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Lester ponders 20 wins

09.07.10 at 3:18 am ET
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Personal accomplishments are not at the front of Jon Lester‘s mind.

The left-hander’s foremost concern remains his next start, which will come either against the A’s on Sunday or the Mariners on Monday, depending on whether the Red Sox elect to have Clay Buchholz pitch on three days’ rest on Wednesday. That said, Lester admits that the idea of winning 20 games has crossed his mind, and like any pitcher, it would represent a meaningful accomplishment.

“I think if you ask any pitcher about that, I’€™m sure it’€™s crossed their minds at some point,” Lester acknowledged. “But at the same time, I’€™m worried about five or six days from now. You can’€™t start counting down starts, I’€™ve got five more or whatever and have a chance. You can’€™t worry about that.”

On Monday, Lester (16-8) overcame some early labors to match a career high by earning his 16th victory of 2010 as the Red Sox beat the Rays, 12-5. He struggled to put away the Rays early, requiring 29 pitches in both the first and third innings, but he summoned the right pitches in key situations, stranding a pair of runners in the first and leaving the bases loaded in the third, limiting Tampa Bay to one run in each frame.

That positioned him to punch claim a victory on a night when he allowed two runs on four hits while punching out 10 in his six innings. The performance continued a season in which he has enhanced his reputation as one of the top pitchers in the game. Lester is tied for second in the AL in wins and also ranks among league leaders in strikeouts (196, 3rd) and ERA (3.26, 10th).

The Sox have 24 games remaining, meaning that Lester likely has four or five starts remaining this season. That gives him at least a chance to reach the 20 wins milestone. But Lester suggests that he will refrain from targeting such a goal until he reaches 19 victories.

“That’€™s what gets you in trouble, if you start thinking about [20 wins],” said Lester. “I’€™ve got to worry about my next opponent, and try to get the next one, and see what happens.”

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Closing Time: Red Sox 12, Rays 5

09.06.10 at 10:42 pm ET
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So when is an 11-2 lead not particularly safe heading into the seventh inning?

Well, when you have a bullpen that has walked in five runs over eight innings in the span of two  games, you can’t blame Terry Francona for not feeling secure.

He watched as Jon Lester settled down after laboring over his first three innings and 69 pitches. He went to his bullpen and gave Robert Coello a chance to make his major league debut with a nine-run lead. Poor Coello. He faced six batters, retired one, allowed three hits and three runs and walked two, both of which forced in runs.

Dustin Richardson followed with a walk of his own, bring his total to two batters faced and two walks over the last two days.

Scott Atchison came in to save the day and Francona’s blood pressure, if not the game itself, by getting the final out of what was a three-run Tampa Bay seventh, an inning that featured six Tampa Bay pinch-hitters.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX:

— They pounded bad pitching. This is something the Red Sox have a legendary reputation of doing. And they got back to basics on Monday. Despite a lineup featuring rookies Daniel Nava, leading off, Ryan Kalish, Lars Anderson and Yamaico Navarro, the Red Sox pounded Jeff Niemann for four runs and six hits and chased him after he retired only five Red Sox batters.

The Red Sox continued the onslaught against Andy Sonnanstine with five more hits and five more runs as they built their lead to 11-2 after four innings.

Jon Lester survived. The lefty was clearly not having his best night but he still managed to strike out 10 over six innings to earn his 16th win of the year.

Ryan Kalish is quickly becoming the odds-on choice to win a starting outfield spot in 2011. Whether it’s center field, we’ll have to wait on the fate of Jacoby Ellsbury to see about that. But Kalish, with his second career grand slam and two steals on Monday, is going a long way to make his statement.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX:

— Bullpen is still very shaky. On a night when they didn’t have Jonathan Papelbon available, Francona had to rely on the major league debut of Robert Coello, a converted catcher to begin the seventh inning. Dustin Richardson walked the only batter he faced.

— Jon Lester still doesn’t look himself. All you needed to see were the early walks and the hard-hit balls to know that Lester is still having a puzzling time trying to command his fastball. His curve got him out of some tight jams, including two strikeouts of Evan Longoria with runners on.

— Not quite the debut Lars was looking for. The highly-regarded first base prospect went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts in his big league debut, falling short of the accomplishments of fellow rookies Daniel Nava, Kalish and Yamaico Navarro, all of whom had hits in their first at-bats.

