.85 ERA in 60 innings), Takashi Saito (3-3, 2.59 ERA in 48 2/3 innings), Michael Bowden (two hits and no runs allowed in two innings on Tuesday), the recently recalled Junichi Tazawa, fireballing lefty Billy Wagner (he still has plenty of juice in that left arm, doesn't he?!), the flame-throwing Daniel Bard or the always interesting Jonathan Papelbon, the Sox have good — not to mention seasoned — arms to spare.
Extra Options Everywhere
Not only has the Boston bullpen beefed up, but with the major league rosters expanding on Sept. 1, there are now plenty more useful options with the bat, in the field, on the bases and just about everywhere else.
Josh Reddick and Brian Anderson have been recalled to add depth in the outfield. They could be relied upon to spell Jason Bay and/or J.D. Drew down the stretch.
Speaking of the outfield, Joey Gathright has brought back memories of speedster Dave Roberts on the basepaths. Need a stolen base from a pinch runner late in a game? JG's your guy.
Jed Lowrie is back as well and he and Chris Woodward will be available as late-inning defensive replacements or to give Alex Gonzalez or Dustin Pedroia an occasional day off.
Recently activated George Kottaras and newbie Dusty Brown, too, give Francona some room to maneuver behind the plate.
Who knows who will play a major role as the regular season ticks down? But wherever help is needed, the Sox should have players capable of getting the job done.
Over the last month, the Red Sox have hit 49 home runs, the most in the majors, including a ridiculous six in their 10-0 whitewashing of the O's on Tuesday. Over that period, the Sox also have the highest slugging percentage (.513), the second most RBIs (156) and totals bases (494) and the fourth-highest batting average (.283).
It's hard to imagine that this is the same team that struggled to score a run in series losses in Toronto and Texas late in July and in Tampa and New York early in August.
Thinking of Ted Williams on 9/9/09
There was plenty of talk about ole Teddy Ballgame on Sept. 9. One bit of information that emerged about the Red Sox Hall of Fame right fielder was that Robert Redford, in his sublime 1984 film The Natural, modeled his character of Roy Hobbs after Williams.
"I wanted to make a baseball movie for many, many years because baseball had been such a big part of my life. The No. 9 that I wore, that I was dedicating to Ted," Redford said in HBO's new Ted Williams documentary. "I just had it in my head as the perfect character to pattern myself after in terms of hitting and determination and the ability to block things out and focus on just what you were there for."
"It was just an homage to someone that I had respected and idolized for much of my life, and it was just a chance to bring that to a close," Redford told HBO.