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Sox saving celebration for AL East title 09.20.13 at 12:28 am ET
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The last time the Red Sox reached the postseason, John Lackey was pitching against them, in a 2009 ALDS series Lackey’s Angels eventually won. On Thursday, Lackey’s dominant complete-game performance clinched the Sox’ first playoff appearance since that series, although the team celebrated the victory no more exuberantly than they would any other win.

From Sox manager John Farrell through the clubhouse, the team maintained that they won’t celebrate in any extraordinary way until they clinch the AL East.

“We know where we’re at. We know what was pending,” Farrell said. “We still feel like there’s the next step is a more important one than this. We know that we’re in but we know that winning the East, that’s been a stated goal since day one of spring training. That’s getting closer. And I think that will be probably a little bit more the realization of where we’ve come from and where we are at the moment.”

The Sox players echoed Farrell’s sentiments.

“We need to go out there and take care of what we need to take care of,” Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “Tonight was a big win to get a spot, but we want to win the division and we still want to get that 100th win. We’re going to continue to go out there. Tomorrow is a new day and we’re going to focus on that.”

Dustin Pedroia called the win “a big step,” but repeated the mantra that the division title has been the yearlong goal.

“Our main goal was to try to get in and win the division and win the World Series,” Pedroia said. “We’ll celebrate when we win the division.”

Lackey has pitched in 14 postseason games, all with the Angels, but this fall may have some added significance for him in particular given the injury and performance woes he faced over the last three years in Boston.

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Closing Time: John Lackey loses no-hitter but punches Red Sox’ ticket to postseason 09.19.13 at 9:32 pm ET
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They’ve said they won’t celebrate clinching a wild card spot, but there was plenty for the Red Sox to celebrate beyond that as they topped the Orioles 3-1 on Thursday.

In one of the most dominant outings of his career, John Lackey carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, when he surrendered the first of just two hits on a towering solo home run from cleanup hitter Adam Jones. The other hit was an eighth-inning single by J.J. Hardy. Lackey struck out eight, including AL home run leader Chris Davis twice, en route to a complete-game two-hitter.

In addition to the six strikeouts, Lackey recorded 10 outs on the ground, consistently getting weak contact from even the heart of the Orioles’ order. He did so chiefly on the strength of a powerful fastball, a pitch he used almost exclusively in his initial blitz through the Baltimore lineup, before mixing in an impressive array of cutters, sliders and curves.

Lackey’s start was a convincing statement after he entered the night having given up 11 earned runs over his last 12 innings. (In a reversal of his fortunes for most of this year, he actually went 1-0 in those starts because the Sox pulled off the rare feat of scoring runs when he was on the mound.) Thursday’s game was much more in line with the performances Lackey has turned in for most of this year. Aside from Jones’ home run and Hardy’s single, he allowed just two baserunners, both on walks, and did it all relying largely on his fastball and slider. (Five) of his (six) strikeouts came on the fastball, and he also got swings and misses on the slider.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Stephen Drew hit his 13th homer of the year, a shot to left field that brought home Jarrod Saltalamacchia as well. He also hit his seventh triple on a long fly ball to center that glanced off of Jones’ glove.

Drew had been cold this month, hitting just .226 with a .305 OBP in his last 14 games, but he does have five doubles and three of his 13 homers on the year in that span.

Jackie Bradley Jr. went 2-for-3 with a double down the left-field line and a single up the middle, exhibiting the ability he’s shown in the past to hit the ball hard to all fields.

It was only the second multi-hit game of Bradley’s major-league career (the first came on June 1 against the Yankees).

– Dustin Pedroia was effective in the leadoff spot, doubling to start the game and bringing home Bradley with a single in the second. This was only the ninth game of the year in which he’s hit leadoff, but he’s hitting .325 in games when he’s at the top of the order.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Mike Napoli went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, snapping a modest streak of four games in which he had been on base.

– After a three-run third against Orioles starter Chris Tillman, the lineup sputtered, failing to push across another run. The Sox were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position in the game, and after starting with five hits in their first nine at-bats, the Sox went just 2-for-21 the rest of the way.

