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Former Sox slugger Bay hits new low with Mets

05.06.10 at 8:46 am ET
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While Boston’s focus is on the struggles of David Ortiz, in New York they’re trying to figure out what’s going on with former Red Sox slugger Jason Bay. The Mets left fielder stranded six runners in Wednesday’s 10-inning, 5-4 loss to the Reds and was removed as part of a double switch in the bottom of the seventh inning, after he ended the top of the inning by striking out with two runners on base. Bay is hitting .238 with one home run and nine RBI on the season, after going 0-for-12 in Cincinnati.

“It’s painful,” Bay told the New York Post. “There are a lot of guys doing a lot of good things offensively to help us win, and I’m not one of them. It’s a massive funk.”

Said Mets manager Jerry Manuel: “I’m sure [Bay] has been through something like this before. For me, it’s different, because I haven’t witnessed it before. The only way to get out of it is keep going out there.”

The Mets are 15-13 after a 2-4 road trip and next host the Giants Friday night.

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A history of Terry Francona’s patience

05.06.10 at 5:02 am ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona is typically committed to taking a patient approach with his struggling players, especially when they have proven track records of success. As Francona — who managed his 1,000th career game for the Red Sox on Wednesday — explained, he is not patient by nature, but has learned the trait as a manager out of necessity.

“I don’t think I’m a very patient person. You talk to anybody who knows me – who really knows me — I’m not,” Francona said. “But if I’m not patient [as a manager], I’m not doing my job properly, or have a chance to not do it properly. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. It doesn’t mean you are patient. I just really think you can make some mistakes.

“I just think that when I went to Philadelphia, that was supposed to be part of my job description. I knew that going in. [Philly] I knew going in that it was going to take some patience. I just couldn’t attack the players every night. That’s not what was needed for us to get better.”

Currently, Francona’s patience is being tested in the case of David Ortiz, who homered and went 2-for-3 with a walk on Wednesday, one day after an 0-for-4 performance that led to popular demand for his benching. (For more on Francona’s decision with Ortiz, click here.) Here are a few of the most prominent instances of Francona’s patience as the manager of the Sox:

2004/2005: Mark Bellhorn

During the 2004 playoffs, Mark Bellhorn seemed completely lost. He had poor at-bats, made errors in the field, and at one point, with his postseason average at .080 (2-for-25), Fenway Park chanted in unison for defensive whiz Pokey Reese to replace the second baseman.

Francona refused to abandon a player who had been a solid year-long contributor, and Bellhorn rewarded him with three key postseason homers that played a major role in the Sox’ title.

The next year, Francona tried to remain equally patient with the second baseman, but this time, to no avail. The Sox stuck with Bellhorn for as long as possible, but shortly after the All-Star break, he landed on the D.L. with a thumb injury, and the Sox moved to replace him with Tony Graffanino. Bellhorn was released later that season.

2007: Dustin Pedroia

Through May 1, 2007, Dustin Pedroia owned a .172 average and .518 OPS for his rookie season, on the heels of marks of .191 and .561 in 98 plate appearances at the end of 2006. At the time, there was popular sentiment for the Sox to turn to Alex Cora (in the midst of a terrific start to the year) as the everyday second baseman.

As Pedroia pointed out on Tuesday, Francona resisted, and a star was born.

“A couple of years ago, I was hitting .170 and everyone was ready to kill me, too,” Pedroia recalled of a campaign when he was named Rookie of the Year. “What happened? Laser show.”

2007: J.D. Drew

J.D. Drew’s first season in Boston was greeted as a tremendous disappointment. The outfielder, in the first campaign of his five-year, $70 million deal, showed almost no power and hit for a poor average, with a .252 average and .731 OPS in early September.

With the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury, there were calls for Francona to shift playing time from the veteran to the rookie. Francona dismissed such suggestions, and Drew ended up playing a key postseason role, hitting .350 in the ALCS and World Series, including a huge grand slam in Game 6 of the ALCS against Cleveland.

“I don’t know if every manager does it,” said Drew. “When I was struggling, I came in here and got off to a slower start than I’d like. He knew I was here for five more years regardless.

