Saturday, July 30, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: Bats 3, PawSox 2

Swift summation
On the eve of Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” the PawSox offense lacked the requisite killer instinct to reward one of Kevin Millwood’s best starts in his now two-month-old tenure in the organization.

Conversely, the visiting Louisville Bats made like vampire bats the way they exploited the slightest nicks. After each team plated a pair of runs in the third inning, Kristopher Negron scored Chris Valaik on a sixth-inning single to ultimately finalize a 3-2 decision at McCoy Stadium Saturday night.

Bats starter Travis Wood allowed only three hits but authorized 13 total baserunners in five innings of work. At no point on the night did his strike count match or exceed the number of balls as he walked eight PawSox. Yet the hosts could only exploit him for two runs in the third that drew a momentary 2-2 knot.

Meanwhile, Millwood suffered his first loss in 12 starts in Pawtucket attire on a night when he appeared to do everything in his power to redeem a shoddy performance in Buffalo five nights prior. He finished with three earned-runs on eight hits with three walks and 10 strikeouts in 5.2 innings-pitched.

Yet Wood was Saturday’s official victor, Millwood the loser. And all of a sudden, after winning each of Millwood’s first 10 starts, the Sox have lost the last two, half of those decisions going on Millwood’s tab.

The first Bat to hit into the outfield and first player to collect a base hit on the night, Dave Sappelt deposited a one-out single in shallow center to commence the eventful third inning. Felix Perez subsequently stretched a single upon beating centerfielder Che-Hsuan Lin’s throw to second and both men scored on Denis Phipps’ double to deep left.

In the bottom half, with the bases loaded by way of three straight walks, Lars Anderson poked a single to right for Pawtucket’s first hit and first run of the night. Luis Exposito followed up with a sacrifice grounder that scored Hector Luna for the equalizer.

Wood’s exit at the end of the fifth signaled last call for the Sox, who only mustered one hit and two baserunners within the latter four frames. Ronald Bermudez led off the ninth with a single, only to be stranded.

PawSox pluses
On a night when Louisville’s lefthanded starter saw his command go amiss, the PawSox batters caught on and reaped many bases through patience. Slugger Ryan Lavarnway led the way with three walks in as many face-offs with Wood, only swinging at only two out of a cumulative 17 pitches.

Nate Spears also had no official at-bats in three encounters with Wood. Instead, he accepted a hit-by-pitch in the first and drew a pair of walks in the third and fifth, loading the bases on both occasions.

Meanwhile, Millwood initially appeared to be in danger of throwing a season-high four walks after letting three of his first six challengers on board. Instead, he lassoed enough command to throw a season-high 10 strikeouts and never doled out that fourth base-on-balls.

Millwood’s immediate reliever, Jeremy Kehrt, struck out three of the five batters he faced before yielding to Hideki Okajima with one out in the seventh.

Sox stains
Shortstop Brent Dlugach extended his strikeout streak to seven games-played when he went down swinging in the second inning. He went down again in the third with two outs and the bases loaded, giving him a total of 12 Ks in a span of 24 plate appearances. Two innings later, with the game still in a 2-2 deadlock, he stranded another three teammates with a fly out to right field to end the fifth.

To top off the mortification, Dlugach was Wood’s only strikeout victim on the night.

Manager Arnie Beyeler recorded a rare pair of outstanding blunders Saturday night. In the bottom of the fifth, with Luna aboard second base, the skipper/third base coach proved too eager to nab a 3-2 lead. On Exposito’s single, Luna was thrown out at home when he should have stayed on third.

The subsequent inning, Louisville nabbed that 3-2 upper hand when Beyeler left Millwood on the mound one batter too long. The starter had just cracked a triple-digit pitch count and allowed a pair of two-out singles, one of which had Mike Costanzo sending Valaika all the way to third. Yet Beyeler let Millwood on to helplessly yield the go-around run via Negron’s deciding base hit.

Bats notes
Succeeding Wood to commence the sixth inning, reliever Jerry Gil promptly struck out Bermudez and Luna, matching his colleague’s five-inning total in one stanza alone. He then caught Lavarnway looking and benched Exposito in the seventh to finish with four Ks in two innings-pitched.

