|09.13.09 at 4:35 pm ET|
If they didn’t know before, they know now.
“He’s one of the best in the game (at blocking the plate),” said Red Sox catching instructor Gary Tuck of Victor Martinez. “Overall blocking the plate, he’s very good at it. His timing is good, and he takes some chances, but he just let a runner slide straight into the plate and steered him right off.”
And because Martinez exhibited his merits as a human roadblock, the Red Sox were able to head into the dramatic last few innings of their tilt with the Rays Sunday afternoon without having to play catch-up. It was a dynamic that ultimately led to a game-deciding Dustin Pedroia, opposite field homer in the eighth inning, and a 3-1 win for the Red Sox in the first game of a Fenway Park doubleheader.
The play Tuck, and many of those analyzing the Sox’ seventh straight win at Fenway, chose to highlight as a turning point came in the seventh inning and the Sox leading, 1-0.
With runners on second and third and two outs, Tampa Bay’s Jason Bartlett bounced a ground ball up the middle that second baseman Dustin Pedroia could only barely glove and fire to first in a desperate shot at getting the baserunner. But the throw sailed just wide of first baseman Casey Kotchman, allowing Gregg Zaun to score the equalizer and Gabe Gross to take a shot at plating the go-ahead run.
Kotchman, considered one of the best defensive first basemen in the American League, whipped around and threw a strike to Martinez. The catcher extended his left leg fully, forcing Gross’ lead foot to land directly in the side of the upper calf. The obstacle forced the baserunner away from his path to the plate, allowing Martinez to come in with the tag.
“He’s a big kid, too. That’s a hell of a play. You don’t see that much,” Tuck said. “You see sweep tags now and bail outs. You don’t see men sticking their legs out there. He’s sacrificing himself for the team.”
As for Martinez, it appeared to be no big deal — both physically and otherwise.
“It was nothing serious,” who said Gross’ foot impacted just below the side of his knee.
“Casey made a good play, he got a good reaction, a good read. He gave a good throw that I could handle and I just blocked the plate.”
|09.13.09 at 4:32 pm ET|
Entering Sunday, Dustin Pedroia had exactly one career opposite-field home run, and that one almost deserved an asterisk. That oppo shot came against Joba Chamberlain and the Yankees last month in Yankee Stadium, a park that features a wind tunnel to right field.
And so no one — least of all Pedroia — expected the Red Sox second baseman to blast a ball into the visitor’s bullpen in right-center when he stepped to the plate with one out and a runner on third in the bottom of the eighth. Even so, with Joey Gathright (in as a pinch-runner for David Ortiz, who delivered a pinch-hit double to start the frame), Pedroia liked his chances.
“You definitely want to be up there in that situation. Infield’s in. I put the ball in play a lot, so hopefully something good happens in that situation,” Pedroia said after the Sox won, 3-1, in the first game of a day-night doubleheader. “I was just trying to hit the ball in the air. They’ve been pitching me away a lot. I just got a pitch up and drove it.”
Pedroia, ahead in the count 3-1, jumped out of his shoes at a 94 mph fastball from Rays starter Matt Garza. The ball was elevated, but even then, the Rays had a difficult time believing where it ended up.
“Pedroia hitting a home run to right field is the last thing you expected,” said Rays skipper Joe Maddon. “Most of the time when he goes to that side it’s a line drive. He just gets up and hits it in the opposite field bullpen. That’s their day when that happens.”
Not only did the homer (Pedroia’s 13th this year, and third in four games) give the Sox the win, but it also gave the diminutive second baseman bragging rights when he saw Ortiz back in the dugout.
“I was kind of joking with (Ortiz) because he hit the top of the fence,” admitted Pedroia.
It was a remarkable feat of strength (perhaps a prelude to a Festivus-inspired airing of grievances) for a second baseman whose performance continues to defy his frame.
