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Papelbon, Sox Close It Out

06.10.09 at 10:34 pm ET
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Jonathan Papelbon, whom manager Terry Francona said was suffering from a terrible bout of food poisoning that nearly sent him to the hospital and had him falling asleep in the bullpen dugout on Tuesday, was summoned for the ninth inning to preserve a one-run lead. The Red Sox closer gave up a one-out walk to Alex Rodriguez, and pinch runner Ramiro Pena stole second with one out. But Papelbon struck out Robinson Cano and then retired Jorge Posada on a warning-track fly ball that fell just short of the Wall as the Red Sox put away a 6-5 win over the Yankees.

Tim Wakefield (8-3) takes the win in a game when both Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell hit their 10th homers of the year.

Okajima sprints away from trouble

06.10.09 at 10:13 pm ET
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Hideki Okajima‘s scoreless innings streak may have ended at 16.1 on Sunday, when he gave up a homer to Nelson Cruz, but his run of mastery remains uninterrupted. Okajima proved enormous against the Yankees tonight, striking out Hideki Matsui after coming in with a runner on first and two outs in the top of the seventh, and then after putting a runner on second with one out in the eighth, striking out both Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon to preserve the Red Sox‘ one-run lead.

On Sunday, manager Terry Francona said that the key to Okajima’s remarkable run has been nothing more than command. His high-80s fastball still stands no more than a 50-50 chance of breaking a window pane, but he locates the pitch so precisely that he owns the complete trust of his manager.

Before the year, it seemed as if Okajima might get pushed down the totem pole in the bullpen thanks to the emergence of Justin Masterson and the signing of free-agent Takashi Saito. Instead, he has once again – at least for now – re-established himself as the key (and often final) piece of the bridge to closer Jonathan Papelbon.

On top of it all, his running speed to and from the mound seems to have increased greatly thanks to his participation in the Honolulu Marathon this offseason. Okajima never breaks stride either on his run from the bullpen to the infield grass, or from the mound to the dugout. He may have the best on-field running pace of any pitcher since Craig Lefferts. In case you forgot, Okajima was thrilled to have run his 26.2 miles in six-plus hours, but has no ambitions of running the Boston Marathon.

Read More: Hideki Okajima, marathon,

Ramon Ramirez gets tagged

06.10.09 at 9:45 pm ET
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For the most part, Red Sox right-hander Ramon Ramirez has been overpowering this year. He had held opposing hitters to a .151 average this year, and left-handers had just a .116 average against him.

But on Wednesday, he turned in his worst outing of the year. After giving up just one homer in his first 28.1 innings this year, he was taken deep back-to-back by Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira to open the seventh inning. He came back to strike out a pair before allowing a hard-hit Jorge Posada single that ended his night. Ramirez was bailed out by Hideki Okajima, who came on with two outs and struck out Hideki Matsui to end the inning.

For Ramirez, the outing matched his worst of the year — a May 30 effort in which he also allowed three hits and two runs while recording just two outs. The Sox are now clinging to a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the seventh.

Read More: Hideki Okajima, ramon ramirez,

Quality, thy name is Wakefield

06.10.09 at 9:32 pm ET
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The standards for a quality start are hardly unreasonable: at least 6 innings pitched, no more than 3 runs. By definiton, the quality start is one in which the pitcher has a 4.50 ERA or better while logging a sufficient number of innings to give his team a fightin’ chance to win.

Tim Wakefield entered today with a 7-3 record (the Sox are 8-3 in his starts entering tonight) and 4.50 ERA. Tonight against the Yankees, he left that number unaltered, going six innings and allowing three runs on eight hits. He has now produced quality starts in eight of his 12 outings this year, second on the Sox only to the nine quality starts turned in by Josh Beckett.

Quite simply, Wakefield has given the Sox everything that they could have hoped for in the vast majority of his outings, including tonight, when he handed his bullpen a 6-3 lead after six innings.

