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Closing Time: Phillies 5, Red Sox 1

05.21.10 at 10:01 pm ET
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The Red Sox had enjoyed tremendous success against left-handed starters for much of this season. In 15 combined starts entering Friday, southpaws had a 2-5 record and 6.63 ERA while averaging barely five innings per outing. The Sox had won 10 of those 15 games.

But the Sox could not sustain that effectiveness against Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels. The 2008 World Series MVP was touched for a solo homer by Victor Martinez in the first inning, but otherwise the Sox could do nothing with him in Philadelphia’s 5-1 victory.

Hamels lasted seven innings, allowing just the one run on three hits while striking out nine and throwing 116 pitches. The Phillies lineup gave him all the offensive support he would need when they plated a pair of runs in a grinding, 32-pitch fourth inning.

The Sox rallied against the Phillies bullpen in the ninth, loading the bases with two outs. But pinch-hitter David Ortiz, who represented the tying run, saw his long fly ball to center field die on the warning track to end the game.

With the loss, the Sox saw their three-game winning streak snapped. The team is now 22-21.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

John Lackey could not sustain the momentum of the excellent starts by teammates Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester. Lackey went just five innings, allowing four runs on six hits. He allowed season highs in homers (2) and, perhaps even more disconcertingly, walks (5). Lackey’s walks totals, in fact, have gone up in every start this month. In his last three starts, Lackey has allowed 15 runs in 18 innings (7.50 ERA) while walking 12. After nine starts, the Red Sox have a 4-5 record in games started by the prized offseason acquisition.

Dustin Pedroia continued his recent rough spell. He struck out swinging in each of his first two at-bats, marking the third game this year in which he’s had multiple strikeouts and the second in which he’s gone down swinging twice. He is now 4-for-30 (.133) with seven strikeouts in his last eight games.

–Though Kevin Youkilis drew a ninth-inning walk, he was hitless in his other three plate appearances. Thus ended his streak of 14 straight games having reached base at least twice. It was tied for the fifth longest streak by a Sox hitter since 1954 (complete list).

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Victor Martinez added to his recent power surge. The switch-hitter fought off a couple of 2-2 pitches and then jumped on a 91 mph fastball, pounding it into the left-field seats. Martinez now has six extra-base hits (three homers, three doubles) in his last five games. While his overall offensive numbers this year have been somewhat disappointing, Martinez has been outstanding against left-handed pitchers, hitting .391 with a .429 OBP, .783 slugging mark and 1.212 OPS.

Martinez went 2-for-4 overall, his fourth multi-hit game in his last five contests. His OPS is now .736, his highest mark since April 11.

–Reliever Joe Nelson logged a pair of innings in his Red Sox debut. While command is typically his biggest concern, he proved relatively efficient while allowing three hits and a run, throwing 27 pitches (18 strikes) and walking none. In so doing, he ensured that the Sox bullpen would remain well rested heading into Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s start on Saturday.

–Outfielder Mike Cameron hit a homer in his rehab game for Double-A Portland.

Gammons on The Big Show: ‘I can’t figure out Daisuke’

05.21.10 at 7:20 pm ET
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National Baseball Hall of Fame writer and current NESN analyst Peter Gammons appeared on The Big Show Friday afternoon to discuss the future of the Red Sox, David Ortiz, and the mini-drama that is Daisuke Matsuzaka. “I can’t figure out Daisuke,” Gammons said. “His stuff is so much better than it was, he gets swings and misses, but it really bothered me when all of a sudden it started up about, “Oh, it’s the catcher.” When the previous two years it was, “I had trouble with [Jason] Varitek.” A couple of players said to me, “It’s always going to be somebody else’s fault.”

Gammons went on to praise Varitek and the selfless work he has done this year as a part-time player.

Below is a transcript. To listen to the interview, visit The Big Show audio on demand page.

Things have looked good for the Red Sox recently, especially the pitching staff.

It is. I mean the statistic that defines the American League East race is that, beyond the quality starts, and the starters’ ERA, and the number of times your starters have got to the eighth inning, is the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox starters each have allowed five earned runs or more 16 times. Tampa Bay has allowed five earned runs or more for their starters once. That’s the race in a nutshell.

I thought there were two things that were encouraging this week, and believe me I don’t have a good feeling about going into Philadelphia and Tampa Bay and having Matsuzaka and Wakefield pitch on the weekend against the best team in the National League, but, with that said, I thought that the way they came back two nights in a row against the Yankees says something. Yes, I mean, they blew the game on Monday night, but as I have been saying all week, never again in my life will I see three consecutive games in which Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera blew games and lost.

