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Did Jacoby Ellsbury call his steal of home?

04.26.09 at 10:44 pm ET
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Okay, so maybe Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t quite “call” his straight steal of home – the first by a Red Sox in 15 years – but he did talk about his zest for stealing home prior to the Red Sox’ 4-1 win over the Yankees, Sunday night. Ellsbury had a favorite move as a Little Leaguer, taking off for the plate when the catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher. He was never thrown out on the play.

So, he was asked, had he asked either manager Terry Francona or third-base coach/baserunning coach DeMarlo Hale for permission to steal home at the major-league level?

“I think they’€™ll leave it up to me on that,” Ellsbury said. “They don’€™t want to be responsible for something like that. Some of those plays are just more instinctive. If you think about it, it’€™s too late.”

Apparently, Ellsbury was able to apply his instincts in this game. He saw that left-hander Andy Pettitte – pitching with his back to third base – was paying him little heed, and so Ellsbury was able to get an outstanding jump on the pitch to J.D. Drew. Though he almost tripped, he was still able to dive head-first across the inside corner of the plate, scratching the dish with his hand for the run.

The steal of home is the culminating gesture on an extraordinary series of baserunning by Ellsbury. He has four steals this weekend, and 10 on the year. He suggests that greater exposure to opposing pitchers has been a boon in his thieving practice.

“The more times you see a guy, it definitely is going to help. It’€™s not going to hurt,” said Ellsbury. “Anytime you see a guy more and more, you get more comfortable. You see some tendencies he has. It makes him easier to read.”

This weekend, Ellsbury forced a balk by Joba Chamberlain, then scored from second when he took off on a steal and kept running when Chamberlain uncorked a wild pitch. He stole a base on a pitchout on Saturday, a play that Ellsbury described as more exciting than causing a balk.

“Balks are nice ‘€“ free base ‘€“ but balks just mean they’€™re paying attention to you, but I think beating a pitchout is a little more exciting to myself and fans as well,” said Ellsbury. “I’€™ve been (beating pitchouts) since Little League…You don’€™t want to go on pitchouts, but it’€™s too late. If you’€™re already half-way down, you might as well go the rest of the way to second instead of going back to first.”

Yet Ellsbury suggested that scoring from second on a wild pitch was even more of a rush than beating a pitchout.

“Definitely,” he said. “I think there’€™s a little adrenaline that kicks in when you see that play opening up.”

Of course, the steal of home will now surely take the title of his greatest thrill of the weekend. But, it seems fair to say that it has been a unique and fascinating run for Ellsbury.

“It’€™s been fun. It’€™s been a good series,” he said before the game. “You never get exhausted crossing the plate.”

6th Inning: Masterson Out

04.26.09 at 10:14 pm ET
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Justin Masterson entered tonight having thrown no more than 84 pitches in any game this year. He has surpassed that total in the top of the sixth, and so it seems a bit of a stretch to think that he might end up pitching beyond this inning.

There is some reason to believe that he is tiring in the sixth. Nick Swisher led off the inning with a warning track fly-out to left-center. Robinson Cano then followed by yanking a single to right. Cano is now 7-for-14 this series, and four straight Yankees (Jeter single, Teixeira deep fly to right, Swisher deep fly to left, Cano single) have made solid contact.

Jorge Posada followed by walking to put runners on first and second with one out. That led to Masterson’s departure from the game after 99 pitches, with Hunter Jones called into action for his first meaningful appearance in his major-league career.

Jones proved impressive in responding to the call. He left a slider up to the first batter he faced, but Hideki Matsui lined it to right for an out. He then struck out Melky Cabrera on an 86 mph fastball that had excellent lateral movement for the third out of the inning, ending the Yankees‘ threat and closing the book on the starting pitcher.

Masterson finished with 5.1 innings, 6 hits, one run, one walk and four strikeouts. He threw 99 pitches, 62 strikes, and is in line for his first career win over the Yankees.


Andy Pettitte is giving the Yankees a yeoman’s effort this evening. He navigated through the sixth, getting groundouts from Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek to start the inning. Nick Green then singled, but got caught stealing when he took off prematurely on Pettitte’s first move (with Jacoby Ellsbury up 2-1 in the count, no less).

