|Closing Time: Red Sox 6, Twins 2||05.20.10 at 9:42 pm ET|
The contest had all the makings of an outstanding pitcher’s duel. Both Red Sox starter Jon Lester and Twins counterpart Francisco Liriano feature the sort of ridiculous arsenals that are more often seen in videogames than among their pitching peers.
Lester (4-2, 3.53) lived up to his part of the bargain. One day after Clay Buchholz needed just 104 pitches to reach the ninth inning against the Twins, Lester one-upped his teammate. He overpowered Minnesota in Boston’s first complete game of the season, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits while striking out nine and walking none.
Lester carved up the strike zone with an explosive fastball that touched 97, a devastating cutter and a very effective changeup. Those weapons allowed him to go the distance in just 103 pitches (76 strikes).
But the Sox managed to ambush Liriano (4-3, 3.25) en route to a one-sided 6-2 victory.
Liriano had fired seven shutout innings against the Sox on April 15, but the team wasted little time in ensuring that it would not be zeroed out by the pitcher again. Liriano, who had entered the contest not having permitted a single homer in the 2010 season, permitted two to the Sox. The first was a solo shot delivered by Adrian Beltre into the Sox bullpen in right-center in the second inning. Then, one inning later, Kevin Youkilis added to his team’s 1-0 lead, jumping on a 96 mph fastball for a three-run homer with two outs.
Given Lester’s dominance, the outcome of the game was never again in question.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
–Jon Lester delivered the Sox’ first complete game since last Sept. 12 in a night when he was able to dominate the strike zone with a complete mix of pitches. As such, he has put his early-season struggles completely behind him. After starting the year with an 0-2 record and 8.44 ERA in his first three starts, he is 4-0 with a 1.65 mark in his last seven starts. He has now gone at least seven innings in each of his last five starts, the second longest such streak of his career.
–Kevin Youkilis is enjoying quite possibly the single best stretch of his career to date. His May numbers have been, quite simply, outrageous. He entered Thursday hitting .404/.590/.731/1.321 this month, marks that would be the best of his career in each category. He continued piling on, blasting a three-run homer (his eighth of the year and fifth of May) and ripping an RBI double down the left-field line against Liriano.
–Adrian Beltre delivered one of his finest offensive performances with the Sox. He put the Sox on the board in the second with an impressive opposite-field wallop into the Sox bullpen for his third homer of the year, and added to that a walk, a double down the left field line and a run, going 2-for-3.
–Victor Martinez continued to show signs that he is breaking out of his yearlong slump. He entered this week with just nine extra-base hits on the year. He has since collected five (two homers in New York on Monday, three doubles against the Twins on Thursday), and he now appears to be impacting the ball in a consistent fashion not seen since last season.
–Dustin Pedroia delivered a pair of highlight-reel defensive plays. In the top of the fifth, the Twins put their only runner in scoring position of the night against Lester when Justin Morneau hit his 200th career double to lead off the frame. But Lester rebounded to get a groundout to third and fly to shallow right, bringing up Delmon Young with two outs. Young fisted a ball to shallow right field. Pedroia raced back several steps and extended his diminutive frame to its fullest to catch the ball in the webbing of his glove and keep Lester’s shutout intact.
One inning later, Pedroia made a diving stop of an up-the-middle smash off the bat of Nick Punto, hopped up and threw out the Twins’ third baseman by a couple steps.
Pedroia did, however, commit his first error of the season in the ninth inning, closing his glove too quickly on the pivot of a potential double play ball in the ninth inning. Prior to Pedroia’s two-base error, Pedroia and Youkilis had created an airtight seal on the right side of their infield, as the Sox entered the night as the only team in baseball with zero combined errors from their first and second basemen.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
–J.D. Drew continued his struggles against left-handers, going 0-for-2 against Liriano. In fairness, Liriano is one of the toughest left-on-left matchups in the game. Even so, Drew is now hitting .212/.263/.288 against southpaws this season.
–Dustin Pedroia continued his modest slump. He went 0-for-3 with a walk, and over the last seven games, he is now hitting 4-for-26 for an average of .154 with an OBP of .313 and a slugging mark of .308.
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