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Improbably, Lowell a Red Sox to the end

09.02.10 at 10:15 am ET
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BALTIMORE — It was an outcome that seemed at different times unlikely or undesirable.

From the time that he arrived in spring training, Red Sox infielder Mike Lowell seemed destined to be traded. He made no secret of the fact that he wanted to play, and after the team signed Adrian Beltre in the offseason, it had been painfully clear that the most likely way that he would do so was with another team.

And so, because he did not want to see playing time come through an injury to either Beltre or teammate Kevin Youkilis, Lowell made no secret of his desire to be dealt. At multiple points, the Sox had trades in place — one that would have sent Lowell to the Rangers, another that would have resulted in his landing with the Yankees by way of Texas — only to see them unravel due to concerns about his hip.

The July 31 trade deadline came and went with Lowell still with the Sox. The Aug. 31 deadline for waiver trades passed on Tuesday at midnight. When the dust settled, Lowell was still with the Red Sox.

And in the end, it was an outcome that he welcomed. Not only is Lowell getting the opportunity to play, but now, he will spend what will almost certainly be the final month of his baseball career in a city and uniform that mean a great deal to him.

“Obviously, at different points in the season, if it was going to a place where I would have played, I would have been happy with it,” said Lowell. “But the fact that I’m here with these guys, I feel like I have a great chance – whatever happens – to finish my career in this uniform. That’s a really good thing.”

To the end, there were rumors that he could move, with the revived possibility of a deal to Texas flickering to life (in one report) for about 30 minutes before getting quashed. Yet even a deal to a team with a clear path to the postseason represented, in the end, an unwanted outcome for Lowell.

Lowell has not given up entirely on the Sox’ playoff hopes for this year, even though he is aware of he obvious reality that the team would require something miraculous to reach the postseason. That said, when it came down to it, he viewed the chance to play out this season with the Sox as preferable to the alternatives.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to go onto another team to have a lesser role, especially if they’re not in the postseason chase. I fought that for five months. Why would I want that now?” Lowell said. “Pennant chase to face lefties once every six days? No, that doesn’t satisfy me, because in the postseason, it would be great, but I still wouldn’t play.”

That being the case, Lowell is finding satisfaction in being a member of the Sox, and in trying to achieve something unlikely. He is performing modestly — he has a .256 average and .689 OPS since becoming the team’s everyday first baseman following Kevin Youkilis‘ season-ending thumb injury — but he is nonetheless enjoying the fact that he is on the field in his final weeks as a player.

He has already looked ahead on the schedule, noting that the final regular-season game (which, he noted, he hopes is not the last game of the year) is at Fenway Park. With the end of his playing career in his sights, the idea of one last home game in a Red Sox uniform represents a source of great contentment, an outcome that at times seemed unlikely this year.

“I’m enjoying playing. Personally and collectively, I think we all want to play better, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes,” said Lowell. “The fans have treated me tremendously since the first day I got here. … I look at it as a privilege to be in this uniform. I choose to focus only on all the good things to happen in the last five years.”

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Papelbon: ‘I don’t trust radar guns’

09.02.10 at 8:53 am ET
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Jonathan Papelbon

When asked about the 105 mph fastball reportedly thrown by Reds rookie Aroldis Chapman last Friday, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon said during his team’s recent series against the Rays, “I’ve seen it,” citing the time he clocked then-Detroit minor-leaguer Joel Zumaya throwing 104 mph during a Florida State League game in 2004. “I used to always calibrate our gun just to make sure,” Papelbon explained. “I started and Lester started so I always had Lester’s velocity as well. Zumaya was consistently 101 to 104.” Chapman was clocked at close to 104 mph Wednesday night.

Papelbon then went on to explain that radar gun readings shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all when analyzing fastballs, saying that he has a more accurate idea of how hard he is throwing than any radar run reading taken in a stadium.