Pettitte is now at 114 pitches, his most since last July 20. Interestingly, no one is up in the Yankees’ bullpen.

Hunter Jones has given way to Michael Bowden, who is about to make is second professional relief appearance, second major-league appearance, and first major-league relief appearance. This is a weird game.


5th inning: Ellsbury Steals Home

04.26.09 at 9:46 pm ET
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Perhaps Mike Lowell was taking sympathy on Angel Berroa. He nearly threw away a grounder off Berroa’s bat to start the fifth against Justin Masterson. But Kevin Youkilis proved uncharitable, managing to hold his toe on the bag while engaged in the splits to record the first out.

Masterson then struck out Brett Gardner on an 85 mph slider. The slider has always been a solid pitch for Masterson to both right-handed and left-handed batters – he does a tremendous job of running the pitch over the insider corners against lefties, as he did against Gardner. That’s four strikeouts for Masterson through 4.2 innings.

Derek Jeter then followed by ripping a ball towards Nick Green. The short-hop ate up the shortstop, and bounced into left, Jeter getting credit for a single. Jeter is now up to 2,558 hits in his career, and should cross 3,000 in 2011. The burning question: will it be as a Yankee, and as a shortstop? His range is diminished, and his 10-year, $189 million deal expires after the 2010 season.

The two-out hit nearly proved costly, as Mark Teixeira crushed a sinker that stayed up to deep right-center. But the wind proved Masterson’s friend (of course, Masterson seems the type to walk through a forest and be greeted by squirrels and birds perching on his shoulders), and the ball landed in J.D. Drew’s glove on the warning track in deep right-center. Remarkably, though Masterson has given up 19 hits to the Yankees in his career, 18 of those have been singles.


Pettitte seems to be getting stronger as the game progresses. His fastball has been around 90mph, and he’s been complementing that pitch with his usual cutter, but he’s been leaning more on a slider and curve that have both been outstanding in the middle innings.

Jason Varitek managed to work a walk to lead off the fifth, but Pettitte came back to strike out Nick Green on a full-count 89 mph fastball on the inside corner. Jacoby Ellsbury then worked a walk – just his second of the homestand – to put runners on first and second.

But Pettitte – described before tonight’s game by Yankees manager and former Yankees catcher Joe Girardi as a big-game pitcher, dating to the 1996 World Series – retired Dustin Pedroia on a fly to left-center.

Pettitte looked like he might get out of the inning, but David Ortiz foiled that plan, lofting a 1-2 pitch away off the Green Monster for his fifth double of the current home stand (all to the opposite field). The knock scored Varitek, and put Ellsbury on third.

The Yankees elected to intentionally walk Kevin Youkilis – the fifth time in 18 games that Youkilis has received an intentional pass, nearing his career-high of seven, set last season.

With the bases loaded, Jacoby Ellsbury electrified the crowd with a straight steal of home on a 1-1 pitch. It was the first Red Sox steal of home since Jose Offerman did the deed as part of a double steal on August 30, 1999, against the Royals, and the first straight steal of home since Billy Hatcher.

Pettitte seemed unnerved, giving up a run-scoring double to right to J.D. Drew, but then settling to strike out Jason Bay. Still, the Sox have staked themselves to a lead with the three-run outburst in which all the runs came with two outs.


4th inning: Masterson escapes harm

04.26.09 at 9:25 pm ET
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Justin Masterson started the inning by fanning Nick Swisher on a full-count fastball (93 mph), the second time that he has punched out the Yankees‘ cleanup hitter tonight. A tangent to that: while Swisher’s emergence as an offensive force for the Yankees in the early paces has been impressive, it is not altogether surprising. The Red Sox made inquiries with the White Sox about acquiring Swisher at the G.M. meetings in November, feeling that the first baseman/outfielder was a prime candidate for a bounceback year.

With one out, Robinson Cano plunked a single into shallow-ish right center. The play might have been a routine out but for the stiff wind that kept pushing the ball back towards the infield. Though this hit was as much a product of luck as skill, Cano is a force against the Red Sox: he entered tonight with a career .321 average, .347 OBP (walk much?), .547 slugging mark and .895 OPS.

