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Red Sox Finally Take Series From Rays, Close in on East Lead

Lately, it seems that any series involving the Yankees is sure to get the Red Sox on track.  Coming off the miserable trip to Tampa Bay, where they dropped three of four, the Red Sox visited the new Yankee Stadium for the first time and left unblemished, sweeping the brief two-game set.

They split another two-gamer with the Indians and for the first time in eight series, counting the ALCS, the Red Sox took one from the Rays.  All this leads to Boston’s final West Coast trip of the season, which is quite early in the season.

The Red Sox have trimmed the deficit to one game in the division, behind the Blue Jays, and will finally get a look at them in a couple weeks.

Red Sox at Yankees

The new Yankee Stadium has not exactly been home field advantage the Yankees were hoping for at this point.  They lost the home opener to the Indians and then had 22 runs dropped on them in another game in the series.  Then, they have had to deal with the ticket and attendance issues.  Finally, the Red Sox come to town after they had just swept the Yankees in Fenway the week before and the earned the first ever sweep in this stadium as well (the Rays also swept a pair after the Red Sox left town).

The dreariness was not just on the field as the game was delayed over two hours by rain, at which time fans were told by attendants that it was canceled and to leave, only to be barred from returning to the game.

Once the game got underway, Phil Hughes labored through four innings, being forced to throw 94 pitches and allowing a single run in each frame.  Jon Lester allowed three in seven innings for the Sox and struck out 10.  He had a little problem with the long ball, being victimized by Johnny Damon’s two-run dinger and Mark Teixeira’s solo homer in the three-run fifth.

Ramon Ramirez came on in relief for 0.1IP, but notably allowed his first run of the season, on Big Tex’s first home run on the season.  This forced Jonathan Papelbon to come on for the five out save.  In the 32 pitch effort, he allowed two hits, but struck out three to secure the victory.  The middle of the order was very effective for the Red Sox as J.D. Drew, hitting fifth, was 1-2 with two walks, Jason Bay continued his hot play with a 3-5 performance, including a two run homer, and Mike Lowell was 2-4 with a home run as well in the 6-4 win.

The Red Sox got all they would need in the first inning of the second game, as they jumped all over Joba Chamberlain, getting four runs on five hits on the board.  Another Bay home run punctuated the rally.  However, Chamberlain settled down over the rest of his 12-strikeout start.  He pitched into the sixth and allowed only one more hit and two walks the rest of the way.

Josh Beckett started for the Sox and danced around a lot of trouble.  Damon hit another home run, accounting for all three Yankees runs, but Beckett allowed 10 hits and one walk in his six innings, and struck out five.  The Red Sox got three perfect innings out of Hideki Okajima and Takashi Saito while the Yankees needed seven pitchers and 195 pitches to get through the 7-3 decision.

Red Sox vs. Indians

The Red Sox winning ways were a day late coming in from New York as the Indians took the opener of the brief series 9-2.  The Sox clawed two early runs off Carl Pavano with a Jeff Bailey double play and Jonathan Van Every single, but that is all they would get.  Pavano went six and Aaron Laffey got a three-inning save in a seven-run win, a doubly rare feat.

The 2-5 hitters (Asdrubal Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Shin-Soo Choo, and Mark DeRosa) had three hits apiece for the Indians to provide most of the offense. Ben Francisco had the only other Cleveland hit.

Most of the damage was done to Justin Masterson, who had his second consecutive poor start, allowing six runs again.  He allowed eight hits, three walks, and struck out six in 6.1 innings.  Neither Henry Jones nor Javier Lopez provided much relief.  The Red Sox managed only eight hits and only Van Every and Jason Varitek had more than one.

The Red Sox rebounded from the loss, pounding the Indians 13-3 in the final game of the series behind Tim Wakefield.  Wakefield allowed only two through six on four hits and four walks and only struck out three, but despite not having his best stuff, got the easy victory.

Wake rode the backs of Jason Bay and the rest of the offense who delivered 12 runs in the bottom of the sixth in historic fashion, tying a modern record with 12 runs before recording an out.  Bay was 2-2 with a home run and four batted in, just in the sixth.  Julio Lugo led off with a 3-5 effort and four other Sox had two hits each as the Red Sox were very efficient with their scoring as it only took 13 hits to get the 13 runs, though they were issued three free passes as well.

