The baton, first picked up by Jonathan Paplebon three years ago and since passed on to Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson, was handed to Michael Bowden last night. He knew exactly what to do with it.
Bowden, nine days shy of his 22nd birthday, became the latest in a line of Red Sox pitching prospects who know how to perform on a major league mound as he turned his big league debut into a victory for both him and his team, 8-2, over the White Sox. Bowden, in Double A at the start of the season and in Single A as recently as 2006, seized the moment with a solid five innings during which he allowed two runs on seven hits, with just one walk and three strikeouts. Bowden had no problem finding the strike zone or White Sox bats, but he kept the damage to a minimum, stranding five baserunners. A called strike three on Nick Swisher with runners on second and third with two outs in the fourth was a key moment.
The Red Sox offense was paced by Dustin Pedroia’s second straight 4-for-4 game, with the pesky second baseman batting cleanup in the absence of a sick Kevin Youkilis. Three other fresh faces kept the pressure on White Sox starter Mark Buehrle and a long line of relievers: Mark Kotsay (three RBI), Jason Bay (two RBI) and Lowrie (two RBI).
The Red Sox have now won the first two games of this homestand against the AL Central leaders, and are beginning to get on a roll at exactly the right time, winning eight of their last 11 games. With performances like Bowden’s, stacked up against the strong seasons Lester, Papelbon, Lowrie and Masterson are having, the Red Sox seem as poised as any team to not only reach the playoffs but do some damage there.
Nation Notes: Righthander Clay Buchholz dominated in his second start since his demotion to Double A, allowing two hits in eight innings, walking one, and striking out 10 in the Sea Dogs’ 7-0 victory over New Hampshire.
Visiting for maybe the last time, it’s probably fitting the Red Sox dropped a 3-2 decision featuring close calls, an inability to put the Yankees away and, of course, a ninth inning comeback against the Sox’ best pitcher. The news was made doubly worse after the game when the Red Sox revealed that ace Josh Beckett will miss tonight’s start against the White Sox to fly to Alabama and visit with renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews to get a second opinion on his ailing elbow.
Though the Yankees’ postseason chances remain very much on life support – just a day earlier, left-hander Andy Pettitte said it would take a “miracle” to get in – the Yanks refused to go away yesterday. They trailed 2-0 in the seventh before Jason Giambi blasted a game-tying two-run homer off Hideki Okajima that manager Terry Francona and catcher Jason Varitek both very rightfully described as “crushed.” Giambi was then the hero two innings later when he lined an 0-2 fastball from Jonathan Papelbon to center with the bases loaded, scoring Brett Gardner with the walkoff winning run.
The Sox still took two out of three for the third straight road series, though that was hardly any consolation. The loss negated an outstanding performance by left-hander Jon Lester, who shook off the worst start of his career in Toronto by shutting down the Yankees on five hits over six-plus innings before his bullpen let him down. Lester looked every bit like the ace the Sox will need if Beckett is sidelined or less than 100 percent for the playoffs. Epstein stressed that Beckett’s visit to Andrews was purely precautionary, but it goes without saying that anytime a pitcher’s elbow is bothering him to the point of seeking a second opinion, it’s a concern. Daisuke Matsuzaka will start on regular rest against Chicago tonight in Beckett’s spot, with recent call-up David Pauley expected to get the nod tomorrow.
Nation Notes: Not only will Josh Beckett see Dr. James Andrews, but Sean Casey and J.D. Drew also will visit doctors today. Casey, who has had a stiff neck since hurting it Aug. 21 on the day off between trips to Baltimore and Toronto, will undergo an MRI to determine if the injury is more serious. Drew returned to Boston yesterday after being put on the DL Tuesday. J.D. has been suffering from spasms since injuring his back on August 17.
With Jason Bay making Manny Ramirez a dreadlocked memory and power hungry Dustin Pedroia blasting a grand slam for his fifth home run in 10 games, the Red Sox cruised to an 11-3 victory that dropped New York seven games out of the wild card race and 10 1/2 back in the AL East with just 30 to play.