“I knew I had to work through it. I wasn’t begging for any time off or anything like that. I was trying to fight through it. You get a good veteran manager like Tito, he understands the game and understands that sticking by guys sometimes is what you have to do to get them out of [a slump]. It worked out well.”

2007: Eric Gagne

Eric Gagne was a colossal flop after coming to the Red Sox at the trade deadline in 2007. But it was not for lack of opportunities that he failed.

Francona kept inserting Gagne into games in meaningful situations during the regular season. At times, there were indications of promise. More often, Gagne got shelled.

Though the Sox had a playoff berth all but locked up, Gagne’s struggles for a time jeopardized the team’s hopes of winning a division. Nonetheless, Francona felt an obligation to see what the reliever could deliver before the postseason arrived. He came to the situation that Gagne represented an option of last resort, and so stayed away from him in meaningful postseason situations.

2009: David Ortiz

The memory of Ortiz’ challenging 2009 season are fresh, in no small part because he is living through similar struggles this season. As of last June 2, Ortiz was an offensive non-entity, hitting .186 with a .566 OPS and one homer. Yet there he remained, in the lineup, night after night.

“[Francona] came to me with the same line that he always came to me: I’ve got your back no matter what the situation. That’s great, man. You never forget about that kind of stuff,” Ortiz recalled last season. “Even when things aren’t going good, he knows how to stick with you. Not too many people know how to do that.”

The payoff ended up being substantial. Ortiz hit .265/.357/.553/.911 with 27 homers over the final four months (103 games) of the year, reclaiming status as a formidable middle-of-the-order presence.

The Sox have no idea whether the 2010 season will follow a similar arc. There is reason for some encouragement, with Ortiz now having hit three homers in his last four games.

That said, it may well be that the 34-year-old does not enjoy the sort of dramatic rebound that he achieved last year. It could be that moments like the homer on Wednesday are nearly over. But it is all but certain that the Sox and Francona will keep Ortiz in the lineup for as long as possible in order to make a determination about his ability to produce.

The willingness to give players a chance to show whether they are capable of performing to their career levels has been a hallmark of the success of the Sox for a half-dozen seasons under their manager.

“He lets us play. He doesn’t have a lot of rules and lets us play,” said catcher Jason Varitek. “Of course you have to give him credit. You can’t not give credit where credit is due. A tenure that long here means you’ve got to be winning a lot of games. He deserves credit for that.”

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Scutaro expects to be fine after banging knee

05.06.10 at 12:24 am ET
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Red Sox shortstop Marco Scutaro remained on the ground for a few moments after trying to slide around the tag of Angels catcher Mike Napoli on a play at the plate. On the play — in which Scutaro was waved in from second with one out on a sharp single to left by Kevin Youkilis, and got gunned down by a sizable margin at the plate — Scutaro said that he hit his right knee hard on the dirt, resulting in some swelling.

“I was trying to slide around and my knee got stuck,” he said.

Still, Scutaro said that he expected to be “fine” and did not anticipate any reason why he would not be available to play on Thursday.

Third base coach Tim Bogar’s decision to send Scutaro with one out on a ball that was sharply hit to left came under some scrutiny. Manager Terry Francona, however, insisted that Bogar made the right decision, noting that the shortstop appeared to bounce over the plate.

“I think Marco, he’s safe if he hits the plate. I don’t know that Bogey can run down. A guy bounces over the plate. I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t think he does either,” said Francona. “That’s just kind of bad luck. Marco is trying to evade and he ends up bouncing over. And again, I didn’t see the replay but that’s what it looked like. At the time it’s a big run. No, I thought it was a good decision.”

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Terry Francona/John Lackey press conference

05.06.10 at 12:09 am ET
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John Lackey and Terry Francona speak to the media after the Red Sox defeated the Angels 3-1 Wednesday night at Fenway.

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Red Sox rotation starting to roll

05.05.10 at 11:51 pm ET
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The Red Sox entered the year believing that their starting rotation would be one of the team’s greatest strengths. With John Lackey added to the group of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield, the team had visions of banging out quality starts one after another.

