No major news yesterday regarding Josh Beckett was good news for the Red Sox, who said the injured ace still is in line to start Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday at Fenway Park
Josh Beckett originally was scheduled to start Game 1 tomorrow night in Anaheim, Calif., but that changed when he injured his oblique muscle during a bullpen session Friday. Yesterday, before the team boarded a flight to the West Coast, Francona refused to elaborate on the right-hander’s injury but didn’t sound alarmed when discussing it.
Beckett has made a career of shining in big games, especially when October rolls around. Francona believes the player who will replace him in Game 1, Jon Lester, has a great chance of doing the same. Yesterday, Lester was named AL Pitcher of the Month for September, in which the left-hander was 4-1 with a 2.14 ERA in five starts, striking out 28 and walking 13.
Lester has faced the Angels four times in his three years in the big leagues, going 1-1 with a 7.78 ERA. In his last start against LA, the 24-year-old received a no decision in an eventual 6-4 Sox loss at Fenway on April 23. Lester (16-6, 3.21 ERA) will oppose Angels ace John Lackey (12-5, 3.75) in Game 1. In Game 2 on Friday night, Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90) will face righty Ervin Santana (16-7, 3.49). And in Game 3, Beckett is in line to match up against lefty Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41). That, of course, could all change if his injury fails to improve. Potential replacements are knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and playoff-tested Paul Byrd, both of whom made the trip to Anaheim yesterday.
Nation Notes: The Red Sox were encouraged by what they saw from third baseman Mike Lowell (right hip injury) and right fielder J.D Drew (lower back strain) during the club’s optional batting practice yesterday at Fenway Park. Both players took their cuts in the cage but neither was allowed to do any defensive work. They will both work out this afternoon in Anaheim, Calif., before Terry Francona submits his final roster for the Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels tomorrow.
Details of the Red Sox’ first-round playoff series fell into place early this morning. About the only thing left unknown is who wins it.
The AL West champion Los Angels Angels will host the wild card Red Sox in the Division Series, with Game 1 set for next Wednesday in Anaheim, Calif. Game 2 will be Friday before the series moves to Fenway Park a week from tomorrow.
Last night’s 19-8 loss to the Yankees sealed the Red Sox fate and clinched the AL East for the Tampa Bay Rays, who lost to the Tigers much earlier in the evening. The Red Sox will fly to Anaheim on Monday afternoon, the day after their regular-season concludes. Depending on whether or not today’s game gets washed out by predicted rains, tomorrow’s regular-season finale could be a doubleheader.
Rains yesterday wreaked havoc with the Sox’ rotation and more today would cause it to take on a new shape as well. An unexpected band of rain forced Daisuke Matsuzaka to be scratched last night and moved into today’s starting slot in place of Josh Beckett. Beckett cannot be expected to make a full-fledged start tomorrow, since that would jeopardize his availability for Game 1 or 2 in Anaheim. A much shorter-than-usual start for Beckett might be the answer or else the club could turn to its young arms.
Matsuzaka’s scratch forced David Pauley to be the emergency starter and he was not effective at all. In just 2 innings, he allowed seven runs (six earned) and six hits. A parade of relievers followed and the Yankees’ lineup continued to feast on their offerings.
The Red Sox took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first on home runs from Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis. They were down 12-4 after four innings in a game whose start was delayed by 91 minutes and was interrupted again by rain for 38 more.
One note of concern occurred in the third inning, when Mike Lowell, who was serving as the DH, was lifted for a pinch hitter. Lowell’s hip injury flared up and for precautionary reasons, the club took him out of the game. He will be re-evaluated today.
There was absolutely no sizzle in Game 1 of what is usually a feisty and important rivalry.
What felt remarkable about the rain delay was the atmosphere felt like a final weekend game from last year if the Tampa Bay “Devil” Rays were in town, and not the Yankees.
Now the Yankees, out of postseason contention, are last year’s Devil Rays, and this year’s Rays are last year’s Yankees. The bottom line is, the here and now did not possess any of the suspense and drama that the schedule-makers hoped they might create when they put these perennial rivals down as foes for the last weekend of the season.
