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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Zobrist’

It is an unfortunate sight indeed when a pitcher falls victim to the ugly specter of the one bad inning.  In the beginning, it looked as if Tampa Bay would be no stranger to this phenomenon.  In the end, however, they had the last laugh.  Their one bad inning was our one good inning; our one worse inning was their one better inning.

The game began on such a high note.  Ellsbury got hit by a pitch.  That, in and of itself, was obviously not the high note.  That was an unfortunate accident.  His getting on base was the high note.

Victorino then struck out, Pedroia singled, and then it was Papi’s turn.  He got two fastballs.  The first, a two-seam, he took for a ball.  The second, a four-seam, he sent beyond the right field fence.  It was a straight-shot rocket; if it had stayed in the park, it would have been one of those hard-hit line drives.  The ball couldn’t wait to get out of the park.  With that one swing, we scored three runs in the first inning alone.

It was the first and last time we scored.

We went down in order in the first, second, and third.  Drew doubled and Ellsbury walked in the fourth, giving us runners at the corners with two out, but all hope for a rally died out when Victorino flied out.  Pedroia walked to lead off the sixth, and Drew and Ellsbury both walked in the seventh.  But we didn’t turn those opportunities into rallies.  We went down in order in the eighth and the ninth.

Tampa Bay’s experience was about the same.  The only difference was that they scored two more runs than we did.

The Rays went down in order in the first and second.  Lackey gave up a single, a double, and a walk to load the bases with two out but bore down to end the inning on a groundout.  Lackey’s poison of choice was the fourth inning.  He gave up two consecutive singles and an RBI double before recording the inning’s first out with a strikeout.  But he was right back at it with a two-run single followed by another single, a flyout, and a second two-run single.  The fourth ended almost exactly as the third had: with Ben Zobrist grounding out on an off-speed pitch at the end of a five-pitch at-bat.

I’ll say something else about that second two-run single.  Pedroia and Napoli both had their eyes on it, but Napoli had that ball.  At least, he should have had it.  He should have had it, the game should have tied at three, and we should have forced it into extras if necessary and eventually won.  The fact that Napoli missed that catch and let the ball drop is egregious.  Make no mistake, folks.  It happened because of the roof.  That white roof is a criminal backdrop against which to try to pick out and track a baseball.  It’s awful.  This is not the first time this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last.  But it should not be an issue.  Players, not ballparks, play ballgames.  And I do not fault Pedroia’s decision not to touch it; if it rolled foul, it’s possible that we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.  He had no way to know that the ball would stay fair.  In the end, however, he made a good effort, but there was nothing that could have been done at that point.

One out and one double into the fifth, Miller relieved Lackey; the frame ended with a strikeout and a caught thief.  After he allowed a single to lead off the sixth, Mortensen came in and gave up a walk but nothing else.  Two flyouts into the seventh, Breslow came on and ended that inning, recorded the first two of the next, and gave up a double.  Wilson came in and ended the eighth.

The final score was 5-3.  We spent three and a half innings under the assumption that it was us who would be celebrating the deleterious effects of the one bad inning.  We could not have been more wrong.  This game was essentially a pitcher’s duel.  The question not only was who would crack first but also who would crack worse.  We scored first but lost.

In other news, in one of the most suspenseful nailbiters I’ve seen on the ice lately, we have emerged victorious! We vanquished the Leafs, 5-4, and are moving on to the Rangers! Both teams each scored a goal in the first period.  The Leafs took the lead by one in the second and scored two in the third, but we scored three to tie it up, and Toronto fell in sudden death.  Wow.  I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to make quick work of the Rangers, that’s for sure.

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That’s the game that we were all hoping we’d play.  Fenway was a sight for sore eyes; something about the players being introduced at the home opener just makes you feel refreshed and ready, and after the start to the season we’ve had, we needed that.  And the final score was a sight for sore eyes, too.  12-2.  Now that’s what I call taking care of business on your first day home.  Ladies and gentlemen, here’s hoping that yesterday was the first day of the rest of our baseball lives!

