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Sunday’s (7:05 p.m.) Red Sox-Tigers matchups: Josh Beckett vs. Justin Verlander

05.29.11 at 8:00 am ET
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To those who follow the comings and goings of both the Red Sox and Tigers on a regular basis, the pitching matchup for the second game of Sunday’€™s doubleheader will look awfully familiar. Indeed, Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett faced each other when Detroit played in Boston on May 19. In that game, Beckett bested Verlander as he allowed just one run over six innings in a 4-3 Sox win before being pulled with neck stiffness. The Detroit fireballer was no slouch either with a quality start (8 IP, 3 ER, 9 strikeouts, 0 walks) of his own. Both pitchers earned no decisions after Boston reliever Daniel Bard allowed back-to-back home runs in the eighth to tie the game at three apiece before Carl Crawford hit a walk-off single in the ninth.

If Beckett’€™s (4-1, 1.69 ERA) performance against the Tigers in his last outing isn’€™t enough to instill any confidence from Red Sox fans, his career numbers at Comerica Park certainly should. In two career starts at the Detroit ballpark, Beckett is 2-0 over 14 2/3 innings pitched with just one earned run allowed. He has also struck out 17 Tigers on their own turf in that time. Another set of stats that should add to the good feelings concerning Beckett’€™s start is his performance thus far in the month of May. In five starts and 30 innings pitched, he has allowed just two earned runs for a monthly ERA of 0.60 to lower his American League-best mark in that category to 1.69.

If those numbers don’€™t frighten Detroit hitters, their own batting figures against Beckett certainly should. As a team, Detroit is hitting .205 against the righty. In fact, no Tiger with more than four plate appearances against Beckett has an average higher than .231 in such situations. Miguel Cabrera, he of the .313 career batting average, has yet to grab a hit, going 0-for-8 with a walk when facing Beckett.

If nothing else, the Tigers can at least take solace in the fact that they will be sending their own ace to the bump Sunday night. Verlander (4-3, 3.42 ERA) had been one of the best pitchers in the junior circuit with a no-hitter, the second in his career, already to his credit this season. But the tall righty came back down to earth slightly in his last start on Tuesday against the Rays. In that outing, Verlander allowed a season-highs in hits (nine) and runs (six) over six innings while striking out a season-low two batters.

The Sox bats will look to jump all over a potentially vulnerable Verlander, and expect middle-of-the-order hitters Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, both of whom have two home runs and three RBI against the righty, to possibly lead that charge. Also, Red Sox manager Terry Francona would be well-advised to keep Jason Varitek behind the plate as he has been for nine of Beckett’€™s 10 starts this season. The Boston captain is 2-for-5 with two RBI and a walk against Verlander while fellow backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia is 0-for-6 with four punchouts. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: David Ortiz, jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek, Josh Beckett

Nuggetpalooza: 30 Clubs/30 Nuggets

05.28.11 at 12:27 pm ET
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For your Memorial Day weekend, here’s my first “Thirty Clubs/Thirty Nuggets”:

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Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have batted around in every inning except the 5th and 9th this season. Last year, they not only batted around in every inning, but they were one of only three teams to do it at least TWICE in every inning. The Rays and Phillies were the other two.

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New York Yankees

124 different major league hitters have seen 75 or more changeups this season, but none have handled the change worse than Derek Jeter, who is 1-for-23 with six strikeouts against it (+1.27 quality points per pitch; Keep in mind that positive quality points always favor the pitcher). Here are the bottom three against the change (min. 75 seen):

+1.27 – Derek Jeter, NYY
+1.07-  Colby Rasmus, STL
+1.04 – Jason Bartlett, SD

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Tampa Bay Rays

Opponents are batting just .108 (8-for-74) against Jeremy Hellickson the first time through the order, the lowest such average in the majors among starting pitchers:

.108 – Jeremy Hellickson, TB
.120 – James Shields, TB
.122 – Ervin Santana, LAA

Average against Hellickson the second time through? .306, 22-for-72 with 12 extra base hits including four home runs.

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Baltimore Orioles

The home run by the A’s Josh Willingham on Friday night was the 15th allowed by the Orioles to the opponent’s cleanup batter this season, the most in the majors:

15 – Orioles
11 – Royals
11 – Mets

Since the start of the 2008 season, the O’s have allowed 123 HR to opponent cleanup batters, 16 more than any other team.

