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06.04.09 at 1:25 pm ET
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Bullpen Cleans Up Another, Sox Win 6-3 and Sweep Series

During the three game set with the Tigers which the Sox have now swept, Boston outscored Detroit 21-11. Also during the series, the Red Sox bullpen proved that it is up there with any other in the league.

Just take today for instance: Wakefield gets through 6 and two-thirds innings and allows only three runs in the third inning. Then Masterson comes into the game, only faces two hitters, and strikes out both of them. Okajima then finishes up the 8th inning with ease and Papelbon gets out of trouble in the 9th.

Not many other teams have this deep of a bullpen. This is the kind of job that the relief has done all year and the pen is quickly becoming the trademark of the 2009 Red Sox.

Papelbon Struggling

It looked like the Sox would cruise to victory in this one, however that is not the case as Jonathan Papelbon has put two men on with one out in the ninth. Ever since he let that home run to Omir Santos and blew his first save of the season against the Mets, Papelbon has not been the same.

As he gets Ryan Raburn to pop out for the second out of the inning, let’s see if Paps can finish the job.

How To Hit a 100 mph Fastball

Now pitching for the Tigers is Joel Zumaya, the man that owns the record for the fastest pitch ever recorded.

On October 10, 2006 Zumaya threw a pitch that was clocked at 104.8 mph at the McAfee Coliseum in Oakland. That’s actually 1.8 mph faster than the next fastest pitch which was thrown by Mark Wohlers in 1995.

Now Zumaya has to figure out how to harness that speed of his. He is currently trying to work out of a bases loaded jam in the 8th inning.

Wakefield Through the 6th

Double play balls have bailed out Tim Wakefield for two consecutive innings and the score remains 6-3 as we head to the 7th inning.

Aside from allowing three runs in the second inning, the knuckleballer has had a relatively calm day. He has only thrown 73 pitches but 53 of them have been strikes.

Check out what the knuckleball really is with New York’s Mike Silva.

Walking In Runs

Thanks to Gary from Chapel Hill, we have these notes to pass along from D-Train’s debacle in the 3rd.

The two bases loaded walks in the 3rd inning were Boston’s 6th and 7th this season and the first time that they’ve received two such walks in an inning since August 25, 2007 at Chicago, when two RBI walks in the 8th inning made it 11-0 and 12-0.

They were also the 6th and 7th RBI walks allowed by Tiger pitching this season and it’s the second time that they’ve allowed two in an inning this season (Edwin Jackson in the 4th inning on April 23 at LA).

Youkilis Leaves The Game With Injury

Mark Kotsay has replaced Kevin Youkilis who has left the game with what is being called an injured leg.

It will be interesting to see how serious the injury is, and how it will impact the team over the next couple days. The Sox will return home tomorrow to start a series with the Texas Rangers at Fenway.

Kotsay has only had a few at bats so far this season so this will give him a good chance to get into a game for awhile. He seems comfortable at first and if he can get back in to the swing of things, it will only help the Sox bench.

Sox Break Through For 6 Runs In Third

How great of a season is Jason Bay really having? Well unlike some other players with similar numbers, Bay seems to always come through when the Red Sox need him most. After plating two runs already in the third inning, Bay broke the inning open with a double down the left field line that scored two more.

With the season about a third of the way over, the statistics don’t lie. Since coming to the Sox, Bay has played in 101 regular season games. In those games, he has an average of .289, 25 home runs, 88 RBI, and 107 hits.

In the postseason last year he batted .341 with 3 home runs and 9 RBI. Coming to Boston has really allowed Bay to showcase his true star power for a big name team.

This is all without even bringing up how Manny is doing right now in Los Angeles.

Control Problems For Willis

In the top of the third inning, Dontrelle Willis lost all control, walking four batters and hitting another. He was pulled in favor of Zach Minor but not before Tigers manager Jim Leyland was ejected from the game for arguing balls and strikes.

Since 2005 when he won 22 games, Willis has struggled with his control. In 2007 he went 10-15 with an ERA of 5.17 but walked 87 batters, the most in a single season of his career. Then in 2008 he had an 9.38 ERA through only 7 starts.

