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Closing Time: Orioles 4, Red Sox 1 04.26.11 at 9:58 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — The Red Sox and Orioles had been on divergent paths. The Sox arrived in Baltimore on a tear, winning eight of nine on the shoulders of dominant starting pitcher performances. The O’s, meanwhile, were in a 2-11 tailspin.

But something happened on the way to Baltimore. Clay Buchholz once again struggled, allowing 12 hits (the most he’s ever permitted in his career) and giving up four runs to an Orioles team that had scored three or fewer runs in seven of its prior nine games.

On a night when the Sox could muster few threats and did little with the baserunners that they had, the Orioles were able to claim a 4-1 victory that snapped Boston’s five-game winning streak.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–It wasn’t so much that anything was dramatically wrong with the outing of Clay Buchholz. But he continued to fall well short of the lofty standards he set last year in a dominating All-Star campaign.

Buchholz didn’t allow a ton of hard contact over his 6 1/3 innings, but the Orioles collected 12 hits against the right-hander, the most Buchholz has ever given up in a game. A year after he held opponents to a .226 average, Buchholz is being hit at a .312 clip this season. In his five starts, he has yet to turn in a single quality start, having failed to meet the stat’s standard of at least six innings pitched while permitting three or fewer earned runs. His ERA for the year now sits at 5.33.

Adrian Gonzalez continued to offer little run production in the third spot in the order against the Orioles. He went 1-for-4 and stranded four runners, most notably when he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, at a time when O’s starter Zach Britton appeared to be on the ropes. But Britton jumped ahead, 1-2, then got Gonzalez to dribble a 93 mph fastball to second for an inning-ending force out. Though Gonzalez lined a leadoff double to left in the eighth, he faltered in the pivotal at-bat of the game.

The Sox have just 7 RBI from their third spot in the lineup this season, tied for their fewest from any spot in the lineup. Gonzalez’ 17 games without a homer (16 of which have come from the third spot in the order) represent the sixth longest drought of his career.

–Too much of Orioles starter Zach Britton, whose nasty low-90s sinker had the Sox chasing pitches below the strike zone for much of the night. The Sox managed few baserunners in his six innings, collecting just five hits (four singles and a double) and walking twice. Boston did little with its few chances against him, as Gonzalez left the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth and Carl Crawford flew out to deep center with two on and two outs in the sixth.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Dustin Pedroia continued to play with an abandon and impact that would suggest his broken left foot of last season is firmly in the past. After the Sox had been no-hit through three innings, Pedroia took it upon himself to put his team on the board against Orioles starter Zach Britton in the fourth. He singled up the middle, advanced to second on an Adrian Gonzalez grounder, stole third with one out and then scored on a Kevin Youkilis sac fly, winning a challenge against the strong right arm of Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones.

Pedroia also helped to stifle an Orioles rally in the bottom of the fourth, making a terrific diving stop of a Nick Markakis grounder to his left.

Jacoby Ellsbury sustained a recent run of modest success. He rifled a bullet that was caught by O’s third baseman Mark Reynolds to end the third, then ripped a two-out double to right field on a Zach Britton fastball, an impressive sign against the talented lefty. He later lined out to first baseman Derek Lee when facing reliever Jim Johnson.

On a day when he went just 1-for-4, the center fielder continued to make solid contact from the leadoff spot. Ellsbury now has hit .318 (7-for-22) over his recent five-game hitting streak. That said, it is worth noting that he saw just nine pitches in his four at-bats.

David Ortiz continued to put together good at-bats against left-handers, going 1-for-2 with a walk against Britton. Ortiz is now hitting .360 (9-for-25) against southpaws this year.

Red Sox at Orioles Live Blog, April 26 04.26.11 at 7:16 pm ET
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Red Sox at Orioles Live Blog

Red Sox Pre-Game Notes: Why Jason Varitek is getting more playing time 04.26.11 at 6:00 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — In the end, the results were too glaring to ignore. Red Sox pitchers have a 2.07 ERA in 10 games with Jason Varitek behind the plate, and a 6-2 record entering Tuesday when he is in the starting lineup. When Jarrod Saltalamacchia is behind the plate, the team’s pitchers have a 6.14 ERA and a 4-9 record when he gets the start.

And so, even though the Sox have won the last couple games started by Saltalmacchia, it has been hard for manager Terry Francona to ignore how the pitchers have done with his 39-year-old captain behind the plate. And so, with Clay Buchholz pitching for the Sox, Francona decided that he would have Varitek start, something that he plans to repeat on Wednesday with Josh Beckett on the mound.

“I said [Varitek would] catch more than the average backup catcher and some of it will be determined on production and how guys are going. He’€™s been catching so well,” said Francona. “Right-handed [the side from which Varitek will bat against Orioles left-handed starter Zach Britton] is where he should play. I know he’€™s not swung the bat yet. I just think it made some sense. We’€™re playing pretty well with both of them. Sort of have a hole to dig ourselves out of and I think sometimes, just trying to play guys to help us win. Right now it’€™s important.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek
Zero for Three: Sox amidst home run drought in third spot 04.26.11 at 12:10 pm ET
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That the Red Sox have been carried by pitching through their recent run is indisputable. The team has won eight of its last nine contests at a time when its starting five has a combined 0.88 ERA, something that has allowed the team to enjoy a wildly successful stretch even at a time when the offense has been modest.

