Kevin Youkilis Was Theo Epstein’s First Super-Prospect

More than anything he did in the Majors, Kevin Youkilis heralded the arrival of the Red Sox farm system as one that could create superstar after superstar. (ianonsports.wordpress.com/Sports Illustated)

Former Red Sox Kevin Youkilis wrote a letter to Red Sox Nation Sunday. Youkilis thanked his coaches, his teammates, his family and his fans for what he called the “honor and a privilege to play every home game of my career in Boston before a sold out Fenway Park.”

Classy move by a classy guy, no matter what anyone else may say about his character. But Youkilis brought so much more to the Red Sox than just class.

Youkilis Soared From Game 1

Youkilis’ arrival signaled the beginning of a new age in Red Sox history. From his first game on May 15, 2004 – a 4-0 win over the Blue Jays in which Youkilis batted 2-for-4 with a home run – Red Sox Nation knew they had someone special.

The Red Sox knew it too, putting him on both ALDS and World Series rosters that season. He only appeared in one postseason game, going hit-less in Game 2 of the ALDS, but Terry Francona had him stick around, just in case.

Youkilis played with the fire and grit Red Sox fans have always loved and identified with, making him an instant favorite. “Yoooouk” chants at Fenway Park filled became as commonplace as Fenway Franks or Wally the Green Monster.

Youkilis may never have been the most popular player on team – David Ortiz pretty much has that role locked down – but he was always a fan favorite.

Continue reading Kevin Youkilis Was Theo Epstein’s First Super-Prospect

Athletics’ Norberto Halts Red Sox Comeback in Ninth

Oakland Athletics second baseman Jemile Weeks drives in two in the fourth inning of Tuesday's game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Down two with two men on in the bottom of the ninth, Kevin Youkilis grabbed a batting helmet. The oft-injured Youkilis didn’t start Tuesday against the Oakland Athletics due to back stiffness, but no one left on the bench gave the Boston Red Sox a better chance of tying and possibly winning the game.

Unfortunately, Youkilis just couldn’t get loose enough to bat. The almost-comeback ended with the “almost” fully intact. The Athletics beat the Red Sox, 5-3.

Norberto Dominates in Two-Thirds Inning

Down 5-1 entering the ninth, the Red Sox finally broke through against reliever Grant Balfour. Cody Ross led off with a double, his third hit and second double of the game, and the Red Sox loaded the bases on Marlon Byrd‘s one-out single and Nick Punto‘s third walk of the game.

Sensing Balfour’s nervousness, the Fenway Park crowd did their best to rattle him, repeatedly chanting his name in a chorus of sing-song mockeries. The fans may very well have succeeded, because Balfour gave up a two-RBI single to Mike Aviles to cut the Athletics’ lead to 5-3.

Lefty Jordan Norberto relieved Balfour following Aviles’ hit, but without Youkilis the Red Sox went with Lars Anderson, who had only entered the game one inning prior. Andersen had yet to get a hit off a lefty in his career, and Norberto struck him out easily on four pitches.

Dustin Pedroia, who’d scored Boston’s only run through the first eight innings on an Adrian Gonzalez RBI ground out in the fourth, followed Anderson. Norberto got Pedroia to ground into an easy fielder’s choice at second base, ending the game and giving Norberto his first save of the season.

Continue reading Athletics’ Norberto Halts Red Sox Comeback in Ninth

Ross Homers Twice in Red Sox Victory Over Twins

Cody Ross hits a two-run home run during the seventh inning of Monday's Red Sox-Twins game at Target Field in Minneapolis. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Cody Ross must be quite the social animal. Through his first four home runs this season, at least one teammate had always been on base, waiting at the plate to celebrate with him.

But sometimes, even Ross has to go it alone.

Ross homered twice – one two-run, one solo – tying and then giving the Boston Red Sox a 6-5 win over the Minnesota Twins Monday at Target Field. Daniel Bard picked up his first win in relief, and Alfredo Aceves recorded his third save.

Ross’ Homers Huge in Victory

The Red Sox entered the seventh inning down 5-3, still facing Twins starter Jason Marquis. Marquis had already thrown over 100 pitches when Jarrod Saltalamacchia – whose two-run golf shot in the second put the Red Sox up 3-0 – singled with one out, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire opted to stick with him.

Ross made Gardenhire pay for his error just one pitch later, crushing a shot to left field to tie the game 5-5.

The tie held up until the top of the ninth, when Gardenhire went with closer Matt Capps. Ross came up with two down in the ninth, fouled one off, then deposited a knee-high pitch just over the right field wall for the 6-5 lead.

Ross finished the game 2-4, part of a 12-hit night for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, Ryan Sweeney, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz all also went 2-4.

Adrian Gonzalez went 0-3, but his first-inning sacrifice fly put the Red Sox up 1-0.

