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Lester, the southpaw strikeout king

05.05.09 at 3:31 pm ET
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As we noted in today’s Five Things, Jon Lester is off to a rather extraordinary start to the 2009 campaign. At his current pace, he would strike out roughly 230 batters if he makes 32 starts this year. That number would make him the first Red Sox lefty ever to punch out 200 or more batters. (The current standard is the 190 strikeouts Bruce Hurst recorded in 1987.)

Gary From Chapel Hill also passed along this sweet nugget following Lester’s 10 strikeout performance at the new Yankee Stadium last night:

According to Elias/ESPN, the last Sox lefty to strike out 10+ Yankees before last night was Lefty Grove in 1936.

Suffice it to say that Lester has a chance to redefine several standards for left-handers in franchise history.

Read More: bruce hurst, Jon Lester, lefty grove,

Beckett’s Struggles With Baserunners

05.05.09 at 3:17 pm ET
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One thing to monitor today is whether Josh Beckett (2-2, 7.22 ERA) continues his season-long struggles with runners on base. He has seemed strong, even overpowering at times, mixing mid-90s velocity on his fastball with a hammer curve and a change that has been better this year than at any time in 2008.

But it is worth noting that Beckett has been a different – and far less effective – pitcher this year with runners on base. He has pitched to 68 batters with no one on base, and 68 with runners aboard, making for a very direct comparison. The difference in his numbers are striking (see chart).

Almost all pitchers (except, perhaps, for Daisuke Matsuzaka) are worse when pitching out of the stretch and/or with runners on base than they are with men on the bags. Beckett has been no different.

Even so, his career numbers were relatively close in his career to this point. Since he broke into the majors, opposing hitters have a .239 average, .293 OBP and .384 slugging mark against him with the bases empty, and a .249 average, .325 OBP and .404 slugging mark with runners on base – worse numbers, to be sure, but nothing like what he’s done thus far this year.

The difference in being slightly worse versus vastly worse with runners on base is the difference between an ability to limit damage, holding opponents to one or two runs at a two, versus having big innings in which the roof seems to cave. Since his dominant Opening Day start against the Rays, Beckett has spent most of this season banging his head against that low-lying ceiling.

Read More: Josh Beckett,

Red Sox at Yankees Match-Ups, 5/5

05.05.09 at 1:48 pm ET
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For once, Joba Chamberlain might be able to start against the Red Sox without any lingering questions about whether he intends to hit Kevin Youkilis with a pitch.

Youkilis was forced to leave last night’s (and this morning’s) game between the Sox and Yankees — a 6-4 win for the Sox — due to stiffness in his lower back. Apparently, the first baseman — who leads the American League in average (.393), OBP (.505) and is second in slugging (.719) — struggled to get loose following a 137-minute rain delay. He looked uncomfortable at the plate during a fourth inning strikeout, part of an 0-for-3 night, and so the Sox elected to pull him in favor of Jeff Bailey for the final four innings. As of last night, his availability for today was uncertain.

“He was tight. I think we did the right thing by getting him out of there,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “He was actually kind of grimacing on those swings, but he said he was fine. Again, if you make a mistake with something like that, it’s not good.”

Despite the usual chaos surrounding a Red Sox-Yankees series, the Sox typically take a longer view when dealing with the games, and so it would be no great surprise to see Youkilis out of the lineup tonight. That, in turn, would spare the world three or four at-bats in which replays of Chamberlain chucking seeds at Youkilis’ head are replayed. The world will survive.

Here are the matchups for tonight’s contest:

RED SOX VS. JOBA CHAMBERLAIN

In his start against the Red Sox on April 20, Joba Chamberlain (1-0, 3.13) spent the entire outing on a tightrope. But he managed to keep his balance, allowing just two runs (one earned) on nine hits and four walks in 5.1 innings. Even though he elicited almost no swings and misses, time and again, he escaped rallies with timely double-play balls. The Sox grounded into four twin killings against him, and so Chamberlain was able to limit his opponent to one earned run, something he has done in three of his four outings this year.