“I can tell you exactly, within an a mile an hour what that fastball is just by the way it comes out of my hand,” he said. “I know for a fact that I’ve been in plenty of stadiums where it’s been 2-3 miles and hour faster, where the clock has rated it faster than what I think it is is. I don’t trust radar guns. Radar guns are getting the velocity out of the hand. Their not getting the velocity at the plate and that is a HUGE difference.

“You know the difference between a fastball out of the hand and a fastball that has life at the plate, it’s huge. By the time it gets to the plate it’s clocked 5-10 mph slower depending on how the ball comes out of the pitcher’s hand. I want life at the plate. I don’t want life out of the arm. I could care less. I want the ball to continue to generate power as it goes across the plate.”

For more on Papelbon’s view of measuring fastballs, and how he is more optimistic than ever about his heater, click here. For more Red Sox coverage go to the team page at weei.com/redsox.

Varitek: ‘I’m ready to go’

09.02.10 at 12:12 am ET
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BALTIMORE — Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, following an examination of his left foot by Dr. George Theodore on Wednesday, said that he expects that he will be cleared to play following a CT scan on Friday. Barring an unexpected development, Varitek — who has been out since a foul ball broke the appendage on June 30 — believes he will be green-lighted for rehab games this weekend, following a return to the Red Sox.

“Honestly, I don’t really have much of a doubt right now. I’m ready to go,” said Varitek. “I wouldn’t feel the way I feel and be able to do what I’ve been able to do if I wasn’t. … I’ve just got to pass the CT scan, and then they give me the go-ahead and let me go. I’m ready.”

Varitek had been enjoying a strong first half at the time of his injury. He was hitting .263 with a .324 OBP, .547 slugging mark and .871 OPS. He was expected to serve as the Sox’ primary catcher following teammate Victor Martinez‘ trip to the disabled list, but Varitek was just a couple games into that tenure before his injury sent him to the sidelines.

The road back has been longer than expected for the Red Sox Captain, who took pride in the fact that he has remained in game shape, thus positioning himself to return before the end of the season. As such, the 38-year-old admitted that he is giddy at the prospect of playing again.

“I’ve done a lot of work to be where I’m at, not just with my foot – with everything, trying to maintain and stuff,” said Varitek. “I’ve punched in the time clock quite a while. I’m just excited to return to a little bit of a normal schedule.”

Varitek’s teammate, Dustin Pedroia, was also examined by Theodore. That evaluation showed significant healing in the left foot that has allowed Pedroia to play in just two games since June 25.

Even so, any determination about whether the second baseman requires surgery will have to wait until his CT scan on Friday. That outcome certainly remains a possibility.

“[Pedroia is] much improved from last week, when [Theodore] looked at him. A lot less pain on the range of motion and the resistance, which was really encouraging,” said manager Terry Francona. “I don’t think he’s ready to play, but it was really encouraging to see the amount of healing that’s taken place over a week, so we were really happy about that.

“I think Friday’s probably an important day,” Francona continued. “I think it was a good visit. He explained things, he diagrammed some things, which is good, I think he explained to him what the surgery would potentially be. It was a good visit.”

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Closing Time: Red Sox 9, Orioles 6

09.01.10 at 10:44 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — The Red Sox appeared to be condemned to another defeat, and more lost ground in the standings. Jon Lester fell flat out of the gate, allowing five runs in the first two innings, and with the Sox having an offense that had been stripped bare, there was little reason to believe that the 5-2 deficit would be anything but insurmountable.

But the Sox, who had not scored more than three runs in any of their previous five games, exploded for six runs in the seventh inning, part of the team’s biggest offensive output in 16 games, en route to a 9-6 comeback victory.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–The lineup showed life. The Sox had been 3-17 in games in which they’d allowed five or more runs since the All-Star break. They seemed poised to suffer another such defeat. But the eruption for six runs in the seventh marked a rare night in the second half in which the bats carried a struggling pitcher to a win.

