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Lowell’s last Yankee Stadium memory

09.27.10 at 8:32 am ET
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NEW YORK — Mike Lowell has never made any secret of his attachment to the Yankees, the team that drafted him and with whom he made his major league debut in 1998. And so, over the last few days, as the 36-year-old prepares for retirement, it was unsurprising to see him exchange pleasantries with members of the organization of which he was once a part.

Yet as he prepared to leave New York for the last time as a player, Lowell did not feel an abiding sense of nostalgia for playing in the Bronx. He has too little history in the New Yankee Stadium, and in the grand scheme of things, too few games in New York to feel a major emotional tug as he left the ballpark following the Red Sox‘ 4-3 loss in extra innings.

“I don’€™t feel a major attachment here,” said Lowell. “I feel more of an attachment to their organization and the system and I came up in.”

Even so, his final plate appearance in New York was very nearly a momentous one. It was Lowell who stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the top of the ninth inning and, with Bill Hall racing from first to third with a pair of one-out steals, worked his way to a full count before driving a Mariano Rivera cutter to deep center for a sacrifice fly that gave the Sox a fleeting 3-2 lead.

That contribution was nearly forgotten shortly thereafter, when the Yankees came back to win the contest. Even so, Lowell will take one last pleasant thought from his final plate appearance in Yankee Stadium.

“I guess it’€™s a good thing that my last at-bat was an RBI against the best closer in the game,” said Lowell. “I’€™ll take that.”

Read More: Mariano Rivera, mike lowell, Yankees,

Papelbon rips strike zone after blown save

09.27.10 at 1:30 am ET
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NEW YORK — Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, after blowing his eighth save of the season in the ninth-inning of an eventual 10-inning, 4-3 loss to the Yankees, insisted that the work of home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi played a significant role in his inability to secure the lead.

Papelbon after the Sox took a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. The Sox closer promptly returned serve, allowing three hits and a walk that led to the game-tying run. Papelbon felt that he was squeezed on several pitches, including on a two-strike pitch to Alex Rodriguez.

The pitch was called a ball, and Papelbon eventually walked Rodriguez to load the bases prior to Robinson Cano‘s game-tying single. Two pitches in the Rodriguez at-bat proved questionable calls: a 1-1 fastball that was ruled a ball, and a full-count slider that may have also been in the zone. Papelbon bemoaned the way the calls changed the dynamic of the at-bat.

“It was really tough tonight. Considering I’€™m not only pitching against the hitter, I’€™m pitching against the umpire. I mean, when you’€™ve got to do that against this lineup you’€™ll never be successful. It just won’€™t happen,” Papelbon said. “Not only with [the Rodriguez] at-bat, but plenty of at-bats I felt like I threw the ball well. I felt like I threw clutch pitches in clutch situations, mixed up my pitches well and in those situations when you’€™ve got to pitch on the plate and resort to that you’€™re going to get beat, especially against this lineup in this ballpark. …

“No question about it. When you’€™ve got to do that you’€™re in a lose-lose situation,” he continued. “Just call the game. There are 27 outs, call the game. Don’€™t let the crowd influence you, don’€™t let the hitter influence you, don’€™t call the pitch where the catcher catches it; stay focused for 27 outs. Call the game.

“I’€™m not blaming the umpire. I could have definitely battled a little bit more out of that situation. I’€™m not one to complain about pitches, no. I’€™m not one to do that at all, but when you’€™re pitching against the umpire and that lineup, nobody can win that situation. It’€™s impossible.”

Sox manager Terry Francona suggested that the strike zone had been tight for both Papelbon and Rivera. Of Papelbon’s 30 pitches, 15 were called strikes, and 15 were balls. Of Rivera’s 29 pitches, 19 were strikes, as the Sox collected a pair of hits and scored a pair of runs against the future Hall of Famer.

“Thought the strike zone was tight, as it should be, to Mariano and Pap,” said Francona. “Made ‘€˜em earn it, for both guys.”

Papelbon’s eight blown saves are the most by an American League reliever. His ERA drifted up to 4.02 with the one-inning, one-run, 30-pitch effort, and on the year, he has an 8.64 ERA against the Yankees, including a 9.00 mark in Yankee Stadium.

Read More: Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera, phil cuzzi,

Closing Time: Yankees 4, Red Sox 3

09.27.10 at 12:00 am ET
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NEW YORK — For the second straight year, the Red Sox‘ season effectively came to an end under the watch of closer Jonathan Papelbon.

