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6th Inning: Lugo Goes Deep

05.09.09 at 6:34 pm ET
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It took Julio Lugo 29 plate appearances to hit as many homers in 2009 as he hit in 307 trips to the dish in 2008. Granted, he matched that total with his first homer of the 2009 campaign, but it does seem as if the shortstop is driving the ball with more authority this year than last. Manager Terry Francona suggested that Lugo is being helped by a more upright stance that puts him in a better position to drive the ball. At this point (insert disclaimer re: small sample size), he is hitting .370 with a .969 OPS.

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6th Inning: Not so magical for the Sox today

05.09.09 at 6:28 pm ET
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The Red Sox entered today having scored more runs (32) and given up fewer runs (4) in the sixth inning than any other. Their dominance in that frame has not carried through today.

The Rays scored five runs in the 6th, building a 13-3 lead. That was, in some ways, less noteworthy than the pitcher who concluded the inning. Hunter Jones permitted much of the damage, allowing four runs on four hits today. His successor was somewhat surprising: Takashi Saito.

When Saito signed with the Sox this offseason, it was surely with the expectation of pitching meaningful innings, giving the Sox a second closer behind Jonathan Papelbon. Yet Saito’s performance has suggested that he is not a pitcher to whom the Sox want to turn with the game on the line.

Entering today, he had only one 1-2-3 inning all year. His 4.09 ERA suggests respectability, rather than dominance. Only once all year have the Sox entrusted him with a one-run lead. In that instance, he coughed it up in an eventual 9-8 loss to the Indians. Since that time, he has appeared in five games, none with the Sox leading or trailing by any less than four runs.

Today, Saito issued an intentional walk, gave up a single and allowed a 400-foot sac fly into the Triangle by Aki Iwamura. At this point, he is an option of penultimate resort in the bullpen, behind Papelbon, Ramon Ramirez, Hideki Okajima Manny Delcarmen, and perhaps even Javy Lopez.

Because the Sox have such impressive setup men in Ramirez, Okajima and Delcarmen, they can afford to allow Saito time to rediscover his form on the mound. But they seem likely to do so in situations that are anything but high leverage.

Mother’s Day Fashion Statements

05.09.09 at 6:04 pm ET
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In recent years, Major League Baseball players have offered a unique look for Mother’s Day. Players across the majors have used pink bats to take their hacks in support of Komen for the Cure, a foundation supporting research and awareness of breast cancer. On Sunday, another fashion wrinkle will be added to the fray.

Several Reebok clients, including a dozen members of the Sox and Rays, will wear pink baseball shoes to support awareness of breast cancer. The cleats will later be auctioned to raise money for the Avon Foundation for Women. Here is Reebok’s press release:

Reebok today announced a Mother’€™s Day initiative to help raise awareness and money for breast cancer research.  During Major League Baseball games on Mother’€™s Day, Sunday, May 10th, many of Reebok’€™s athletes will don pink cleats, with a select number of the game-worn cleats to be auctioned off post-game to benefit Avon Foundation for Women.

Among those who are expected to wear the pink Reebok cleats are twelve players from the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, who will be featured on ESPN’€™s Sunday Night Game of the Week, as well as the game’€™s umpiring crew and the entire Red Sox staff including Manager Terry Francona.  Players ‘€œgetting their pink on’€ include David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon and Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox and Gabe Gross, Grant Balfour and James Shields of the Rays, along with other players from both teams.

In addition, MLB stars Francisco Rodriguez (New York Mets), Nate McLouth (Pittsburgh Pirates), Justin Morneau (Minnesota Twins) and Prince Fielder (Milwaukee Brewers) also are expected to wear the pink cleats on Sunday to support this initiative.

‘€œReebok has been a supporting partner of the Avon Foundation for a number of years and breast cancer awareness is a cause that has become an integral part of who we are as a brand,’€ said Chris Waldeck, Reebok’€™s Director, Cleated and Equipment ‘€“ Team Sports. ‘€œWe are also the official footwear supplier of Major League Baseball, so we jumped at the chance to be a part of this initiative, which supports a great cause and also lets our players express how much their mothers mean to them.’€

Several of the players wearing the pink cleats on Sunday will autograph their game-worn footwear and put them up for auction on www.reebok.com with proceeds to benefit Avon Foundation for Women.  The Avon Foundation will award the funds to advance breast cancer research and access to care.  More details on the auction will be announced Monday morning, May 11, including the auction end date and which players will be participating.