“That little guy’s got some pop. He’s unbelievable to watch when he’s firing on all cylinders,” said Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz. “They’s why he was MVP last year. He can play the field and just flat-out hit.”
|09.13.09 at 4:22 pm ET|
It was a day on which Clay Buchholz had his full complement of pitches — mid-90s fastball, slider, curveball and especially a Bugs Bunny changeup that Rays skipper Joe Maddon described as “devastating.” The 25-year-old Red Sox starter was pitted against a Rays pitcher with equally nasty stuff in Matt Garza, but once again, it did not matter.
Buchholz has gone toe-to-toe in hard-luck losses against Cy Young candidates CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander, and has led his team to victory against Roy Halladay and Garza. In short, he has held his own against the sort of elite pitchers who will dot the match-up lines in October, and has shown that he can give the Red Sox a chance to win regardless of the opponent. And so, there is a growing air of confidence for the Sox when Buchholz takes the mound, something that he would surely do as the team’s third starter in the postseason.
“Right now, he’s clicking on all cylinders. As a pitcher, if you can go out there and do that, you’re going to be successful,” said Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon after Buchholz allowed one run on five hits in seven innings, getting a no-decision in Boston’s 3-1 win. “He’s taken a load on his shoulders and said, ‘I want to be the guy ‘ I want to be the guy in this rotation.’ You’ve got to love that about him. You have to love the way he’s gone about his business.”
The last two postseasons, Buchholz has been somewhat deflated while watching from home. In 2007, the Sox shut him down due to shoulder fatigue. In 2008, he had been banished to the minors and Arizona Fall League, and wasn’t a consideration for a postseason spot.
This year, the pitcher is now unbeaten in his last six starts, going 4-0 with a 3.00 ERA, and he has posted four straight quality starts. He is getting stronger as the drumbeat of October grows louder, and can now nearly taste the opportunity that awaits him should the Sox make the playoffs.
“That’s where every pitcher wants to be. Every team wants to be in October, playing, trying to get to the World Series and win a championship,” said Buchholz. “As of right now, I like (matching up against top starters). It’s a fun place to be out there whenever everything’s going good…You know who you’ve got and you know it’s going to be a well-pitched game on their side for sure. It makes you concentrate a little bit more maybe going out there and telling yourself, ‘OK – let’s make some pitches here because that guy flat out doesn’t give up many runs.
“It definitely worked in my favor today, not taking anything away from (Garza). He’s one of the best pitchers in the game.”
That Buchholz could position the Sox to take a late-inning victory against a hurler with such a pedigree — especially a noted Sox slayer like Garza, the winner in Game 7 of last year’s ALCS — is a testament to the growing notion that the Sox have increasing reason to feel bullish about the shape of their rotation.
“He’s worked a ton, and continues to get better. The stuff he has, if he continues to get better, it’s going to be very impressive,” said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “He’s been great for a while. Obviously, if he keeps it going, we’ve got a pretty good pitching staff.”
|09.13.09 at 11:29 am ET|
In the waning days of the season, the eyes of the American League are trained on events occurring in Boston and Arlington, Texas. The Red Sox and the Rangers are chasing the final playoff berth and coming into Sunday they are separated by three games for the Wild Card. This weekend events in the two cities have been oddly similar.
Both the Rangers and the Red Sox were rained out on Friday. Both of their Saturday games were delayed with additional deluges. This is nothing out of the ordinary in Boston. September rains are to be expected. But the dry state of Texas is not normally accustomed to such circumstances.
Unexpectedly, both cities face the same circumstances this weekend — three games in a matter of 24 hours between Saturday and Sunday. Like the Sox, the Rangers face a Sunday doubleheader (against the team hailing from the rain-soaked city of Seattle) and the events of the day will go a long way in determining who will be chasing rings when October baseball starts in earnest.
For the Sox’ part, they will be sending red-hot Clay Buchholz to the mound to face the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1. Buchholz has shaped into form recently. He has won his last four starts and has looked impressive in the process. During the streak his strikeout to walk ratio to is 3-to-1 (his season ration is 1.63 K/BB) and he has held opponents down with a .203 opponents batting average and a .252 opponents’ on-base percentage. Buchholz has been able to spot his fastball and throw his devastating change up for strikes to freeze hitters. Add that to his plus curveball and a it looks like the young right-hander has found his recipe for success.