Looks like he is just another player that the Marlins got rid of at the right time. The Tigers have not been able to get anything out of him since his acquisition in December of 2007.

Tigers Strike First

As the Tigers take an 3-0 lead on the Sox through two innings, it remains to be seen if Tim Wakefield can settle in.

Wakefield has had trouble getting ahead of the count and that is the key to getting some of the tough Tigers hitters out. He let up three straight hits but then after a couple ground ball outs, he was able to get out of the jam.

Tigers catcher Brandon Inge, who doubled in Curtis Granderson and Miguel Cabrera, started off the year on a tear but has recently been slumping. His average, which was over .300 for much of the first two months of the season, is down to .274. If the Tigers can keep his production level up, their lineup is that more dangerous.

Scoreless Start

Dontrelle Willis, who has recently come off of the disabled list, is making his fifth start of the season for the Tigers. through his first two innings, he has held the Sox at bay.

His resurgence for the first place Tigers has definitely helped out their starting staff.

If the Sox can see the ball as clearly as they did last night in their 10-5 victory, expect this new lineup to expose any flaws that Willis has.

Sox Prospect Hagadone Set to Return

06.04.09 at 12:56 pm ET
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Red Sox pitching prospect Nick Hagadone, the team’s top overall selection in the 2007 draft who entered this year rated the No. 3 prospect in the Red Sox system, will make his 2009 debut with the Single-A Greenville on Saturday, Sox farm director Mike Hazen confirmed. The news was first reported on SoxProspects.com.

Hagadone, who underwent Tommy John surgery last June, has been in Fort Myers thus far this year. The left-hander’s velocity, which peaked in 2008 at 98 mph, has reached as high as 96 mph in his extended spring training assignment, and both his slider and changeup have been sharp in his return.

Hazen said that Hagadone will likely throw two innings and roughly 30-35 pitches for the Drive on Saturday. His innings will be limited going forward this summer, as the Sox want to focus on keeping Hagadone healthy after a year-long rehab process that has gone as well as the Sox could have hoped.

“We just want to keep him healthy, keep him strong. He’s done really well to this point. His stuff has been really good,” said Hazen. “He crushed his rehab. He’s worked as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen…We’re really excited to see him go and pitch. I know he’s excited.”

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Red Sox vs. Tigers Match-Ups, 6/4

06.04.09 at 11:14 am ET
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Tim Wakefield has been a dominant pitcher in day games throughout his career. For reasons that he has never fathomed (Wakefield, asked about his day-time success earlier this year, suggested that he never even realized that he was a more successful pitcher for lunch-time crowds), the knuckleballer has been worthy of Cy Young consideration. He is 58-42 (.580 winning percentage) with a 3.56 ERA in day games, compared to a 126-118 (.516) record and 4.65 ERA at night.

Of course, that history was tested severely in one particularly memorable — and particularly disastrous — outing in Comerica Park. On August 8, 2004, Wakefield got hammered for six homers at Comerica, more than any other pitcher has given up in the park’s nine-season history. Indeed, no one else has given up more than four homers in a game there. Of course, Wakefield emerged from that day with a win, so it’s doubtful that the memory haunts him. Even so, it is noteworthy that nearly every member of the current Tigers has homered at least once against the knuckleballer.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, have a limited history against Dontrelle Willis. Of course, Willis was a figure of some intrigue this offseason, when the notion of a swap of dead salary — Willis for Julio Lugo — was rumored. Willis is currently 1-2 with a 5.56 ERA, while Lugo is hitting .276 with a .714 OPS in a part-time role.

