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Posts Tagged ‘Brandon Moss’

I’ll get the bad news out of the way first.  The bad news is that we lost.  By the exact same score of 3-2.  Which means we were swept.  And tied for fourth place (or last place, depending on how you look at it).

Cook made a valiant effort.  He pitched six innings and gave up three runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out none.  He threw eighty pitches, the overwhelming majority of which were sinkers, which was fine because his sinker was outstanding.  His fastball, slider, and curveball, less so.  He gave up a solo shot to lead off the second.  He gave up an RBI double in the sixth.  (That double was an RBI double in part because Brandon Moss hit what was supposed to be a popup but ended up being a double because Aviles apparently lost the ball in the sun.  He scored the tying run.  Yet another similarity to Tuesday’s performance: subpar fielding.) And he gave up a triple to lead off the seventh before he was pulled; Miller replaced him and allowed that inherited runner to score.

And now for the good news.  We erased Cook’s solo shot by tying the game at one with a solo shot of our own.  Fittingly it led off the fourth.  It was on the third pitch of the at-bat, an eighty-nine mile-per-hour four-seam fastball that was supposed to be inside but that was actually high down the middle, on a 2-0 count.  It ended up in right, several feet beyond the foul pole.  It was a bullet, like the ball wanted to get out of the park in a hurry.  And it was hit by none other than the incomparable Big Papi, who has now officially hit four hundred home runs in his career! He is now forty-ninth on the Major League’s all-time list, and he is one of only eight active players to have accomplished this feat! And I feel honored and privileged to have seen most of those be hit in our uniform for our team.  We all know that, without some of those, we’d still be trying to figure out what kind of new and torturous way the team would invent to lose in the latest postseason.  Congratulations, Papi, and here’s to many more.  We salute you! I just wish he would have been able to hit it at Fenway.

More good news was that we did hold a lead, however briefly, after the sixth, when with two out Papi walked, Salty reached on an error, and Gonzalez singled in Papi.  As on Tuesday, the score had been 2-1.  And as on Tuesday, we just couldn’t hold it.

Albers replaced Miller after he recorded the seventh inning’s first out, and Morales replaced Albers after he recorded the second out.  Morales pitched the eighth as well.

We were held to three hits, one each for Papi, Gonzalez, and Mauro Gomez, his first in the Majors.  Nobody had a multi-hit game.  Papi was the only member of the lineup to reach base more than once because he worked one of our two walks, the other belonging to Punto.  Aside from Papi’s big jack, it’s been a terrible road trip.  We scored fourteen runs in our last seven games, which averages to two runs per game, which is hardly enough to win much given the condition of our pitching staff.

We have the day off today and then a huge four-game series at home against the Evil Empire.  The hugeness of this series can not possibly be overstated.  This is a chance for us to build some momentum, to gain ground in the standings, to go into the All-Star break with our heads held high, and also to beat the Yankees, which should not be overlooked.  We need to use this off day to regroup and refocus ourselves.  We absolutely must have a strong series here.  We just must.

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I would like to see two things, even if just once, but preferably on a consistent bases.  First of all, I would like to see one of our wins be the start of a real winning streak.  Not that five or six games isn’t a winning streak.  But I want to see a long winning streak, like ten or eleven or twelve games.  And secondly, I would like to see Dice-K deliver a start the likes of which is what we expected from him on a startly basis when he was first signed.

Since that’s what’s on my mind, you can deduce that we lost yesterday and that Dice-K pitched terribly.  The final score was 6-1, and Dice-K was horrific.  He lasted only one inning; he sent down only three hitters for the third time in his career.  The last time, ironically enough, was also against the A’s in 2009.  He gave up five runs on four hits, two of which were home runs.  Josh Reddick of all people hit a solo shot with two out in the first, and then Brandon Moss hit a three-run shot with no out in the second.  Dice-K walked two, struck out none, threw twenty-eight pitches (a new career low, both literally and figuratively) and only sixteen strikes, and was replaced by Mortensen not after that three-run home run but rather after two more at-bats, both of which resulted in men on base.  Mortensen loaded the bases with a walk, induced a popup, and then allowed one of his inherited runners to score on a sac fly.

