Punto Powers Red Sox Past Blue Jays and Into Fourth Place

Nick Punto watches the flight of the ball after hitting a home run off Blue Jays pitcher Carlos Villanueva during the ninth inning of Saturday's baseball game in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

Ask anyone – teammate, coach, manager, reporter – and he’ll tell you the same thing: Nick Punto is still finding his swing.

Punto found his swing Saturday at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, going 3-for-4 and falling a triple short of the cycle while driving in two and scoring two runs. The Red Sox beat the Blue Jays, 7-4, moving into sole possession of fourth place in the AL East.

Punto’s first hit came in a second-inning sequence of four consecutive Red Sox hits, beginning with a Ryan Sweeney single, off Blue Jays starter Kyle Drabek. After Will Middlebrooks drove in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and moved Sweeney to third with a single to right, Punto doubled to score Sweeney and make it 2-0 Red Sox.

With Middlebrooks and Punto on second and third, Daniel Nava then hit a line drive at Colby Rasmus in center field. The ball hit Rasmus in the glove and fell to the turf, and both Middlebrooks and Punto scored, putting the Red Sox up 4-0.

The play could’ve easily been ruled an error, but instead it was a called a two-RBI single.

Punto also singled in the top of the seventh but advanced no farther than second base, then homered in the ninth to make it 7-4 Boston. Facing reliever Carlos Villanueva, Punto crushed a 2-0 fastball into the second deck overlooking right field for his first home run of the season.

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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.

Continue reading Tigers Maul Red Sox Pitching, Avoid Sweep

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

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 (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

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

Lester Gives up Three in First, Rays Complete Sweep

B.J. Upton celebrates with teammates after hitting a grand slam during the fifth inning of Sunday's baseball game in St. Petersburg. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

The Red Sox are in absolute free fall, and by the time they hit the ground, they might be looking up at the Tampa Bay Rays in the playoff race.

Rays starter James Shields allowed just one earned run in 8.1 innings Sunday afternoon in St. Petersburg, and the Rays battered Jon Lester and the bullpen in a 9-1 Rays victory, completing the sweep and pulling Tampa Bay to just three losses behind Boston in the wild card race. The Red Sox have now lost five straight, and 10 of their last 13.

Lester Continues to Struggle Early

Lester entered Sunday’s game having allowed 13 first-inning earned runs, the most of any inning. His struggles continued Sunday, with the Rays sending eight to the plate against him in the first..

The Rays began the game with back-to-back singles, then Evan Longoria walked on four pitches to load the bases with no outs. Second baseman Ben Zobrist saw three pitches, then singled to left to drive in two. After a fielder’s choice moved Longoria to third, shortstop Sean Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly to center to drive him in and make it 3-0 Rays.

None of Lester’s pitches worked Sunday. His fastball did not overpower, resulting in 29 foul balls to just 11 swinging strikes, and his cutter lacked the sharp movement necessary to fool hitters, leading to three walks and numerous long at-bats in which Rays hitters just waited Lester out.

Lester threw 43 pitches in the first, 26 in the second, 16 in the third, 26 in the fourth … and that was it. Lester couldn’t even make it to the fifth, suffering his seventh loss of the season. He threw 68 of his 111 total pitches for strikes, giving up four earned runs (the Rays added another on a Johnny Damon triple and a Rodriguez double in the third) on eight hits, three walks and two strikeouts.

Continue reading Lester Gives up Three in First, Rays Complete Sweep

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

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.

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.