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Closing Time: Tigers 7, Red Sox 6

05.15.10 at 11:48 pm ET
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Ramon Ramirez walked Ramon Santiago with the bases loaded in the 12th inning, giving the Tigers a 7-6, extra-inning win over the Red Sox Saturday night at Comerica Park. The defeat, which came after the Red Sox had built up a 6-1 lead, was the Sox’ sixth loss in seven extra-inning games this season. Ramirez came in with one out and runners on first and third after both Manny Delcarmen and Scott Schoeneweis allowed singles.

Hideki Okajima allowed the Tigers to come all the way back from a 6-1 deficit, giving up two runs before retiring a batter in the eighth inning.

Jon Lester missed out on picking up his fourth win of the season, allowing four runs on four hits over seven innings, putting his ERA at 3.91. (For a complete recap click here.)

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

- It might have been the most runs allowed by Lester since April 18 (5 starts ago), but the lefty still was in control throughout most of his outing. Up until a three-run sixth inning by the Tigers, Lester had allowed just one run on one hit. Effectively using a cut-fastball, Lester struck out 10 batters, giving him at least seven punch-outs in four of his last five starts. The Sox starter fanned six batters in his last three innings. He finished throwing 117 pitches.

- David Ortiz made Terry Francona’s decision to give the designated hitter his first start against a left-handed starter look good, kicking off the scoring with an RBI single to right, before coming through with his first bases-loaded hit of the season, an opposite field single in the fourth. Also of note was Francona not pinch-hitting for Ortiz in the eighth inning with runners on first and second against lefty reliever Phil Coke, whom the DH was 0-for-6 against. Coke would get Ortiz swinging at strike three with a 3-2 fastball on the outside edge. Ortiz finished his night with his first three-hit game of the season, having notched one such achievement in 2009.

- J.D. Drew continued to be one of the hottest hitters in the majors throughout the month of May, teeing off on a Willis 1-0 fastball, launching a double over the head of Detroit center fielder Austin Jackson for two RBI. Drew also contributed in the field, making the catch of the game when he made a sliding grab of a  Miguel Cabrera pop-up in foul ground in the fourth. Drew came into the game with the third-best batting average (.432) among major leaguers in May.

- Bill Hall homered for the second straight game, the first time he has gone back-to-back contests with homers since May 12-13, 2008.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

- Victor Martinez continued his struggles at the plate on the road, going 0-for-5. Martinez is now hitting .134 (7-for-52) away from Fenway. Martinez struck out twice for just the second time this season. He did reach via a walk in his fifth at-bat, also seeing his bid to give the Sox the lead in the 10th go out the window when first baseman Miguel Cabrera snagged Martinez’ line-drive.

- The Red Sox’ offense wasn’t able to capitalize on the 11 walks issued by Tigers’ pitchers as much as they probably should have, stranding 13 baserunners. Sox hitters were 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position. For instance, Kevin Youkilis walked five times yet only scored once. (Youkilis had never walked five times in a game before, having walked four times in a game just once before, coming on July 9, 2006.)

- Hideki Okajima gave up his first run in the lefty’s last seven appearances when he surrendered a leadoff homer to Magglio Ordonez in the eighth. It was only the second hit allowed by Okajima over that span, as well, with the reliever now having allowed two home runs this season. He followed up the Ordonez by walking Cabrera, which was Okajima’s first free pass since April 20. After a single by Brennan Boesch, the relief pitcher gave up a game-tying single to Brandon Inge to add to his nightmarish outing. He did retire the next two batters, with runners on second and third, before giving way to Jonathan Papelbon, who got Adam Everett to pop out to end the threat.

Bay finds his home in New York

05.15.10 at 3:36 pm ET
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As noted in today’s Things We Learned, Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez is enduring some brutal struggles away from Fenway Park.

Martinez showed some signs of offensive promise during the recent 10-game homestand, but then went 0-for-4 to kick off the Sox’ current roadtrip on Friday. That continued something of a pattern through the first six weeks of the 2010 season.

Martinez has respectable numbers at Fenway Park, where he is hitting .284/.341/.444/.785 with three homers and 14 RBI. But away from Fenway, he’s been one of the worst offensive producers in baseball thus far.

Of the 320 major league players with at least 25 plate appearances on the road through Friday, Martinez ranks near the bottom of the list in road average (.149, 300th), OBP (.200, T-307th), slugging (.191, 305th) and OPS (.391, 309th). He has yet to go deep away from Fenway, and has just 3 RBI. (In his career, it is worth noting that Martinez shows very little difference between his home (.296/.374/.451/.824) and road (.298/.365/.472/.837) performances.)

