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Red Sox 5, Orioles 2: After 11 days, Chris Sale, Hanley Ramirez finally gave their team payback 05.02.17 at 9:43 pm ET
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Chris Sale (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Chris Sale (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Think about how may things had gone awry since Manny Machado’s cleats met Dustin Pedroia’s left knee.

The Red Sox didn’t retaliate the day after the incident. When they did try, first Eduardo Rodriguez failed, and then Matt Barnes threw a pitch behind Machado’s head. That, of course resulted in a four-game suspension for the reliever, along with suggestions that the team’s leadership structure was in disarray.

Then, once back in Boston, it was Machado who got his revenge, launching a home run while taking an eon to round the bases. A little while later, Baltimore starting pitcher Dylan Bundy was able to hit his (alleged) target, nailing Mookie Betts in the leg with his hardest fastball of the night.

The Betts’ plunking led to an embarrassing eighth inning by the Red Sox, whose defense and baserunning had to have left the Orioles giggling just a bit. And, to top things off, along came the claims by Adam Jones that he had been the victim of racist taunts from the Fenway Park crowd.

It would be fair to say it all left the Red Sox with a thick layer of uneasiness.

Then along came Chris Sale, with a side of Hanley Ramirez. All of a sudden the Red Sox had a 5-2 win over Baltimore, with a returned sense of pride. (For a complete recap of the game, click here.)

Sale did his thing once again, initially striking out the first five batters he faced before taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning. When it was all said and done, the lefty went eight innings for a third straight start, allowing just two runs on three hits, striking out 11.

He joined Pedro Martinez as the only Red Sox with five straight double-digit strikeout games.

“It’s special,” Sale said of the accomplishment. “I don’t put a whole lot of weight in those kind of things – numbers, stats, that kind of stuff. But when you’re talking about him, that’s special, and I appreciate that.”

But it was one pitch, a 98 mph fastball behind the legs of Machado in the first inning, that truly helped define Sale’s importance. It didn’t hit the third baseman. It did, however, help finally lead to some satisfaction for the Red Sox, with the southpaw going on to fan Machado.

The image of Sale coming into the Red Sox’ dugout, distributing a series of high-fives before seemingly bursting into some sort of rant on the bench, was exactly what this team needed.

“I don’t know that there’s any other word than outstanding,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He’s pitching in high-leverage situations almost every day that he’s taking the mound for us. Every inning in which he’s pitched, there’s been pivotal moments inside that. I think he’s embraced everything that his early career here in Boston has been for him, pitching on maybe a little bit more of a higher-profile stage just because of the environment and the market here. But it has not phased him, nor have we seen him waiver in any form or fashion. He’s one of the more concentrated type guys on the mound with outstanding stuff.”

And when it was clear the Red Sox’ offense was actually going to help out Sale this time around, with Hanley Ramirez hitting two more home runs, the hosts finally could look across the diamond with some semblance of accomplishment.

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

The Orioles executed a 6-4-3 triple play in the eighth inning. The occurrence happened when shortstop J.J. Hardy inadvertently let Jackie Bradley Jr.’s pop-up drop in shallow left field. With Mitch Moreland curiously standing a few feet off second base, Hardy threw the ball in to allow the tag on Moreland. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop proceeded to step on second base for a force out, with Dustin Pedroia on first. And, finally, Schoop threw the ball to first to get Bradley Jr., who hadn’t run the play out. It was the first triple play against the Red Sox since came in 2001.

Video: Chris Sale throws behind Manny Machado; Red Sox, Orioles receive warnings 05.02.17 at 8:01 pm ET
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It’s the drama that won’t die.

What started with Manny Machado sliding into Dustin Pedroia’s left knee April 21 at Camden Yards, evolved into some more heat between the Red Sox and Orioles Tuesday night.

A night after Baltimore starting pitcher Dylan Bundy hit Mookie Betts — possibly in response to Matt Barnes throwing behind the head of Machado April 23 — Chris Sale attempted to enact his own justice in the first inning.

With two outs in the first inning, the Red Sox’ starter’s first offering to Machado was a 98 mph fastball behind the knees of the Orioles’ first baseman.

Home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn immediately issued warnings to both sides, resulting in Baltimore manager Buck Showalter coming out to protest. While Showalter was jawing with Reyburn, Machado could be seen yelling toward the Red Sox’ dugout.