Nation Notes: The J.D Drew Saga continues, as Drew’s bad back isn’t close to ending. J.D knew after Thursday’s series finale against Cleveland that soreness would prevent him from playing in last night’s series opener against the Yankees, so with two days remaining in the regular season, the Red Sox are left unsure if their right fielder will be available in the postseason.
With Tampa Bay’s loss yesterday, the Red Sox retained their slim hopes to win the American League East by beating the Indians, 6-1.
Only a sweep of the Yankees and a Tigers sweep of the Rays this weekend will give the Red Sox the division and home field for the first round of the playoffs against either the Twins or White Sox. Otherwise, they’re headed to Anaheim, Calif., as the AL wild card.
The Sox cruised past the Indians behind six strong innings from Jon Lester, who took a no-hitter into the sixth before Josh Barfield led off with a double and scored on Jamey Carroll’s single. Lester finished his breakout season 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie and Kevin Youkilis stroked two hits apiece, with Youkilis blasting his career-best 28th home run in the seventh, which helped draw the Sox within two games of the Rays with three to play.
Nation Notes: It was one and done for J.D. Drew. Tentatively scheduled to be the designated hitter last night, Drew woke up with stiffness in his back and legs and was relegated to the bench. The Bartolo Colon saga is officially over. The Red Sox placed Colon on the restricted list, opening up a spot on the 40-man roster. The team suspended Colon without pay because he refused to pitch out of the bullpen. Colon will be a free agent in the offseason. The Sox announced their minor league awards, and the recipients were honored before last night’s game. Reliever Daniel Bard (Greenville/Portland) was the pitcher of the year; first baseman Lars Anderson (Lancaster/Portland) was offensive player of the year; outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin (Greenville) was defensive player of the year; and outfielder Wilfredo Pichardo (Gulf Coast Red Sox/Lowell) was base runner of the year. Lefthanded pitcher Manuel Rivera (Dominican Summer League) was the minor league Latin Program pitcher of the year, and first baseman Eddie Lora (DSL Sox/GCL Sox) was the Latin Program player of the year.
It’s impossible to say if the wild card spot was won on July 31 when the Red Sox traded a disgruntled Manny Ramirez, but it most definitely could have been lost.
The Sox were a team in turmoil because of their mercurial star, and something had to give. When they succeeded in shipping out Ramirez in a three-way deal that brought back Jason Bay, there was relief. But there also was fear.
The Red Sox hope last night didn’t mark the culmination of that deal a third World Series title in five years is the ultimate goal but it’s fair to say that beating the Cleveland Indians, 5-4, at Fenway Park to clinch their fifth playoff berth in six years is a step in that direction. They clinched at least the wild card, while trailing AL East-leading Tampa Bay by three games with five to play.
None of it seemed remotely small at the time, be it Curt Schilling’s season-ending injury before the season even started, Ortiz missing two months with a torn tendon sheath in his wrist or ace Josh Beckett struggling through tingling and numbness in his right elbow. Then, of course, there was Ramirez, whose attitude and demeanor had become so poisonous, the Red Sox decided they simply could not live with the left fielder. They couldn’t trust he’d even be in the lineup for games like last night’s clincher. Theo Epstein pulled the trigger with a clear conscience.
The deal was applauded in the clubhouse. Bay symbolized everything Ramirez did not; a quiet, mature, team-first player who would always give 100 percent effort, even in areas like baserunning and defense in left field. The Sox played .560 ball with Ramirez. They’re at .646 since. For his part, Bay succeeded by immediately establishing he wasn’t here to replace anyone.
Pitcher Paul Byrd arrived from Cleveland after the Ramirez deal. Byrd had been watching from afar and was impressed at both the bravery of trading such an offensive force, as well as the foresight to bring in an underrated player like Bay. Now Byrd, who will start tonight vs. the Indians, looks around the clubhouse and sees a team in every sense of the word.