The Sox had pushed across a pair of runs to take the lead in a remarkable rally against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in the top of the ninth inning. That gave Boston a 3-2 lead, with visions of a sweep that would narrow their deficit to 4 1/2 games.

But the Yankees continued a year in which Papelbon has been little short of horrific in the Bronx, plating a run in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game. The game thus went to extras, where the Sox continued their road misery, falling to 2-8 in bonus baseball away from Fenway Park. Hideki Okajima issued a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 10th inning, as the Yankees enjoyed a 4-3 walkoff.

That, in turn, brought the season to what will almost certainly be an unsatisfying conclusion for the Sox. Boston dropped 6 1/2 games behind the Yankees, and their elimination number dwindled to one. And so, while the Sox have not been eliminated, they almost certainly will see their playoff aspirations come to an end before returning to Fenway Park on Friday for a season-ending three-game set against the Yankees. The Yankees and Rays have both clinched no worse than a tie with the Sox, and a single win by the Yankees or Rays or a single loss by the Sox in the season’s last seven days will ensure that the Sox’ season will end on Sunday.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Jonathan Papelbon‘s season of woe continued. He allowed a run on three hits and a walk, in the process blowing his eighth save of the year. His season ERA now stands at 4.02, his ERA against the Yankees is 8.64, and in Yankee Stadium this year, it is 9.00.

Alex Rodriguez concluded his three-game homer binge against the Red Sox with his most meaningful longball of the series. With a runner on first and one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, Rodriguez and the Yankees trailed, 1-0. After Matsuzaka jumped ahead of Rodriguez, 0-2, the third baseman got his hands inside of a 92 mph cutter on the inner part of the plate, driving it just inches over the fence in right-center for a two-run homer that put the Yankees ahead, 2-1.

The longball was the fourth of the three-game series for Rodriguez, giving him 612 for his career.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Daisuke Matsuzaka, pitching against a Yankees club against whom he entered the night with a 6.31 ERA, was masterful. He featured a three-pitch (fastball, changeup, cutter) mix that had the Yankees guessing for much of the night. Aided by a favorable strike zone, Matsuzaka punched out seven batters (five looking) and walked one in eight innings, marking just the fifth start this season in which he has allowed two or fewer walks. He allowed just four hits.

The outing offered a dramatic reminder of Matsuzaka’s far-reaching talent. His stuff can be overpowering, as it was on Sunday night. Of course, that fact makes his inconsistency and inefficiency all the more puzzling. The right-hander, after all, was coming off a run of having allowed four or more earned runs in seven straight starts, the longest such rut by a Sox pitcher since 1942-43.

The performance marked just the second time in the right-hander’s career that he has turned in a quality start against the Yankees, the other such outing coming last Sept. 26.

Victor Martinez continued to defy conventional wisdom that catchers are meant to wear out down the stretch. The switch-hitter went 2-for-5, delivering a key run-scoring, two-out single in the top of the third inning to give the Sox their only run against Yankees starter Phil Hughes. Martinez is now hitting .323 with a .980 OPS in September, continuing a career-long pattern of season-ending excellence.

For his career, Martinez – prior to Sunday – had a .319 average and .397 OBP in Sept./Oct., his highest marks of any month. His career .882 OPS was his second best of any month, and his 128 RBIs are the most of any month.

Ryan Kalish continued to show great game awareness and an ability to impact contests. Most notably, he launched a Sox rally in the ninth with a single against Rivera, followed by his steals of second and third base, putting himself in position to score the tying run. The rookie made a fantastic tumbling catch in left-center of a Robinson Cano bid for the gap that sliced away from him.

Read More: Alex Rodriguez, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera

Sox on Yankees: ‘The pressure is on them’

09.26.10 at 7:08 pm ET
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NEW YORK — Naturally, the Yankees suggested that it was not a panic move, even though it represented a complete reversal in the span of 48 hours. On Friday, New York decided that it was in their best interests to skip Phil Hughes‘ scheduled Sunday start against the Red Sox to keep him rested and healthy with the playoffs losing. Two losses to the Red Sox later, the Yankees reversed course and decided that Hughes — and not scheduled fill-in Dustin Moseley — would take the ball.

The change did not affect the Red Sox significantly. The team, said manager Terry Francona, kept the same lineup that would have faced Moseley. Even so, the decision by the Yankees suggests that they continue to view the Red Sox as a threat to their postseason ambitions. With New York’s lead in the wild card down to 5 1/2 games, the Yankees decided they needed to do what they could to increase the chances of winning on Sunday.