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Toronto Blue Jays

In his 10 starts this season, Kyle Drabek has averaged 5.3 full counts, the highest average in the majors (min. 8 starts):

5.3 – Kyle Drabek,TOR
4.6 – Jon Lester, BOS
4.5 – Derek Lowe, ATL

The Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter (1.9) has averaged the fewest full counts per start so far. Last season, John Lackey had the highest average full counts per start (4.3; min. 20 starts).

—————————————————————————————————————————– Read the rest of this entry »

Saturday’s Red Sox-Tigers matchups: Clay Buchholz vs. Andy Oliver

05.28.11 at 3:30 am ET
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Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz has been dominant in his last five starts. In that span, he owns a 3-0 record, 1.64 ERA and has held opposing batters to a .195 average. Buchholz (4-3, 3.30) will try to sustain a team that is likewise streaking, as the Sox have won 12 of 14 en route to first place in the AL East.

However, Buchholz has been a bit rocky on the road. Seven of the eight home runs he’s allowed this season have come away from Fenway Park. In his career at Comerica Park, Buchholz is 1-0 with a 5.23 ERA. One more statistic worth noting is that Buchholz’s ERA is over a full point lower this season in night games (2.95) than day games (3.98). In 82 career plate appearances, current Tigers batters have just five extra-base hits and 18 strikeouts against him.

Detroit will send left-handed pitcher Andy Oliver to the hill. Oliver (0-0, -.–) will be called up from Triple-A Toledo to make his first big-league start of the season.

In nine minor league starts this season, Oliver has recorded a 4-3 record with a 3.31 ERA. In five starts with the Tigers last season, Oliver — a highly touted prospect whom the Tigers took in the second round of the 2009 draft — was unimpressive. He finished 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA. In 22 innings he allowed 22 runs and struck out 18 batters while walking 13. He also allowed three home runs last season.

The Red Sox scored 14 runs on both Wednesday and Thursday. Though they only managed a half dozen in Friday’s victory, they have scored at least three runs in 16 of their last 19 outings. No current Red Sox hitters has faced Oliver in major league action (though Josh Reddick is 0-for-3 with a walk and Drew Sutton is 1-for-2 with a walk against him in Triple-A this year).

Tigers vs. Buchholz

Miguel Cabrera (15 career plate appearances): .154BA/.267 OBP/.231 SLG, 1 double, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts

Austin Jackson (11): .100/.182/.200, 1 double, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts

Jhonny Peralta (11): .333/.364/.444, 1 double, 3 RBIs, 3 strikeouts

Ryan Raburn (10): .333/.400/.667, 1 HR, 2 RBIs, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts

Brennan Boesch (9): .111/.111/.111, 1 RBI, 1 strikeout

Alex Avila (6): .400/.500/.600, 1 double, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Brandon Inge (6): .000/.500/.000, 2 walks

Scott Sizemore (6): .000/.000/.000, 2 strikeouts

Ramon Santiago (5): .000/.200/.000, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Victory Martinez (3): .000/.000/.000

Don Kelly and Casper Wells have not faced the Boston starter.

Red Sox vs. Oliver

No Boston hitters have faced the Detroit starter.

Read More: Andrew Oliver, Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz, Detroit Tigers

Closing Time: Red Sox keep rolling over Tigers

05.27.11 at 9:48 pm ET
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They didn’t score 14.

Even so, the Red Sox offense once again struck quickly, plating five runs in the third inning to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 6-3 victory. But the Sox’ fourth straight win was about more than just offense.

Once again, Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield delivered as much as the Sox could have hoped for. The knuckleballer was incredibly efficient, needing just 83 pitches to sail through seven innings of work. Though he was touched for a run in the first and a solo homer in the second inning, the Tigers could do nothing with him thereafter, going 2-for-19 (both singles) over the rest of his outing.

In four starts this year, he has a 3.80 ERA; the Sox are 3-1 with him in that role. Wakefield also collected his 195th career win (most among active pitchers) and he has 181 victories as a Red Sox, moving within 12 of the team record.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–Wakefield continued a run in which the Sox have received significant contributions from players who either weren’t in the majors to start the year or whose roles have been redefined. Since both Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey were placed on the disabled list last Monday, the tandem of fill-ins Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves has gone 2-0 with a combined 2.87 ERA in four starts; the Sox have won three of those contests. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carl crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, josh reddick, Tim Wakefield

Sixth sense: Crawford may have found a new lineup home

05.27.11 at 8:05 pm ET
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Until Wednesday, Carl Crawford had never started a game as the No. 6 hitter in a lineup. Now, it appears that he might be ready to occupy that spot for a while.

