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Red Sox vs. Rangers, 6/6

06.06.09 at 3:08 pm ET
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Back in the day, Jon Lester nearly became a member of the Rangers.

The left-hander was a spare part that the Sox included, along with Manny Ramirez, when agreeing to a deal that would have brought Alex Rodriguez to Boston for the 2004 season. The Players’€™ Association ultimately vetoed the deal, Lester stayed in Boston, and now he is doing things that no other southpaw has accomplished in at least two decades.

Lester actually made his major-league debut against the Rangers in 2006, demonstrating largely the same repertoire that he now possess: a popping fastball (then in the low-90s, now in the mid-90s), a paralyzing curve and a sick cutter. He waited througha roughly five-hour rain delay for the start of that game before allowing three runs in 4.1 innings.

Lester will try to carry the momentum of his last start ‘€“ when he compiled a career-high 12 strikeouts ‘€“ into Saturday. He will oppose rookie Derek Holland, who is making his first career start against the Sox.

RANGERS VS. JON LESTER

Michael Young (11 career plate appearances): 5-for-10, walk
Ian Kinsler (10): 1-for-8, homer, 2 walks
Hank Blalock (7): 3-for-6, walk
Brandon Boggs (3): 1-for-3
Marlon Byrd (3): 0-for-3
Chris Davis (3): 0-for-3
Andruw Jones (3): 0-for-2, walk
David Murphy (3): 1-for-3
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (3): 0-for-3

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Red Sox Fall to Rangers, 5-1

06.05.09 at 10:11 pm ET
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The Red Sox offense proved unable to master either Rangers starter Kevin Millwood or the Texas bullpen, leading to Boston’s 5-1 loss in the first game of a six-game homestand. Millwood limited the Sox to an unearned run in seven innings, and Eddie Guardado and Darren O’Day followed with a scoreless inning each to snap Boston’s four-game winning streak. The loss dropped the Sox a half-game behind the Yankees (whose game against the Rays was postponed due to rain) in the American League East.

David Ortiz puts the Sox on the board

06.05.09 at 9:57 pm ET
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Rangers starter Kevin Millwood felt comfortable pounding David Ortiz with fastballs all night. But in the eighth inning, with a pair of runners on base, Ortiz caught up to a 91 mph offering, putting bat on ball and muscling a pitch into right-field for a run-scoring single. And so, for the second straight game (after sitting out on Thursday), Ortiz had delivered an RBI knock in the eighth inning or later, something that he had done just twice all year before Wednesday.

The Sox proved unable to sustain the rally, and so the Sox will bat in the bottom of the ninth trailing, 5-1.

Brad Penny crosses Julio Lugo off Christmas card list

06.05.09 at 9:10 pm ET
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Brad Penny just left a game that quickly unraveled. Through the first two outs of the fifth inning, he was shutting out the Rangers and pitching as well as he had at any point this year. Then, Julio Lugo undermined his cause, and Penny’s outing went from commanding to retreating in the span of three outs.

Lugo’s inability to field a grounder in the fifth allowed the first Rangers run to score, then sustained the inning to allow a three-run homer by Ian Kinsler. Then, with two outs and a runner on first in the sixth, Lugo failed to come up with a grounder up the middle and to his left, his dive ultimately proving inadequate. Again, this was a ball that a shortstop with average range would have turned into an out; Lugo did not, and the ball dribbled into center for a single.

And so, instead of another concluded inning, Penny had a two-out situation with runners on first and second. That turned into another run when Chris Davis jumped on a fastball and slammed it to deep right field, where it bounced into the stands for a run-scoring, ground-rule double. That signaled the end of Penny’s night. The right-hander was yanked trailing 5-0.

Penny’s line will suggest that he logged 5.2 innings giving up five runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out five. But that yield could have been far less, perhaps as little as one run. And so Brad Penny — a free agent at the end of the year, for whom every earned run will likely cost him money — had his ERA go up from 5.63 to 5.85, on a night when that mark could have easily drifted downward.

