Boston Sports Review, 2011 Edition

Tim Thomas hoisting the Stanley Cup in triumph was easily the highlight of 2011 for Boston sports. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Humankind has always felt a deep need to chart the passage of time.

I’m a human.

That’s as much of a transition as you’re getting into my third annual review of the previous year in Boston sports, which in 2011 saw three teams win their division and one win it all.

Boston Bruins

• 2010-11 Final record: 46-25-11, Northeast Division Champions; defeated Vancouver Canucks in 2011 Stanley Cup, 4-3

The Bruins ended a 39-year championship drought on the back of Tim Thomas, who submitted perhaps the greatest single season in NHL goalie history. He set an NHL record for best save percentage, then won his second Vezina Trophy (top goaltender in the league), the Conn Smythe Trophy (MVP of the playoffs) and, oh yeah, the Stanley Cap.

Before they could win the Stanley Cup, the Bruins would submit three spectacularly entertaining playoff series. They beat the Canadiens in seven games in the quarterfinals, overcoming an 0-2 deficit and winning three games in single or double overtime. They next swept the Flyers, flushing the bitter taste of the previous season’s blown three-game lead against them. Finally, the Bruins played a hard-fought, evenly matched series with the Lightning that culminated in a penalty-free, 1-0 victory in Game 7 at the TD Garden.

The Bruins’ blue-collar hockey succeeding against the much flashier Canucks validated Boston’s long-suffering Bruins fans. The 2011 NHL playoffs so entertained me that I can finally count myself among them.

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Longoria, Upton and Kotchman all Homer as Rays Rock Red Sox, Cut Wild Card Lead to 3

Evan Longoria hits a three-run home run during the third inning of Thursday's game at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

When nothing is going right, nothing is going right. Such was the case Thursday night at Fenway, when a freakish broken-bat grounder led to four runs by the Tampa Bay Rays, who homered three times to beat the Red Sox, 9-2, and cut Boston’s wild card lead to three games.

Broken Bat Ends Up Breaking Weiland

Through two innings, starter Kyle Weiland appeared on his way to at least the first quality start for the Red Sox since Sept. 6, and possibly his first major league win. Weiland retired his first seven batters before giving up a double to catcher John Jaso. Weiland walked Desmond Jennings with two outs, but his inside pitch to B.J. Upton broke Upton’s bat and started rolling towards Marco Scutaro.

The broken bat-head flew in the exact same direction as the grounder, unfortunately, landing in front of Scutaro moments before the ball reached his glove. Scutaro tried to side-step the bat and field the ball, but the two arrived so close that there was nothing Scutaro could do. The ball rolled between his legs, and Jaso scored to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.

Weiland should have been out of the inning, but instead he had to face Evan Longoria. Though Weiland reached two strikes on Longoria, he left a 1-2 pitch over the plate, and Longoria deposited it in the Red Sox bullpen in right-center to make it a 4-0 game.

Continue reading Longoria, Upton and Kotchman all Homer as Rays Rock Red Sox, Cut Wild Card Lead to 3

Kinsler and Hamilton Each Drive in Three as Rangers Crush Red Sox

Adrian Beltre connects on a single, the 2,000th hit of his career, during the Rangers' seven-run sixth inning of Sunday's game at Fenway. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

If the Red Sox and Rangers face each other in the playoffs, the scorekeepers had best prepare: there will be runs, and lots of them. Sunday afternoon at Fenway was no exception.

The Rangers banged out 15 hits and 11 runs against John Lackey and the Red Sox bullpen Sunday, winning the game and the series, 11-4.

The Red Sox fell to 1.5 games behind the Yankees, who beat the Blue Jays 9-3 Sunday, in the AL East. They still lead the Rays in the wild card race by eight.

