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The Red Sox staged a late comeback, but had a 2-2 tie broken in the eighth when Jon Lester couldn't survive the inning, leading to a 5-2 loss.
Lester started out struggling in the first inning, giving up a run on three hits and a walk to allow a run to score despite picking Ben Revere off of first. Lester would settle down until the late innings, but was touched for another run in the sixth when Joe Mauer doubled Revere in.
The Sox would stage a late rally against Minnesota, taking advantage of a defensive error in the seventh, and scoring again on a David Ortiz home run in the eighth. But with Jon Lester trying to take on an eighth frame, the Twins struck back. Joe Mauer drew a leadoff walk, and then managed to score the go-ahead run with one out on Jim Thome's double.
The scoring wasn't over, with the Twins putting up another pair of runs off of Lester and Alfredo Aceves, but it would not matter. The Red Sox went down in order in the ninth, and the hopes of a sweep were dead.
Another night, another questionable zone for the Red Sox in Minnesota, who trail the Twins 1-0 in the fifth after a difficult first inning for Jon Lester.
After a wasted leadoff infield single from Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox took the field in the bottom of the first. Lester managed to get the first out, and picked off Ben Revere after his line drive to center, but with two outs things fell apart. Joe Mauer walked, Michael Cuddyer singled into right, and Jim Thome brought home the run as the third straight baserunner to reach with two outs.
In the meantime the Red Sox have had their offense shut down by a combination of Nick Blackburn and home plate umpire Ted Barrett. While Blackburn has been solid, he's been helped out by a zone that's been conspicuously larger for him than for Jon Lester. The most egregious instance came in the second, when David Ortiz was called out on strikes with not a single pitch being thrown close to the zone.
The Red Sox will give Dustin Pedroia his first night off since June 9 Wednesday, slotting Mike Aviles in at second base as they attempt to pick up a road sweep of the Twins.
June 9 was, you may recall, the day when Dustin Pedroia went in to have his knee examined. The organization was attempting to reassure their star second baseman that he could go all-out without fear of aggravating an old injury, and their plan paid off in spades. Before the positive report, Pedroia was hitting just .247/.361/.338. He's been tearing the cover off of the ball ever since, hitting .376/.447/.624 in what can only be called an MVP-caliber season.
Now, after a slow start to August, at least power-wise, Pedroia is getting another day off. Here's hoping the next two months prove to be as productive. In the meantime, the Sox will just have to make due with the rest of their historically good offense:
Boston Red Sox (72-43)
The Twins will not have Jason Kubel in the lineup tonight, with Revere, Young, and Span starting in the outfield:
Minnesota Twins (51-65)
Pitching Matchup: Jon Lester (11-5, 3.23 ERA) vs. Nick Blackburn (7-9, 4.58 ERA)
Jon Lester endured his worst start since returning from the disabled list in his last outing...and that was just three earned runs in six innings against the Yankees. So, clearly, that's not saying much.
The Twins, as it happens, are not the Yankees. They're on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, in fact. The one known as "bad". And while they're better against lefties than against righties, that doesn't even push them to "average". They're not good against the cutter, and while they've done well against Lester in years past, the composition of their lineup is completely different since the loss of Morneau.
Having started the year strong, Nick Blackburn is in the midst of a terrible stretch. Only pitching 12 innings over his last three starts, Blackburn has given up 16 earned runs since his last quality start on July 20, good for an 11.68 ERA. What's worse is that, of the teams he faced in that time, only Texas is really a major offensive threat. Blackburn is a walk-machine against lefties, has homer problems against righties, and just shouldn't give the Sox any problems the way he's pitching these last couple weeks.
The Red Sox overcame the small zone of Tim McClelland, topping the Twins 4-3 to take a 2.5 game lead in the American League East.
After allowing Twins starter Francisco Liriano escape a bases loaded situation in the top of the first, the Red Sox endured one of the more frustrating innings in recent memory thanks to home plate umpire Tim McClelland. The trouble started from the very beginning, with Ben Revere drawing a five-pitch walk despite two of the pitches being in the zone and another on the border. With Revere running, Joe Mauer's ground ball found the hole vacated by Jed Lowrie, and the Twins were off to a hard start.
From there the Twins wouldn't pick up another hit, but between a sacrifice fly and three more walks with McClelland's zone becoming increasingly ridiculous, the Twins put up a two-spot and took the early lead. All-together, Bedard had five clear strikes turned into balls in the inning, and not a single borderline call went his way.
Bedard would tighten up, though, somehow managing to work around the dreadful zone, and not allow any more runs for the rest of his outing. His start was shortened by the inflated pitch count in the first and the cautionary approach the Sox are taking to him, but he picked up a lot of swings-and-misses, and eventually ended with six strikeouts. And it is surely to his credit that he never came close to putting his team in a bad situation by getting ejected.