Jorge Posada followed by fouling out to third, but with two outs, Hideki Matsui prolonged the inning with an excellent at-bat. He ripped a couple foul balls — one would-be homer curling foul by the Pesky Pole, the other hit straight back — before singling sharply to right to put runners on the corners with two outs. But Masterson quashed the threat by getting Melky Cabrera to ground out to second.

Masterson, who had given up four hits in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position entering tonight, has held the Yankees hitless in five plate appearances (0-for-4, sac fly) tonight.


Kevin Youkilis entered tonight with a .444 average, the highest mark by a Red Sox in April since at least 1954 (the secon dhighest is a .426 mark by Ted Williams in 1957), but he’s now 0-for-2 after striking out on a devastating Andy Pettitte curveball. Pettitte’s off-speed stuff has been great this inning, and continued to be so: he struck out J.D. Drew on a nasty slider that Drew missed by a foot. (Drew has now seen six pitches and struck out twice, out of character with his .346 / .370 / .769 / 1.139 career line against Pettitte entering tonight.)

But while Jason Bay nearly fell victim to the off-speed stuff (he swung and missed at a 2-1 curve), he worked his way to yet another walk. Bay is up to 20 walks, and his career high for a single month (24) is in sight. Bay stole second — his second steal of the year, and a sign that the Sox are trying to be surprisingly aggressive on the bases against Pettitte — but New York’s left-hander now appears locked in. He struck out Mike Lowell looking at a 90 mph fastball to strike out the side and end any threat.

It’s the first time that Pettitte has struck out the side since the third inning of a start against Oakland last July 20.


3rd inning: Ellsbury’s wheels in motion

04.26.09 at 8:57 pm ET
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Justin Masterson, after sailing through his first two innings, encountered his first turbulence in part because of poor luck, in part because of Yankee guile.

Hideki Matsui led off by whacking a single to left. Melky Cabrera then followed by bouncing a ball towards third. Mike Lowell ranged to his left, and was in position to field what could have been a tailor-made double play ball. But the ball hit the lip of the grass and the infield dirt, and so instead of bouncing into Lowell’s glove, it skidded under it for a single to left.

With runners on first and second, Angel Berroa sacrificed them to second and third. That brought up leadoff man Brett Gardner for a key at-bat. Gardner fell behind 1-2, and Masterson and catcher Jason Varitek went for the strikeout: an elevated 94 mph offering. But Gardner reacted to it, and lifted the ball just shy of the warning track in left for a sac fly.

With two outs, Masterson got a grounder to third from Derek Jeter, but Lowell booted it for his second error of the year. Masterson rendered the gaffe harmless by getting Mark Teixeira to fly to right to end the inning on the first pitch he saw. Still, the Yankees get on the board first with their brand of small ball on a night when the weather has clearly made for different scoring conditions than those that have prevailed the first two games.


Angel Berroa is not a third baseman. Prior to this year, he had played at the position for precisely 1/3 of an inning. But the injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Cody Ransom have led him to the hot corner, and so perhaps he did not feel too bad about the error that he committed to put Nick Green on first base to start the third inning.

Green was erased on a fielder’s choice when Andy Pettitte pounced on a Jacoby Ellsbury dribbler in front of the plate. Despite the out, however, Ellsbury was on first, a dangerous (and distracting) development for a pitcher.Makr Teixeira

Ellsbury was not long for first. He had a good read on Pettitte’s move, and stole second (his ninth steal of the year) with Dustin Pedroia batting. Ellsbury’s influence on the field again became apparent when Pedroia grounded a ball to Berroa. Berroa seemed distracted by the need to hold Ellsbury at second — and rightly so, since as soon as Berroa threw the ball, Ellsbury took off for third — and skipped his throw to first.

Berroa’s second error of the inning put runners on the corners with one out. David Ortiz capitalized, lifting a fly to medium depth in left field — plenty deep enough for Ellsbury to race home with the tying run on a sac fly. Sox manager Terry Francona has talked about Ellsbury’s knack for scoring runs. His tour around the bases underscored the point.