Continue reading Kinsler and Hamilton Each Drive in Three as Rangers Crush Red Sox

Sabathia, Yankees Bullpen Strand 16 Red Sox Base Runners

Darnell McDonald throws his bat after striking out with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning as Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli pumps his fist during Tuesday's game at Fenway. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

All good things must come to an end, including CC Sabathia‘s winless streak against the Red Sox this season and Boston’s explosive offense. Sabathia allowed just two earned runs in six innings Tuesday night at Fenway, and the Red Sox left 16 men on base, losing to the Yankees, 5-2. Boston now leads New York by just a half-game in the AL East.

Sabathia Keeps Runs Just Out of Reach

Sabathia lived on the outside corner Tuesday night. Lefty, righty, it didn’t matter: Sabathia pitched just about every batter away. While this generated a lot of base runners – 11 in six innings – it also meant few opportunities for that one big run-scoring hit. Adrian Gonzalez struggled most with this strategy, striking out swinging against Sabathia three times on breaking balls down and away. Gonzalez finished the game 0-5, the only Red Sox starter without a hit.

Continue reading Sabathia, Yankees Bullpen Strand 16 Red Sox Base Runners

Athletics Hammer Wakefield for Eight Runs, Add Seven More off Bullpen

Josh Willingham rounds first following his fourth-inning two-run home run off Tim Wakefield during Friday's game at Fenway. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Oakland Athletics swung early and often Friday night at Fenway, and Tim Wakefield was powerless to stop them. Wakefield gave up eight runs (four earned) on eight hits, including two homers, and the Athletics battered the Red Sox, 15-5. The Red Sox maintained their one-game lead in the AL East because the Yankees lost 12-5 to the Orioles.

A Bad Night All Around for Red Sox Pitching

Up 2-1 entering the fourth, the Athletics took control of the game because Wakefield couldn’t get the third out. With one man on and two out, third baseman Scott Sizemore pulled the first pitch he saw just inside the Fisk Foul Pole for a two-run home run to go up 4-1.

Second baseman Jemile Weeks (3-5, three runs) struck out, but the knuckleball bounced away from Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Weeks reached first on the passed ball. Coco Crisp walked to set up Hideki Matsui, who doubled the first pitch he saw to deep center to score both.

DH Josh Willingham (2-5, four RBIs) waited a whole pitch before smashing his own two-run home run into the Green Monster seats to put Oakland up 8-1.

Wakefield had no one to blame but himself for his sixth failed attempt at his 200th win and sixth loss of the season. He left too many knuckleballs up in the zone and only struck out three despite eight two-strike counts. Just four of the eight runs Wakefield allowed were earned, but eight hits and two walks in four innings won’t get it done, no matter how good your offense is.

Wakefield had a faint chance of winning his 200th game when the Red Sox gave him a 1-0 lead to start the second, but he couldn’t hold it. First baseman Brandon Allen doubled to lead off the inning and scored on a single by right fielder David DeJesus. DeJesus moved to second on a wild pitch, and shortstop Chad Pennington (3-5, 2 RBIs) singled him to put the Athletics up 2-1.

Recently recalled Scott Atchison went three innings, saving the bullpen a bit but allowing a seventh-inning RBI double to Pennington that Mike Aviles – who was playing his first game ever in left field – may have misplayed.

Matt Albers continued his downward slide, allowing four runs on four hits and a walk in the eighth. In 10 August appearances, Albers has an ERA of 13.10.

Darnell McDonald made a rare pitching appearance in the ninth, giving up a two-RBI double to Willingham to put the Athletics up 15-4.

Red Sox Can’t Match Athletics’ Offense

The Red Sox struck early against Athletics starter Gio Gonzalez, with Jacoby Ellsbury leading off the first with a double, then scoring two batters later on Adrian Gonzalez‘s single just past Weeks at second base. David Ortiz followed Gonzalez with a single to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, but Jed Lowrie struck out to strand two.

That the Red Sox offense didn’t curl up and die after going 1-2-3 in both the second and third, then seeing the Athletics go up 8-1 in the fourth, is commendable, though it mattered little. Dustin Pedroia led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run off the Sports Authority sign above the Green Monster, and Ortiz followed him four pitches later with a solo shot into the center-field bullpen to make it 8-3 Oakland.