Continue reading Ross Homers Twice in Red Sox Victory Over Twins

Red Sox Spring Training Update (Final Week): Bailey and Beckett Injure Thumbs

The Red Sox won their final two Spring Training games, but Andrew Bailey's thumb injury and impending surgery throws the entire bullpen into chaos. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

Opening Day may be Thursday, but first the Boston Red Sox had to wrap up their final week of Spring Training. And while Boston won its final two games, finishing Spring Training with a respectable 16-11-4 record, thumb injuries to Josh Beckett and Andrew Bailey overshadowed the victories.

Beckett may yet make his first start, but Bailey will be out until the All-Star Break, further depleting a bullpen that looked less-than-impressive this spring.

But that’s an issue for another day. Let’s get on with the final Spring Training Update of 2012!

Red Sox 4, Nationals 2

Aaron Cook couldn’t pitch his way into the major league starting rotation, but he made a decent case to be the first man called up from Triple-A, holding Washington to just a run on two hits – one homer – and a walk with two strikeouts over five innings Monday. Cook’s final 1.88 ERA trailed only Beckett among the starters.

Down 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth, the Red Sox offense came to life. Adrian Gonzalez (2-2) led off with a single, took third on David Ortiz‘s double, then scored on Kevin Youkilis‘ ground. The Red Sox tacked on two more runs that inning on Darnell McDonald‘s RBI single and Mike Aviles‘ sacrifice fly.

The Red Sox went up 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth on Jason Repko‘s RBI double – more than enough runs for their surprisingly effective relievers. Led by perfect innings from Vicente Padilla (hold) and Franklin Morales (save), the bullpen allowed just one run on three hits and no walks over the final four innings.

Continue reading Red Sox Spring Training Update (Final Week): Bailey and Beckett Injure Thumbs

Red Sox Spring Training Update (3/26-4/1): Boston Sets Rotation, Infield

Cody Ross watches his home run in Tuesday's spring training game against the Tampa Bay Rays. (BostonHerald.com/Christopher Evans)

Opening Day is less than a week away. Who’ll be starting Thursday in Detroit became a lot clearer this week, when the Red Sox hammered out their infield and starting rotation. They optioned both Jose Iglesias (.200 BA, five RBIs in nine games) and Lars Anderson (.343 AVG, eight RBIs in 18 games) to Pawtucket Tuesday, then announced Sunday that Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront would complete their starting rotation.

Only the outfield remains unsettled, but Cody Ross will certainly be on the roster. Ross went 5-12 this week, homering four times, scoring five runs and driving in 10. He also won this week’s Spring Training Player of the Week award!

Ross played a big part in Boston’s 4-1-1 week. Who else helped out? Here’s the update from the final full week of Spring Training (delayed a day due to my NCAA championship preview).

Red Sox 6, Phillies 0

It seems Jon Lester can still dominate after all. Lester submitted the best start of the Spring, striking out 10 Philadelphia hitters while giving up just two hits and hitting a batter in seven scoreless innings. He threw six 1-2-3 innings.

Boston’s offense, meanwhile, banged out 11 hits Monday, including three home runs. Dustin Pedroia‘s first-inning home run made it 1-0, then Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled in the second and scored on a throwing error two batters later.

The Red Sox went up 5-0 in the fifth on David Ortiz‘s RBI single, followed by Ross’ third preseason home run. Non-roster infielder Mauro Gomez homered in the top of the ninth to make it 6-0.

Matt Albers struck out one in a perfect eighth inning.

Continue reading Red Sox Spring Training Update (3/26-4/1): Boston Sets Rotation, Infield

Red Sox Spring Training Update (3/19-25): Lester to Start Opening Day, Jenks Charged with DUI

Dustin Pedroia reacts after getting hit by a pitch during Thursday's Spring Training game against the Yankees. X-Rays were negative, and Pedroia returned Saturday. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new Spring Training Player of the Week! With a .571 batting average, three runs, four doubles and an RBI in four games, Mike Aviles takes over. Hopefully this award propels him to a fantastic season, finally giving the Red Sox some stability at shortstop.

In other Spring Training news, Bobby Valentine picked Jon Lester to start Opening Day for the second consecutive year. And in a moment of true stupidity, Bobby Jenks crashed his car after taking too many muscle relaxers early Friday morning. Lee County police officers arrested Jenks and charged him with DUI.

The Red Sox finally had a bad week, going 1-6-1, bringing their record back to .500. Sports of Boston’s weekly Spring Training Update fills you in on the rest.

Twins 8, Red Sox 4

Jacoby Ellsbury‘s RBI single in the third Monday capped a three-run inning, and he finished with two of Boston’s nine hits.

The Red Sox led 3-2 going into the sixth, but Mark Melancon gave up a bases-loaded double to Minnesota center fielder Joe Benson, earning a blown save and the loss. Another rough outing from Scott Atchison (4.91 ERA in five appearances) made it 8-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth.

Felix Doubront started and went 4.2 innings, giving up two earned runs on eight hits, a walk and three strikeouts. Andrew Bailey allowed just a walk in a scoreless seventh.

Blue Jays 9, Red Sox 2

Daniel Bard started, giving up three runs in the second inning Tuesday but limiting Toronto to just a hit and a walk through his other four. Bard’s ability to let the second inning go suggests he has the composure to start games.

