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Closing Time: Jacoby Ellsbury, bullpen pace Red Sox to much-needed win over Yankees 09.25.11 at 11:44 pm ET
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Jacoby Ellsbury is saving the Red Sox season.

After hitting two home runs in Game 1 of the Sox’ doubleheader against the Yankees Sunday, the outfielder came through with perhaps the biggest homer of his team’s season in the 14th inning of Game 2. With two outs in the 14th inning, Ellsbury took Scott Proctor over the center field fence for a three-run homer, handing the Sox a much-needed 7-4, 14-inning win over New York at Yankee Stadium.

With the Game 2 victory, the Red Sox head into their final three regular season games with a one-game lead over the Rays in the wild card standings. The Sox will now play the Orioles in Baltimore, while Tampa Bay hosts the Yankees for three games.

Here is what went right (and wrong) in the Red Sox’ win:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

John Lackey turned in a solid outing after allowing three quick runs in the first inning. Following the initial frame, the starter settled down, finishing his six-inning outing by giving up four runs on five hits over six innings. The starter had faced the minimum number of batters over his previous 4 2/3 innings entering the seventh inning before leaving for reliever Alfredo Aceves following Eric Chavez‘ leadoff single.

– The bullpen came up huge for the Red Sox, with the group of Aceves, Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon, Franlkin Morales and Felix Doubront teaming to pitch eight scoreless innings, allowing just one hit.

Jason Varitek, who came into the game having gone 1-for-24 in September, came through with the biggest hit for the Sox in quite some time, sending a single up the middle against Yankees starter Ivan Nova to score Marco Scutaro with the go-ahead run.

– Scutaro completed the comeback in the seventh for the Red Sox, doubling in pinch-runner Mike Aviles. It made the shortstop 11-for-26 with runners in scoring position in September, a month he came into the game hitting .377 in.

Jed Lowrie came through in his return to the starting lineup, notching a triple and double, both of which resulted in Red Sox’ runs. Both hits came with Lowrie hitting left-handed, a side he had managed just a 2-for-24 clip from throughout September.

– J.D. Drew, playing in his first game since July 19, made his presence felt with an RBI single in the fifth inning, scoring Lowrie with the Red Sox’ first run.

– Papelbon, the most effective pitcher in baseball with the bases loaded in the past five seasons, struck out Austin Romine with the bases full to end the Yankees threat in the ninth inning. The closer has now struck out eight of the nine batters he has faced with the bases full this season.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Dustin Pedroia’s bid at tying the game with two outs in the sixth inning fell short, with the second baseman attempting to make it home from third on a wild pitch from Nova. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Nova’s errant toss hit the backstop and ricocheted straight back to catcher Austin Romine for an easy out.

– The Red Sox would have tied the game earlier in the sixth inning if not for a stellar play by Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira on a sharp grounder off the bat of Adrian Gonzalez. If through, the play would have surely scored Sox baserunners Carl Crawford and Pedroia from second and third, respectively.

– Lackey struggled through another first inning, allowing three runs when Mark Teixeira launched a ball off the very top of the center field wall to score a pair. Teixeira proceeded to come in with the third run when Varitek’s throw trying to nab the baserunner at third base went wide for a throwing error. Coming into the game, the starter had allowed his opponents a .341 batting average and 23 runs in his 27 first innings this season.

– The at-bat before notching the go-ahead single, Varitek was plunked with a cutter from Nova in the right knee. The pitch would ultimately push the catcher out of the game in favor of pinch-runner Joey Gathright after the Sox’ captain gave his team a lead. Adding insult to injury was Gathright getting caught in a rundown after trying to steal off Yankees’ reliever Boone Logan.

– After leading off the eighth inning with a single, Carl Crawford was caught stealing while trying to go on Rafael Soriano’s first pitch to Pedroia. It was the sixth time this season in 24 attempts Crawford has been gunned down.

– Aceves wasn’t able to hold the lead for Lackey, throwing a wild pitch which allowed pinch-runner Brett Gardner to reach second, which then resulted in the baserunner moving to third on a Jesus Montero ground out and home via Chris Dickerson’s sacrifice fly to center field.

– The Red Sox stranded the potential go-ahead runner at third base in the ninth inning, with Mariano Rivera striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia to end the inning. Lars Anderson had reached third after pinch-running for Adrian Gonzalez, who led off the frame with a single. Anderson moved to second on Aviles’ sacrifice bunt, and third when Drew grounded out to first.