When the season began, the Sox had Crawford batting third; that lasted all of two games, until he went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts. He then began something of an odyssey, making stops in the No. 7 spot (1 game; 2-for-4), the No. 2 spot (3 games; 2-for-12), and leading off (7 games, 3-for-32) before settling into a place near the bottom of the order, where he spent 32 of 33 games batting either seventh or eighth.

It was there that Crawford slowly began to restore his season’s credibility. He was hitting .127 with a .318 OPS when he was bumped out of the leadoff spot. Though his results were unspectacular batting seventh and eighth, he was better, hitting .248 with a .638 OPS.

But even though Crawford delivered some important moments from that portion of the batting order — most notably, three walkoff hits — he delivered his first electrifying performances over his first two games in the sixth spot in the order. Moved up to that position on back-to-back games with J.D. Drew sidelined, Crawford went 4-for-4 with a homer on Wednesday and 4-for-5 with a pair of triples on Thursday.

Put another way: Crawford had as many hits (8) over nine at-bats in his last two games as he did over the course of 60 at-bats in the first 14 contests of the year.

That being the case, it was little surprise to see Crawford back in the sixth spot on Friday night, with Drew still sidelined. For that matter, it appears unsurprising that Crawford is likely poised to remain in the sixth spot once Drew (hitting .232 with a .705 OPS) returns.

Manager Terry Francona has maintained throughout the year that he wants Crawford hitting somewhere near the top of the order. While moving Crawford to sixth doesn’t quite fulfill that vision, with the top five all but set with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, the sixth spot seems to represent the most obvious lineup promotion for Crawford.

“I think I kind  of like the idea of moving him up in the order,” Sox manager Terry Francona said before Friday’s game. “First of all, I think it’€™s justified. He’€™s hot as can be. I didn’€™t want him to hit eighth for the whole year. I think that was pretty obvious. I don’€™t want to move Pedey out of the two-hole. I can see that being that way for a while, yeah. as soon as I say that, something will happen. That’€™s the way it works. [But] I like the idea of him hitting up there a little bit higher.”

It’s not necessarily a perfect spot. Whereas Crawford would have been hitting behind a couple of players (Ellsbury and Pedroia) who can take part in an aggressive running game in his season-opening third spot, he is now stationed behind Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz — players whose lack of speed could occasionally block Crawford on the bases.

Nonetheless, with the likes of Jed Lowrie and Drew hitting behind him, Crawford is hitting in a spot that will feature hitters who are comfortable working deeper into counts and permitting him opportunities to steal. Moreover, Crawford is giving flashes of the idea that his bat has potential as a run-producing weapon while hitting behind three players — Gonzalez, Youkilis and Ortiz — who figure to be on base with some frequency.

That being the case, while Crawford had never had his name written into the sixth spot of the lineup before Wednesday, he is likely to have that experience quite a bit going forward.

Read More: carl crawford,

Friday’s Red Sox-Tigers matchups: Tim Wakefield vs. Rick Porcello

05.27.11 at 8:00 am ET
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Detroit starting pitcher Rick Porcello will have the toughest job in all of baseball when he takes the mound Friday night. He’€™ll be charged with trying to halt a Red Sox offense that is running on all cylinders. The Boston bats have scored 14 runs in consecutive games coming into Friday and perhaps could have scored more in Thursday’€™s 14-1 rout of the Tigers had it not been shortened by rain after 7 1/2 innings. The Red Sox will counter with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield for his fourth start of the season.

For his part, the 22-year-old Porcello (4-2, 3.08 ERA) has been pitching well on the bump for the Tigers, especially as of late. After allowing five earned runs in each of first two starts, Porcello has rebounded with quality starts in five of his last six starts and hasn’€™t allowed more than two runs in any outing over that span. His best start of the season was his last when he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Pirates before allowing a double to Ronny Cedeno. The righty ended up going eight innings while allowing just the one hit.

No Red Sox hitter has been at the plate more than seven times against Porcello, who hasn’€™t faced Boston since facing it twice in 2009. Carl Crawford has the most experience with him, going 2-for-6 in his career, but at a perfect 3-for-3, Jacoby Ellsbury has had the most success.

As for their own starter Friday, the Sox could not have asked for more out of Wakefield (1-1, 4.50) in his last start on May 26, his first since being put back into the rotation following injuries to John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. The 44-year-old ageless wonder gave up just four hits and one earned run over 6 2/3 innings in a 5-1 win over the Cubs. It was Wakefield’€™s longest outing of the season thus far and undoubtedly his best as well.