Marco Scutaro hit his first homer since July 30, ending a drought that had reached 119 at-bats. The two-run shot allowed the Red Sox to tie the game, 5-5, in the top of the seventh inning. Scutaro managed a pair of hits and scored a pair of runs, offering evidence that he can remain productive despite his ongoing rotator cuff issues.

Adrian Beltre‘s three-run homer in the top of the seventh barely got out, but he likely didn’t care about style points. His 24th homer of the year was his first in two weeks.

–Jon Lester recovered from a brutal start. After giving up five runs on six hits before recording his sixth out, he settled to give his team a chance to come back. Lester retired 11 straight at one stretch and didn’t allow another run, and finished with 10 strikeouts.

His utterly brutal first two innings, in which he had no command, should not be forgotten. It’s also worth noting that he has gone just 4-5 with a 4.34 ERA in the second half. Even so, the fact that he regrouped in time to claim his 15th win of the year was noteworthy. Moreover, Lester not only avoided his first career loss to Baltimore, but actually improved to 13-0 against the Orioles, the longest current winning streak by any pitcher against any team.

David Ortiz snapped a seven-game streak without an RBI, while Ryan Kalish ended a 12-game drought.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Bill Hall entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh inning. After working the count full, he fouled off three straight pitches before striking out swinging on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. he went on to strike out a second time. Amazingly, Hall has now gone 79 straight plate appearances without a walk, dating to July 28.

Daniel Bard allowed a run in two innings. While his performance was quite strong, his extended effort means that he is likely unavailable on Thursday in the series finale.

–The Yankees and Rays both won, meaning that the Sox remained eight and seven games behind the two postseason front runners with just 29 games left.

Video: The Full Count Show

09.01.10 at 5:08 pm ET
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This week, Alex Speier gives you a crazy stat about Josh Beckett, recaps the Rays series and gives you five reasons why the Sox playoff hopes are fading.

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Beckett: ‘All that time I missed, that hurt us’

09.01.10 at 4:19 pm ET
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Josh Beckett

BALTIMORE — Speaking prior to the Red Sox’ game with the Orioles at Camden Yards Wednesday night, Josh Beckett said that his season contributed to where the Sox find themselves in the standings.

“Absolutely,” the pitcher said of whether he felt his season had played a role in the team’s place in the standings. “All that time I missed, that hurt us. Like I said, if you went up to everybody, they’d all say the same thing.

“If you went up to all, well, 75 guys that played on our team this year, I think everyone would do that. It’s a shame, because there’s some guys that have come in and really done an unbelievable job to put us in the situation that we were in and are still in this late in the season.”

Beckett also explained why he didn’t speak to the media following the Red Sox’ 5-2 loss to Baltimore Tuesday night, marking the first time in his Sox’ career that he hasn’t answered questions following a start.

“I just had stuff to do, stuff to take care of. I couldn’t put into words how I felt,” Beckett said, admitting that both individually and from a team standpoint it has been a “pretty frustrating” year. “I just had some things I needed to do.”

Beckett said he felt like he made “progress” with his seven-inning outing Tuesday night, in which he allowed three runs (2 earned), and seven hits while striking out five and walking one. He did, however, say the situation with the team’s playoff hopes and his up and down performances are “pretty frustrating.” Beckett did note that he felt like he had good stuff in his previous start against Seattle. “Results are still a process,” he said. “The process better get right.”

Asked about the Red Sox’ current position in the American League playoff race — which has the Sox eight games in back of the Yankees and seven behind Tampa Bay — Beckett said, “It’s definitely different right now … I don’t think we’ve completely folded up the tent.”

OTHER PREGAME NOTES

Felix Doubront underwent an MRI and CT scan that revealed what manager Terry Francona called a “mild strain in his upper pectoral muscle,” near the clavicle on the right side of his upper chest. Doubront will stay in Boston during the final two games of the Orioles series, since he was not going to pitch in them. The Sox believe that he will be available in the coming days.