In fact, the rotation has been good enough to mask some of the lineup’€™s early season shortcomings (though not all, as the highly scrutinized Carl Crawford and catchers can attest). Nonetheless, there are some interesting puzzles to the performance of the team’€™s offense through the first 25 days of the season, and few are greater than the team’€™s dreadful performance in the third spot in the lineup.

The Sox are one of two American League teams without a homer from the spot, joining the Rangers. The hitters in the third spot in the lineup have combined to hit .233 (10th among the AL’€™s 14 teams) with a .320 OBP (T-10th), .302 slugging mark (11th) and .622 OPS (12th).

A position that characteristically yields run production has instead seen the Sox drive in just seven runs, tied for the fewest by any spot in the batting order. That relates in part to the struggles from the leadoff spot (.198/.263/.363/.625), but even so, with Dustin Pedroia getting on base in more than 40 percent of his at-bats, there have been plenty of opportunities to drive in runs with an extra-base hit.

The third spot in the lineup simply hasn’€™t delivered. That suggests a deficiency, given that the third spot of the lineup is, on average, the second-most prolific RBI spot in the lineup (behind only the cleanup spot) in the AL this year, just as has been the case for each of the last five seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, carl crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie
Where things stand with Ryan Kalish 04.25.11 at 6:35 pm ET
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Ultimately, no one can say exactly what will happen with Ryan Kalish‘€™s shoulder. A team source confirmed multiple reports that the right fielder is dealing with a partial tear of the labrum in his left shoulder, an injury whose roots date to his days as a football player.

(Interesting footnote: The fact that Kalish was available to be drafted by the Red Sox in the ninth round of the 2006 draft is at least in part a byproduct of that injury. He was limited largely to playing DH during his senior season; Sox area scout Ray Fagnant, however, had seen quite a bit of Kalish in the outfield while he was playing in an East Coast Pro Showcase during the summer after his junior year, and so the Sox were able to land the talented two-sport star after he slid in the draft. For more on that, click here.)

Everything is on the table. Kalish — who was hitting .236 with a .300 OBP and .309 slugging mark in 14 games for the PawSox — may be fine without surgery. Then again, if he doesn’€™t respond to a conservative, non-invasive course of rehab, then it might prove necessary for him to undergo a procedure (described by the source as a ‘€œclean-up,’€ rather than a major surgery). It is worth noting that, given that Kalish’€™s left arm was being held at his side by a trainer as he walked off the field, the MRI did reveal that the worst-case scenario ‘€“ a dislocation of the shoulder, which would have required immediate surgery and a lengthy rehab process ‘€“ had not been realized.

Kalish, who suffered the injury (described by the team as a “significant shoulder sprain”) while trying to make a diving catch on Thursday, has been shut down for the next two to three weeks. At that time, a determination will be made about whether the 23-year-old is responding to rehab. Read the rest of this entry »

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Closing Time: Red Sox 5, Angels 0 04.23.11 at 11:36 pm ET
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Who forecast that the two most dominant starters on the Red Sox in late-April would be Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka?

Both, of course, entered the year facing significant questions after disappointing 2010 seasons. But at least Beckett had All-Star campaigns in both 2007 and 2009 — as well as the explanation of injuries in 2010 — to lay the basis for some belief that he could bounce back. But as recently as mid-April, many had given up hope on Matsuzaka, following more than two years of injuries and inconsistencies, along with a singularly horrible outing against the Rays on April 11.

But the enigmatic right-hander has now delivered consecutive starts in which he was nothing short of overpowering. On Patriots’ Day, he allowed just one hit in seven shutout innings against the Blue Jays, striking out three and walking one. A single dominant outing would have been intriguing but might not have changed the perceptions of Matsuzaka that significantly.

But on Saturday night in Anaheim, Matsuzaka backed up that outing with an even better one. He again allowed just one harmless hit (that was actually almost quite harmful — a comebacker that he deflected with his glove just before it hit his face) in logging eight shutout innings and striking out nine while walking three. On a night when the Sox bullpen was short-handed (after both Jonathan Papelbon and Bobby Jenks had thrown on three consecutive days), Matsuzaka gave his team everything it needed in a 5-0 victory.

The Sox are now streaking on the strength of outstanding starting pitching. They have now had eight straight starts of at least five innings and two or fewer runs, leading the club to a 7-1 mark in that span. Matsuzaka has been at the heart of that success over his last two outings. Indeed, no one has been better — and really, no one could be much better than him during a stretch in which opponents have just two hits in 15 innings against him.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–Matsuzaka, of course, was the headliner. He offered another reminder that, when on, he is among the most unhittable pitchers in the majors. Consider: Since Matsuzaka made his debut in the U.S. in 2007, he is one of five pitchers with three different outings in which he lasted at least seven shutout innings while allowing one or no hits, joining CC Sabathia (four times), Roy Oswalt (four times), Jon Lester and Mark Buehrle. He is the first starter since Freddy Garcia in 2006 to make consecutive starts of seven or more shutout innings while allowing one or no hits, and the first Sox pitcher to accomplish the feat since Pedro Martinez in 2002.