First things first.  The opening ceremonies were as fitting and fantastically done as ever.  Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek threw the first pitch, as they should have.  It was so great to see them back there received with the standing ovation that they clearly deserved.  Dwight Evans caught Wakefield’s pitch, and Jim Rice caught Varitek’s, which was especially fitting since Rice was our captain before Varitek played.  Needless to say, the pitches were thrown quite well (I was hoping Wakefield would deliver a knuckleball, but apparently Evans warned him against that beforehand), and there were plenty of hugs to go around afterwards.  All in all, it was a supremely feel-good event.  In the bottom of the second, Wakefield and Varitek joined the NESN booth for the first time ever; apparently they’d never been to that part of the park before.  Wakefield was right when he said that it was a special day that the two of them shared together; opening the hundredth season of baseball at Fenway was a task that was absolutely fitting for them to complete.  And we’ll see them again this year; during the season each of them will be honored with their own day.  We certainly haven’t seen the last of Varitek, who will probably re-join the organization in some sort of professional capacity.  Their comments on the start to the season we’ve had were interesting to hear, and ultimately it was just a pleasure to have them back.  It really was.

Beckett pitched like an ace.  These are now back-to-back gems by our two best starters; it’s a good sign, and it’s some solid momentum that we can build from.  Beckett pitched eight innings and gave up only one run on five hits, two of which were doubles, and that was it for extra bases.  He walked one and struck out one, the eleventh time in his career that he posted only one strikeout but the first time in his career that he posted a win with only one strikeout.  That one strikeout came against Carlos Pena with one out in the eighth; it took him six pitches, and the clincher was a curveball going seventy-four miles per hour that resulted in a missed swing.  Beckett threw ninety-four pitches, sixty-one of which were strikes, so he was right on pace.

He brought his fastball up to ninety-two miles per hour, and they were good, but the real stars of his arsenal were the cutter and the changeup.  Almost all of his cutters were thrown for strikes, and a little less than half of all of his pitches were changeups, which he threw for strikes almost two-thirds of the time.  Other than that, he also introduced a curveball that was pretty good.  So he pitched like an ace, but not necessarily like the ace we’ve seen him be in most of his gem starts.  This was less about dominating and overpowering the hitters and more about getting around them with craftiness and finesse.  It was a side of Beckett that we rarely get to see, but nevertheless it was obviously an effective side of Beckett and one that speaks to his overall skill and versatility as a pitcher.

Regarding efficiency, as I said, he was pretty much on the ball.  He wasn’t remarkably efficient, but he wasn’t inefficient, either.  Around a hundred pitches is where you should be by the time the ninth inning starts, and there are plenty of pitching staffs out there whose aces are lucky if they can make it to the sixth or seventh around a hundred pitches.  He threw at most seventeen pitches in one inning, and he did that twice, once in the first and again in the fourth.  He threw sixteen in the second and thirteen in the eighth.  Other than that, he threw nine in the sixth, eight in the third, and seven in the fifth and seventh.

Beckett allowed his lone run in the second pretty quickly; the inning started with a single, and the next hit was one of the two doubles he gave up, which scored Ben Zobrist.  But then he ended the inning with three straight groundouts, and under his watch, it was the end of the scoring for the Tampa Bay Rays.  (Incidentally, Zobrist also scored Beckett’s only walk, in addition to his only run.) Three of his innings were one-two-three: the third, the fifth, and the eighth.

Meanwhile, the game did not begin auspiciously for our offense, as we went down in order in the first.  We put two on base in the second, but three straight outs erased that threat.  We first got on board in the third: Shoppach got hit, Ellsbury doubled, and Pedroia walked on five pitches to load the bases.  Then we put up three straight scoring plays: Gonzalez singled, Youk hit a sac fly, and Papi singled.  It was small ball, but it was effective small ball.  McDonald re-loaded the bases by also walking on five pitches, but Ross ended the inning by grounding into a double play.  Still, that was three runs right there.

We added one in the fourth; Aviles began the inning by grounding out, but then Shoppach doubled and scored on a single by Ellsbury.  (Speaking of the fourth, Ross made a fantastic diving catch to prevent a base hit and secure the first out in the top of the inning.) We went down in order in the fifth again, and we had two baserunners again erased in the sixth and one erased in the seventh.

Now, at that point, the score was 4-1, and with the way Beckett was pitching, that lead alone would have held up fine.  Honestly, if that had remained the score, Bobby V. would have let Beckett stay in there and finish it up.  He’s a beast against the Rays; he’s got four wins and is undefeated in six starts with a 0.84 ERA going back to September 12, 2009.  As it turned out, Melancon came out to pitch the ninth.  He faced four batters.  Three of them represented outs, but between the first and second one was a solo shot to right on a 2-1 fastball.  Those two runs were the only runs that the Rays would have scored.  In plenty of other scenarios, which unfortunately we have seen first-hand this year, that may have cost us the game.  Fortunately, Melancon made that one isolated mistake and recovered.  So if we had only scored four runs, in this particular game we would’ve been fine.