Thanks to intern D.J. Bean for his help in compiling the following:

Red Sox vs. Willis

Jason Bay: 19 AB, 5 H, .263 BA, 2 RBI, 7 SO, 4 BB
JD Drew: 11 AB, 3 H, .273 BA, 3 RBI, 5 SO, 4 BB
Julio Lugo: 10 AB, 4 H, .400 BA, SO
Nick Green: 9 AB, 3 H, .333 BA, 2 RBI, SO
Rocco Baldelli: 4 AB, H, .250 BA, 2 RBI
Jason Varitek: 3 AB, .000, SO
Mike Lowell: 3 AB, H, .333 BA
Kevin Youkilis: 2 AB, H, .500 BA

Tigers vs. Wakefield

Magglio Ordonez: 38 AB, 15 H, .395 BA, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 4 SO, 3 BB
Brandon Inge: 27 AB, 6 H, .222 BA, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 6 SO
Carlos Guillen: 24 AB, 5 H, .208 BA, HR, 2 RBI, 7 SO, 2 BB
Marcus Thames: 18 AB, 4 H, .222 BA, HR, RBI, 9 SO, BB
Placido Polanco: 15 AB, H, .067 BA, RBI, SO, 2 BB
Gerald Laird: 12 AB, 3 H, .250, 4 RBI, SO
Miguel Cabrera: 11 AB, 2 H, .182 BA, 3 SO, BB
Curtis Granderson: 11 AB, 4 H, .364 BA, HR, 2 RBI, SO, 2 BB
Ramon Santiago: 8 AB, 4 H, .500 BA, HR, 6 RBI, BB
Adam Everett: AB, H, 1.000 BA, HR, 2 RBI

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Red Sox/Tigers match-ups

06.03.09 at 2:26 pm ET
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Here are how the Red Sox and Tigers match-up against each team’s opposing pitchers Wednesday night:

Tigers vs. Josh Beckett

Polanco: 18 AB, 2 RBI, .222

Everett: 9 AB, HR, .333

Granderson: 8 AB, 6 K, .125

Inge: 6 AB, .333

Guillen: 5 AB, RBI, .200

Ordonez: 5 AB, .200

Laird: 4 AB, 2 K, .250

Cabrera: 3 AB, K, .000

Santiago: 3 AB, RBI, .333

Thames: 3 AB, K, .333

Red Sox vs. Armando Galarraga

Ellsbury: 3 AB, K, .333

Lowell: 3 AB, .333

Ortiz: 3 AB, RBI, .667

Youkilis: 3 AB, 2 HR, .667

Drew: 2 AB, K, .000

Lugo: AB, 2B, 1-1

Varitek: AB, BB, K, .000

Francona on Dale and Holley

06.03.09 at 1:33 pm ET
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Terry Francona noted on his weekly appearance on Dale and Holley that he will be using the same lineup for the third straight game, Wednesday night in Detroit. Here are the highlights from the appearance (with transcript courtesy Greg Cameron):

On 500 wins as Red Sox manager: ‘€œAny night we win I’€™m happy. This just means that in the grand scheme of things I’€™ve been fortunate.’€

On pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka‘€™s performance last night: ‘€œDice-K gets himself in trouble and seems to wiggle his way out of it.’€

After Michael Holley theorized that there is a method to Dice-K’€™s madness: ‘€œThat’€™s one way of saying it. He creates trouble and then gets out of it. Wins are wins.’€

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Francona after Sox’ win over Jays

05.31.09 at 5:59 pm ET
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Here is  Red Sox manager Terry Francona following his team’s 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre:

‘€œIt started with Lester. He was powerful. Shoot, the three hits were two bouncers to short and the ball to mikey Lowell that would have been a great play at third. He threw strikes, he missed bats. They fouled off a lot of pitches ,drove his pitch count up. He was good. He used all his pitches and there was power behind them.’€

Improve confidence from Lester: ‘€œTrying to always move forward. It should. He pitched great. It’€™s a lot easier to walk away and field good about yourself when you have something to show for it. I understand that.’€

‘€œWe scored early and then we added on and that’€™s always a good way. We spread it out. It’€™s a good way to play. We haven’€™t done that very much lately but it was a very good day today.’€

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Papi’s new stance pays off

05.31.09 at 3:27 pm ET
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When David Ortiz assumed his position at the plate Saturday, there was something different. Nothing dramatic, but it was there nonetheless.

While awaiting each pitch Ortiz was bouncing his bat on his back shoulder until the pitcher’s approach was in full swing. It was something he had never done, and wasn’t sure would continue.