Red Sox vs. Rays

It has been a while, but the Red Sox finally took a series from the Rays, a team they could seemingly steamroll just a couple years ago.  The Red Sox took the opener despite a good effort for five innings from James Shields. Sheilds had out-dueled Brad Penny to that point, bringing a 3-0 lead into the sixth when it seemed that the Rays tried to get a little too much from him.  The Red Sox hit Shields hard in the frame with Bay and Drew taking him yard and Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia also recording RBIs.

Shields expressed his frustrations with his unraveling outing after the Bay home run by slamming the gound without even watching the ball leave the park.  Penny improved to 3-1 with the 7-3 win, but allowed another eight hits and two walks and only fanned two, leaving his ERA at 6.90 for the season.

Tampa Bay evened the series with a 14-5 win in the second game as Lester failed to get out of the fifth inning.  He allowed eight runs on 10 hits and a walk, but six of the 13 outs he recorded were strikeouts.  Carl Crawford had three hits, but no steals, and Evan Longoria hit a home run and drove in five as the Rays cruised.

Scott Kazmir was anything but stellar for the Rays as he only went five and allowed eight hits and three runs and only struck out a pair, but got all the offense and the win.  Rocco Baldelli and Julio Lugo each hit a home run off their former team.

Red Sox ace Josh Beckett and Red Sox killer Matt Garza dueled in a back and forth game in the finale.  Pat Burrell’s RBI single in the first put the Rays on top briefly, but Drew’s groundout an inning later tied it up.  Varitek and Nick Green helped push two more runs across as the bottom of the order gave the Red Sox the lead in the fourth, but Tampa tied it in the sixth 3-3.

Beckett got the Red Sox through six, allowing the three runs and six hits and three walks with five strikeouts.  Garza was a little better, going seven, also allowing three, and gave up seven hits and two walks and struck out six, but each had to settle for a no decision.  Brian Shouse came in to face one batter, David Ortiz, who doubled, and then Dan Wheeler came on to finish the inning, but allowed a Jason Bay double to score Papi, which proved to be the game winner.

Ramon Ramirez got the final out of the eighth to improve to 3-0 and Papelbon closed out the 4-3 win as he struck out the side in the ninth, though he allowed a hit and a walk.

The Week Ahead: Red Sox at Angels

The Red Sox go West and get the second and third place teams in the division.  They face the Angels first, who took two of three from the Red Sox in Anaheim earlier this season.  Masterson will face Jared Weaver (3-1, 2.66 ERA, 0.98 WHIP), who has been great so far this season.  Wakefield draws Matt Palmer (3-0, 3.06, 1.08) in the middle game, and Penny tangles with Joe Saunders (5-1, 2.66, 1.10) in the finale.

After a slow start, the Angels are heating up, having won four in a row and seven of eight.  They are doing it largely on the backs of their starting pitching: 3.58 ERA for starters (#1 MLB); 6.75 ERA for relievers (last MLB).  The Angels starters have been able to go deep in games with reasonable pitch counts, but the Red Sox are a patient bunch and like to run up pitch counts to get into the bullpen.

Jose Arrendondo and Brian Fuentes, the two who were supposed to be the back of a very strong bullpen have been the main problem among the relievers.  Weaver, Palmer, and Saunders are not strikeout pitchers and tend to have good control, the type of pitchers that tend to fare best against the Red Sox, as pinpointing location is the one thing that can force a patient hitter to put the ball in play instead of waiting for a mistake or walk.  The Red Sox might be happy just to get the West Coast over with after this series, taking one game.

Red Sox at Mariners

The Mariners have been a surprise this season, but it remains to be seen if they will compete all season in the division, as they have now fallen to 16-16.  Jon Lester opens with Chris Jakubauskus (1-4, 7.67, 1.47), Beckett duels with Erik Bedard (2-1, 2.53, 1.17), who is beginning to look like the player they wanted to acquire in the Adam Jones deal, and Masterson faces Jason Vargas (1-0, 0.00, 1.09).

Seattle’s offense is not scary as they rank in the bottom third in most offensive categories, including a paltry .312 on base percentage.  Their pitching is very average, though the bullpen is something of a strength.  Brandon Morrow is the closer, but is off to a shaky start in his first full season in the role (6 saves, 4.70, 1.70) while ex-Red Sox David Aardsma has proven to be a very capable backup in the role (3 saves, 1.88, 1.12).  The Red Sox should have a good series.  Any time a team has a closer who makes things interesting, no game is safe, so the Red Sox should take a couple here.

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