–The Sox have been in regular dialogue with Marco Scutaro about the condition of his shoulder in making determinations about whether he is available to play. The shortstop has, according to the manager, backed off a lot of his pregame routine in order to conserve his shoulder.

While his injured rotator cuff primarily affects his throwing, Francona acknowledged that it could be affecting him at the plate as well. That said, Scutaro is more comfortable at the plate now than he was in the first half, when he required cortisone injections.

Even so, the manager could not say whether the condition was one that will have to be addressed through surgery in the offseason.

“Anything that aggravates you, I’m sure doesn’t help. But he’s been playing every day,” said Francona. “I don’t know [if he will require surgery]. I don’t know that anybody knows yet. When you get into that area — and I went through it myself — you just fully plan on having a nice surgery and feeling good. Then, you see the doctor and you realize that, when you get in that area, sometimes you can do more harm. It’s not just cut and dried. I’m sure we’re going to look into whatever’s in his best interest.”

Dustin Richardson was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket to serve as the second left-handed pitcher in the bullpen while Doubront is on the shelf. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and outfielder Eric Patterson were also activated for Wednesday’s game after concluding their rehab assignments in Pawtucket.

–The Sox are looking forward to seeing Saltalamacchia work behind the plate, but he has also been taking grounders at first base.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was scratched from his scheduled start last Friday, has followed his normal between-starts routine in recent days, and he appears on track for his start on Thursday against the Orioles.

Jason Varitek and Dustin Pedroia were scheduled to be examined by Dr. George Theodore, a Red Sox orthopedist, close to game time on Wednesday.

–Francona had little to report on Carlos Delgado, who has been sidelined since Aug. 15.

For more Red Sox coverage see the team page at weei.com/redsox.

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Looking at the precedents for a Red Sox comeback

09.01.10 at 3:04 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Has it been done? Yes. Often? No.

It is now Sept. 1, and the Red Sox are eight games back in the division and seven games back in the wild card race. It is difficult to understate the magnitude of that deficit.

No team has ever erased an eight-game September deficit to advance to the postseason. But there is at least some precedent for Sox fans looking for the possibility of overcoming a seven-game hole, as that trick has been accomplished four times in major league history.

In the most dramatic instance, the 2007 Phillies surged to a 13-4 mark over the final 17 games of their season, wiping out a seven-game deficit against the collapsing Mets to win the NL East on the final day of the season, sneaking into the postseason with an 89-73 record.

More recently, the 2009 Twins hit the gas pedal after finding themselves with a 68-68 record and seven games behind the Tigers on Sept. 6. They went 18-8 from that point forward, forcing a one-game playoff with Detroit that they won to reach the American League Division Series.

In 1938, the Cubs escaped a seven-game hole in which they resided on Sept. 1. Chicago went 21-7 down the stretch, beating the tumbling Pirates (12-16 down the stretch) by two games.

And, in 1934, the Gashouse Gang Cardinals went 22-5 down the stretch, zooming from seven games behind the Giants on Sept. 6 to a pennant that they won by two games.

So, there is some measure of precedent for the Sox to come back. That said, it is also a startling reminder of just how daunting a task the team faces.

After all, even what GM Theo Epstein described as a “super hot” stretch might not be enough to overcome the gap that now exists. The 2007 Rockies, for instance, won 14 of their final 15 regular season games. Yet in doing so, they only came back from a 4 1/2 game deficit in the standings to tie the Padres on the last day of the regular season and force a one-game playoff.

That said, the Sox have little choice but to assume that they have the ability to buck the odds of history, and join the small group of teams capable of making one of the greatest comebacks ever.

“Still playing. When that day comes, when we’re done, we’re done. But it’s not over yet,” said Victor Martinez after his team’s loss on Tuesday. “Like I say, I mean, we come tomorrow, play hard and see what happens. It’s not over yet.”

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