With a 16-10 record and 4.25 ERA against the Tigers all-time, the knuckleballer has enjoyed some modest success his Friday opponent in his career, but against these current set of Detroit ballplayers, he’€™s had his fair share of troubles. As a team, the Tigers are hitting .290 against Wakefield with five home runs. Ramon Santiago (.455, 1 HR, 6 RBI in 13 plate appearances) leads that pack.  Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carl crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ramon Santiago, rick porcello

Closing Time: Red Sox put up two touchdowns for second straight game

05.26.11 at 5:01 pm ET
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Detroit starting pitcher Max Scherzer had allowed just three earned runs in five starts at Comerica Park this season coming into Thursday. Then, he ran into a white-hot Red Sox offense.

Fresh off a 14-2 win over Cleveland on Wednesday, Boston piled on seven runs against Scherzer in the second and third innings to chase the Detroit righty before coasting to a 14-1 win over its Motor City hosts. All nine Red Sox starters got a hit in the win with each outfielder (Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Reddick) producing three RBI to pace the offense.

The continued offensive production nearly overshadowed a quality outing from Alfredo Aceves in his first win as a starter this season. For the second straight start as an injury replacement, Aceves kept opposing batters at bay, throwing six innings of one-run ball while allowing five hits and two walks and striking out six.

The game was called following a 55-minute rain delay after the teams had completed 7 1/2 innings.

Here’€™s the many things that what went right in the Red Sox win along with one very minor thing that went wrong.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

–Crawford (4-for-5, 3 RBI) struck a two-run triple in the third and had another RBI three-bagger in the seventh. After knocking in two in Wednesday’€™s onslaught in Cleveland, Crawford now has two multi-RBI games in a row for the first time in a Red Sox uniform and the first time since knocking in seven over a two-game stretch back in June 2-4 of last year as a member of the Rays organization. After entering the game with just one triple over the first 47 games of this season, Crawford, who led the American League in that category last season, also had his first game with multiple triples since July 26, 2008.

With his second four-hit game in a row, Crawford has raised his average 32 points, from .212 before Wednesday’€™s game to .244 following Thursday’€™s win. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, alfredo aceves, carl crawford, drew sutton

Red Sox live blog: Sox open series with Tigers at Comerica Park

05.26.11 at 10:45 am ET
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Red Sox/Tigers Live Blog

Thursday’s Red Sox-Tigers matchups: Alfredo Aceves vs. Max Scherzer

05.25.11 at 6:13 pm ET
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The Red Sox have beaten the Tigers in both of their meetings this season, but both contests came down to a battle of the bullpens. It’s fitting, then, that reliever Alfredo Aceves will take the mound on Thursday in Detroit.

Before last weekend’s start against the Cubs, Aceves (1-0, 2.42 ERA) had started only five games in his three-year career, and four of those came as a rookie back in 2008. The right-hander pitched well in his last outing, allowing just one run on three hits through five innings.

Aceves left the game with a 2-1 lead and was in line for the win, but the Cubs rallied for eight runs in the eighth inning off Matt Albers and Franklin Morales, forcing Aceves to take a no-decision. The former Yankee now has a lifetime ERA of 3.18 in 31.1 innings as a starter, but he’€™s never gone deeper than seven innings.

Part of Aceves’ success in his last start may have been due to a lack of familiarity on the part of the Cubs — only two of their hitters had ever faced him — an advantage he will also enjoy against the Tigers. Only three hitters on Detroit’s roster have seen Aceves, and former Boston catcher Victor Martinez is the only one to face him more than once. In five plate appearances against Aceves, Martinez is 1-for-5 with a strikeout.

Jim Leyland will send Max Scherzer to the hill as the Tigers fight to catch up with the Indians in the AL Central. Nine Red Sox batters have faced Scherzer (6-1, 2.98 ERA), who is having his best season in his fourth year in the big leagues. The Tigers won seven out of Scherzer’s first eight starts this season, and the right-hander was undefeated until he took a loss against the Pirates on May 21. In his outing on May 16, Scherzer tossed seven innings without surrendering an earned run, but took a no-decision as the Tigers fell to the Blue Jays, 4-2.

Although most of the Red Sox lineup has seen Scherzer before, no Boston hitter has faced him more than nine times. In just five plate appearances, David Ortiz has dominated the Tigers’ starter, with two home runs, a single, and four RBI. Dustin Pedroia (1-for-3) has the only other homer off Scherzer.

While the old guard has had some success against the 26-year-old, Scherzer has all but shut down two of Boston’s newest acquisitions. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have combined for just one hit in 15 plate appearances, although Gonzalez does have two walks and an RBI. Scherzer has been able to keep these two Red Sox lefties in check, but has allowed left-handed opponents to hit .279 this season, while holding righties to just .246.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: alfredo aceves, Max Scherzer, Red Sox, tigers

Closing Time: Red Sox demolish the Indians

05.25.11 at 3:08 pm ET
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It was batting practice.

