The adventure that is Red Sox pitching

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byrd_paul_090830.jpgAs the Boston Red Sox continue to slog their way toward a potential playoff berth, there are three constant worries: Pitching, pitching and pitching.

The rotation has been an adventure all season, from the failed experiments of John Smoltz and Brad Penny, the erratic behavior and performances of Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the quiet strength of Josh Beckett.

Sunday was a mixed bag, including good, bad and ugly. It all makes you wonder what Boston’s rotation will look like come playoff time, provided they manage to hold off the Texas Rangers in the AL wild card race.

First the good:

Paul Byrd (pictured), a late-season pickup for Boston for the second straight season, dazzled in his first major league start since last September, not only baffling the Toronto Blue Jays, but outdueling Roy Halladay in the process, leading the Red Sox to a 7-0 victory.

Even better, Byrd claims to be a man of many talents:

“I’m just so excited to be back. I want a World Series ring,” he said. “Hopefully I can help this team get there. I’ll clean toilets if I have to, and I told them that.”

The bad:

Tim Wakefield, who had just returned last week after 5 ½ weeks on the disabled list, will have to have a cortisone shot on Monday after his 43-year-old back acted up once again.

Wakefield was an All-Star after anchoring the Red Sox’s rotation in the first half. But now it appears that age is finally catching up to the veteran knuckleballer.

“We’ll go from there and see if (the shot) takes and, if so, I’ll be pitching in a week or so,” Wakefield said Sunday morning before a game against Toronto.

The ugly:

Dice-K, out since June with a right shoulder strain, was horrendous in a minor league start on Sunday, allowing five runs in the first inning of a 5-3 loss. He pitched a perfect second inning, but his insane pitch count (49 in the first inning), meant his outing was cut short.

But hey, at least Clay Buchholz seems to be coming around. Or at least gaining confidence.

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Marlins, Giants get into heated beanball war

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You may have heard that Giants closer Hunter Strickland broke his hand punching a door in frustration after Monday night’s subpar performance. He’ll miss six to eight weeks as a result. Strickland came in to protect a 4-2 lead but ended up giving up three runs. The tying run was knocked in by Lewis Brinson on a single to right field. Brinson moved to third base on a go-ahead single by Miguel Rojas, which prompted manager Bruce Bochy to take Strickland out of the game.

On his way to the dugout, Strickland started chirping at Brinson. Much like Bryce Harper and Strickland, Brinson and Strickland have a bit of a history. Last Thursday, Brinson handed Strickland a blown save with a sacrifice fly to deep center field. Brinson was happy to help his team tie the game, pumping his fast and saying, “Let’s go” at no one in particular. That rubbed Strickland the wrong way. Everything seems to rub Strickland the wrong way.

During Tuesday night’s game, Giants starter Dereck Rodriguez threw at Brinson with the first pitch, a 92 MPH fastball. Home plate umpire Andy Fletcher issued warnings to both benches. Manager Don Mattingly came out to argue, suggesting that his team hadn’t done anything wrong so it was unfair to essentially take the inside part of the plate away from his pitchers. On his way back to the dugout, Mattingly could be seen saying, “You’re next” to catcher Buster Posey.

The Giants scored twice in the bottom of the second against Dan Straily to extend their lead to 3-0. Posey came to the plate with a runner on first base and one out. Straily hit Posey with a 91 MPH fastball on the first pitch, prompting ejections of both Straily and Mattingly. Posey was hit on the arm. If the pitch had come in a bit lower and hit Posey on the wrist or hand, Posey might have had to go on the disabled list for a couple months. Or if the pitch had hit Posey a couple of inches higher, in the head, then who knows what would have happened.

Things calmed down from there, thankfully. The two clubs have one more game against each other in San Francisco on Wednesday and that will be the final time they meet this season. If anything further is going to happen — and hopefully, nothing happens — then it will come tomorrow.

Straily will almost certainly be facing a suspension and a fine, as will Mattingly. It’s less clear if Rodriguez and/or Bochy will be reprimanded for throwing at Brinson, even though it was fairly obvious the pitch was intentional. Regardless, the punishments amount to just one missed start for the pitchers, which isn’t nearly enough of a detriment to deter beanball wars.