Rays 8, Red Sox 5: Tim Wakefield Hit Around, Sox' Wild Card Lead Shrinks To 2

A bad game for Tim Wakefield and the defense left the Sox staring up at a deficit they could not overcome, and saw the Rays close the wild card gap to just two games.

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Rays 8, Red Sox 5: Collapse Continues As Tim Wakefield Gets Knocked Around Fenway

Rays 8, Red Sox 5

The Red Sox' lead in the wild card race has reached a new low: two small games.

The most recent entry in this ongoing collapse comes thanks to Tim Wakefield, who helped to remind Red Sox Nation that, as nice as it was to see him pick up his 200th career win, he's not a particularly good pitcher anymore.

While some friendly scorekeeping kept the knuckleballer's earned run count to just two, the Rays just had baserunner after baserunner after a 1-2-3 first. The second inning opened with Casey Kotchman reaching on strike three--the nature of the knuckleball would rear its ugly head time and again Sunday--and then scoring on Johnny Damon's gapper to right after a passed ball. A one-out single and hit batsmen scored Johnny Damon and put two more men on, and a bloop single to right capped off a three-run frame for the Rays.

Tampa would add another in the fourth, but saw their lead cut in half when Darnell McDonald knocked in two men who had reached to start the inning off of David Price. Unfortunately, though, as has so often been the case this year, as soon as the Red Sox offense put up a couple of runs, the pitching and defense gave them right back. The first run was one of the ugliest you can see: a Desmond Jennings single followed by a stolen base, a wild pitch, and a passed ball on consecutive pitches. The second wasn't much better. With two outs and two men on, Mike Aviles threw very wide of first base, allowing Evan Longoria to cross home plate and rebuild their lead to 5-2.

Had it not been for Andrew Miller, the Sox may have even had a chance later in the game. But Miller did enter the game in the seventh, and the Rays did get two more runs. So when Mike Aviles clubbed a three-run shot in the bottom half of the inning, the Sox only crawled back to within three runs--a deficit they proved entirely incapable of overcoming in the last couple of frames.

 

Three For The Road

Schedule Lightens Up

The good news is this: the Sox are going to have a two-game lead with the worst of their schedule out of the way. While they still have to head to New York for three games, the other seven games are against the Baltimore Orioles. The Rays, on the other hand, have seven against the Yankees, and three against the Blue Jays. Unless the Yankees are about to let up late, then the Sox should have a good shot at holding that lead.

Unfortunately, right now they're playing like the Orioles would be expected to, so...

 

Wakefield Wanting

It's becoming increasingly apparent that Tim Wakefield is reaching the end of the line. His consistency has lied only in allowing runs in start after start, and while the Sox don't have any better answer for this year, it's easy to imagine that the knuckleballer will be retiring sometime shortly after the season ends.

 

Gonzalez MIA

An 0-for-4 day for Adrian Gonzalez means an 0-for-12 series for the big-hitting first baseman. While the Rays did walk him a few times, the Sox need a lot more out of the man who is expected to be the core of their offense on any given day.

The good thing is that Gonzo is a streaky player. If this is his bad streak, then maybe the good streak will be just in time to wake the team up for the playoffs.

 

Up Next -- Monday, 1:05 p.m. vs. Baltimore | Kyle Weiland (0-2, 7.58 ERA) vs. Jeremy Guthrie (8-17, 4.22 ERA)

In the first half of their double-header, the Sox will see a sight for sore eyes: The Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, though, they'll have to face off against Jeremy Guthrie, who has been pretty strong against them this year, and will need to do so with Kyle Weiland on the mound. With the young prospect having yet to prove his MLB readiness, the Sox could be looking at a serious let-down game.

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Red Sox 5, Rays 8, End 7: Sox Have Life, But It's Getting Late

The Red Sox have some renewed life after a three-run seventh inning, but they’ll have to put their foot firmly on the gas if they intend to get the job done in the next two innings.

Unfortunately the Sox ended up allowing a couple more runs before they scored, and that came, predictably, when Andrew Miller entered the game. A pair of walks, a wild pitch, and a stolen base would put two men in scoring position with two outs. Falling behind 3-0 to Matt Joyce, Miller fired off three straight fastballs, two for strikes, and the third for a fly ball. It didn’t go far, but it fell in just fast enough for a two-run base hit.

