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Saturday’s Red Sox-Cubs matchups: Alfredo Aceves vs. Carlos Zambrano

05.17.11 at 12:37 pm ET
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Riding a six-game win streak heading into this weekend’s interleague series against the Chicago Cubs, it’s safe to say the Red Sox have started firing on all cylinders. Still, looming doubts about the back of the rotation only intensified with Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s recent elbow injury. The right-hander was sent to the disabled list with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament.

Matsuzaka had struggled mightily in his last two starts, giving up a combined nine earned runs in just over ten innings. To fill the open spot in the rotation, Terry Francona will turn to Alfredo Aceves to pitch in a rare start opposite Carlos Zambrano.

The former Yankee has started only five games in his three-year career, and four of those starts came as a rookie back in 2008. Aceves (1-0, 2.60 ERA) has a solid lifetime ERA of 2.10 in 26.1 innings as a starter, but he’s been a full-time reliever since 2009 and has never gone deeper than seven innings. Aceves did get the win in his last appearance, a strong three-inning relief performance on May 16th in which he gave up one run on two hits. With the Sox trailing Baltimore 6-0, Aceves pitched well enough to keep his team in the game, and Boston eventually came back to win, 8-7, on Adrian Gonzalez‘ walk-off double.

As is often the case in interleague play, the Cubs have had very limited experience against Aceves. Only Carlos Pena (0-3) and Marlon Byrd (1-2) have ever faced the Mexican right-hander, who will be making his first appearance against Chicago.

On the other hand, several Red Sox hitters have had a decent look at Zambrano (4-2, 4.89 ERA), including Gonzalez (3-15), J.D. Drew (3-15) and Mike Cameron (2-19). Still, the Venezuelan righty has held Boston to a combined .175 batting average in 75 total plate appearances. Believe it or not, Josh Beckett has the team’s second-highest batting average off the Cubs starter. Although he almost certainly won’t be hitting at Fenway, Beckett has two hits in seven plate appearances (.286) against Zambrano, to go along with three strikeouts.

Zambrano has been a bit shaky in his last two starts, which were both losses for Chicago. He gave up six runs on six hits and three walks against Cincinnati on Monday, and surrendered four runs on eight hits to St. Louis a week earlier. The 29-year-old has gotten off to some slow starts in the past few years; from 2009-2011, his combined ERA in April and May is 4.90. Still, Zambrano has managed to finish with an ERA under 4.00 in each of the last nine years, and with his success (however limited) against Boston, he could be poised for a turnaround on Saturday.

CUBS VS. ACEVES

Marlon Byrd has a walk, a strikeout and a double in three career plate appearances against Aceves. Carlos Pena has gone 0-3 with two strikeouts against Aceves in three plate appearances.

Jeff Baker, Darwin Barney, Welington Castillo, Starlin Castro, Blake DeWitt, Kosuke Fukudome, Koyie Hill, Reed Johnson, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano have never faced the right-hander.

RED SOX VS. ZAMBRANO

Mike Cameron (20 career plate appearances): .105 BA/.150 OBP/.105 SLG, 2 RBI,1 walk, 7 strikeouts

J.D. Drew (20): .200/.400/.533, 2 RBI, 5 walks, 6 strikeouts

Adrian Gonzalez (19): .200/.368/.200, 1 RBI, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts

Josh Beckett (7): .286/.286/.286, 3 strikeouts

Carlos Crawford (4): .333/.500/.667, 1 double, 1 walk

David Ortiz has gone hitless with a strikeout in three career plate appearances vs. Zambrano, but he does have one walk.

Jason Varitek has faced the Cubs starter twice, going 0-2 with a strikeout.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Darnell McDonald, Dustin Pedroia, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kevin Youkilis have never faced Zambrano.

