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.
News, Notes And The Week Ahead
Sunday’s win came with interesting side notes. The game’s starting catcher Jason Varitek hit his seventh homer and did so in just his 70th plate appearance. It took him 126 plate appearances to get seven homers last year and he was still a starter then, making this current feat all the more impressive as a power bat off the bench.
Also, Ortiz, a candidate for player of the month of May, homered for the 11th time and 10th time in the month, which is tied with Texas Rangers resurgent slugger Vladimir Guerrero for second-most in baseball. Leading the league in OPS at .929, he has also become one of the best DHs in the game. And to think that just a few weeks ago, he was close to losing his job.
In other Sox developments, Josh Beckett, beyond frustrated with the ups and downs of his nonstructural but “muscular” back strain, will not come off the 15-day DL tomorrow, as was once targeted. The Sox will take a strict and slow approach to his return to action, not even allowing him to throw a baseball unless he’s 100%.
Finally, Jonathan Van Every is headed to the Pirates again for 22-year-old minor league (Single-A) catcher Josue Peley. Van Every, acquired by Boston April 24, was DFAed May 22 when Ellsbury came back (briefly). He batted .211 but played solid defense in CF. Peley’s strength is in throwing out base runners, throwing out 47 of 111 in his last two years, while batting .202 in the Pirates system.
The Sox, who are a season-high six games over .500 (29-23), start the week Tuesday night now just 5 games back of the Rays and 2.5 back of the Yankees in the AL Wild Card race. They face a surprisingly good and first-place (in the AL West) Oakland A’s squad for three games, with two lefties going for the road team, along with new ace Ben Sheets.
And then Boston has three with the AL East cellar dwellers in Baltimore. But first, look for Lackey, Dice-K and Wakefield to improve upon their recent outings against a light-hitting but good pitching A’s team, and for a struggling Dustin Pedroia, who is 0 for his last 13 at bats and nine for his last 63 overall to start breaking out of his big slump vs. the A’s and really hammer Orioles pitching.
Lackey gets the start tonight vs. upstart lefty Gio Gonzalez to begin the week. If he and Sox pitching overall continues to improve going forward, it should ultimately be a successful week once again for Boston.