Nation Notes: Jed Lowrie, in his head-spinning rookie season, has played in 42 games at shortstop and 47 at third base, often toggling between the two in the same game, as he did last night. He has hit in every spot in the batting order except leadoff. He has played in 47 of the Red Sox’ last 48 games. J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell both made progress yesterday. Drew, battling a herniated disk in his back, received an epidural and almost immediately felt positive results. The Sox planned to have Lowell (torn hip labrum) hit in the batting cage last night, then on the field today. Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 14 games, a career best, with a double in the fifth inning. Dustin Pedroia hit his 53d double, tying Tris Speaker (1912) for third in Sox history.
The celebration will be at home. Exactly when, how and what they will be celebrating AL wild card or AL East winner remains to be determined. But the Red Sox locked up at least a tie for the wild card yesterday by blanking the Blue Jays in their final road game of the season, 3-0.The Sox could have clinched the wild card outright last night, but the Yankees remained mathematically alive for the wild card with a 7-3 win over the Orioles. So the Sox remain on the cusp of their fifth trip to the playoffs in six years.
Daisuke Matsuzaka had one of his best starts of the season, holding the Jays to only two hits in his seven innings while improving to 18-2 and lowering his ERA to 2.80. Pitching crisply and executing his large arsenal of pitches the right way in the strike zone, Matsuzaka put the Blue Jays down with ease.
Toronto rookie Scott Richmond was unable to keep the Red Sox from building all the lead they needed by the end of the third inning. Jacoby Ellsbury began the game with a triple and was quickly knocked in on Dustin Pedroia’s sacrifice fly. Two innings later, after Ellsbury doubled, Ortiz stayed back and was able to flick a 3-2 changeup from Richmond over the left field wall for the 3-0 lead. Richmond was done after five innings, and a trio of Toronto relievers held the Red Sox to just two hits the rest of the way.
Hideki Okajima came in to pitch a 1-2-3 eighth inning, then Jonathan Papelbon closed the door in the ninth for his 40th save, a recipe for success the Sox rode in their championship drive last season. With the win, the Red Sox picked up a game in the AL East on the Rays, 4-1 losers to the Twins, so the battle to discover who will be the division champion is very much up in the air. The Rays, who clinched their postseason berth Saturday, will finish their season with seven games on the road; three in Baltimore, four in Detroit, while the Red Sox return home for four games with the Indians beginning tonight, followed by three with the Yankees.
Nation Notes: Julio Lugo reinjured his strained quadriceps while fielding a ground ball Saturday, and yesterday seemed more pessimistic about his chances to return by season’s end than at any point since he began working out. There was no update on Mike Lowell’s condition. He has not been doing anything over the weekend, just trying to give the new medication a chance to work, and “let it cool down,” The Red Sox were hoping for a “marked improvement” over the next couple of days. Terry Francona did not anticipate that J.D Drew would need to see a back specialist when the team returned to Boston, but he will be re-evaluated. The Sox ended up with a 39-42 road record, just the second time since 1998 they had a losing road record. They also had one in 2006. Yesterday’s shutout was the 16th for Sox pitching this year.
The Red Sox sure picked a good time to remember how to beat the Toronto Blue Jays.With a 4-3 victory last night at Rogers Centre, the Sox kept their postseason hopes as high as possible with nine games left. The magic number to reach the playoffs is two, meaning the Red Sox could clinch a postseason berth as soon as tonight should they beat the Blue Jays again, the Yankees lose and either the Twins or White Sox drop a game. If that sounds complicated, the bottom line is that the ultimate math is quite favorable for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox lost six of their first eight games this season against the pitching-rich Blue Jays but have rebounded to win five of their last six vs. Toronto. Paul Byrd and A.J. Burnett battled to a draw in one of the more unlikely pitchers’ duels. Byrd gave up three runs in his six innings; Burnett three in seven.
When Byrd was finished, the call went to the bullpen and the relievers responded with three scoreless innings. The first three out of the bull pen; Javier Lopez, Manny Delcarmen (1-2) and Hideki Okajima did not allow a hit and struck out two in their two combined innings.