It turns out that Dice-K had a sore neck.  He was in pain before his start, which is why he didn’t through a side session.  But he thought he could pitch through it.  It turns out that he was obviously and horribly wrong.  I’m pretty comfortable in predicting that he’s headed back to the DL.

Mortensen then pitched the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth.  Some innings were better than others, but he didn’t give up any of his own runs.  Melancon replaced him for the eighth and ninth, which proceeded without incident.

Unfortunately, so did most of our opportunities at the plate.  Our only run was scored in the first.  Nava hit the third pitch of the game for a double, and Pedroia singled him in.  That was it.  There’s nothing like a falsely auspicious start to a game to get your hopes up for naught.

Both teams put up six hits.  That double was our only one for extra bases, and Pedroia went two for four for the team’s only multi-hit performance.  Not a great way to start a series.  Not a great way to continue the road trip.  Certainly not a great way to make progress in our momentum, our morale, or the standings.

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Wow. Where should I start? We sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers and Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss to the Pirates so that we could get Jason Bay from the Pirates. Craig Hansen could throw hard but the truth is that he’s been inconsistent throughout his Major League career without showing signs of improvement. Brandon Moss was a good outfielder with a decent bat. We have four outfielders right now and could use a fifth. Last season we had Bobby Kielty. Now that Moss is gone, who’s going to fill that role? So that’s something that should probably be addressed.

As for Manny’s role in this, it’s complicated. Downsides: he’s Manny Ramirez. The combination of Ortiz and Ramirez strikes fear into the hearts of the best of pitchers, and for good reason. Even by himself Manny is a formidable opponent. His offensive production is through the roof, and his bat has been instrumental in our postseason success. He’s very well acquainted with Fenway’s left field. The angles and corners over there are not easy to play. We know that because we’ve watched opposing left fielders look like fools in there. Manny is an expert at reading the wall and judging which balls will be off the wall and which won’t. He gets rid of the ball very quickly, too. He also has an unheard-of work ethic, watching tape for hours, showing up before and after games to practice hitting, always developing drills and training and studying the game. Plus, the whole Manny being Manny aspect did have some positive features. He relaxed the clubhouse a bit, contributed his own character and flair to the team, and basically befriended the entire lineup and eased the pressure on everybody with his talents as a ballplayer. And he’s been a fixture in Boston for 7.5 years. That’s a long time.

Upsides: just look at his track record over the past month or so. In that span, he’s shoved a teammate, manhandled a 61-year-old traveling secretary, accused the principal owner of his team of being dishonest, removed himself from the lineup twice due to knee soreness undetectable by MRI, failed to run out long grounders that could’ve been turned into hits and possibly runs, and stated publicly that he’s tired of his team and that his team doesn’t deserve a player like him. These are not the Manny being Manny moments from past years. This isn’t Manny running on the field with an American flag to celebrate his becoming a citizen. This isn’t Manny doing his usual fooling around. This is big. This is a blatant lack of effort and a complete and total offense to teammates. And when something like this happens, it’s hard to ignore. As I said, since the Manny rumors have surfaced, the team’s performance has taken a nosedive, even at home. That doesn’t happen unless there’s a major distraction, and that’s what Manny had finally become: a distraction too intolerable for the current course of action that Terry Francona and the Red Sox front office had engaged in for years, which was basically looking the other way. No amount of slugging could take away the fact that he was disturbing the clubhouse. You can’t have a team full of do-or-die guys and then a guy like Manny. After a point you just can’t. As Curt Schilling said, you can’t have players like Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek, who play through pain and keep their soreness to themselves and live and die with every at-bat, and a player like Manny Ramirez, who’s one of the best there is but who toys with the team and takes himself out of the lineup just to prove a point. Not giving your all is something that doesn’t fly in Boston. In addition to all of this, Manny is aging, can not for the life of him run the bases, and is now in the National League, which means the only times he’d be able to do any damage against us is during Interleague and the World Series, if the Dodgers manage to get there.

