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Andrew Miller has been very good in his first two starts with the Boston Red Sox, giving the injury-ridden club exactly what it needs - consistency.
More fireworks nearly flew on Sunday, when Pedroia was pitched high and tight in three consecutive at-bats. The Boston second baseman wasn't hit, but was clearly ticked off, as NESN's cameras caught him uttering some less-than-favorable adjectives after the third instance.
Pedroia's outburst may or may not have been the impetus, but for a team that's lacked a serious spark of late, the Red Sox were happy to take any energy that they could get.
After stranding throngs of teammates on base in the first two games of the series, the Sox finally got the timely hitting that they'd been missing and upended the Pirates, 4-2.
Adrian Gonzalez had two hits to improve his league-leading average to .361, and both Gonzalez and the pinch-hitting David Ortiz narrowly missed towering home runs down the right field line that would have helped to open the game up for Boston.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia scored on a wild throw by Andrew McCutchen in the Red Sox' half of the fourth, but a Marco Sctuaro error helped Neil Walker to get on base, eventually coming around to score on a Ronny Cedeno sacrifice fly.
McCutchen briefly atoned for his error in the bottom of the fifth, singling home pitcher James McDonald after Andrew Miller had loaded the bases with nobody out. Garrett Jones was tagged out at 3rd on the play, and Miller was able to escape the inning - and eventually the rest of the game - without allowing further damage.
In Boston's sixth, Josh Reddick flew out to left fielder Matt Diaz, scoring Kevin Youkilis. Diaz moved over to left in place of Jose Tabata, who was injured legging out an infield single on the first pitch of Pittsburgh's half of the first. No report was issued on the injury, but Tabata was carted off the field, looking to have seriously injured his right leg.
Boston loaded the bases with nobody out in the seventh, and Pedroia grounded out to second, scoring Scutaro from third. After Adrian Gonzalez was intentionally walked, Youkilis flied out to right and in rumbled David Ortiz to give Boston their first two-run lead of the game.
Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Jonathan Papelbon worked around a leadoff four-pitch walk in the ninth and retired the side in order to salvage the series.
Dustin Pedroia had been thrown at each time he went to the plate, and each time near the head, causing some fireworks to nearly fly in the sixth.
The Red Sox started this game as they've started so many recently: by getting men on and kindly leaving them there. Dustin Pedroia singled and Adrian Gonzalez moved him over before Kevin Youkilis lined out softly to third and J.D. Drew struck out to end the threat.
They'd get the leadoff man on in the third when Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled, but he was unable to be moved over.
Fortunately, Andrew Miller held off the Pirates, striking out three and allowing just two hits in the first three innings.
The Pirates lost left fielder Jose Tabata just one pitch into the Pittsburgh half of the first when he appeared to injure his left leg while legging out a bunt single.
Drew, who hit a ball off of his left eye during batting practice, left the game in the second inning and was replaced by Darnell McDonald.
For the third straight game, David Ortiz will not be part of the Red Sox' starting lineup.
Despite receiving a more balanced attack from their offense in Saturday night's game, the Red Sox still stranded eight runners, losing their fourth straight game as Tim Wakefield couldn't hold the PIrates' offense down.
They'll hope for more Sunday afternoon from the same group of batters.
Boston Red Sox (44-32)
The Red Sox will count themselves lucky to finally be facing a less-impressive righty in James McDonald after drawing Paul Maholm and Jeff Karstens in the first two games. In many ways, McDonald is the opposite of Karstens. He's primarily a fastball pitcher, hitting the low-mid 90s, and can't find the zone with any great regularity. That's exactly the sort of guy the Red Sox should feast on, but four straight bad games can always make a team press.
Andrew MIller had a reasonably successful debut against the Padres last week. Really, he was only the victim of one pitch--the home run ball he gave up to Orlando Hudson--and even that seemed to go where he wanted it to. Other than a few streaks where he seemed to lose control for a few pitches, Miller gave the Sox some reason to be excited. The Pirates aren't the most free-swinging of teams in the game, but they're also one of the worst teams in the game against lefties.
Then again, so were the Padres.
The Red Sox fell to the Pirates 6-4 Saturday night, allowing the New York Yankees to take sole possession of fourth place in the American League East.
While the Red Sox offense was able to bring a bit more firepower to the table than they had on Friday, the problems were much the same. The Sox scored in the first (as they had done in the previous game) when Dustin Pedroia walked, stole second, advanced to third on the errant throw from catcher Mike McKenry, and then scored on Adrian Gonzalez' ground out. They scored again when Gonzalez went opposite field to pick up his sixteenth bomb of the season in the third inning, putting the Red Sox up 2-0.
But already the same old problems were shining through. Almost as soon as Jarrod Saltalamacchia reached second base with a leadoff double in the second, he was heading back to the dugout as the bottom three in the Sox' order went down in order. Again, the Sox had a chance in the fourth with two men on and nobody out, but Marco Scutaro grounded into a double play, and the inning was over. Somehow these last four games the Red Sox' lineup has always seemed one man short.