With the game all-but-over, the Sox finally, finally started fighting back with two outs. Jake McGee finally showed some vulnerability, giving up a base hit to Marco Scutaro, but his replacement Cesar Ramos showed quite a bit more. Jacoby Ellsbury followed Scutaro’s hit with one of his own, and Mike Aviles stepped to the plate. Having cost the Sox a run with his earlier error, Aviles more than made up for it at the plate, taking a hanging changeup into the Monster seats he’s become quite familiar with over the last few games, cutting the lead to 8-5.

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Red Sox 2, Rays 6, End 5: Sox Get Runs, Give Them Right Back

The Red Sox scored a pair of runs in the fourth inning to cut the Rays’ lead in half…and then immediately saw Tim Wakefield and MIke Aviles give them back in the fifth.

The fourth inning showed good promise right away, as David Price, back in the game after taking a line drive off of his chest in the third, seemed to lose control. A single to Dustin Pedroia and a walk to David Ortiz set up runners on first and second, and a 92-MPH fastball down the pipe to Darnell McDonald made it all-too-easy for the Red Sox’ right fielder. McDonald went to the opposite field with a double, and the Sox were on the board and down just two runs.

Unfortunately, the Sox didn’t cash in on any more opportunities, and then came the backbreaker that seems to have happened time-and-again all season long: the Sox gave the runs right back, and did so in truly ugly fashion. Desmond Jennings led off the frame with a single, stole second, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a passed ball—all coming on consecutive pitches—to extend the Tampa Bay lead back up to three.

They weren’t done, either. With Wakefield being left out to dry, the Rays singled and walked to put two men on with two outs. Finally, Tim Wakefield seemed to have his third out on a Ben Zobrist ground ball, but Mike Aviles’ throw sailed well wide of the bag at first, and the Rays managed to completely recoup their losses.

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Red Sox 0, Rays 3, End 2: Another Day, Another Deficit For Sox

Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Sox are down early against the Tampa Bay Rays!

The Sox have had a change of pace so far, in that the runs didn't come until the second after Tim Wakefield managed a 1-2-3 first (after the Sox had allowed a pair of 2-run shots in the last two first innings). But what they gained in time, they lost in total runs. After a wild pitch let Casey Kotchman reach first after striking out, Johnny Damon hit a gapper to right field to put the Rays on the board. A one-out ground ball to center field made it 2-0, and with two outs a bloop single from Desmond Jennings gave the Rays a third.

The Sox have at least had some base runners so far, with Mike Aviles doubling in the first and a couple of walks putting men on in the second, but as per usual the lineup has come up empty in the clutch. With Price not being the sort to give up too many mistakes, the Sox can't afford to keep wasting their opportunities.

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Red Sox Vs. Rays: Sox Need Miracle Start From Tim Wakefield

With seven games in their last two series against the Rays, the Red Sox essentially needed to win only two to secure their wild card lead. With Josh Beckett and Jon Lester going for three of those games, it seemed all-but-impossible for the Red Sox to screw things up.

Now they face the seventh and final game with just one win to their name, and with both of Lester's starts having proved fruitless, the Sox find themselves in desperate need of some help from Tim Wakefield.

While the knuckleballer's last outing finally resulted in his 200th win, it came only with Brandon Morrow and the Jays' pen allowing 18 runs in the process. In case these last six games haven't been indication enough, the Rays aren't the sort to give up 18, much less to an offense full of replacements.

Boston Red Sox (87-64)

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Mike Aviles, 3B
  3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  4. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  5. David Ortiz, DH
  6. Conor Jackson, LF
  7. Darnell McDonald, RF
  8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
  9. Marco Scutaro, SS

Tampa Bay Rays (84-67)

  1. Desmond Jennings, LF
  2. B.J. Upton, CF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Casey Kotchman, 1B
  5. Johnny Damon, DH
  6. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  7. Matt Joyce, RF
  8. Sean Rodriguez, SS
  9. Kelly Shoppach, C

Pitching Matchup: Tim Wakefield (7-6, 5.13 ERA) vs. David Price (12-12, 3.34 ERA)

While Wakefield did win the last game, his performances are just getting worse. Three straight starts with three earned runs, four with four, and now--were there enough time left--five with five? It's been more than one month since the Sox had a quality start from Wakefield, and even in that outing he had a couple of unearned runs to leave the Sox stuck with five runs on the board.