Yet in April, the performance didn’t cooperate with the script. Sox starters ended April with a 4.86 ERA (10th among 14 AL teams), a .280 batting average against (13th) and .352 OBP against (13th) and an uninspired 6-6 record. Yet in the final days of the month, the staff strung together some performances that may have represented a turning point.

Starting with an eight-inning, one-run effort by Clay Buchholz on April 27 against the Blue Jays, the Sox rotation has lived up to its preseason billing. Over the last eight games, including Wednesday’s 3-1 win over the Angels (recap), in which John Lackey turned in seven dominant innings (2H, 1R, 14 groundball outs, 4 strikeouts), the rotation has now gone 5-1 with a 2.82 ERA and a 42-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54.1 innings.

“We have five guys in the rotation who can do that every day,” said third baseman Adrian Beltre. “Lackey was outstanding today, and of course he’s been like that throughout the year. We knew that the first four weeks we saw of our pitching staff was on and off. It was going to change. We expect the guys can hopefully stay healthy and keep doing that.”

Lackey, in fact, has been the linchpin of the rotation to date. He is 3-1 with a 3.89 ERA, and in his six starts, he has delivered five quality outings of at least six innings and three or fewer earned runs, tied for the most in the American League. On Wednesday, he struggled with his command early, throwing just 22 of his first 41 pitches for strikes, before he settled into a dominating groove. He retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced, and featured perhaps his best fastball of the season, both in terms of velocity (he touched 95) and later, command.

“He looked so relaxed on the mound and when he throws the ball, it gets on you,” said catcher Victor Martinez. “I can tell you as a hitter facing him, that’s what makes him so tough. He looks like he doesn’t even try, and when he throws the ball, you’ve got to be ready to hit.”

On Wednesday, the Angels weren’t ready to handle that challenge. Lackey, meanwhile, proved more than up to the task of separating the sentiment of facing his former team for the first time from the responsibility of pitching his game.

“I heard dugout chirping a little bit but it was probably [Jered Weaver] messing with me,” Lackey chuckled after the game. “They know how I am when I get between the lines. It’s business time. I’ll be friends with you later.”

After the second inning, “probably had my best fastball command that I’ve had this season, for sure. That was encouraging. Then kind of added pitches as the game went along.”

More and more, the Sox rotation is living up to its billing come business time. And with that, the team has now claimed wins in six of its last nine contests to pull itself back up to .500. If the starters can sustain their current run, then the team can foresee bigger things in the coming weeks.

“We need to be a lot higher than .500,” said Lackey. “This is the starting point. We need to keep moving.”

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Closing Time: Red Sox 3, Angels 1

05.05.10 at 9:48 pm ET
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After David Ortiz went 0-for-4 with a pair of punchouts and a pair of double play balls on Tuesday, many people had had enough. A chorus of critics was prepared to conclude the tank had emptied on the once-great hitter.

But Red Sox manager Terry Francona resisted that chorus. He noted Ortiz had a career .391 average, .483 OBP and .783 slugging mark in 29 career plate appearances against Angels starter Joel Piniero. Given that success, as well as the near-certainty that Ortiz will sit on Thursday against Angels left-hander Scott Kazmir, Francona decided to stick with his embattled DH.

“I understand David’s having a tough time,” Francona explained before the game. “He’s hitting almost .400 off this guy and Kazmir is tomorrow. [The Sox are] trying to put players in a position where they can succeed and trying to put our team in a position where [it] can succeed and trying to do it at the same time and sometimes.”

That faith, for a night, was rewarded. Ortiz reached base in all three of his plate appearances against Piniero, collecting a single, an opposite-field homer (his fourth of the year, on an 83-mph changeup) and a walk, to help lead the Sox to a 3-1 victory. (Recap.) Boston is now back at .500 for the season.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–For the first time this season, Ortiz reached base in three or more of his plate appearances.