On the opposite end from Buchholz is Rays right-hander Matt Garza. Garza has gone 7-9 in 2009 with a 3.85 ERA. Like a couple other Rays pitchers this season (notably Game 2 starter James Shields) Garza has seen poor run support in his starts, as the Rays average 4.05 runs per game with a total of 13 starts of three runs or less.
Garza has faced the Red Sox five times this season and is 2-0 with three no-decisions and a 2.55 ERA in 35.1 innings. The Rays are 4-1 against Boston this season in games Garza has started. The last victory came on September 2nd when Garza went 6.2 innings while giving up 4 runs on 6 hits with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts. Jacoby Ellsbury will try to get Garza into trouble on the base paths and has had success against the pitcher in the past, as he has posted a .375 on-base percentage in 32 career plate appearances against the righty.
Buchholz versus Rays
Carl Crawford (10 career plate appearances) .222 average/ .300 on-base percentage/ .333, walk, 2 strikeouts
Evan Longoria (9) .250/ .333/ .500, walk, 4 strikeouts
Gregg Zaun (9) .222/ .222/ .444, 2 strikeouts
Jason Bartlett (8) .286/ .375/ .286, walk, strikeout
Gabe Gross (7) .000/ .000/ .000, strikeout
Akinori Iwamura (7) .286/ .286/ .714, home run, 2 strikeouts
B.J. Upton (5) .500/ .600/ .750, walk, strikeout
Pat Burrell (3) .000/ .333/ .000, walk
Dioner Navarro (3) .333/ .333/ .333, 2 strikeouts
Ben Zobrist (3) .333/ .333/ .333
Shawn Riggans (2) .000/ .000/ .000
Garza versus Red Sox
Jacoby Ellsbury (32 career plate appearances) .310 average/ .375 on-base percentage/ .310 slugging, 2 walks, hit-by-pitch, 4 strikeouts
Dustin Pedroia (31) .167/ .194/ .300, home run, hit-by-pitch, 2 strikeouts
David Ortiz (26) .095/ .269/ .381, 2 home runs, 5 walks, 9 strikeouts
Kevin Youkilis (25) .300/ .440/ .600, home run, 4 walks, hit-by-pitch, 3 strikeouts
J.D. Drew (22) .158/ .227/ .368, home run, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts
Mike Lowell (20) .150/ .150/ .300, home run, 3 strikeouts
Victor Martinez (19) .250/ .316/ .313, walk, hit-by-pitch, strikeout
Jason Varitek (17) .133/ .235/ .200, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts
Jason Bay (12) .250/ .250/ .667, 5 strikeouts
Joey Gathright (12) .091/ .091/ .091, 3 strikeouts
Nick Green (6) .400/ .500/ .900, hit-by-pitch
Jed Lowrie (6) .000/ .000/ .000, 2 strikeouts
Brian Anderson (5) .400/ .400/ .800, 3 strikeouts
Alex Gonzalez (5) .250/ .200/ .500
Casey Kotchman (3) .500/ .667/ .500, walk
Josh Reddick (3) .000/ .000/ .000, 3 strikeouts
George Kottaras (2) .000/ .000/ .000, 2 strikeouts
|09.12.09 at 7:52 pm ET|
It’s been a rough 30 days for Josh Beckett. A string of subpar outings during the month of August, followed by a slight return to form without run support, has left Beckett winless since August 12. Tonight, Beckett will attempt to get back on track against the Tampa Bay Rays‘¦ if it stops raining long enough to get a game in.
While Beckett has had some success against the Rays in the past, in four starts this season he is 1-1 with an ERA of 5.70 and 32:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. At least he hasn’t given up as many long balls against the Rays as other teams. It remains to be seen if the likes of Victor Martinez can maintain a hot bat and give Beckett some type of cushion.
Wade Davis is an unknown. Making his second major league start, and first road start, Davis has a distinct advantage going into tonight’s game. With no prior experience in the batter’s box against the pitcher, Sox hitters may struggle as they get their first look. The importance of mid-game batting adjustments for the Sox is significant.