You might say that the trade was a mistake because Jason Bay could never hope to fill Manny’s shoes. You might say the Red Sox should’ve sat tight and kept Manny. But at what cost? Either we lose games and keep someone who, while one of the best ballplayers in the Major Leagues, is an unhealthy distraction, or we win or lose games with a new guy who’s younger, faster, and having an offensively comparable season. Manny wasn’t going to play baseball in Boston forever. At the very least, he’d eventually have to retire. Sooner or later, we would’ve had to secure a future for our left field beyond him. We’ve just had to do it sooner than expected.

This trade has proven to be a disappointment for me. I am disappointed in Manny for not being able to keep his head on during a three-way pennant race. I am disappointed in Manny because of his flagrant misbehavior due to a contract dispute and whatever other baggage he might have. I am disappointed that he couldn’t just put himself aside for the sake his teammates, some of whom have been with him for the majority of his years in Boston, and help us win a World Series. Usually, when a veteran has played in a Red Sox uniform for the last time, I’m more sad than angry to see him go. But thanks to Manny Ramirez and his recent displays, I’m more angry than sad.

With something like this, we’ve got to trust. Nomar was traded right in the middle of the 2004 season for Orlando Cabrera, someone new who like Jason Bay had to adjust to his teammates and his new city. But he did it and then helped us win a World Series, in historic and spectacular fashion to boot. There’s no reason to think that the same thing won’t happen here. Perhaps the clubhouse needed some sort of invigorating force. One thing’s for sure: we can finally move forward. Red Sox Nation and I will no doubt feel like something’s missing when we look to left field and see no dreadlocks, no big smile, no ridiculousness going on. And we’ll all feel like we’ve lost something valuable the first time we see Manny Ramirez dressed in a Dodgers uniform. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t miss the man. I was a huge fan of Manny Ramirez, and he did so much for our team and therefore Boston. There was always that knowledge when he came to the plate that with one swing he could win us a ballgame, that since he was young it was clear that he was born to play ball. He was one of the greats. He could’ve been even greater. But I guess we have to let this one go.

I still say Manny had no idea how good he had it. He’s going to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The fans in Los Angeles are very different from the fans in Boston. The fans in LA like to see spectacles like Manny high-fiving a fan before throwing a caught ball back into play. So in that sense he’ll be happy. But fans in LA also tend to leave the stadium at around the seventh inning. Let’s face it; Manny was an icon in Boston. For 7.5 years he’s been loved by a city, a region, and a Nation. He’s won two championships and hit five hundred home runs wearing Red Sox letters. Will he really be happy going from baseball god to guy in left field who does funny stuff for fans who leave during the seventh inning?

Well, he’ll have to be. He wanted out, and now he’s out. He’s Joe Torre’s problem now. That’ll be interesting. I can’t wait to see how Torre handles Manny’s first episode. He’ll also be reunited with Nomar, Derek Lowe, and Bill Mueller, who works in the organization. In the meantime, I’m anxious to check out the new guy and see how quickly he can make the adjustment.

By the way, the Yankees landed Pudge Rodriguez for Kyle Farnsworth. The Yankees could’ve used the extra pitcher, but instead they wanted the 38-year-old catcher who’s batting .295 with five homers and 32 RBIs. I’m just saying.

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Smile, Red Sox Nation; the All-Star break is just around the corner, and we’re in good shape. We’ve survived a clubhouse-wide flu epidemic, injuries to one of our best offensive producers and one of our best pitchers, a shaky ace, a disappointing set-up man, and an error by a previously errorless first baseman. All of that’s good for at least two sighs of relief, three congratulations, and some pats on the back. We’re barely in second place with one of the deepest teams we’ve ever had. Our pitchers are bringing, and our batters are hot. But what’s even better is that we’ve made it this far and we’re showing no signs of slowing down. I said in the beginning that we’re in it to win it, and I have full confidence in this team’s ability to go all the way. We can repeat, and we will.

