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The Red Sox Can’t Be Beaten – At Least Not Last Week

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Red Sox Record for the Week of September 8: 5-0

Last week was one of the sharpest and most successful ones of the season for the BoSox. But before I break down just how they won all five of their games (not including last Monday, Labor Day), first comes a bit of breaking news.

The big news? Sox owner John Henry – who was last seen Twittering about the Yankees – has a new blog on NESN’s website. Of course, that’s a yawner. All kidding aside, the REAL news is that Kevin Youkilis is out of tonight’s Sox-Angels game with back spasms, and Victor Martinez is too due to a family emergency back at Cleveland.

Also, MLB just released its schedule for the 2010 season, and wouldn’t you know, the Sox and Yanks will face each other at Fenway Park to open and close the season. It will be the second year in a row the Sox get to open a season at home after starting six prior seasons away – including in Japan in 2008.

Though six years was way too long for the Sox to not play a season opener at home, most hometown team observers would agree that it was not a great idea to start ’09 at Fenway versus Tampa Bay – the April 6 home opener was PPD due to rain. The season instead should’ve opened at the Rays’ domed stadium Tropicana Field, where weather is no issue. Those damned catwalks and Boston’s poor play there below them until recently are entirely different issues.

Chances of rain (temporarily) spoiling a Sox-Yanks ’10 season opener will likely be no different than ’09, but the intensity and buzz building up to that opening series will be, and the level of it depends on how the rest of this season plays out. Indeed, there is a whole lot of baseball left to be played, observed, and analyzed.

Speaking of observing, I had the good luck of being at Fenway last Tuesday (September 8) as the Red Sox, led by Clay Buchholz clobbered Baltimore 10-0. This was one of the young righthander’s best outings of the year, in terms of domination and stuff. He had a perfect game going into the fourth inning, and after seven, gave up zero runs and just three hits. His fastballs down-and-in and sharp moving curveballs and sliders kept Orioles hitters off balance all night long.

And it was a looong night in more ways than one. The first five Red Sox hits were homers, led by Dustin Pedroia’s first two-homer game of his career and J.D. Drew’s three-run bomb that put the game out of reach, turning a 5-0 lead to 8-0 in the third inning. David Ortiz capped the scoring with his 269th career dinger, tying him with Frank Thomas for the all-time mark as a DH. The Sox are 20-2 when he homers.

They had six in all and set a club record with five of them in the first three innings. Baltimore’s manager Dave Trembley went through seven pitchers total, with starter David Hernandez, last seen July 26th holding the Sox to one run, taking the loss after giving up six of the 10 Sox runs.

Last Wednesday night, Victor Martinez got a rare night off to start the game. Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Terry Francona had him pinch-hit for George Kottaras. He got the game’s biggest hit, breaking a 4-4 tie with a three-run double to left-center field that eventually won the game over Baltimore. 7-5 was the final score, with starter Paul Byrd going five strong innings and allowing just two earned runs.

With a night off last Thursday, the Sox welcomed back the Rays to Fenway one last time over the weekend. Being 9.5 games back at the time, they need to sweep the Sox to at least have a prayer of getting back into the Wild Card race and defend their AL championship crown. But after a rainout Friday, Sox pitching dominated Rays hitters – now without slugger Carlos Pena for the rest of ’09 – for three straight games Saturday and (two on) Sunday, and sent TB to its 9th, 10th, and 11th straight losses. The Rays ended the Sox season last year, so it’s nice to see the Sox return the favor in an all but official manner.

How did it happen? Saturday saw Josh Beckett give up one run in the rain-shortened five-inning game and was backed by nine Red Sox runs. He’s now 9-1 with a 3.42 ERA at Fenway in ’09. Boston got eight of its nine runs in the third, and half of those due to uninspiring Rays defense.

Centerfielder Fernando Perez, no doubt unfamiliar with Fenway Park, gave up on an Alex Gonzalez fly ball that got over his head for three runs. Pena’s first base replacement Willy Aybar, after a hot shot by Ortiz that went over first into foul ground, lollygagged after it, which allowed the not-so-speedy Alex Gonzalez to score all the way from second base. No wonder the Rays are in such a downward spiral.

Sunday saw Buchholz and Jon Lester continue their brilliant stretch of pitching en route to a double-header and three-game series sweep. Buchholz allowed one run over seven innings in Game 1 in a 3-1 win while Lester, who is 13-7 on the year and 40-15 lifetime, went eight scoreless innings in the Sox 4-0 win in Game 2.

Besides Lester, Pedroia was the star in Game 1, as his two-run homer – and third of the week – broke a 1-1 tie and not only won the game, but reminded the baseball world why he was MVP material last season. That, plus his outstanding defense (ex. His game-changing Willie Mays-type outfield catch the Sunday before last, after which he doubled off a White Sox runner at second base). Billy Wagner and his 99-mph fastball finished Game 2. He has been nearly flawless in his short time in Boston, allowing just a solo homer in six appearances.

All in all, it doesn’t hurt that the Sox offense as a whole is hitting the cover off the ball lately. But outstanding starting pitching from Beckett, Buchholz and Lester is what’s carrying this team right now and into a 4.5 game lead over Texas for the AL Wild Card spot going into Tuesday’s games.

I doubt the Sox will go undefeated this week, especially when you don’t know what to expect from Dice-K tonight against the Angels in his first start since June 19, Paul Byrd Wednesday or Tim Wakefield when he pitches on long rest in Baltimore this coming weekend. But one thing is clear: the Angels can control the direction of the Wild Card race this week and perhaps beyond, even though they aren’t in it. These next three days they face the Red Sox, then Texas for three more over the weekend and again at the end of the month and October 1 for four more.

For Boston’s sake, let’s just hope the Angels save their hot bats for Texas and not only keep them from gaining WC ground but in the process knock them out of the divisional race as well (the difference of which is six games as of this writing).

In closing, I’m not all that great at predictions, but it is safe a bet that no matter who the Red Sox and Rangers play from here on out, the first of those teams to 90 wins will win the AL Wild Card spot. The Sox, starting tonight begin a stretch of 20 games in a row to end the season, and at 84 wins at the moment, seem poised to get there faster than Texas (at 80 wins as of publishing). Off to the races they go.

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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.