In his first visit to McCoy since his 19-game stint with the PawSox last summer, DH Jeremy Hermida struck out swinging in each of his first four plate-appearances.

Daniel Nava pinch hit for Anderson in the bottom of the seventh. With Nava’s insertion, Tony Thomas vacated left field in favor of his usual post at second base for the eighth, thus nudging Nate Spears to third. In turn, Luna shuffled to fill Anderson’s defensive position at first base.

The contesting bullpens combined to allow only two hits while charging up 11 strikeouts.

The PawSox announced the release of playoff tickets Saturday morning. Individual game tickets may be purchased for the same price as any regular-season stub. Or, with the possibility of as many as six postseason home dates, fans may purchase a special six-game pack for $60 per seat.

Boston shortstop Jed Lowrie, out since June 16 with a right shoulder ailment, will reportedly play three rehab games at McCoy at next. His Pawtucket stint will start with the second half of this Louisville series and run through Thursday versus Buffalo.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beckett can’t complete perfect July in tough loss to Royals

Just when several preferred trends appeared on pace to bolster him to a gem against the hapless Kansas City Royals, Josh Beckett was abruptly bitten by another recurring trivial tidbit in the fourth inning.

Entering his Thursday afternoon start at Fenway Park, Beckett was 3-0 while the team was 4-0 in his previous July 2011 starts. Yet the Sox were also 0-3 in Beckett’s last start of the three previous calendar months, the last two of those going directly on his tab.

Immediately after Beckett breezed through the first three innings, he went back out to safeguard a newfangled 2-0 lead courtesy of Jacoby Ellsbury’s two-run single. A momentary glitch reversed everything in the top of the fourth as the Royals batted around from the top to bottom of their order, usurping a 4-2 edge.

From there, a stingy pitcher’s duel with Kansas City counterpart Luke Hochevar resumed and carried on until both bullpens took action to commence the eighth. As a consequence, the 4-2 deficit ultimately morphed into a 4-3 loss for the host Red Sox.

With the setback, Beckett was not only denied a seamless transcript for a mostly irreproachable month of July. He also endured his first loss in nine starts and seven decisions in his career against the Royals.

What’s more, the blunderstruck fourth inning and an offensive failure to fully recompense amounted to Beckett’s first loss in five decisions at home this season. The ace’s previous loss at the Yawkey Yard fell last Sept. 18 with an identical 4-3 upshot against the Blue Jays.

Beckett walked Alex Gordon on a payoff pitch to lead off the fateful fourth. Ditto his second challenger, Mitch Maier.

Billy Butler’s straightaway homer, only the second hit for the Royals up to that point, cleared the bases and pole-vaulted Kansas City ahead with still no outs. After Eric Hosmer popped up to shortstop Yamaico Navarro in the shallow outfield, Beckett surrendered back-to-back doubles to Jeff Francoeur and Mike Moustakas, thus augmenting the Royals lead to 4-2 with one away.

The bleeding stopped right there, but the angst persisted a little longer. Matt Treanor’s single put himself and Moustakas on the corners. Beckett then retrieved Getz’s bunt and threw him out, though Treanor advanced to second, where he was stranded along with Moustakas when Dustin Pedroia threw out Alcides Escobar from second base to mercifully end the sketchy stanza.

In seven overall innings, Beckett surrendered a respectable six hits along with the four runs and three walks, but also logged eight strikeouts, the most in a single game since his July 3 win in Houston. In addition, he retrieved two Kansas City bunts to execute a much-needed grounder.

But on the whole, the opposing Hochevar was equally effective and the Sox spilled every opportunity to at least drop Beckett off the hook.

Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, two of three Boston batters to go hitless on the day, both came up empty while Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez stood at the corners, threatening to augment the initial 2-0 lead in the third.

Under different circumstances, Beckett’s fourth inning Thursday might have gone down more like his fifth inning July 8 versus Baltimore. That evening, the Sox had already sculpted an 8-0 gap in the first, ultimately rendering a three-run, three-hit inning negligible for the Orioles and the victorious Beckett.

Thursday was only the second time Beckett allowed multiple runs in a single frame this month. And out of 35 total innings in five starts this July, 31 were scoreless.