I mean, those things happen. But they did battle back, and then, Rob [Bradford] didn’t you say it during the winter, I have long believed in the end their two best pitchers will be [Jon] Lester and [Clay] Buchholz. And for them to just dominate the Twins, and keep the bullpen, except for one inning of Daniel Bard, keep the bullpen seated going into Philadelphia and Tampa was really important. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ortiz told Hanley ‘do the right thing’

05.21.10 at 12:21 pm ET
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Speaking prior to the Red Sox‘ 6-2 win over Minnesota Thursday, David Ortiz confirmed that he had texted Hanley Ramirez, encouraging the Marlins’ shortstop to apologize to his manager and teammates.

“I told him to talk to his manager and do the right thing. I don’t know if what he did was because of what I said, but I always try and tell him the right thing to do,” Ortiz said. “I think he did what he was supposed to, go down to apologize to his teammates and his managers. Move on. It’s not a big deal. Things happen.”

Ortiz referenced his own mentors when he was a young player with the Twins, and the guidance they delivered which was similar to the kind he offered Ramirez.

“Eddie Guardardo used to tell me how to do things when I was with Minnesota,” Ortiz said. “But on the other hand, I was well educated for me to snap or doing something crazy that is when you push me all the way to the end where I can’t do anything else. I’m not saying what my boy did was that crazy or stupid.”

Earlier in the week Ortiz did tell WEEI.com that the whole situation — with Ramirez loafing after a ball Monday and subsequently getting benched by Marlins’ manager Fredi Gonzalez — could have been handled differently.

‘€œThis is not about embarrassing the player that he is,’€ said Ortiz, who befriended Ramirez ‘€” a fellow native of the Dominican Republic ‘€” prior to the Red Sox trading the shortstop following the 2005 season. ‘€œSometimes we might need to be reminded about things we do that we think is the right thing but it’€™s not. There are more eyes watching. But embarrassing you, or your embarrassing your manager or your teammates is not the right way to go.

‘€œYou say, ‘€˜Son, let’€™s talk. What happened?’€™ That’€™s all it is. You’€™ve got people watching you. It’€™s not the right thing to do. Don’€™t do it. Slap on the hand.’€

Lucchino on D&C: Ortiz has right to question media

05.21.10 at 11:24 am ET
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Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino joined the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning, and much of the interview was spent discussing David Ortiz.

Asked if the media has been unfair to Ortiz this season, Lucchino said: “He may feel that way, but I think that’s human nature. He recognizes that he got off to a bad start. But I do think he feels — he said so, he said as much — that there was greater emphasis on his lack of productivity and not sufficient emphasis on other players perhaps, or the team’s success. … I think that there is a question of balance, a question of emphasis, that David had a right to raise being human like the rest of us. I’m so glad that’s in our rear-view mirror now.”

Lucchino also defended ownership’s support of the slugger during last year’s steroid controversy.

Following is a transcript. To listen to the interview, click on the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Are you worried about the sellout streak? Is it in jeopardy?

I don’t think so. There certainly are some times — we’re working harder than ever to sell the tickets. …

One of the biggest misconceptions is that the tickets are sold out before the the season. That’s just not so. We have a couple of hundred thousand tickets we still want to sell. So, we could have a bad streak or some bad weather, and that could jeopardize the sellout streak, sure. But we don’t really sell out games until the day of the game. There are a lot of tickets that get turned back in a few days before the game from Major League Baseball or the umpires or players or the house seats or whatever. You can get some very good seats on the day of game, at Gate E. There’s this misconception that there are no tickets to be purchased. That is wrong. There are plenty of tickets to be purchased. If you’re particularly flexible about the date and the game, our folks can help you. So, call 877-REDSOX-9.

If Larry Lucchino were commissioner for a day, what would be the one or two things you’d like to fix?

One of them would certainly be an easy one for me and that’s realignment and the schedule. The structure of the league — 16 [National League teams] and 14 [American League teams], some divisions with four, some divisions with five, some divisions with six. The length of the season, the grind of the season is enhanced because of the structural irregularities. The travel schedule is awful. Read the rest of this entry »

Red Sox vs. Phillies matchups, 5/21

05.21.10 at 11:08 am ET
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The Red Sox begin interleague play Friday on a strong note, riding a three-game winning streak that includes a sweep of the two-game series against the AL Central’€™s top team, the Twins. On Thursday, Jon Lester spun a masterful performance, striking out nine, walking none and allowing six hits in his first complete game of the year. Meanwhile, Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Beltre led the offense by going a combined 7-for-11.