But then came Sunday — a day after taking an 0 for 4 but hitting the ball hard twice — and Ortiz was back at it. This time it paid off. In his second at-bat, the Sox DH rocketed one of his hardest hit balls of the season off the center field wall for a double. It was the reward both Ortiz and hitting coach Dave Magadan were looking after what has been a wave of adjustments.

“It’s something I brought up to him about four or five days ago and then all of a sudden (Saturday) he showed up doing it in his pre-game stuff,” said Magadan, who suggested the same approach to Sean Burroughs in San Diego, but the then-Padres’ third baseman didn’t take to it. “We started talking about it and I just told him, ‘Yeah, give it a shot.'”

The impetus for the shoulder tapping with the bat is so that Ortiz’ swing can start on more of a flat plane, instead of looping around too much, which has been a problem.

“We wanted to flatten his bat a little bit. It was getting a little too erect and he he loads it’s almost too late, so we wanted to flatten it a little bit,” Magadan explained. “I know people are sick and tired of hearing it, but his batting practices have been unbelievable.

“I just don’t want him to get to a point where he’s thinking about his stance and mechanics and all of that instead of focusing in on the baseball. It’s just a reminder for him.”

HR Derby not for Bay

05.31.09 at 1:30 pm ET
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Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay, who enters Sunday third in the American League in home runs with 14, said that if asked he will not participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby during All-Star Weekend. MLB had announced that Bay was leading all AL outfielders in voting, last week.

The Sox’ left fielder has participated in the event one other time, in 2005 in Detroit, ending up with zero home runs. When asked the following year to participate in his then-home ballpark in Pittsburgh, Bay declined.

“I vowed to never to do it again. Plus, if you ever have seen my BP you could see it’s not my thing,” Bay said. “I’ll never do it again because it didn’t allow me to enjoy my time at the All-Star Game. When I was done it was the best feeling in the world because it was over with. It took away from my enjoyment of the whole thing.”

Francona Shakes Up Lineup

05.31.09 at 10:28 am ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona has decided to shake things up today in Toronto. Dustin Pedroia will lead off and Jacoby Ellsbury will drop down to the 8th hole. Nick Green will start for the second straight day. Dustin Pedroia has a career .333 OBP and a .270 batting average when batting in the lead off spot. This will be the first game Jacoby Ellsbury plays this season when he does not bat first in the lineup. Ellsbury has a .332 OBP with 63 hits this season. 51 of those hits have been singles.

Here’s the lineup:

PEDROIA      2B

DREW            RF

YOUKILIS     1B

BAY                LF

LOWELL       3B

ORTIZ           DH

VARITEK       C

ELLSBURY   CF

GREEN          SS

Five Things We Learned: Don’t Count On the Six-Man Rotation For Red Sox

05.30.09 at 7:31 am ET
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TORONTO — You see something new virtually every day in the course of a 162-game baseball season. And within the hours that encompassed the Red Sox‘ 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre, there wasn’t any shortage of uniqueness. 

You had David Ortiz, the slugger who finished his night hitting .189, come just a few meters away from putting at least some of his worries in the rear-view mirror with a blast just in front of the 400-foot sign in center field that would have been a first-inning grand slam with a little more punch. (Or if the roof was opened, which wasn’t an option after a day of beautiful sunshine turned to showers.)

Instead, you had Ortiz walk out of the stadium with another 0 for 4, left almost rhythmically saying, “just got to keep laughing, bro.”

There was a rookie pitcher, Daniel Bard, who made his presence felt by striking out five straight batters.

You even had the actor who played head of the board of Callahan Automotive, ‘Rittenhuer’ in the movie “Tommy Boy” — Sean McCann — hanging in the media dining room while preparing for the upcoming baseball amateur draft. (He is a part-time scout for the Blue Jays.)

But one thing you thing that was weighing on some folks’ minds while watching Tim Wakefield’s 4 2/3-inning, nine-hit, six-run outing against the Jays, and looking forward to Saturday’s start by Brad Penny, was whether or not they might be witnessing another unique moment a few weeks down the road.