Dustin Pedroia then took off on a first move by Pettitte, and was cut down at second (pitcher to first to short). Pedroia has now been caught stealing three times this year, matching his previous career total from his first 327 games from 2006-08.

The unearned run ties the game. Angel Berroa is sad.


2nd Inning: Another quick frame for Masterson

04.26.09 at 8:32 pm ET
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Nick Swisher is batting cleanup tonight, and his early emergence in that role and as an everyday player may be even more unexpected than the role played by Nick Green for the Sox. (Jolly times for the Nicks?)

But Swisher, who has reached base safely in every Yankees game thus far this year, struck out swinging over the top of a 92 mph Justin Masterson sinker that dropped like an anvil. The fact that Masterson is getting grounders and strikeouts in a starting role is worth a raised eyebrow or two — if he can do that on a consistent basis, there’s no way he’s more valuable as a reliever than as a starter.

Robinson Cano followed by pounding a sinker to first for an unassisted putout. Cano never left the box, his absence of hustle did not seem to bother the Yankees, as manager Joe Girardi gave his second baseman a friendly tap as he passed him on the way back to the dugout.

Jorge Posada followed by getting the first ball of the night in the air against Masterson, but the pop-up on a 92 mph fastball settled harmlessly into the glove of Jason Bay in left. Given that the Sox are without Jonathan Papelbon, Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen in the bullpen tonight, Masterson’s early efficiency could have a huge impact.


Kevin Youkilis toted his .450 average against Andy Pettitte to the plate, worked to a full count and smashed a one-hopper to Robinson Cano at second. Pettitte doesn’t appear to be fooling anyone in the early going…except for J.D. Drew, who struck out looking on three straight called strikes, the last a 90 mph fastball for the second out of the inning.

With two outs, Jason Bay was jammed on a 2-2 cutter, but he beat out his dribbler to third baseman Angel Berroa, who was playing deep (with good reason) against the right-handed power hitter. The white-hot Mike Lowell then followed by lacing a single to right-center. Lowell is now 14-for-30 (.467) on the current homestand with two homers, 14 RBIs and six runs.

With runners on first and second, Jason Varitek came to the plate. As we mentioned at the time of his grand slam yesterday, he’s a terrible career hitter with the bases loaded (.209 average, .590 OPS), and he’s also been worse with runners in scoring position and two outs (.229, .738) than he has been in general over his career.

Petitte, perhaps fearing that the Sox are stealing signs (he called out Jorge Posada for a conference on the mound prior to his 2-2 pitch), worked slowly to Varitek. With a full count, Varitek hamered an 88 mph fastball into the gap in left-center, but the wind knocked the ball down, and it settled harmlessly into Swisher’s glove in late.

Through two, the Sox have three hits and a couple of additional smashes, but nothing to show for it.


1st inning: Masterson, Pettitte Make Quick Work of the First

04.26.09 at 8:16 pm ET
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Justin Masterson commences the game in a fashion that he must consider promising. He threw four fastballs to Brett Gardner (in the lineup in place of the banged-up Johnny Damon, who crashed into the Green Monster scoreboard on Saturday), all registering 91-94 mph, with the fourth offering resulting in a weak grounder to short. The groundball, of course is a hallmark of Masterson’s effectiveness. Among pitchers who threw at least 60 innings last year, he ranked fifth in the American League in groundball-to-flyball ratio.

Masterson has not been particularly good against the Yankees in the past, having allowed more than two baserunners per inning against them. Even though he entered today having allowed 14 hits in 9.1 innings, however, no active member of the Yankees has an extra-base hit off of him.

Masterson followed his quick work against Gardner by retiring Derek Jeter on a sinker that resulted in a groundout to second. He then changed his approach slightly against Mark Teixeira, who saw Masterson’s first sliders of the game and then, on a 3-2 pitch, struck out swinging on a 96 mph four-seam fastball that was up in the zone. Masterson has been a somewhat surprising strikeout pitcher this year: this punchout was his 11th in 12.1 innings.


