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Red Sox Retake East Lead With Another Sweep of Yanks

Every June game for the Red Sox so far has been against a team leading their division at the time: Tigers, Rangers, Yankees, and Phillies. The hometown team has represented themselves very well, going 9-3 (including 5-1 on the road) and winning three of the four series, including two sweeps. The Red Sox spend the rest of the month on a relative vacation, playing no team above .500 or above fourth place in their division in the Braves, Nationals, and Orioles.

As the team has gotten hot, David Ortiz finally seems to be in something of a groove, homering twice this past week and starting to hit balls harder. He is also getting to those low inside pitches which had become a complete black hole for him, giving the opposition a blueprint to strike him out. He’s also hitting the other way again.

Red Sox vs. Yankees

The hated archrival came to town for the second time this season and left winless again (6-0 at Fenway, 2-0 at Yankee Stadium) to the euphoria of the partial crowd. Josh Beckett had another great outing in the opener, going over six and striking out eight and allowing only a single hit in the 7-0 win. Manny Delcarmen allowed the only other Yankee hit and two walks, but Ramon Ramirez and Daniel Bard were perfect as the Sox bullpen continues to dominate.

One of the Yankees off-season pickups, A.J. Burnett, was the victim as he failed to get out of the third and allowed five runs (three earned), including Big Papi’s home run.

In the second game, Chien-Ming Wang actually lowered his ERA with a miserable outing as he, too, failed to finish three. He allowed four runs on three walks and six hits, including a home run, as the Red Sox jumped on the Yankees again.

Tim Wakefield, a quiet 8-3 with the win, had another solid outing, yielding only three in six innings, but did give up eight hits and three walks. Ramirez had his poorest outing of the season, punctuated by back to back home runs by Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira, but the Red Sox held on for the 6-5 win.

The Red Sox had to overcome a fine CC Sabathia outing to get the sweep in a game that really highlights the difference between the two teams. The Yankees, with the porous bullpen, really had no alternative than to let Sabathia go as far as he could. CC gets a lot of respect for his workhorse-like qualities, including his 11-2 run with the Brewers last season when he threw seven complete games including three shutouts in 17 starts for them.

However, the Yankees appeared to ask too much of him as he went 123 pitches and appeared to labor through the last inning or so. Not to be outdone, Brad Penny went six shutout innings with 117 pitches and left with a 1-0 lead. However, Manny Delcarmen could not finish the seventh after getting into trouble and left a 3-1 deficit. Takashi Saito bailed him out to earn the win and Jonathan Papelbon saved the game after the Red Sox got the three runs off Sabathia in the eighth as he failed to record an out in what would become a 4-3 Red Sox win after Alfredo Aceves allowed the inherited runners to score.

With the two short outings in the first two games, the Yankees bullpen was stretched thin, forcing manager Joe Girardi to ride the capable Sabathia and save their arms. A telling stat is that the Yankees, at 14-10, have the third most bullpen decisions, a backhanded credit to the offense for bailing out that many bad starts. Papi homered for the second time in the series in the second inning for the only run in the game until the seventh.

Red Sox at Phillies

Jon Lester and Joe Blanton staged a great pitcher’s duel in one of the most prominent hitter’s yards in the majors in Philly. Each starter left after seven with Lester holding a 2-1 lead, but with Pap sitting after two days of work against the Yankees, Ramon Ramirez blew the save chance, but did hold the Phillies to a single game-tying run to send the game to extra innings. Ramirez had a 20-pitch inning with twelve strikes, so he did not struggle, instead allowing just one hit, a home run to one of the game’s biggest power threats in Ryan Howard.

Justin Masterson and Saito held the Phillies in check until the 13th when the Red Sox knocked Kyle Kendrick (since demoted) around for three unmatched runs. Daniel Bard filled up the box score with the save in the 5-2 win, though he left the run column blank. He recorded a walk, hit, and hit batsman, but struck out the side by whiffing Jayson Werth, Howard, and Shane Victorino. He is plenty young and Papelbon is in no danger by any means, but he will need to have less exciting innings if he is to own the ninth some day.

The Red Sox put up five wet runs in the first inning of Game 2 off Antonio Bastardo and Daisuke Matsuzaka got a 1-2-3 inning before they delayed the game for over an hour and a half. Given Bastardo’s struggles, the Phillies really had no option but to turn to the bullpen and Chad Durbin gave them three scoreless to get them back in the game, but the Red Sox got three off Jack Taschner and two off Sergio Escalona to put the game out of reach.

Dice-K was up to his own tricks, but very forgivable in this instance considering the near two hour delay between pitches for him as he opened the door for the Phillies with another out of control outing. In four innings, he allowed four runs on seven hits, two home runs, and had three punchouts. He also walked only one, which gives him one in his last nine innings, vastly improved over the early season and last year, again, especially impressive given the conditions.

Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima were not at their sharpest, but Ramirez got back on track with a perfect inning, including one strikeout and nine strikes in 12 pitches, and Papelbon had a rather uneventful ninth in the 11-6 win. Considering he had only one day off after pitching twice in a row, this would look like a curious use of him here, but with the long night and relievers getting up and down, Papelbon may have been the freshest arm out there.

The Red Sox failed to capitalize on an opportunity to sweep as Beckett stumbled for the first time in a few outings, going six innings and allowing seven runs (six earned) on 11 hits and five strikeouts in the 11-6 loss. Despite having allowed five and not looking his sharpest, but not yet having hit 100 pitches, Terry Francona let him start the seventh. His spot in the batting order was not coming up, however, that may have not been a factor since he homered earlier in the game, the second in Philadelphia as a member of the Red Sox.

Bard was hit hard in relief, allowing four and the inherited Beckett runner to score, and had trouble finding the plate. He walked three and allowed two hits in his 0.2 innings and threw only 11 strikes in 31 pitches, which is very out of character given his profile as a hard throwing pitcher who works the strike zone. The Red Sox had hit Phillies starter J. A. Happ hard, getting three home runs, including Beckett’s and scoring five off him in 5.2 IP.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it’s hard to complain with a 5-1 week against two division leaders, including a third straight sweep over the chief rival. The offense, Ortiz included, is coming around and the pitching continues to be stellar. The starters provided four great starts and the bullpen is still the best in baseball despite a couple rough appearances, which upped their season ERA to 3.01 (still tops in the game).

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