Would the Red Sox actually go to a six-man rotation?

We learned that, even with the projected introduction of John Smoltz on June 16, and the continuing emergence of Clay Buchholz, adding the extra member to the starting staff is not a likely scenario, and if it does happen it isn’t something anybody should get used to.

Why the strategy most likely isn’t a reality was just one of a few things we discovered on the day the Red Sox allowed the Blue Jays to snap the nine-game losing streak that had started last week in Fenway Park

WHY IT WOULDN’T WORK

When it comes to talk of a six-man rotation, Josh Beckett doesn’t hide his feelings regarding the proposed project.

“I don’t like it,” Beckett said. “I don’t need five days in between each start. If that’s what they decide to do, there’s nothing I can do about it. But I don’t personally like it.” 

Wakefield, coming off one of his more frustrating outings of the season, had a slightly different view.

“It would be pretty cool because everybody would get an extra day, especially for the older guys,” he said. “I don’t know if they want to build in extra days for me, but I feel unbelievable right now.”

And then there are the thoughts of the Red Sox decision-makers.

While the team has discussed the prospects of going with six starters in the past, the Red Sox understand the problems with adding another pitcher to the rotation, and the uneasiness of Beckett and others is just a fraction of the equation.

Along with the tampering of each starter’s routine, there is also having to further adjust whenever an off day comes along. For example, in the first two weeks following Smoltz’ projected return to the majors, the Red Sox have two off days prior to the All-Star Game break. If such a plan would be hatched, it would most likely come during a stretch where there were no breaks in the schedule.

And then there is perhaps the biggest issue when it comes to why the Sox would shy away from such a ploy. With the extra starter comes one less member of the bullpen, and Red Sox manager Terry Francona had made no secret how much he enjoys the flexibility that comes with having seven relievers at his disposal. There also wouldn’t be a member of the starting staff which would be the kind of hurler who would be used out of the bullpen on their side-session day.

“That’s more of a longer discussion than just a happenstance coaching move because you’re going to affect the routine of the other five starters in the rotation, and the bullpen is the one thing that is overlooked,” said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. “All of a sudden you take one more reliever out of the mix. We plan on being in the game every night so you look at the match-ups and potential for overuse comes into play.

“I wouldn’t say it’s not optimum, it’s just not as easy as it looks by simply adding a fifth starter. There are other expectations that go with it.”

As for Wakefield, the first four innings against the Blue Jays continued to suggest that he would be one of the most important members of the Sox’ rotation, no matter the number of members. But then came a five-run fifth by Toronto and the knuckleballer was left looking for yet another rebound outing five days down the road.

“I’m not going to lie, kind of. I thought his knuckleball was better today than it was when we faced him down in Boston,” said Toronto catcher Rod Barajas, referencing Wakefield’s eight-inning, one-run outing against the Jays, May 19. “I had no chance my first two at-bats. That ball was starting at about my chest and it was ending up at my feet. I thought I didn’t have a chance against him tonight, but in that fifth inning he just left some up.”

THE ROOKIE IMPRESSES

With one out in the sixth, and the Red Sox already trailing, 6-2, Bard started putting on a show. First he got Adam Lind swinging, and then Scott Rolen went down the same way. In the seventh the reliever would fan the side, punching out Kevin Millar, Lyle Overbay, and Rod Barajas.

While it was Bard’s fastball — which topped out at 99 mph and lived around 97 and 98 mph — was undoubtedly his bread and butter, it was the slider he threw four times (out of 32 pitches) which perhaps offered his most encouragement.

Three days before Bard and Farrell decided to change the grip on the slider, going from a two-seam grip to a four-seamer. It paid off, as did the rookie’s ability to harness the explosiveness of his heater down in the strike zone.

“You could see the balls were down. I was having a hard time getting the other ones down below the zone as finish pitch, and these ones I was throwing consistently down and down and away,” said Bard of his slider. 

The low-key Bard stopped short, however, of identifying the outing as a hallmark moment in his brief big league career.