But we didn’t only score four runs.  We exploded majorly in the eighth.  It was fantastic.  It was like a whole new team up there.  Almost every batter in that inning contributed to the run total in one way or another, and it was just a string of well-orchestrated scoring plays.  It really looked and felt like the team was playing like a team.

It all began with a pitching change; Joel Peralta replaced Wade Davis.  What a cold, cold greeting we gave him.  McDonald opened the inning with a very patient at-bat that concluded with a double.  Then Ross walked, and McDonald moved to third on a wild pitch.  Then Aviles walked to load the bases.  Then Shoppach doubled and scored two.  Then Sweeney singled and scored two.  Then Pedroia and Gonzalez singled back-to-back to reload the bases.  Then Youk singled and scored two.  Then Papi doubled and scored one.  Then McDonald got hit to reload the bases.  Then Ross hit a sac fly that scored one.  Then Aviles singled to reload the bases.  And then Shoppach and Sweeney provided the last two outs.  So, before Ross hit his sac fly, we sent ten men to the plate with nobody out in the inning, and our first out of the inning was still a scoring play.  We scored eight runs in the eighth inning alone.

We posted sixteen hits to their six.  We posted five extra-base hits to their three, even though ours were all doubles and they had a homer.  We left ten on base to their five, but – are you ready for this? – we went ten for seventeen with runners in scoring position to their 0 for 5.  Ten for seventeen.

Youk and Papi both went two for four, the latter with a double, and Gonzalez went two for three.  But the man of the hour, who went three for four with two doubles, was Kelly Shoppach.  Not bad for a catcher.  Not bad at all.  All told, we had five multi-hit games.

There was only one downside to the game, and unfortunately it was extremely significant.  Ellsbury went two for three but left in the bottom of the fourth with an injured right shoulder.  Right after his RBI single that inning, Pedroia grounded into a double play to end it, and Reid Brignac landed on the shoulder at second base after he threw to first.  Hard.  It looked bad; he grabbed it and stood up with some difficulty.  He walked off the field holding his arm pretty delicately.  Make no mistake, folks: this is a complete and total disaster in every conceivable way.  The incident quieted Fenway pretty quickly, and rightly so.  He was examined after the game, but there is no definite word yet on his condition; you can be sure, though, that he’ll be temporarily replaced for at least five or six weeks.

So the team does indeed start to celebrate Fenway’s one hundredth birthday with a win! It was a win for Fenway, a win for Red Sox Nation, and a win for the team, and we all badly needed it.  And so we should feel happy about that.  But we should also be aware of the fact that we hope we didn’t just trade in a win in the short term for a win in the long term; in other words, we hope that Ellsbury isn’t injured for the long term as a result of what occurred in this game.  Seriously.  This is an extremely, extremely big deal.

In other news, the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Bruins have officially begin, and on a high note at that.  We beat the Caps, 1-0! As I said, I’m really thinking repeat.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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Rare these days is the joy, wonder, set of unique challenges, and exhaustion that is the doubleheader.  It’s awesome.  It basically erases all the rest the team got during our off day on Monday, but it’s awesome.

We won the opener.  James Shields may have pitched a complete game, but Lester pitched the better game.  The final score was 3-1; the differences in those pitchers’ lines were those two runs and two more strikeouts for Lester.  But it was enough.  Lester gave up one run on three hits while walking one and striking out eight.  He threw 113 pitches (one less than Shields, which made him less efficient), sixty-five of which were strikes (fifteen less than Shields).  Nasty cut fastball, devastating changeup, excellent sinker, and decent curveball.  So the point is that, from the perspective of the lines, the two pitchers were evenly matched; it was the lineups that were not.  What the line doesn’t tell you is that Lester threw seventy-nine pitches through his first four innings, which was crucial due to the fact that the team had to work overtime yesterday.  He made up for it in the fifth: in and out with only six pitches.

Lester allowed a double on his fifth pitch of the game; the runner scored on a groundout.  We, on the other hand, did a little bit more at the plate.