Read More: lars anderson, MLB, Rays, Red Sox

Maddon expected Sox to contend despite injuries

09.06.10 at 7:53 pm ET
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Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon was aware of the epidemic of injuries sweeping across the Red Sox. He knew that Boston was without Jacoby Ellsbury, a player who he believed was ready for a breakout year, and that the losses of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis had struck at the heart of the team.

And yet, through all of that, Maddon “absolutely” believed that the Sox would continue to remain in the thick of a three-team race, running alongside the Rays and Yankees. The reason for that was simple enough.

“A big part of it is pitching. You can absorb different injuries on the field and they can be very difficult, but if you can keep your pitching intact and you play defense, it can still carry you through the moment until guys get well or other guys figure it out,” said Maddon. “The fact that most of their problems were located on the field and not in their pitching, I just felt their pitching staff, their starters are among the best. And I know the bullpen has suffered but the two guys at the end are also among the best.

“So while they’€™re going through all these different maladies, I’€™m seeing that the pitching is still intact. You still have to respect that and from my perspective.”

Maddon’s expectations, however, have since been undermined by the struggles of the offense. The Sox have actually enjoyed a fairly strong pitching performance since Youkilis went down. Since he was placed on the disabled list with his year-ending adductor muscle injury on Aug. 3, Sox pitchers have a 3.87 ERA.

However, the Sox have hit just .248 and a .720 OPS while averaging 4.2 runs per game in that time. They have gone 16-15, and effectively fallen out of contention.

That is not merely a product of injuries, but also of the division in which the Sox reside. Whereas other races might be more forgiving of a .500 stretch, the Sox’ residence in a brutal AL East that features two teams (the Rays and Yankees) that could finish the year with 100 wins, and two more (the Sox and Blue Jays) good enough to challenge for a title in virtually any other division has taken away such margin for struggle.

“In spring training, I think I was right on,” sighed Sox manager Terry Francona. “I said the Yankees were going to be really good, Tampa was scary good, Toronto was good and Baltimore was improving. I think that’€™s kind of what happened. I think I was, unfortunately, right.”

Read More: Joe Maddon, Rays, Terry Francona,

World According to Lars: A psychological tale

09.06.10 at 6:18 pm ET
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[Click here to listen to the world according to Lars Anderson.]

The Red Sox didn’t just promote a hard-hitting, highly-regarded first base prospect with power on Monday. They called up perhaps the most advanced 22-year-old philosopher in the game.

The much-heralded, power-hitting first baseman prospect Lars Anderson was called up Monday by the Red Sox to make his major league debut. Anderson got word from the Red Sox following Pawtucket’s game Sunday and made his way up to Boston, where he was immediately slotted into the starting lineup, batting eighth and playing first base.

Anderson batted .355 in 17 games with Double-A Portland before being promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. He struggled with a batting average near .200 before getting hot in the summer months and finishing with a .262 mark, including 10 homers and 53 RBIs in 113 games.

“Baseball is such an ebb and flow throughout the year,” Anderson said. “I’m just happy with way I’ve handled the downs and ups as well.”

For the last 25 games with the PawSox, he hit .330 while clubbing eight homers.

But well before that 25-game stretch, Anderson never doubted he’d wind up in the majors, specifically Boston.

“Yes,” Anderson responded without hesitation when asked if he knew he’d wind up in the majors eventually. “I don’t know. I just knew since I was little.”

But that doesn’t take away from the sheer excitement of the 24 hours leading up to Monday night at Fenway.

“I’m shocked because at [about] one o’clock when I got into Boston last night, I really felt my nerves,” Anderson admitted. “Right now, I feel great, I feel pretty calm and excited and under control.

“I feel like I’ve progressed in a lot of the areas I wanted to progress and I’m happy about that,” Anderson said. “I’m sure I’ll have butterflies before game but I’m way more calm. Last night, I was really jittery. Now I’m happy to be here.”

“That was more of a physical thing,” Anderson said. “It’s not where I want it to be. From what I’ve gathered, that’s the last thing that comes and it’s just a product of maturity and maturation.”

“Some physical stuff. Some mental stuff. I think the biggest adjustment for hitting is not making too many adjustments because that can become overwhelming.”

