This was not a game played between equals; while the Mariners struggled to keep up, the Sox sparred.
Though the cliches are true- the games aren't played on paper, these are the teams you're supposed to beat- and there is always joy in any victory, imperfections were visible, the kind that are noticed when victory goes without saying, and a team is really playing against it's idealized self.
Dice-K lamented not going 9- "If I couldn't throw a complete game today I don't know when I'm going to do it." The Sox wore down M's starter R.A. Dickey without even a single strikeout, but left 10 men on base. Papelbon notched the save, but failed to record a strikeout.
These imperfections were hidden by the dim light of the last-place Mariners, but they might appear under the bright lights of the postseason. The '08 Sox aren't yet ready for the big stage; a training montage might still be necessary.
Dice-K has shown better command of the breaking stuff, which is most effective when it catches plenty of the plate and falls off the table, rather than starting on the corners and leaving familiar territory.
But Seattle is last in the league in runs scored and OBP, and 12th in walks. If Dice-K couldn't keep a low pitch count today, I don't know when he could. And even when successful, Dice-K is never entirely in control; a Seattle broadcaster appropriately described him as "effectively wild," as he walked 3 in 7 1/3 shutout innings; his control was intermittent. At times his fastball was spotted at the knees, in the classical style, other times he'd decapitate a righty if only a lefty wasn't up.
Papelbon's jabs are true, but his haymakers haven't made hay lately; though saving consecutive games, he hasn't recorded a strikeout in either. He of the 12.96 K/9 IP in '07 hasn't had a multi-strikeout game in 10 outings, dating back to June 24 in Arizona. As Rob Bradford pointed out a few days ago, Papelbon's getting fewer swings and misses, and far more ground balls this year. That characteristic explosive escalation on his fastball has stalled, and hitters are not just making contact but are even getting on top of the ball.