Closing Time: Yankees beat up Lester, Sox in Bronx 09.24.11 at 7:12 pm ET
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Just when the Red Sox thought it couldn’t get any worse …

The Yankees jumped all over Sox starter Jon Lester with eight runs in just 2 2/3 innings, leading to a 9-1 loss for the visitors at Yankee Stadium Saturday. For the Red Sox, whose starters now have a 7.34 ERA in September, Lester’s rough outing marked the 10th time this month that a Sox rotation member allowed five or more runs.

The Red Sox are now 5-17, giving them the third-most losses in September of any Red Sox team. The only Sox teams to have more defeats in the season’s final month were the 1952 (20) and ’74 (18) clubs.

Here is what went wrong (and right) as the Sox dropped to 88-69:

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Lester has now had four outings in his career where has allowed eight or more runs, this time giving up six runs in the second inning — half of which came on a three-run homer to Derek Jeter — and two more in the third before giving way to Scott Atchison. Lester threw just 55 pitches, having now allowed 16 runs in 13 2/3 innings over his last three starts.

– Not helping matters in the second for Lester was the combination of shortstop Marco Scutaro and third baseman Mike Aviles failing to get a sure out  at third for what would have been the second out of the frame. With runners on first and second, Andruw Jones hit a ball between the two fielders which Scutaro gobbled up. But the shortstop failed to go to third, perhaps because of the late arrival at the base by Aviles, resulting in late throw to second, loading the bases.

– Immediately after the blunder on Jones’ grounder, an even more damaging defensive play arrived for the Sox two batters later. Following an RBI single by Jesus Montero for the game’s first run, Carl Crawford failed to come up with a sinking liner off the bat of Russell Martin, watching the ball drop off his glove while the left fielder went into a slide. If Crawford had made the catch, he surely would have been able to double up Jones at second, limiting the inning to just one run.

– The Red Sox’ offense wasn’t able to do anything against Yankees starter Freddy Garcia, who had struggled to a 10.95 ERA over his last three starts (15 runs in 12 1/3 innings). Against Garcia, the Sox stranded seven runners over the pitcher’s six innings, going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– Almost nothing, save for a couple of solid performances by members of the bullpen. Most notably, Atchison continued his strong September with 2 1/3 shutout innings. Junichi Tazawa also tossed 1 1/3 scoreless frames, while Trever Miller punched out Robinson Cano; the veteran left-hander has retired all six batters he’s faced as a member of the Red Sox.

‘Hi, my name is Jonathan Papelbon, and I am an adrenaline junkie’ 09.22.11 at 3:07 pm ET
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After Wednesday’s loss, we asked Jonathan Papelbon if he looked forward to the chance of turning things around in such a venue against such a team as Yankee Stadum vs. the Yankees.

“Sure, I’m an adrenaline junkie,” he said. “‘Hi, my name is Jonathan Papelbon, and I am an adrenaline junkie.'”

Then the closer offered another slant on what resides ahead for the Red Sox.

“If I had a choice of peaking right now and peaking in four or five days, I’ll take in four of five days,” he said. “That’s just my experience.”

So the question is: By the time next Wednesday hits, will the Red Sox have “peaked.” In other words, what will their record be for the final six games? Thoughts …

Clay Buchholz moving forward after feeling ‘spring training sore’ 09.22.11 at 9:26 am ET
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A day after throwing a 32-pitch simulated game, Clay Buchholz said he was “sore from the first bullpen in spring training kind of sore,” but was ready to executed another throwing session to Red Sox hitters either Thursday or Friday.

“I’m sore, obviously. I haven’t thrown to a hitter at that effort level in 2 1/2 months,” Buchholz told WEEI.com prior to the Red Sox’ series finale against the Orioles Wednesday. “Sore today, but not back-specific, but last and things when I pitch. We’ll see how it feels then and go from there. I’m not going to try and rush and do anything that would risk injury.”

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said on WEEI’s ‘The Big Show’ that the best-case scenario would allow Buchholz to pitch in a game either Sunday in New York or Monday’s tilt in Baltimore.

Buchholz warned, however, that he has some obstacles to overcome before making an appearance in real game.