In his first start, Davis struck out nine and gave up three hits and one run to the Detroit Tigers in seven innings of work. With a lot of hype surrounding him, the Rays are hoping Davis and his 1.29 ERA can help close the 9.5 game lead in the Wild Card race.
RAYS VS. JOSH BECKETT
Pat Burrell (52 career plate appearances against Beckett): .213 average/.288 OBP/.277 slugging, 1 homer, 13 strikeouts
Akinori Iwamura (36): .313/.389/.496, 1 homer, 9 strikeouts
Carl Crawford (35): .333/.343/.485, 1 homer, 9 strikeouts
Jason Bartlett (29): .296/.310/.370, 0 homers, 6 strikeouts
Dioner Navarro (26): .120/.154/.120, 0 homers, 7 strikeouts
Evan Longoria (24): .261/.292/.478. 1 homer, 5 strikeouts
B.J. Upton (21): .300/.300/.450, 0 homers, 7 strikeouts
Gabe Gross (20): .059/.200/.235, 1 homer, 6 strikeouts
Gregg Zaun (18): .222/.222/.389, 0 homers, 4 strikeouts
Willy Aybar (6): .667/.667/1.167, 0 homers, 0 strikeouts
Ben Zobrist (6): .000/.167/.000, 0 homers, 2 strikeouts
Fernando Perez (3): .000/.000/.000, 0 homers, 2 strikeouts
Shawn Riggans (3): .000/.000/.000, 0 homers, 0 strikeouts
Lance Cormier (1): .000/.000/.000, 0 homers, 1 strikeout
|09.11.09 at 11:02 pm ET|
The Red Sox offered the following press release about the postponement of Friday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, which will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader on Sunday:
The Red Sox tonight announced that the postponement of this evening’s game with the Tampa Bay Rays will be made up as the opener of a day-night doubleheader, Sunday, September 13 at 12 noon.
Fans holding tickets to the regularly scheduled night game for TONIGHT, Friday, September 11, may use those tickets for the 12 noon game on Sunday. The gates at Fenway Park will open at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday. The decision to move tonight’s game to Sunday, September 13, was made due to the current forecast for Saturday, September 12, that calls for rain during the daytime hours. At this time, the 7:10 p.m. game tomorrow will be played as scheduled.
The start of the regularly scheduled game between the Red Sox and Rays on Sunday, September 13 has been moved from 1:35 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The gates at Fenway Park are expected to open 45 minutes after the conclusion of the first game for that contest.
Both Sunday games will be broadcast on NESN and WEEI.
Tonight’s Red Sox game versus the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park was postponed due to rain and the forecast for continued steady rain, heavy at times, throughout the evening. The game was officially called after one-third inning of play.
Based on the forecast information that was available at the time from the Red Sox private weather service, Meteorlogix, the gates were opened and the game started as scheduled. The forecast indicated that play was possible and every effort was made to get the game in.
The decision to postpone tonight’s game came at the direction of the umpires, in consultation with Major League Baseball and the Boston Red Sox, after reviewing the revised long-range forecast. As this is the Rays’ final trip to Fenway Park this season, every effort is being made to complete a full series of games this weekend.
This is the second postponement for the Red Sox this season, both at Fenway Park.
|09.11.09 at 5:34 pm ET|
On the day Michael Jordan is being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, someone else was recalling just how great he was away from the court.
But what Francona recalled some 100 miles east of Springfield on Friday, just hours before Jordan’s induction speech, was not his play with the Birmingham Barons on the diamond but rather how he handled himself off it.
“That was the best experience I could have ever had,” Francona said. “I couldn’t believe how he handled things. He was put in some horrendous situations, unfair situations and he always handled it with grace. It amazed me how he did that.”
If you think Francona just picked up the phone on Friday and gave Jordan a call, think again.
