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It was a mixed week for the boys from Beantown, as they won one crucial series, then lost the next one.

Boston Finally Wins in Tampa Bay, Loses In Chicago

Red Sox Record for the Week of August 31: 3-4

With the holiday weekend now over, the BoSox are sitting on a 2½ game lead over its only true Wild Card competitor, the Texas Rangers. Tampa Bay had been in the race as well but lost two of three crucial games to Boston last week, falling six games back of their northeast rivals. They are now 7½ games back in that race.

The Sox won the series with strong starts by Jon Lester last Tuesday and Clay Buchholz on Thursday, and blasting out 19 runs in the three contests. Psychologically, the series win was a huge boost for Boston, who had seen its 2008 season end at Tropicana Field in Game 7 of the ALCS, and is 4-14 overall there over the last two seasons. Boston has three more games against the Rays this season, all at Fenway Park later this weekend, where they’ve had much better success.

Speaking of psychological, you can never figure the game of baseball out. One would think that a White Sox team that just lost veterans like Jim Thome (to the Dodgers) and Jose Contreras (to the Rockies) in waiver deadline trades to begin the month is giving up on the season. Not so, as they took three of four games from the Red Sox last weekend (after losing three of four in Boston in late August). Go figure.

More of Les, please

There might be some quarreling as to who is most valuable to the Red Sox right now on the offensive side, but in Jon Lester, there is no question that he has supplanted Josh Beckett as the leader of the pitching staff.

In 2008, Beckett struggled through injuries and just wasn’t himself for much of the season. Lester then stepped up to become the team’s ace and one of the best lefthanders and pitchers in the majors. This year, both of these hurlers are healthy by all accounts, but again, Lester has been the more consistent of the two, especially since the end of May. He doesn’t have the high win totals to show for it, but his 204 Ks (3rd in the AL) have overpowered sluggers all year and is a new record for Sox lefties, which was 190, set by Bruce Hurst in 1987. And even with a new catcher (Victor Martinez) calling the shots, Lester is now peaking at the right time. In his last two starts (against the Rays and White Sox), Lester is 2-0, with 17 K’s, and 2 ER in 13 innings of work and now has a season-best 3.44 ERA (8th in the AL).

The (Real) Beckett Is Back

Josh Beckett (14-6) had his first good outing in a long while on Labor Day afternoon, as he gave up just three runs to White Sox hitters over seven innings at U.S. Cellular Field. Unfortunately, Red Sox hitters, even with a hot-streaking Mike Lowell starting at DH in place of the ice cold Big Papi, couldn’t score more than one run off the quick-working lefty Mark Buehrle (12-7), who scattered eight hits in seven innings, all but one of them singles. Boston’s silent bats, which went 1-for-6 with RISP, combined with one bad inning for Beckett – the bottom of the third, in which gave up all his runs – allowed Buehrle to earn his first win since his perfect game July 23 vs. the Rays. The final score was 5-1.

The good news, besides only surrendering three runs (normally enough to win a game), was that Beckett gave up zero homers. Before Monday’s matinee, Beckett was the first Red Sox pitcher since 1954 to allow multiple homers in (a career-high) 5 straight starts. This is especially unusual since he had allowed none in his previous 5 starts before that and only 10 homers in his first 22 outings of 2009. If Beckett can continue to avoid the big bomb and solve “the big inning” problem in ensuing starts, he and the Sox will eventually be rewarded with wins.

Alex Gonzalez Heats Up With the Glove and Bat

Contrary to rumors that Gonzalez has lost a step or two defensively in ’09, the shortstop is still not only deadly accurate throwing to first and second base but to home plate on relay plays to save runs; he threw out Chicago’s Mark Kotsay yesterday and Toronto’s Travis Snider about 11 days ago. But in a pleasantly surprising development, he now has an 11-game hitting streak going into Tuesday’s action, tied for third-highest in all of baseball – V-Mart’s right behind him with a 10-game streak of his own. He’s batting .310 during the streak but unfortunately, hitting is literally the ONLY way he has gotten on base for Boston, as he has yet to draw one walk in 79 at-bats. That’s going to have to change if he’s going to continue to succeed at the plate. Still, whether Gonzalez walks or hits enough is the least of Terry Francona’s worries right now.

Wakefield, The Wounded Warrior

When Tim Wakefield’s #49 is eventually retired, the career highlight reel might include his start last Saturday, in which he gutted out six innings despite a noticeable limp and other ailments he played through. Yes, he gave up four runs, three of them early but the man is a true gamer and unlike J.D. Drew, does not hesitate to play through pain and more importantly, still pitches well enough to give his team a chance to win as he did Saturday. The Red lost 5-1 to the White Sox, but he should feel proud of his efforts (if not results), and every Sox fan should feel the same way.

However, Sox fans still have reason to worry about Wake’s durability as he is not scheduled to pitch again until September 18 in Baltimore, and team doctors are evaluating whether or not he can handle pitching every 10 days for the remainder of ’09. So while his time on the mound is usually worth the wait, Francona now has to figure out whether Dice-K or Junichi Tazawa can be capable fill-ins. I have my doubts, but the rest of the rotation (minus Paul Byrd) is looking better and better, especially with Buchholz fast becoming a reliable number three starter, having given up three or less runs in five of his last six starts. He looks to continue that trend tonight at Fenway versus Baltimore.

In Other Red Sox News

Jacoby Ellsbury continued to add on to his new Red Sox stolen base record yesterday, recording his 60th steal of the year. Joey Gathright is now up from the farm for the stretch run as part of the 40-man roster expansion, so look for even more speed on the base paths late in games. Michael Bowden also came up from the PawSox, this time for good and to be the Sox long man for the rest of 2009. This isn’t his ideal job but at this point, he’ll take it.

Congrats to Kevin Youkilis for being nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award, and to Mike Lowell, who was nominated by his teammates for the 2009 Marvin Miller “Man Of The Year” Award for community service in Boston and Miami (Florida).

And finally, Curt Schilling, who also raises money for good causes (ex. ALS victims), has laid out some political beliefs of his on his “38 Pitches” blog in preparation for a “slim to none” chance that he’ll run for the late Ted Kennedy’s vacant Senate seat. He’s a Republican running as a registered independent, but would be a fool to get involved in a race where Independents and Republicans stand no chance of winning in this deep blue state.

That said, Schilling has every right to run and am not surprised he is considering it since he would fit right in with other blowhards in D.C., including former presidential candidate and longtime Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who reportedly encouraged him to. Boy, does McCain know how to pick a winner or what!

About Charlie Doherty

Senior Music Editor and Culture & Society (Sports) Editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Prior writing/freelancing ventures: copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. Keep up with me on twitter.com/chucko33

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