But Martinez is not the only player with Sox ties who is expressing interesting home/road splits at the start of the 2010 season. But what makes Jason Bay’s disparity between his home and road performance so interesting is that he was expected to be stripped of offensive productivity by CitiField, the home ballpark of the New York Mets.

Unexpectedly, Bay has enjoyed tremendous home numbers while struggling in almost as dire a fashion as Martinez on the road.

Bay is hitting .170/.250/.189/.439 away from New York this year, marks that rank 289th, 269th, 307th and 301st among major league regulars with at least 25 road plate appearances. Like Martinez, he has no homers and 3 RBI on the road, and he has just one extra-base knock.

But at home, though Bay has just one homer at CitiField, he is putting up the sort of big numbers that inspired the Mets to sign him to a four-year, $66 million deal this winter. In his new home park, Bay is hitting .329/.432/.519/.951 with a homer, 10 extra-base hits and 12 RBI.

In all likelihood, the splits for both Martinez and Bay will level out as the season progresses. Nonetheless, given the perception in some quarters that Bay was heading to a new ballpark where his strengths as a right-handed power hitter would play poorly, the early-season returns, at least, have suggested that if the outfielder struggles with the Mets, it will not necessarily be a byproduct of his home park.

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Red Sox vs. Tigers matchups, 5/15

05.15.10 at 12:20 pm ET
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The Red Sox bats woke up in Friday night’s 7-2 win, thanks largely in part to a pair of homers from David Ortiz. The Sox will see if they can keep things going tonight in the second game of their three-game series in Detroit.

Boston will have Jon Lester, who has been on quite a tear as of late, on the mound Saturday. Lester has won his last three starts after his early struggles, including his last outing against the Yankees in which he went seven innings and gave up two earned runs while striking out seven. His recent run of good form has brought his record to 3-2 for the 2010 season, with a 3.71 ERA. In his last four starts, Lester has not let up more than the two runs he allowed against New York, and he has averaged more than seven strikeouts a game over that span as well.

Facing the Tigers could pose a challenge for the left-hander, though. Lester has only faced Detroit once in his career, in the 2008 season. In that game he took the loss after lasting 5—1/3 innings and allowing four earned runs, also walking four batters in a rare case of control problems. But last season, Detroit hit just .244 against left-handed pitching, a stat that might bode well for Lester’s chances of having another strong outing.

And speaking of left-handers, the Tigers will have one of their own starting on Saturday: Dontrelle Willis. The former Florida Marlins phenom seemed to have lost his way the last few years, struggling mightily in his efforts to regain his early form. But this spring and into the regular season he has been much improved, going 1-1 in his first five starts with a 3.99 ERA, a stat that is inflated from his one relief outing on April 25 when he walked three batters and gave up two runs in just one inning of work.

Other than that outing, Willis has been steady this season. His best outing came on April 29 against the Minnesota Twins when he tossed six innings of shutout ball and had six strikeouts, helping Detroit earn a 3-0 win. Minnesota might have gotten the better of Willis in his last start on May 4, tagging him for three runs in 5—1/3 innings of work, but that was his worst outing since his second start of the year.

Willis has faced the Red Sox twice in his career, once as a member of the Marlins in 2006 and then again last season. That start came on June 4 and featured one of the more bizarre pitching lines you could find in MLB history. Willis lasted just 2—1/3 innings and had five walks and hit one batter. He was replaced by Zach Miner in the third after walking in two runs, and Miner promptly put three more runs to Willis’ name after two hits and a groundout. So despite giving up no hits, Willis was charged with five earned runs.

Control is still somewhat of an issue for Willis this year. Take out that disastrous relief appearance, and he has still averaged more than two walks a game in his five starts. But he has great strikeout numbers and has shown a marked improvement in other facets of his pitching, making it unlikely the Sox will be gifted another performance like the one from last season.