Even a miracle might not be enough, not after Bay drove in four runs on a double and triple to back six solid innings from Paul Byrd. The Sox improved to 6-2 on their three-city AL East trip, which wraps up today in Boston’s final visit to Yankee Stadium, with Jon Lester opposing Mike Mussina. For years this building was where Red Sox teams went to gag on humble pie, but that worm has turned. Last night the Yanks had no answer for a balanced Sox attack that brought the thunder during a seven-run eighth capped by Pedroia’s blast.
The Yankees began the series by proclaiming they needed to take at least two out of three to keep their deficit from becoming insurmountable. Then they lost the opener 7-3 before getting croaked last night. Now they’re in danger of being swept right out of the playoff picture.
Nation Notes: When Sean Casey attempted to hit Tuesday, he did more damage than good. Casey apparently aggravated his stiff neck, and remained on the bench. The first baseman hasn’t played since last Thursday.
It wasn’t just that the Red Sox moved the Yankees one game closer to playoff extinction with a 7-3 victory. That’s the small picture. This is about the big picture. And the big picture is the Red Sox are playing their best baseball at a critical juncture of the season with almost every unit coming together.
Tim Wakefield won in his return from the disabled list. Rookie Justin Masterson highlighted a shutout performance from the bullpen by inducing a boo-riddled Alex Rodriguez to ground into a rally-killing double play. The bottom third of the order contributed seven hits and three RBI. And when it was over, the Sox could look forward not just to the return of Josh Beckett on Friday, but also the possible addition of outfielder Mark Kotsay from the Braves.
The Red Sox certainly were clicking last night. They drew within 3 1/2 games of first-place Tampa Bay, opened a 2 1/2-game lead on Minnesota in the wild card race, and dropped the Yankees 9 1/2 back in the AL East. They bounced Andy Pettitte with two outs in the fifth after he had allowed six runs on 10 hits. Some of the hits weren’t exactly ripped, but the Sox were aggressive – nowhere more so than when Coco Crisp scored from second on an infield single to third by Jeff Bailey in the fifth.
Every Sox starter with the exception of Dustin Pedroia recorded a hit, which was more than enough for Wakefield, who allowed a pair of solo homers to former teammate Johnny Damon and otherwise avoided trouble despite allowing eight hits in five innings.
Nation Notes: The Red Sox officially acquired outfielder Mark Kotsay from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for minor league outfielder Luis Sumoza. Kotsay is expected to join the team in New York and will wear No. 11. The 32-year-old is batting .289 with 6 homers and 37 RBI in 81 games this season.
At first glance, yesterday’s game might have appeared to be just one of 162. Coming into the game closer to third place than first and playing a fourth-place team, it would not have been unreasonable to expect a mundane, getaway-day affair prior to a much-needed off day. What transpired at Rogers Centre yesterday, however, showed just how much importance the Red Sox placed on this one. Battered by injuries and coming off their largest shutout defeat in 15 months, the Sox realized they could not afford to leave Canada without a win and subsequently did everything within their power to do so, prevailing 6-5 in 11 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Jed Lowrie broke a 5-5 tie with one out in the 11th by slamming a Brandon League slider over the right field fence for the switch hitter’s first career homer from the left side of the plate. But the heroics weren’t limited to Lowrie. Four Sox relievers combined for five scoreless innings, including a pair from Jonathan Paplebon (5-3) and another by Manny Delcarmen, who earned his second major league save. Left fielder Jason Bay made a leaping grab at the wall in the 10th to rob Alex Rios of extra bases, while Jacoby Ellsbury insisted on remaining in the game despite having his face battered and shoulder bruised by a full-speed collision with the right field wall as he hauled in Adam Lind’s deep drive in the fourth. When Delcarmen struck out Jose Bautista with a man on first to end it, the giant, collective exhale from the visitors dugout all but made the adjacent CN Tower sway. Ellsbury’s catch may have been the most memorable moment. Bruised, shaken up and unable to put back a contact lens that was jarred loose, he remained at the base of the fence being treated for nearly 10 minutes, drawing boos from the restless crowd.
Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka fell short of his bid to tie Hideo Nomo’s record for most victories by a native of Japan (1996, ’02, ’03) and remained at 15-2 after allowing five runs on eight hits in six innings. For the third time in as many games, the Sox found themselves in an immediate hole due to a two-run home run in the first inning. Alex Rios did so on Friday, while Vernon Wells accomplished the feat yesterday for the second consecutive game, pounding a Matsuzaka slider left over the heart of the plate into the left field seats. Jays starter A.J. Burnett, who entered the game having won six straight starts, didn’t look like someone who had dominated the Sox in five prior showdowns (4-0, 1.98 ERA). He gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks, while striking out seven batters, and surrendered a pair of leads. Burnett gave up four runs in the third inning, including a Dustin Pedroia two-out, three-run homer. The Sox had a 4-2 lead after the third, but it proved to be flimsy. Matsuzaka gave up a solo homer to Lyle Overbay in the fourth, followed by two more runs in the sixth on RBI doubles by Wells and Rod Barajas, permitting Toronto to pull ahead, 5-4. Coco Crisp quickly erased the deficit, however, leading off the seventh by crushing a Burnett fastball over the right field fence for his seventh homer of the season.
Nation Notes: David Aardsma, who officially went on the DL yesterday, and Julio Lugo are both scheduled for MRIs today in Boston. Both will stay in Boston for the rest of the road trip, and will work out with rehabilitation coordinator Scott Waugh. David Pauley arrived before the game, taking Aardsma’s spot on the roster.
Huge expectations were heaped on Clay Buchholz after he became the first Red Sox rookie to throw a no-hitter last Sept. 1, doing so in only his second big league start. With a blazing fastball, knee-buckling curve and enough raw talent to make even an All-Star envious, it was thought the historic night would propel him to immediate stardom in his first full season.
There was no way that anyone could have ever anticipated that the 24-year-old would respond by turning in one of the most miserable, extended stretches in recent team history, culminating with another disastrous start last night in an 11-6 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards and an immediate demotion to Double-A Portland. How awful has Buchholz been? The numbers are staggering. He fell to 0-7 with a 9.22 ERA in his last nine starts, which is the Sox’ longest losing skid since Frank Castillo went 0-8 in 10 starts in 2002. Buchholz’ slide has been far worse, however, because he has been provided leads in the first three innings in six of the nine starts and squandered each one.
Provided a first-inning lead for the third consecutive start, Buchholz (2-9) collapsed again in embarrassing fashion, allowing five runs on three hits, three walks and a hit batsman in only 2 1/3 innings. The right-hander likely will be replaced by a reliever, with Triple-A Pawtucket’s Chris Smith a leading candidate to be recalled. With off days today and Monday, Francona has the option of starting Paul Byrd in Buchholz’ spot Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, activating Tim Wakefield off the disabled list or summoning David Pauley or Michael Bowden from the PawSox.
On the season, Buchholz has been given leads of at least 2-0 before throwing his first pitch on four occasions. He has blown every one, including each of his last three starts. The Sox scored twice in the top of the first last night against lefty Chris Waters (2-0) on three hits and a pair of walks. They upped it to 4-0 in the second on three more hits and an error. Buchholz, though, held the lead as tightly as a red-hot charcoal briquette, just as he did in his previous two starts. On Aug. 4 in Kansas City, he was handed a 2-0 lead in the first, only to allow one run in the second and three more in the third in an eventual 4-3 loss. Six days later in Chicago, Buchholz was given a 3-0 lead in the first, only to allow five runs in three-plus frames in a 6-5 defeat. Last night, he retired the first four batters before unraveling in a 29-pitch second inning. Buchholz allowed three runs on two walks and three hits, including Brian Roberts’ two-run single lashed past a diving Kevin Youkilis at third. Buchholz hit Melvin Mora with a pitch on the left hand to open the third and allowed a one-out walk to Luke Scott before Francona decided he had seen enough.
David Aardsma offered no relief. Ramon Hernandez belted his third pitch over the left-center wall, just beyond the lunge of a wall-climbing Coco Crisp, who tumbled into the home bullpen in an attempt to catch it. The three-run shot pushed Baltimore ahead, 6-4. Aardsma then walked Luis Montanez, who later scored on Juan Castro’s two-out single.