I’ll be taking a break of about ten days, but I’ll leave you with this. Now that we’re halfway through, it’s time for report cards. In the middle of every season, Boston.com invites you to grade the Red Sox offense and pitching player by player and overall. Here’s what I came up with:

Jason Varitek: A

He’s getting old, and he’s not as offensively productive as he used to be, but that was never what was important with him. He’s not our captain because he can hit or because he can field, which he does extremely well by the way (two errors, .996 fielding percentage). He’s our captain and we love him because he’s a team leader and because he does wonders with the pitching staff (3.72 catcher’s ERA). You try catching in a club full of high-profile personalities, aces, and rookies; it’s difficult, but Varitek makes it look easy. In 2006, he was out with a knee injury and the whole team fell apart. If that doesn’t show how important he is, I don’t know what will.

Kevin Youkilis: A

Youk…nuff ced. Errorless at first base for 233 games. One error in 2008. That alone is grounds for an A, but he also is batting above .300 and slugging above .500. He was hit below the right eye with a ball being thrown around the horn between innings and returned to the lineup two days later with a black eye. He moved to third in the middle of a game and looked like he’s been there for months. He even played a little right field. Definitely an A.

Dustin Pedroia: A

The only thing that stopped me from giving him an A was his lack of offense until July. Other than that, he’s a perfect second baseman, and I think he’s the best there is. He can hit, now more than ever since he’s at a torrid pace of offensive production. He can field like no other. He’s lightning fast when making plays and was largely responsible for preserving Clay Buchholz’s no-hitter. He rarely gets through a game without dirt on his letters. He even runs a bit; he’s perfect in thefts so far. And he’s got a great personality, which comes in handy in the clubhouse. When he first came up, he took his veteran teammates’ cracks and then cracked right back. He’s even told the likes of David Ortiz to put on his sunglasses during a game in preparation for the laser show he intends to put on with his bat.

Julio Lugo: C

We all know his offense has made some sort of improvement since last year (if you think he’s out for sure now, think back to ’07), and we all know he can fly around the bases. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s already made 16 errors. And those errors are turning into runs for the opposition. Cora’s hitting just as well as Lugo but only has two errors on the season. At this point, I’d suggest having Cora start more often.

Mike Lowell: B

Spent some time on the DL earlier, but he’s fine now. He isn’t producing as much as he did last year, but he’s finally well on his way to getting there. His average is .297, but his slugging percentage is above .500. His fielding is as good as ever, with only six errors on the season. Who knows? A Gold Glove at third may come to Boston this year.

Manny Ramirez: A

Manny joined the 500 club this year. He’s grappled with hamstring issues, but he’s back in the field and he hasn’t lost a step. The quality of his fielding could never be matched by any other left fielder in Fenway’s left field conditions. He’s a pro at playing the Green Monster, even if the depth of his position is sometimes controversial. As far as his hitting goes, it’s Manny being Manny. He’s slugging above .500 and hitting in the high .200s.

Jacoby Ellsbury: B

While I hope he’ll win Rookie of the Year, one can not survive on stolen bases alone, even if he is the fastest in the game. His numbers are down from what they were last year, the reason being that pitchers have figured him out. But that’s when the hitter makes adjustments to the pitchers, but his numbers haven’t reflected this process as much as they should. He’s started to snap out of his slump, but I think Ellsbury could be producing much more than he is now.

JD Drew: A

Whoever doesn’t give JD Drew an A has been sleeping for the past month and a half. If JD Drew doesn’t deserve an A, I don’t know who does. He’s doin’ it all: hitting, slugging, fielding, throwing (what an arm), and running (not many thefts, but speed comes in very handy in right field). He’s mastered the right field corner, and he’s as good as any right fielder we’ve ever had. His offense doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all, his personality is coming through, and he’s officially a dirt dog (I’ve seen him make diving catches, sliding catches, and every other kind of catch just to get the out). Welcome to Boston, my friend.