All the same, the law of averages suggests that he cannot continue to Houdini his way out of harm’s way if he continues to put so many runners on base. That might be something of a challenge against a Red Sox team with several members who appear to hit him well.

J.D. Drew (11 career plate appearances): 0-for-10, walk
Mike Lowell (11): 4-for-10, double, homer, walk
Dustin Pedroia (11): 4-for-9, two doubles
Kevin Youkilis (11): 2-for-6, five walks
Jacoby Ellsbury (10): 1-for-9, walk
David Ortiz (9): 2-for-9
Jason Bay (6): 3-for-5, double, walk
Jason Varitek (5): 1-for-4, walk
Nick Green (3): 2-for-3
Julio Lugo (3): 0-for-3

YANKEES VS. JOSH BECKETT

In his last two outings, Josh Beckett has turned in two of the worst starts of his career. He’s given up at least seven runs and 10 hits in consecutive starts against the Yankees and Rays. With runners on base, he’s struggled desperately this year, and he’s clearly frustrated by his poor performance.

“That’s not close to me,” he told reporters after his last start.

The Sox are hopeful that a reversal is in store, and quickly. In each of his outings this year, including the one against the Yankees, he has flashed an explosive fastball and a nasty curve, so the issue seemingly is not one of injury, but rather of performance.

The Yankees have hit Beckett well in his four years with the Red Sox, and so it will be interesting to see the kinds of adjustments the pitcher makes in his attempt to reverse his recent slide tonight:

Derek Jeter (40 career plate appearances): .324 average / .359 OBP / .432 slugging, one homer
Johnny Damon (39): .286 / .342 / .514, one homer
Robinson Cano (37): .364 / .432 / .667, two homers
Melky Cabrera (34): .300 / .353 / .333
Jorge Posada (28): .346 / .393 / .385
Hideki Matsui (18): .176 / .222 / .294
Nick Swisher (14): .417 / .500 / .667, one homer
Mark Teixeira (12): .111 / .333 / .111
Jose Molina (10): .100 / .100 / .100
Angel Berroa (8): .375 / .375 / .500
Brett Gardner (8): 0-for-8

Bottom 9: Red Sox win, 6-4

05.05.09 at 1:11 am ET
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Jonathan Papelbon delivered his first five-out save of the year, but it was not without drama.

Papelbon jammed pinch-hitter Brett Gardner, leading off the inning, with a 94 mph fastball, but the bounder dribbled to short, allowing the speedy Gardner to race into first with a single. Papelbon then allowed a fastball to sail inside against Derek Jeter, placing the tying runs on firt and second with no outs.

Johnny Damon then followed by getting a fastball that tailed up and away. He lifted the ball to right that fell harmlessly into J.D. Drew‘s glove for the first out. That brought Mark Teixeira to the plate.

Teixeira had hit homers from both sides of the plate in his prior two at-bats, and a third blast would create his first defining moment in an inchoate Yankeeography.

Instead, Teixeira took a ball, swung over a splitter, took a second ball, swung under a 94 mph fastball that tailed up and away, and finally flailed at a 91 mph fastball (a two-seamer?) for a huge strikeout.

Papelbon then faced Nick Swisher, blowing a first-pitch fastball past the slugger. He threw balls on each of the next two pitches, with Gardner and Jeter executing a double steal on the second to put the tying run in scoring position. Swisher then launched a fly ball very far, and very foul, to even the count at 2-2. Jason Varitek jogged to the mound for a conference with his closer, but Papelbon responded to the conversation by throwing two balls to walk the bases full.

That brought Robinson Cano (3-for-9 lifetime vs. Papelbon) to the plate with two outs and the bases packed. Papelbon got ahead of Cano, 1-2, then put the second baseman away with a fastball up and in. Cano swung and missed, and Papelbon pumped his fists exultantly.

The Sox have now taken all four games they’ve played against the Yankees this year.