I emphasize “a little bit more.” We basically won that game on one swing of the bat.  Reddick and Aviles both singled in the third, and Ellsbury put up our half of the final score with a home run on a changeup in a 1-1 count.  The ball ended up somewhere behind the bullpen.  Shields had been throwing a lot of changeups, so it was only a matter of time before someone figured it out and made him pay.  This one was down and over the middle.

And that was pretty much it.  Neither team put together an opportunity to speak of after that.  Bard.  Paps, who can thank Pedroia for a spectacular leaping catch on outfield grass for the third out.  Done.  The Rays may have had five opportunities with runners in scoring position to our one, but all that matters is that we capitalized on that one, and they didn’t capitalize on any.

Despite a gem of a highlight, we lost the nightcap.  Bedard pitched well; he’s improving on all fronts with each start, which is obviously excellent.  He gave up three runs, only one of which was earned.  You can thank Lowrie for that.  Lowrie was in for Youk last night.

Bedard gave up seven hits while walking none and striking out six.  He gave up a solo shot in the fifth; it was a fastball, the first pitch of the at-bat with two outs in the inning.  He threw 102 pitches, seventy-two of which were strikes.  He was working with some fantastic stuff; his fastballs, changeup, curveball, and cutter (of which he threw less than a handful, and that’s being generous) were all really great.  He threw thirty-six pitches in the second, when he allowed his two unearned runs, but like Lester, he made up for it with an incredibly skimpy inning: only seven pitches in the fourth.

Tek led off the third with a Pesky-style dinger on a fastball.  Ellsbury did almost the exact same thing in the sixth: same pitch (two-seam), same count (1-0), and same spot (leading off the inning), but into the bullpen.

The bad part was that that was all we did offensively, which was terrible because the bullpen imploded in the eighth.  Albers allowed a single, a force out, another single, and an RBI single.  Then Morales came in.  Then Ben Zobrist stole third, and then he stole home.  Meanwhile, BJ Upton stole second base, and another single brought him home.  It was horribly ugly.  Then Wheeler pitched a scoreless inning and we lost, 6-2.

However, as I said, there was one silver lining to the nightcap: we made our first triple play since July 8, 1994 (unassisted by John Valentin against the Mariners, in case you were wondering) and our eleventh since 1954! Man, it was awesome.  It was the top of the fourth.  There were no outs with runners on first and second.  Sean Rodriguez stood at the plate with a 1-0 count.  Bedard dealt a curveball.  Rodriguez hit the ball practically into Lowrie’s glove.  He touched third on one step and fired to Pedroia for the out at second, who fired to Gonzalez for the out at first.  Five-four-three.  Acumen, precision, speed.  Inning over.  I guess Lowrie just really, really, really wanted to make up for that error.  It was epic.

So we went one and one on the day. We turned a triple play.  We lost, which obviously isn’t good.  But come on.  A triple play! Epic.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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That was rough.  Lester pitched beautifully.  Well, I should qualify that.  He pitched a full seven innings, giving up three runs on seven hits with two walks and three strikeouts.  It’s not that that’s a bad outing.  It’s a good outing.  For most pitchers, that would be a great outing.  It’s just that we’re used to seeing even better from Lester.  Like no runs on three hits with no walks and ten strikeouts over eight innings.  For him, that’s good, but it doesn’t seem customary because, last night, it wasn’t good enough.

He threw 109 pitches, sixty-seven for strikes.  He threw really great cut fastballs for strikes, and he worked them up to ninety-five miles per hour.  His other pitches weren’t working as well.  He varied his speed; he mixed in some changeups, curveballs, and sinkers, but they weren’t thrown for strikes as often.

He threw fifteen pitches in the first inning.  He threw his highest total, twenty-two, in the third inning.  He had absolutely nothing to worry about until the fifth inning, when he got into trouble that he failed to escape.  It started with a groundout.  But then he gave up three straight singles to the bottom third of the order.  One run scored on a fielder’s choice, and two more scored on another single by – you guessed it – Johnny Damon of all people.  The inning finally ended with a groundout.  It took him twenty pitches to give up those three runs.

And then he just went right back to cruising like nothing happened, which is really the best way to go about it.  You don’t want to have a bad inning and then have another bad inning just because you had a bad inning.  He pitched two more innings before he was lifted, and they were pretty routine.  Maybe a single here, a walk there, a steal attempt there, and that goes back to the fact that, with Lester, we’re just used to not seeing any of that, so if any of it is there at all, we think it’s a sign of a bad outing.  For him it might be, but comparatively speaking it wasn’t so bad.  He fired seven pitches, five of them strikes, during his final inning.