Not too many 22-year-olds are so well-adjusted. But the Red Sox clearly feel that this is no ordinary 22-year-old baseball prospect. Another example you ask?

“Sometimes not as well as I would have like to and sometimes I was really proud of myself with how I handled it,” he professed. “When I handle it well is when I’m emotionally detached from it and it’s a failed action but not failed as a human being. It’s like a bad swing doesn’t turn into a bad player which doesn’t turn into being a bad person. A bad swing is just a bad swing. You can leave it at that, which is a great way to feel when you’re struggling.”

So, it should come as no surprise that Anderson, who also had his parents in from Sacramento, Calif., has formed a professional bond with Red Sox sports psychology coach Bob Tewksbury.

“He and I are great friends,” Anderson said. “There’s a couple of people back home and my parents and myself. Obviously, it’s a never-ending thing but just realize that all of us are good. We all have this innate quality of goodness in us just appreciate that and just see it in ourselves and others and not be so self-destructive.”

But that doesn’t mean Anderson needs to always be introspective when describing his feelings of reaching the bigs.

“I think I’m going to love playing here and hitting here,” Anderson said. “It’s good to be here.”

Read More: Boston Red Sox, lars anderson, MLB, PawSox

Reddick called up

09.06.10 at 3:15 pm ET
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On the same day that the Red Sox called up left-handed-hitting first baseman Lars Anderson, fellow prospect Josh Reddick also joined the team Monday.

The 23-year-old outfielder, who was hitting .266 with 18 homers and 65 RBI, was pulled from Pawtucket’s game Monday after the fourth inning and was told he was headed for Boston. Before leaving the game, Reddick had homered and doubled for the PawSox.

Reddick has been with the club three times this season, hitting .196 with two extra-base hits (a double and a triple) and two RBI.

Read More: josh reddick, lars anderson,

Report: Lars Anderson gets call-up from PawSox

09.06.10 at 11:07 am ET
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The Red Sox will purchase the contract of first baseman Lars Anderson from Triple-A Pawtucket on Monday, according to a report at SoxProspects.com. The 22-year-old lefty is batting .274 with 15 home runs in 130 games this season, split between the PawSox and Double-A Portland.

Anderson, drafted in the 18th round in 2006, was considered one of the organization’s top prospects after a strong start at Single-A, but he fell a bit after struggling in Double-A last season. He rebounded this spring, hitting .355 in 17 games at Portland and earning the promotion to Pawtucket. He started slow at Triple-A, hitting .233 his first two months there, but he’s batted .296 since the Triple-A All-Star break.

Read More: lars anderson,

Jonathan Papelbon: ‘I couldn’t finish the job’

09.06.10 at 8:34 am ET
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[Click here to listen to Jonathan Papelbon explain his ninth-inning meltdown on Sunday.]

Jonathan Papelbon said he wasn’t feeling any ill effects from throwing a career-high 48 pitches during Sunday’s epic ninth inning meltdown at Fenway Park.

His voice said otherwise.

About an hour after his teammates lost an excruciatingly difficult-to-swallow 7-5 game to the hard-charging White Sox, an exhausted Papelbon stood in front of the TV screen in the Red Sox clubhouse with the same look that TV cameras caught him with in the dugout after being pulled. He tried his best to describe how a 5-3 lead with one out to go turned into a 5-5 game in the blink of an eye.

“A walk and a bloop hit,” Papelbon said in a very quiet voice. “I couldn’t finish the job, basically. I came in throwing the ball well and wasn’t able to execute a few pitches I wanted to in the end. I felt fine, physically. I don’t think it had anything to do with the amount of pitches.”

Papelbon has always been a stand-up guy when it comes to answering the bell after a hideous loss. He did it after Game 3 of the ALDS last year at Fenway against the Angels. He did it after the loss on Aug. 12 at Rogers Centre when he also came on to protect a 5-3 lead.

And he did it again Sunday.

“I’m coming in in a situation where every little thing matters,” he said. “Trying to come into a ball game and get the hardest outs of a ball game and every little thing matters. Bloop hit, ball right off the glove. Those things turned into being big things for them.”

So why the meltdown? Was it the 48 pitches or, more specifically, the seven heavy-stress pitches to pinch-hitter Manny Ramirez, the first batter he faced in the eighth inning?