“It was good out there, but it’s a different scenario once you get to a big-league game rather than throwing to your own team. But it felt good,” the pitcher said. “It felt better yesterday than it did in the last four times I started. That’s definitely a good thing but arm strength is definitely not there yet. It’s going to take another one or two of those to get that back in the mix and start long-tossing every day.

“I think it will come back quicker because it’s not like I took two full months of not throwing like you do in the offseason,” he added. “I was still throwing. but I wasn’t able to ramp up the intensity because I didn’t want to re-injure anything. I feel strong. It’s just the duration of me being able to pitch at 100 percent. It’s going to take a little bit of time to get there.”

Carl Crawford explains what happened to his neck 09.21.11 at 4:49 pm ET
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For the first time since sitting out of Monday’s game with a stiff neck, Carl Crawford explained what transpired leading up the decision not to play in the series finale.

“I did it hitting in the cage. I took a swing and the whole right side locked up on me,” explained the outfielder.

Crawford said that while it was the first time the injury has cropped up this season, he has had the issue before, most recently last season while with the Rays.

“It locked up on me like that before,” he noted. “It did it again, although I don’t know why it came at that time. … It doesn’t happen all the time.”

Crawford said the injury improved after taking muscles relaxers and getting massaged, allowing him to play Tuesday (going 1-for-4).

“I couldn’€™t turn so I wouldn’€™t have been able to see the ball that day,” he said. “It felt way better. It felt much better today. Right now my neck is still sore, but I have motion in it. I didn’€™t have motion in it before.”

Matt Albers might actually offer a solution to one of the Red Sox’ problems 09.21.11 at 12:42 pm ET
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Within the Red Sox‘€™ latest loss could be found a potential welcome solution for Terry Francona‘€™s team.

For the third straight outing, the Matt Albers pitched without incident, this time allowing just one baserunner (via a hit-by-pitch) to get the Sox through the sixth inning while still clinging to a one-run lead in what turned out to a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Orioles.

Considering the Sox’€™ desperate need for reliable arms leading to Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon as the conclusion of the regular season draws near, it was a welcome sight.

For Albers, the process of returning to his form of the first four months started in Sunday’€™s game against the Rays, when, for just the third time since July 25, the righty made it through an appearance without allowing a baserunner.

Then came Monday night, which saw Albers strike out the two batters he faced.

And, finally, Tuesday night’€™s punctuation to the comeback.

‘€œI think I just tried to start over and give myself a fresh start,’€ Albers said. ‘€œI think for a little bit I was almost trying too hard. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I was almost trying to make up for other outings. I wanted to start with a clean slate, attack guys and I think I felt good about that.

‘€œI just know I felt a lot more comfortable on the mound. Everything slowed down.’€

Albers struggles throughout August and early part of September were well-documented, with the righty’€™s ERA going from 2.09 by the end of July to a high of 4.95 heading into Sunday.

It has put the Red Sox in a tricky spot considering they had come to rely on Albers as the bridge to the late-inning relievers. Despite the Sox drifting away from the righty in high leverage situations, Albers still has thrown the second-most seventh inning pitches on the team (just two behind Alfredo Aceves).

‘€œI think I had been fighting myself a little bit,’€ he said. ‘€œBut I’m back feeling comfortable and healthy on the mound. I don’t think about it now too much. Hopefully I can put everything aside and get guys out. From here on until the end of the season it doesn’t matter what happened. We’re just trying to make the playoffs. It’s never too late to get yourself right.”

Now, the feeling of April through July is back, an inkling he gets with each out.

“I enjoy it, but it’s a little frustrating I couldn’t kind of figure that out earlier,” Albers explained. “That was part of the issue. I was trying to make up for the last times. You just can’t do that. You can’t make up for the last one. I think I might have been caught up in that a little bit.”

Closing Time: Red Sox fight back with a rout of Orioles 09.19.11 at 11:06 pm ET
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The Red Sox garnered a much-needed dose of optimism in Game 2 of their doubleheader against the Orioles Monday night, beating up on the O’s, 18-9, behind an attack that included 20 hits. The Sox also finished the contest going 11-for-19 with runners in scoring position, marking the most hits they’ve had this season in such situations.

The win kept the Sox two games ahead of Tampa Bay in the wild card race, with the Rays getting an off day before starting their series in New York Tuesday. It also marked just the third time in 14 games this month that the Red Sox have won despite their opponent scoring five or more runs.