So the one bad inning, as we’ve seen all too often, again rears its ugly head.  But we’re still talking about only three runs.  The bullpen held it together; the Rays didn’t score after that.  Bard pitched a solid, scoreless eighth, and Jenks pitched a solid, scoreless ninth.  So it’s a tribute to Lester that we consider that a bad inning, but our offense should have been able to handle it.  So the real unfortunate part is not that Lester gave up three runs.  It’s that we couldn’t score at least four.

McDonald picked up his first homer of the season in the third, a solo shot to lead off the inning.  It was the second pitch of the at-bat.  He received an eighty mile-per-hour changeup first but swung and missed.  Then he got a seventy-five mile-per-hour curveball, David Price’s first of the game, and was all over it.  He sent that into the Monster seats, and that actually gave us a one-run, short-lived lead.  After doubling to lead off the sixth, Pedroia came around to score on a double by Lowrie, who posted the lineup’s only multi-hit game.  He went two for four with two doubles.

The bottom of the ninth was our last chance.  Ellsbury pinch-hit for Cameron but struck out swinging on three pitches.  Drew pinch-hit for Tek but struck out swinging on six pitches.  Papi pinch-hit for McDonald but flied out to right on two pitches.  You know, Papi has hit at least one triple every season since 2000; he’s the only American League batter to do so for twelve straight seasons.  He actually legs out quite a few of them.  It sounds funny, but he’s capable of hustling and he does when he needs to.  So when he flied out to right, I was hoping that it would be in there for a triple.  He has one already; why not make it two on the year? And that ball just sailed right into that glove.  Game over.

To clarify, Papi was pinch-hitting because originally he was penciled out of the lineup since Tito wanted to increase the number of righties in the order against the southpaw.  Lowrie played third base, and Youk, for the first time in his career, started a game as the designated hitter.  He singled.  He struck out.  He didn’t do much else.

Congratulations to Crawford, who received both a Gold Glove award and a Silver Slugger award before the game for his work last season.  And then he got picked off in the first? Price made this quick move of his to first and caught Crawford several steps off the bag just standing there.  And Ben Zobrist makes that catch in right field in the fifth? That ball came off Tek’s bat and he was headed for extra bases for sure had it not been for that catch.

We lost, 3-2, and that’s the second straight pitcher’s duel that Lester has lost by one run.  We left six on base and went one for seven with runners in scoring position.  At least we didn’t have that many runners in scoring position, so we didn’t strand a whole heap of runners.  And that’s what I call a dysfunctional statement.  We should never have to find ourselves in a position where we’re glad we didn’t have that many runners in scoring position just so that we wouldn’t have to deal with squandering those opportunities.  But that’s because we only totaled five hits.  On the bright side, four of those five were for extra bases.  At least we scored a couple of runs, so it’s not like last time when Lester lost, 1-0, because we couldn’t plate a single man.  But it’s still a loss we shouldn’t have had to take.  Three pinch-hitters in the ninth, and we couldn’t get it done.

Well, Lackey is pitching tomorrow in the last game of the series.  We just have to keep moving right along.  Eventually, things will just click.  Until then, hold onto your hats.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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This is not how you want to begin Rivalry Week, for a number of reasons.  First and most obviously, we lost.  You don’t want to begin Rivalry Week with a loss.  You don’t want to begin any series with the Rays with a loss.  Our playing relationship with the Rays has been strange ever since they were good last year.  Last year, it looked like nobody knew quiet how to play against them (except the Phillies).  It was as if everyone was in shock and nobody knew exactly how to deal with the fact that it was the Rays who were taking the AL East, the toughest division in baseball, by storm.  At the end of the year, the league finally got used to it, but this year, they’re back to their usual mediocrity.  Every team has teams against whom they just don’t play well against, for whatever reason.  For us, they’d be the A’s (that’s been getting better) and the September Jays.  The Rays don’t quite fit into that category because last year threw all of us for a loop and now we have to return to a solid groove.  We haven’t found that groove yet, so the first game of every series becomes extremely important in establishing the tone.  To lose the first game of this series is to engage in an uphill battle to then change the timbre of the set in the next game.  Not to mention the fact that it sets us back a game and a half since the Yankees won, and the Rays gained on us by a game.