Boston is going to need this kind of production over the next six weeks as it plays four of the six division leaders: two series vs. the defending NL champion Phillies, road and home series against the AL’€™s best team, the Rays, a home series against the Dodgers, and, wrapping up interleague play, a western swing that will take them to Colorado and San Francisco.

On Friday, the Red Sox will face Philadelphia’€™s young star, Cole Hamels. The San Diego native has had a very consistent 2010 season. He won his first two decisions, lost the next two, posted two no-decisions, and now is on a two-game winning streak to put him at 4-2. His ERA had inflated to 5.28 on April 28 but has since sunk back down to a more manageable 4.29. That would have been the best average in the Phillies rotation, but it isn’€™t because of the presence of Roy Halladay. The former Blue Jay has been Philadelphia’s gem, going 6-2 with a 1.64 ERA. Because of Halladay, the 47-year-old Jamie Moyer, and the ever reliable Joe Blanton, Hamels has fallen from second to the No. 4 spot in the rotation.

Boston will throw its own new pitching addition, John Lackey, in Game 1. Meant as an acquisition to bolster an already strong rotation, Lackey has stayed in Boston’€™s 3 spot all season while getting a 4-2 record of his own. Lackey started off the season with a very impressive 1.42 ERA through his first two games, then got shellacked by Toronto in his third start, only lasting 3-1/3 innings while giving up eight runs. In his last game, the Texan gave up five runs over seven innings as the Sox lost in Detroit, 5-1, snapping his four-game unbeaten streak. Read the rest of this entry »

Phillies scouting report for May 21-23

05.21.10 at 10:25 am ET
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Interleague play kicks off in Major League Baseball this weekend with American League teams facing off with their geographic rivals in the National League, leading to matchups including Yankees-Mets, Cubs-White Sox, Angels-Dodgers and, for Boston fans, Red Sox-Phillies.

The Sox took two from the eventual NL champion Phillies in a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park last year and will hope to at least repeat that performance in Philly this season. This will be the first of two three-game series the clubs will play this season ‘€” the teams play again at Fenway from June 11-13. Because it’€™s been so long since Sox fans last saw the Fighting Phils, who currently lead the NL East with a 24-15 record, here’€™s a scouting report broken down by the team’€™s hitting, starting pitching and bullpen.

Hitting

Take one look at Philadelphia’s starting lineup, and three names should jump out at you immediately: first basemen Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Howard and Rollins both have the title of NL MVP on their resumes, and Utley has played at an All-Star level since entering the league in 2004 and was even picked by President George W. Bush as the player he’€™d most want if he started a team. For their part, all three have not disappointed in the early going. Howard, who signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension in April, is hitting .309 with seven home runs and 30 RBI while Utley is keeping pace with a line of .304/9/22. Rollins missed 29 games with a right calf strain but just returned to the starting lineup this week, a scary proposition for Sox hitters. He is batting .343 on the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kevin Youkilis’ best stretch ever?

05.21.10 at 4:31 am ET
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Quietly, Kevin Youkilis is enjoying one of the best stretches of his career.

The 31-year-old blasted a two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the third that landed behind the camera well in the center field bleachers, and later yanked an RBI double down the left field line. Yet on a night when he went 2-for-4 with four RBI, his on-base percentage for the month actually went down.

Such has been the zone in which the Red Sox cleanup hitter has been operating. Thus far in the month of May, he leads the majors in batting average (.411) and OBP (.585 — a mark that is 100 points better than any other player in the game), slugging (.786) and OPS (1.371). All four of those marks would represent the best one-month totals of his career if he can sustain them.

He is having a month with a Ted Williams-esque approach. He is refusing to expand the strike zone, taking his walks where appropriate (he has 22 in 18 May games), yet he remains ready to unload should a ball be delivered in his wheelhouse.

“Youk never gives an at bat away,” said manager Terry Francona. “He is a smart hitter, he works the count and all of a sudden he gets the first pitch he can handle and drives it. He is a very intelligent hitter.”

‘€œYou’€™ve got to go up there and have the mindset of attacking the ball and going up and trying to hit. You don’€™t go up there trying to walk. You’€™re going up there trying to hit,’€ said Youkilis. ‘€œI feel good. Just trying to get good pitches to hit. I was very fortunate today to get a good pitch to hit with runners in scoring position, and I capitalized on it.’€

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Ellsbury ready to get back into the mix

05.21.10 at 12:58 am ET
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Missing two-thirds of their starting outfield, the Sox are about ready to get a significant part of their team back on Saturday in Philadelphia. Jacoby Ellsbury, out since April 11 with broken ribs, is ready to pick back up where he left off.