Red Sox vs. Dontrelle Willis

J.D. Drew (18 career plate appearances against Willis): .250 average/.500 OBP/.417 slugging, 2 doubles, 5 walks, 6 strikeouts

Bill Hall (13): .308/.308/.308, 3 strikeouts

Victor Martinez (10): .667/.800/1.500, 2 doubles, 1 home run, 4 walks, 1 strikeout

Adrian Beltre (9): .778/.778/1.667, 3 doubles,  1 triple, 1 home run

Kevin Youkilis (5): .333/.600/.333, 1 walk

Mike Lowell (4): .333/.500/.333, 1 walk

Dustin Pedroia (2): .000/.500/.000, 1 walk

Jason Varitek is 0-3 vs. Willis with one strikeout, while Marco Scutaro is 0-1 with a strikeout. Willis has never faced Jeremy Hermida, Darnell McDonald, David Ortiz or Jonathan Van Every.

Tigers vs. Jon Lester

Johnny Damon (26 career plate appearances against Lester): .292 average/.346 OBP/.542 slugging, 2 home runs, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts

Miguel Cabreara (6): .400/.500/.400, 1 walk

Gerald Laird (5): .200/.200/.400, 1 double, 3 strikeouts

Magglio Ordonez (3): .333/.333/.333

Adam Everett (2): 1.000/1.000/2.000, 1 double, 1 walk

Brandon Inge is 0-2 in his career vs. Lester. The Sox starter has never faced Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Austin Jackson, Don Kelly, Ramon Santiago or Scott Sizemore.

Closing Time: Red Sox 7, Tigers 2

05.14.10 at 10:28 pm ET
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Comerica Park had been playing as one of the most difficult parks in the majors in which to hit home runs. Entering Friday, just 23 homers had been hit in the Tigers’ park all season, ranking it 11th among the A.L. parks in homers.

But, in a powerful continuation of their early-season run of roundtrippers, the Red Sox scored all seven of their runs on the strength of four homers in a 7-2 victory over the Tigers. The Sox became the first team this year to hit as many as four homers in Comerica.

David Ortiz hit a pair of homers and drove in four, while Dustin Pedroia and Bill Hall each cleared the fences in the Sox’ barrage.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–No one is calling for the benching or release of David Ortiz anymore. The Sox’ decision to stick with the slugger has now paid obvious dividends. Thanks in no small part to his extra batting practice work with hitting coach Dave Magadan, which allowed Ortiz to regain the timing of his front foot and also tightened up his swing, Ortiz is now looming once again as a threat in the Sox lineup. His two homers — the first one a 450-foot smash to right-center, the second a pull shot down the right-field line — give him five for the month of May, and he is now hitting .333 with a 1.179 OPS this month.

–It was anything but a perfect night for Clay Buchholz, who struggled to command the strike zone at times after being given a five-run lead even before his first pitch of the game. Even so, the right-hander worked around five walks in 6.1 innings, and showed an arsenal that consistently unbalanced the Tigers. He matched season lows by allowing just three hits and one run, and the Tigers didn’t have a single extra-base hit against him.

Bill Hall contributed to the Sox’ startling early-season pinch-hitting success. Hall stepped to the plate for Jeremy Hermida in the ninth inning and promptly swatted a homer, the Sox’ AL-leading second pinch-hit homer of the season. The Sox actually lead the AL in average (.381), OBP (.480), and slugging (.762) by their pinch-hitters.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Victor Martinez’ offensive struggles continued, as the catcher went 0-for-4. He is now hitting .234 with a .641 OPS, and even more glaring, he is now hitting .149 with a .391 OPS on the road, compared to marks of .284 and .785 at Fenway Park.

–The Sox could do little to sustain any offensive threat after the five-run first inning. Though the team did plate two more runs on solo homers, they only got one baserunner as far as second base in the final eight innings.

–While Daniel Bard showed electric stuff in escaping a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, he ended up throwing 28 pitches over his 1.2 innings, thus likely rendering the Sox’ most effective middle reliever unavailable on Saturday. Even so, it was noteworthy that Bard snuffed out a rally in the seventh after inheriting a pair of baserunners from Buchholz. Bard entered the game having permitted 6-of-10 inherited runners to score.

The outburst was led by David Ortiz, who hit a three-run blast in the first (No. 6) and later added a solo smash (No. 7) in the fourth. Dustin Pedroia (8) also added a two-run homer, and Bill Hall ch

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Gammons on The Big Show: Tough stretch is good for Sox

05.14.10 at 5:54 pm ET
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Peter Gammons

NESN anaylst and Baseball Hall of Famer Peter Gammons made his weekly appearance on The Big Show on Friday afternoon.