Rest took a back seat to the need to win. A pair of Sox victories — the latest in a stretch that has seen the Yankees go 6-13 — has tightened the collective collar in the Bronx.

“They’€™re in a situation where they have to win games. The pressure is on them. It doesn’€™t surprise me that they’€™re going to throw Hughes,” said Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie. “It’€™s good to put somebody in that position, see how they react.”

On Friday, Bill Hall said that the Sox were not looking to be spoilers, and that they instead wanted to run the table on the rest of the regular season to try to make a run at a playoff spot. The move to start Hughes (17-8, 4.31) would suggest that the Yankees are concerned about the possibility of just such an ambitious goal coming to fruition.

“It just shows we’€™re doing our job, and that we’€™re doing what we came here to do, which is win. We’€™re just looking to finish it off today, run out the rest of the year and see what happens,” said Hall. “If we start thinking that’€™s cool, that means we think the job is over. The job is not over.

“I think [the Yankees] thought that [the Red Sox were a threat] coming in, but at the same time, they thought they had a big enough lead that they could start resting some people. The reality is that didn’€™t happen, so now they’€™ve got to turn the page back.”

The Yankees insisted that their outlook had not changed, and instead that they are simply still trying to accomplish the same goals with which they’ve been concerned all along.

‘€œWe need to win games,’€ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ‘€œWe’€™re still trying to win our division. We’€™re still trying to get into the playoffs. We’€™re still trying to get home field advantage and we’€™re going to go with Hughsie.’€

Even so, the move — about which Girardi informed Francona at approximately 4 p.m. — suggested that, at the least, the Yankees were striking a defensive posture; at worst, they are panicking about he possibility of a collapse. And that development is, at the least, intriguing as Hughes — who was informed on Saturday night that he would start on Sunday — readies to face Daisuke Matsuzaka.

OTHER PREGAME NOTES:

Mike Lowell should be available as a pinch-hitter on Sunday night, and with the Sox facing some left-handed starters in Chicago against the White Sox, manager Terry Francona anticipates that Lowell will be in the lineup at some point (or points) during the White Sox series.

Clay Buchholz left at about 5 p.m. to fly to Chicago. Francona said the Sox encourage the starter for the first game of a series to fly ahead, and that he was pleased that the right-hander would be able to go to sleep by about midnight. The rest of the team is scheduled to land after 5 a.m.

Read More: Clay Buchholz, Joe Girardi, mike lowell, New York Yankees

Change of Start: Yankees change course, go with Hughes against Sox

09.26.10 at 4:34 pm ET
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NEW YORK — In a surprise development, the Yankees will start Phil Hughes instead of Dustin Moseley against the Red Sox on Sunday night. Joel Sherman of the New York Post was the first to report the decision.

Hughes is 17-8 with a 4.31 ERA, while Moseley is 4-3 with a 4.94 mark. On Friday, the Yankees had made the decision to skip Hughes, who has thrown a career-high 169 1/3 innings, in favor of Moseley in hopes of preserving the arm of their 24-year-old right-hander. But that decision occurred at a time when the Yankees were 7 1/2 games up in the division; with the Red Sox having trimmed the deficit to 5 1/2 games with victories in each of the first two contests of the three-game series in Yankee Stadium, New York made its decision to reverse its decision.

“I don’t think it’s panic,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman told the Post. “It is adjusting to circumstances. We haven’t had starters going deep into games. People can judge this and call it panic. I don’t care. I only care about making the right decision on the information in front of us. And the information is different on Sept. 26 than it was when we decided (to push back Hughes). I only care about being right, and this was right.”

Hughes is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox this year; Moseley is 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA in one start against the Sox. The Sox will send Daisuke Matsuzaka to the hill against Hughes.

Read More: dustin moseley, Phil Hughes, Yankees,

Red Sox holding out playoff hope

09.25.10 at 9:02 pm ET
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NEW YORK — It may be a case of too little, too late. Even with consecutive wins over the Yankees in the first two games in the Bronx, the Red Sox still trail their divisional rivals by 5 1/2 games in the wild card race with eight games left on their slate.

Even so, with Friday’s 10-8 victory and Saturday’s 7-3 triumph, the Sox have now ensured that they will not have to suffer the indignity of watching the Yankees celebrate clinching a playoff berth in their own ballpark. Yet even that does not reflect the full measure of Boston’s ambitions.