Read More: alfredo aceves, Carlos Zambrano, cubs, Daisuke Matsuzaka

Release of Kris Johnson highlights strange case of 2006 draft for Red Sox

05.17.11 at 12:02 pm ET
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In some respects, the 2006 draft was a major success for the Red Sox. At the time, it was considered a thin talent class. In retrospect, it has largely borne out that projection.

There have been a few superstars who were taken with early picks — Evan Longoria (No. 3 overall, Rays), Clayton Kershaw (No. 7, Dodgers) and Tim Lincecum (No. 10, Giants) stand out most prominently — yet even a number of the top 10 picks in that draft (No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar, Royals; No. 2 pick Greg Reynolds of the Rockies, No. 4 pick Brad Lincoln of the Pirates, No. 6 selection Andrew Miller with the Tigers, No. 9 pick Billy Rowell of the Orioles) have done little in the five years since they were picked.

As such, the Red Sox have been, by and large, quite pleased with the returns they had from that year’s class of draftees. They acquired several players who have already either become major league contributors — first-rounder Daniel Bard, second-rounder Justin Masterson — or who still have a chance to carve out such roles — ninth-rounder Ryan Kalish, 17th-round pick Josh Reddick, 18th-round selection Lars Anderson.

‘€œI know a lot of us who were involved with it will always be proud of that ‘€™06 draft,’€ former Sox director of amateur scouting Jason McLeod (now the Padres Assistant GM) said last year.

But it was a draft that was also filled with several notable misses for the Sox. In spring training, the team released first-rounder Jason Place, a player who could not translate his considerable tools into performance, (or more on him, click here) and third-rounders Bryce Cox, whom the team once imagined as a closer-in-the-making but who never passed Double-A and Aaron Bates, a first baseman who got a five-game taste of the majors in 2009 but who never showed enough of a bat to establish himself as a big league contributor at a position that demands offense.

And on Tuesday, the strange case of the 2006 draft continued with the news (via the Triple-A PawSox) that left-hander Kris Johnson had been released. Johnson was a sandwich-round pick whom the Sox took in ’06 as the No. 40 overall selection. For a time, the pick was subject to particular scrutiny, since the Sox took Johnson one pick in front of Joba Chamberlain (whom the Sox had removed from their draft board due to medical concerns). Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2006 draft, Daniel Bard, joba chamberlain, justin masterson

Nuggetpalooza: Wild walkoff win!

05.17.11 at 11:32 am ET
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Here and there from a soggy, cold, and eventually happy Fenway:

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* – Boston has now won 50 of their last 53 times when they put 22 or more runners on base in a regulation game (i.e. no extra innings), dating back to 2003. Two of the three losses (the two most recent) came at the hands of the Orioles.

Note this: Oakland has won their last 53 such games in a row over the last 11+ seasons, the longest current streak in the majors.

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* – Entering last night, the Red Sox had scored only five runs in the 9th inning this season, the fewest in the AL. The Colorado Rockies have scored only one run in the 9th this year.

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* – Monday night was the eighth time this season that the Red Sox have allowed 18 or more baserunners in a regulation game. That’s tied with the Astros for the most such games in the majors. The Red Sox haven’t finished a season with the most such games since they tied the A’s with 38 in 1997. The last time they had the most outright in a season was 1969 (31).

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* – Baltimore used seven pitchers in a regulation game for just the second time since the start of the 2010 season. They have now lost their last 12 such games, dating back to 2006.

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* – Jason Varitek had had a hit, RBI, and run scored in each of his last two games. It’s his first such two game streak since April, 2010. He hasn’t had such a three game streak since 2008.

I would have still run for him when he reached in the 7th inning. It would have led to the tying run scoring as ANYBODY else gets to third on Ellsbury’s hit and then Pedroia’s shot to left would have been a sacrifice fly.

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* – Four of the eight runs scored by the Red Sox last night were unearned. That means the Orioles have allowed six unearned runs over the last two days. Prior to Sunday, they had allowed only three all season.