The Red Sox tacked on a fourth run in the fifth when Ellsbury led off with a triple and scored on a Marco Scutaro ground out, but they never closed the gap further. McDonald popped out on a 3-1 pitch with two men on in the sixth, then reliever Brian Fuentes got Ellsbury to foul out to end the threat. Gonzalez finished the game giving up four earned runs on seven hits, three walks and five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox put two more on in the seventh on a Pedroia walk and an Ortiz double to right, but Lowrie struck out for the third time to end the inning. A pinch-hit double to right by Josh Reddick in the ninth scored Scutaro to make it 15-5, but Lowrie struck out again and Aviles flied out to the warning track in left to end the game.

With the win, Gonzalez evened his record to 11-11. It was his second career win against the Red Sox.

Price Silences Red Sox as Rays Take Rubber Match

David Price scattered three hits and three strikeouts over eight scoreless innings to beat the Red Sox Wednesday and win his 11th game of the season. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

One shudders to think how good the Tampa Bay Rays might be if they ever built an offense as good as their starting pitching. The Red Sox got a taste of that scenario Wednesday afternoon at Fenway.

David Price pitched eight innings of three-hit baseball, and the Rays homered twice off John Lackey to beat the Red Sox, 4-0, and win the series.

The Red Sox have now lost consecutive series for the first time since losing three straight series to the Padres, Pirates and Phillies in late June. The Red Sox also fell to a full game behind the Yankees in the AL East.

Rays Play Smallball Early, Long-ball Late

Lackey struck out left fielder Desmond Jennings to start the game, and for a moment it looked like Lackey had the stuff to win his seventh consecutive decision. An error changed all that.

Johnny Damon bloop-singled to right, but Darnell McDonald over-ran it, allowing Damon to reach second. Damon took third on a wild pitch, then scored on a slow roller to second by second baseman Ben Zobrist to make 1-0 Rays.

Price so dominated the Red Sox that the game was over right then and there, but Lackey continued on, always pitching well enough to stay in the game but rarely dominating. He pitched only 1-2-3 inning – the fifth – and allowed solo home runs to B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria in the fourth and fifth, both on middle-in pitches hit into the signs above the Green Monster.

Lackey ran into trouble again in the seventh, hitting catcher Kelly Shoppach for the second time to lead off the inning. A sacrifice moved Shoppach to second, but Lackey struck out Damon for the second out before walking Longoria on five pitches. Zobrist followed Longoria with double off the Green Monster to score Shoppach and make it 4-0 Rays.

Zobrist’s double chased Lackey, who gave up four runs (three earned) in 6 2/3 innings, giving up six hits and three walks while hitting two and striking out seven. His record fell to 11-9, but his ERA dropped to 6.02.

Alfredo Aceves got a grounder to first to end the seventh, then gave up a double before striking out the side in the eighth. Dan Wheeler pitched a perfect ninth.

Price Shuts Down Red Sox

Price made very few errors against the Red Sox Wednesday, and he always re-asserted control of the game after making one. The Red Sox as a result had very few scoring opportunities, none of which produced any runs.

Dustin Pedroia singled to left in the bottom of the first, and Adrian Gonzalez worked a full-count walk off Price to put two men on with one out. Price responded by getting the slow-footed Kevin Youkilis to ground into a double play to end the threat.

After going 1-2-3 in the second, Jacoby Ellsbury worked a two-out walk in the third and stole second on the first pitch he saw. He advanced no farther.

The Red Sox went 1-2-3 again in the fifth, but Ellsbury led off the sixth with a triple to deep center field. Again Price clamped down, striking out Pedroia on a borderline pitch over the outside corner.

Gonzalez then grounded back to the mound, and Ellsbury incorrectly broke for home. Ellsbury stayed in the run-down long enough to get Gonzalez to second, but Youkilis grounded out to first on one pitch to end the inning.

The Red Sox managed single runners in the seventh and eighth, but neither even made it to second base. Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth retired the Red Sox 1-2-3 in the ninth to end the game and get Price his 11th win of the season after pitching eight shutout innings, scattering three hits, three walks and a hit batter while striking out six. A road warrior this season, Price has now won seven games away from Tropicana Field.