The at-bat resulted in Sale striking out Machado, eliciting a series of enthusiastic high-fives upon returning to the Red Sox’ dugout. The lefty went on to strikeout the first five batters he faced.

Chris Sale explains viral photo of him teaching a slider (and why his fastball is faster this season) 05.01.17 at 1:31 pm ET
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Chris Sale (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Chris Sale (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Chris Sale likes talking pitching. That becomes evident in any conversation with the Red Sox ace.

So Saturday afternoon, upon finishing playing catch in the Fenway Park outfield, Sale stopped to talk to a 24 year old baseball player, who wanted to pick the lefty’s brain about one particular pitch — his slider.

“He says he throws from three-quarter slot, sidearm type. He just asked how I threw my slider,” Sale said. “I was out there throwing, doing our daily stuff. He just asked me and I’m like, ‘I have nothing else to do.”

As it was uncovered by TheAthletic.com, the player was named Patrick McKenna, who is headed to New Mexico to play Independent League baseball. (For an in-depth look at the interaction from the student’s perspective, click here.)

So, what were the words of wisdom?

“For me, personally, when I lower my arm angle, my slider is the hardest pitch to figure out,” said Sale, who noted that the soon-to-be Indy Ball player pitched from a similar angle as the Sox lefty. “You want your hand to stay on top of the baseball. A lot of times when you’re young and you don’t repeat your mechanics very well, that tends to happen.

“It’s basically a curveball just from a sidearm. I threw a curveball in high school. I started throwing a slider in college. My curveball is terrible. I think when I lowered my slot I called it a different pitch and it just clicked for me mentally. If you believe the sky is orange, keep telling yourself that and it makes you better, keep rolling with it.”

According to FanGraphs, Sale is throwing his slider even more than a fastball that has averaged 95 mph. It’s somewhat of a departure from last season, when he threw the breaking pitch less than half the amount of times he offered his heater.

Sale points out that he hasn’t made an major adjustments from a year ago, although there has been one incidental alteration.

“I’m doing all the things I have ever done,” he explained. “But I am throwing a little bit harder than usual.”

While there isn’t any way to prove it, Sale does have a theory on why is average four-seam fastball velocity has increased from 93.1 mph to 94.9 mph.

“Pitching here is pretty fun,” he said. “You get amped up when a lot of people are around. Pitching in front of a packed house. I think energy in general has a lot of to do with it. How can you not get excited for that.”

Red Sox 6, Cubs 2: Hanley Ramirez said the homers were coming, and sure enough, here they are 05.01.17 at 7:47 am ET
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Hanley Ramirez (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Hanley Ramirez (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

By the time the Red Sox walked out of Fenway Park with their 6-2 win over the Cubs Sunday night, there was plenty for John Farrell’s team to feel good about. (For a complete recap, click here.)

Eduardo Rodriguez had continued to suggest he is ready to be relied on, turning in another solid outing. This time the lefty allowed just one run over six innings, striking out nine along the way.

There was the rally in the eighth inning, that was kicked off with Marco Hernandez hustling down the line to beat Koji Uehara to first base and was highlighted a few batters later with Hernandez racing home with the game-inning run on a Pedro Strop wild pitch.

And, of course, Craig Kimbrel’s dominance continued to be on display, with the Red Sox closer needing nine pitches to close things in the ninth. In 11 1/3 innings he allowed just two runs on five hits, striking out 20 and walking just two.

But perhaps the most significant moment when it comes to the Red Sox’ long-term success could be found in the very first inning when Hanley Ramirez took Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks over the left field wall for the designated hitter’s third homer of the season.

It was Ramirez’s second homer in as many days and pushed along the suggestion he is ready to be the middle-of-the-order threat this Red Sox lineup desperately needs.

“More than anything he feels confident and so when he sees pitches up in the strik ezone there’s no hesitation, there’s no thought to what his swing is doing,” Farrell noted. “He gets a pitch up from Hendricks and jumps all over it. So much like the first pitch from [John] Lackey yesterday, first pitch again today. He’s seeing the ball well.”

“He’s really focusing on staying through the ball and he knows keeping both hands on the bat is going to allow him to stay through the ball better,” said Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez. “That’s one guy who comes in, puts in a good effort and focuses on things he needs to do. He’s about to come out and do what he’s capable of doing. His at-bats have been better.”

