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Sox Lose Wild Card Lead, Youk For Five Games But Add Alex Gonzalez

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Red Sox Record for the Week of August 10: 4-3

Frustrated. That is the operative word to describe the state of Red Sox Nation. And as I will explain later, this frustration isn’t limited to the fans but the players and manager as well. Just when you think the Sox have turned a corner (via taking three of four from Detroit), they hit a speed bump or two this past weekend and watched their prime Wild Card opponent (Texas) race ahead of them in the standings.

In an all-too-short four-game home series versus Detroit last week, the Sox knocked around the Tigers’ number two starter Edwin Jackson, who unconventionally gave up nine hits and four earned runs in just four innings last Monday, August 10. The Tigers rallied in the top of the seventh to tie the game at 5-5 but Nick Green’s SF to score J.D. Drew won the game in the bottom of the inning, and the Sox’s long six-game losing streak finally came to an end.

Tuesday (August 11) brought on some fortunate and unfortunate events that everyone around Boston is still talking about. The pitching match-up was between two youngsters: 20-year-old Rick Porcello for Detroit and Junichi Tazawa for Boston, who was making his first career start. Both had control problems early, as Tazawa hit slugger Miguel Cabrera in the left hand in the first inning on an 0-2 count and with two base runners on, which forced him out of the game soon after. He was also beaned by a Brad Penny pitch the night before.

Kevin Youkilis too had been hit by a pitch last Monday (by Edwin Jackson) but last Tuesday night, after getting drilled in the back by a Porcello pitch in the bottom of the second, he threw his helmet and charged the mound, only to end up on his back, get ejected (along with Porcello) and eventually suspended for the next five games.

To me, it was obvious there was no intent by either pitcher to intentionally hit opposing batters. This was a case of two young pitchers trying to pitch inside – and failing miserably. Youk has every right to be frustrated with getting hit again and again but should have reacted like Ian Kinsler of Texas did over the weekend – bitch at the opposing (Boston) pitcher and catcher, then take your base.

For Youk to charge the mound – like Coco Crisp did in June of 2008 when he went after James Shields – was stupid and selfish, and he knows it. It’s too late now because the Sox missed his crucial bat in its lineup the next five games, of which they only won two without him. Crisp got suspended for seven games for his part in last year’s brawl but with Youk throwing his helmet at Porcello in addition to charging the mound, he’s lucky it didn’t cost him more than the five he got.

As for Porcello, Tigers fans have every right to be pissed that Porcello got the same punishment as Youk. MLB disciplinarian Bob Watson ruled that he intentionally tried to hit Victor Martinez and Youkilis. Keep in mind that the ump issued no warnings to either team before Youk got hit, Porcello had a 3-0 lead at the time he hit him and that he never actually hit V-Mart. But hey, Red Sox players have gotten unfair punishment from Watson in recent history so Detroit, welcome to the club. Fans on either side can argue about the fight and suspensions all day and night but it’s over now and both players are expected to play their first post-suspension games tonight.

The only good fortune to come out of this situation last Tuesday was the resurgent power of Mike Lowell, who hit two homers off the bench and along with Jason Bay’s three-run bomb, led the Sox to a 7-5 victory. To begin with, Lowell was quietly frustrated with his reduced playing time since V-Mart came to town, but has handled the situation professionally and has done an admirable job at third and at the plate for the most part. His two homers off reliever and former Boston College pitcher Chris Lambert was the first time multiple homers were hit by a Boston player off the bench since Joe Foy (who?) in 1967.

The Sox split the final two games of the series, with Tigers ace Justin Verlander giving Sox hitters no chance and allowing no runs over eight innings of work on Thursday. He blew away Sox sluggers right to the very end of his outing with 100 mph fastballs en route to his 13th win of ’09 in a 2-0 win. Clay Buchholz held his own, giving up just one earned run in seven innings. The Sox finished its season series versus the Tigers with a commendable 6-1 record.

The Sox are 12-17 overall since the All-Star break and have the 14th best road record in the majors, falling back to 28-33 after losing two of three in Texas this past weekend and thus, the Wild Card lead. For the season, Boston went 2-7 versus the Rangers.

Boston’s only win in the weekend series occurred Friday night, in a crazy game that saw the Sox offense burst out for six runs off of closer Frank Francisco in the top of the ninth and win the game 8-4. But Terry Francona made perhaps the dumbest move of the season during the ninth inning rally.