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Xander Bogaerts ahead of curve in big league education 09.16.13 at 2:03 am ET
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Xander Bogaerts made his presence known at the plate on Sunday, going 2-for-3 with a double, scoring two runs and facilitating another on a double steal where he took second while Jarrod Saltalamacchia stole home as the Red Sox cruised to a 9-2 victory over the Yankees. That he did so while playing a capable third base — a position he’s played for just 10 games in the minors and seven in the majors — is one more sign that while the 20-year-old has plenty to learn, he’s making rapid progress.

Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield said Bogaerts has avoided letting the struggles of a new position affect his performance at the plate, or vice versa. Both he and Sox manager John Farrell spoke highly of Bogaerts’ maturity and his eagerness to learn from coaches and veteran teammates.

‘€œHe’€™s a very graceful defender,” Farrell said on Sunday. “Right now, he looks more comfortable at short than he would at third, which you’€™d expect because of the number of games played there. But he’€™s blended in well. He’€™s been all eyes and ears. He asks great questions. This has been invaluable, the time that he’€™s been here so far. He’€™s got a bright future.”

“A kid that young — his maturity level, he’s a little bit ahead of the curve, and he plays a very relaxed game,” Butterfield said. “Defensively, tonight he made a couple nice plays, made a couple nice plays yesterday, at shortstop. There’s not any panic to his game. He relaxes when he throws. So that part of it, where a lot of kids come up and it’s only natural for things to speed up and the heart’s jumping a little bit — he’s been really relaxed, offensively and defensively, and that part of it, we’re really pleased with.”

Of course, the adjustment to a new position hasn’t been seamless, especially since Bogaerts has played in just 13 games, seven at third, since his August 20 call-up.

“He’s a big guy, so sometimes that transition from playing shortstop and from standing more erect is a little more difficult for guys like him,” Butterfield said. “Now they’re protected from their waist down, so they’ve got to play with a wider base. They’ve got to play a little bit lower. But he’s a real good athlete. He’s got great aptitude. He wants to be a great player. So it’s no problem getting him the work that he needs. He’s always seeking me out.”

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Closing Time: Clay Buchholz, Red Sox dominate Yankees to close out sweep 09.15.13 at 11:27 pm ET
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In a September sweep of the Yankees at Fenway Park, there was no shortage of moments for the Red Sox to celebrate. The most important takeaway from Sunday’s 9-2 blowout, though, was the fact that Clay Buchholz looked strong in his second start back from the DL, offering further evidence that he has returned as a pitcher capable of being a postseason difference-maker for a team that is steamrolling towards the playoffs.

The Sox took advantage of a shaky outing from Ivan Nova, who gave up five runs (four earned) and exited in the fifth inning without recording an out in the frame. Nova walked four batters, threw a wild pitch and hit Mike Carp, the last batter he faced, with the bases loaded to bring home a run.

Buchholz gave up one run, unearned, on just two Yankee hits over six innings. The fact that he pitched into the sixth, and effectively, was a significant positive in itself, as he was held to just 74 pitches in his first outing after returning from the DL.

Buchholz did struggle with his command: in four of his six innings, he either walked or hit the leadoff batter. Double plays helped keep him out of trouble, especially in the third inning, when he put men on first and second with one out but got a grounder to second for an inning-ending twin kill.

Overall, though, the fact that Buchholz has now thrown 11 innings without an earned run since returning to the rotation is what matters most to the Sox. After missing three months with a shoulder injury, he’s stepped right back onto the field without any significant problems. Indeed, he’s dropped his ERA from 1.71 before landing on the DL to 1.51 now — the lowest mark by any starter with at least 90 innings pitched since Bob Gibson‘s 1.12 mark in 1968.

With Sunday’s win, the Sox finish 13-6 against Yankees on the year, making them the first team since the 1976 Orioles to win 13 games against the Yankees. That’s made a significant difference in the division race, as the Yankees trailed the Sox by 11 1/2 games entering Sunday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX Read the rest of this entry »

A new gear: As September arrives, Jon Lester returns to peak form 09.04.13 at 1:41 am ET
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Over the last month, Jon Lester has strung together encouraging starts, giving the Red Sox a fair shot to win and lasting through the sixth inning in every outing since August 8.