At times, Burnett displayed a filthy curveball that Sox hitters either were unable to lay off of or watched drop in for a strike. In the fifth, however, the Red Sox struck gold. A leadoff double from Jason Varitek started things off. Two outs and three batters later, Kevin Youkilis had the first RBI with a single to center field and Casey followed with his two-run double to right. After the Blue Jays tied it right back in the home half of the fifth against Byrd, Varitek got to Toronto reliever Brian Tallet in the eighth, with his bases-loaded RBI groundout plating the eventual winning run.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon created some anxious moments in the ninth inning after he failed to field a slow bouncer by Adam Lind. The pitcher’s throw to first was wild, and the Blue Jays suddenly had the tying run at second and the go-ahead run at the plate with no outs.
Papelbon recovered to record a lineout, a groundout and a strikeout on a 95 mph third strike to Travis Snider for his 39th save in 44 attempts.
Nation Notes: Bartolo Colon has been suspended without pay, though not put on the restricted list. The reason Colon was not placed on the restricted list was so he could be recalled if something changed, though the team does not expect to see him again. Time appears to be running out for J.D. Drew with just nine games left in the regular season. Jason Bay rejoined the team and was back in the lineup last night against the Blue Jays, after the birth of his second daughter Tuesday. Julio Lugo (quadriceps) is trying to get back before the regular season is over, but that is in doubt.
The Red Sox’ long-awaited taste of first place in the AL East lasted a single day as the Rays won, 2-1, last night at Tropicana Field to go back up by a game.
Dioner Navarro’s walkoff RBI single off of reliever Justin Masterson in a weird ninth inning ruined an otherwise great night for Josh Beckett. The Sox starter pitched eight strong innings, allowing just one run in the seventh, when Carlos Pena flicked an opposite-field home run over the left field fence to tie the game. Tampa Bay starter Andy Sonnanstine pitched six strong innings himself, allowing just one unearned run and three hits as the starters squared off against each other again for the second time in a row.
A victory tonight in the series finale would mean moving back into a share of the AL East lead for the Sox. A win also would even the season series, which the Rays lead 9-8. Of the Red Sox’ seven losses at the Trop this season, five have been by a single run. Maybe it was just the calendar, but this one seemed to hurt a little more than the others.
A Kevin Youlkilis sacrifice fly put the Sox up 1-0 in the sixth inning. But that is where the offensive production began and ended against Sonnanstine and three relievers. The ninth inning was a case study in bad breaks for Masterson (6-5). Jason Bartlett blooped a single, then Pena worked a walk. During Pena’s plate appearance, he swung violently and missed at a second strike but time had been granted before Masterson’s delivery because a pitch by the warming-up Hideki Okajima in the visitors bullpen area down the left field line got away from the catcher and rolled onto the field. The strike was taken off the books and Pena worked the walk. Masterson did strike out Evan Longoria, but then hit Cliff Floyd on the back foot with a pitch to load the bases, setting up Navarro for hero duties.
Beckett’s performance was awfully encouraging, with October baseball around the corner. Most nights, such efforts will translate into a victory for the Red Sox but they seldom play against teams with pitching staffs of the Rays’ caliber. The teams will play their season finale tonight, with Tim Wakefield squaring off against Rays starter Matt Garza.
Nation Notes: Injured right fielder J.D. Drew returned yesterday after attending funeral services for his grandmother, but when he returns to the lineup from the herniated disk in his back remains to be seen. Drew is “very hopeful” to return against Toronto. Jason Bay was out of the lineup last night, as he returned to Boston to be with his wife, who gave birth to a daughter, Evelyn Jane. The Sox plan to have Bay rejoin them in Toronto. Jacoby Ellsbury has played 163 games in his major league career and has yet to commit an error. Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino holds the record for consecutive games to begin a career without an error at 176.
The Red Sox had six different hitters smack home runs in route to a 13-5 victory and first-place tie with Tampa Bay, the first time the team has been atop the division in 59 games. The Red Sox’ first victory after six failed attempts here this season came as the visitors kicked off this critical six-game road trip that ends in Toronto this weekend.