The Red Sox got two runs back in the bottom of the second on Aviles’ double and Kelly Shoppach‘s first home run of the preseason, but otherwise Blue Jays pitchers dominated, limiting the Red Sox to just five hits and a walk Tuesday.

Bard took the loss, but the bullpen really failed, allowing six additional earned runs. Of the five relievers Boston used, only Andrew Miller didn’t allow a run, and only because he left after two pitches with a strained hamstring. It was Miller’s second injury this March.

Continue reading Red Sox Spring Training Update (3/19-25): Lester to Start Opening Day, Jenks Charged with DUI

Red Sox Spring Training Update (3/5-11): Offense Clicking Early

Daniel Butler hits a three-run home run during the seventh inning of Monday's spring training game against the Minnesota Twins. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

One thing is clear a week into Spring Training: this Red Sox team can hit. In going 4-2-1 this week, the Red Sox averaged over five runs a game. Even with Jose Iglesias missing Sunday’s “B” game with a strained right groin, this crop of hitters look just as formidable as the league-leading 2011 Red Sox did.

Non-roster shortstop Pedro Ciriaco wins this week’s “Spring Training Player of the Week,” going 5-for-8. How did everyone else do? Here’s your weekly Red Sox Spring Training Update!

Red Sox 10, Twins 2

The Red Sox put Monday’s game away with a four-run second, beginning with a double by Darnell McDonald, who later scored on a single by non-roster invitee Josh Kroeger. A wild pitch moved Kroeger to second, Kelly Shoppach singled him to third, then Kroeger scored on RBI groundout. Shoppach scored on another wild pitch from Jason Marquis, and an RBI groundout by Ryan Sweeney chased Marquis and put the Red Sox up 2-0.

David Ortiz (2-3) led off the third with his first home run, and Boston scored five more in the top of the seventh to make it a 10-2 game. An RBI single by Will Middlebrooks (2-3) and an RBI ground-rule double by non-roster player Nate Spears made it 7-2, then Dan Butler‘s homer made it 10-2.

Clay Buchholz started and earned the win, pitching two scoreless innings while giving up just two walks with two strikeouts. Buchholz’s injury last year completely derailed both the pitching rotation and probably the season. A healthy Buchholz makes Boston’s top three starters as good as there is in baseball.

Red Sox 5, Orioles 4

Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia showed exactly whey they should be the Red Sox’s first two hitters Tuesday, with Ellsbury doubling to start the bottom of the first and reaching third on a single by Pedroia. Ellsbury then scored on a sacrifice fly from Ryan Lavarnway. Lavarnway added an RBI single immediately following Adrian Gonzalez‘s RBI double in the third.

Daniel Bard started, and Alfredo Aceves relived him in the third. Two players expected to play big roles on the Red Sox this season, Tuesday they combined for four no-hit innings, striking out four and giving up just one walk.

Red Sox non-roster pitcher Alex Wilson gave away the lead with four runs allowed over 1+ innings, getting lifted with none out and a man on second in the sixth. Clayton Mortensen came on, stranded the runner and threw 2 1/3 innings in which he gave up just one hit and struck out four.

With two out and Spears on second in the seventh, Ciriaco doubled to put the Red Sox up 5-4. Michael Bowden set the last five Orioles down in order for the save and a win for Mortensen.

Continue reading Red Sox Spring Training Update (3/5-11): Offense Clicking Early

2012 Red Sox Preview: Infielders

Left to right: Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis highlight the 2012 Red Sox among the infielders and DH. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images North America)

Starting this week, Sports of Boston kicks off a weekly preview of the 2012 Red Sox. We’re starting with the infielders, who last season provided most of the pop on the league’s top-ranked offense.

You’ll need to check SoB to get the entire preview, but I handled the infielders. And here they are!

Corner Infielders

Adrian Gonzalez will start at first base come April. He tied for the league-lead in hits last year with 213, came in second with a .338 batting average and ranked among the top 10 in RBIs (117, fifth), doubles (45, sixth), on-base percentage (.410, sixth), and OPS (.957, seventh). Dismissing any preseason fears of an NL hitter struggling at Fenway, Gonzalez set personal-bests in hits and OBP while playing Gold Glove-winning first base.

Some analysts say Gonzalez faltered in September, leading to the Red Sox’s historic collapse, but the numbers don’t back up that claim. Gonzalez is an absolute game-changer with maybe the most beautiful swing in baseball.

Kevin Youkilis, meanwhile, starts at third. Injuries have limited Youkilis the last two seasons, knocking his total games from 135+ from 2006-2009 to 120 and 102 since 2010. Those absences have likely affected his sense of pitch-location, something once so strong it earned a two-page spread in Michael Lews’ Moneyball.

When he’s healthy, Youkilis is an athletic third baseman with tremendous plate-discipline. He’s just as capable of hitting a home run as he is drawing a walk. He’s also adaptable, able to hit in different lineup spots and move to first base (where he won a Gold Glove in 2007) without sacrificing success.

Continue reading 2012 Red Sox Preview: Infielders

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.