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Ellsbury, Ortiz and the bottom of the 8th

05.19.09 at 9:18 pm ET
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Jacoby Ellsbury apparently wanted to avoid the infamy of being less powerful than Willy Taveras during a 14-game hitting streak. He lined a double down the right-field line to open the inning, though he was thrown out trying to steal third (with no outs!), a gaffe that proved costly when Dustin Pedroia lined the next pitch to center for what would have been a run-scoring base hit.

David Ortiz followed Pedroia to the plate, and his fourth plate appearance was not good. Against Toronto lefty B.J. Ryan (a very, very tough at-bat for lefties, even now with a diminished arsenal), Ortiz struck out on four pitches, including a swing-and-miss on an 86 mph fastball on his fists and another at a slider that bit the dirt, down and away.

Barring a Jays comeback in the ninth, Ortiz finishes the night 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and a walk. All of his at-bats were against left-handers, against whom he his now hitting .208 this year.

Read More: David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury,

That’s it for Wakefield

05.19.09 at 9:13 pm ET
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Tim Wakefield just accepted a congratulatory handshake after working his way out of a first-and-second jam (partly the byproduct of some poor defense) by getting a pair of lazy fly-outs to shallow left-center. Wakefield completes his night having done his part to get the Sox a victory, pitching eight innings and allowing just one run on five hits to a Blue Jays lineup that entered today leading the majors in runs (234) and batting average (.289).

Wakefield needed just 97 pitches (61 strikes) to navigate a lead to closer Jonathan Papelbon, who is currently warming. Wakefield’s success tonight was of a very odd sort: he got 16 fly-ball outs, an absurdly high total. Yet the Jays, aside from Kevin Millar on his homer, could not make firm contact on anything that Wakefield threw. Aside from a warning-track flyball to left-center by Adam Lind, most of the outs Wakefield recorded were by harmless flies that traveled no more than 200 feet.

The Blue Jays have something to prove

05.19.09 at 8:55 pm ET
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Toronto’s 27-14 record entering tonight was little short of a marvel. The team has been without its Nos. 2-4 starters (Dustin McGowan, Shawn Marcum, Jesse Litsch), without its closer (B.J. Ryan) for a few weeks, and without one of its youn hurlers (Ricky Romer) who was supposed to be the depth option of first resort. The succession of woes should have been devastating.

But the Jays have been nothing if not resilient. Their starters entered tonight with a 4.00 ERA that ranked third in the A.L., and the team has permitted just 4.2 runs per game, second fewest in the A.L.

Even so, there has been some skepticism, or at least curiosity, about whether the Jays could sustain that position. Their outstanding start, after all, has been forged not only with a patchwork rotation, but also without having faced the cream of the A.L. East.

Of the Jays 41 games, just six were against their divisional opponents: three (all wins) against the Orioles, and three (one win, two losses) against the Yankees. Toronto will soon make up for lost time.

Including tonight’s game, the Jays will play the Sox in six of the next 12 games, a span in which they will also play the Orioles three more times. Then, interleague will give the team another four-week reprieve.

But, starting on June 29, when the Jays will return to division play against the Rays, Toronto will play more than two-thirds (57) of its final 84 games against members of its division.

That is not to discount what Toronto has done thus far. By all accounts, their early-season run has been extremely impressive. But it is fair to suggest that it won’t be until July that the Blue Jays will truly have the opportunity to prove how well they stack up in the best division in baseball.

Jacoby Ellsbury Keeps Streaking

05.19.09 at 8:37 pm ET
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Jacoby Ellsbury hit a soft liner up the middle for a single in the bottom of the fifth, extending his hitting streak to 14 games. The streak is the longest active run in the majors, and the second longest of the centerfielder’s career, behind only an 18-game run that he had last September. Ellsbury is 1-for-3 tonight, and is hitting .348 during his streak, though he has just four extra-base knocks during the run. Ellsbury is the 10th major leaguer to hit in at least 14 straight this year. His extra-base hit total is the lowest during such a streak of that group, one behind Willy Taveras, who had five extra-base hits in his 14-game streak.

Ortiz’ third at-bat

05.19.09 at 8:34 pm ET
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With Jacoby Ellsbury on first and two outs in the bottom of the fifth, David Ortiz grounded harmlessly to second on a 1-1 pitch. Tallet has been living down and away against the Sox’ No. 3 hitter, who is now 0-for-2 with a walk tonight.

Read More: David Ortiz,

Kevin Millar: Knuckleball Killer

05.19.09 at 8:24 pm ET
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One can make a case that there is no active player in Major League Baseball who owns as much success against Tim Wakefield as Kevin Millar. The former Sox entered tonight with a .444 average against Wakefield, is the second highest by any opponent who has faced the pitcher at least 25 times, behind only Dave Nilsson’€™s incredible .640 average. (Perhaps one should train to face the knuckleball by growing up in Australia and playing cricket?) Of his 12 hits entering tonight, Millar had three homers off of the Sox starter.