Read More: Josh Beckett, quality start, Tim Wakefield,

Kevin Youkilis goes oppo

06.10.09 at 9:00 pm ET
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After the Yankees scratched across a run in the top of the fourth against Sox starter Tim Wakefield, Kevin Youkilis tacked on a pair of runs in support of his compatriot, smashing a two-run shot into the Boston bullpen in right-center off of reliever Phil Hughes. The homer was the 10th of the year for Youkilis, a number that is somewhat more impressive considering his 15-day spell on the D.L.

The first baseman now has 10 homers in his 45 games played this year. If Youkilis is able to maintain such a pace while staying healthy over the remaining 103 games (after tonight) of the season, he would finish the year with 33 homers.

The fact that he is hitting homers to right-center at Fenway Park, of all places, is a testament both to Youkilis’ tremendous strength (it is debatable whether he or Jason Varitek is the strongest player on the team) and to his ongoing improvement and evolution as a hitter.

According to baseball-reference.com, Youkilis had only hit two homers to right at Fenway in his career, and both had been Pesky Pole shots. This one was a blast to left-center that created a crater in the middle of the Sox bullpen, a legitimate shot to the opposite field, a place where — even last year — Youkilis proved incapable of reaching.

Though the Yankees scratched out another run (thanks to the continued Mark Teixeira Show: the switch-hitter, who is batting right-handed against Wakefield’s knuckleballs, is 3-for-3 with two doubles and a single off the Wall) in the top of the fifth, the Sox still lead, 6-3, entering the bottom of the fifth.

Read More: Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeira,

Wang done, Yankees torch their bullpen

06.10.09 at 8:23 pm ET
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Before Wednesday’s game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi expressed his hope that starter Chien-Ming Wang could make it through 80-85 pitches and about six innings. Wang nearly fulfilled the first vision, but came nowhere near the second.

Wang labored through 69 pitches, lasting just 2.2 innings. It’s the second straight night in which a Yankees starter has failed to make it through three innings, following a 2.2 inning outing by A.J. Burnett on Tuesday. Wang allowed four runs and six hits while walking three in his abbreviated outing. Several of the hits were of the hard variety, foremost run-scoring doubles in the second inning by George Kottaras and Dustin Pedroia, and a solo homer that Mike Lowell lined off of the shelf atop the Green Monster for a homer to lead off the third.

Wang now has a 21.60 ERA in five starts this year. Incredibly, this was his second longest start of the year. Given that he was quite effective in three long relief appearances (2.25 ERA in eight innings), the Yankees may be forced to consider moving him to the bullpen and bringing Phil Hughes back to the rotation.

Hughes entered for Wang and stranded a runner by striking out George Kottaras. After three innings, the Red Sox are up, 4-1.

Read More: chien-ming wang,

And Jason Bay Goes Cha-Ching

06.10.09 at 7:37 pm ET
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Unlike Johnny Damon, Jason Bay has proved rather unmoved by playing at home or on the road. He is hitting .274 with a .402 OBP and .991 OPS at Fenway, and .282 / .406 / 1.024 away from the friendly confines.

But the timing of his greatest successes this year, both at home and on the road, has been well-nigh impeccable. In particular, Bay’s ability to decimate the Yankees (he is hitting .545 against them with three homers and 11 RBIs) has been virtually inspired.

“He’s been a Yankee killer,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said before today’s game.

The elements are familiar: Bay is a free agent after this year. He has been a dynamo with the Red Sox, and last year showed an extraordinary ability to remain unperturbed by the potential upheaval of a mid-year trade in which he replaced Manny Ramirez. As such, any team that is interested in acquiring Bay’s services can have confidence in his ability to seamlessly integrate himself into a new clubhouse, city and environment.

“He’d fit in anywhere,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

Damon and Hideki Matsui represent $26 million in free-agent money that could be coming off the Yankees’ books following this season. The Yankees should be in the market for a power-hitting outfielder. And every Yankees executive and every Yankees fan has seen Bay as nothing but a colossal wrecking ball, capable of decimating a pitching staff.