David Ortiz: B

At the start of the season, David Ortiz found himself in the worst slump of his career. Basically, if the ball stopped right in front of him, he couldn’t hit it. He snapped out of it when the Yankees brass excavated his jersey from the foundation of the new Yankee Stadium, and he snapped out of it in classic Papi fashion: with a grand slam. But he hadn’t been out of his slump long enough to raise his batting average above .252. Even his slugging percentage, while still impressive, is down at .486. It’s been a bad run so far for Big Papi, but he’s still the best DH, hands down.

Coco Crisp: B

He’s hitting now, that’s for sure, and that’s more than we could say for him last year. He’s fast, and he makes catches in center field that I never thought could be made. He even jumped into the Green Monster to make a catch. Personally, I thought he should’ve won a Gold Glove for his work in center last year, and he’s just as good this year, with only one error so far. He’s 13 for 16 in stolen bases as well. But I’d say his biggest and most valuable contribution by far is his work in center field.

Alex Cora: B

He was hitting above .300 and then saw his average drop, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s an excellent shortstop. He should definitely start more often.

Sean Casey: A

Basically, what we have here is a backup first baseman of starting caliber. What more could you want? He’s hitting above .350 and slugging above .400. He hits line drives like nobody’s business, and there’s nothing to complain about as far as his fielding is concerned.

Brandon Moss: C

His offensive numbers are low, and that seems contrary to his experience as a ballplayer. His production just hasn’t shown what other outfielders in the system have shown, Jacoby Ellsbury notwithstanding. But offensively speaking, he’s coming out of his shell more and more. I refer you to his recent game-winning efforts on our behalf.

Kevin Cash: B

Not bad for a backup catcher, and certainly better than Doug Mirabelli. Don’t get me wrong, I loved having Belli on the team just as much as the next person, but the truth of the matter is that Belli couldn’t hit. Cash can. His first home run of the season and in three years was a three-run shot, and his average is above .200. That’s already better than Belli. Belli was perhaps better at catching Wakefield, but Wake’s knuckleball is no longer what it was when it made John Flaherty retire. Kevin Cash is perfect for his role.

Offense Overall: B

Simply put, we could do more. A few more runs here, a few more runs there, and we could win a lot more games. The close calls, the contests decided by one or two runs, and the bullpen snafus could be ours if we increase our production even just a little bit. The key, of course, is to have offensive contributions from up and down the lineup. That’s what we learned in the 2007 ALCS. As soon as the whole lineup started producing, we were playing the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 of the World Series.

Josh Beckett: B

2008’s Josh Beckett is not the same as 2007’s Josh Beckett. He’s still a dominating power pitcher, and he’s still an ace in our staff, but it’s clear that he just isn’t the same, and it’s difficult to pinpoint why. I don’t think it’s the neck problem he had in Spring Training that’s somehow carrying over. Maybe it’s an off-year for him. And if this is what his off-year looks like, you can be sure he hasn’t lost his touch.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: A

His record is 9-1. His ERA is 2.84. There is no doubt in my mind that he’s turned the corner. He used last season as an adjustment period and still managed to walk away with a win after starting Game 3 of the World Series, and he’s got a ring to prove it. The adjustments and improvements he’s made have been outstanding. This is the Dice-K we saw in Japan, and he’s just been dominating hitters this year for Boston.

Jon Lester: A

The Jon Lester we’re seeing now is the Jon Lester the Minor League coaches have been raving about. He started and won Game 4 of the World Series and no-hit the Kansas City Royals, and his numbers are fabulous. He has a nasty cut fastball that hitters just can’t seem to figure out. And after all that he’s been through, he’s as good as ever and an inspiration to all of us.

Tim Wakefield: A

For a 42-year-old knuckleballer, he’s pitching a lot better than I thought he would. His last few starts have been lasting seven or eight innings, and he’s been dominant. I don’t know what it is, but I hope it sticks.