Note this: The Orioles have scored only five unearned runs in 2011, the fewest in the league:

5 – Orioles
8 – Indians
9 – Yankees

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* – A few notes on Dice-K: Matsuzaka threw a first pitch ball to 13 batters last night. On seven of those 13, he went directly from 1-and-0 to 2-and-0… Also, Dice-K has now averaged 23.0 pitches in the first inning of his starts this year (29+ in his last three), highest in the AL (min. 5 starts):

23.0 – Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS
22.3 – Chris Tillman, BAL
22.2 – Kyle Davies, KC

With Dice-K and Tillman ranked at the top of that list, is it a surprise that last night’s game ended up lasting 3:53?

Fastballs (two-seam, four-seam, cutter) – Dice-K threw 46 fastballs and averaged -0.36 points on them, snapping a streak of five straight starts averaging above zero. Baltimore went 5-for-10 with four walks off his fastball, which averaged 87.8 MPH, his slowest of the season.

Note this: In all five April starts, his four-seam fastball averaged over 90. In all three May appearances, it’s been below 90. Last season, he averaged 90+ on his four-seamer in all 25 starts.

Curveball – Matsuzaka threw 43 curveballs last night, a whopping 41 percent of his pitches, and he averaged +0.49 points per pitch on his curves as the Orioles went 0-for-7 with one strikeout. The 41% curveball usage was easily his highest since the start of last season as he had topped 30% only once (30.4% last August). He started off 17 batters with a curve, getting one out, eight strikes, and eight balls.

Changeup – Dice-K threw 14 changeups (-1.36 average), including three on three-ball counts (all led to walks). 10 of his 14 changeups were balls. Entering last night, he had thrown 59% strikes with his changeup.

Closing Time: Adrian Gonzalez completes comeback for Red Sox

05.16.11 at 11:16 pm ET
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Adrian Gonzalez‘ double off the left field wall in the ninth inning plated both Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, completing a remarkable comeback for the Red Sox in what turned out to be an 8-7 victory over the Orioles Monday night at Fenway Park.

The pivotal ninth got cooking when Ellsbury drew a one-out walk, stole second, and was followed by another free pass to Pedroia. Gonzalez, who now has five career walk-off hits to his credit, then rifled the first pitch he saw from Baltimore closer Kevin Gregg off the left field wall.

The walk-off win, the team’s third of the season, completed a comeback from a 6-0 deficit, and overcame the Sox going 6-for-23 with runners in scoring position.

Here is what went right on a night the Red Sox went over .500 for the first time this season. …

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– The Red Sox showed some gumption with their comeback, which was paced primarily by the bats of Jed Lowrie, Jason Varitek and Kevin Youkilis. Lowrie notched an RBI in the six-run sixth, and then started another rally in the seventh with a leadoff triple. Varitek came away with RBI singles in both frames, while Youkilis scored a run with a double in the sixth, and kicked things off in the eighth with his leadoff double off the left field wall.

– The Sox came away with six players — Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Youkilis, J.D. Drew, Lowrie and Varitek — who finished with multiple-hit nights. They finished with 14 hits for the night. Gonzalez finished with three hits.

Alfredo Aceves came up big in relief, allowing just one run over three innings while allowing the Red Sox to crawl back into it.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who entered the game with a 10.50 ERA in the first inning, added to his early-game troubles by giving up two runs in the first. He allowed one more in the third before being chased from the game with two in the fifth. His seven walks marked the third time in Matsuzaka’s career that he issued seven or more free passes. The starter threw 106 pitches, just 57 of which were for strikes.

– Aceves, one day after pitching 2/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees, ran into trouble when coming on in the seventh inning. The righty gave up his third home run of the season, a solo shot to Mark Reynolds, leading off the frame. Making the homer even tougher to swallow was that the Sox had just scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to claw within a run of the O’s.