Meanwhile, the Sox managed to back him up in the fifth. Needing little help from the questionable zone, an incredibly wild Francisco Liriano gave up one of his seven walks on the night to Jason Varitek, and was quickly made to pay for it by Darnell McDonald, who destroyed a hanging 1-2 slider, providing the Sox with a game-tying upper-deck homer to left.
A back-and-forth sixth inning saw the Sox take the lead and then immediately give it back, leaving Erik Bedard stuck with a no-decision, but the Sox would be the ones to strike last, if not in convincing fashion. With the bases loaded, zero outs, and David Ortiz coming to the plate, Ron Gardenhire went to lefty Phil Dumatrait. His choice proved wise as Dumatrait induced a weak dribbler in front of the plate, but ultimately unproductive. Dumatrait, attempting to field the ball and throw home for the forceout, managed only a faceplant. Ortiz was safe at first, Dustin Pedroia crossed home, and the Red Sox took the 4-3 lead they would not surrender.
The Red Sox and Twins are stuck in a 2-2 tie after Darnell McDonald's fifth-inning homer.
The homer had to bring the Red Sox back from a two-run deficit thanks largely to a four-walk first from Erik Bedard that can be accredited to this terrible strike zone:
(Image from BrooksBaseball.net, with data gathered from MLB's own PitchF/X system)
Green is a ball, red is a strike. A triangle means Bedard was on the mound, a square means it was a Liriano pitch. As you can see, it's hardly been fair.
With at least five strikes being called balls in the first, Bedard had difficulty keeping runners off of the basepaths. Loading the bases with one out and a run already in, Bedard battled back to stike out Danny Valencia, but a nasty, perfectly placed two-seamer to Delmon Young was not perfect enough for Tim McClelland, who awarded the Twins the base and the run. The pitch in question is the green triangle you see planted just inside the line halfway up the left-hand side of the box. Clearly a strike
Bedard has managed to work around the small zone for the last four innings, holding the Twins scoreless and giving the Sox a chance to get back in this, which they did in the fifth. Surprisingly, it came from the bottom of the order, with Jason Varitek drawing a leadoff walk, and making Liriano pay for hanging a slider in his wheelhouse, sending an upper-deck homer into left field to make it 2-all.
The small zone has forced both pitchers' counts up around 90, so it's possible neither one is long for the game. If so, the Sox will get to face off against the game's worst bullpen.
The Red Sox managed to overcome the hardest matchup of their series, downing Scott Baker with Tim Wakefield on the mound thanks to a ninth-inning rally. Now, with Erik Bedard getting his second start with the Sox, the Boston lineup will get to take on Francisco Liriano in the midst of a very disappointing year for the left-hander.
For the second straight start, Bedard will have Jason Varitek behind the plate. While Tek's experience behind the plate can provide a steadying influence for the newest Sox pitcher, it's becoming difficult to insert his woefully slow bat in the lineup while Jarrod Saltalamacchia continues to heat up offensively. Luckily, though, given both of their splits, it becomes a lot more acceptable against lefties.
Boston Red Sox (71-43)
Minnesota Twins (51-64)
Pitching Matchup: Erik Bedard (4-7, 3.55 ERA) vs. Francisco Liriano (7-9, 5.03 ERA)
His first outing for the Red Sox may not have come with a quality start (thanks in part due to his own failure to cover first base in the second, eventually costing the Sox an extra run), but Erik Bedard gave Red Sox reason to be excited. He looked very much like his old self, maintaining good velocity and showing that he could snap off his hard-breaking curveball for strikes. He kept the ball in the zone, not allowing a single walk while striking out five, and was generally just hurt by some ground balls-nothing to be ashamed of.
After a big 2010, Francisco Liriano has gone way downhill in 2011. He's already walked more batters than he did last year, despite still being eighty innings away from matching his 2010 total, and has seen a dip in his strikeouts as well. The way he's gone about it of late has been interesting, though. While early in the season he was just producing mediocre outings, of late he's been alternating between 7-inning gems, and disaster starts where he allows more than a run per frame. The balance was heavily in favor of the gems in May and June, when he was held to just eight starts with increased rest inbetween, but ever since he's gotten back on a typical schedule, it's been right back to the disasters.
Tim Wakefield couldn't pick up his 200th win, but the Red Sox fought back from an early 5-1 deficit with a big sixth inning, but managed to pull ahead in the ninth thanks to a ninth-inning rally that gave Boston an 8-6 win.
Seeking his milestone win, the Sox' veteran knuckleballer entered the second with a 1-0 lead. It did not take long for Wakefield to give it up, allowing three straight hits including a pair of doubles which, combined with a passed ball, left the Sox trailing 3-1. A fourth inning Jason Kubel homer and a pair of two-out hits built that deficit to 5-1.