The Red Sox lineup teed off on the Indians, flashing the sort of muscle that team decision-makers no doubt anticipated seeing from time to time when they assembled the club in the offseason. The team exploded out of the blocks with a seven-run first inning (the most runs the team has scored in an inning since last August) in which it collected nine hits, most since they racked up 10 in a memorable 25-8 win over the Marlins in 2003. The Sox then kept adding on.

The team’s 10 extra-base hits were its most since last June 3, and represented the team’s biggest output on the road since June 20, 2007, in a game against the Braves. Of the members of the starting lineup, every one scored at least one run. Only one (shortstop Jed Lowrie) failed to collect either a hit or an RBI.

That set the stage for a 14-2 wipeout of the Indians, the most lopsided Sox road victory since a 14-2 win over the White Sox in 2007.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–The list of accomplishments by the Sox batters in Wednesday’s game is long. Before getting to that, then, it’s worth taking stock of the performance of Jon Lester. Lester started slowly, allowing a pair of singles in the first (marking the career-high eighth straight inning, spread over three starts, in which he’d allowed at least two baserunners). But he escaped without any harm, and then did what a good starting pitcher should do when entrusted with a huge lead.

Lester, primarily on the strength of fastballs and a very good cutter, retired 15 straight Indians in one stretch. After working to a 7.27 ERA over his previous three starts, Lester ended up delivering six shutout innings on a day when the ball was evidently jumping in Cleveland.

His pitch efficiency (97 pitches in six innings) left something to be desired, and he did issue a walk in the sixth (extending his career-long streak of games in which he permitted a walk to 19). Even so, he allowed just three hits while punching out seven over six shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 3.36. He became the first pitcher in the American League to reach seven wins.

Moreover, he has now held opponents scoreless in 26 of his 134 career starts (19.4 percent) — or roughly one out of every five outings.

He continued a fine run by a rotation that now has a 1.95 ERA over its last eight starts. It was the Sox’ major league-best 12th game this year in which a starter didn’t allow a run.

As for the offense…

Carl Crawford went 4-for-4 with a homer and two doubles. It was the first time in his Red Sox career that he’d collected more than two hits in a game. It was Crawford’s 30th career four-hit game, and his fifth career game with three or more extra-base hits.

Dustin Pedroia put the Sox on the board with a two-run homer in the first. It was his first homer since April 15, ending a drought that had reached 136 at-bats. Pedroia went 2-for-5 with 3 RBI.

Adrian Gonzalez continued his electric May, going 2-for-6 and driving in yet another run. He’s driven in 28 this month, most in the majors; he also leads the AL with 21 multi-hit games this year.

David Ortiz continued his explosive May. He went 2-for-6 and launched a homer to deep right. He is hitting .337 with a 1.056 OPS, eight homers and 16 extra-base hits (most in the majors) in the month.

–Two Sundays ago, Red Sox catchers did not have a single homer on the year. But then, Jarrod Saltalamacchia went deep on May 15 and he hasn’t stopped crushing the ball since. He now has four homers in a six-game stretch, and the Sox now are tied for 11th in the majors with five homers from their catchers. Saltalamacchia, after going 2-for-4 with 3 RBI, now has a .240 average and .716 OPS on the season, better than the AL averages of .229 and .673 at the position.

Drew Sutton, a late addition to the lineup when Kevin Youkilis was scratched due to a sore left hand, matched a career high in hits and set a new career high for extra-base hits by going 3-for-5 with two doubles.

Jacoby Ellsbury (3-for-4 with two walks) had his fourth three-hit game in his last 16 contests. His five times on base matched a career-high, achieved twice before — both in the 2009 season. Since returning to the leadoff spot on April 21, he’s hitting .341 with a .395 OBP.

Mike Cameron got his first double of the 2011 season. His streak of 19 straight games without a double — dating to last year — was the sixth longest of his career. He did, however, have a pair of homers this year.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Jed Lowrie was the only Sox member of the lineup without two hits. Indeed, he was the only one not to collect a single hit, going 0-for-5 with a walk. Over his last 24 games, Lowrie is hitting .233. His average for the year has now fallen to an even .300.

–While Franklin Morales did touch 97 mph with his fastball, the left-hander allowed a pair of runs on three hits in his inning of work, thus denying the Red Sox a shutout.

Read More: carl crawford, Cleveland Indians, David Ortiz, drew sutton
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