Here is what went right (and wrong) in the Sox’ 88th win of the season (and just fifth victory in 18 tries this month):

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– In his first at-bat since getting a cortisone shot in his ailing shoulder, Jed Lowrie gave the Red Sox the lead for good with a three-run homer in the first inning off of Baltimore starter Brian Matusz. The homer completed a comeback for the Sox after they had fallen behind 3-0 in the visitors half of the first. Lowrie finished with a pair of hits and four RBI.

– The top four hitters in the Red Sox batting order — Jacoby Ellsbury, Marco Scutaro, Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia — all had three hits apiece. Ellsbury and Scutaro also had three runs, while Pedroia finished with four RBI.

– Ellsbury not only went 3-for-5, but came away with an inside-the-park home run in the seventh inning. The outfielder’s 28th homer of the season — coming on a ball that hit off the side of the Red Sox bullpen in center field and ricocheted out toward left — was the first inside-the-parker for a Red Sox player since May 28, 2007 (Kevin Youkilis).

– In the same inning as Ellsbury’s inside-the-park home run, Conor Jackson launched a grand slam over the left field (the second of his career). Up until the seventh inning at-bat, Jackson had joined Jason Varitek as the only two members of the Sox’ starting lineup not to have claimed a hit. Jackson also made a tremendous catch in the third inning, diving onto the dirt along left field to rob Nick Markakis of a sure hit.

Matt Albers struck out the only two batters he faced, marking on the second time this season the reliever has failed to allow a baserunner in back-to-back appearances.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– John Lackey’s performance was the obvious lowlight of the evening, with the starter giving up eight runs on 11 hits over 4 1/3 innings. The righty’s ERA ballooned to 6.49. It was 10th time in his career he has allowed eight or more runs in an outing, and the fourth occasion this season. The appearance was the first time he has surrendered that many runs and his team has won.

– The Red Sox committed three more errors, giving them 21 for month, the most in the majors for September.

– Jason Varitek had a rough game, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts while suffering through four Baltimore stolen bases. It was the eighth time in the catcher’s career he has struck out four times in a game, with the last occasion coming April 21, 2010.

Jonathan Papelbon: ‘We have to start finding our identity’ 09.18.11 at 9:29 am ET
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After the Red Sox‘ 4-3 loss to the Rays Saturday, Jonathan Papelbon explained that, with 11 regular season games remaining, now is the time the Sox must make their move.

“I think every game from here on out we have to start sending messages, not only to other teams but to our own team, and start getting that confidence flow as a team,” the closer said. “If we can do that at the right time, that’s all we can ask for.”

Papelbon also offered another priority for the Red Sox as they head into the last 1 1/2 weeks of the regular season, ahead in the Wild Card race by three games.

“We have to start finding our identity, and the only way we’re going to do that is play one out, one play at a time, and gain confidence with each play,” Papelbon explained. “And if we can find that identity and peak at the right time, we’ll be unstoppable.

Thus far in September, the Red Sox are 4-12, having been out-scored by their opponents, 100-85 while making 15 more errors than the other team (15-7).

The last three times the Red Sox made the postseason, they never experienced losing skids like this one in September. In 2007, they did go through a four-game losing streak in the middle of the month, but finished September at 16-11. In ’08, the Sox’ mark in the regular season’s final month was 16-10, with the team finishing out the ’09 campaign at 15-13, having lost six in a row before closing out the regular season with a four-game win streak.

“I think we’re close,” Papelbon said. “The whole puzzle isn’t put together because we still have 40 guys in here. So, we’ll see.”

Joe Maddon on historic collapses: ‘Why can’t it happen again to somebody else’ 09.15.11 at 8:09 pm ET
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These days, Joe Maddon isn’€™t shy about bringing up what had been a sore subject for the past 16 years.

Maddon was the first base coach on the 1995 California Angels, the team identified as suffering the worst collapse in Major League Baseball history. On August 16, that club held an 11 1/2 ‘€“game lead over Seattle for the Wild Card (and 10 ½ games ahead of Texas in the division) before ultimate missing out on the postseason.

Now, Maddon’€™s Rays is trying to become the first team in MLB history to come back from a deficit of nine games as late as Sept. 3.

