No clowning around for Tavarez
Reliever turned starter takes his job very seriously
BOSTON -- He did it again on Friday. Few fifth starters have faced such an accomplished roster of mound opponents -- guys named Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, Mike Mussina, Dan Haren -- over such a compressed, frenetic period of time.
But there was the Red Sox's Julian Tavarez again, not just coolly holding his own against a more heralded name, but beating him in style.
San Francisco left-hander Barry Zito was the victim this week. Tavarez threw seven innings against the Giants, allowing six hits and two runs while striking out three. It hasn't always been easy, or pretty -- this was the former reliever's longest start of the season, and he has still allowed baserunners at a higher rate than any other Red Sox starter -- but Tavarez has consistently done the job asked.
"I think he's given us what we thought he'd give," Boston manager Terry Francona said before Friday's game. "I thought he'd keep us in games more often than not, and he's done that."
Yes, he did it again on Friday. After allowing two first-inning runs, on a Mark Sweeney double and a wild pitch, Tavarez locked in.
He began "using all his pitches," Francona said. "Stayed down. Got some ground balls on our infield defense. Made some plays. He fielded his position. Changed speeds real well and stayed down like he needs to."
Most importantly, he "didn't get rattled," add Francona.
That last fact drew plaudits from his former Giants teammate, Barry Bonds, who remembered Tavarez as a "wired up" reliever.
"He looked a lot calmer [tonight] and he knew what he wanted to do out there," Bonds said. "You could see it in his delivery, see it in his face. He was more focused."
Case study No. 1: when Bonds blasted a first-inning Tavarez offering just foul of his 748th career home run.
As the ball hung in the air, Tavarez channeled a negative Carlton Fisk, shouting and waving it foul.
"I got a lot of help from the fans, too," Tavarez said.
After Giants manager Bruce Bochy came out to argue that the ball had gone fair, Bonds popped out to second for the inning's second out. Tavarez did not allow another run.
What's more, Tavarez added more fuel to his campaign to unseat Manny Ramirez as the most colorful member of the Red Sox. It's been tough, to be sure.
For the final out of the seventh inning, Tavarez induced a hard Sweeney liner to left. This time, Tavarez willed Ramirez inward by gesturing like a symphony conductor. Ramirez stole the limelight when he made the running catch as his hat fluttered harmlessly off. For a moment, it was difficult to tell if the ovation given by the Fenway faithful was directed at Tavarez for his seven innings of good work or at Ramirez for his theatrics.
Nevertheless, the play of the game that made fans forget Ramirez's ill-fated diving cutoff in the outfield on Thursday night was Tavarez's.
This one occurred in the fifth inning. With San Francisco's Randy Winn rolling a slow grounder down the first-base line, Tavarez fielded, stumbled and rolled the ball to first.
Yes, it was intentional.
"The first thing came to my head is just roll the ball to first base," Tavarez said. "I know if I roll the ball straight to [Kevin] Youkilis he was going to catch the ball. And it was a big out. Out three. Get me out of trouble."
The sellout crowd of 36,508 showed its appreciation for the fallen Tavarez by laughing. For Tavarez, there was nothing funny about the play.
"Reason that I do that is because I want to," he said. "It's not because I can't throw the ball to the first baseman's chest. I take the game really serious, and as soon as somebody hits the ball ... I really prepare myself. That's me. ... I do whatever it takes out there."
Tavarez then used the opportunity of the Winn roller to distinguish his playing style from his at times off-kilter personality.
"A lot of people, I tell you this, a lot of people, they say that I'm always a clown, [that I'm] just funny," he said. "It's different between being a clown and playing hard. It's a big difference. It's two different things right there."
He added, "I take this game like this is my last game of my career. Every time I go to the mound, this is what I think. I don't think about next time. I think of one other time I do whatever it takes out there."
Whether that involves moving back to relief in a distant future with a healthy Jon Lester waiting in the wings at Triple-A Pawtucket or starting for the rest of the season, Tavarez will be ready.
"Whatever the Red Sox want to do with me, send me to the bullpen, I'd be happy to, as long as I'm on the team," Tavarez said. "I just want to keep this uniform as long as I can in my career."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.