RED SOX 6, YANKEES 4

Top 9: Aceves exits

05.05.09 at 12:52 am ET
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Alfredo Aceves entered tonight wearing the inglorious number of an afterthought. His uniform number — 91 — is the second highest in Yankees’ history, behind only the No. 99 worn by Charlie Keller in 1952.

But Aceves performed like a man with the stuff to achieve a more respectable uniform number. He gave the Yankees 4.1 innings of much-need long relief, and overpowered the Sox for significant stretches. He struck out seven batters, despite a two-run homer he permitted to Jason Bay, he gave the Yankees more than they could have possibly hoped for when the called him up from Triple-A for today’s game.

Aceves gave up a leadoff walk to J.D. Drew but rebounded to strike out Bay on a nasty curve. Aceves was then pulled in favor of Edwar Ramirez, but he had not only kept the Yankees in position to win today, but also prevented New York from torching its bullpen in such a fashion that they would have been hard-pressed to win on Tuesay (no longer tomorrow…it’s 12:44am).

Edwar Ramirez issued a walk to Mike Lowell to put runners on first and second with one out, but responded by punching out Jason Varitek on a changeup for the second out. It’s not been a good night for Varitek, who is 0-for-5 with a pair of whiffs.

Ramirez, however, continued to struggle with itinerant command, walking Nick Green to load the bases. That led to an exit for Ramirez, who was replaced by left-hander Phil Coke, who was brought in to face left-hander Jacoby Ellsbury. Coke fell behind 3-0, then battled back to a full count before getting Ellsbury to fly out to left.

The Yankees have their last shot in the bottom of the ninth.

RED SOX 6, YANKEES 4

8th inning: Lester done, Teixeira goes deep

05.05.09 at 12:17 am ET
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The Sox threatened in the top of the eighth, thanks largely to the absurd speed of Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury singled to left with one out, then stole second on a pitchout and advanced to third when catcher Jose Molina‘s throw bounded into centerfield. But Dustin Pedroia could not push him across, striking out looking on a backdoor slider that the Sox second baseman did not believe was in — or, for that matter, near — the strike zone.

After the Yankees elected to intentionally walk David Ortiz – a move entirely because Kevin Youkilis was out of the game – Jeff Bailey struck out swining. Alfredo Aceves has six strikeouts in four innings of relief tonight.

BOTTOM 8: RED SOX 6, YANKEES 4

Ramon Ramirez came on to replace Jon Lester to start the eighth, and the right-hander — after starting his Red Sox career with 15 straight scoreless innings spanning 13 appearances — was finally touched for a run. Mark Teixeira, who homered as a right-hander off of Jon Lester in the fifth, proved that his power is legit from both sides of the plate, jumping on the first pitch he saw from Ramirez and blasting a ball into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center. Thus endeth the streak for Ramirez.

Ramirez responded to his first blemish by getting a grounder to second, but then walked Robinson Cano. The Yankees then elected to replace switch-hitter Jorge Posada with Hideki Matsui. The Sox responded by summoning Jonathan Papelbon from the bullpen.

Papelbon had been asked to make an appearance of more than one inning on just one prior occasion this year, a four-out save on April 11. Tonight, the Sox are asking him to record five outs.

Papelbon, who has struggled in the early paces of 2009 to put away batters in a fashion resembling the otherworldly standard he has cultivated in recent years, showed renewed life on his pitches. He struck out Matsui on a 95 mph fastball that showed late movement across the plate. But after falling behind with two balls to start his at-bat against Melky Cabrera, Papelbon left a 2-1 splitter up just enough that the Yankees’ centerfielder was able to line the pitch to right, off of the glove of second baseman Dustin Pedroia to put runners on the corners.

But Jose Molina — who represented the go-ahead run at the plate — was jammed on a 93 mph heater that ran inside. He popped up the pitch to short, and Papelbon had escaped the jam, the Sox’ two-run lead intact. We’re heading to the ninth.