– The Red Sox squandered some golden opportunities in the sixth and seventh innings. With the bases loaded, the Red Sox trailing by a run, and two outs in the sixth, Drew grounded out to second to end the inning. The following frame, with runners on first and second and one out with the O’s clinging to a one-run lead, Pedroia lined out to left field and Gonzalez struck out, leaving the Sox trailing.

– Then there was the opportunity lost in the eighth. After a leadoff double by Youkilis, David Ortiz moved the baserunner to third with a ground out to second. After an intentional walk to Drew, Lowrie struck out and Carl Crawford popped out to shallow right field to keep the O’s in the lead.

Live Blog: Red Sox vs. Orioles from Fenway Park

05.16.11 at 6:07 pm ET
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Red Sox/Orioles Live Blog

Nuggetpalooza: Sweep, sweep, sweep!

05.16.11 at 12:10 pm ET
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Recapping the weekend sweep with a few nuggets followed by an analysis of Jon Lester‘s outing, pitch-by-pitch:

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* – The Red Sox stole a base in each game this weekend and were never caught. Say what you want about Boston’s difficulties at controlling opponents’ running games, but note this: Over their last 27 games against the Yankees, the Red Sox have picked up 24 steals without being caught.

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* – David Ortiz has now had three, three-hit games since May 5, going 13-for-37 (.351) in that stretch. He had only three games with three hits or more in his previous 63 games.

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* – On Saturday, Red Sox pitchers teamed up to shut out the Yankees, striking out 13 in the process. It was just the second time (since at least 1950) that a Red Sox staff had struck out 13 or more and shut out the Yankees in New York. The other coming on September 30, 1987 on a Roger Clemens complete game when the Red Sox were 20 games out. It was just the SIXTH time that ANY team had done that to the Yankees in the last 60 seasons.

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* – We’re halfway through the month of May, and Adrian Gonzalez has eight home runs and 19 RBI this month. Since 1950, the Red Sox record for homers in May is 13, by Jim Rice in 1978. The May RBI record by a Red Sox player is 33, which has been done three times: Walt Dropo in 1950, Rice in 1978, and Nomar Garciaparra in 1999.

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* – Daniel Bard‘s first pitch has been out of the strike zone to eight of the last 12 batters he’s faced. When the first pitch has been a fastball from Bard, 11 out of the last 19 have been balls (dating back to May 4).

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* – Jonathan Papelbon‘s average fastball last night was 95.02 mph, his second fastest average this season (95.53 on May 7).

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* – During the ESPN broadcast last night, the announcers quoted Terry Francona as saying, “We’ll blink, and [Dustin Pedroia] will be hitting .280.” Well, Pedroia is hitting .247 at this point (37-for-150). He would need to hit .330 over his next 100 at-bats to reach .280.

Read the rest of this entry »

Valentine on D&C: Lackey, Posada may need new roles

05.16.11 at 9:35 am ET
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ESPN Sunday Night Baseball analyst and former MLB manager Bobby Valentine talked to the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning and started off by discussing the opposite directions of the Red Sox and Yankees following Boston’€™s sweep of New York on the road over the weekend.

“You have one team coming together after a very difficult start, and Terry Francona‘s done a wonderful job keeping them together,” Valentine said. “A lot of question marks early on, a lot of things could have fallen apart. Instead, they’ve come together. The Yankees, five [losses] in a row now, nine of their last 12, they’re not sinking, but they’re definitely slipping down the side of the road and Joe Girardi‘s got to get that stuff together.”

See below for more highlights from that interview, including what Valentine would do with the struggling Jorge Posada and John Lackey as well as his thoughts on Red Sox offseason acquisitions Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.

What do you do with Jorge Posada if you’€™re the Yankees?

If he doesn’t hit, there’s going to have to be a new roster spot. He’s been a great Yankee. He’s a great guy. He made a mistake obviously, apologized for that. I think that’s over with. Even though the act itself was an inexcusable act. I think he had some problems. I think he had something on his mind more than his batting ninth. That should have been communicated at the time, and if it would have, it wouldn’t have been a problem.