Bartolo Colon: A

Acquiring Bartolo Colon was a great move. What he’s given us is a reliable extra arm that can supply quality innings, and we saw his value when Dice-K was on the DL. The problem? He thinks he’s David Ortiz during Interleague; he’s on the DL with back stiffness because he took one of the mightiest swings I’ve ever seen.

Justin Masterson: A

This kid has really gone above and beyond. He was called up from Double A for his first Major League start, a valiant effort spoiled by the bullpen. He proceeded to win his next two starts before transferring to Triple A. He was again called up, and he’s been cruising ever since. It’s unusual when a start of his doesn’t last at least six innings, and according to Terry Francona he’s a great guy with a mature personality who can shoulder the responsibility of pitching in the Major Leagues. It’s a joy to watch him in action.

Clay Buchholz: B

Although he has the nastiest off-speed stuff I’ve ever seen, his command is lacking, especially of his fastball. So, he was sent down to work on it. He no-hit the Baltimore Orioles last year, proving that he’s Major League material, but I don’t think he’s quite ready for the big time yet. It’s difficult to say exactly why, but I think the best explanation is that you need to have a fastball to pitch in the big leagues, and Clay’s fastball isn’t as good as it should be. But he’s on the brink of returning, and his Triple A stats say that his Minor League stint has done him good.

David Aardsma: A

He’s the only player who precedes Hank Aaron alphabetically. But more importantly, he was a great move; he was such a nice surprise. His stuff is unbelievable. His ERA is currently 2.84. At times he shoulders a pretty heavy workload, but he’s done it with a lot of success. He’s becoming an ’07 Hideki Okajima.

Craig Hansen: C

Inconsistency is perhaps his worst enemy. His stuff is there, no question. Dude can throw in the high nineties. But for some reason, he hasn’t been able to find stability and lock into a groove at the Major League level. He’s a young guy, only 24, so he’s got time. But he’s also got his work cut out for him.

Manny Delcarmen: B

A great power pitcher, he gives Boston a lot to be happy about. He dominates hitters, but he sometimes makes mistakes, like when he took the loss against the Houston Astros after allowing three runs late in the game. It just seems like that type of thing will inevitably happen with Delcarmen on the mound. The question is how often. The answer? Often enough to give him a B.

Javier Lopez: A

Javier Lopez is also quickly becoming an ’07 Hideki Okajima. Last year, inconsistency was his worst enemy. This year, he’s been in top form for a significant stretch. His lefty sidearm delivery confuses hitters, and he’s really finding the strike zone.

Mike Timlin: D

This is the worst grade I gave. Simply put, Mike Timlin is old. When he’s not on the DL, he’s not finding the strike zone. His velocity is rapidly diminishing, and he just hasn’t been able to transition well to a pitching style more centered around finesse. Might want to think about retiring.

Hideki Okajima: C

He’s lost his touch in 2008. Definitely not the lights-out set-up man he was last season. I’m not sure what it is; maybe we worked him too hard in 2007 and it’s carried over. Maybe the league suddenly woke up one morning and figured out how to hit the Okie-Doke. But he’s healthy, he’s in shape, and he’s gotten plenty of rest. He’s still a great pitcher, and who knows? Maybe before the season’s over he’ll return to form.

Jonathan Papelbon: B

Jonathan Papelbon is, without question, the best closer in the game. His velocity is overpowering and his glare is intimidating. Not to mention the fact that his personality and his dancing have become staples in Boston. He adds fire to the club, and he always brings. He’s been a little inefficient lately, and he’s blown some saves, but that could happen to anybody. One of the reasons why he’s so great is that with him, these things never last long.

Pitching Overall: B

As with the offense, we could do more. We could find the strike zone more, have better command, get just a little sharper. And you’d be surprised how many more runs we could prevent and how many more games we could win. Last year, our pitching was, in the long run, spic-and-span. This year, we’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting there.