Gammons said that all the attention on the Bruins and Celtics that has left the Red Sox uncharacteristically below the radar lately might be a good thing for the team as it prepares to face a tough stretch against some of the best teams in baseball. “This is a really tough stretch, but it is good for them,” he said. “It may enable them to make some tough decisions and I think they will have a much better idea of who is going to play and who isn’t. They might now, by then, the situation with [Mike] Cameron and [Jacoby] Ellsbury. They have a lot of questions to be answered. Probably just as well that they aren’t under the microscope, at least for the short time period.”

He was also asked about the status of Josh Beckett, who was scratched from his last start with back soreness and replaced in the rotation by Tim Wakefield. Gammons believes that Beckett’s intensity on the mound might be part of his physical problems. “Well, he has had some back problems in the past. But I have to believe that some of it is that whole delivery business, where he gets completely out of whack with runners on base and tries that quick slide and gets out of his delivery and his arm drops. I have to believe that there is some strain on him. And I say that, and you know, Lou [Merloni], that the guys cares so much and throws so much effort into it. And sometimes he just can’t take a breath and relax, and you need to.”

Gammons was asked how the recent situation in the NFL with Brian Cushing, who won back his Defensive Rookie of the Year award after a re-vote due to his suspension for performance enhancing drugs, might impact MLB. He said that he doesn’t envision similar circumstances in baseball, but that testing has certainly changed the game. “I was looking this up the other day and I got the same answer from four different general managers,” Gammons said. “I was asking what’s happened to hitters — if you look around, there are a number of teams that are looking for bats. It could be the Red Sox, Seattle, Kansas City, whatever. The average team total for DH in the American League is .231, four home runs and an OPS two points above Jason Kendall. Now, we all love Jason Kendall, he is a great guy. But is he your prototypical DH? The answer I got from every general manager that I talked to was, ‘I think testing has changed the game.’ ”

A transcript of the interview is below. To listen, go to The Big Show audio on demand page.

Is this a good thing or bad thing that the Red Sox seem to be on the back burner now? Particularly when they are playing some very good teams in the next few weeks.

They are. OK, the pitching matchups for his weekend are OK, really. But you don’t know what to expect with [Tim] Wakefield and [Daisuke] Matsuzaka at Yankee Stadium. You don’t know what they are going to do against Tampa. Plus, two games with the Twins is certainly no day at the beach. They are one of the top four teams in the league. This is a really tough stretch, but it is good for them. It may enable them to make some tough decisions and I think they will have a much better idea of who is going to play and who isn’t. They might now, by then, the situation with [Mike] Cameron and [Jacoby] Ellsbury. They have a lot of questions to be answered. Probably just as well that they aren’t under the microscope, at least for the short time period.

Peter, Josh Beckett missed his last start, and you are talking about Wakefield possibly pitching in New York. What is going on with this guy?

Well, he has had some back problems in the past. But I have to believe that some of it is that whole delivery business, where he gets completely out of whack with runners on base and tries that quick slide and gets out of his delivery and his arm drops. I have to believe that their is some strain on him. And I say that, and you know, Lou, that the guys cares so much and throws so much effort into it. And sometimes he just can’t take a breath and relax, and you need to. And that is one thing that has impressed me about [John] Lackey, who early in his career was the same way. He’s learned how to finesse around, how to take a breathe, how to change speeds, how to really just pitch, at times. He just finds what it needs — tonight it is going to be the curveball, and then one night it is the changeup. I mean, he varies around. Josh goes in a runaway truck lane every single appearance, and I think that compounds his physical problems. So it is something that one worries about. I know that people talk about how really good starting pitching shows up  in June, July, and August. And that may well be true. But right now they are second to last in the American League in quality starts, their starter’s ERA is third worst in the league. Sooner or later — this team was built to win with its pitching — they have to start pitching. And it will be interesting to see. But let’s face it, there is panic everywhere. You should listen to New York. How in the world could they take Curtis Granderson for Austin Jackson? How in the world did they take Javier Vasquez?

Except in Tampa, where no one cares.

Well, that is part of it. Why is Tampa Bay a major league franchise? They have maybe the most exciting team in baseball. Right now they have the best starting pitching in baseball, they are incredibly athletic, but their revenues are down again. So what is the point here with Tampa being in the major leagues? Read the rest of this entry »

Red Sox vs. Tigers matchups, 5/14

05.14.10 at 4:08 pm ET
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Fresh off the heels of a series win over the Toronto Blue Jays, the Red Sox will open up a three-game set in Detroit Friday night against the Tigers.