There is no guarantee the Red Sox will leave for Canada as a first-place team. But the whupping they gave the Rays put all the momentum in their corner as their 2007 ace, Josh Beckett, takes the mound tonight against Tampa Bay’s Andy Sonnanstine. Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka (17-2) held a punchless Rays lineup to three hits and one run in five innings. Rays starter Scott Kazmir (11-7), meanwhile, was uncharacteristically awful. The lefty allowed nine runs on six hits and four walks in just three innings. Kazmir opened the first inning by throwing nine straight balls, the first eight of which put Coco Crisp and Dustin Pedroia on base via walks. The ninth ball left David Ortiz drooling at the prospect of seeing a hittable strike. Kazmir obliged, and after fouling off one pitch, Ortiz launched a three-run homer to right. And the Red Sox were off and swatting.
The Sox sent 10 batters to the plate in the fourth, with Jason Bay (solo shot off catwalk in center) and Jason Varitek (two-run shot to left) going deep off Kazmir and Kevin Youkilis saluting reliever Mitch Talbot’s major league debut with a three-run homer of his own. Jacoby Ellsbury made it six long balls for the Sox an inning later.
That was plenty of support for Matsuzaka, who didn’t earn a decision in two previous starts against the Rays this season but had posted a 3.60 ERA in 10 innings. Staked to a 4-0 lead in the first last night, the right-hander put two runners on with two outs in the bottom of the frame but escaped unscathed. He really only got hurt in the third via Akinori Iwamura’s solo home run. The Sox led 12-1 by the time Matsuzaka departed after 101 pitches through the fifth.
Nation Notes: Mike Lowell has been playing with a painful partially torn labrum in his right hip, an injury that will likely need surgery after the season. J. D. Drew is expected to rejoin the team today, after spending the weekend with family in the wake of his grandmother’s death.
Pitching very much like the postseason Game 1 starter he is in line to be, Jon Lester delivered a lift to the Red Sox yesterday on the big stage. In a tough matchup against Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, Lester was the unanimous winner in a 4-3 Red Sox victory, their third win in four games against a dangerous Toronto squad.
The Red Sox are now one game back of the Rays in the AL East with the biggest week of their season on the horizon; three games against the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., followed by three more against the Blue Jays in Toronto. And Lester was able to send his team on the road all smiles. That’s what leaders do.
Lester went eight innings, allowing just one run; a Jose Bautista first-inning home run and retiring 22 of the last 28 batters. He struck out six and the one serious threat he faced runners on first and second with one out in the seventh when the Red Sox’ lead was just 2-1 he got out of with a picture-perfect double play. Jonathan Papelbon made things way too tense in the ninth, allowing a pair of runs. But the closer settled down enough to collect his career-high 38th save.
The homestand began with an unsettling series loss to the Rays. The Blue Jays are not as good a team as Tampa Bay, but the Red Sox took great pride getting the best of a team that came here having won 11 of their previous 13. And to have their best pitcher this season pitch his best was the cherry on top for the Sox, who have won nine of 13.
Down 1-0 after Bautista’s blast, the Red Sox offense struck at their first opportunity as Jacoby Ellsbury led off the bottom of the first with a single, stole second, advanced on a Dustin Pedroia sacrifice bunt and came in on David Ortiz’s groundout. An inning later, after Jason Bay led off with a double, Coco Crisp gave the Sox the 2-1 lead with a two-out RBI single.
Halladay (seven innings, three runs, two earned, six hits, no walks, five strikeouts) got in a groove after that, retiring the next 13 batters. But Crisp bested him again in the seventh with another big two-out hit, bringing in Lowell. Kevin Youkilis’ sacrifice fly in the eighth following a rare Ortiz triple drove in the fourth run, which became absolutely critical when Papelbon stumbled slightly. But in the end the story was all Lester, whose record now stands at 15-5 with a 3.15 ERA.
The playoffs begin Oct. 1 or 2 for the American League. Lester’s next scheduled start is Saturday in Toronto, then Sept. 25 at Fenway against the Cleveland Indians. That puts him right on track to pitch Game 1 with plenty of rest. Tweaks can still be made to the current rotation order; Lester, Matsuzaka, Beckett and Tim Wakefield, but the Sox may opt not to mess with success.