Boston Red Sox Overall: B

We’re doing a good job. As I always say, we’ve got a deep team that puts up a fight in every game. We’ve got all five tools covered to the max: hitting for average (Casey, Dusty, Youk, Drew, etc.), hitting for power (Manny, Papi, Drew, etc.), fielding (Crisp, Manny, Drew, Ellsbury, Youk, Lowell, Dusty, Tek, etc.), arm strength (Drew, Youk, Lowell, etc.), and running speed (Ellsbury, Crisp, Lugo, etc.). If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll eventually find ourselves at the top. If we just tighten up a little bit, we’re as good as gold. Either way, it’s a win-win, and with momentum favoring us again as of this homestand, I think it’s safe to say that the Red Sox are having a good season so far.

Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, Tim Wakefield, Dustin Pedroia, etc.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Again with the eighth inning comebacks! Not that I’m complaining. Far from it. This year’s Red Sox have been good all season at coming back late, and you never know when you’ll need a skill like that. Run by run, this is how it went down. Drew batted in Ellsbury in the first (Ellsbury actually hit his way on base). Lester gave up three runs in the third, mostly on low pitches. The Twins scored another run in their half of the seventh. Youk stretched a base hit into a triple, his fourth of the season, in our half of the seventh, and he was eventually batted in. (That’s smart baserunning. Hustling to third was a decision he made because the play was right in front of him.) Minnesota added their fifth run in the top of the eighth, which was followed by Boston’s all-out, no-holding-back, you-want-a-piece-of-this-team four-run comeback, which included a double by Ellsbury, a two-run smoked shot by none other than Manny Ramirez on none other than a fastball, and the winning RBI by Brandon Moss.

So, three cheers for Tito, who gave Ellsbury playing time during his slump and who gave Manny a mental break to get away from fastballs for a game. And hopefully three cheers again if Tek comes through after his day off yesterday. (Tek chose yesterday as his day off rather than today because he doesn’t like sitting for two days in a row. That’s part of why he’s an All-Star.) A funny play: after Moss batted in the go-ahead run, Joe Mauer threw to first in a pickoff attempt. The Twins’ first baseman turned to tag the runner, but there was no runner. Moss had already reached second base with his first steal of the season.

Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to sixteen games, Ellsbury and Manny are out of their slumps, Drew is as productive as ever, and Moss is coming around. Lowell made a rare error in the first. Lester wasn’t his usual self last night, pitching a long seven innings but giving up five runs on nine hits. Good work but not his best. Aardsma got the win, and Pap got the save after starting the ninth inning with a twelve-pitch at-bat for Nick Punto. Yeah, he really needs to work on his efficiency.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but get ready to root for the Yanks and root hard. They’re playing the Rays for three games, and yesterday the Rays lost to Andy Pettitte. Personally, I hate being in this position. I despise the Yankees with every fiber of my being and yet I am forced to root for them because they’re playing the current first-place team. But you do what you have to do. And it’s working. We’re back to three games out, and that’s by no means an insurmountable deficit.

By the way, it looks like nobody’s on the block after all. Theo Epstein doesn’t want to make any moves. Good for him. You have a great team like this and start to hunt for the last perfect piece to the puzzle. And you end up with a Gagne situation. So good job to Theo. With the exception of the Gagne debacle, he’s always come through for us, and even the Gagne debacle didn’t cost us much in the long run.

Manny Ramirez, 7/8/2008

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Falling short in more ways than one. After going into the series in second place, we lost to our first-place rivals and are now 1.5 games behind the Rays. Not a very auspicious start for what was supposed to be a great opportunity to feed our momentum and crank out runs. So much for that.

Masterson pitched another six-inning start. No doubt the dude’s got endurance. It’s rare for him not to go six innings, and that’s unusual for such a young pitcher. Not his best work yesterday, though. Four runs, three of which were generated by two home runs, on five hits with four walks and four strikeouts. That’ll inflate his ERA to 3.75, a number that doesn’t even come close to reflecting how good he usually is. The problem was walks, and it’s been a problem for Red Sox pitching all season. The team that walks the most will generally be successful, so the team that allows the most walks will have to find the problem and fix it, the sooner the better.

