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Closing Time: Rays 8, Red Sox 2

04.19.10 at 1:56 pm ET
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The Tampa Bay Rays earned the first four-game sweep of the Red Sox in franchise history, punctuating the weekend wraparound series with an emphatic 8-2 drubbing. The Sox were held to two or fewer runs in three of the four games against their AL East rivals, and were outscored by a 24-9 count.

John Lackey endured one of the worst beatings of his career. He got battered over his 3.1 innings of work, allowing eight runs on nine hits and a walk. It was just the fourth time in his career that Lackey had lasted four or fewer innings while conceding eight or more runs (last on Sept. 26, 2008, when he gave up 10 runs in 2.2 innings).

The Red Sox never held a lead in the four-game set. Their 4-9 record leaves them a stunning six games out of first place barely two weeks into the season.

KEY PLAY

The Sox were still in the game, trailing 1-0, with two outs and Rays runners on first and third in the top of the third inning. But after Carl Crawford stole second, Evan Longoria ripped a two-run double to left, which was followed quickly by a walk and three-run homer into the Red Sox bullpen by B.J. Upton off of Lackey. The rout was on.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Nothing. The work of relievers Scott Atchison (2.2 scoreless innings) and Ramon Ramirez (2 scoreless innings) or the two-run homer by Jeremy Hermida could do little to diminish the ugliness at Fenway Park.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Everything. More specifically, the Red Sox endured shortcomings in all three primary facets of the game:

Pitching: Lackey was assaulted by the Rays. Entering the contest, he had allowed 10 hits and two runs in 12.2 innings. He nearly matched those totals in just 3.1 innings on Monday. The hits were not of the cheap variety, either: of the eight hits he conceded, five were for extra bases. The Rays were on everything that the pitcher threw, collecting four hits on fastballs, three on curves and two on cutters.

Defense: The Sox outfield suffered greatly in the absence of both Mike Cameron (kidney stones) and Jacoby Ellsbury (ribs). Hermida kicked a single for an error, and Bill Hall was also initially charged with an error on a ball off the Wall in left-center that ricocheted past him. The ruling was later changed to a triple (from a double and an error), but it continued a rough stretch of games for the defense. The Sox have now committed nine errors in their last five games.

Hitting: The Sox are now a remarkable 0-for-32 with runners in scoring position dating to last Wednesday’s game, and have been hitless in five straight contests in those situations. Rays starters had a 2.36 ERA in their four starts, while the Tampa Bay bullpen posted a 1.46 mark in 12.1 innings.

In five games starting with their shutout loss to the Twins on Thursday, the Sox are now hitting .196/.261/.341/.602.

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Remembering another Marathon Monday Massacre

04.19.10 at 12:40 pm ET
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With the Red Sox trailing the Rays, 8-0, in the fourth inning, it brings to mind another thrashing that the Sox endured on Patriots’ Day. Certainly, Chris Woodward — who enjoyed a cameo as the Sox’ shortstop last season, and who is now playing in Tacoma, the Triple-A affiliate of the Mariners.

Woodward has 33 homers in his 10-year career, but none are anywhere close to as memorable as the one he hit against the Red Sox on April 21, 2003.

Woodward had the good fortune to step to the plate at about noon. Sox starter John Burkett was enduring a terrible outing, trailing 5-0 in the top of the third. With a runner on first and a 1-1 count, Woodward stepped into the box.

Around the time he did so, the Boston Marathon commenced, an event that was announced by a formation of F-16s that journeyed from Hopkinton to Boston. The jets thundered over Fenway as Burkett delivered his pitch, and continued to offer a resounding soundtrack as Woodward blasted a two-run homer over the Green Monster. It seems almost impossible that another homerun will ever be so boldly announced.

“That still goes down as the coolest moment in my career,” Woodward said last August. “That was kind of surreal. I was getting ready to call time out because I could hear them coming, but Burky was so quick (to the plate). He came set, so I figured I just have to wear it. I hear them right as he’s letting go of the ball. I hit it, and I was screaming, ‘Get up!’ I couldn’t even hear myself screaming as I was rounding first.

“My teammates were all shocked when I got to the dugout. They were like, ‘I can’t believe you just did that.’ That goes down as the coolest thing I’ve ever done in baseball.”

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Cameron scratched with possible recurrence of kidney stones

04.19.10 at 10:04 am ET
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Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron was scratched from today’s lineup after arriving at Fenway Park and exhibiting symptoms similar to those he endured last week, when he was diagnosed with kidney stones. Cameron was moving slowly when he entered the clubhouse and dressed, and after consulting with the team’s medical staff, he was taken to Mass. General to see whether he may once again be facing kidney stones.