Unfortunately, David Price is not Tim Wakefield. Or Brandon Morrow for that matter. Having allowed three earned runs just once in his last seven starts, Price doesn't seem terribly likely to let the Red Sox win an average Tim Wakefield start. He has given up a few runs each time against the Red Sox except the last, but that's also a different offense than is currently set to take the field.

Long story short, it's a miracle or bust for Boston.

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Rays 4, Red Sox 3: Jon Lester Falters Early, Sox Fall Short

Rays 4, Red Sox 3

For the last couple of weeks, the Sox have needed to take advantage of their few starts with competent starting pitchers on the mound. Unfortunately, they can't exactly do that when the starter in question doesn't live up to expectations.

Such was at least partially the case for Jon Lester Saturday afternoon. Where the Sox went looking for a lockdown outing to help them overcome Jeff Niemann, who has done nothing but record outs against the Red Sox this year. Instead, they got something less. Setting the tone for the game early, Jon Lester gave up one of his four walks to leadoff batter Desmond Jennings. While Lester would sit the next two batters down, he couldn't manage the same against Ben Zobrist, and for the second straight night the Sox found themselves in a 2-0 hole on a two-run shot.

Lester would allow another run to come in on a third-inning on a wild pitch, but the Sox were able to cut the lead to just one run as Mike Aviles brought Carl Crawford home on a double off the wall, and then scored on a Jacoby Ellsbury sacrifice fly. 

After a scoreless fourth, an inconspicuous run came across in the fifth when Lester gave up a pair of two-out hits. That would turn out to be the game winner. While the Sox actually managed to chase Jeff Niemann after just five short innings, Matt Moore entered the game and managed to dodge bullets aside from a lone run in the seventh. Despite the Rays allowing eleven total baserunners, an 0-for-8 figure with runners in scoring position left the Red Sox' offense unable to provide the needed offense to back up a shaky Jon Lester.

 

Three For The Road

Baserunning Gaffes

The Sox had some issues on the basepaths Saturday. First up was Carl Crawford, who almost found himself tagged out at home when he scored one of the few Boston runs of the night. For whatever reason, Crawford didn't go into a slide, and instead stumbled into home while trying to dodge the tag.

More costly, however, was Jacoby Ellsbury's decision to try and take third with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. Instead of giving Dustin Pedroia a chance to single him home, Ellsbury found himself cut down at the hot corner. That could possibly have been the difference.

 

Lester's Control Difficulties

The typically in-control Jon Lester has had some difficulties keeping the ball in the zone in recent days. While he managed to hold down the fort as the game went on, Lester's four walks today make 11 in just 23 innings of work in September. After August's 16 walks in 32 innings, it's becoming something of a long-term problem.

 

Faith in Daniel Bard

If there's good news to be found in the game, it's that Daneil Bard pulled off a 1-2-3 outing one night after his bounce-back hold Friday night. At least for now, Bard is looking back to normal.


Red Sox MVP -- Nobody!

Because there won't be any in losses until they start winning consistently. 

 

Up Next -- Sunday, 1:35 p.m. | Tim Wakefield (7-6, 5.13 ERA) vs. David Price (12-12, 3.34)

While the Sox managed to take the Beckett game, they had to be depending on Lester to provide the series split. Now they've got just Tim Wakefield to depend on. Against David Price. With an offense that hasn't exactly been on fire of late. 

Stranger things have happened?

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Red Sox 3, Rays 4, End 8: Three Outs To Go For Boston

The Red Sox are down to just three outs to score one run against the Rays.

Again, the Sox have had their opportunities, but have made relatively little of them. Facing off against rookie Matt Moore, the Sox drew back-to-back walks with one out in the sixth, but received only a ground out and pop out from Josh Reddick and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

The seventh inning would prove more productive, but only by a small margin. With the first two reaching this time, the Sox called on Marco Scutaro to bunt. While the attempt would result in an out at second, it got the job done of moving a runner to third. Said runner would score on a Jacoby Ellsbury groundout, but with Dustin Pedroia striking out behind him the results were less than they perhaps could have been.

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Red Sox 2, Rays 4, End 5: Sox Score, But Rays Hold To Lead Halfway Through

The Red Sox scored some runs in the bottom of the third, but two-out trouble in the fifth has allowed the Rays to rebuild their lead some.

The scoring for Boston came courtesy of the same man who won Friday’s game: Mike Aviles. After Carl Crawford singled, Aviles hit a high drive which just barely missed the monster seats to bring Crawford home (despite an awkward play at the plate where Crawford didn’t slide), and then scored himself as the Sox played small ball with a sacrifice bunt and fly ball.

