Better processes, better results.
What a difference a day makes. In this same spot yesterday, I wrote about how un-Pena like Carlos Pena looked at the plate. He was fitted for his seventh career golden sombrero and saw 15 pitches on the night with just three of those pitches being called balls. Fast Forward to tonight, and it's a whole different ball game. The box score lines aren't that far off. Pena went 0-4 yesterday, and was just 1-4 today, but that one hit was a monster home run to centerfield and Pena's overall approach was exactly the one I expect from Los.
Pena's first at-bat of the night ended like his four at-bats in game one, a strikeout. However, I felt much better about this strikeout than any of the others from Tuesday. Unlike his first at-bat vs. Josh Beckett which ended on three consecutive fastballs, Pena worked the count full before striking out on a pitch that nearly hit him. We know he is going to strike out around 150 times a year, but this is the battle type of K we are used to.
Pena went back to hacking in his second at-bat, but at least he made contact. On the second pitch of the AB, Pena rolled over on a Jon Lester fastball and grounded out to second base. However, the strikeout streak was over. His third AB would be vintage Los and prove to be the backbreaker for the Red Sox starter.
After taking three straight breaking balls, Pena found himself in control with a 3-0 count. He would be taking all the way on the 3-0 pitch and let a fastball go by him for a strike. The next pitch, a 90 MPH fastball, almost in the same spot was crushed by Pena into the centerfield bleachers and gave the Rays a 5-1 lead. Lester has surrendered seven home runs to left handed batters in his career; three of those have been hit by Los. Pena would be retired on a pop up in his final AB, but clearly his approach from one day to the next changed and it showed in the results. Pena saw 17 pitches today with six of those being balls and one massive home run. Oh and he made a fantastic catch if you didn't see it.
Overall, the Rays attack was much more potent tonight against the lefty they struggled against so much last year. The lineup switch of Jason Bartlett and Akinori Iwamura looked genius as the DP duo went 6-9 for a combined seven total bases and four runs scored. One thing I looked at this morning was the lefty "specialists" Gabe Kapler and Pat Burrell. The duo combined to go 1-6, but each had a walk and Kapler had one excellent slide into second base before making a bad one going into third.
On a personal note, I know R.J. is covering Scott Kazmir, but let me say I was thoroughly impressed with the effort from Kid K tonight. It's no secret that I am tough on Kazmir. It's partly because I have unrealistic expectations of Kazmir, but at times he is that damn good. Tonight he wasn't perfect, but he was much better than the late 2008 version. The way Kazmir attacked right handed batters with a tailing fastball that moved so beautifully at the end was fantastic. From the left side, he froze David Ortiz with some nasty sliders and threw more sliders tonight then I think he did in all of 2008. I also witnessed a change-up from Kaz that looked very much like a plus-plus major league pitch. He still played around when he got the hitter down with two strikes, but overall, I must say I am very pleased with the overall performance from him tonight. .