Nation Notes: It appears Tim Wakefield will need just one more side session before returning from the disabled list. The knuckleballer threw 44 pitches yesterday, and the plan is for him to throw another side session Saturday. J.D. Drew didn’t play for the third straight game, missing the entire series with tightness in his lower back. Though he was feeling better, Francona elected to keep Drew out of the lineup since he hadn’t participated in baseball activities for three days. The plan was for him to take batting practice and likely be back in the lineup tomorrow in Toronto. The Red Sox signed catcher David Ross to a minor-league contract, he is expected to report to Class AAA and eventually become the Sox’s third catcher behind Jason Varitek and Kevin Cash.
Last night at Camden Yards, Daisuke Matsuzaka once again took the bumpy road home with five arduous innings but still led the team to a 7-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Matsuzaka (15-2) gave up two runs on six hits, five walks and a wild pitch, while striking out six. But he was toughest when it mattered most in the Sox’ seventh win in the last 10 games. He held the Orioles to only two hits in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position and stranded nine, including five at second or third base. Matsuzaka won for the sixth time this season when allowing five-or-more walks, the most for a Sox pitcher since Mickey McDermott won eight in 1953. He became the first AL pitcher to do so since Canton’s Bobby Witt won eight times in 1987.
Matsuzaka was backed by home runs from Jason Varitek (10) and Kevin Youkilis (team-leading 24th), while every Sox starter collected at least one hit. The Sox remained 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays – 4-2 winners over the Angels – in the AL East, while evening their record against divisional foes at 23-23. They still remain well under .500 (8-15) against the AL East on the road.
Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera (8-8) fell to 2-11 lifetime vs. the Red Sox by allowing six runs on nine hits and three walks in only 4 1/3 innings. The Sox scored two runs in the first and never trailed. Jacoby Ellsbury opened the game with a base hit, stole second and went to third on catcher Ramon Hernandez’ throwing error. Dustin Pedroia followed with a walk and David Ortiz knocked in the game’s first run with a single to left. Two batters later, Jason Bay made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly. Varitek, who homered off a right-hander for the first time since May 21 in Monday’s win here, repeated the feat leading off the second, slamming a 91-mph fastball into the right-center field seats. Varitek, who hadn’t cleared the fences in consecutive games since last Sept. 21-22, reached double figures in homers for the ninth time and tied Carlton Fisk’s club record (1972-78) for catchers by doing so in his seventh straight season.
Nation Notes: One day after being taken to Massachusetts General Hospital with pain and tightness in his chest, Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski underwent successful triple bypass surgery last night. Josh Beckett, has been scrached from his scheduled start Saturday with what the pitcher termed “numbness” in his pitching hand. Beckett will be given three additional days of rest and make his next start Tuesday against the New York Yankees.
It certainly doesn’t take much of an imagination to conjure up where the Red Sox would be this season without Jon Lester.
They opened a three-city, 11-day road trip last night against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards trailing first-place Tampa Bay by 4 games in the AL East, but without the clutch work of Lester it is quite possible the Sox would be left by the side of the road, ruefully watching the Rays’ taillights fade in the distance. Last night, the lefty demonstrated once again why he has become the Sox’ most valuable pitcher with seven dominant innings in a crucial 6-3 win. Lester (12-4) allowed only one run on four hits, while striking out five batters and walking one. He ended a Sox losing streak for the fifth time this season. Enhancing his status as a stopper, he improved to 5-1 with a 1.41 ERA in nine starts followi ng Sox defeats this season, including a dazzling 5-0 with a 1.01 ERA in the last six.
Jason Bay hit two home runs and drove in four runs, while Varitek added a solo shot, providing Lester sufficient support. Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie (10-9), who had won his previous four starts, was saddled with the loss despite allowing only two runs on five hits in seven innings. Lester didn’t exactly inherit an enviable situation. The Sox were swept in a rain-abbreviated, two-game series over the weekend by the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway park, capped by a humbling 15-4 defeat Sunday. The Orioles, meanwhile, had won four of their last five, including Sunday’s 16-8 pounding of the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. But it mattered little to Lester, who improved to 3-0 with a 0.29 ERA in four starts after Sox sweeps. The entire rotation has gone 8-0 with a 0.31 ERA following a sweep.