John Lackey dominated his former team. Facing the Angels for the first time as a member of the Red Sox, he put together one of his most dominant lines of the season, despite some control struggles in the early innings. Lackey relied heavily on a fastball that registered as high as 95 mph to overpower his former club. He permitted just one run on two hits in seven innings, getting 13 groundball outs and four strikeouts. He registered his fifth quality start of the year, tied for the American League lead.

Adrian Beltre was outstanding in the field and at the plate. At the plate, he collected three hits — a pair of singles and a solo blast to dead center, for his second homer of the season — and is now hitting .435 in his last 12 games. His work in the field was almost as significant. Beltre ducked a broken bat that nearly impaled him to start a 5-4-3 double play in the top of the third, and later made a terrific pick of a ball on a short hop.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–Red Sox third base coach Tim Bogar continued his challenging adjustment to his new job. With runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the seventh, he waved Marco Scutaro home on a Kevin Youkilis single to left. Angels left fielder Hideki Matsui‘s throw beat Scutaro to the plate by several feet, and the Sox failed to score in the inning despite having a double, walk and single in the frame.

–Luck was not in the Sox’ favor on Wednesday. The team lost out on a couple of scoring chances due to liners right at Angels players. With runners on first and second and no outs in the second inning, Jeremy Hermida lined a ball right back at Piniero. The Angels pitcher speared it and fired to second for a double play. Shortstop Erick Aybar‘s relay to first was a whisker late to catch Adrian Beltre, as the Sox narrowly avoided a triple play.

One inning later, Victor Martinez fouled off four straight 3-2 pitches with Dustin Pedroia running from first and no outs. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Martinez rocketed a liner towards right field. Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick made a leaping catch, and threw to first to double up Pedroia.

That contributed to a night when the Sox consistently hit Angels pitchers hard, but ended up with just three runs (on 11 hits) to show for it.

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For Garciaparra, a welcome home rather than a farewell

05.05.10 at 8:11 pm ET
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The numbers lined up for the Red Sox to welcome Nomar Garciaparra back to Fenway. After all, Cinco de Mayo – 5/5 – seemed the appropriate moment to have No. 5 come back to the ballpark in which he enjoyed his greatest successes.

Garciaparra, of course, retired in spring training after signing a one-day minor-league deal with the Sox. That was an acknowledgement of the idea that Boston will forever remain his baseball home.

On Wednesday night, Garciaparra had the opportunity to express his gratitude to the fans who treated him as an icon for his nine seasons as a Red Sox. It was an event that the 36-year-old savored even before the pre-game ceremony.

“I don’t know how I can really express, put into words, just how grateful I am,” said Garciaparra. “I never had a chance to just tell [the fans] thank you, tell them thank you and that I love them. I don’t know if the words are going to come out as eloquently that way or not today, but that’s really what it means to me.”

Garciaparra was selected as a first-round pick by the Red Sox in 1994, and reached the majors late in 1996. The next year, his first as a full-timer, he won the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award by hitting .306 with a .342 OBP, .534 slugging mark, 30 homers and 22 steals.

He went on to spend parts of nine seasons as a member of the Red Sox, hitting .323 with a .370 OBP, .553 slugging and .923 OPS. He was a five-time All-Star in Boston, and ranks fourth in franchise history in batting average, fifth in slugging and sixth in OPS. He won back-to-back batting titles in 1999 and 2000, hitting .357 and .372, thus becoming the first right-handed hitter to win consecutive batting titles since Joe DiMaggio in 1939-40.

He was received warmly at Fenway Park, where a number of former teammates (including Lou Merloni, Brian Daubach, Trot Nixon, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield and Kevin Youkilis) joined him on the field before the game. Garciaparra proved creative in his approach to the ceremonial first pitch, taking the ball and running a couple steps to his right before winging the ball across his body to Varitek.

It was a moment that defined the former shortstop’s palpable joy to be back at Fenway Park. The day was less about his retirement and his career than it was about a homecoming for which Garciaparra insisted that he longed after being traded by the Sox to the Cubs in a trade deadline blockbuster in 2004.

“I’m retiring as a Boston Red Sox. It never leaves you,” said Garciaparra. “It’s always been one of the biggest parts of my heart is always this organization and this uniform. So that gets to stay with me forever.”

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