“Cameron was in there, and then as the morning progressed, he was showing similar symptoms to the other day. I guess there’s a chance that he’s passing more,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “He’s really struggling. I think as the night progressed last night, his back got sore, his front got sore, he’s really feeling it. So we’ve got to get him looked at.”

Cameron is off to a slow start this year, hitting .233/.361/.333/.694. He has also had some troubles in the outfield while adjusting to a new park and a new set of hitters.

Part of those struggles, Francona suggested, represent a normal period of adjustment, and part of them reflect on the 37-year-old’s health. Cameron said in recent days that he began to feel discomfort during Wednesday’s game, and there is a decent likelihood that the stones contributed to his performance struggles.

“I think he’s probably a tougher kid than people realize, also. I haven’t had what he’s going through, but when you talk to people that do, they say it’s agonizing. And he’s out there playing,” said Francona. “I don’t think, physically, that he’s felt great the past week. He’s been in Minnesota, it’s a new ballpark for everybody. Fenway certainly is, for him. So yeah, I don’t disagree with [the idea that he's adjusting defensively]. We haven’t been on the field very much – I’m not making excuses, but … yeah, I’m sure he is.”

Cameron was replaced in the lineup by Bill Hall, who will play center field and bat eighth.

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Red Sox vs. Rays Matchups, 4/19

04.19.10 at 7:47 am ET
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The Rays have come into Fenway Park and dropped the Red Sox into the depths of the AL East. It’s early, but a 1-5 record to begin the season against division opponents is a cause for concern, especially if the Rays finish off the four-game sweep.

This is where John Lackey needs to step up and right the ship. Lackey has been the sharpest starter for the Sox this season, and for fans’ sake, the hope is he can be as sharp in the morning as he is as night. If Lackey was still in Los Angeles, his start on Monday would begin at 8:05 in the morning.

In day games, Lackey is a career 31-20 pitcher with a 3.71 ERA. The better news is that Lackey is a career 9-2 with a 3.07 ERA in 12 starts vs. the Rays, but his last start against the Rays resembled the ones that his fellow Red Sox starters have thrown up in the last two starts (five innings, eight earned runs).

While Lackey has some experience vs. the Rays, the Red Sox will face a relatively unfamiliar foe in Jeff Niemann. Niemann, a commanding 6-foot-9 presence on the mound, has only faced the Sox once in his career when he was roughed up last season to the tune of six runs (five earned) in his three innings of work on May 5.

Marco Scutaro (11 plate appearances) and Adrian Beltre (8) are the only Sox hitters with more than three plate appearances against Niemann.

John Lackey has been consistent since throwing on a Red Sox uniform. (AP)

RAYS VS. JOHN LACKEY

Carl Crawford (34 plate appearances): .394 average/ .394 OBP/ .576 slugging percentage, 1 homer, 1 strikeout

Carlos Pena (28): .217/ .357/ .478, 2 homers, 5 walks, 8 strikeouts

Dioner Navarro (18): .118/ .111/ .176, 4 strikeouts

B.J. Upton (17): .125/ .176/ .188, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts

Jason Bartlett (13): .208/ .208/ .615, 1 strikeout

Kelly Shoppach (9): .167/ .333/ .167, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts

Willy Aybar (6): .500/ .667/ .1.250, 1 homer, 2 walks, 1 strikeout

Gabe Kapler (6): .200/ .200/ .800, 1 homer, 1 strikeout

Evan Longoria (6): .200/ .333/ .400, 1 walk

Reid Brignac: 1-for-3, 1 strikeout

Pat Burrell: 1-for-3, 1 strikeout

Ben Zobrist: 2-for-2, 1 walk

Never faced: Sean Rodriguez

Jeff Niemann is a unfamiliar face to Red Sox hitters. (AP)

RED SOX VS. JEFF NIEMANN

Marco Scutaro (11 plate appearances): .091 average/ .091 OBP/ .091 slugging percentage, 3 strikeouts

Adrian Beltre (8): .286/ .375/ .286, 1 walk

Jacoby Ellsbury: 0-for-3, 1 walk

Bill Hall: 0-for-3, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts

Jeremy Hermida: 0-for3, 1 strikeout

J.D. Drew: 1-for-2, 1 strikeout

Mike Lowell: 1-for-2

Victor Martinez: 0-for-2, 1 strikeout

David Ortiz: 0-for-1, 1 walk

Dustin Pedroia: 1-for-1, 1 walk

Kevin Youkilis: 0-for-1, HBP

Never faced: Mike Cameron and Jason Varitek

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Could Bard start over as a starter?