After playing five of its last six series against AL East foes, the Sox will get their first crack this season at the Tigers, who are currently in second place in the AL Central, two and a half games behind the Minnesota Twins. And Boston will have Clay Buchholz on the mound in the first game, looking to rebound from his worst outing of the season.

The right-hander was tagged for six runs (five earned) in just five innings against the Yankees at Fenway Park on May 8. He never seemed to have control of his pitches, letting up a season-high five walks and striking out just one batter as his record fell to 3-3, while his ERA jumped to 3.82. But prior to that start and his previous one against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, in which he let up four earned runs in 5—2/3 innings of work in a 17-8 Sox win, Buchholz has been the best pitcher in Boston’s rotation. He will hope that facing Detroit will bring back some of the dominance he showcased earlier.

If his lone start last season vs. the Tigers is any indication, it might. Buchholz pitched well in that one despite picking up the loss, going seven innings and allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits. However, his only other start against the Tigers in 2008 was a disaster. He lasted just four innings and was chased after giving up five earned runs on 10 hits, though he did have six strikeouts.

He will be opposed by Max Scherzer, the former prized prospect of the Arizona Diamondbacks who has struggled to adjust to the American League in his first season in Detroit. Scherzer was a part of the three-team deal that brought Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, and the Tigers gave up Edwin Jackson to bring over the young right-hander. But in his first seven starts, Scherzer is just 1-3 with a 6.81 ERA, despite starting the season by letting up just one hit and no runs in his first start.

In his last three outings, Scherzer has been shelled — twice by the Twins, and once by the Cleveland Indians in his last start. He has failed to let up less than five runs in any of those three performances and has not lasted past the fifth inning. On May 3 he was pounded by Minnesota to the tune of 10 runs in just 4—1/3 innings of work, and he has yet to show the promise this season that made him such a coveted player.

Scherzer is in just his third Major League season, and the Sox have never faced him. Only two players on the current Boston roster have ever had any at bats against the Detroit starter — Bill Hall and Jeremy Hermida. Hall is 2-3 with a double vs. the right-hander, while Hermida is 1-3 with a strikeout.

Likewise, Detroit does not have much of a history against Buchholz — only five players on the roster have at bats against him. There isn’t much history in this matchup, so it will be interesting to see which team adjusts to the opposing starter quicker.

Tigers vs. Clay Buchholz

Miguel Cabreara (6 career plate appearances against Buchholz): .200 average/.333 OBP/.200 slugging, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts

Magglio Ordonez (6): .600/.667/.600, 1 walk

Adam Everett (5): .200/.200/.200

Gerald Laird (5): .200/.200/.200

Johnny Damon (3): .500/.667/1.000, 1 double, 1 walk

Buchholz has never faced Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Brandon Inge, Austin Jackson, Don Kelly, Ramon Santiago or Scott Sizemore.

Wakefield’s unwanted place in Red Sox history

05.14.10 at 2:17 pm ET
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Obviously, Tim Wakefield now occupies infrequently charted territory in Red Sox history. Now in his 16th season in the organization, and at the age of 43, he numbers among the most accomplished Sox pitchers of all time in numerous categories. His 2,000th strikeout on Wednesday was a reminder of that fact.

But with his marks of distinction come others that are less desirable. Most notably, the limited run support experienced by the knuckleballer on many occasions over the years has now earned him an unwanted form of distinction in Sox history.

Despite an outstanding effort on Wednesday (7IP, 5H, 3ER, 1BB, 5K) in his first start since April 25, Wakefield was tagged with the loss. As such, he failed to make any headway in what appears to be an increasingly challenging quest to claim a perch atop the franchise record book for the most wins by a Sox pitcher. Wakefield is still winless this year, and remains stuck on 175 wins with the Sox, 17 wins behind Roger Clemens and Cy Young.

Wakefield did match Clemens in one less enticing category. He and Clemens now have the distinction of having lost 41 games as members of the Red Sox in which they delivered a quality start (6+ innings, 3 or fewer earned runs), most by a Sox pitcher since 1920. Moreover, Wakefield already owns the team record by having no-decisions in 44 career quality starts.

Thus far this year, Wakefield has won none of the three games in which he’s submitted quality starts, a fact that reflects the poor run support that he’s received. The knuckleballer has been backed by just 3.1 runs per nine innings while in games. No other Sox starter has received less than 4.9 runs per nine innings of offense.

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