Run Prevention, Meet Run Explosion
The Red Sox came into Tropicana Field last Monday 8.5 games behind the American League East-leading Rays. Needless to say, this was a crucial three-game series for Boston’s chances of staying in the hunt for the division title and needed to play at its best.
Simply put, Mission Accomplished.
Last Monday, the Sox got its first win against the Rays this year, 6-1. David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis homered and knocked out Wade Davis in the fourth, while Boston’s Clay Buchholz got his team-leading sixth win. It was also his eighth consecutive road win, which stretches back to August 2009. The young righthander needs one more to catch up to Roger Clemens’ nine straight road wins, which he did from July 18, 1993 to April 20, 1994. That’s great company to be in, especially for a pitcher not expected to be pitching like an ace as he is right now.
In one scary incident, infielder Sean Rodriguez became the first Rays player ever to be stung by a stingray on a beach behind his St. Petersburg rental condo that Monday morning. Except for the loss of a lot of blood on his right heel, he turned out fine, had the foot treated like a cut, and crazy enough, took Carl Crawford’s place in the lineup later Monday night after the Rays star was ejected from the game in the fifth inning.
On May 25, Mike Cameron got activated from the DL to play centerfield, while Darnell McDonald was originally designated for assignment, then told that he could stay because Jacoby Ellsbury had problems in his “side.” As far as the game was concerned, Jon Lester walked five but struck out nine as he, Manny Delcarmen, Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon combined to pitch a one-hit 2-0 shutout, with Ortiz’s two-out, two-run double off James Shields in the third inning providing the game’s only runs.
Last Wednesday night, the Sox impressively beat Matt Garza (5-3) by a score of 11-3 behind an inconsistent, but good enough (5-3) John Lackey to sweep the Rays, outscore them 19-4 in the series and go to 5.5 GB of them for the division. Adrian Beltre, the best hitter average-wise for the Sox, showed shades of his old power stroke by homering twice and driving in six runs in all, a season-high for any Red Sox. Also worth noting: Ortiz batted third for the first time since May 24 of last year. And the way he’s swinging at the plate recently, he’ll be staying there for a while.
Boston Splits Four With The Royals
The Royals can’t pitch, play great defense or homer much, but they can just plain hit and are near the top of the AL in team batting average. In the first two games Thursday and Friday at Fenway Park, the Royals drew eight walks off of Daisuke Matsuzaka and scored nine runs off of a previously red hot Tim Wakefield to win 4-3 and 12-5, respectively. Wake (1-3) was especially “disgusted” with his outing, which included leaving a hanger to Yuniesky Betancourt to hit for a grand slam Friday night. That was the low point of the weekend, along with the news that Ellsbury is going back on the 15-day DL.
A high point from Friday night was utility man Bill Hall pitching the only 1-2-3 inning in the ninth for Boston, impressively clocking in around 88-89 mph. Just like Bill Belichick likes players with versatility with his Patriots, Francona likes to have a few of those on his team as well. But Hall playing six different positions so far in 2010 — second, short, all three outfield positions, and even pitcher — stands out.
The true pinnacle of the weekend was yet another low-scoring win for the Red Sox, this time a 1-0 win with Buchholz out-dueling Royals ace Zack Grienke and improving to 7-3. Lester, with the help of Mike Lowell driving in the game’s only run, followed that up Sunday by beating Bruce Chen 8-1 to improve to 6-2. He is now 6-0 with a 1.43 ERA in his last eight starts going back to April 23. Lester and Buchholz both went 5-0 in May, the most ever in a month for them, and for the first time this year, have ERAs under 3.00. They are the two biggest reasons the Sox are back in the AL East race.