Still, the Sox had a 2-0 lead, and Tim Wakefield seemed on in his return to Pittsburgh, but then things just fell apart.
It started with an infield single to a diving Kevin Youkilis with one out in the fourth, but the rest was clearly Tim Wakefield's fault. A walk to Neil Walker brought Red Sox killer extraordinaire Lyle Overbay to the plate, and on the sixth pitch, he lived up to his title, clubbing a hanging knuckleball that looked more like a curve than anything else into the seats in right field to put the Pirates up 3-2. If that weren't bad enough, Ronny Cedeno doubled, and then came home on the ultimate embarrassment: an RBI single from pitcher Jeff Karstens.
Another run would score in the fifth, as Wakefield allowed the first two men to reach, and Dustin Pedroia pulled a Buckner on a ground ball that seemed likely to keep the runners where they were.
The Red Sox rallied as Josh Reddick, who Terry Francona says has earned another start, blasted a home run to right-center. Jacoby Ellsbury followed suit, bringing the Sox to within one, but they could score no more and Matt Albers allowed another solo shot to seal the deal for Pittsburgh.
Eight more men stranded on a night where the Red Sox slammed three homers--all of them solo shots. After four straight similar losses, something's gotta give.
Boston got out to another early lead when Dustin Pedroia walked in the first, stole second, advanced to third on the errant throw from catcher Mike McKenry, and then was knocked in on a ground out by Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez would pick up his second RBI of the day by blasting an opposite field homer in the third, giving the Sox a 2-0 lead.
Tim Wakefield, meanwhile had breezed through the first three innings of the game. As is often the case with the knuckleball, though, things changed at the tip of a hat. Andrew McCutchen started the rally with a one-out infield single to Kevin Youkilis. Up stepped Lyle Overbay with two on and two out. Wakefield fell behind early, but battled back to bring the count full. The sixth pitch, however, was disastrous, as Overbay launched a no-doubter to put the Pirates up 3-2.
The Sox are in bad shape halfway through the game that could prove to be their fourth straight loss.
It's starting to seem like the Red Sox' biggest weakness against lefties is one guy who never even sees an at bat against them: Terry Francona. After a 1-for-7 night for Darnell McDonald and Mike Cameron--the latest in a series of failures from the two right-handed outfielders--the Sox will send out J.D. Drew and Josh Reddick Saturday against right-handed Jeff Karstens.
The only hope is that this will still be the starting outfield on Sunday when the Sox come up against another southpaw.
What remains the same from Friday's lineup is the top-4, as David Ortiz will again take a seat and wait for a call to pinch-hit while Adrian Gonzalez gets the start at first.
Boston Red Sox (44-31)
There's no other way to put it: Jeff Karstens is having a breakout year. The question is, what changed him from a middling piece in the Xavier Nady trade to, arguably, Pittsburgh's ace?
One of the most important parts of Karsten's game is throwing strikes--he's one of the best in the business at putting the ball in the zone--but that's always been the case. The difference now is that he can get batters to actually chase out of the zone, which has caused his walk rate to drop and his strikeout rate to get that extra needed kick. With his secondary offerings having developed nicely, and with his focus shifting from his slow four-seamer to a more deceptive two-seamer, Karstens could prove quite troublesome for a Red Sox team that loves to walk and hates to swing early.
While Tim Wakefield is also far from being a flamethrower, the contrast between Karstens' precision and Wakefield's wild knuckleball is interesting. As per usual, the experience against Wake's knuckleball is limited for the National League lineup with only Lyle Overbay (30) and Ronny Cedeno (3) having had any plate appearances against it. Typically this is to Boston's benefit, but then again, there's not much the advantage of unfamiliarity can do to save a floating Knuckleball.
It’s becoming a tired story by now: a poorly constructed lineup that manages to put a lot of men on base but score few leaves the Red Sox trailing a weaker National League team when all nine innings are over and done with.
Over the last two games against the Padres, the Red Sox had stranded 20 runners. Tonight, they added eleven more.
The only runner they managed to score was Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached base with a leadoff walk in the first and came around to score on a Kevin Youkilis groundout. The next at bat exemplified everything wrong with the team over this three-game losing streak however, as Darnell McDonald stepped up to the plate with a runner in scoring position and promptly recorded the third out.
He would do this again in the third with the bases loaded, and then once more in the fifth with two men on.
Meanwhile, Jon Lester had lost the lead in the third inning thanks to a rally started by a bunt single from Ronny Cedeno. Mike Cameron made a terrible diving attempt on a ball in right field, Lester managed to walk the pitcher, and then Kevin Youkilis couldn’t save a bad hop, allowing a run to score. Another came across shortly thereafter on a double play.
Darnell McDonald was not the only Boston player to come up empty when it counted. With two on and one out in the seventh, Adrian Gonzalez popped up and Kevin Youkilis struck out. But when those two were the guys setting the table earlier, it’s difficult to lay blame at their feet.