Considering the image Ramirez had portrayed through the season’s first few weeks, the past few days have been a revelation.

The righty hitter’s insistence to keep both hands on the bat throughout his entire swing often times looked awkward and stiff. Prior to that last game in Baltimore, it was fair to wonder if his approach, coupled with concerns over his shoulders, was leaving the Red Sox with a singles-hitting DH.

But since that April 23 game against the Orioles, Ramirez not only has managed to start hitting the ball out of the park, but has started getting on base consistently. In the last six games, he is hitting .364 with a 1.189 OPS.

Ramirez kept promising the homers would come, and sure enough, they have.

“Before you hit homers you have to become a good hitter and you have to use the whole field because they’re not going to throw you a pitch you can hit out,” Rodriguez explained. “They’re going to try and spot you middle-out to see what you do can the other way and then they’re going to come in. That’s when he’s really good, when he uses the whole field.

“You don’t see many balls middle-in so you have to get back to the big part of the field. He can do it as good as anybody here, but he needs to focus more on staying in the big part and try to eliminate a lot of effort [in his swing].”

Then there is that swing.

Compare Ramirez to two years ago, and even 2016, and you’ll see a follow-through that is dramatically different. Gone is the enormous Manny-esque, one-handed follow-through. Now, that right hand never leaves the bat. It is working.

“I think the reason he did it at the beginning was more to protect his shoulder and don’t fly out and hurt his shoulder,” Rodriguez said. “Just keep his body tight and through it. That has helped him stay through the ball better. Jackie Bradley was the same way. Years ago he got hurt and now he’s keeping both hands on the bat and is staying through the ball better.”

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

The Red Sox outscoring opponents 11-1 in the 1st inning in their last 6 games after being outscored 17-3 in that frame through 18 games.

Cubs 7, Red Sox 4: Getting a handle on Steven Wright has been difficult 04.29.17 at 7:05 pm ET
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Steven Wright (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Steven Wright (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The thinking was obvious.

Steven Wright had managed to get through six innings having allowed three runs. He was starting the seventh against the Cubs having thrown 97 pitches, with Miguel Montero — a hitter the knuckleballer had retired his previous to at-bats — leading off.

With the Red Sox clinging to a one-run lead, the thinking was most likely to get Wright through Montero, Albert Almora Jr. and John Jay before bringing in left-hander Robby Scott for left-handed batter Kyle Schwarber. The extra work from Wright was deemed important considering the Red Sox were down a reliever due to Matt Barnes’ suspension.

It didn’t work out as planned.

Montero launched Wright’s first pitch of the inning into the Cubs’ bullpen to tie the game, with John Jay following an Albert Almora Jr. pop up with a double. That was that for Wright. That’s when the flood gates opened.

Schwarber singled off of Scott. New reliever Ben Taylor walked Kris Bryant. And then Anthony Rizzo grounded into a force play that also included two Red Sox throwing errors, and the pivotal pair of runs for the visitors. (One of the errors, by the way, was Mitch Moreland’s third of the season, giving him one more than all of 2016.)

“Yeah, I would have,” said Farrell when asked if he might approach the inning differently if he had Barnes available. “Now, I will say this, with Joe Kelly being down today, we’re in a situation where if Robby Scott starts that inning, we’ve got Baez waiting to hit for Jon Jay and not getting a favorable matchup with the short porch in left here. More than anything, the way he had gone through the lineup just twice up to that point, he was in good shape with Steven going back out for the seventh.”

So, would Farrell sent Barnes out to face the Cubs catcher even with Barnes available?

“That was a good possibility,” the manager said. “I still liked the matchup of the slow stuff against Montero.”

It was perhaps the most frustrating inning of the season for the Red Sox, and the pivotal moment in what would be a Cubs 7-4 win over the Sox. (For a complete recap, click here.)

But it also highlighted the inability of Farrell to lean on Wright the way he had been accustomed to for the majority of last season.

Make no mistake about it, the outing was a step in the right direction for Wright. This wasn’t close to the kind of collapse he experienced in his last start, when he followed up three solid innings with a four-run fourth.