It was also bad because we lost in thirteen innings and took six relievers to do so.  Terry Francona literally emptied the bullpen.  He emptied it completely.  Masterson was traded, so there really was nobody left.  What could he do? At that point you have no way to stem any damage that may result because you don’t have another guy to turn to.  And sure enough, it was Takashi Saito, our last pitcher, who gave up the walk-off, two-run homer to Evan Longoria with two outs in the bottom of the thirteenth inning.  But again, Terry Francona’s hands were tied.  Once you empty your bullpen, you’re at a point of no return.  I was hoping that we’d be able to preserve the rest obtained from the off day until at least a few weeks from now, as in I was hoping not to have a game like this until we’d been able to enjoy a refreshed, rejuvenated, and revitalized bullpen, but so much for that.  And to make matters worse, this happened the night before Brad Penny’s start, which means the ‘pen’s going to have to get ready to work overtime again.  Perfect timing.

Speaking of the pitching, here’s how it went down.  Lester pitched the first six and a batter.  He was absolutely brilliant.  He gave up a run on three hits with two walks and ten strikeouts.  It really doesn’t get any better than that.  The man was dealing.  Okajma got a hold.  And then Bard got a blown save when he allowed Longoria to lead off the eighth with a home run.  And he made a throwing error.  He was just on a roll, wasn’t he.  Actually, the go-ahead run could’ve scored on that error, but after the umpires realized that the ball actually lodged itself in this bag of balls that sits by the Rays’ bullpen in right field, they ruled that no runs would score.  I’m telling you, Tropicana Field is just a strange place to play.  Delcarmen, Ramirez, and Papelbon gave up four hits and three walks while striking out three between them but didn’t allow any runs.  Paps threw ten of fifteen pitches for strikes.  Not bad.  And then Saito came in and the rest, as they say, is history.

Here’s a question: do you walk Longoria to get to Zobrist or do you pitch to Longoria, as Tito opted to do? Longoria himself said he was surprised when Saito went after him.  Walking Longoria to get to Zobrist would’ve put runners at the corners.  Zobrist bats .259 with runners on and .276 with runners in scoring position.  Longoria bats .298 with runners on and .294 with runners in scoring position.  Saito was already at twenty-nine pitches by the time Longoria came to the plate, but we all know Tito wasn’t taking him out of there.  If the game went past the thirteenth inning, his only alternative would’ve been to send Buchholz to the mound to start the fourteenth, and with Buchholz starting on Saturday, he wasn’t about to do that.  So he was probably going to stick with Saito no matter what.  Now, if it were me, I’d walk Longoria and put the pressure on Zobrist who would’ve been less likely, at least by the numbers, to deliver, and I’d have the lineup work its magic in the top of the fourteenth.  Perhaps because Tito knew he would’ve had to stick with Saito, he figured someone would get to Saito eventually so why risk injury or fatigue by prolonging the inevitable.  That logic makes sense but I still would’ve rather given our lineup at least another half-inning to get the job done.

We scored our two runs exclusively via the long ball.  Youk led off the second and Pedroia led off the sixth, and that was that.  Pedroia and Martinez each went two for six on the night.  Youk obviously got a hit, and the only other people who made constructive contact were Ellsbury and Reddick.  We went one for four with runners in scoring position.  The one isn’t the problem.  It’s the four.  We only managed four situations with runners in scoring position during the entire game.  That’s not good.

JD Drew is back in the lineup after dealing with a left groin strain.  For the first time this year, Bay sat for two successive games with a cramped left hamstring.  He’ll probably be back tonight when Drew will get the night off because David Price, Tampa Bay’s starter, is a southpaw.  Wake will throw a side session before tonight’s game.  At this point his back is better.  The problem is that there’s been weakness in his left leg; specifically he says his calf has “shut down.” They think it’s a nerve issue resulting from the lower back strain.  So at this point, it’s not that he can’t pitch, it’s that he can’t field from the mound.  So that’s what he’s been working on recently.  Dice-K will probably throw a side session next week.

It wasn’t a great night, is the point.  Hopefully tonight will be better, but given the struggles he’s had recently, Brad Penny’ll have to lock and load if he wants to win this one.  Luckily, Price really isn’t that great, so it’s very doable, but I’ll be psyched if Penny can save the bullpen some work.