The Red Sox’s vaunted offense was held completely at bay by the Rays’ excellent starting pitchers, who for the first time ever held the Red Sox to three hits in three consecutive games. Boston’s fifth through ninth hitters went a combined 0-for-16 Wednesday, with only McDonald reaching on a hit-by-pitch  in the seventh. Gonzalez went 0-for-9 with a walk in the series.

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.

Ellsbury Homers Twice in the Heat to Give Red Sox Series Win in Baltimore

Catcher Craig Tatum looks on as Jacoby Ellsbury hits a third-inning solo home run during Wednesday's game in Baltimore. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

It was hot in Baltimore on Wednesday: 92 degrees, with enough humidity and sunshine to make it feel like 100. But not even the high temperatures could match the heat of Jacoby Ellsbury.

Ellsbury homered twice Wednesday afternoon, leading the the Red Sox to a 4-0 victory against the Orioles. The win gave Boston its fifth series victory in the row, a 4-2 road trip and a two-game lead in the AL East.

Ellsbury Generates the Power, Rest of Lineup Plays Smallball

Ellsbury broke a 0-0 game in the top of the third, when he took a 1-2 fastball from Orioles starter Jake Arrieta into the right field seats for the solo home run.

The Red Sox went up 2-0 when Josh Reddick (2-3 with a run and a walk) led off the fourth with a single, then took third on a double to deep right from Carl Crawford (2-3 with a walk and a stolen base). Two batters later, Jason Varitek successfully pulled the ball towards second base, grounding out but driving in Reddick.

Ellsbury homered again off Arrieta in the seventh, golfing a low 0-1 change-up to right field to extend Boston’s lead to three. His 15 home runs rank him third on the Red Sox.

The Red Sox tacked on one more smallball run in the eighth, with Crawford drawing a bases-loaded walk off Mark Hendrickson to score Adrian Gonzalez (4-5 with a run).

Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to 18 games in the fifth, hitting a dribbler down the third-base line and beating out the throw for the infield single. Pedroia then stole second base, but advanced no further.

Miller Effectively Wild, Bullpen Wildly Effective

Andrew Miller didn’t exactly command the strike zone in his fifth start for the Red Sox – the heat probably influenced that – but he was good enough to get his fourth win. The ball frequently appeared to slip out of his hand, sailing far to the left. He threw first-pitch strikes to just 12 of the 24 batters he faced, and nine times went to three-ball counts. He walked six batters and struck out just three, throwing only 58 percent of his pitches for strikes. He enjoyed just one 1-2-3 inning (to be fair, Arrieta enjoyed none).

Miller’s wildness, however, might also have kept Orioles hitters out of rhythm. Baltimore managed no runs and just two hits – both singles – off Miller, and the first hit did not come until the fifth inning.

The Orioles best chance to score came in the bottom of the second, when Miller walked the bases loaded with one out. Even then the Orioles could not score, with catcher Craig Tatum grounding into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.

Miller exited with two outs and men on first and second in the bottom of the sixth. On came Matt Albers, and with him Boston’s bullpen domination. Albers needed just two pitches to strand the two base runners and end the inning. He then pitched a perfect seventh, striking out two.

Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon pitched with the same precision (even though it was no longer a save situation), with neither pitcher allowing a base runner in perfect eighth and ninth innings. The trio of pitchers need just 35 pitches – 27 for strikes – to retire the final 10 batters of the game.

Crawford Singles Twice, Drives in One in Return; Red Sox Clobber Orioles Bullpen

Carl Crawford went 2-5 in his return to the Red Sox Monday night in Baltimore and scored two runs, including in the eighth on a 3-RBI double by Darnell McDonald. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The Red Sox needed 16 innings to score one run Sunday night in Tampa Bay. Twenty-four hours later in Baltimore, they needed just half that to score 15. Boston broke a 7-7 tie with an eight-run eighth inning, and Carl Crawford returned to the Red Sox with two hits, two runs and an RBI. The Red Sox beat the Orioles, 15-10.