Aubrey Huff’s solo homer in the fourth made matters uncomfortable for three innings. Baltimore threatened to tie it in the seventh after Kevin Millar poked a one-out double into the left field corner, but Lester dug in and struck out Luke Scott on a looping curveball and got Jay Payton to ground out.
Buoyed by the narrow escape, the Sox responded with a pair of runs in the eighth against reliever Rocky Cherry to provide Lester a bit of a cushion. Millar mishandled a David Ortiz leadoff grounder to first for an error and Bay capitalized two batters later by crushing another homer over the center field wall. Bay’s 25th clout of the season accounted for his 12th career two-homer game.
The runs proved to be crucial when the Orioles cut it to 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth as Huff’s double off Jonathan Paplebon brought home a pair of runners who Manny Delcarmen had walked with two outs. The Sox got the runs back in the ninth, however, on Ortiz’ RBI double off right-hander Jim Johnson and Bay’s run-scoring fielder’s choice grounder.
Nation Notes: It appears unlikely Tim Wakefield will come off the disabled list when he’s eligible Sunday. The Sox want Wakefield to throw at least two side sessions, possibly three, before returning. Julio Lugo hit in the cage yesterday for the first time since tearing his left quadriceps. Lugo estimated that he would need a couple of more days of hitting, and that he might be able to go out on a rehab assignment in about a week.
The Red Sox kick off the second half on the road, but when they get home, they’ll have a tough three game series against the Yankees. Right now, the Red Sox are in the drivers seat but the Yankees always make that push and this series will go along way towards determining who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t. I’m hoping to make it to one of the weekend games but because the Red Sox sell out all of their games, I had no luck at the Red Sox box office. Fortunately, there’s the secondary ticket market and after checking out some of my favorite baseball ticket brokers, I was able to pick up some very nice seats at a decent price.
With swinging arms and high leg kick, Paul Byrd will conjure up nostalgic feelings for years gone by with his old-time windup.
In his Red Sox debut last night at Fenway Park, however it was opposing starter Roy Halladay who made the 448th consecutive regular-season sellout think back to times past, namely, the Deadball Era. Halladay’s complete game last night marked the fifth time an opponent has thrown one against the Sox this season. It was also Halladay’s second complete game against the Sox this year. Paul Byrd, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians last Tuesday for future considerations, pitched well in his Red Sox debut, but he was no match for Halladay, who dominated the Sox with a complete-game, seven-hitter to lead the Toronto Blue Jays to a 4-1 victory. Byrd (7-11) allowed four runs on 10 hits in 7 1/3 innings and was hurt by a pair of home runs that accounted for three of the visitors’ runs. He still became the first Red Sox starting pitcher to go seven-or-more innings without a strikeout or walk since Bret Saberhagen on July 31, 1998 at Anaheim, California. Byrd entered the game on a roll, having gone 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his final four starts for Cleveland, including a complete-game, six-hit victory over Halladay in Toronto exactly one week earlier.
Halladay (14-9), who leads the majors with eight complete games, undoubtedly wanted to purge the bad taste left in his mouth from his last Fenway start back on April 29. He pitched his fourth consecutive complete game that day, only to have it tarnished by a Kevin Youkilis game-ending, RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, which gave the Sox their first, 1-0 walkoff win in more than 28 years. The Red Sox, who scored 37 runs in the preceding, three-game series against Texas, never had a realistic chance last night. Halladay got into a minor jam with two outs in the first inning, but got J. D. Drew to line out to center fielder Vernon Wells to strand a pair of runners. He didn’t allow another runner to advance past first base until Dustin Pedroia lined his first pitch of the ninth over The Wall for the second baseman’s 11th homer of the season.
Nation Notes: Bartolo Colon, who came out of his start Friday for Pawtucket after just one inning due to an illness, will be kept on normal rest before his next start. Tim Wakefield (shoulder tightness) played catch yesterday for the first time since going on the disabled list. Wakefield felt good after throwing 30 pitches at 60 feet.
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