It’s entirely possible to blame Kevin Youkilis for the third run of the night, though. Neil Walker’s leadoff single in the sixth never left the infield, deflecting off his glove, and the double play ball that did leave the infield only did so thanks to Youkilis’ inability to make the easy play.
The Sox’ last real opportunity came in the eighth, with David Ortiz getting a shot with men on second and third and two outs. But, after a seven pitch battle, Ortiz could only hit a ground ball up the middle, where Ronny Cedeno was waiting to record the out. Joel Hanrahan closed things out in dominant fashion, and the Red Sox dropped their third straight.
The third run can be credited to one Kevin Youkilis, who botched an easy double play ball in the bottom of the sixth, eventually allowing leadoff man Neil Walker (who had reached base on an infield single—also to Youkilis) to double the Pirates’ lead.
It’s been still more frustration for the Red Sox’ offense, which has now stranded seven men on the night. Six of those have been left on base with two outs by Darnell McDonald, while Mike Cameron adds his own 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.
With Jon Lester’s pitch count well over 100 and the pitcher’s spot in the lineup up next, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be back out for the bottom of the seventh. Of course, it won’t matter what the Red Sox’ bullpen can do if the offense can’t score any runs.
The Sox got off to an early lead after Jacoby Ellsbury walked, advanced to third on a single from Adrian Gonzalez, and came home to score when Kevin Youkilis grounded out, but the lead didn’t last long.
After a couple of 1-2-3 innings, Ronny Cedeno led off the bottom of the third with a bunt single that seemed to open the floodgates some. Mike Cameron went sprawling on an ill-conceived and worse-executed diving attempt for a line drive in right to give the Pirates second-and-third with no outs before Lester committed the cardinal sin of walking the pitcher to load the bases.The PIrates pushed across their first run of the game when a ground ball took a bad hop on Kevin Youkilis, and then another on a double play.
So far, the decision to bat Darnell McDonald fifth is causing just as much trouble as might be expected, as the right fielder left the bases loaded in the top of the third. Jon Lester has been more impressive at the plate so far, with a line drive out in the first and a flair to second in the fourth.
Adrian Gonzalez will not find himself in right field for the first Red Sox game without the designated hitter, instead getting the start at first base as David Ortiz sits.
Boston Red Sox (44-30)
Pitching Matchup: Jon Lester (9-3, 3.70 ERA) vs. Paul Maholm (3-8, 3.29)
The king of tough-luck losses, Maholm has allowed four-or-more earned runs only three times in 15 starts, and has only three wins to show from it. A lefty with big splits, Maholm is perfectly suited to shut down a typical Red Sox lineup, but lacking David Ortiz and Carl Crawford, it shouldn't really be much of a consideration tonight, as Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis balance out Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez in the meat of the Sox' lineup. As a soft-tosser, Maholm is also not particularly well-suited to take advantage of the slow bats of some of the Sox' older players.
Jon Lester seems to have recovered from his bad May. Though he did allow three very early homers to the Brewers, he fought back well, and has allowed seven earned over his last 20 innings, striking out 21 while walking just five. Clint Hurdle has done a decent job of stacking the lineup against him as best he can--Tabata and McCutchen have both been good against lefties, and Chase d'Arnaud has killed southpaws in Triple-A this year. But he only has so much to work with, and with Lester being a top-of-the-line AL lefty, he may be too much to handle for a weak NL lineup.
The Red Sox will head to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates in the first of three straight series in National League parks.
Coming off their first series loss of the month, the Red Sox have two major questions to answer as they start this newest road trip. The first is what to do with their rotation. Clay Buchholz is on the disabled list, John Lackey has been terrible all year long, and Alfredo Aceves hasn't inspired confidence in his ability to start of late. Meanwhile, Josh Beckett is riding out an illness that has forced two late scratches.
They may have found some help in Andrew Miller, whose first start was successful if unspectacular, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough, or if the Sox will have to turn to some of their other options stashed away in Pawtucket.
If they can get Beckett to go sometime in the next five days, however, that's a problem that can be put off for later. More pressing is the situation with Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz. Both among the best hitters in the game, both limited to first base defensively (and Ortiz barely that). Of course, in the American League, this isn't a problem thanks to the DH, but in the NL, someone has to either sit, or move.
Terry Francona has toyed with the idea of moving Adrian Gonzalez to right field for a few games to keep both bats hot over the nine-game period. The Sox have received next to no contributions from their various corner outfielders except for recent call-up Josh Reddick, but Adrian Gonzalez is one of the slowest players in the league, and has only ever played one game in the outfield.
Normally the Pirates would be a perfect team to feel these sorts of things out against, but amazingly enough they actually sit at .500 through 74 games, which is more than could be said for the Padres. This is a series the Red Sox should win, but not one they can assume a win in.
Sunday, June 26, 1:35 p.m.
Andrew MIller (0-0, 4.76 ERA) vs. James McDonald (5-4, 4.86 ERA)