‘€œI lived it, man. And we had a 13-game lead at one point,’€ the Tampa Bay manager said. ‘€œWith that team we were playing games that were over by the sixith inning. We were killing everybody. I mean annihilating everybody. It was just unbelieveable how everything was going in our favor.’€

Maddon explained that two things went a long way in turning the tide last that season. The Angels’€™ shortstop, Gary DiSarcina, tore a ligament in his thumb in early August, ending his season, and the Mariners traded for leadoff hitter Vince Coleman.

From that Aug. 16 checkpoint, the Angels went 13-28 the rest of the way, eventually losing to the Mariners in a one-game playoff.

‘€œBelieve me, man, it was awful,’€ Maddon said. ‘€œSo why can’€™t it happen again to somebody else.’€

When asked if he has brought up possibility of the Rays helping make similar history in their race with the Red Sox, Maddon said, ‘€œI know they read everything, so as long  as I’€™m saying it publicly. They’€™re always sitting up there with their iPads, so I know they’€™re reading all these different things. I figure if I just get it out there at some point they’€™ll read about it.’€

How Jason Varitek has captained the Red Sox through stormy waters before 09.15.11 at 12:24 pm ET
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Seven years Jason Varitek has worn the ‘€˜C’€™ on his Red Sox uniform. During that span his team has made the playoffs all but two seasons, won one World Series, and dealt with countless waves of drama and bumps in the road.

Well, Varitek and his teammates have found himself in another doozy.

With 13 games to play and the Sox holding a four-game lead over the team they’€™re about to play four games against, the Rays, the captain is ‘€¦ being a captain. In other words, nothing changes.

‘€œThey didn’t put a ‘C’ on my jersey to make me all of a sudden someone I’m not,’€ he explained.

Varitek has never been a ‘€˜rah, rah’€™ type of teammate, leading most of the time by example, whether that’€™s through work ethic, diligence or performance. With his catching equipment not too far from his side, he is constantly keeping the motor running ‘€“ in both regards to both his own lot in life and his team.

Now he finds himself once again at the helm of a club who is trying to find its way.

‘€œWe have to keep working on the things we’€™ve been working on all year. Just because we’€™ve run into a little rough spot, does it change? No,’€ he said. ‘€œWe just have to focus on what we can control. If we changed I wouldn’€™t be doing my job.

‘€œYou don’€™t all of a sudden change. We’€™ve been taking steps and working on things all year. If I had the ability to go 20-for-20 and drive in 40 in this time period, so be it. But we just have to continue to focus and push ourselves to allow good things to happen.’€

But while the team’€™s approach demands the same consistency of the past seven seasons, don’€™t think that Varitek, the captain and teammate, hasn’€™t changed.

The 38-year-old is adamant that the moment the Red Sox made him the organization’€™s first captain since Jim Rice carried the title in the late 1980’€™s, his existence wasn’€™t altered. Yet, as time kept moving forward, so has Varitek’€™s view of things.

‘€œIt didn’€™t’€™ change anything I did,’€ he said regarding being awarded the captaincy. ‘€œIf anything, as a person and as a human being, as I’€™ve evolved in my position, I’€™ve learned to maybe talk more, maybe communicate more. I don’€™t know if that’€™s because of [being a captain] or just because of change. I still need to do all the little things and understand I have to lead vocally, sometimes not, and sometimes just listen.

‘€œIt was kind of what I had already done. As I’€™ve matured more and grown more I’€™ve learned to communicate more. I’€™ve played less and I can see more. It adapts every year according to what’€™s going on. I continue to try and read what the heartbeat is and what is going on. Today, tomorrow, you just continue to do that.’€

As he explains, part the alteration in the process has come with a role change. As he said, ‘€œMy responsibilities have changed.’€

Varitek has played in 64 games this season, but carries a higher OPS (.738) than he did in his last year as a full-time player, 2009 (.703), in which he totaled 131 games. The rest and role has presumably been beneficial for the catcher, who now heads into this latest challenge with a little different perspective than some of the crisis he has endured.

‘€œWhen you play every single day it’€™s everything you can do to just play that day. So now I’€™m sitting there on other days watching,’€ Varitek said. ‘€œYou’€™re paying attention to what’€™s going on. You see different pieces. I don’€™t know if that means as much to being a captain as it does to being a teammate.’€

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