“I felt a lot better today overall,” Wright said. “The one pitch I wish I could get back was that 0-2 pitch to Rizzo (a home run). I was trying to get a little more in front of the plate, and it stayed up a little bit and he made me pay. They’re a good-hitting team. … That last inning, Montero hit one of the very few that actually stayed up. He put a good swing on it. Plus the ball was jumping out there to right. Overall, compared to where I was the last couple of games, I felt a lot better.”

At the end of the day, however, you were left with a starter who allowed five runs over 6 1/3 innings and now has an ERA of 8.25. Through his first five starts last season, Wright boasted an ERA of 1.67, having allowed just one home run in 32 1/3 innings.

Wright needs to be better. The Red Sox need him to be better.

Even though David Price took a step in the right direction by throwing to hitters Saturday afternoon, you’re still looking at return date (if all goes well) of closer to June 1 than May 1. And until his return, the Red Sox are going to lean on Wright for not only production, but innings.

Saturday, they found out the knuckleballer might not quite be ready bear the burden in the fashion his team might have hoped. Still, Farrell remained optimistic things are heading in the right direction for the righty.

“I think, as I mentioned before the game, he found something in between starts these last two starts,” the manager said of Wright. “Whether it was better energy in his delivery, we saw the more consistent break to his glove side, which is more typical for him. And he had better violence for the most part of the day.”

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

Hanley Ramirez’s 469-foot solo homer over the left field wall topped Bryant’s 449-foot blast Friday for the longest home run hit at Fenway Park this season.

Christian Vazquez on the Fenway Park crowd Friday night: ‘It was like a World Series game’ 04.28.17 at 11:49 pm ET
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Eddie Vedder was part of a raucous Fenway Park crowd Friday night (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Eddie Vedder was part of a raucous Fenway Park crowd Friday night (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Normally, a 3-hour, 28-minute, nine-inning game on April 28 would elicit groans from corners of the clubhouse, particularly with another game ready to be played at 4 p.m. the next day.

Not this time around.

The atmosphere at Fenway Park during the Red Sox’ 5-4 win over the Cubs Friday night wasn’t lost on the players involved, with the sell-out crowd littered with chants throughout what would be a tight game until the end.

“It was like a World Series game,” said Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez. “They have a great team and great hitters, good players. we do too. Hope to see them in the World Series.”

“It was awesome, from both sides,” added Red Sox rookie outfielder Andrew Benintendi. “You could hear the Cubs fans. You could hear the Red Sox fans. Everything is hyped up. It was a good game. It was fun. We’ll look to put this one behind us and go get them tomorrow.”

At one point, in between Joe Kelly pitches in the seventh inning, the Red Sox and Cubs followers engaged in a back-and-forth shouting match that rivaled any decibel level for any Fenway game.

The adrenaline was evident with some of the radar gun readings, with Kelly reaching a career-high 102 mph at one point. He would end his outing throwing five fastballs at 100 mph or better, while closer Craig Kimbrel didn’t throw a heater under 98 mph.

“It was great,” said Red Sox starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz. “A lot of history between these two teams. A lot of people were excited about getting in here. It’s fun for us.”

“It was a great atmosphere tonight,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “The build-up to this weekend speaks for itself. Given the way that game went, they’re chipping away, getting back into this ballgame, two strikeouts, he’s facing the heart of that order, which is explosive, yeah, it’s a great atmosphere for being in late April.”

Red Sox 5, Cubs 4: Why beating the world champs meant something Friday night 04.28.17 at 10:39 pm ET
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Andrew Benintendi rounds the bases after his first inning homer. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Andrew Benintendi rounds the bases after his first inning homer. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The pregame was a novelty.

The first inning was somewhat of a revelation.

After all the hugs, pleasantries and how-do-you-dos that came with Theo Epstein, Jon Lester and the rest of the Cubs coming to town, the Red Sox defined their day with something much more important than tales of World Series rings and visiting clubhouse shenanigans.

John Farrell’s team scored five first-inning runs. Other than John Lackey getting an ovation matching Koji Uehara when put up on the video board, it was the biggest surprise of the night.

After the well-circulated postgame comment by Xander Bogaerts Thursday night, reminding everyone the Red Sox might be missing David Ortiz, the thought of executing such an offensive explosion didn’t seem likely. Not only were the Sox coming off a two-game series that saw little offense, but they were going up against Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, who threw 7 2/3 innings of one-hit ball the last time he was in town.