RED SOX 6, YANKEES 4

7th inning: Bay goes deep

05.04.09 at 11:54 pm ET
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The Red Sox struck again, with Jason Bay blasting a two-run homer into the teeth of a stiff wind blowing in from left field. The wind pushed the ball towards the foul line, prompting Bay to jog towards first while tilting to his right in an effort to will the ball fair. The desired outcome came to fruition: Bay’s blast gonged high off the left-field foul pole for the left-fielder’s sixth homer of the year.

Worth mentioning: Bay is a free-agent after this season, and the Yankees will have an opening in their outfield. If he does reach free agency, he would seem an obvious candidate (along with Athletics slugger Matt Holliday) for the Yankees to pursue.

Aside from Bay’s homer (which followed a drilling of J.D. Drew in the ribs), Alfredo Aceves had an excellent inning (other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…), striking out Jeff Bailey, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek. The Sox, however, are unlikely to mind the fact that Aceves struck out the side, given that their lead is once again three runs.

BOTTOM 7: RED SOX 6, YANKEES 3

Jon Lester returned to the mound for the seventh, marking the second time this year in six starts that he has gone more than six innings. He was rewarded for his effort when he punched out Angel Berroa on a cutter to start the inning, marking Lester’s 10th strikeout of the game, matching a career high.

Derek Jeter then grounded to counterpart Nick Green. Though Jeter had thrown away a ball on a Green grounder earlier in the game, his counterpart refused to return the favor, with Green charging in gloving the ball and firing on the run to nip the Yankee captain at first for the second out of the inning.

Lester then finished the inning — his first 1-2-3 inning since the first — by getting Johnny Damon to fly lazily to right. After 111 pitches, Lester’s night is likely done. He is in position to pick up the W following his third quality start in his last four outings.

RED SOX 6, YANKEES 3

6th inning: Youkilis leaves the game

05.04.09 at 11:44 pm ET
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The Red Sox were poised to return the volley after the Yankees scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth, but a couple of critical defensive plays helped the Yankees to escape the inning. The development was surprising, given that the frame started with a defensive betrayal by New York shortstop Derek Jeter, who bounced a throw to first to permit Nick Green to reach on an error.

Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a liner that seemed to be heading to the gap in right-center, but the ball stayed up long enough to permit Nick Swisher to track it down on the run for the first out. Then, after Dustin Pedroia singled sharply to left off of Alfredo Aceves, David Ortiz (2-for-2 with two doubles a walk) stepped to the plate. Aceves managed to jam Ortiz with a fastball that bounded to third. Angel Berroa, for whom third base is still novel, gloved the ball, stepped on third and fired across the diamond for a huge double play to keep the Yankees within a run.

BOTTOM 6: RED SOX 4, YANKEES 3

The inning began on an ominous note for the Red Sox, when first baseman Kevin Youkilis was replaced in the field by Jeff Bailey for the bottom of the sixth inning. Youkilis departed with what was described as a tight lower left back.

Despite his departure, Lester enjoyed a relatively easy sixth, retiring the Yankees on 11 pitches – a number that is surprisingly low, given that Jorge Posada (the second batter of the inning) worked a seven-pitch single.

Lester is now at an even 100 pitches after six innings, and so while he is likely to take the mound to start the seventh, it remains to be seen whether he might finish the inning.

RED SOX 4, YANKEES 3

5th inning: Hughes, Girardi done

05.04.09 at 11:11 pm ET
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Phil Hughes has given way to Alfredo Aceves to start the fifth. Hughes has now allowed 11 runs (10 earned) in six career innings against the Red Sox. Tonight, his inability to get ahead in the count allowed the Red Sox to maintain constant pressure on him. Aceves was called up for today’s start for precisely this scenario, to serve as a long man if Hughes could not provide innings. The move might allow the Yankees‘ bullpen to remain intact for tomorrow night’s game.