“I think some of it is focus,” Papelbon answered. “For me, I’m able to make adjustments out there from pitch to pitch pretty easily, but I didn’t finish some pitches and out of my delivery on some and fighting to get back.

“I felt myself get out of my delivery a little bit and not finish some pitches. There’s no question it was a long weekend, but tiring and Manny at-bat and all this and that has nothing to do with my performance.”

So after Papelbon threw his 48th and final pitch, it was up to the relievers left in the ‘pen to do something about it, namely Dustin Richardson and Robert Manuel. They didn’t exactly have the major league experience of coming into a situation like this with the game on the line, but no time like the present to learn.

And Papelbon said he didn’t feel sympathy for them, either.

“No, I don’t feel for them. They’re job is to come in there and get outs just like everybody else, and to sit here and say you feel sorry for them coming into that situation ‘€” no, I don’t feel sorry for them.”

The Red Sox woke up Monday morning knowing they’re 10 games behind the Yankees and 7 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay in the wild card chase.

“I think we put ourselves in the situation and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Papelbon said. “You just have to go out each day, grind it out and and try to win a ball game. I don’t think that’s going to affect how anybody goes out and plays their game or goes out and win a ball game. You don’t look at the standings every day and let it determine how you’re going to play a ball game by any means.”

Read More: Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox

Robert Manuel walks back-to-back batters for the first time … ever

09.05.10 at 7:37 pm ET
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Sunday’s outing was memorable for Robert Manuel for all the wrong reasons.

The most obvious one was the fact that the 27-year-old contributed to the Red Sox‘ 7-5 loss to the White Sox in a negative way, coming on in relief of Dustin Richardson with the bases loaded and proceeding to walk both Gordon Beckham and Juan Pierre for the visitors’ final two runs.

But what might truly separate the outing for Manuel was the fact that he managed something that he can’t remember ever doing before, walking back-to-back batters.

“Never back to back,” said Manuel, who was pitching in his ninth major league game. “And never really that bad, either. I’€™ve had walks where you’€™re throwing a ton of pitches or they’€™re squeezing you here and there. It was just four balls that weren’€™t really even close.

“I think I had a recent outing about a month ago where I got my butt kicked, and everybody goes through that. But I can’€™t remember anything like this off the top of my head where I walk two guys back to back.”

Manuel, whose fastball typically sits in the mid-80’s, has always relied on control ever since signing the Mets in 2005 as an undrafted free agent out of Sam Houston St. The most he has ever walked in one professional season came in 2007 when he issued 22 free passes over 98 1/3 innings.

The righty wouldn’t, however chalk it up to the the intensity of the situation.

“Maybe I put a little too much pressure on myself, but that’s no excuse,” he said. “I just didn’t execute. Thats the bottom line.”

Josh Beckett: ‘I feel partially responsible for what happened’

09.05.10 at 7:11 pm ET
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On the surface, it appeared to be another step in the right direction for Josh Beckett. The pitcher, however, didn’€™t totally buy into that notion.

After allowing three runs (1 earned) over 6 1/3 innings ‘€“ striking out nine and walking two ‘€“ Beckett had a hard time getting past the notion that his inability to get out of the seventh inning paved the way to a 7-5 White Sox win over the Red Sox, Sunday afternoon.

Beckett was replaced by Bard with one out in the seventh, runners on first and third and the Red Sox clinging to a 2-1 lead. After a steal of second base by Alex Rios, and a Paul Konerko strikeout, the reliever couldn’€™t handle a comebacker from Carlos Quentin, ultimately throwing a one-hopper to first baseman Mike Lowell which went astray, allowing the go-ahead run to score.

After Quentin was caught stealing to end the inning, Bard was replaced by Hideki Okajima in the eighth, eventually leaving it to closer Jonathan Papelbon to get the final five outs.

Papelbon couldn’€™t close the door, contributing to a four-run ninth inning from the White Sox that also included back-to-back bases loaded walks by Robert Manuel that proved the difference.

‘€œThose guys down in the bullpen, they’re used to pitching at a certain time and a certain part of the game,’€ Beckett said. ‘€œI feel partially responsible for what happened because Bard has to come instead of the eighth, come in the seventh, and then Pap has to get more outs. That’s the frustrating thing.’€

Beckett later added, ‘€œBard is used to pitching the eighth. Pap’s used to pitching the ninth. Pap shouldn’t have to get five outs. If I go out for the seventh, I should finish the seventh.’€

Also providing a source of frustration for Beckett was a pickoff play in the seventh that allowed  Juan Pierre (the potential game-tying run at the time) advance to third with one out.