On Saturday, Matsuzaka showed a lively swing-and-miss fastball, terrific cutter, nasty slider and a changeup that he used to finish a number of Angels hitters. His pitches were darting in all directions. The Angels didn’t have a chance.

Matsuzaka has recovered from a pair of season-opening losses to even his record at 2-2 with a 4.09 ERA.

–A pair of struggling Sox hitters made noteworthy contributions to the team’s offense. Carl Crawford went 2-for-4 with an RBI single, double and a flyout to deep center field, bumping his average up from .135 to .153. Jason Varitek, who entered the day hitting .043, yanked a run-scoring double into the right-field corner and also had a hard smash to to third that resulted in an out.

Kevin Youkilis showed no lingering ill effects from the sore shin that forced him out of Thursday’s game and kept him out of the lineup on Friday. Though he went just 1-for-4 with three strikeouts, he also drilled a two-run homer to right-center for his fourth homer of the year. As much as he has at any time in his career, he is driving the ball to the opposite field.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Jacoby Ellsbury went 2-for-5 with a pair of steals and a pair of runs, but he continued to strike out at a startling rate. Though he pushed his average up from .190 to .206, he has struck out 19 times in 65 at-bats, or once every 3.4 times at the plate. Prior to this year, he had struck out once every 7.7 at-bats in his career.

Closing Time: Red Sox 4, Angels 2 04.22.11 at 1:58 am ET
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Finally, they broke through.

The Red Sox had spent most of the game frittering away opportunities, leaving Josh Beckett with no margin for error — and a no-decision — on a night when his flirtations with a no-hitter could not earn him a victory. But after the Sox left 13 runners on base through the first 10 innings, with the game deadlocked at 2-2, they finally got a much-needed breakthrough when Adrian Gonzalez delivered a run-scoring double to right to plate the go-ahead run against the Angels in the top of the 11th.

Gonzalez’ biggest hit with his new club set the stage for a 4-2 victory against an Angels team playing as well as any team in the game. The Sox now appear to be finding their way, with five wins in their last six contests, including W’s in two of their first three road games on the West Coast.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–The final note of Josh Beckett‘s outing was disappointment. Though he carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, he suddenly was positioned for a no-decision when his second hit of the night traveled about 420 feet, as Torii Hunter tied the game, 2-2, with a two-run homer against a fastball down the middle. And yet the fact that the standard for judging Beckett’s outings is now near perfection speaks volumes to how far he’s come.

One dominant start was eye-opening. Two represented promise. Three now qualifies as a pattern. In his last three outings, Beckett has allowed three runs on eight hits over 23 innings while striking out 24 and walking five. He is 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in that run. He has been nothing short of a force and, even though his fastball velocity has been settling around 93 mph (rather than the 94-96 mph that he featured a couple years ago), he has been simply overpowering.

It will, however, be interesting to monitor whether Beckett experiences any fatigue in subsequent outings. He logged 125 pitches, the most he’s thrown as a member of the Sox and the most by any Sox pitcher since Jon Lester logged 130 pitches in his 2008 no-hitter.

Dustin Pedroia set a new season-high by reaching base five times, going 3-for-4 with three singles and two walks. He now has a .450 OBP this year. His performance was all the more impressive given that he gave the team a bit of a scare in the early innings, when he jammed his left foot (the one that he broke last year) hard into the second-base bag in the third inning.

Carl Crawford ended a two-week stretch without a walk. In fact, he walked twice, though he went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts to drop his average to .143.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–Wasted opportunities, again and again. The Sox had plenty of chances against the Angels, but as has been the case quite frequently in the early going (particularly on the road), the team could not capitalize when they put runners on base and/or in scoring position. The Sox were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position and left 13 runners on base through the first 10 innings.

–The most notable failure with runners on base came in the top of the eighth inning, when the Sox loaded the bases with one out against Angels reliever Fernando Rodney but could not score. Most notable was the strikeout by J.D. Drew with one out, at a time when several forms of contact would have yielded a run.

Drew has always struggled with the bases loaded in his career. In his career, he is now hitting .229/.318/.441/.759 with the bases loaded. Across the board, those are his worst numbers in any situation.

Kevin Youkilis left after the top of the second inning, not long after he slammed a foul ball off his lower left shin in a 10-pitch first-inning at-bat. With Marco Scutaro replacing Youkilis, the Angels could approach third-hole hitter Adrian Gonzalez with extreme caution, intentionally walking him once and otherwise refusing to challenge him. Scutaro ended up going 0-for-4 while stranding five.

Jason Varitek continued to look overmatched at the plate, going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. Though he did walk and get hit by a pitch, Varitek is now 1-for-23 (.043) this year. But, of course, Sox pitchers once again had a tremendous night with the 39-year-old calling signals. The Sox now have a 2.22 ERA when Varitek is behind the plate.

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