Since then, however, the difference in two-out hitting has allowed the Rays to gain a run back on Boston. While the Sox couldn’t come through with two on and one out in the fourth, the Rays managed to do so twice with one on and two out to score Brandon Guyer in the fifth.The Sox attempted to strike back in the bottom half of the frame, but a bizarre decision to try and take third with two outs left Jacoby Ellsbury dead in the water.

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Red Sox 0, Rays 3, Mid 3: So Far So Bad For Jon Lester

Once again the Red Sox were in need of a big game from Jon Lester against the Rays, and once again he’s come up empty.

The game started in the same disappointing way that Friday’s did: with two runs for the Rays. Lester offered up a leadoff walk to Desmond Jennings, and while he would manage to get the next two batters out, Ben Zobrist managed to cash in on the opportunity. A 1-1 cutter to the second baseman resulted in a long fly ball into the Monster seats, giving the Rays a 2-0 lead.

Jon Lester bounced back in the second, but faced trouble again in the third inning. Desmond Jennings once more proved the thorn in Boston’s side, as a one-out double and a ground ball put him on third base with one out. While Lester would manage to get Ben Zobrist to fly out, it came only after a wild pitch allowed Jennings to come in from third.

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Red Sox Vs. Rays Lineups: Sox Look For Insurance Behind Jon Lester

The Red Sox will exit their series against the Rays with at least a two-game lead thanks to their win against James Shields Friday night. Now, with Jon Lester on the mound, they'll look for an insurance victory which could all-but-ensure a playoff trip for Boston.

The situation is simple: with a win Saturday, the Sox will be up five games in the wild card, down at most three in the division. And while there's not much chance that Tim Wakefield will end up overcoming David Price on Sunday, the sheer number of games the Yankees and Rays have left against one another will make it all-but-impossible for the Rays to overcome what would be a 4-game deficit without helping the Red Sox into the division lead.

If they don't take today's game, however, the Sox would be up by just two, and if they continue to play the way they have of late, then 10 games could be more than enough to get the job done.

Kevin Youkilis will once again be out of the lineup for this crucial game, but Mike Aviles proved up to the task of replacing his bat in the lineup on Friday.

Boston Red Sox (87-63)

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  4. David Ortiz, DH
  5. Josh Reddick, RF
  6. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
  7. Carl Crawford, LF
  8. Mike Aviles, 3B
  9. Marco Scutaro, SS
Tampa Bay Rays (83-67)
  1. Desmond Jennings, LF
  2. B.J. Upton, CF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  5. Johnny Damon, DH
  6. Sean Rodriguez, SS
  7. Casey Kotchman, 1B
  8. Brandon Guyer, RF
  9. Jose Lobaton, C

Pitching Matchup: Jon Lester (15-7, 3.07 ERA) vs. Jeff Niemann (10-7, 3.97 ERA)

This matchup doesn't look very scary for the Red Sox on the surface, but anyone with a good memory will recall the domination Jeff Niemann has had against the Sox so far this year. In 17 innings of work, the Sox have just two earned runs off of Niemann on five hits. And while usually Lester would be the perfect man to call on in opposition, the Sox received only four short innings of four-run ball the last time he had to face the Rays. A similar outing would be disastrous this time.

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Red Sox 4, Rays 3: Everything As It Should Be As Josh Beckett Wins In Return

Red Sox 4, Rays 3

For the first time in what seems like months...everything is as it should be with the Red Sox.

The reason for that can be explained quickly:

Josh Beckett with the win,

Daniel Bard with the hold.

and Jonathan Papelbon with the save.

Finally, the Sox had a game which seemed...normal.

Normal, however, does not necessarily mean easy, and by no means was this one easy to watch, starting as it did with a rusty Beckett. Trying to immediately put the returning starter's ankle to the test, Desmond Jennings laid down a bunt on the first pitch of the game, and hurried to second as the throw to first was errant. While Beckett would battle back, inducing a popup off the bat of B.J. Upton, he would come out flat against Evan Longoria, who took a hanging curveball into the Monster seats to give the Rays an early lead.