5th Inning: Rays KO Lester With Cheap Six-Run Rally

05.09.09 at 5:43 pm ET
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For the first time in 2009, Jon Lester lasted fewer than five innings in a start. He was knocked out after just 4.1 innings, having given up 10 hits and with the Sox trailing 7-1. The eight Rays hitters Lester faced in the fifth strung together seven hits.

And yet, if it’s possible, Lester seemed to pitch reasonably well in the fifth. He was chiefly a victim of seeing-eye grounders and, on perhaps one play at least, the deficient range of the left-side of his infield. The inning — which followed a dominant stretch in which Lester produced five straight outs by way of the strikeout in the third and fourth innings — featured dribbler after dribbler. It unfolded thusly:

–Aki Iwamura led off with a hard single to center. Man on 1st, no outs.
–Dioner Navarro grounded a potential double-play ball to the hole between third and short. Julio Lugo – his range still limited as he continues his recovery from knee surgery – could not glove the ball, which slipped under his glove. Men on 1st and 2nd, no outs.
–B.J. Upton bunted down the third-base line, seemingly for a sacrifice. But Lester was a bit deliberate in throwing to first (with Dustin Pedroia covering), and so Upton was safe. Bases loaded, no outs.
–Carl Crawford bounced a single into the hole between third and short. Run scores. Bases loaded, no outs.
Evan Longoria hits a high fly ball to left. The wind may have pushed it en route to a journey off the top of the Green Monster. Was it good luck for Lester that the ball didn’t carry out, or bad luck that the wind prevented it from being caught? Tough to say… Two runs score. Men on second and third, no outs.
Carlos Pena strikes out on a nasty curve. Men on second and third, one out.
–Pat Burrell hits a grounder between the third-short hole. Two runs score. Man on first. One out.
Jason Bartlett hits a grounder into the hole between third and short. Men on first and second. One out. Lester pulled.

Hunter Jones encountered more of the same in an inning when the ball kept finding Lugo at short:

–Gabe Kapler grounds a single into the hole between short and third. Bases loaded, one out.
–Aki Iwamura bounced a ball up the middle. Lugo gloves it and steps on second, but doesn’t throw to first. Run scores. Men on the corners, one out. The crowd booed Lugo out of ignorance. He didn’t have a play on the speedy Iwamura, who has grounded into four career double plays in 1,386 career plate appearances.
–Dioner Navarro hits a pop beyond the dirt behind second base. Lugo catches it for the final out of the inning.

That’s a rally on the strength of FIVE singles that were bounced into the hole on the left side of the infield. In all likelihood, that served as little consolation on a day when he gave up 10 or more hits for the fourth time in his career. The eight runs allowed by Lester were a career high, exceeding his previous high of seven, achieved twice before (most recently last Aug. 23).

The Sox plated a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning on the strength of a run-scoring single by Jason Bay and an RBI double by Mike Lowell.

After 5, RAYS 8, RED SOX 3.

Read More: Jon Lester,

3rd Inning: Lester Revs Up the K Machine

05.09.09 at 4:42 pm ET
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Jon Lester entered today with 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings, third in the A.L. behind Justin Verlander (11.5) and Zack Greinke (10.8). With 43 strikeouts, he was on pace prior to today’s start for more than 230 punchouts this year.

The number is particularly impressive when you realize that no left-hander in Red Sox history has ever struck out 200 batters in a season. Bruce Hurst is atop the leaderboard with 190.

Lester suggested that it would be “cool” to be the first southpaw to join the club, but he’d rather be pitch efficient and good than rack up strikeouts.

He did not punch out any batters in the first two innings today, but struck out both Carl Crawford (swinging, 95mph fastball) and Evan Longoria (swinging, 90 mph cutter at his feet) in the third. Lester is trying to prolong a career-long streak of four straight starts with at least seven strikeouts.

(UPDATE: Lester struck out the side in the fourth, and now has five strikeouts through four innings. He’s struck out the side five times in his seven starts this year.)

He still trails, 2-1, after three innings. David Ortiz almost tied the game by almost hitting his first homer of the year, a towering drive to right, but the ball died on the warning track in front of the Sox bullpen in right-center.