04.19.10 at 1:56 am ET
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The sight was intriguing, to say the least.

After 20 hours of downtime, the Red Sox and Rays resumed their 1-1 contest on Saturday evening. The pitcher tabbed to begin the night, after a scoreless half inning for the Sox, was Daniel Bard.

For an outing, in a way, it was as if Bard was the starter for the Sox. And he was entirely impressive in that capacity.

The right-hander blazed his way through two innings, requiring just 17 pitches (16 strikes) to plow through his outing. He certainly looked like a pitcher who could remain in the game and maintain his effectiveness against the formidable Rays lineup.

Bard said that the outing felt entirely like one where he was entering from the bullpen. He began warming up only when the game resumed in the bottom of the ninth.

Still, the mere sight of him as the first Sox pitcher to the hill inspired an interesting hypothetical. Particularly given the gains that Bard made on his changeup in spring training, could Bard imagine a return to starting?

“I’m open to it. But I’m worried about this year,” said Bard. “This year, we’ve got plenty of starting pitchers. Could it be something we address down the road? I don’t know. I’m not that concerned about it, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”

Bard, of course, began his professional career in disastrous fashion as a starter. He went 3-7 with a 7.08 ERA while walking 78 in 75 innings in 22 starts in 2007.

Following that season, the hard-throwing right-hander went to the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League. There, he got his career back on track while pitching out of the bullpen.

When Bard dominated in relief in the minors in 2008, the Sox decided that they didn’t want to tamper with success. Even though, all things being equal, the team prefers to develop top pitchers as starters and not relievers, the team did not want to jeopardize a bird in hand.

The conservative approach was understandable. That said, Bard believes that the gains he has made since 2007 would allow him to succeed regardless of role.

“My struggles as a starter in the minor leagues had more with mechanics and the general mentality of pitching,” said Bard. “Everything kind of happened to click with me along with the move to the bullpen. So people were like, ‘He’s a better reliever than a starter.’

“But I changed so many little things about the way I pitched – how I prepare, and I’ve learned so much about the game, about pitching since then – that I think it would translate over to starting as well. But I’m not too concerned about it right now.”

Indeed, Bard has said on many occasions how much he enjoys life in the bullpen: the adrenaline rush, the attacking approach, the game-on-the-line circumstances.

But is there an element of starting that he misses?

“Not really. It pays a little better, is the only thing,” Bard chuckled. “I do like coming out of the ‘pen. I think I could adjust back to starting if I had to, but I’m really not thinking about that right now.”

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Lester: ‘I need to pick it up and kick myself in the [expletive]‘

04.18.10 at 6:58 pm ET
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Jon Lester pulled few punches after getting tagged for seven runs on seven hits in six innings in a 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday. (For a more complete look at what took place in Boston’s 7-1 loss to the Rays, click here.) Now 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA this year, the 26-year-old made clear that he views his results in his first three starts to be unacceptable.

“I don’t know what I have to do, I just have to be better,” said Lester. “I have to be better and it’s unacceptable. I’m letting the rotation down, I’m letting the bullpen down. After last night, I have to do a better job and go deeper in that ballgame. I have to give them a blow and I didn’t do that. Most importantly, I’m letting the team down with how I’m throwing the ball right now. I need to pick it up and kick myself in the [expletive]. I don’t know what else I need to do but I’m going to figure it out and everything’s going to ride on from there.”

Lester gave up a pair of two-run homers, one to Carlos Pena (who now has five homers against Lester, more than any other hitter) on a first-pitch fastball in the second inning and another to B.J. Upton on a full-count fastball.

But it was Lester’s three walks (all of which came around to score) and inability to put batters away when ahead in the count that the pitcher and his team found particularly troubling. Upton’s at-bat offered a good example: the Rays center fielder was behind, 1-2, before fouling off a pitch and then watching a pair of fastballs miss the zone. Then, with the count full, Upton could sit on a fastball that he launched atop the camera well beyond the center field bleachers.

“These guys are too good hitters to let them back into the count,” said Lester. “I think I was 1-2 to B.J. and I end up throwing basically some [expletive] pitches to him and he gets back into the count where he feels comfortable and I become predictable and he hits it out.”

Pitching coach John Farrell agreed with that assessment, noting that Lester frequently got ahead of Rays hitters only to let them work their way back into deep counts in which they could sit on fastballs. Of the seven hits that the southpaw permitted, six, Farrell said, were on either fastballs or cutters. Farrell suggested that between the inability to put Tampa Bay hitters away and the concession of free passes, a lot of the damage done against his protegee was “self-manufactured.”