‘€œIt wasn’t anything that we had set up. Everybody has the open glove, the open hand play. It becomes bad when you try to pick a guy off,’€ Beckett explained. ‘€œYou don’t pick guys off, guys pick themselves off. At least I don’t. [White Sox starter] Mark Buerhle is a little different story because he’s got a good move. I tried to make too good a throw. I’m trying to pick him off instead of doing what I usually do whenever guys are on second base, and that’s mix in looks, mix in times, the occasional step off. If you do pick to second, you make a good throw to the second baseman or the shortstop, whoever is giving the play. I just tried making too good a throw.’€

What Beckett can take out of the start was his ability to weather the storm that was allowing at least a pair of baserunners in each of the firs three innings, yet not give up more than a single run.

‘€œI think I just made pitches when I needed to,’€ Beckett said. ‘€œThere wasn’t any in particular pitch. I felt like we used all my stuff in those situations when we needed to make pitches.’€

Closing Time: White Sox 7, Red Sox 5

09.05.10 at 5:47 pm ET
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Just like the sun late Sunday afternoon at Fenway, the Red Sox season is fading fast.

The fate of the 2010 Red Sox is all but sealed and they will almost certainly be watching the playoffs and World Series instead of participating. But Sunday was one of the ugliest losses of the season, rivaling the 6-5 loss to Toronto when the decline began. And in both cases, Jonathan Papelbon was the lead suspect at the scene of the crime.

There were plenty of dramatics. Victor Martinez drilling a 3-1 pitch from Mark Buehrle over the Green Monster for a two-run, go-ahead homer, the seven pitches from Jonathan Papelbon to Manny Ramirez in the first-ever meeting between two old teammates, which ended with, of all things, a hit batter.

There was the bloop hit by Carlos Quentin that turned into a run-scoring double with two outs in the ninth. That was followed by a sinking line drive by Ramon Castro that fell in front of a diving Ryan Kalish for the game-tying single.

Follow that up with appearances by Dustin Richardson and Robert Manuel, the last of which included a pair bases-loaded walks and you have the recipe for what happened Sunday afternoon as the sun was going down on the 2010 Red Sox.

And fans could not be blamed if they compared this Sunday afternoon with the Sunday afternoon last October against the Angels when Los Angeles completed a three-game ALDS sweep against the same pitcher.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX:

— This time Josh BeckettDID NOT have his best stuff in the opening three innings. He allowed six hits over the first three innings of work but Chicago only penalized him with one run in that stretch. That allowed the Red Sox righty to stay in the game until one out in the seventh.

— Red Sox pitchers continue to bumble on the mound. And we’re not talking about their pitches. We’re talking about the inability to field the position. All season long, Red Sox pitchers have had a hard time fielding their position cleanly. On Sunday, in the space of five minutes, Beckett threw wildly back to second base, allowing Omar Vizquel to reach third. And Daniel Bard, from the seat of his pants, threw errantly to Mike Lowell at first to allow a second run to cross the plate.

Terry Francona has very little back-end bullpen left. He had to go to Daniel Bard in the seventh and Papelbon with one out in the eighth to rescue the game. Forty-eight pitches later, Papelbon was left to stare hopelessly into space from the dugout as Manuel walked in the two go-ahead runs.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX:

— The offense finally showed signs of life, and with two outs, no less. The clearest example of that was when Victor Martinez stepped to the plate with a runner on first and the Red Sox trailing 3-2 in the seventh. He drilled a 3-1 hanging pitch from Mark Buerhle over everything in left for his 14th homer of the season and a 4-3 Red Sox lead.

— After grazing Manny Ramirez with an inside fastball in the eighth to put runners on first and second with one out, Papelbon regained his focus, striking out Gordon Beckham looking and getting Juan Pierre to fly out to left to end the threat. Then, of course, came the ninth.

Adrian Beltre again shows he’s 2010 MVP. He had three hits, joining Darnell McDonald, also with three hits, as the team leaders on the day.

Read More: Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, MLB
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