Boston Batters Baltimore Bullpen in Eighth Inning

Both Orioles starter Brad Bergesen and Tim Wakefield dominated at times (Bergesen in the first and second, Wakefield in the third and fourth), but at other times they were anything but, setting up a 7-7 tie heading into the eighth inning. Darnell McDonald drew a pinch-hit walk off reliever Mike Gonzalez, moved to second on a Marco Scutaro single, then to third on a Jacoby Ellsbury walk. Scutaro and Ellsbury saw a combined 17 pitches in their at-bats.

Mark Worrell relieved Gonzalez with one out and the bases loaded, but he fared no better than Gonzalez. Dustin Pedroia bounced a 3-2 pitch off the right-field wall to plate two, then Kevin Youkilis knocked in two more by taking the first pitch he saw back up the middle.

Chris Jakubauskas was brought in to stop the bleeding, but instead he continued Baltimore’s downward slide. Josh Reddick walked on four pitches to re-load the bases, then Crawford singled to right to drive in Adrian Gonzalez, whom Worrell had intentionally walked. McDonald capped the eight-run inning by doubling down the third-base line, clearing the bases and putting the Red Sox up 15-7. The Red Sox sent 12 men to the plate in the eighth and scored 8 runs.

Crawford 2-5 in Return

Crawford entered Monday’s game 4-10 against Bergesen, making Bergesen an excellent pitcher to face in his first game back. Crawford grounded out to second on a 3-2 pitch in the top of the second, but singled up the middle to lead off the fourth. Crawford later scored from second when Scutaro’s grounder went through Orioles first basemen Derrek Lee‘s legs and into right field. The run put the Red Sox up 4-2, and Scutaro would score on an Ellsbury sacrifice fly to make it 5-2.

Crawford showed no problems with base running Monday night, trying to steal second in the top of the fourth on a pitch that Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled, and sprinting down the first-base line in the seventh to try to beat out a soft grounder to second. Crawford was called out on a play that could have gone either way.

Crawford also flew out to center field in the fifth. He caught or fielded every ball hit to left field.

Wakefield Can’t Hold Lead, Bullpen Takes Over

Wakefield recorded the first two outs of the bottom of the first easily, but then gave up back-to-back singles. Lee then took the second pitch he saw to deep center. The hit’s trajectory must have confused Reddick, who took a very poor route to the ball, getting fully turned around before the ball bounced off the wall behind him. Two runs scored, and Lee made it all the way to third.

The Red Sox took the lead back in the top of the third, with Saltalamacchia homering before the Red Sox hit four consecutive singles. Pedroia’s plated Scutaro to tie the game and extend Pedroia’s hitting streak to 16 games, and Gonzalez’s plated Ellsbury (3-4 as a DH with three runs, an RBI and a walk) to put Boston up 3-2. Reddick’s fifth-inning home run extended the lead to 6-2 after Boston’s two-run fourth.

Wakefield was in line for his 199th win, but two-run and solo home runs to J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones in the fifth cut Boston’s lead to one, then DH Nolan Reimold doubled to left with the bases loaded to give the Orioles a 7-6 lead. Wakefield exited the game one out shy of qualifying for the decision. Because of two passed balls by Saltalamacchia, only three of the seven runs Wakefield allowed were earned.

With Wakefield unable to finish the fifth, the Red Sox turned to Dan Wheeler, who rose to the challenge, stranding both inherited base-runners. Wheeler went 2.1 innings and allowed just a walk. He picked up his second win of the season and helped minimize bullpen usage on a night devoid of fresh arms. Mike Gonzalez took the loss, but it was Worrell who allowed all three of Gonzalez’s base-runners to score.

The Red Sox tied the game in the top of seventh when Youkilis singled off Jason Berken to drive in Ellsbury, who had singled off Troy Patton.

Randy Williams struggled through the eighth, giving up three runs on three hits, a walk and a strikeout, but Franklin Morales struck out the side in a perfect ninth to secure the win.