As far as the .170 batting average, if that continues and has come the middle of the season, their roster is just so immobile right now ‘€“ they’€™re heavy on the pitching side and weak on the utility and extra-man side ‘€“ they need to do something with his swing or with his roster spot, probably sooner or later. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bobby Valentine, john lackey, Jorge Posada,

Monday’s Red Sox-Orioles matchups: Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Chris Tillman

05.16.11 at 8:10 am ET
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There is indeed life for the Red Sox after a three-game sweep of the Yankees, even if said sweep was the first to occur in the Bronx since April 2004. That life begins quickly Monday night when Boston, the newest member of the .500 club at 20-20, sets its sights on the Baltimore Orioles (19-20) in the first of a two-game set at Fenway Park. Daisuke Matsuzaka will try to extend the winning streak when he takes the hill against Baltimore’€™s Chris Tillman.

Matsuzaka (3-3, 4.64 ERA) will take the hill on seven days’ rest, his longest break between starts this season, after being skipped over in the Yankees series. This will be the third time in 2011 that the righty has pitched on more than the regular four days between outings. The extra time off worked quite well back on Patriots Day when Matsuzaka surrendered just one hit and one walk over seven innings in a 9-1 Sox win over Toronto after resting for six days. However 11 days later in his second start with extra rest (five days), he lasted just four innings (3H, 3R, 1 ER, 4BB, 4K) before leaving early with what was deemed elbow stiffness.

In nine career starts against the O’€™s, the 30-year-old is 4-3 with a 5.73 ERA. Current Baltimore hitters have performed fairly well, led by switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters‘€™s 6-for-11 performance. With almost twice the experience, Brian Roberts (9-for-20, 4 doubles) has performed equally as admirably.

But if those numbers look scary for the Sox’€™ prospects of finally bursting through the .500 bubble, those hopes may be restored by looking at the stats for Tillman (2-3, 6.15). The Baltimore righty’€™s ERA is the highest among the five starters of a staff that ranks second-to-last in the American League in that category.

Tillman only has one career start against Boston and was knocked around for four earned runs over just 1-1/3 innings of work in an 11-0 loss on June 4 of last season. Although lefty Carl Crawford (6-for-12, two triples) may be the only Sox player with more than three appearances against the Baltimore righty, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis may be the biggest benefactors of Tillman’s start Monday night as right-handed hitters have blasted him to the tune of a .352 average in 2011. By comparison, lefties are hitting nearly .100 points lower at .253. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Chris Tillman, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Orioles, Red Sox

Pick your poison: Youkilis, Ortiz punish Yanks for pitching around Gonzalez

05.16.11 at 7:11 am ET
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NEW YORK ‘€“ It only seemed like Adrian Gonzalez could go deep at will. But on Sunday night, the red-hot first baseman saw his streak of four straight games with a home run come to an end.

Gonzalez went 0-for-3, and put just one ball in play (a groundout to second) in his five plate appearances. The Yankees clearly were treating the Red Sox slugger with kid gloves after seeing him play the role of wrecking ball in the first two games of the series. New York walked him twice, electing to take its chances against the rest of the Sox lineup.

On Saturday, Gonzalez had discussed his comfort level with that strategy.

Whereas he was the lone threat in the Padres lineup, he noted that as a member of the Sox, a) other teams were going to be able to pitch around him with less frequency than had been the case in San Diego and b) if they did choose to pitch around him, the hitters behind him in the lineup ‘€“ Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz ‘€“ were capable of punishing the strategy.

