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.

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Chen Out-Duels Beckett, Wins Series for Orioles

Endy Chavez knocks in the eventual game-winning run on a sixth-inning fielder's choice during Wednesday's Red Sox-Orioles game at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Pitchers who lack a decent fastball rarely survive in the MLB, but there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Josh Beckett learned that the hard way Wednesday, losing a 2-1 pitchers’ duel to Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen at Fenway Park despite a pinpoint-accurate fastball.

With the loss, the Red Sox fell four games behind the Orioles, who’ve won their last seven games at Fenway, dating back to September 2011. The Red Sox lost a series for the first time since going 1-2 at Kansas City in early May.

Two-Run Sixth Spoils Beckett’s Outing

Beckett needed just 48 pitches to get through the first five innings, setting down the Orioles 1-2-3 four times. He retired the first nine hitters he faced, gave up just a lead-off single in the fourth, and quickly erased it on one of two Red Sox double plays.

Beckett relied heavily on his fastball, throwing just enough curveballs and cutters to keep the Orioles honest. This resulted in better than 71 percent accuracy and 22 first-pitch strikes to 27 batters, but Orioles hitters started looking for the fastball after their first at-bats.

Without much variation to Beckett’s pitch-selection, the Orioles strung together three consecutive singles to start the top of the sixth. The third, by second baseman Robert Andino, scored Wilson Betemit to tie the game 1-1. Right fielder Endy Chavez then drove in left fielder Ryan Flaherty with an RBI fielder’s choice to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.

Beckett got out of the sixth with Boston’s second double play, then retired six of the next seven batters he faced. Had the Red Sox tied the game or retaken the lead, Beckett probably would’ve finished the game, having thrown just 92 pitches through eight innings.

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Tigers Maul Red Sox Pitching, Avoid Sweep

Miguel Cabrera knocks in Quintin Berry in the fifth inning of Thursday's Red Sox-Tigers game at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With two inherited runners on and two outs in the top of the eighth, Matt Albers struck out left fielder Don Kelly looking to end the threat.

That was basically the only good thing the Boston Red Sox did on the mound all night.

The Detroit Tigers clubbed 14 hits off Josh Beckett and two relievers Thursday, beating the Red Sox, 7-3, and avoiding the sweep. The Red Sox remain in last place in the AL East, a game behind the Toronto Blue Jays, whom they’ll play on the road this weekend.

Flat Beckett Can’t Hold the Lead

Though Beckett pitched an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 first, his struggles began an inning later, with back-to-back one-out hits putting Tigers on second and third. Beckett got out of the second thanks to Ryan Sweeney, who covered a fair amount of ground to catch Jhonny Peralta‘s fly ball near Pesky’s Pole. Sweeney then threw a perfect one-hopper to Jarrod Saltamacchia, gunning down Delmon Young (3-5) at the plate to end the threat.

Saltalamacchia and Sweeney helped give Beckett a two-run lead in the bottom of the second, with Saltamacchia homering to center to lead off the inning. Sweeney then singled and scored from first on a double to the center field warning track by Scott Podsednik, who’s batting .444 in 12 games this season.

But Beckett immediately coughed up the lead, allowing three runs in the top of the third. Center fielder Quintin Berry (3-5) put the Tigers on the board with an RBI single with two men on, and Brennan Boesch tied the game with a sacrifice fly. Berry then stole second and went to third on a flyout, and Prince Fielder (2-4) singled to center to put the Tigers up 3-2.

Saltalacchia bailed out Beckett in the bottom of the third, following up a Kevin Youkilis double with a game-tying single, but Beckett just couldn’t regain the sharpness his pitches had in the first inning. Berry reached on an infield single to start the fifth, went to third on a stolen base and throwing error by Saltalamacchia, then scored on a single by Miguel Cabrera (2-5) to put the Tigers back up 4-3.

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Aviles, Saltalamacchia Homer in Red Sox Rubber-Match Win

David Ortiz congratulates Jarrod Saltalamacchia following Saltalamacchia's three-run homer run against the Phillies Sunday at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

In a typical start by Philadelphia ace Cliff Lee, teams that manage two runs count themselves lucky. The Boston Red Sox scored five against the dominating lefty Sunday afternoon, and they didn’t waste them.

Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia both homered for the second straight day, and Josh Beckett held the Phillies to one run over 7.2 innings, giving the Red Sox a 5-1 rubber-match road victory over the Phillies Sunday afternoon.

Boston has now won eight of its last 10 games. They haven’t lost a series in three weeks.

Red Sox Go Score Early

Aviles led off his second game in a row with a home run, depositing a 1-1 off-speed pitch into the left field bleachers. He added an RBI single in the top of the second, driving in Marlon Byrd with a grounder between third and shortstop. Aviles finished the game 2-for-5, one of just two Red Sox to finish with two hits.

The Red Sox got to Lee again in the third, with Adrian Gonzalez (2-for-4) singling and Will Middlebrooks doubling with one out. That set the stage for Saltalamacchia, who crushed a 2-0 change-up from Lee into the standing area behind the center field seats for a 5-0 Red Sox lead. At this rate, perhaps Saltalamacchia should intentionally get stitches in his ear before every game.

Lee settled down after Saltalamacchia’s home run, retiring the next 11 Red Sox. Despite several long innings early, three 1-2-3 middle innings allowed Lee to pitch a full seven on a season-high 112 pitches. He gave up nine hits and a walk, suffered his second loss of the season and saw his ERA rise from 1.95 to 2.66.

