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.

Continue reading Chen Out-Duels Beckett, Wins Series for Orioles

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.

Continue reading Aviles, Saltalamacchia Homer in Red Sox Rubber-Match Win

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

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…

Continue reading Ten Red Sox Predictions for 2012

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 (3/12-18): Ciriaco Continues to Shine

The Red Sox are either celebrating Pedro Ciriaco's walk-off extra-innings home run against the Marlins Monday or him retaining his "Spring Training Player of the Week" title. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox)

Non-roster shortstop Pedro Ciriaco gave the Boston Red Sox some pretty good reasons to keep on the squad come opening day. After winning SoB’s inaugural “Spring Training Player of the Week,” Ciriaco followed it up by batting .538 with two doubles and a home run in six games this week. He scored four runs and drove in five.

The Red Sox as a team matched last week’s success, once again going 4-2-1. How’d they get there? Here’s this week’s Red Sox Spring Training Update.

Red Sox 5, Marlins 3 (10)

After Nate Spears bunted his way to first with one down in the bottom of tenth Monday, Ciriaco drilled a 1-0 home run to left, giving the Red Sox their first walk-off win in preseason.

Prior to Ciriaco, the Red Sox had gone up 1-0 in the second on a triple from Mike Aviles (2-3) and an RBI double from Nick Punto. As two likely major leaguers, this sequence is particularly encouraging. The Red Sox added two in the third on an RBI single from Cody Ross and a sacrifice fly from Kelly Shoppach.

Josh Beckett started and went four innings, giving up an earned run on a hit, two walks and three strikeouts. He also hit two batters. Scott Atchison blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth by giving up an RBI sacrifice fly, setting up Ciriaco’s game-ender.

Non-roster pitcher Jesse Carlson gave up a hit and struck out one in a scoreless tenth for the win.

Continue reading Red Sox Spring Training Update (3/12-18): Ciriaco Continues to Shine

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

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