Read More: David Ortiz, Jon Lester,

2nd Inning: Role Players Shine for Red Sox

05.09.09 at 4:30 pm ET
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With left-hander Scott Kazmir on the hill, J.D. Drew likely would have been out even if his aching quadriceps muscle had not prevented him from being available. Kazmir has held left-handers to a .217 average and a miniscule .590 OPS in his career entering today, and so he often represents a day off for opposing left-handed hitters. Nonetheless, the value of having Rocco Baldelli as a bench option to face lefties and spell Drew became apparent in the bottom of the second.

Kazmir left a change-up at the belt and on the middle half of the plate, and Baldelli jumped on the 3-2 pitch, ripping it into the Monster Seats for his first homer as a member of the Red Sox. He is now 2-for-5 with a homer and three runs batted in since returning from the D.L. this week.

That continues an early-season pattern for the Sox, who have gotten impressive production from their bench seemingly whenever a starter has gone down. Jonathan Van Every hit a game-winning homer in extra innings last week against Cleveland. On Thursday, the Sox had a 12-run rally with what amounted to a Triple-A bottom half of the batting order.

1st Inning: Is Evan Longoria the Best Hitter in the A.L.?

05.09.09 at 4:07 pm ET
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As a 23-year-old, in just his second season, Evan Longoria is clearly an even more devastating hitter than he was a year ago. He’s been less pull-heavy than he was as a rookie, and Longoria says that he feels his emphasis on driving the ball from gap to gap is paying obvious dividends.

So, too, is the constant attention conferred on Carl Crawford whenever he reached base. Crawford is batting in the two-hole precisely in hopes that his base-stealing threat will help give Longoria better pitches to hit. There are a few contributing elements to the cause, but the result has been clear: Longoria is playing at an exceptional level. He came into today with 10 homers (2nd in the A.L. to teammate Carlos Pena), hitting .362 (4th in the A.L.) with a .411 OBP (8th) with a .741 slugging mark (1st).

He continued his sophomore surge in the top of the first against Jon Lester. With Crawford on first, Lester seemed at times preoccupied (understandably so, given that Crawford entered today on pace for 110 steals, and licking his chops at the prospect of becoming the first man in two decades to get 100 thefts). The left-hander three to first three times and operated out of the slide step, navigating to a full count against Longoria.

Lester still delivered an excellent pitch — a 94 mph fastball with sink, that ran below the knees. Even so, Longoria lined a ball off the top of the wall in straightaway center for his 11th homer of the year to give the Rays a 2-0 blast.

Before the game, Maddon suggested that Longoria is in a rare class for a 23-year-old, a place occupied by the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey for precocious greatness. The third baseman continues to show why he is receiving such accolades.

Read More: Evan Longoria,

Red Sox vs. Rays Match-Ups, 5/9

05.09.09 at 3:24 pm ET
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Scott Kazmir and Jon Lester are both considered among the most talented young left-handed pitchers in the American League. Their raw numbers do not yet suggest as much.

Kazmir is 3-3 with a 6.00 ERA. Lester owns a 2-2 record and 5.10 mark.

Yet for Lester, the recent results have been eye-opening. He has struck out at least seven in each of his last four starts, and has been dominant of late, most recently in a win against the Yankees on Monday, in which he struck out 10 and allowed three runs. He is on pace to become the first left-handed pitcher in Red Sox history to strike out 200 or more batters in a season.

Kazmir, on the other hand, has been a bit of a puzzle. His velocity, which was once in the mid-90s, has been down this year, and only in his last start did it creep back up to 91-92 mph. Still, Fenway Park is a place where he tends to rediscover his best stuff, as he is 5-4 with a 2.88 ERA in his career there, including a win over Lester in the second game of the season.

RED SOX VS. KAZMIR

Given that Kazmir has enjoyed as much success against the Sox as any pitcher in baseball, it is unsurprising to see that several members of the Red Sox have struggled against him. It would also appear that it’s not the worst day for either Kevin Youkilis or J.D. Drew to be out of the lineup. Mike Lowell has taken Kazmir deep four times, more than any other opponent (no one else has hit more than two against Kazmir). Dustin Pedroia has offered the production of two men against the left-hander. (Stats from the indispensable baseball-reference.com.)