Lee also struck out six, including the side in the first. His curveball proved especially difficult for Red Sox hitters, dropping out of the strike zone at the last possible moment.

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Ten Red Sox Predictions for 2012

Jon Lester might win 16 or 17 games again this season, but no other starter will come close to his numbers. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Some definite patterns are emerging with the 2012 Boston Red Sox. What has and hasn’t worked so far could easily continue through the entire season. So after five games, here are 10 predictions for the upcoming season.

1) The starting pitching will combine for 60 wins or fewer. So far, no starting pitcher has recorded a win, and none have even left in position for a win. While Jon Lester will probably finish the season with decent numbers, no other starter inspires any sort of confidence. Whether it’s Josh Beckett‘s attitude, Clay Buchholz‘s health or Daniel Bard‘s inexperience starting, the Red Sox will probably be winning a lot of games in the last couple of innings.

Speaking of which…

2) The Red Sox will record at least 15 late-game-comeback victories. In four of their first five games, the Red Sox have combined for 10 runs in the ninth inning and later. This team’s experienced, big-moment hitters never cower before opposing setup men and closers, and that should mean lots of late-game heroics.

Which is good, because…

3) The bullpen will finish with an ERA over 4.50. This bullpen is terrrrrrrible! Alfredo Aceves rocked a perfect ninth Monday, but the day before he gave up a three-run home run. And he’s supposedly their best!

Unless, of course, you count…

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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 (3/5-11): 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

Red Sox Spring Training Update (Opening Weekend): Sox Offense Cruises in Three Games

Lars Anderson rounds third base after hitting a grand slam during the seventh inning of Sunday's spring training game against the Twins. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Just as winter finally rears its ugly head up in Boston, the Red Sox’s Spring Training schedule kicks off down in Ft. Myers, Fla. And with preseason games comes Sports of Boston’s weekly Spring Training Update! Need a recap on a certain game? Curious which minor leaguers and non-roster invitees are making names for themselves? Want to know how the Mayor’s Cup race is going, or maybe just what the Mayor’s Cup is? Look no further!

Just two days after losing one of their longest-tenured players to retirement, the Red Sox began their new preseason Saturday with a double-header against some upstart youngsters from Northeastern and BC. They began their quest to reclaim the possibly coveted Mayor’s Cup Sunday against the Minnesota Twins.

Red Sox 25, Huskies 0

The Red Sox’s 25-0 victory over Northeastern would be more impressive if a) the Huskies were a pro team, and b) the game counted for anything. Still, 25 runs! The Red Sox homered five times in this game, including one from Adrian Gonzalez and two from newcomer Cody Ross. Ryan Sweeney, another newcomer, went 4-for-5, while Will Middlebrooks went 3-for-5, all doubles.

The Red Sox lead 9-0 after the second – more than enough for their pitching. Jon Lester started and got the win, pitching two innings while giving up a single – one of just three Huskies hits Saturday, all singles – and striking out two. Michael Bowden and Matt Albers pitched the final three innings, giving up just a single between them while striking out five with no walks.

Continue reading Red Sox Spring Training Update (Opening Weekend): Sox Offense Cruises in Three Games

Red Sox Ink Jarrod Saltalamacchia to One-Year, $2.5 Million Deal

How the newly re-signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia handles Jon Lester and the other top Red Sox pitchers will determine his success as the new everyday catcher. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Jason Varitek is gone. Now it’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s turn.

The Red Sox signed Saltalamacchia to a one-year, $2.5 million contract Sunday, the Boston Globe reported, avoiding arbitration and giving Saltalamacchia a $1.75 million bump over his 2011 salary.

Saltalamacchia’s Giant Offensive Step Forward

Though he may never be the biggest offensive contributor on the team, Saltalamacchia proved last year he’s a legitimate power threat from the bottom-third of the lineup. He set many personal bests in 2011, including hits (84), doubles (23), triples (three), home runs (16) and RBIs (56). Saltalamacchia’s 2011 season ranks ahead of all of Varitek’s post-2007 seasons in most offensive categories, including batting average (.235 for Saltalamacchia in 2011).

The Red Sox have plenty of hitters in the middle of the lineup, but the deeper they can maintain their power, the better. If Saltalamacchia can continue to improve offensively – especially reducing his fifth-among-catchers 119 strikeouts – the hitters in front of him will enjoy more-hittable pitches.

Defensively Sound, Saltalamacchia Must Improve Game-Management

Not only did Saltalamacchia drive in runs, he likely saved quite a few as well. Saltalmacchia threw out 37 runners in 2011, ranking fourth in the majors. Varitek has never thrown out more than 31.

Defense isn’t the problem for Saltalamacchia. But finally given the starting job, Saltalamacchia needs to take control of the pitching staff.

Red Sox pitchers allowed over a run more per game with Saltalamacchia behind the plate than with Varitek. Saltalamacchia posted a 4.63 CERA (catcher’s ERA) to Varitek’s 3.56. Varitek hasn’t posted a CERA that high since 2006.

Of course, the pitchers Varitek and Saltalamacchia worked with played a big role in the differences between their numbers last season. Varitek has long been the designated catcher for Josh Beckett and Jon Lester – Boston’s two best pitchers. Saltalamacchia, meanwhile, has had to work with high-ERA guys like John Lackey and Tim Wakefield.

Continue reading Red Sox Ink Jarrod Saltalamacchia to One-Year, $2.5 Million Deal