Tonight, Bay stepped to the plate with runners on first and second in the bottom of the first. He bounced a single through the left side on the infield and into left field to give the Sox a 1-0 advantage. And the drumbeat in New York suggested that the Yankees should make a run at a player whom the Sox would love to retain just grew a little louder.

Thanks to Bay’s single, the Red Sox are up, 1-0, after the first inning.

Read More: jason bay, Yankees,

Johnny Damon does not take his free-agent show on the road

06.10.09 at 7:26 pm ET
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You look at the numbers and marvel at the show that Johnny Damon is putting on as he prepares for free agency.

Damon is 35, but his numbers suggest that he is someone with plenty in the tank. He entered tonight hitting .294 with a .367 OBP — marks largely in line with his career totals — but with a shocking 12 homers and .908 OPS. Damon is threatening to break his career high in homers (24, accomplished in his first season with the Yankees in 2006) by the end of July. In some respects, the confluence of his mammoth season and impending free agency would seem to represent the perfect storm.

Only that the storm is taking place in one and only one city and ballpark. The new Yankee Stadium has seemed on some nights like the House George Built For Johnny. In his home park, Damon is hitting .315 with 9 homers and a 1.033 OPS. On the road, he is hitting .273 with a .319 OBP, 3 homers and a .783 OPS — respectable numbers (except for the on-base percentage), but not exactly the stuff on which multi-year contracts for a veteran corner outfielder is built.

Therein lies the rub. The Yankees’ new ballpark is puffing up the stats of its residents in such dramatic fashion that it might have a perverse effect — namely, much as was the case with Coors Field in Denver, it could end up devaluing the numbers of its residents because teams will simply assume that players like Damon are nothing more than a product of an incredibly hitter-friendly environment, in which every pop-up to left-field seems like a potential homer.

Facing Tim Wakefield in the first inning of tonight’s game between the Yankees and Red Sox, Damon rolled a weak grounder to first on the third pitch he saw. He is now hitting 4-for-17 this year at Fenway. One imagines that every out he has while outside of New York is costing him money.

Read More: Johnny Damon,

Red Sox vs. Yankees Match-Ups, 6/10

06.10.09 at 2:18 pm ET
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YANKEES VS. TIM WAKEFIELD

The Yankees are hitting home runs at an insane pace this year, which would seem to make them a bad matchup for the flyball-inclined Tim Wakefield (or, in fairness, anyone else who makes his living on a mound). Traditionally, Wakefield gives up a ton of homers.

But not so through the early paces of this year. To date, Wakefield has allowed 0.6 homers per nine innings, the lowest rate for any Sox starter this year.

Noteworthy: Alex Rodriguez has gone deep against Wakefield a whopping seven times, tied (with Frank Thomas) for the most by any single player against the knuckleballer.

Derek Jeter (105) .313/.343/.444 3 HR 10 RBI
Alex Rodriguez (89) .276/.382/.566 7 HR 10 RBI
Jorge Posada (77) .222/.351/.429 3 HR 14 RBI
Johnny Damon (68) .317/.382/.600 4 HR 9 RBI
Hideki Matsui (53) .170/.264/.319 2 HR 3 RBI
Robinson Cano (38) .324/.342/.703 3 HR 9 RBI
Mark Teixeira (33) .207/.303/.310 HR 3 RBI
Angel Berroa (13) .500/.500/.750
Melky Cabrera (12) .455/.500/.636
Nick Swisher (7) .167/.286/.333
Brett Gardener (6) .200/.333/.200

Wakefield has yet to face Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Pena.

RED SOX VS. CHIEN-MING WANG

The Yankees had been hopeful that Chien-Ming Wang had turned the corner when he returned from the disabled list by allowing two earned runs in eighth innings spanning three appearances out of the bullpen. But the pitcher who was a top Cy Young contender just a couple years ago got hit hard in his last appearance, when he started (for the first time since April) against the Rangers on June 4. Wang allowed five runs in 4.2 innings, and his ERA as a starter this year now sits at an unsightly 23.62.