Lowell Sun

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It’s there.  It’s right there.  It’s so close you can taste it.  Yesterday’s well-played victory puts us only half a game behind the Rays (the Wild Card’s been locked up for some time).  I’m telling you, the stars are aligning for this series.  We’re starting all our best pitchers: Lester last night, Dice-K tonight, and Beckett tomorrow.  And speaking of Lester, let’s talk about what a bang-up job he did.  He shut out Tampa Bay, pitching almost eight innings and giving up only six hits.  He walked three and struck out nine to tie his season high.  So that means he’s undefeated in seven career starts against the Rays.  I mean, before last night’s game he was 2-0 against the Rays with a 1.46 ERA this season alone.  After last night’s game his stats are so good I don’t even want to know about it.  Last night his cut fastball was absolutely filthy.  He improves to a 9-1 record at home in 2008.

Papelbon came in in the eighth to get the last four outs, and he did so with three Ks and only one hit allowed.  It’s good to see him in there, even if a middle reliever could do just as well, because we’ll need him in top form for the postseason.  Tito worked him a bit in Texas and it paid off; you could tell he was much more spot-on last night.  Besides, Pap’s never been known to let us down when it matters the most.

RBIs for Youk, Ortiz, and Bay.  Youk’s been kind of quiet with the bat lately; currently he’s five for his last twenty.  Ortiz continues to produce (clicking? What clicking?), and Bay went two for three with a solo home run off Jackson with two out in the first.  It’s his sixth in Red Sox letters.  But he also showed some leather last night, holding Zobrist’s high eighth-inning hit off the Monster to a single.  The shock is that Pedroia went 0 for 4.  Lately I didn’t even know that was possible.  I didn’t even know he knew how to swing and not get a hit.  On the bright side, he never struck out.  The real story centers on Coco Crisp.  Last night he went three for three to extend his hitting streak to ten games and is currently batting .291.  He recorded a theft and a CS and was successfully picked off.  But I think this is definitely the Coco we were supposed to see when he came over from Cleveland.  He sparks the bottom half of the lineup, and with Ellsbury having a tight quad it’s good to know his replacement is someone not shy with the hits.  It’s interesting how someone will always take his game to the next level this time of year.  Someone always does.  It never fails.

Speaking of injuries, BJ Upton left the game in the fifth with a strained left quad, and JD Drew was activated before this series, but Kotsay’s been doing fine, last night going two for three with a walk and a run.

In other news, Tom Brady’s left knee was injured in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.  It’ll require season-ending surgery.  Matt Cassel will take his place.  I was hoping for something comparable to last year’s season, but I think it’s safe to say it seems almost impossible.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not counting that out, I’m just saying it’ll be very difficult to do damage to other teams without your stare quarterback.  The Yankees lost, 1-12, to the Angels and got into a bench-clearing brawl to boot.  Pudge and Torii Hunter collided at home, Torii gave Pudge a push, Pudge pushed back, Torii gave Pudge a two-handed shove in the back, and that was it.  Cleared the benches.  Pudge and Torii were both thrown out.

And now for news on baseball’s latest record.  Last night’s contest was the 456th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park! That means that we, Red Sox Nation, broke the all-time Major League Baseball record for most consecutive sellouts! May 15, 2008 through September 8, 2008.  What a run, and it isn’t even over yet.  We’re number one in baseball but fourth overall, behind three NBA teams: the Portland Trailblazers, the Celtics, and the Bulls.  But what a difference it must make.  The team plays for a full house every night, and we’re behind the team 100%, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  All those walk-off wins, the cheering, the sitting in the cold or heat or rain until the last out; it makes a difference in the team’s performance.  Don’t believe me? Check our home record; we’re 49-19.  It’s official: we are the best fans in baseball.  But a lot of credit has to go to the Red Sox brass.  This ownership group has done wonders for Fenway.  They improved it, renovated it, added things to it that blend right in, and generally made it a great place to be.  And they know how to make the team better.  As a fan, I love seeing the money I spend at a baseball game or on a hat or shirt or something go directly to improving the club.  In Boston the fans matter.  It’s that simple.  Without Fenway Park, without the legends and lore, without that Boston atmosphere, and without Red Sox Nation, the team just wouldn’t be the same.  So I’d like to advise a pat on the back for my fellow diehards.  We watch our guys set records, and now we’ve set one of our own.  Nice!

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