That was just about all Beckett would personally allow, though a third run would come across when a third-inning single turned into a triple thanks to an airmailed throw to second from Jason Varitek on a stolen base attempt. Meanwhile, the Sox fought their way back into the game, with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz providing two runs to tie the game in the bottom of the first, and the latter two again coming through in the third to knot things at 3-3.

The Sox had left one chance by the wayside, however. Called on to bunt in the second inning after a pair of leadoff walks, Mike Aviles' sacrifice ended up costing the Sox two, as Evan Longoria alertly fired to second to start the twin killing. Though he couldn't get the Sox their inning back, Aviles did the one thing he could to make up for it, punishing a mistake pitch from James Shields and putting a hole in the Sports Authority sign above the Monster seats with a solo shot that gave the Sox the 4-3 lead.

Amazingly, that was a lead that would hold up. With Beckett finding his groove and throwing five quality innings after his difficult first, the Sox managed to actually find scoreless innings from their pen. Alfredo Aceves made it cleanly through the seventh, and then out came Daniel Bard. While for a while there it looked like the same old problems for the Boston setup man--he avoided giving Johnny Damon first only on a questionable check swing call, and then walked the next batter--Bard would finally show some life again, striking out the last two men he faced. Jonathan Papelbon finished things with another dominant outing, striking out the side around a ground ball single, and the Sox found a much-needed win.

 

Three For The Road

Credit To Tito

It took guts to turn to Daniel Bard in the eighth inning, and while many might question the decision to pull Alfredo Aceves given the different directions the two relievers have gone of late, it was a call that had to be made. Without Bard, the Red Sox aren't going anywhere even if they do make the postseason. If he hadn't broken out of his funk tonight, then a win may not have made much of a difference in the greater scheme of things.

 

Running Wild

Between Josh Beckett's delivery and Jason Varitek's arm, the Rays stole seven bases tonight. While the steal isn't necessarily the weapon it's made out to be, at some point the automatic triple thing has to stop. The difficulty is that it's probably too risky to remove Varitek from the comfortable battery Josh Beckett has formed with him, even in the postseason. Perhaps the Sox can do nothing this year, but it's something worth focusing on when the offseason comes.

 

Worst Case Scenario

With the win tonight, the revised worst case scenario for the series has the Sox at two games up in the wild card. Not exactly a desirable outcome, but not with nearly the same punch as a tie would have had.

 

Red Sox MVP -- David Ortiz

If only Aviles' bunt hadn't gone awry! But Ortiz came through twice in big situations tonight against a pitcher who has given the Sox plenty of trouble in the past, only missing a long ball by a few feet on his first big hit.

Of course, on a more...emotional level, Josh Beckett needs to get the nod. The Sox have been in desperate need of some quality innings from their starters, and it's hard to really express the stabilizing effect of having Beckett back in there.

 

Up Next -- Saturday, 4:10 p.m. | Jon Lester (15-7, 3.07 ERA) vs. David Price (10-7, 3.97 ERA)

If the Sox are going to earn that all-important split, Saturday will be the day to do it. Unfortunately, however, Jeff Niemann has absolutely had Boston's number this year in the same way that Beckett has had Tampa Bay's. Jon Lester isn't likely to be as mediocre as his last outing, but against Niemann, he may need to be perfect.

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Red Sox 4, Rays 3, End 6: Sox Hold Lead, Beckett Finishes With Quality Start

The Red Sox have managed to maintain their 4-3 lead on the Rays through six innings, as Josh Beckett finished his return game in top form, striking out seven batters and allowing just an unearned run over the last five innings.

The Boston offense hasn’t exactly taken advantage of the situation, however, leaving the score exactly where it was after four behind a pair of innings which resulted in a total of one baserunner.

It will be the relief pitching which decides this game. Of course, Boston’s hasn’t been terribly impressive in that regard over their last few contests.

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Red Sox 4, Rays 3, End 4: Mike Aviles' Solo Shot Gives Boston The Lead

The Red Sox have taken a 4-3 lead through four innings on Mike Aviles’ solo shot.

After an errant throw to second allowed Desmond Jennings to take third on a stolen base attempt in the third, the Rays got back on top 3-2 on a single to Josh Reddick in right. With the ball hit hard enough and close enough to Reddick that Jennings had to hold up at third, it’s likely that the Rays wouldn’t have scored had the throw gone through cleanly on the steal.