“It was a first pitch to Pena. You tip your hat in that situation,” said Farrell. “The other hard contact, the other base hits off hard, power type stuff, came after he had been up in the count and worked the count full or deep to then, I’m not going to say backed himself into a corner, but relied on that approach.”

Thus continued what is becoming a familiar trend. Lester has a 2-6 record and 5.46 ERA in March/April, a pattern that he had been hoping to avoid this year.

To date, he has failed to do so. To the contrary, through three starts, he is off to the worst start of his career. Yet as disappointing as the start has been, the Sox remain optimistic that the pitcher’s outstanding arsenal — on dramatic display in the first inning on Sunday, in which he struck out the side against the Rays on 16 pitches — will soon equate to a reversal of misfortune.

“He’ll get himself turned around. He’s run into this the last couple years for whatever reason,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “Once he gets on a roll, he’s showed what he can do. We just want him to start soon.”

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Closing Time: Rays 7, Red Sox 1

04.18.10 at 5:11 pm ET
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The Red Sox continued a stretch of poor baseball, losing for the third straight night and fifth time in six games. Little went right for the Sox on Sunday, as the Rays tattooed Jon Lester while Rays counterpart Matt Garza bordered on unhittable. That diabolical combination resulted in a 7-1 wipeout.

Garza was spectacular in delivering eight shutout innings, consistent with his remarkable career against the Red Sox. In the regular season, he is now 6-2 with a 2.92 ERA against the Sox (and, of course, he had a pair of ALCS victories over Boston in 2008). He allowed four hits (all singles) and two walks while striking out five to lower his ERA to 0.75.

The Sox’ 4-8 start is their worst after 12 games since 1996, when the team opened with a 2-10 record.

Key Play

Lester looked overpowering in striking out the side against the Rays in the top of the first inning. But in the top of the second, Mike Cameron got a bad jump on what appeared to be a catchable fly ball off the bat of Evan Longoria. The ball landed on the warning track for a double, and Lester — pitching out of the stretch and perhaps with some frustration — gave up a homer to Rays first baseman Carlos Pena on the next pitch.

Of course, Pena might not have needed any help against Lester. He now has five homers against the Sox lefty, the most by any hitter against Lester.

What Went Right for the Red Sox

Jason Varitek continued his strong offense, flying out to the warning track twice in left and flicking a single to left against Garza, a pitcher against whom he’s struggled mightily in his career.

–Lester notched his 500th career strikeout, catching Willie Aybar looking at a 93 mph fastball in the top of the fourth inning.

Scott Schoeneweis tossed a pair of shutout innings, helping to give most of his bullpen counterparts a day of rest.

–Prospect Ryan Westmoreland made an appearance at the park, taking in a game with his friends while continuing his rehab.

What Went Wrong for the Red Sox

–The Red Sox offense has been abysmal of late, managing just seven runs in its last four games. On Sunday, the team had five hits (four singles) and two walks. The team is now averaging just 3.4 runs per game this season, and has scored one or zero runs in four of their 12 contests.

–Lester got bombed by the Rays, allowing seven runs on seven hits (two homers) and three walks in six innings. His career ERA in March/April now stands at 5.46, and his record in the month is a dismal 2-6. On the season, he is now 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA, and the Sox have lost all three of his outings.

Victor Martinez wasn’t behind the plate, instead serving as the designated hitter on Sunday. Yet even while his defensive work did not require any scrutiny, he continued his season-opening offensive struggles. Martinez had a soft lineout to second and also grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. In 12 games, he has grounded into more double plays than any other player in the majors (5) at this point of the young season. Last year, he grounded into six double plays in 56 games with the Sox.

Martinez has been seeing plenty of pitches (4.12 entering Sunday, 15th most in the majors), and he’s been making hard contact (his 26.8 percent line drive rate, according to Fangraphs, is the best of his career). But thus far, whether because of bad luck or a genuine struggle, his results have been wanting.

He is hitting .224 with a .622 OPS.

Mike Cameron has seemed to struggle a bit in his adjustment to Fenway Park. After committing a key error that opened the door to four unearned runs on Saturday, Cameron had a difficult time picking up the ball off the bat of Longoria leading off the second, resulting in a double. Cameron also had a bad read on a ball in the Yankees series, letting a Jorge Posada fly ball hit the base of the wall for a double, a key play in what ended up being a 3-1 extra-inning loss for the Sox.

–Broken record: The Sox couldn’t stop the Rays on the bases. Since the second game of the season, the Sox have seen 19 straight runners successfully steal a base against them.

–The Sox have lost five of six contests against AL East opponents.

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