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The Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim continued their four-game series Wednesday night at Fenway. The pitching match-up featured John Lackey facing off against his former team and former Red Sox pitcher Joel Pineiro. The Red Sox struck for two runs, one in the second and one in the fourth, before the Angels were able to respond in the fifth inning. Another Boston run in the eighth put the lead back up to two runs, and the bullpen did its job. The final score: Red Sox 3, Angels 1.
The two stars of Wednesday’s game were Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz, the latter of whom continues to make definite strides towards returning to what he was in previous seasons. Both players homered tonight, with Ortiz homering in the fourth and Beltre in the eighth. Beltre’s shot, to straight-away center field, capped off an excellent evening that saw him go 3-4 with two RBIs (he also drove in a run in the second inning). He is currently batting .340 and has proven to be an offensive presence in Boston’s lineup. Ortiz, for his part, went 2-3 with a walk. He’ll bring his average above the Mendoza line yet.
The other Boston player to have a good night was Dustin Pedroia, who also went 2-3 with a walk. The Red Sox also squandered several golden opportunities. They lined into two double plays and left nine men on base, which somewhat nullified the 11 hits they belted out. It should also be noted that every Red Sox starter reached base at least once, either through a hit or a walk. The patient at-bats we’ve seen in seasons past may finally be returning to this team. They are necessary to compete in the American League East and against powerhouse teams like the Yankees and Rays. While this was not the offensive explosion we’ve seen from the Red Sox on occasion this season, it was enough to win the game.
John Lackey was masterful on Wednesday. Over his seven innings of work he allowed a mere two hits. He struck out four, walked two, and allowed just a single earned run: a home run to nine-hole hitter Brandon Wood. He out-dueled Joel Pineiro and earned the win.
The bullpen, not being required for more than two innings of work, was just as masterful as the starter was. Daniel Bard was perfect in the eighth, striking out two while lowering his ERA to 2.70. Jonathan Papelbon, meanwhile, closed the game with a perfect ninth inning of work, picking up his eighth save in the process. The re-institution of his split-fingered fastball into his pitching repertoire has proven to be a wise decision. His walks are down, he is pitching more economically, and he is racking up the saves. Bard and Papelbon have established themselves as the backbone of the Red Sox bullpen. Now it’s up to the other pitchers to step up and prove themselves to be just as reliable.
The Red Sox will face the Angels one more time, and then the Yankees come to town for a weekend series. While the Red Sox are playing well, they will need to bring their game to another level if they want to defeat the Yankees and get back in the race for the division (they are currently six games back from the Rays, 5.5 from the Yankees). Their hitting is starting to come around, as is their starting pitching.
However, against the Yankees, you have to play flawlessly. And the Red Sox still have a tremendous flaw in their bullpen. The Yankees grind out at-bats, same as the Red Sox. This means Boston’s starters will see their pitch-counts rise quicker than expected, leading to bullpen substitutions early and often. The bullpen will be challenged to rise to the occasion and take on the fearsome Yankees hitters in order to keep the Red Sox in games and/or hold onto leads. Whether they can do so remains to be seen.