Once again, though, the Sox quickly erased their deficit in the bottom half of the inning, and once again it was the combination of Dustin Pedroia (a line drive single) and David Ortiz (a double into the gap in right) that ultimately got the job done. And while the Sox would strand Ortiz on the basepaths, Mike Aviles would put them on top with two outs in the fourth. After being asked to bunt in the second, Aviles showed he could do a much better job swinging the bat. A 1-0 changeup from James Shields stayed up and over the plate, and Mike Aviles used it to put a noticeable hole in the Sports Authority sign over the Monster, putting Boston up 4-3.

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Red Sox 2, Rays 2, End 2: All Tied Up As Sox Waste Opportunity In Second

After falling behind 0-2 in the top of the first, the Red Sox managed to even the score in the bottom half of the inning. But a failed sacrifice attempt scuttled a promising second inning, leaving the Sox locked in a 2-2 tie early on.

The runs off of Beckett came pretty much right off the bat. Desmond Jennings tested the returning starter’s ankle early with a quick bunt on the first pitch of the game. Beckett misfired on the throw to first, and Jennings quickly made his way to second base.

It wouldn’t end up mattering which base Jennings was on, however. Evan Longoria is not someone a starter can get away with throwing a flat curveball to, and when Beckett did just that, it produced predictable results. Longoria’s high fly ball made its way onto the ledge in front of the Monster seats, and after a short video review, the Rays were awarded the 2-0 lead on Longoria’s 28th homer of the year.

The Sox weren’t content to stay on bottom for long. Jacoby Ellsbury took James Shields’ fourth pitch of the game into the corner in left for a double, and with Dustin Pedroia drilling a 1-1 curveball just fair past the third base bag, the Sox were on the board. Adrian Gonzalez would strike out on a check swing, but David Ortiz proved up to the task of bringing the tying run in from second (after a wild pitch), just missing a home run as he planted a 3-0 pitch high off of the Green Monster.

After a quiet top half of the second, the Sox would earn another scoring opportunity off of James Shields, with Carl Crawford and Jason Varitek each drawing walks to start the frame. But disaster struck when Mike Aviles was called on to bunt. Evan Longoria quickly fielded the ball and fired to second to start a double play.

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Red Sox Vs. Rays: Josh Beckett Returns To The Mound Friday Night

Josh Beckett will make his return to the starting rotation Friday night against the Rays, but he will do so without the full Red Sox lineup behind him. Boston will be without Kevin Youkilis for a bit, as the hurt third baseman will be out for at least two games as he continues to struggle with a variety of injuries.

While the lack of the name makes the lineup look that much worse, the fact of the matter is that, playing hurt as he has, Youkilis isn't exactly a big contributor to the lineup. With Mike Aviles and his .353 OBP (since joining the Sox) replacing him in the lineup, the Sox might not be much worse off than in days past.

The only other variation on the usual group comes behind the plate, as Jason Varitek forms his usual battery with Beckett.

Boston Red Sox (86-63)

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  4. David Ortiz, DH
  5. Josh Reddick, RF
  6. Marco Scutaro, SS
  7. Carl Crawford, LF
  8. Jason Varitek, C
  9. Mike Aviles, 3B

The Rays have made a bit of a change in their starting lineup, swapping Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman between the fourth and sixth slots to try and finally get to Josh Beckett.

Tampa Bay Rays (83-66)

  1. Desmond Jennings, LF
  2. B.J. Upton, CF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Casey Kotchman, 1B
  5. Johnny Damon, DH
  6. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  7. Matt Joyce, RF
  8. John Jaso, C
  9. Reid Brignac, SS

Pitching Matchup: Josh Beckett (12-5, 2.49 ERA) vs. James Shields (15-10, 2.70 ERA)

A big matchup for an important game, as the Sox and Rays will throw the best they have at one another.

On the one hand, Josh Beckett has been the more dominant of the two, particularly in the matchup. In two games against the Rays this year, the Sox' ace has thrown 17 innings, giving up two hits and zero walks of shutout ball. On the other hand, Shields has done just fine in three of his four outings against Boston--though the six runs in six innings in the other start is less-than-impressive. 

What it comes down to is Beckett's health and preparation. Beckett has nearly no-hit this team twice, but a lengthy layoff between starts could well have unsettled him. If so, the Sox will have their work cut out for them to dig out of whatever hole he creates.

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Red Sox Vs. Rays: David Ortiz, Boston Simply 'Running Out Of Time'

David Ortiz knows the Boston Red Sox are in trouble. Big trouble. Big Papi was one of the first players to speak out regarding the Red Sox slump, saying earlier in the month that it was time for the team to panic.

