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  Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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xtra xtra!
Pocket Rockets
By Paul Noonan

     When the Red Sox parted ways with Pedro Martinez after their World Series win, they lost an asset few teams could match:  two aces.  Pedro and Curt Schilling were as tough as any duo to face back to back, and especially in a playoff series.  The two were at times unhittable and were the biggest reason for the Sox’s comeback in the ALCS.  When Pedro left Matt Clement could not fill that role, and while it is not the reason the Sox failed to go deep in last year’s playoffs it may have been a factor.  However, when the Sox signed Josh Beckett this summer they may have found the ace again, and it may be a factor in a far better Sox run.

             

     The last time two Red Sox starters each started 3-0 was back in the glorious days of 1918.  Beckett and Schilling have changed that.  The two flamethrowers have stormed out of the gate (Schilling is now 4-0 as of Sunday and Beckett is 3-0) combining for a 7-0 record.  If you add their ERAs it is 4.15, a number some regulars can’t even best individually, if you average them it is an even more astounding 2.01.  They have combined for a respectable 38 strikeouts in a combined 56 innings.  Most importantly, the pair has taken pressure of the Sox’s bats.  Struggling out of the gate, the Sox’s hitters have been given some extra leeway thanks to the strong pitching by the duo.  The strong play of the aces also takes a little pressure off of the depth pitchers who won’t be given added pressure to be the dominant guys. 

             

     It is early in the season, and surely these two will have a few bad games thrown in the mix down the road, but if the two can stay pretty consistent over the course of the season it should give the Sox enough of a boost to get into the playoffs.  It is there where these two shine even more.  Sox’s fans have already gotten a close- up look at how Schilling performs under the pressure, and he has proven throughout his career he can handle the big game.  Well, Josh Beckett, while his experience is not near that of Schilling’s, has also proven he can handle a big game or two.  The World Series MVP of 2003, Beckett should be a reliable pitcher when the games matter more.  You can even use his first few games in his new uniform as proof, being a Red Sock alone brings with it an extra amount of pressure matched by few teams in the MLB.  Many good players have folded under the added pressure which comes with playing at Fenway. 

             

     So, the Sox have a pair of aces in their hand already, which gives them an edge, but now they may have another ace lurking on the river as well.  Jonathan Papelbon has taken over as closer and so far, knock on wood, has been nearly perfect out of the bullpen.  With a bunch of goose eggs for a his ERA, Papelbon has proven that he is not a one season wonder.  After giving a hint to how good he can be last year, Bonfire (that’s my nickname for him, I’m trying to get it to catch on) has been even better this year in an even more pressure filled role.  With a little postseason experience under his belt last year too, he has been accelerated along the learning curve.  When Papelbon makes his seemingly inevitable move back to the rotation has yet to be seen, but that day could put even more fear into the eyes of opposing hitters.  Should Schilling still be playing when this occurs the Sox should easily get the nod as the best rotation.  The best part of it all is that Beckett and Papelbon are young.  Schilling will probably retire when his contract expires next year, but hopefully Beckett and Papelbon will be here for a long time to come.  They’ve proven their worth already, and working with Schilling should only make them better pitchers both now and in the future.  It has been a long time since the Sox have had two young pitchers to build around, and now is there chance.  Should the Sox seize it, they might be able to build a rotation similar to that of the Braves in the mid- nineties, a rotation which boasted three future Hall- of- Famers.  Yet even if the Sox decide not to take this long term, the immediate future sure looks bright, and it’s because of these hot arms.



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Curt Schilling perfect

so far, 4-0, for the

Red Sox.