Nation Notes: Sources in Tokyo indicate the Red Sox appear to be in the lead for the services of 22-year-old righthander Junichi Tazawa. The Sox have been the most aggressive team with Tazawa, though the Yankees have a contingent of four scouts trying to lure Tazawa. The Sox will have a powwow today to discuss how Bartolo Colon might be used the rest of the way. It doesn’t appear Colon would have any more starting opportunities. The Sox have been reluctant to use him out of the bullpen because Colon isn’t a fan of it, but he might be asked anyway. J.D. Drew will make the trip, but after getting an injection in his back Friday, he’s not likely to be available to play until this Friday in Toronto.
For quite a while yesterday, it looked like a mini-calamity might be unfolding for the Red Sox, a succession of events that might substantially damage the ballclub’s bid to claim the AL East title and its hold on the wild card berth.
The Sox were spanked in Game 1 of a day-night doubleheader against A.J. Burnett and the Toronto Blue Jays, 8-1, and fell behind early in Game 2 last night. With Tampa Bay winning the opener of its day-nighter in New York vs. the Yankees and taking an early lead in the night game, it appeared as though the Sox might lose two games in their pursuit of the Rays and see the teams chasing them for the wild card gain ground.
All of the negativity vanished in the late innings of the nightcap, as the Sox scored single runs in the sixth and seventh innings, then added three more in the eighth, good for a 7-5 victory over the Blue Jays. With Tampa Bay losing Game 2 to the Yanks, the Sox remained just two games out of first place.
The Blue Jays, still harboring hope for a wild card miracle, posted five second-inning runs off Sox Game 2 starter Bartolo Colon to go up 5-2. But the Red Sox scrapped back with a single run in the sixth on a Jed Lowrie sacrifice fly, one more in the seventh on a fielder’s choice by Kevin Youkilis, a play on which David Ortiz’ takeout slide at second may have averted an inning-ending double play. In the eighth, Jason Bay, who escaped a recent slump with three hits, led off with a double and scored the game-tying run on a Lowrie single.
Jacoby Ellsbury brought Lowrie home with the eventual game-winner on a bizarre play. Facing tough Toronto left-handed reliever Kelly Downs with two outs, Ellsbury topped a swinging bunt down the first base line. As Downs went for the ball, he stumbled and fell flat on his face, allowing Ellsbury to reach and Lowrie to score.
Pedroia followed with a single, his 200th hit of the season. Ortiz plated an insurance run with a double off The Wall that scored Ellsbury to make it a 7-5 game. Jonathan Papelbon pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 37th save in 42 attempts.
In Game 1, pretty much everything went the Jays’ way. A. J. Burnett (18-10) was terrific, allowing three hits and one unearned run in six-plus innings. The Toronto offense, meanwhile, battered Sox starter Paul Byrd (11-12) and two relievers for 13 hits, including six doubles and a three-run homer by Travis Snider that broke the game open in the fifth inning.
With the exception of Ellsbury, who twice singled and stole second following each hit, the Red Sox were mostly overmatched against Burnett, who featured a fastball that topped out at 98 mph and a nasty curveball. Such was not the case where Byrd (five-plus innings, 10 hits, five runs) was concerned.
Nation Notes: MVP candidate Dustin Pedroia became the first Sox player to reach 200 hits in a season since Mo Vaughn in 1998. Two of his hits were doubles, giving him 50, only the eighth Sox player to do that. He now has 69 extra-base hits, tying Bobby Doerr (1940) for the most by a Red Sox second baseman. His 305 total bases breaks Doerr’s second base club mark. The Red Sox announced that reliever Hideki Okajima has made enough appearances to trigger his club option for next season. Jacoby Ellsbury stole his 46th and 47th bases of the season, third-most in Red Sox history. George Kottaras, a 25-year-old who played for Greece during the 2004 Athens Olympics, made his major league debut in the seventh inning, replacing Jason Varitek behind the plate. In his first at-bat in the bottom of the frame, Kottaras reached on a strikeout/wild pitch and ended up scoring the Sox’ lone run on Kevin Cash’s sacrifice fly. Later, he just missed a home run. Reliever Devern Hansack making a bid for the 2009 season, was impressive, he retired all nine batter he faced with three strike outs in game 1.
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