In the month of September, the Red Sox are a mere 3-11 and lost their most recent game against the Tampa Bay Ray, 9=2, on Thursday night at Fenway Park. Ortiz and the Red Sox are now only three games up on the Rays in the AL Wild Card race and trail the New York Yankees, by four games in the AL East.

"I mean, you turn everything you've got right now," said the Red Sox designated hitter, who managed two of the Sox' six hits. "[Kevin] Youkilis is playing injured. I went out there today and I'm not 100 percent, yet. You saw [Adrian Gonzalez] yesterday, his leg tightened up on him. He went out there and played today. Those are the kind of things that you can't do more than that. You've just got to deal with it. You don't see nobody trying to shut it down. We know we've got to win some games. That's why you see myself and other trying to play, even through injuries. We know we're running out of time." (via WEEI)

For more Boston Red Sox coverage, visit our team page and blog, Over The Monster.

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Rays 9, Red Sox 2: Sox Come Up Empty In First Game Of Crucial Series

As a mostly empty Fenway looked on, the Red Sox' backups played out the last two innings of a 9-2 loss to the Rays Thursday night, falling to 1-7 over their last 8 games, and 3-12 in September.

The scene was the result of a game that perfectly exhibited the problems that have plagued the Red Sox and given the Rays a very real chance to make the playoffs at the Red Sox' expense. A questionable starting pitcher, terrible relief out of the pen, and an offense that's prone to long streaks of mediocrity.

Really, Kyle Weiland doesn't deserve much blame for tonight. The young righty recorded seven straight outs to start the game before giving up a double off the wall to John Jaso in the third. He followed it up with a second out, pitched around Desmond Jennings likely knowing that B.J. Upton was up next, and got Upton to hit a weak grounder.

Unfortunately, the broken bat that came with the ball proved Weiland's undoing. Marco Scutaro was forced to hop over the bat to dodge the shard of wood headed in his direction, and saw the ball roll through right at the same time. It was a play nobody could really be expected to make, and Scutaro is in no way to blame, but the run scored all the same, and four pitches later, the Sox really felt the sting. Evan Longoria got a fastball up in the zone, and knocked a high fly ball into the bullpen for a three-run shot. 

The Sox threatened to strike back in the bottom half of the third, loading the bases with one out, but could only push one run across on a ground out from Adrian Gonzalez. With Weiland being pulled from the game in the fourth, the Red Sox were just a few terrible relief outings by Franklin Morales and Matt Albers away from the absolute blowout this ended up being.

 

Three For The Road

But For A Broken Bat

Imagine had that ground ball been an out? The inning ends, Longoria hits a leadoff homer in the fourth, but Weiland can keep pitching with just one earned run to his name. Maybe things don't get so out of hand so quickly, and the Sox maybe don't go away quite so easily. Sometimes one broken bat is all it takes to completely change a game.

 

Reinforcements

The good news is that Josh Beckett is back tomorrow to give a hand to a rotation in dire need of some help. The bad news is that he's up against James Shields, and games where he's returned from injuries have been a bit tough for Josh Beckett. Hopefully the lineup is in a mood to make up for Thursday's mediocrity.

 

Youkilis Hurting

It's becoming more and more apparent that not only is Kevin Youkilis hurting badly, but that he's not really able to contribute as well as usual. The Red Sox may have to just bite the bullet and accept that Youkilis can't play a full schedule for the rest of September and--should they make it--October. It's certainly crunch time right now, but the fact is that he's not really helping them win games this way.

 

Red Sox MVP -- Once Again, Nobody

David Ortiz went 2-for-2, but it was another bad day for the Sox, so it's another MVP-free game.

 

Up Next -- Friday, 7:10 p.m. | Josh Beckett (12-5, 2.49 ERA) vs. James Shields (15-10, 2.70 ERA) 

It's a battle of aces in a game that's nearly a must-win for the Red Sox if they hope to manage a split. Beckett has been absolutely dominant against the Rays so far this year, but as mentioned earlier, he's had difficulties coming back from layoffs, be they injury-related or otherwise.

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Red Sox 1, Rays 6, Mid 6: Playoffs?!

The Red Sox are on the fast track to their seventh loss in eight games.