But the seven innings he fired against the Tigers on Tuesday were different, more than just a step in the right direction. Tuesday was a return to a form Lester has rarely reached in recent years, let alone this season, and it came against arguably the most challenging opponent in the league.

Lester struck out nine, fanning all but one hitter in the Tigers’ formidable lineup at least once, without walking a batter for just the second time in his career. And while his focus was on Detroit’s hitters, not their starting pitcher, it’s worth noting that he also outdueled Max Scherzer, a strong candidate for the AL Cy Young.

Both pitchers went seven innings, with Lester allowing one run and Scherzer two. The wheels fell off for Scherzer near the end, though, as he gave up two walks and hit a batter between the seventh and eighth. Lester, on the other hand, may have been stronger in the seventh than in the first. While the Tigers tormented him by fouling off pitches and making him throw 25 in the first, he set them down on just 10 pitches in the seventh.

“He did it. He set the tone right from the start of the game,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “In that seventh inning, he probably knew that was going to be his last inning, and he made a couple of key pitches. … To finish off the seventh inning with who was coming up in the order, a very good game.”

Given Lester’s ups and downs this year, it’s hard to jump to conclusions based on approximately a month’s worth of starts. But with less than a month left in the regular season, he appears to be at his best, throwing as hard as he ever has (reaching 97 mph on the Fenway Park radar gun Tuesday) and pounding the strike zone, at least on Tuesday, in a way he’s rarely been able to.

“It’s been great to see him, post-All Star break, the way he’s thrown the ball, with the exception of the one game here against Arizona,” Farrell said. “I think everybody in our dugout feels it when he goes to the mound. And that can be said for [John] Lackey. That’s not to slight anybody. But Jon has stepped up in those games, and we needed to get back on the winning track. And he’s done just that.”

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Closing Time: Vintage Jon Lester leads Red Sox past Tigers, Max Scherzer 09.03.13 at 10:09 pm ET
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It was one of Jon Lester’s best starts of the season, and it could hardly have come at a better time, or in a more convincing fashion. Against the American League’s best-hitting team, he struck out a season-high nine, walked none and gave up just one run over seven innings to lead the Red Sox to a 2-1 win over the Tigers.

The results are impressive enough on their own. But Lester also threw his fastball as hard as 97 mph (according to the Fenway Park scoreboard), induced multiple swings and misses from Miguel Cabrera and threw 73 percent of his pitches for strikes. In short, he looked as dominant as he has all season, pitching one of his strongest frames in the seventh inning even after he had thrown 101 pitches through six innings.

That Lester did it against Detroit, which leads the AL in batting average, OBP, slugging percentage and runs, was all the more impressive. The situation looked dangerous entering the game, as the hitters in Detroit’s lineup Tuesday were hitting a combined .430 against him in their careers. The occasion did not seem ripe for the lefty to set a new season high in strikeouts, but that’s what he did, including three straight punchouts in the third inning.

In particular, Lester’s cutter and curveball served him well on Tuesday. He got three strikeouts on his curveball, two of them swinging. Perhaps most memorable was his third-inning three-pitch strikeout of reigning AL MVP Cabrera, in which Cabrera swung and missed at two straight curveballs to end the inning.

With men on first and second in the sixth inning, Lester also got excellent results from his cutter, retiring Matt Tuiasosopo swinging for the second out of the inning. He also got an inning-ending groundout from Cabrera in the fifth on his cutter, escaping a bases-loaded jam by retiring the slugger for the third straight time. Five of his nine strikeouts came on the cutter, four of those swinging.

For some further context on how rare Lester’s outing was, the only other time in his career he’s struck out as many as nine without walking a batter was on May 20, 2010. Max Scherzer, who started for the Tigers and ranks second in baseball in strikeouts, also threw 111 pitches over 7 innings, but just 70 strikes to Lester’s 81.

The Sox pitching staff now has a 2.31 ERA since August 19.

Here’s a look at what else went right and wrong for the Red Sox on Tuesday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Jonny Gomes has made a habit of defying the odds this season, and he did it again on Tuesday. Against a pitcher who has embarrassed right-handed hitters this year, he got the Sox’ first two hits of the night and scored their first run.