But in wake of his 5-0 drawback in Philadelphia June 28 or the five-walk, 3-0 nipping at Detroit May 29, or the no-decision in an eventual 5-4 loss to the Orioles April 27, it was as if something had to happen to stain Beckett’s July jewel.

That omen was fulfilled when the Sox could only saw the 4-2 deficit in half courtesy of Pedroia’s leadoff home run over the Monster in the eighth. Ostensibly drained after a slew of slugfests in recent nights, Boston only mustered four baserunners in the last six innings Thursday.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Red Sox 12, Mariners 8: Professor Wakefield eclipses freshman Pineda in two-way tempest

So far as Sunday afternoon’s pitching matchup at Fenway Park would indicate, the Boston Red Sox are only in half-concurrence with their vocal supporters, the Dropkick Murphys.

They don’t predict the future, just as the Murphys claim in the tune “State of Massachusetts.” However, they ought to care about the past, especially when a specimen of their past is equally valuable in their present.

In the midst of pulling to within one win of his 200th as a Major Leaguer, seasoned knuckleballer Tim Wakefield charged up his 2,000th strikeout in a Red Sox uniform. After falling short on his first two challengers in the sixth inning (Miguel Olivo popped out and Justin Smoak grounded, respectively, with two strikes), Wakefield hit the milestone as Mike Carp whiffed at an 0-2 pitch.

All the while, the Boston bat rack dropped the visiting Seattle Mariners and promising rookie hurler Michael Pineda to the ever-deepening nadir of their respective Major League lives.

Pineda lasted a season-low 4.1 innings with five runs and season-high eight hits on his tab as the Sox stamped a 12-8 triumph, Seattle’s 15th consecutive loss.

Wakefield ultimately lasted a full two innings longer than Pineda, yielding to Alfredo Aceves in the seventh, when three straight one-out singles and a first-pitch grand slam by Brendan Ryan sawed an 11-3 Red Sox lead in half to 11-7.

Because as so many of Wakefield’s innumerable triumphant days have been, Sunday was not without its stains. The Mariners amassed three hits in the top of the first and nabbed an initial 2-0 lead courtesy of Olivo’s two-run homer.

But the Sox batted around in the home half as seven of Pineda’s first nine challengers lobbed the ball to the outfield or beyond for five runs and six hits.

After Adrian Gonzalez sent Jacoby Ellsbury (leadoff double) home on a rolling single to right-center, Kevin Youkilis carried him home and usurped the lead with his own blast to the top row of the Monster seats.

Four plays later, with David Ortiz and Carl Crawford and scoring position, Jarrod Saltalamacchia dropped a two-out, two-run single to right field, augmenting the early edge to 5-2.

After getting through their opponents respective offensive sugar rushes in the first inning, Wakefield and Pineda went on momentarily identical sequences to stop the bleeding on the scoreboard. They each chucked a swift 1-2-3 second stanza, left a man stranded in their respective halves of the third and then had another 1-2-3 breeze through the fourth.

The fifth inning, however, evoked memories of the first as each starter blinked to roughly the same degree as before. In the top half, the Mariners thawed back out well enough to land a pair of hits and another run courtesy of Ryan’s RBI double that scored Franklin Guttierez, reducing the deficit to 5-3.

In the bottom half, though, a single by Gonzalez and a walk to Youkilis ended Pineda’s day.

In a matter of four pitches, Seattle reliever Aaron Laffey let both of his inherited runners complete the journey home. Ortiz nudged Gonzalez and Youkilis to scoring position on a first-pitch infield single and Crawford zipped a 1-1 pitch past third baseman Adam Kennedy for a two-run single.

Ortiz scored when Josh Reddick stepped up and catapulted a double off the Wall and Saltalamacchia benched Laffey with a two-run single to right. That had the Sox pulling ahead, 10-3, and Mariners manager Eric Wedge pulling out Laffey in favor of Jamey Wright.

Wright and Josh Lueke both yielded an additional run. Gonzalez sent Dustin Pedroia home from second in the sixth and Reddick constituted Boston’s 12th run on a base hit by Ellsbury. Aceves confined the Ms to three hits and one run whilst polishing off the last eight outs.