Chris Smith was not up to par, either. He allowed a run and walked three. Javy Lopez saved the day, though, as the only perfect pitcher; he allowed one hit, no runs, and no walks. As for the offense, nobody can say we didn’t put up a good fight. Drew hit a solo home run; so much for cooling off. Lowell, Moss, and Varitek each batted in one. If the ninth inning rally had just consisted of three runs instead of two, I believe we could’ve won it. We did manage to out-hit Tampa Bay, though, 8-6, so that’s some good news. At least we’re doing our part to get on base. And we can have confidence in our pitching staff, too, even if last night wasn’t its best performance. The Rays had to use twice as many pitchers as we did just to win a one-run ballgame. That’s saying something.

Jacoby Ellsbury is an interesting observation. Dude runs, right? But he can’t run if he doesn’t get on base, and he can’t get on base if he doesn’t hit. He’s been quite at the plate lately, and Jerry Remy brought up a good point: if he works on his bunting, he’ll be golden again. A good bunt will get him on base, especially with his speed, and then he can run as much as he wants.

Wakefield at Garza this afternoon. Wake owns the Trop, so let’s hope he can get it done. By the way, David Ortiz announced that he won’t be healthy enough to play in the All-Star Game. He’ll still be there, though, to show his appreciation for the fans who kept voting for him even after he was hurt. That’s class. And don’t forget to get your final votes in. Voting ends tomorrow at midnight, so let’s show some support.

Josh Beckett, Julio Lugo, and others, 6/30/2008

AP Photo

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So Wakefield is 42 years old; big deal. Randy Johnson is 44, he has 5 Cy Youngs, he can throw in the high 90s, and he still lost. He lost to an aging knuckleballer whose fastball is slow and whose change up moves at a snail’s pace. But that’s Wakefield’s way. And it works. Wake has a lifetime contract with Boston. He said his momentum changed for the better after his loss to Erik Bedard on May 28. In his last six starts, he’s 2-2 with a 2.09ERA. Can you believe this? And last night was no exception. Tim Wakefield pitched a two-hitter yesterday, walking one and striking out six over seven shutout innings. His overall ERA is 3.88. If he continues at this rate, he’ll reach double digits in the win column for sure. Absolutely unbelievable. I’m telling you, over this stretch he’s pitched better than he’s pitched in a long time. I guess when you’re a knuckleballer you don’t age as fast as you’d think.

The offense gave him some nice support, too. Lowell scored the first two runs, both of which were brought home by Brandon Moss, and Kevin Cash collected three RBIs when he hit is first home run in three years in the eighth inning to pad the lead. The contest was the first career three-double-game for Coco Crisp, who’s getting hot, and Pedroia hasn’t lost an offensive step, either. Ironically, the Drew brothers did nothing offensively during the series; JD was 0 for 9 and Stephen was 0 for 11. But having JD in right field is worth it. He’s got a great arm and knows Fenway, and the Diamondbacks proved what can happen if you don’t know Fenway. They’ve been having problems all series long with the dimensions of the park, especially the Green Monster, the triangle, and the right field corner. It was really fun to watch.

Delcarmen pitched an inning with two strikeouts, and Hansen came in to finish it off. He recorded two outs but loaded the bases in the process, so Pap again got the save by striking out the last batter. His ERA is currently 2.08 and just keeps getting lower and lower. But having taken another look at him last night, it’s becoming clear to me that he is in fact declining in efficiency. That could be a problem if he doesn’t keep up his health, because we don’t want a repeat of his labrum injury. I seriously doubt that’ll happen, but when you’re a power pitcher and you’re throwing at those speeds, you should try to shave away the balls and just throw strikes. He doesn’t need the extra work, especially at a time when injuries have made every offensive contribution important; we can’t afford to have him blow many more saves. We need those wins.

But we’re doing fine. We’re in first place by a game, and we’re 5.5 games above third-place New York. Series with both teams are coming up. I’m actually feeling pretty good about it. Both series will be intense, but the Red Sox are up to the challenge. Every game in Boston is intense.

Tim Wakefield, 6/25/2008

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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