Without Ellsbury or fellow outfielder Mike Cameron, the Red Sox are tied with Philadelphia for third in majors with 219 runs (six behind the Rays and 19 behind the Yankees). With Ellsbury they might be able to bridge that gap in the coming weeks as the swift left fielder brings a new dimension with him to the the Boston lineup.

“It gives us a different element, the kind of game-changing speed that teams have to be aware of … It is certainly a different look than when we don’t have him in here. Besides, I think the guys that have played have done a really good job,” manager Terry Francona said on Thursday.

Francona said that Ellsbury would travel with the team to Philadelphia and be good to go this weekend. The big worry for him has been to not just do baseball activities but also to move around in general. Broken ribs are the type of injury that put immobilizes anybody let alone a guy trying to turn on a Roy Halladay cutter. Ellsbury went 3 for 4 in his last rehab assignment on Thursday afternoon and got all the hurdles out of the way — stealing, diving back to the bag etc.

“Trying to catch every aspect as far as sliding back, stealing and I think I came through it really well,” Ellsbury said. “Diving back, that was kind of the last thing we wanted to do just for confidence sake and see how it held up and it did pretty good.”

Ellsbury was not particularly surprised that it took a solid month-and-a-half to come back considering that his ribs were broken. The initial surprise was that the bones were actually cracked. He said that after it happened he tried to play before the medical staff figured out the the bones were actually broken.

“If they would have told me it was broke right away, then yeah,” Ellsbury said when asked if he was surprised at the length of his disabled list stay. “But in the beginning we just thought it was just bruised ribs. Laid off for a few days, I was trying to play with it. But when we went to see what it was. Anybody who has broke one rib know how hard it is to move around let alone try to play pro baseball you know or any type of physical activity.”

Ellsbury said that his legs are still a little sore from his last rehab game and ultimately the decision to get back into the game lays with Francona and the medical staff. He has little doubt he can be a productive player once he does get back on the field because broken ribs are not the type of injury that lingers after the healing process is complete. At the same time, it might take the outfielder a couple of games to get back into the swing of things considering all the time off he has had since the beginning of the season.

“It was one of those injuries that once I feel good it is not going to linger. So, once I am back on the field I should be 100 percent,” Ellsbury said. “I have to talk the Tito and the training staff. I was scheduled to play a couple more games but depending on how I felt, I felt pretty good the first game in Pawtucket but still wanted to see me diving and do normal baseball activities that I would on the field and stuff. I think I can do everything I can in the games.”

Read More: Jacoby Ellsbury, Terry Francona,

Lester remains red hot

05.20.10 at 11:59 pm ET
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There are quality starts. Then there are exceptional starts.

Jon Lester was exceptional on Thursday.

Two years and a day from the anniversary of his no-hitter against the Royals on May 19, 2008, Lester was once again unstoppable for the Sox in the back end of May, taking care of the Twins with a complete game, nine-strikeout effort as the Sox romped 6-2 to sweep the two-game series with Minnesota.

Why did he win? Basically it came down to the simplest factors that give pitchers success — he threw strikes and worked quickly.

“I think his high pitch count for an inning was 12, 10, 11, 12. Pounding the strike zone,” manager Terry Francona said. “Throwing everything to the two dangerous lefties, front-door cutter, he used all his pitches. When he did give up a hit like to [Denard] Span he bore down on the count, he came back. Same thing after [Justin] Morneau. There are a lot of ways for him to go right now and still attack the strike zone even against some of those hitters.”

Lester started hitters off with strikes, getting to an 0-1 count on 27 of 31 hitters he faced on the night. That made for an extremely efficient night against the Twins lineup. Entering the ninth inning, he only had 84 total pitches and ended the night with an economic 103, or 11.44 per inning. He used his four-seam fastball, cut fastball, curveball, sinker and change at any time in the count and used his defense to bail him out of any jams. The performance continued a trend.

After a rocky April, Lester has been simply dominant. In his last five games, he has pitched 38 innings, allowed eight earned runs and struck out 42 while picking up wins in three out of the five and going at least seven innings in each.

“I got some good pitch outs and I was able to establish that we were throwing strikes tonight,” Lester said. “With that lineup they are not going to strikeout or walk a lot, they are going to swing the bats and I got some good pitches and some double plays when we needed them and that is a big night as far as a team thing. Following what [Clay Buchholz] did last night and able to go out there and do it again.

The start was the 100th of Lester’s career and and he is officially the winningest pitcher through 100 starts to start a career, with a 46-18 mark for a .719 winning percentage. Since 2006, Lester’s winning percentage is second only to the incomparable Tim Lincecum (45-17), a player with two consecutive Cy Young Awards on this mantel.