Aceves did what his predecessor on the mound did not: throw strikes. He got a four-pitch strikeout to J.D. Drew, was touched for an infield single (the second of the game and fourth of the year) by Jason Bay, and then gave up a loud lineout to left by Mike Lowell. Jason Varitek then grounded out for the second straight time, making for a mercifully quick inning.

The conditions are becoming a bit rough here, with a strong breeze gusting in from left. That may make for some poor at-bats and quick innings going forward.

BOTTOM 5: RED SOX 4, YANKEES 0

Managerial ejections rarely do much to fire up their team or tilt the outcome of a game. But in the fifth inning of tonight’s game, it appears the Yankees enjoyed just such a reversal.

The inning started innocently enough. Jon Lester jumped out to an 0-2 count, but Jose Molina lined a pitch away into right for a single. Angel Berroa followed by grounding into a fielder’s choice to Lester, who should have converted the ball into a double play, but threw wide of second, such that shortstop Nick Green‘s relay to first was late.

Even so, Lester still appeared to be in command. He locked up Derek Jeter on a 2-2 fastball that may or may not have caught the inside corner, Lester getting his eighth strikeout in the process. Jeter was incensed with the call by home-plate umpire Jerry Meals, and voiced his displeasure – a rare outburst, considering that Jeter has never been ejected from a game.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi entered the fray, stepping between his shortstop and the umpire. With approximately seven words, some of them no doubt unfit for FCC regulations, Girardi was ejected for the fifth time as a manager and third time as a Yankees manager.

Yankee Stadium was charged by the dispute, and apparently, so were the Yankees. Johnny Damon jumped on Lester’s first pitch (a fastball on the inner half of the plate), sending it screaming into the right-field stands for a two-run homer, Damon’s fifth of the year. With the lead cut to 4-2, Mark Teixeira then jumped on Lester’s next pitch — another fastball — and drove it into the stands in left-center. (Teixeira has a quirk of blowing his cheeks out while running to first, the result being the appearance that he was trying to push the ball over the fence with his breath.)

In the span of two pitches, Lester had gone from cruising with a 4-0 lead to holding on to a shrinking 4-3 margin. While Lester recovered to strike out Nick Swisher (his ninth strikeout) looking on a 93 mph fastball, the damage had been done.

RED SOX 4, YANKEES 3

4th inning: A Big Papi sighting

05.04.09 at 10:49 pm ET
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David Ortiz is still wiating for his first homer of 2009, but tonight, he is showing signs of a resurgence.

With Jacoby Ellsbury on third and two outs, Ortiz ripped his second double of the game on a Phil Hughes fastball into the right-field corner. Ortiz is now 2-for-2 with two doubles and a walk, and now has his second game with multiple extra-base hits this year. (The last one came on April 20 against the Orioles.) While Ortiz’ struggles this year have been well documented, he has been quite good with runners in scoring position and two outs – with the double, he is now 5-for-9 (.556) in such moments.

Not sure what’s going on here, but Sox first-base coach Tim Bogar and Yankees manager Joe Girardi were shouting at each other throughout Kevin Youkilis‘ inning-ending strikeout. Their spat came amidst the Sox’ fourth straight inning with a run.

BOTTOM 4: RED SOX 4, YANKEES 0

After Nick Swisher‘s blast to left-center was knocked down by the wind, Jon Lester locked in to continue his dominant evening. He caught Robinson Cano on a curve for a called third strike, giving the pitcher seven strikeouts on the night.

Lester has now struck out seven or more batters in four straight starts. Prior to this run, he had never accumulated that many punchouts in back-to-back games.

He seemed ready to add that total, but appeared to get squeezed on a 2-2 curveball to Jorge Posada, who ended up taking a walk. But Lester remained unperturbed, recovering to get Melky Cabrera for an inning-ending grounder to short, which Nick Green flipped to second for a force.

Lester is mastering the Yankees in a fashion reminiscent of his complete-game shutout at Yankee Stadium last July.

RED SOX 4, YANKEES 0

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