With one out and Varitek at second, he opted to put in a pinch runner who hadn’t run the bases in five years: pitcher Clay Buchholz. Varitek is slow but not Mike Lowell slow, and shouldn’t have been taken out of the game. As it turns out, the pitcher hesitated running from second to home on a clutch hit by Dustin Pedroia, then (dangerously) slid head first into home plate and was called out while trying to score the game-tying run in a 4-3 game. Thanks to V-Mart’s clutch two-out two-run hit on Francisco’s eighth pitch to him, Buchholz and by extension, Tito were saved from much ridicule.

Instead of those two facing harsh questions, it’s now J.D. Drew whom Boston media and fans are directing some fire towards for his actions during this game, thanks to a rare occurrence of the Sox manager throwing a player under the bus. As Tito said after the game, in the eighth inning Drew told him he might not be able to play the ninth. A clearly frustrated Francona told him, “You have to” because the roster was just about all used up. So what does Drew do? He stays in the game and belts a two-run homer as part of that ninth inning six-run rally. All kinds of players, including teammates like Jason Bay and Lowell are banged up this time of year. Drew needs to look at them, suck up any pain he’s in, and just play ball.

With the Sox’s weak road record and the revolving door of players coming and going every week since the second half started, it’s amazing the hometown team is only one game out of a playoff spot going into Tuesday night. Of course, having a 38-18 record at Fenway Park explains a lot.

But being on the road way more often than home has proven to be an unsuccessful venture lately, to say the least, as the Sox have played 18 games away and only 11 in Boston since the All-Star break. In fact, going into Tuesday night’s game in Toronto, the Sox are 5-13 on the road since the break. With Josh Beckett on the mound tonight, the Sox chances of starting to right its road woes are pretty good.

Other developments in Red Sox land include the official releasing of John Smoltz on Monday and over the past weekend, the sudden reacquisition of slick Cincy shortstop Alex Gonzalez – his first stint in Boston was in 2006 – for a minor league prospect. (To make roster room for him, infielder Chris Woodward was DFA’d.) Talk about a revolving door, ever since Nomar got traded to the Cubs in 2004, the Sox have tried out several shortstops: Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo, Nick Green, and Jed Lowrie. Of those, only Lugo lasted more than a full year in Boston – from 2007 until last month when he was traded to St. Louis for outfielder Chris Duncan.

Gonzalez is hitting in the low .200s this year but in Theo Epstein’s eyes, will save more runs than he will create for the Sox for the stretch run. It’s a risky move but with Lowrie out and Green not hitting or fielding well, the Sox saw an opportunity to get better defensively, even if it creates yet another hole in the lineup, especially when Varitek and Ortiz aren’t hitting.

Big Papi hit a couple of homers and drew five walks in Texas over the weekend, but is still batting .154 for the month of August. And Varitek is struggling in the second half for the second year in a row. But at least V-Mart is around to take his place in the lineup when needed, an important option that did not exist this time last year.

And finally, on the rehab front, Tim Wakefield gave up two runs in three and two-thirds innings in his outing with the PawSox on Saturday, August 15, during which he threw 63 pitches, 40 of them for strikes, walked one and struck out three. For Wake, pitching isn’t the problem, it’s his left calf muscle injury that impairs him from fielding his position. Francona said he’s still limping and doesn’t know if he is ready to pitch and field for the pro team yet.

Recently signed veteran Paul Byrd will join the PawSox Wednesday for a start as he gets ready to help the big club down the stretch. His role has yet to be determined but it’s likely to be minimal with Dice-K and Wake set to return sometime in the next few weeks. In two starts with the Gulf Coast Red Sox, Byrd is 0-1 with a 5.14 ERA over seven innings – not exactly impressive. With the Sox in 2008, Byrd had a 4.78 ERA in eight starts.

Of these three, the most important is obviously All-Star veteran Tim Wakefield. If he can pitch as well as he did in the first half and give the offense a chance to win for him, he would rejoin Beckett and Lester as stabilizing forces in the rotation, something Penny was for a good while until recently and that Clay Buchholz needs time to prove he can be. Between now and October 4, the Sox need to regain that solid starting pitching depth they once had if they are to be playoff bound. Between Wakefield, Buchholz, Penny, and Dice-K, they should be able to do just that.

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.