“I left him a message the other day through friend,” Francona said. “I got to see, first-hand, how his life is. I wouldn’t do that to him. I couldn’t believe how many people wanted a part of him. We have stayed in touch from time to time but it’s just too crazy.” Read the rest of this entry »
|09.11.09 at 9:50 am ET|
Two starts ago, Jon Lester (12-7, 3.44) carved his name into the record books when he passed Bruce Hurst’s 190 strikeouts for most by a Boston Red Sox (81-58) lefty pitcher in a single-season. Last Sunday, Lester reached another milestone when he became only the 10th Sox pitcher to fan 200 or more batters in a year.
Now, Lester looks to hammer the final nail in the Tampa Bay Rays‘ (72-68) coffin tonight when the Rays travel to Fenway to open up a three-game in the series finale between the two AL East rivals.
After losing eight straight, including a four-game sweep against the New York Yankees in the Bronx, the Rays have seen their playoff hopes diminish dropping a season-high 9.5 games out of the wild-card chase and 18.5 out of first.
With slugger Carlos Pena undergoing season-ending surgery this past week and former lefty ace Scott Kazmir now donning a Los Angeles Angels‘ uniform on the west coast, the Rays hand the ball over to righty James Shields (9-10, 4.02) as they aim to not only end the losing skid, but also act as spoilers to the Red Sox wild-card quest.
Even though the Rays attempt to give Texas a friendly nudge to aid them in securing a playoff berth, they do so with the arm of Shields, who has struggled heavily against the Sox in his major league career. In 11 total starts, Shields has gone 3-6 with a less-than mediocre 5.40 ERA including a 1-2 record and a 5.79 ERA in 3 starts this season.
Boston’s bats have fared extremely well against the California native. Wednesday night’s hero Victor Martinez, who hit the go-ahead 3-run double in the 7-5 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, has gone 3-for-9 against Shields. Designated hitter David Ortiz an second baseman Dustin Pedroia have also compiled successful numbers off the 27-year old with Ortiz batting .381 with two home runs and Pedroia hitting .474 with one home run.
On the flip side, Lester has not lost a decision since July 19th to the Toronto Blue Jays where he surrendered 3 runs in 7 innings in a 3-1 defeat. Against the Rays, however, Lester owns a career 5-2 record and a 4.50 ERA earning 65 strikeouts in 64.0 IP.
At home this year, Lester has pitched particular effective collecting 5 wins and only 3 losses in 12 starts with a 3.39 ERA. Though Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett and outfielder Carl Crawford have matched up well against Lester in the past batting .474 in 20 plate appeareances and .320 in 27 plate appearances, respectively, the lefty quieted the Rays potent offense in his record-setting start against them on Sept. 1, where he hurled 6 innings giving up only two runs and whiffing 9.
Here’s a look how both teams’ batters have hit against the younger hurlers in the past:
Jon Lester versus Rays batters
Akinori Iwamura- (30 career plate appearances, .333 AVG/.467 OBP/ .546 SLG, 1 home run, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts)
B.J. Upton- (28) .192/.250/.304, 1 home run, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts
Carl Crawford- (27) .320/.370/.360, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts
Jason Bartlett- (20) .474/.500/.474, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts
Dioner Navarro- (19) .267/.421/.267, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts
Evan Longoria- (18) .333/.333/.611, 1 home run, 6 strikeouts
Pat Burrell- (12) .182/.250/.182, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts
Ben Zobrist- (10) .286/.500/.286, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts
Willy Aybar- (9) .222/.222/.444, 4 strikeouts
Gregg Zaun- (9) .143/.333/.143, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts
Gabe Kapler- 1-for-6, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts
Gabe Gross- 0-for-3, 1 strikeout
Fernando Perez- 0-for-3
Shawn Riggans (3) 1-for-2, 1 walk
James Shields versus Red Sox batters
Kevin Youkilis- (26 career plate appearances, .130 AVG/.231 OBP/.174 SLG, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts)
J.D. Drew- (24) .391/.417/.826, 2 home runs, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts
David Ortiz- (24) .381/.458/.857, 2 home runs, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts
Jacoby Ellsbury- (22) .190/.227/.190, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts
Mike Lowell- (22) .364/.364/.455, 2 strikeouts
Dustin Pedroia- (21) .474/.524/.684, 1 home run, 1 walk, 1 strikeout
Jason Varitek- (19) .167/.211/.333, 1 home run, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts
Casey Kotchman- (10) .222/.300/.222, 1 walk, 1 strikeout
Jason Bay- (9) .375/.444/.750, 1 home run, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts
Victor Martinez- (9) .333/.333/.444, 2 strikeouts
Joey Gathright- 1-for6, 1 strikeout
Jed Lowrie- 1-for-6, 2 strikeouts
Alex Gonzalez- 0-for-4
Brian Anderson- (3) 1-for-2, 1 walk
Nick Green 0-3, 1 strikeout
|09.11.09 at 1:38 am ET|
As noted by the Boston Herald, Red Sox reliever Takashi Saito — who has pitched in 49 games this year — will trigger a $500,000 bonus when he makes his next appearance of the season. The right-hander has pitched in 49 contests this year. His contract calls for bonuses of $500,000 when he reaches 50, 55, 60, 65 and 70 appearances. Saito has already secured $5 million this season between his base contract and active roster bonuses.