                    **PA**  AB  H  2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG   OPS   SH  SF IBB HBP GDP G_miss YR_miss
+-----------------+-------+---+---+--+--+--+---+---+---+-----+-----+-----+-----+---+---+---+---+---+------+-------+
 David Ortiz          47    41   8  1  0  2   8   6  11  .195  .298  .366  .664   0   0   0   0   4
 Kevin Youkilis       45    38   9  3  0  0   3   6  14  .237  .333  .316  .649   0   1   1   0   0
 Mike Lowell          42    37   9  1  0  4   7   4  10  .243  .333  .595  .928   0   0   1   1   1
 Jason Varitek        41    30   6  1  0  1   4   8  10  .200  .390  .333  .723   0   1   0   2   0
 Dustin Pedroia       33    27  15  3  1  1   3   5   1  .556  .625  .852 1.477   1   0   0   0   1
 Julio Lugo           20    19   4  0  0  0   2   1   7  .211  .250  .211  .461   0   0   0   0   0
 Jacoby Ellsbury      17    17   5  1  0  0   0   0   2  .294  .294  .353  .647   0   0   0   0   0
 Jason Bay            14    12   3  1  0  1   2   2   5  .250  .357  .583  .940   0   0   0   0   0
 J.D. Drew             8     7   1  0  1  0   1   1   3  .143  .250  .429  .679   0   0   0   0   0
 Rocco Baldelli        3     3   1  0  0  0   0   0   1  .333  .333  .333  .666   0   0   0   0   0
 Jeff Bailey           2     2   0  0  0  0   0   0   1  .000  .000  .000  .000   0   0   0   0   0   

RAYS VS. LESTER

As a team, the Rays have hit Lester well, with a combined .292 average and .837 OPS. Carlos Pena has taken the lefty deep three times — the only hitter to do so against Lester.

                    **PA**  AB  H  2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG   OPS   SH  SF IBB HBP GDP G_miss YR_miss
+-----------------+-------+---+---+--+--+--+---+---+---+-----+-----+-----+-----+---+---+---+---+---+------+-------+
 Akinori Iwamura      25    19   6  1  0  1   3   5   3  .316  .480  .526 1.006   0   0   0   1   0
 Carlos Pena          22    19   6  1  0  3   8   1   5  .316  .318  .842 1.160   0   2   0   0   0
 B.J. Upton           20    18   4  0  0  1   2   2   2  .222  .300  .389  .689   0   0   0   0   0
 Carl Crawford        18    17   5  1  0  0   0   0   4  .294  .333  .353  .686   0   0   0   1   0
 Dioner Navarro       12     9   2  0  0  0   0   3   3  .222  .417  .222  .639   0   0   0   0   0
 Jason Bartlett       11    11   6  0  0  0   1   0   3  .545  .545  .545 1.090   0   0   0   0   0
 Evan Longoria         9     9   3  1  0  0   0   0   1  .333  .333  .444  .777   0   0   0   0   2
 Willy Aybar           6     6   2  2  0  0   0   0   1  .333  .333  .667 1.000   0   0   0   0   1
 Pat Burrell           6     5   0  0  0  0   0   1   2  .000  .167  .000  .167   0   0   0   0   0
 Ben Zobrist           4     3   1  0  0  0   0   1   1  .333  .500  .333  .833   0   0   0   0   0
 Gabe Gross            3     3   0  0  0  0   0   0   1  .000  .000  .000  .000   0   0   0   0   0
 Gabe Kapler           2     1   0  0  0  0   0   1   1  .000  .500  .000  .500   0   0   0   0   0              

Youkilis likely out on Saturday

05.08.09 at 11:49 pm ET
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Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis is likely to miss his fifth straight game on Saturday due to what the team is describing as muscle spasms from a deep bruise and what the first baseman has characterized as a “left side” injury. After the Sox’ 7-3 win on Friday, manager Terry Francona was asked whether Youkilis – among the league leaders in average, OBP and slugging – might be able to play on Saturday for the first time since leaving in the middle of Monday’s game against the Yankees.

“I don’t think so,” said Francona. “I wish it was yes.”

Before the game, Francona said that the first baseman was making progress in his return, having begun rotational exercises. Still, the first baseman is not yet pushing to make his way back into the lineup.

“If he barks at me, I’ll put him in,” said Francona. “The update is he’€™s better. He’€™s just not ready to play. He is really improving today, which is good…In that area, you don’€™t want to make a mistake and come back too quick and set a guy back where he ends up being a D.L. candidate. We don’€™t want to do that. We are trying to use good sense.”

Read More: Kevin Youkilis,

Sox Win, 7-3

05.08.09 at 10:04 pm ET
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Jonathan Papelbon allowed a leadoff single, but struck out both B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford to close out the Sox’ 7-3 win over the Rays. The win is just the third in eight tries for the Sox against Tampa Bay this year.

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