Up until the top of the sixth, Twins starter Scott Baker had been largely untouchable aside from his three-hit second. But on the second pitch of the frame, Carl Crawford tripled to deep center and the rally was on. Adrian Gonzalez brought him home with a sacrifice fly, but things didn't just end there. Dustin Pedroia hit a one-out single, and two pitches later, Baker delivered a flat fastball to David Ortiz that ended up about as gone as gone can get, into the upper deck in dead center. Now down 5-4, Jarrod Saltalamacchia wasted no time in tying it up.and perhaps proving it was possible to go even longer than Papi's shot, launching a solo homer into the back of the stands in right.
Wakefield proved up to the task of two more innings, giving him a chance to leave the game with his 200th win when the Sox pushed across a sixth run in the top of the eighth thanks to some small ball and Joe Mauer's inability to control a throw home. It was not to be, however, as Alfredo Aceve allowed a leadoff double to come home in the bottom of the frame.
Entering the ninth in a tie game, the Sox picked up a leadoff single from Jacoby Ellsbury. But Carl Crawford struck out, and with Adrian Gonzalez at the plate, Jacoby Ellsbury was caught trying to take second leaving the Sox with two down and no baserunners to work with. With two strikes on Gonzalez, the Twins needed just one more to give themselves a chance to walk off in the bottom half. They wouldn't get it before it was much too late. Gonzalez lifted a flair to center field for a single, moved to second on an infield single from Justin Pedroia, and up came David Ortiz in another big situation. Once again, he delivered. The 1-0 pitch was a weak curveball, and Ortiz made Joe Nathan pay for it, lining it into left field to pick up his fourth hit of the game: a go-ahead single. Jarrod Saltalamacchia doubled in an insurance run, but the Sox wouldn't need it thanks to Jonathan Papelbon, who picked up a pair of strikeouts in a perfect ninth that left the Sox winners.
The Red Sox trail 5-1 after five as Tim Wakefield's struggles have left the Sox in a hole halfway through the game.
The Sox got off to the 1-0 lead in the second thanks to a trio of hits from David Ortiz, the returning Jed Lowrie, and Marco Scutaro. But, after a 1-2-3 first, Wakefield could not hold onto the lead in the bottom half of the inning.
The trouble got started right away in the bottom of the second with a leadoff double from Michael Cuddyer. One pitch later, Jason Kubel tied things up with a line drive to right field. Still with no outs, Jim Thome knocked a 3-1 knuckleball into the gap in right-center, scoring Kubel to give the Twins a 2-1 lead. Wakefield managed to get the next two batters out, but a passed ball from Jarrod Saltalamacchia allowed Thome to come in from third.
Wakefiled managed to put the third away without any further damage, but Kubel stung him once again with a home run in the fourth, and a pair of two-out hits let a fifth come in in the fifth.
Win 200 seems like it's going to have to wait for another day.
Jed Lowrie will make his return to the Red Sox' lineup Monday, starting at third as Kevin Youkilis receives a day off.
Lowrie had been on the disabled list for over a month, last appearing with the Sox on June 16 before he was diagnosed with a bruised nerve in his shoulder. He had started the year on fire, maintaining an OPS over .900 through May 5, but had his numbers drop dramatically as the year wore on and his injury worsened.
Of course, the Sox aren't about to throw Lowrie right back into the fire batting in Youkilis' customary cleanup position, so the lineup looks more than a little different:
Boston Red Sox (70-43)
The most prominent figure in the Minnesota lineup over the next few games will likely be Jim Thome. While Thome only has nine long balls on the year, the prolific slugger is just two away from 600. He'll be batting sixth Monday against Tim Wakefield.
Minnesota Twins (51-63)
Pitching Matchup: Tim Wakefield (6-4, 4.99 ERA) vs. Scott Baker (8-6, 3.01 ERA)
Just as Thome is going for history, Wakefield is just one win away from number 200. While he seemed on track to pick up the milestone victory in his last game, Terry Francona asked for one inning too many, and the game ended up being tied before an eventual walk-off sealed the victory in the ninth. This should be another good lineup for Wakefield to go up against, given their terrible production both overall and in the home run department.
What might lead to trouble is the man he's facing: Scott Baker. The lone bright spot in the Twins' rotation this year, Baker is also their only starter with a winning record. He's kept his ERA down by avoiding disaster starts, though he's given up four runs a good few times (and five once) including his last time out against the Angels. He's kept the ball in the zone especially well of late, so the Sox shouldn't be expecting a ton of walks. This has also led to fewer strikeouts, however, so an agressive approach might not be terribly necessary if Baker isn't being too deceptive.
The Red Sox will return to the road fresh off a series win against the Yankees as they head into Minnesota to face the Twins.
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