Rangers starter Kevin Millwood has endured no such betrayals. He has contained the Sox through six innings, scattering five hits, and he leads, 5-0.

Worth noting: many are crediting the emergence of the Rangers as a first-place team in the A.L. West with significant defensive improvement, brought in part by putting Elvis Andrus at shortstop and moving Michael Young to third. The Rangers currently rank sixth in the majors with a 70.5 percent defensive efficiency. The Sox, as mentioned earlier, have a 67.3 percent mark that is 27th in the majors, and tonight, the difference in the game has been defined by that gap.

Read More: Brad Penny, Julio Lugo,

Julio Lugo’s range (or lack thereof)

06.05.09 at 8:43 pm ET
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This is why errors have become almost useless in measuring defense.

Brad Penny was on the cusp of working his way out of a first-and-second, one-out jam. Penny got a pop-out from Jarrod Saltalamacchia, then induced what could have been an inning-ending grounder from Elvis Andrus. Off the bat, the ball seemed playable — no more than a couple steps to the right of shortstop Julio Lugo. But Lugo’s steps towards the ball were short and hesitant, and his attempt to spear the ball with a dive proved inadequate. It wasn’t an easy play, but a good read of the ball off the bat likely would have resulted in the third out of the inning. Instead, the ball bounded through to left field, scoring the first run of the game, and prolonging the inning. Ian Kinsler followed by blasting a three-run homer into left field, and Penny and the Red Sox suddenly found themselves in a 4-0 hole.

Lugo was not charged with an error. All of the runs were charged to Penny as earned. Nonetheless, a play that a good defensive shortstop would have turned into an out instead resulted in four runs for which the pitcher was only partially culpable.

And that, in short, is why it is more useful to examine defensive efficiency (the percentage of balls in play turned into outs by a team) than it is to consider errors and unearned runs. By that measure, the Sox have been abysmal this year. They have turned balls in play into outs just 67.3 percent of the time, a mark that ranks 27th among the 30 major-league teams. The limited range of Nick Green (a natural shortstop) and even more limited range of Julio Lugo are significant contributors to that poor mark, and part of the reason why the Sox find themselves entering the sixth inning trailing the Rangers, 4-0, rather than in a scoreless tie.

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Smoltz outing postponed

06.05.09 at 8:05 pm ET
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John Smoltz, who was scheduled to pitch tonight for Triple-A Pawtucket, had his outing postponed by rain. The 42-year-old will make his fourth rehab start — and first with the PawSox — on Saturday at 6:05pm at McCoy Stadium.

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Brad Penny and the magical downhill plane

06.05.09 at 8:04 pm ET
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Before tonight’s game between the Red Sox and Rangers, Boston manager Terry Francona talked about the evident progress of Brad Penny. The pitcher’s breaking ball has been getting sharper, and his split-finger fastball has gained some bite as the season has progressed. But it is Penny’s fastball that has always been his hallmark, a pitch delivered with a Monica Seles-like grunt that comes out of his hand at 95 mph that has always been the key to the pitcher’s success.

Francona remarked that Penny is increasingly generating a downhill plane on his fastball, a development that should result in fewer fly balls and hits and more grounders and perhaps even swings and misses. Such outcomes would be at odds with what Penny has produced thus far this year: Penny entered tonight having allowed three fly balls for every two grounders (the most air-oriented rate of his career), while striking out a relatively modest 5.6 batters per nine innings.

Through the first three innings of tonight’s game against the Rangers, however, Penny has been using a nasty curve and the aforementioned downward plane on his fastball to generate a diet of grounders and strikeouts. Through three shutout frames, he has recorded three outs by punchout, five by grounout and just one by virtue of a pop-up. He has allowed just one hit (an infield smash that took a wicked hop at Kevin Youkilis‘ face) in one of his most impressive stretches of the season.

Through three innings, Rangers starter Kevin Millwood has matched Penny’s zeroes. Though the Sox have had at least one runner in scoring position in each of the first three innings, Millwood has avoided harm, and so the game is scoreless entering the fourth.