It has been both a good and fascinating series against the Yankees for Jacoby Ellsbury. He entered tonight 4-for-10 in the series, but with these oddities on his resume for the weekend:

–A homer and double
–Two steals, one on a pitchout
–One balk caused, also on a pitchout
–One run scored from second base on a wild pitch (on which he was taking off for third)

That’s an unbelievable confluence of events. “It’s been a good series,” Ellsbury said modestly before tonight’s game.

That good series — and homestand (Ellsbury entered today hitting .378 with 14 hits and eight runs in the first eight games of this Fenway stretch) — continued, when Ellsbury lined a single to left off of Yankees starter Andy Pettitte to open the game. Pettitte, of course, is considered one of the best in th business at holding runners thanks to a lethal pickoff move, so it will be interesting to see whether Ellsbury is aggressive on the bases.

Pettitte worked very slowly against Dustin Pedroia, largely to ensure that he kept Ellsbury close at first. Pedroia flied the fifth pitch of the at-bat to deep-ish center, but with a stiff (13mph at first pitch) breeze running from right to left, the ball was knocked down for an out. David Ortiz then ripped a Pettitte offering, but the bullet went directly to Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, who caught the ball and doubled Ellsbury off of first.

So the Red Sox waste an early opportunity, but hard contact to the pull side by Ortiz represents a promising sign for the Sox. Even so, Pettitte needed just nine pitches in the first – a huge development for a Yankees staff that has few reliable arms in the bullpen.


With Lugo Set to Return, Green’s Future Unclear

04.26.09 at 8:02 pm ET
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Among the early-season storylines on the Red Sox, perhaps none has been more surprising than the emergence of Nick Green as an everyday shortstop. Through the early weeks of spring training, he was only playing second base, consistent with a career in which he’s been primarily and almost exclusively at that position. He wouldn’t have made the Opening Day roster but for the injury to Julio Lugo, and he was pressed into duty as a starting shortstop only because Jed Lowrie required wrist surgery.

But all of those scenarios occurred, and so Green will make his 12th straight start at short today, the most starts he’s ever made at the position in a major-league season. And his performance has been everything the Sox could have hoped and then some.

He enters today hitting .308 with a .386 OBP and .513 slugging mark. His defense has included some outstanding plays (mostly on flyballs behind the infield), albeit with a few errors sprinkled into the mix. He has been good enough that the Sox will have little reluctance to put him back at short in place of Lugo when he needs a rest, and going forward, Green will likely see time as a utility player who can back up at second, third and short.

For obvious reasons, Green would rather be a starter than a backup. But he’s been thrilled with the unexpected opportunity that he’s had, and will adapt to whatever role the Sox give him when Lugo is activated on Monday.

“It’€™s one of those things you always strive for. Ultimatley, you want to be in the big leagues and you want the opportunity to play everyday. I’€™ve been fortunate to have it for a couple weeks,” said Green. “I’€™ve been fortunate enough to be able to play everyday for a while. It’€™s always something you want to do, and I want to keep doing it. Ultimately, it’€™s out of my hands.

“We’€™re going to be getting Julio back,” Green added. “He can be a valuable part of the team. Anytime you can get him back, it’€™s helpful. I just do whatever they tell me to do.”

Green has felt no pressure to perform. The role has been a comfortable one for him thanks to both the clubhouse in which he is operating and the fact that his current job is something of an exercise in playing with house money.

“I’€™m not making 10 million bucks. I’€™m not hitting third in the lineup. I’€™m kind of in the background, is the way I look at it. I don’€™t feel like there’€™s any pressure on me,” said Green, before smirking, “If I were making 10 million bucks, I’€™d be pretty pumped up.”

(Green, for what it’s worth, is making $500,000 this year.)

The Sox will let Lugo’s health dictate how often he starts.

‘€œSome of it is going to depend on how he feels,’€ Sox manager Terry Francona said. ‘€œWe’€™re not just going to turn him loose and just because he’€™s on our roster and hurt him. We’€™ll use some common sense.’€

Lugo went 4-for-17 during his rehab assignment in Pawtucket, but all four of those hits came in 11 at-bats over the last two days.

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Francona said: Paps night off and Lugo ready

04.26.09 at 7:57 pm ET
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Righthander Michael Bowden was called up by the Red Sox prior to their Sunday night series finale with the Yankees to provide bullpen depth.