Lester is on the sort of roll that can anchor a rotation for weeks or even months. He said after the game on Thursday that he feels like he is in the type of groove where the five days between starts feels like one. Gone are the rough outings to start the season. Hello, summer heat.

“There are still some things that I am working on that followed me from April,” Lester said. “But, you know, that past month-and-a-half, almost two months have gone by pretty quick. It is a lot nicer when you get on that roll early on and the five days seem like it is tomorrow. It is a good feeling.”

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Closing Time: Red Sox 6, Twins 2

05.20.10 at 9:42 pm ET
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The contest had all the makings of an outstanding pitcher’s duel. Both Red Sox starter Jon Lester and Twins counterpart Francisco Liriano feature the sort of ridiculous arsenals that are more often seen in videogames than among their pitching peers.

Lester (4-2, 3.53) lived up to his part of the bargain. One day after Clay Buchholz needed just 104 pitches to reach the ninth inning against the Twins, Lester one-upped his teammate. He overpowered Minnesota in Boston’s first complete game of the season, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits while striking out nine and walking none.

Lester carved up the strike zone with an explosive fastball that touched 97, a devastating cutter and a very effective changeup. Those weapons allowed him to go the distance in just 103 pitches (76 strikes).

But the Sox managed to ambush Liriano (4-3, 3.25) en route to a one-sided 6-2 victory.

Liriano had fired seven shutout innings against the Sox on April 15, but the team wasted little time in ensuring that it would not be zeroed out by the pitcher again. Liriano, who had entered the contest not having permitted a single homer in the 2010 season, permitted two to the Sox. The first was a solo shot delivered by Adrian Beltre into the Sox bullpen in right-center in the second inning. Then, one inning later, Kevin Youkilis added to his team’s 1-0 lead, jumping on a 96 mph fastball for a three-run homer with two outs.

Given Lester’s dominance, the outcome of the game was never again in question.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Jon Lester delivered the Sox’ first complete game since last Sept. 12 in a night when he was able to dominate the strike zone with a complete mix of pitches. As such, he has put his early-season struggles completely behind him. After starting the year with an 0-2 record and 8.44 ERA in his first three starts, he is 4-0 with a 1.65 mark in his last seven starts. He has now gone at least seven innings in each of his last five starts, the second longest such streak of his career.

Kevin Youkilis is enjoying quite possibly the single best stretch of his career to date. His May numbers have been, quite simply, outrageous. He entered Thursday hitting .404/.590/.731/1.321 this month, marks that would be the best of his career in each category. He continued piling on, blasting a three-run homer (his eighth of the year and fifth of May) and ripping an RBI double down the left-field line against Liriano.

Adrian Beltre delivered one of his finest offensive performances with the Sox. He put the Sox on the board in the second with an impressive opposite-field wallop into the Sox bullpen for his third homer of the year, and added to that a walk, a double down the left field line and a run, going 2-for-3.

Victor Martinez continued to show signs that he is breaking out of his yearlong slump. He entered this week with just nine extra-base hits on the year. He has since collected five (two homers in New York on Monday, three doubles against the Twins on Thursday), and he now appears to be impacting the ball in a consistent fashion not seen since last season.

Dustin Pedroia delivered a pair of highlight-reel defensive plays. In the top of the fifth, the Twins put their only runner in scoring position of the night against Lester when Justin Morneau hit his 200th career double to lead off the frame. But Lester rebounded to get a groundout to third and fly to shallow right, bringing up Delmon Young with two outs. Young fisted a ball to shallow right field. Pedroia raced back several steps and extended his diminutive frame to its fullest to catch the ball in the webbing of his glove and keep Lester’s shutout intact.

One inning later, Pedroia made a diving stop of an up-the-middle smash off the bat of Nick Punto, hopped up and threw out the Twins’ third baseman by a couple steps.

Pedroia did, however, commit his first error of the season in the ninth inning, closing his glove too quickly on the pivot of a potential double play ball in the ninth inning. Prior to Pedroia’s two-base error, Pedroia and Youkilis had created an airtight seal on the right side of their infield, as the Sox entered the night as the only team in baseball with zero combined errors from their first and second basemen.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

J.D. Drew continued his struggles against left-handers, going 0-for-2 against Liriano. In fairness, Liriano is one of the toughest left-on-left matchups in the game. Even so, Drew is now hitting .212/.263/.288 against southpaws this season.

Dustin Pedroia continued his modest slump. He went 0-for-3 with a walk, and over the last seven games, he is now hitting 4-for-26 for an average of .154 with an OBP of .313 and a slugging mark of .308.

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, Francisco Liriano, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis
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