That number just inflated to four: Millar, leading off the fifth, crushed a hanging knuckler into the back row of the Monster Seats for a solo homer. But Wakefield retired the next three Jays in order, and so the Sox still possess a 2-1 lead entering the bottom of the fifth.

Read More: Kevin Millar, Tim Wakefield,

A Word About Tim Wakefield

05.19.09 at 8:19 pm ET
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In Tim Wakefield’s last outing prior to tonight, he had, unquestionably, his worst outing of the year. He gave up 11 hits and seven runs in just 4.2 innings. The man who had been the glue for the Red Sox rotation, submitting quality starts in five of his first six outings, failed to do so at a time when the bullepn was getting battered.

Tonight, Wakefield’s knuckler has again presented a quandary for the Blue Jays. Through four innings, he has been everything the Sox could have hoped, permitting three meager singles and a walk. He entered tonight having held opposing batters to a .224 average this year, sixth lowest in the American League, and since the start of 2008, opponents are hitting .227 against him, the second lowest mark in the A.L. in that span, behind only teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka. Tonight, the Jays are 3-for-16 (.188) off of him through four innings.

Ortiz’ Second At-Bat

05.19.09 at 8:08 pm ET
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In his much scrutinized return to the Red Sox lineup, David Ortiz just had his first poor at-bat. Jays starter Brian Tallet got a called strike on a first-pitch fastball, got a bad swing-and-miss on an 82 mph slider that was down and away, tossed a ball, then got another swing-and-miss on a slider. Ortiz is now 0-for-1 with a walk tonight.

Noteworthy: Ortiz is just the eighth left-handed hitter to strike out against Tallet this year. Lefties entered tonight hitting .306 with an astonishing 1.084 OPS against Tallet entering tonight.

Read More: David Ortiz,

The Jeff Bailey Era Does Not End Quietly

05.19.09 at 7:54 pm ET
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Kevin Youkilis is eligible to come off the disabled list on Wednesday, and so barring something unexpected, he will resume life as the team’s everyday first baseman on Wednesday…this despite the fact that the third-place finisher in last year’s MVP race went 0-for-6 in his two-game rehab assignment for Triple-A Pawtucket.

“I asked him if he wanted to go to Double-A,” joked Sox manager Terry Francona. “He said no.”

Jeff Bailey has been Youkilis’ replacement for these past two weeks. He hasn’t exactly distinguished himself during that time, hitting .182 with a .318 OBP and .364 slugging mark entering tonight. But Bailey has had his moments, most memorably a homer on Saturday in front of about 75-80 friends and family members from the state of Washington who made the trip to Seattle.

Tonight, Bailey stepped to the plate with runners on first and second, and lined a hit-and-run single to left-center that scored a run and put the Sox in position to score another when George Kottaras followed with a sac fly. The Sox are 8-6 entering tonight in games started by Bailey at first, including a 6-6 mark during this stint on the D.L.

After two, the Red Sox are up, 2-0.

Read More: jeff bailey, Kevin Youkilis,

Ortiz receives ovation

05.19.09 at 7:27 pm ET
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David Ortiz received a warm and welcoming round of applause as he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first for his first plate appearance since Friday. Ortiz fouled off one meaty pitch on a 2-0 count, but otherwise, Brian Tallet wasn’t close to the strike zone, and Ortiz ended up accepting a five-pitch walk. For all of his struggles, Ortiz has been walking: he drew at least one free pass n 10 straight games from April 30-May 19, the longest streak by a member of the Sox since 2005. He was not charge with an official at-bat, and so his homerless streak remains at 144 at-bats, still one shy of his career-long run of 145 that ran from Sept. 1998 through June 2000.

The Sox and Jays are underway, wth both sides going scoreless in the first.

Worthwhile audio: Ken Rosenthal was on Dale & Holley this morning discussing how the Sox might proceed with Ortiz, and the team’s preliminary conversations with the Indians about Victor Martinez. CLICK HERE for the interview. An interesting excerpt:

I just don’€™t know that his problems were as mental as much as they were physical. I don’€™t know if this isn’€™t simply age-related decline.
My suspicion is that it is to at least some degree bad…What happens next is really going to be interesting, because they’€™ve played this card now. They haven’€™t played the ‘€˜dropping him in the lineup’€™ card but Francona doesn’€™t want to do that because that would be disruptive to others. So really, this is it.
If he’€™s going to hit, it’€™s going to have to start happening soon, because at some point you have to make a decision on where your club is and what you need going forward. If in the interval he doesn’€™t start producing, that becomes a need.

Read More: David Ortiz,
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