That first started with an Andrew Benintendi solo homer, and finished with the Sox totaling six hits while making it around the batting order. When it was all said and done, the Red Sox had more than made up for starter Drew Pomeranz giving up a monstrous homer to Kris Bryant (see below), while forcing Arrieta to throw 42 pitches in the one frame.

It wasn’t as if all of the Red Sox’ ails were cured with this one flurry. After that first inning, they fell back into the offensive doldrums that has plagued them too many times this season. And relievers Robby Scott and Joe Kelly managed to make things interesting, combining to give up two runs in the seventh.

But, with Pomeranz pitching well enough the rest of the way (finishing his six innings by allowing two runs on six hits), it was a start. Add in the two-hit nights from Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Christian Vazquez and Marco Hernandez, along with clutch relief outing by Fernando Abad in the eighth (striking out Kyle Schwarber with two runners on and two outs) and it was a step in the right direction.

Beating the world champs less than a month into their reign is something this Red Sox club can hang their hat on heading into Saturday. And this was a team that desperately needed some hat-hanging.

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

According to StatCast, Kelly’s 102 mph pitch to Anthony Rizzo was the second-fastest offering in the major leagues this season. The fastball was pulled foul by the lefty hitter.

Elsewhere, there were a few notable homers hit in the Orioles game against the Yankees …

Guess who got the biggest ovation among Cubs being honored by Red Sox … 04.28.17 at 8:05 pm ET
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After a pregame that encompassed a flurry of hugs from old teammates and coaches, the Red Sox took time heading into the bottom of the second inning to honor three Cubs players who had a hand in the club winning the 2013 World Series: Koji Uehara, John Lackey and Jon Lester.

Starting with Uehara, each were put up on the video scoreboard in center field at Fenway Park.

Of the three, Lester’s ovation was significantly the loudest. The former Red Sox starter also delivered the lineup card prior to the game, exchanging handshakes with Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield.

Another member of that 2013 team, former pitcher Ryan Dempster, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

John Farrell explains why Dustin Pedroia is hitting sixth 04.28.17 at 5:40 pm ET
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Dustin Pedroia

Dustin Pedroia

Coming into Friday, the only spot in the lineup Dustin Pedroia hadn’t hit was in the sixth spot.

That changed in the Red Sox’ series opener against the Cubs.

Red Sox manager John Farrell slotted Pedroia in at sixth in the batting order, with Xander Bogaerts heading back to the top of the lineup.

Pedroia, who only returned to action Thursday after having to leave Friday night’s game with a left knee injury, went 0-for-4 in the series finale against the Yankees and is hitting .242 with a .586 OPS for the season.

“Obviously over the last week, we’ve kind of scuffled for some offense,” said Farrell, whose team is 4-for-26 with runners in scoring position in the past seven games. “Looked for ways to get a little bit more running speed at the top of the order. Had a chance to talk to Pedey about this last night and today. So, recognize that it’s the first time he’s been in the six hole, but still as he’s working to regain his timing and getting back into it, this is where we are today.”

After Bogaerts, Farrell has Andrew Benintendi hitting second, followed by Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland. Jackie Bradley Jr. hits immediately behind Pedroia, with the Red Sox facing off against right-hander Jake Arrieta in the Friday night.

“I wouldn’t say this was a one-day deal. We’ll see how it goes,” Farrell said. “The fact remains, we’ve got a number of guys that are capable of hitting in the top third of the order. Say what you will about the past week, we know where we are, but they have the skill-set to be almost interchangeable and there’s a number of candidates to be able to do that.”

Red Sox lineup: Dustin Pedroia makes his return 04.27.17 at 3:46 pm ET
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Dustin Pedroia

Dustin Pedroia

After not playing for the past three games, Dustin Pedroia is back in the Red Sox starting lineup, facing off with Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka.

Pedroia had been out since being slid into by Baltimore baserunner Manny Machado Friday night. Red Sox manager reported he would have been ready to play if there was a game Tuesday, but then was held out Wednesday night after the second baseman experienced some soreness in his surgically-repaired left knee earlier in the day.

Here is the Red Sox’ lineup with Chris Sale on the mound for the hosts:

Dustin Pedroia 2B
Andrew Benintnedi LF
Mookie Betts RF
Hanley Ramirez DH
Mitch Moreland 1B
Xander Bogaerts SS
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Sandy Leon C
Marco Hernandez 3B

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