The Yankees can ill afford to give him too much of a leash, either in tonight’€™s game or in the rotation going forward, as a single weak spot in a rotation can be a huge impediment in the most challenging division in baseball. Because Wang’€™s performance this year has been so out of line with his career, it’€™s difficult to connect the dots between his past performances against batters and what he might do tonight.

Nonetheless, here’€™s his history against the Sox:

David Ortiz (42 career plate appearances).444 Avg./.524 OBP/.724 Slugging 2 HR, 11 RBI
Julio Lugo (41) .167/.268/.194
Kevin Youkilis (36) .296/.472/.407 1 HR
Mike Lowell (29) .208/.345/.250
Jason Varitek (23) .100/.217/.300 1 HR
JD Drew (18) .235/.278/.412
Dustin Pedroia (17) .313/.350/.500
Rocco Baldelli (14) .143/.143/.357 1 HR
Nick Green (8) .250/.250/.375
Mark Kotsay (6) .333/.333/.333
Jacoby Ellsbury (4) .250/.250/.250

Wang will face both Jason Bay and George Kottaras for the first time tonight.

Greg Cameron helped compile this report.

Read More: chien-ming wang, Tim Wakefield, Yankees,

Red Sox Rounds 5-10: Young, Younger, Youngest

06.10.09 at 2:06 pm ET
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Through 10 rounds, the Red Sox draft breaks down thusly:

4 high school position players

2 high school pitchers (both right-handed)

2 college position players

2 college pitchers

Here are the team’s choices for Rounds 5-10:

Round 5 (168 overall): Seth Schwindenhammer, outfielder, Limestone (IL) Community HS, 17 years old

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Schwindenhammer has a commitment to play at Illinois following a senior season when he tagged 15 homers. He comes from the same high school as Jim Thome. He sounds inclined to embrace a professional career.

‘€œIllinois has always been my dream school, the school I’€™ve rooted for since I was little,’€ Schwindenhammer told the Journal-Star (Peoria, Ill.). ‘€œBut at the same time, I don’€™t want to miss an opportunity and this is a pretty incredible opportunity.’€

Round 6 (198): Brandon Kline, right-handed pitcher, Gov. Thomas Johnson (MD) HS, 17 years old

Kline has a commitment to pitch at the University of Virginia, but the Red Sox have consistently convinced players to forego offers to go to Charlottesville in recent years.

Round 7 (228): John Younginer, right-handed pitcher, Mauldin (SC) HS, 18 years old

Signed to play at Clemson, Baseball America suggestions that Younginer is a power arm who touched the mid-90s and features a plus-plus breaking ball. The Sox view him as a pitcher with a very high ceiling should they prove able to come to terms on a deal that would keep him out of college.

Round 8 (258): Shannon Wilkerson, outfielder, Augusta State Univ., 20 years old

Wilkerson dominated his competition en route to being named National Player of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Wilkerson informed the Gwinnett Daily Post that he foresees no problems in negotiations, and that he looks forward to starting his pro career with the Sox soon.

Round 9 (288): Kendal Volz, right-handed pitcher, Baylor Univ., 21 years old (college profile here)

Volz entered the year considered one of the elite college pitching prospects in the draft after serving as closer for Team USA last summer, a capacity in which he threw 14 shutout innings. Then, his fastball was a powerful, low-90s sinker. But after being shifted to the rotation this year, he struggled, and his stuff (both the velocity and life) diminished. If he can recapture what he was before his junior year, he could have significant upside.

Round 10 (318): Brandon Jacobs, outfielder, Parkview (GA) HS, 18 years old

A running back, but not that running back. The 18-year-old Jacobs is a two-sport star who was recruited by Auburn, where his two-sport talent formidable frame (5-foot-11, 240 pounds) might have led to echoes of Bo Jackson. However, Jacobs told the Gwinnett Daily Post that he and the Sox have already agreed in principle to a deal that would pay him second-round money, and so he will begin his professional career this summer.

Read More: brandon jacobs, brandon kline, john younginer, kendal volz
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