Right-handed hitters entered the night hitting .154/.209/.274 against Scherzer. Lefties haven’t fared all that much better, with a .223/.270/.370 line, but the lack of the left-handed Jacoby Ellsbury and the switch-hitting Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the lineup figured to be a negative.

In general, the Sox did struggle with Scherzer, who struck out eight over seven innings, though he flagged in the seventh, walking Stephen Drew and hitting David Ross in back-to-back at-bats. But Gomes went 2-for-4 against him, singling twice and scoring along with Drew in the fifth inning.

- Will Middlebrooks delivered one of his most important hits of the year in the fifth inning, a line-drive single to center that put the Sox ahead 2-1. Middlebrooks hit a first-pitch slider that hung over the plate, bringing Gomes and Drew around to score. That was the Sox’ first multi-hit inning of the game – they had put a man on base just once prior to the fifth.

Since returning to the Sox on August 10, Middlebrooks is hitting .328.

Brandon Workman retired just one batter, but it was one he likely won’t forget soon: in the eighth inning, he entered the game to match up against Miguel Cabrera, and after falling behind him, 2-0, the right-hander challenged the best hitter in the big leagues with a 94 mph fastball that the reigning MVP popped weakly to right.

Koji Uehara was outstanding yet again, striking out two of the three batters he faced and needing just nine pitches to retire the Tigers in order in the ninth. He picked up his 17th save of the season.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Shane Victorino appeared to injure his hand during an at-bat in the sixth inning, a bat-shattering jam shot. He spent the next half-inning opening and closing his hand in center field (where he was starting due to the absence of Ellsbury), went to the clubhouse for treatment after that half-inning and, when he next batted in the seventh, turned around to bat left-handed for the first time in almost a month — whether in deference to discomfort in his hand or because he’d gone 0-for-3 with two punchouts in his first three plate appearances against Scherzer.

- After doubling in his return to Fenway Park as a Tiger on Monday night, Jose Iglesias drove in the only run Lester gave up on Tuesday, hitting a second-inning double to center field. Iglesias is hitting .293/.343/.370 since his Tigers debut on August 2.

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Closing Time: Ortiz’s slump-busting single lifts Red Sox over White Sox, 4-3 08.30.13 at 10:24 pm ET
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David Ortiz’s fourth-inning single no doubt came as a relief for him, as it snapped an 0-for-23 streak that had tied the longest hitless streak of his Boston career. It may have given an even bigger lift to the Red Sox, as it drove in what wound up being the game-winning run of their 4-3 victory over the White Sox on Friday.

At the time, Ortiz’s RBI single through the shift put the Sox up 4-0 and knocked Hector Santiago out of the game after just 3 2/3 innings. But they wound up needing those insurance runs later, as the White Sox eventually pushed across three runs against Ryan Dempster.

After missing a start due to a suspension, the righty did turn in one of his better starts in the last two months: he recorded an out in the seventh inning for only the second time since June and worked out of a few rough spots that could have put the Sox in holes.

However, against the White Sox, who have scored the fewest runs in the American League and the second-fewest in baseball, the Sox might have liked to see the Dempster limit Chicago to fewer than three runs and strike out more than five. But the Sox’ bats picked him up, with every Boston player except Jarrod Saltalamacchia reaching base at least once.

At the very least, Dempster’s start was a significant improvement over his last outing, when he gave up seven runs to the Yankees in a 9-6 loss. He got off to an inauspicious start on Friday, walking the first two batters he faced in the game and allowing Alejandro De Aza to steal second. But a double play and a strikeout got him out of the inning, and he retired the next nine batters in order.

“I felt good. My body felt really good. My arm felt really good,” Dempster said. “I worked hard in the time off I had to be as ready as possible and I got good results because of it.”

Dempster dodged trouble in the fifth inning, in which he gave up four hits (but just one run, thanks to Paul Konerko getting caught in a rundown). A solo homer to Avisail Garcia followed by a single off the wall (played well by Jonny Gomes to prevent extra bases) ended Dempster’s night.

Here’s a look at what went right and what went wrong for the Red Sox on Friday.

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