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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.

Read More: Adrian Beltre, Angels, David Ortiz, john lackey

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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Pregame notes: Red Sox vs. Angels, 5/5

05.05.10 at 5:16 pm ET
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Happy Cinco de Mayo!

A few pregame items heading into Wednesday’s game between the Sox and Angels:

– Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron took batting practice and threw on the field prior to the game. Red Sox manager Terry Francona said that for both players, “that corner is starting to be turned where they’re being aggressive. … [The outlook] is getting brighter.”

While there is still no timetable for either player to return, Francona suggested that “hopefully, it won’t be too far off.” There has yet to be a decision made about whether the two outfielders will need a rehab assignment.

Jed Lowrie has started to add baseball activities to his strengthening program in the last five to six days. He’s now hitting off a tee and taking grounders, and has put back four pounds. Francona identified a goal of returning to games in about four weeks, though he suggested that might or might not prove feasible after Lowrie spent the last month and a half recovering from mono.

Boof Bonser is still slated for a rehab outing on Friday with Triple-A Pawtucket.

– Francona said that the team wanted David Ortiz in the lineup tonight both because he’s had terrific career success against Angels starter Joel Pineiro and because Ortiz will almost surely sit on Thursday against left-handed starter (and Ortiz dominator) Scott Kazmir. Francona said that he does not believe that the designated hitter’s struggles have been a distraction.

“It if is a distraction,” he said, “we have to figure out a way for it not to be.”

The manager appreciated that Dustin Pedroia was vocal in sticking up for his teammate.

– Francona is managing his 1000th game with the Sox on Wednesday. He was hardly effusive in reflecting on the accomplishment.

“Some days,” he said, “it feels like it’s been more.”

Poll: Stop having polls about David Ortiz’ playing time?

05.05.10 at 4:24 pm ET
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The Boston and national sports media have all had their fair share of polls about David Ortiz and his role with the Red Sox. So here is our David Ortiz poll question:

Should media outlets stop having polls about whether David Ortiz should play?

View Results

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Francona on D&H: ‘David needs to play tonight’

05.05.10 at 1:45 pm ET
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Terry Francona will continue to get questions about who is playing DH every night. (AP)

Terry Francona called in for his weekly talk with Dale & Holley on Wednesday, and still the No. 1 question is about the David Ortiz-Mike Lowell situation, especially with Lowell swinging a hot bat and Ortiz struggling.

Francona said Ortiz will be in the lineup Wednesday against the Angels, and he explained his decision.

“David needs to play tonight,” said Francona. “We got to give David chances where we think he can succeed to put some good swings on the ball. It doesn’t insure that it is going to happen. I certainly want it to happen. In a night like tonight, David is going to DH. I understand what you are asking. I understand what you are inferring. It’s a long year and we got to try and put guys in a position to succeed.”

Francona also talked about the health of Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron, the decision to send Jason Varitek in Baltimore and how it’s OK not to have a “happy clubhouse.”

To read the transcript look below, but to hear the interview click here.

Does it feel like you’ve managed 999 games in a Red Sox uniform?

It feels like I’ve managed 999 this week.

Number 1,000 is tonight for you.

I actually didn’t know that. I think there is a lot of things I didn’t know.

What does it mean to you?

My first thought is if it’s a 1,000 here it’s probably like dog years and it’s 7,000 somewhere else.

What was your mindset of how long you wanted to stay in Boston when you first took the job?

I don’t I’ve ever viewed it like that. I was obviously excited to come up here. When managers jobs change, not too often are the circumstances that they are here. This job was kind of built to try to win, so I caught a break and I knew that. Things went well and you get to stay and you do the best you can. I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about stuff like that. I’ve got my hands full trying to spend my energy on what I can control. Those other things, I don’t think it makes any sense to do that. Someday I won’t be here, for whatever reason, and that’s the way the game is. I can live with that. I just want us to play good baseball. That’s kind of what I need to spend my energy on. Read the rest of this entry »

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