Saito has seemed to grow stronger as the season has progressed. A year ago at this time, Saito was trying to return to the majors to see if he could avoid Tommy John surgery and continue to pitch. After two months on the sidelines last summer, Saito returned to Los Angeles and forged a 4.76 ERA in six appearances.
This year, nearly one year out from his Sept. 15 return to the majors, the Red Sox are benefiting from his best stretch of 2009. Saito is on a run of 11 straight scoreless appearances (spanning 10.2 innings), and has struck out 13 while allowing eight hits and three walks in that time. Opponents have a .545 OPS during the run, which dates to Aug. 6.
The Red Sox hold an option on Saito for the 2010 season that will be based on his earnings this year. The reliever told the Herald that he hopes to return to Boston next year.
“I’m really happy being in a Red Sox uniform. Not every team in baseball can be in our competitive situation,’ Saito told the paper. ‘So I’m really happy about it and proud of being here. I believe the best thing is to return to the team next year but that’s not something I can control.”
|09.10.09 at 4:18 pm ET|
The Red Sox wanted to stretch out Daisuke Matsuzaka, and to give the right-hander a minor-league rehab outing in which he had the opportunity to build both his pitch count and his innings load. Mission accomplished.
On Wednesday, Matsuzaka delivered an impressive outing for Single-A Salem in the opener of its Carolina League playoff series against the Winston-Salem Dash. The pitcher threw 89 pitches in logging 6.2 innings, allowing one run on three hits and striking out seven while walking one. According to Salem Red Sox manager Chad Epperson, the pitcher showed a fastball that sat at 91-92 mph and topped out at 93, which he mixed adeptly with a cutter, slider and changeup.
“He was impressive. Overall, it was a solid outing,” Epperson said by phone. “He got out there in the first two innings and was trying to get the mix of his pitches and get a feel for them. And then in the third inning, he found the feel for his cutter and fastball and it was fun to watch. It was like, ‘Wow.’
“His two-seamer, on righties, kind of beat them to the spot, allowing for some weak contact and tardy swings. I thought he threw the cutter very well in to lefties. His secondary stuff was good. He threw some good sliders, some good changeups. I think (all his pitches) came into play in his strikeouts. His stuff moves so much. I do know his cutter was an effective pitch and his fastball, he got some tardy swings.”
Matsuzaka, who turns 29 on Sunday, was making his fourth and final rehab outing. He has been out since mid-June while building shoulder strength and working on his overall conditioning in what amounted to a second spring training. Now, after his most recent outing, it sounds like he is ready to return to the majors in hopes of contributing to the rotation down the stretch and perhaps into the postseason.
Whether he will actually be able to do so, and salvage a season in which he is 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA, remains to be seen. Though expectations should be measured for a pitcher who last performed in the majors three months ago, Matsuzaka has now positioned himself to the point where he has an opportunity to help at the major-league level.
“Overall, it was just like the organization wanted to draw it up,” Epperson said. “Get the pitch count up there, (build) his innings, and they have a decision to make.”
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