Red Sox Bullpen Spoils Erik Bedard’s Debut

Carlos Santana hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning of Thursday's game at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The Red Sox bullpen folded Thursday night after two straight games without allowing a run to the Cleveland Indians.

Catcher Carlos Santana hit a two-run home run off Franklin Morales, and the Indians scored twice more off Andrew Miller to give the Indians a 7-3 victory and series split. Coupled with the Yankees’ 7-2 victory in Chicago, the Red Sox and Yankees are now tied for first in the AL East heading into their three-game series this weekend at Fenway.

Morales and Miller Can’t Lock it Down

Given a 3-3 tie in the top of the sixth, Morales struggled almost immediately. Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner (3-4, RBI, run) smashed a full-count pitch from Morales off the center field wall for a double, and Santana (3-4, 3 RBIs, 2 runs) crushed Morales’ very next pitch even farther, depositing it squarely over the wall for the 5-3 lead. Morales finally got a pop-up for the first out of the inning, then Alfredo Aceves gave up a double before striking out two to end the inning.

Miller struggled in his first relief appearance with Boston, pitching the final three innings and giving up two earned runs on four hits, two walks, four strikeouts and a hit batter. His command was especially off: Miller threw under 55 percent of his balls for strikes, getting called strikes only eight times. He also threw first pitch strikes to just seven of the 15 batters he faced.

Morales suffered his first loss of the season. The win went to Indians starter Justin Masterson (9-7), who beat the Red Sox for the third time in four career starts. He held the Red Sox to three earned runs on five hits, a walk and nine strikeouts (including four in the bottom of the second) in six innings.

Bedard Uneven in Red Sox Debut

Erik Bedard looked impressive in his first inning as Red Sox starter, striking out the first batter he faced and retiring the Indians 1-2-3 on 12 pitches. He looked just as strong in the fourth and fifth, not allowing a baserunner in either inning. He did not allow a leadoff Indian to reach base in any inning.

Bedard struggled in the second and third inning, however. Given a 2-0 lead to start the second, Bedard gave up a one-out single to Santana, who then tried for third on a single to right by right fielder Kosuke Fukudome. Santana was safe and Fukudome went to second when Josh Reddick‘s throw from right field hit Santana in the back.

On the next play, Bedard made a curious mental error. First baseman Matt LaPorta grounded to the right side of the infield, and both Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez went for the ball. Bedard forgot to cover first base on the play, and LaPorta reached on the infield single, with Santana scoring and Fukudome moving to third with one out. Left fielder Austin Kearns then grounded out to first to tie the game 2-2. Had Bedard covered on LaPorta’s grounder, there would have been two outs and Bedard might have escaped the second inning with the lead.

In the third, Hafner’s two-out single put runners on the corners, and Santana blooped one over the infield for the RBI single.

Of Bedard’s 70 pitches – purposefully kept low while he continues to regain arm strength after a knee injury put him on the DL – 49 were for strikes. He threw 19 called strikes and 14 first-pitch strikes to 21 total batters. He also occasionally showed some power, blowing the fastball past hitters.

Boston Scores off Masterson, Can’t off Bullpen

Masterson entered the game with a 1.25 ERA against the Red Sox, but the Red Sox raised that in the first inning alone. Jacoby Ellsbury (2-3, walk, run) led off the bottom of the first with a single and moved up on a fielder’s choice by Pedroia. Gonzalez doubled an 0-2 pitch off the Green Monster, scoring Ellsbury giving Boston a 1-0 lead and extending Gonzalez’s hitting streak to 14 games. David Ortiz later singled in Gonzalez to make it 2-0.

Reddick’s fourth-inning solo shot tied the game 3-3.

The Red Sox almost erased Santana’s home run in the bottom of the sixth, when a walk and an error put men on first and second. Reddick lined out to right, however, and Jason Varitek struck out for the third time to end the scoring opportunity.

The sixth would be Boston’s last chance to get back in the game: Cleveland’s bullpen allowed just a walk over the final three innings of the game, retiring the Red Sox 1-2-3 in both the eighth and ninth.

Watching Wakefield

Watching the 2003 ALCS made me a permanent Tim Wakefield fan. (Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin)

I first discovered Tim Wakefield during the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees. I wasn’t a Red Sox fan back then; I’d only discovered baseball in any meaningful way a week prior in the ALDS. Through that Oakland series I learned a few key players (Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez), but it was all on the fly.

I didn’t understand what made a great or even just entertaining baseball player yet. Individuals grabbed me for specific skills or attitudes (Damon’s speed, Martinez’s power, Ramirez’s cockiness), but I hadn’t latched onto one player as my passport to Red Sox Nation.

And then I watched Wakefield. And I fell in love.

Pregame commentators talked about the knuckleball, a pitch I’m not even sure I’d heard of before hearing of Wakefield, the way the ancient storytellers spoke of battles: full of mystery and awe. The knckleball was so unpredictable it had become the stuff of legend. And as a religion major and lover of mythology, I knew I had to watch it.

Watching Wakefield’s knuckleball dance and dart that night in October 2003, I realized the commentators were as baffled by it as the Yankees. Words couldn’t quite describe a ball that would appear to be headed high and inside, only to finish on the opposite corners. The pitch moved so slowly that a fastball that rarely broke 75 appeared 20 mph faster. It dipped like a split-finger, but with the side-to-side movement of a slider. It moved almost like many other pitches, but just different enough to defy description. I was mesmorized.

The 2003 ALCS ended tragically for Wakefield. Had the Red Sox won, he would have been MVP. Instead, he wound up losing the final game on a gut-wrenching home run by Bucky Dent lookalike Aaron Boone.