‘€œFor me, it’€™s a great situation to be in because I’€™ll take that walk and have Youk and Papi come up any day of the week,’€ said Gonzalez. ‘€œPlease, intentionally walk me ‘€“ there’€™s more danger behind.’€

On Sunday night, in the Red Sox’ 7-5 win over the Yankees, the truth of that statement became evident. For the first time in 26 games, Gonzalez was walked twice. In the third inning, with Jacoby Ellsbury on second and one out, starter Freddy Garcia threw him junk off the plate. Gonzalez refused to chase, taking his walk to put runners on first and second. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis,

Closing Time: Red Sox finally at .500 thanks to sweep of Yankees

05.15.11 at 11:51 pm ET
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It took 40 games, but the Red Sox can finally say they haven’t lost more than they’ve won.

Not only did the Sox reach .500 for the first time this season, but they punctuated the moment in style, claiming three-game series sweep of the Yankees in New York thanks to a 7-5 victory Sunday night. It marked just the third time in the last 25 years that the Red Sox have swept a series of three or more games at Yankee Stadium.

And while Sox starter Jon Lester didn’t turn in his finest performance — allowing four runs over six innings, striking out seven and walking four — the lefty also made it a game to remember. By picking up his fifth win of the season, Lester claims the best winning percentage (.718) in Major League Baseball history for any pitcher with 50 or more decisions.

Here is what went right (and wrong) in a memorable win for the Sox:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

David Ortiz is showing the kind of power that the Red Sox crave out of the designated hitter position, launching his seventh homer of the season. The solo shot put him in the lead for home runs among all eligible designated hitters. Somewhat surprisingly, Ortiz reached seven home runs last season just two days later than this time around.

Kevin Youkilis‘ bat came alive while in the Bronx. The third baseman hit his second homer of the series, a three-run shot in the third inning. Prior to going deep Friday night, Youkilis hadn’t hit a homer in his previous 12 games. Six of the cleanup hitter’s seven home runs have come with at least one runner on base.

– The Red Sox catchers finally have a home run. Jarrod Saltalamacchia took Joba Chamberlain over the right field fence for his first homer of the season, and first by any Sox backstop. The home run, which came with Saltalamacchia hitting from the left side, marked the catcher’s first extra-base hit against a right-handed pitcher this season.

– The work Lester has put in regarding his pickoff move is apparently paying off, as was evidenced when he caught Brett Gardner stealing on the pitcher’s first move in the fifth inning, throwing to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who ultimately tagged out the baserunner. Five of the seven runners trying to steal against the lefty have been caught this season.

Dustin Pedroia is now 7-for-9 in stolen bases after swiping his seventh bag in the seventh inning. The previous earliest Pedroia has stolen seven bags has been May 27, 2009, a season in which he tied his career high with 20 steals. The stolen base this time around paid off when Alex Rodriguez allowed a Youkilis weak grounder to go through his legs, allowing Pedroia to race home with the Sox’ seventh run.

Daniel Bard still hasn’t allowed an inherited runner, fanning Nick Swisher with two outs and the potential tying run at second in the seventh. The reliever has now stranded all seven of the runners he has inherited this season.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Lester allowed two more home runs, making it four straight starts in which the lefty allowed a long ball after going four appearances in a row without surrendering a homer. It took until July 30 last season for Lester to give up nine homers.

– The Red Sox squandered a chance to break open the game in the seventh when Yankees reliever David Robertson struck out Jed Lowrie looking to end the inning. It was the ninth time the Sox have struck out with the bases loaded, the most in the American League. It also marked just the second game this month Lowrie has gone without a hit.

– Carl Crawford’s first error as a Red Sox proved costly. The left fielder mishandled Alex Rodriguez’ single just past the third base bag, allowing Curtis Granderson to cut the Sox lead to a single run in the seventh inning while putting the tying run at second.

– A team finally adopted the strategy of pitching around Adrian Gonzalez. The Sox’ No. 3 hitter was intentionally walked for the fourth time this season, while also picking up a conventional walk. Earlier Sunday, Alex Speier looked at teams’ reluctance to previously pitch around Gonzalez this season.

– The Red Sox allowed two hits to Mark Teixeira, who entered Sunday night having gone just 1-for-20 against the Sox in ’11.

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