“It feels good. That’s what I expect though, not necessarily the strikeouts but getting outs and executing pitches that makes you get hitters out at any level,” said Bard, who, after pitching two innings against the Jays, has now gone 8 1/3 innings since his promotion, giving up one run on seven hits while striking out seven and walking three.

“I think there’s an adjustment period whenever you’re moving up at any time. Last year I went throught it at Double A. It took me about a month, but that’s when you get that feeling, ‘Alright I belong here,’ and then you go out and start pitching and throwing with more confidence. You stop worrying about what people are thinking out here and it’s more a focus on getting out and winning ballgames.”

ORTIZ IS LAUGHING (SORT OF)

First came the first-inning blast on a first-pitch fastball from Toronto starter Casey Janssen that reached the center field wall, but also Vernon Wells’ glove. And then, two innings later, there was a line-drive rocketed down the right-field line that was snared by Overbay.

Lazy fly outs to center and left would end Ortiz’ night, leaving the DH shaking his head as he prepared to head out of the visitors’ clubhouse.

“You know what? All I can do about myself right now is laugh. I’m not going to cry,” he said. “Laugh, keep on swinging, and keep on waiting for the good luck charm to show up. There’s nothing else I can do.”

Was there some gratification stemming from the first at-bat smash even with it settling in Wells’ mitt?

“What do you think?” Ortiz said. “You can’t swing the bat no better than that.”

Did he think it was out?

“I hit it pretty damn good,” the DH said.

But the problem remains, both for Ortiz and the Red Sox, who haven’t scored more than three runs in any of the five games since the rearrangement of their batting order.

While many of the members of the Sox’ order have produced since Ortiz was moved to sixth and J.D. Drew slid up to the No. 3 spot (with Lowell, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Jason Bay all hitting .294 or better), the two main components of the alteration have struggled somewhat. 

Up until Drew’s seventh-inning homer he had been 0 for 14 since moving up in the order, while Ortiz still stands at 2 for 15 (.133) with four strikeouts.

ELLSBURY PICKED UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF

Ellsbury couldn’t remember how he fared following the end of his 25-game hit streak while with Triple A Pawtucket, but he most likely won’t forget how he rebounded from the conclusion of his 22-gamer, which ended Thursday in Minnesota.

The Sox’ leadoff man notched his sixth and seventh hit of the road trip, knocking in his team’s first two RBI. His average stands at .304.

So now he has come within four games of reaching the halfway point of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak, does he believe it is an attainable record?

“He did it, so why can’t somebody else do it?” Ellsbury said. “Records were made to be broken. Somebody will do it. It’s tough, but you never know. You never thought there would be another Michael Jordan and here comes LeBron (James). Yeah, it’s a reord that is probably going to withstand for a long time, but baseball is going to be around for a long time.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Ellsbury believes that it will be tougher to break Rickey Henderson’s record of 130 stolen bases in a single season than it will to top DiMaggio.

“I would say it’s harder to steal a base than get a hit,” he said.

LOWELL AIRED IT OUT

When Lowell’s grounder up the middle was fielded by shortstop Marco Scutaro, who threw it to Overbay in time to get the Sox’ third baseman for the first out of the fourth inning, it’s importance was hard to decipher. But it was important, on a few levels.

First, replays showed that Lowell’s contention that he had beaten the throw was accurate. But unfortunately for the Sox, first base umpire Tim McClelland didn’t see it at the time. As it turned out, it could have been a pivotal mistake by the umpire, with the visitors following up the out with back to back hits.

“He said he would check it after the game,” said Lowell regarding his argument with McClelland. “You get a little emotional because you want the hit. I’m usually not a guy who’s going to argue unless I feel I’m really, really right. I consider Tim one of the best umpires in the game. He just told me he would take a look. It was just that it was leading off the inning and it could have been a hit. I could have changed the strategy.”

There was a positive to the play for Lowell, however. He agreed with some of those in the press box who believed the race down the first base line might have been his fastest since coming back from hip surgery.

“That’s when you smell the hit,” he said. “I don’t think I could have done that a month ago.”

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