Red Sox skipper Terry Francona said before the game that he will stay away from Jonathan Papelbon, Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen and that Takashi Saito would close for the Red Sox if the need arises.

To make room for Bowden, infield Gil Velazquez was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket. Francona said Bowden will likely head back to Pawtucket following the game to make room for infield Julio Lugo, who will be activated prior to Monday’s game in Cleveland.

‘€œHe seems to be moving and not favoring his leg or anything like that,” Francona said of Lugo’s strengthened right knee. “The more he plays, the better he’€™ll be. I’€™m sure there’€™s a little rust there.’€

As for how much he’ll be used right away, Francona said he will rely on how Lugo feels to make that determination.

‘€œSome of it is going to depend on how he feels,” Francona said. “We’€™re not just going to turn him loose and just because he’€™s on our roster and hurt him. We’€™ll use some common sense.’€

Read More: Julio Lugo, Michael Bowden, MLB, Red Sox

Red Sox vs. Yankees Matchups, 4/26

04.26.09 at 3:05 pm ET
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The infield at Fenway Park should take some punishment tonight, as Red Sox sinkerballer Justin Masterson and cutter-concocting Yankees starter Andy Pettitte typically force opponents to pound the ball into the ground. Both ranked among American League leaders in groundball-to-flyball ratio last year.


Justin Masterson (1-0, 3.18 ERA) has been little short of dazzling in his last two appearances, first a four-inning relief effort in Oakland, and then a 5.1 inning start against the Orioles. He has shown an ability to translate his bullpen arsenal – especially his mid-90s velocity – to his role as a starter, something he did not do as a member of the rotation last year.

“I feel more assured of myself and who I am, and I feel like I’m understanding my mechanics, like, what makes me good,” said Masterson. “I think I’m understanding that better. I’m not overthinking.”

Masterson pitched in five games against the Yankees last year. His introduction to the rivalry came when he pitched well but took a loss in a Yankees Stadium start. But unlike the rest of baseball, New York actually fared better against Masterson the reliever than they did against the pitcher as a starter. The Yankees scored runs off of Masterson (0-2 with a 0.82 ERA against the Yankees last year) in three of his four relief appearances against them, and the team hit well against the right-hander, getting 21 runners on base against him in just 9.1 innings.

As such, it does not come as a substantial surprise to see that a number of Yankees have enjoyed success against Masterson in their limited exposure to him – though no one in today’s lineup has a single extra-base hit against him:

Melky Cabrera (4 career plate appearances): 3-for-4 (all singles)
Robinson Cano (5): 2-for-4 with a walk
Brett Gardner (4): 0-for-3 with a sacrifice bunt
Derek Jeter (5): 2-for-5 (both singles)
Hideki Matsui (1): 0-for-1
Jose Molina (3): 0-for-2 with a walk
Nick Swisher (1): 1-for-1 (single)


Andy Pettitte is a familiar site for the Red Sox. He has made 30 career starts against Boston, the second most among active starters (Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays is first with 34). In roughly a season’s worth of work against the Red Sox (30 starts, 190 innings), Pettitte owns a career 16-8 record and 3.74 ERA against the Sox. He is tied with Randy Johnson for the most wins among active pitchers at Boston’s expense.

Suffice it to say thata few members of the Sox have faced the left-hander once or twice. Despite Pettitte’s career success against the Sox, several members of the current Boston club have impressive numbers against him. An astouding EIGHT members of the Red Sox have a career average of .346 or higher against Pettitte; seven have an OPS in excess of .900:

Jeff Bailey (3 career plate appearances): .667 average / .667 OBP / .667 slugging / 1.334 OPS
Jason Bay (25): .455 / .520 / .682 / 1.202
J.D. Drew (27): .346 / .370 / .769 / 1.139
Jacoby Ellsbury (8): .500 / .500 / .625 / 1.125
Mike Lowell (24): .350 / .417 / .400 / .817
David Ortiz (49): .364 / .408 / .545 / .953
Dustin Pedroia (26): . 231 / .231 / .269 / .500
Jason Varitek (58): .340 / .414 / .520 / .934
Kevin Youkilis (27): .450 / .593 / .750 / 1.343

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