The Red Sox picked Wakefield up the next postseason however, rewarding him with a Game 1 start of the World Series after pitching three scoreless innings in the momentum-shifting Game 5 of the ALCS.

I have held a deep love and admiration for Wakefield ever since that October start eight years ago. I have watched him morph into the Red Sox’s elder statesman: a leader among the pitchers, but a willing soldier for Terry Francona. Every year that he continues splits me: I want him to stay on, to keep inching towards displacing Cy Young and Roger Clemens. But I also want him to leave the Red Sox with dignity.

Now Wakefield teeters on the brink of 200 wins with the Red Sox. He hasn’t suffered the second-half breakdown this season that he did in the previous two, but he’s nowhere near the pitcher who won 17 games four years ago.

Wakefield’s problems this season have been his slow starts and his slower finishes. His ERA in the first two innings of a game is 5.14, which then drops across the third and fourth. When he reaches the fifth inning, however, his ERA explodes: 7.36 in the fifth, 6.94 in the sixth, 8.64 in the seventh (it drops in the eighth and ninth, but Wakefield’s pitched a combined seven eighth or ninth innings).

Wakefield hasn’t lost the knuckleball the way he did last year. Instead, his pitch limit has shrunk. Through the first 75 pitches of all outings this season, opponents are batting .251 and slugging .430 off Wakefield. After 75 pitches, however, BA jumps to .357 and SLG to .732. When Wakefield tires, the knuckleball is just a very slow fastball, and it becomes infinitely more hittable.

The answer, it would seem, is to curtail Wakefield’s outings sooner. That will of course tax the bullpen, however, and the Red Sox must ask themselves exactly what they need from a fifth starter who may not play another year and almost certainly would not play for any team other than Boston.

It may take a blowout to get Wakefield his 200th victory, because Wakefield can no longer finish games without giving up runs. Luckily, the Red Sox have the best offense, and Wakefield’s run-support is no longer limited by his catcher (unlike Doug Mirabelli, who usually caught but rarely hit).

I will be happy when Wakefield wins no. 200: My earliest memories as a true Red Sox fan are too tightly bound to my memories of him for me to feel otherwise. But my joy will also be tempered by the knowledge that this is a man so very far past his prime, a man for whom the reasons to stay in the game must weaken with every start.

RB Whitney Zelee Leads Boston Militia to WFA Title

Running back and game MVP Whitney Zelee jumps over the Surge's Tracy Wong during Saturday's WFA Championship in Bedford, Tex. (Barry Millman, Threepairs Photography)

(written for Somerville Patch)

Running back Whitney Zelee picked up 101 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, 10 yards and a touchdown through the air, and 42 yards on a kickoff return to lead the Boston Militia to a 34-19 victory over the San Diego Surge. 

In the championship game, played Saturday evening at Pennington High School Stadium in Bedford, Texas, San Diego went up 6-0 on an acrobatic catch in the end zone in the final minute of the first quarter, according to the Militias Twitter feed and team website.

The Militia responded by scoring the next 27 points of the game.

Quarterback and National Conference Offensive Player of the Year Allison Cahill hit wide receiver Adrienne Smith on a 21-yard pass, and the point-after put Boston up 7-6 with 12:04 left in the second.

Smith credited the score to NC Coach of the Year Derrick Beasley, who saw from scouting reports that the Surge were vulnerable to slant routes.

“I go out there, I know I can beat this girl on the slant,” Smith said Monday.

Chante Bonds’s interception then killed a 12-play San Diego drive and gave the Militia the ball at the their own 27-yard line. The Militia marched down the field, thanks in no small part to Zelee’s rushing. Zelee scored on a 3-yard rush, and the point-after made it 14-6 with 2:44 left in the half.

Facing fourth down in its own red zone, the Surge decided not to punt. Once again, Bonds made the key play, tipping away the pass and giving the Militia the ball at the Surge 14-yard line. Two plays later, Cahill hit Zelee in the end zone to go up 20-6.

Zelee began the second half with a 42-yard kickoff return to the Surge 47-yard line, and the Militia then went on a six-play drive that ended with Cahill hitting tight end Emily Weinberg for a 16-yard touchdown pass, and the extra point made it 27-6 Militia with 11:12 left in the third. Cahill finished the game 8-13 for 106 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

The Surge scored on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Melissa Gallegos to Jessica Javelet to make it 27-13 with just under 10 minutes left in the third, and the Militia’s subsequent drive stalled out near midfield, forcing the punt.

Once again Bonds made the play on defense, tipping a fourth-down pass and giving the ball back to the offense inside the Surge red zone. Zelee scored her third touchdown of the game four plays later on a 4-yard rush on the left side. The extra point made it 34-13 with just over four minutes left in the third.

Cahill’s interception early in the fourth led to one final Surge touchdown, but San Diego’s next drive ended at the Militia 7-yard line when the defense knocked away a fourth-and-goal pass with 5:22 left in the game. The Militia rushed for 85 yards on eight plays to run out the clock and win the title.

Smith said that beyond any one player’s performance, Beasley’s 2-6-2 defensive allignment — two down-linemen, six linebackers, two safeties — kept the Surge off the scoreboard.

“The real genius of our defense was our Coach Beasley,” Smith said.

The Militia finished the season 11-1, winning their last 11 games including the championship. It was the Militia’s second championship in two years; they went undefeated in the Independent Women’s Football League and won the championship last season.

Looking back on the season, Smith — who last year played for the New York Sharks in the IWFL — said she was grateful to the Militia, both for the championship and for her own development.

“The Boston Militia are a top notch organization,” Smith said. “I think they took whatever talent I brought to the team and they magnified it exponentially.”