Ortiz to get checked out Monday

06.05.09 at 6:11 pm ET
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David Ortiz has scheduled an eye exam for Monday to look into a problem he said he has had for “a few weeks now”. Ortiz said prior to Friday night’s game that his eyes have felt dried out on occasional at-bats which require him to focus on the pitcher for an extended period of time, forcing him to lose focus.

Ortiz said that he does not wear contact lenses and that the glasses he sometimes wears do not have a prescription.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said that Ortiz tested well when the team conducted eye tests in Februrary.

The team has contracted Dr. David Kirschen and Dr. Daniel Laby to conduct extensive tests on the players’ vision in spring training ever since 2004. Included in the exam hand-eye coordination and depth-perception anlysis.

There is a precedent in regards to the doctors helping a player in mid-season. In ’04 Manny Ramirez came to Kirschen and Laby complaining that he was having a difficult time focusing on the baseball. After additional tests, the duo came up with an exercise Ramirez still uses in which he catches a hoop with balls attached, thrown at him from a close distance.

“It wasn’t as though his vision was bad, he was seeing the pitches like he always was,” explained Laby in an interview Friday afternoon. “But come June of ’04 he was not feeling like he was seeing and approaching the ball as well as he had been. That’s when we came up with the rings, and that worked for him.”

Read More: David Ortiz, eyes,

Red Sox vs. Rangers match-ups, 6/5

06.05.09 at 2:39 pm ET
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The Red Sox, who completed a 10-game road-trip on Thursday, finally get to feast on home cooking in the literal (houses, kitchens, etc.) and metaphorical (Fenway Park, friendly and inviting left-field wall) senses starting on Friday night. The Rangers will commence a six-game home-stand that begins a stretch of nine consecutive games against teams currently in first in their divisions (Rangers, Yankees (tied for first with the Sox) and Phillies).

Brad Penny kickstarts the Fenway festivities, though questions about his individual outings have become almost secondary to what will happen to him once John Smoltz is activated from the disabled list later this month. Against that backdrop, here are the matchups for tonight’s contest:

RANGERS VS. BRAD PENNY

Though the Rangers acquired Andruw Jones with the idea that he would handle left-handed pitchers, it seems a near certainty that he will be in the lineup tonight against right-hander Brad Penny. Jones has gone deep against Penny six times, more than any other player. (No one else has hit more than four homers off Penny.)

Andruw Jones (50 career plate appearances): .333 average / .380 OBP / .800 slugging, 6 homers
Omar Vizquel (35): .303 / .324 / .455, homer
Michael Young (8): 5-for-7, walk
Hank Blalock (7): 3-for-7
Marlon Byrd (7): 1-for-7
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2): 1-for-2

RED SOX VS. KEVIN MILLWOOD

It’€™s hard to imagine that many Red Sox will ask for the night off against Kevin Millwood, a pitcher whom the club has typically hit hard in recent years. Since he came to the American League in the 2005 season, Millwood has gone 2-3 with a 5.04 ERA in seven starts against the Sox. That said, he is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in three starts at Fenway during that time.

If Kevin Youkilis is out due to the calf stiffness that forced him from Thursday’€™s game, it will be of consequence to the Sox, as Youkilis is hitting .667 with a .727 career OBP against Millwood:

Mike Lowell (62): .315 / .403 / .537, 2 homers
Mark Kotsay (56): .269 / .321 / .423, 2 homers
J.D. Drew (28): .292 / .393 / .458, homer
Jason Varitek (26): .417 / .462 / .542
David Ortiz (22): .389 / .455 / .889, 3 homers
Julio Lugo (21): .278 / .381 / .278
Kevin Youkilis (11): 6-for-9, 2 walks
Jacoby Ellsbury (8): 2-for-7, walk
Dustin Pedroia (7): 1-for-6, walk
Jason Bay (6): 2-for-6
Nick Green (5): 1-for-4, sacrifice
Rocco Baldelli (4): 3-for-4

Read More: Brad Penny, kevin millwood,

Red Sox-Tigers Live Blog

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.

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