After all, as Sox infielder Jed Lowrie said on Friday night when asked if the team was still holding out hope for a postseason berth, “Why not?”

The Sox have four games remaining against New York, along with four in Chicago against the White Sox. The Red Sox do not control their destiny — they would have to border on perfect and hope that New York faltered against the Blue Jays. The odds of reaching the postseason are terrible — coolstandings.com suggests that the Sox have a 0.8 percent shot at overthrowing the Yankees for the wild card — but insofar as the Sox are one of just five teams (the Rangers and Twins, who have both clinched, as well as the Rays and Yankees comprise the rest of the list) not to have been eliminated from a spot in the playoffs in the American League, the Sox are intent on competing.

“We’€™ve got a chance. That being said, it’€™s a long road,” said Sox starter Jon Lester. “Weirder things have happened in baseball. We’€™ve got four more games against the Yankees. We’€™ll see. All we can do is go out there and play hard and put up a good effort. You’€™re not going to expect anything less from these guys in this clubhouse. We’€™re going to go out there and battle and grind it out, and we’€™ll see where we are in a couple games.”

Closing Time: Red Sox 7, Yankees 3

09.25.10 at 7:38 pm ET
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NEW YORK — Felix Hernandez? Maybe, but not definitely.

David Price? Probably not until he’s done it for a couple more years.

CC Sabathia? His year-after-year success is astonishing, and yet even he does not match the level of dominance exhibited by Red Sox ace Jon Lester, who further solidified his credentials as one of the most, if not the most, dominant pitchers in the American League. The left-hander commanded a 93-94 mph fastball to all parts of the strike zone, adding to it one of the best curveballs he’s had all year, as well as his array of cutters and changeups, to overpower the Yankees in the Red Sox’ 7-3 victory.

Lester was brilliant. He retired the first 12 batters he faced, carried a no-hitter through five innings and ended up permitting just two hits and three walks in seven shutout innings of work.

Such outings have come with startlingly frequency against the Yankees, particularly given the troubles that some of Lester’s teammates have had against the grinding New York lineup. Lester has been remarkably good against the Yankees since the start of 2008, forging a 6-1 record, 2.56 ERA and 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 11 starts against New York.

Now, with 19 victories this year, Lester has more wins than any other Red Sox left-hander since Mel Parnell reeled off 21 victories in 1953. Lester won’t match that mark, but with one start remaining on Thursday against the White Sox, his aspirations to win 20 games this year are very real, and a sub-3.00 ERA is also within his grasp, as he now has a 2.96 mark for the year.

All of that is a testament to Lester’s emergence as a pitcher with few equals in the game.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–The Red Sox ensured that they would not have to watch the Yankees celebrate a postseason berth this weekend in the Bronx. With their second consecutive win against New York, the Sox are now assured that the Yankees can secure no better than a tie for a spot in the playoffs on Sunday.

–Lester was, once again, dominant. He has now won each of his last six starts, and he has allowed four or fewer hits in five of his last six outings. He also surpassed the 200 innings plateau for the third straight season.

J.D. Drew continued a productive September, blasting a homer (his third of the month) into the bleachers in right-center. The longball was Drew’s 20th of the year, marking the second straight season (and fifth of his career) in which he has reached that plateau.

David Ortiz delivered a pair of run-scoring singles, bringing his season total to 98 RBI with eight games remaining this year.

Victor Martinez sustained his incendiary September, going 1-for-3 with a homer (his 19th of the year) and two walks. He is now hitting .318 with a .990 OPS, six homers and 20 RBI.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Daniel Nava had a shot to keep Lester’s no-hitter intact, but his diving attempt at Francisco Cervelli‘s soft liner to left field came up short, as the ball glanced off the heel of Nava’s glove. Still, the left fielder made amends one play later when he charged aggressively on a single through the hole and came up firing to cut down Austin Kearns at the plate.

Adrian Beltre went 1-for-5 while stranding six runners. He is now 1-for-21 in his last five games, dating to when he jammed his wrist last Saturday against the Blue Jays. Beltre also made an error, his 19th of the year.

Daniel Bard gave up his first homer since Aug. 9, giving up a two-run blast to Curtis Granderson in the bottom of the eighth inning to end any visions of a shutout.

Read More: J.D Drew, Jon Lester, victor martinez, Yankees
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