Immediately after the broken bat cost Kyle Weiland and the Red Sox four runs in the third, they had a good chance to get it back in the bottom of the inning, loading the bases with one out. While Adrian Gonzalez managed to get one run in with a ground out, a smart call from Joe Maddon to walk David Ortiz paid off. Kevin Youkilis hit a weak ground ball to third, and Evan Longoria fired across the diamond to first to end the inning.

The Tampa Bay Rays, meanwhile, chased Kyle Weiland between a walk and an error in the top of the fourth, and while Trever Miller and Scott Atchison were able to hold down the fort through five, the recently solid Franklin Morales had no such luck. After picking an inherited baserunner off of first, Morales hit Johnny Damon with a pitch, and then left a fastball up to Casey Kotchman, who rocketed a line drive into the bullpen to make it a 6-1 lead.

Oh bury us now…

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Red Sox 0, Rays 4, Mid 2: One Broken Bat

The Red Sox trail by four runs in the third inning thanks to one broken bat.

Kyle Weiland retired the first seven batters he faced tonight before allowing a one-out double to John Jaso in the third. While he would get Reid Brignac to pop-up for out number two, Desmond Jennings would draw a walk, bringing B.J. Upton to the plate.

That was when the inning should have ended. On a 1-0 pitch, Weiland induced a relatively weak ground ball that would've been an out in any other situation. This time, however, Upton's bat broke and flew right towards Marco Scutaro at short along with the ground ball. A small jump to avoid a fast-moving shard of wood was all it took; the ball rolled under the elevated shortstop and into left field to score the run.

That wouldn't be so bad, except that it gave Evan Longoria a chance to swing the bat, and boy did he ever. The fourth pitch of the at bat was a fastball that caught too much of the plate, and Longoria just barely had enough, sending a fly ball right past the outstretched glove of Josh Reddick and into the pen for a 3-run shot.

It's impossible to blame Marco Scutaro for that, but if ever the Red Sox didn't need terrible luck like that, it was tonight.

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Red Sox Vs. Rays Lineups: Sox Back At Full Strength Against Jeremy Hellickson

The Red Sox will have their lineup back at full strength Thursday night as they face off against Jeremy Hellickson and the Rays.

That the team would have even some semblance of their starting-nine ready to go for this all-important series against the Rays was by no means clear. Between David Ortiz' back spasms, Adrian Gonzalez' calf tightness which caused him to miss the last three innings of Wednesday's loss to the Jays, and of course Kevin Youkilis isn't exactly at the top of his game, either.

But one way or another, all three men will make it into the lineup to compliment the usual suspects, forming the strong 1-through-9 the Sox are used to:

Boston Red Sox (86-62)

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  4. David Ortiz, DH
  5. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
  6. Josh Reddick, RF
  7. Carl Crawford, LF
  8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
  9. Marco Scutaro, SS

The Rays will respond with the best they've got, starting at the top with a slumping but still impressive Desmond Jennings.

Tampa Bay Rays (82-66)

  1. Desmond Jennings, LF
  2. B.J. Upton, CF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  5. Johnny Damon, DH
  6. Matt Joyce, RF
  7. Casey Kotchman, 1B
  8. John Jaso, C
  9. Reid Brignac, SS

Pitching Matchup: Kyle Weiland (0-1, 6.75 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 2.96 ERA)

Kyle Weiland just hasn't been very good in his first season in the majors. While the last time out (again against the Rays) he managed to limit the damage that came from allowing nine baserunners in four innings to just three runs, the fact that such an outing is actually considered to be a positive is telling in itself. Ideally, Weiland wouldn't even be playing right now, but with the rotation only now returning to some slight semblance of normalcy, the Sox will take whatever they can get. And if Weiland can just keep the ball low in the zone, he might actually find some success.

Jeremy Hellickson's first season in the majors, on the other hand, is Rookie of the Year material. Still, the young righty hasn't had as much luck fooling the Red Sox. While he's still a threat for a strong outing, the Sox have shown enough patience against Hellickson that his occasional lack of control has often proved costly, if not terribly so. Given who's on the mound for them, however, the Sox will need more than just a decent outing against the Rays' starter Thursday.

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Red Sox Vs. Rays: Once Again, Sox And Rays Face Off With Wild Card On The Line

The Red Sox will once again face off against their primary wild card opposition in the Tampa Bay Rays. With Josh Beckett and Jon Lester set to pitch, the Sox only need a 2-2 split to greatly solidify their hold on the playoff spot.

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