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The Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays faced off Monday night at Fenway Park. The Red Sox were coming off a 9-3 defeat of the New York Yankees that, combined with a Tampa Bay Rays loss, saw Boston inch closer in the divisional race. Monday night they looked to continue in the right direction. On the mound for Boston was John Lackey, coming off a win against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Lackey faced off against Toronto righty Brandon Morrow, who came into the game with a 2-2 record.
The Red Sox got off to a strong start, scoring two in the first. Lackey struggled in the second inning, however, giving up four runs on two walks and four hits, including two doubles, one of which was a controversial double by Alex Gonzalez that bounced off the top of the Green Monster and had to go to replay [and was upheld]. Back came the Red Sox in the third, scoring four to take a two-run lead. They put up another run in the third, which proved to be the winning run. Jose Bautista made it a one-run game in the fifth with a two-run home run for the Blue Jays, but that would prove to be the last hit the Blue Jays put up. A strong finish by Lackey and a terrific three innings from the bullpen kept the Blue Jays off the bases for the rest of the game (excluding a walk in the eighth), and the Red Sox won, 7-6.
Lackey got the win, Morrow the loss, and Jonathan Papelbon picked up his ninth save of the season.
The best Boston player offensively tonight was Dustin Pedroia, who went 2-4 with a walk and 2 RBIs. Victor Martinez also had a strong night, driving in three while scoring a run. Marco Scutaro and Kevin Youkilis extended their personal hitting streaks to eight and nine games, respectively. While no one else had a strong hitting night, this game saw the patience we’ve come to expect from the Red Sox over the last few seasons. The Red Sox drew seven walks against Blue Jays pitching and did an excellent job of building up pitch counts. They forced Brandon Morrow out of the game after less than two innings of work. This patient approach at the plate allowed for longer innings and forced pitchers to go from the stretch. This led to eight Boston hits. Patience like that will help overcome slower offensive nights and are a great way to extend innings and build up pitch counts. All it takes is the occasional well-timed hit and you can do a lot of damage. That’s exactly what the Red Sox did Monday night.
While John Lackey didn’t exactly pitch well (six earned runs on eight hits and three walks), he didn’t pitch poorly either. He really just had one bad inning: the second, in which the Blue Jays did most of their damage. He settled down after that and, aside from one mistake-pitch to Jose Bautista (which led to the home run), he did an excellent job keeping Toronto off the bases. More importantly, the bullpen pitched spectacularly tonight. In three innings of work, they did not allow more than a single walk. And in the ninth, Papelbon was perfect, striking one out and not allowing any balls out of the infield. Lackey’s ability to pitch six innings despite the six earned runs allowed limited Boston’s need for its bullpen, and this paid dividends for the final third of the game. As long as the starters can extend themselves, the liabilities in the Red Sox bullpen will have fewer chances to be exposed.
The Red Sox have now won two in a row. Tomorrow they will look to continue their winning ways and keep moving up the divisional ranks. Strong pitching, especially late in the game, will be key to doing this. The Blue Jays are ahead of the Red Sox right now, but their pitchers are not nearly as strong as Boston’s are. As long as the starters can remain settled in the face of Toronto’s hitting abilities, they should be able to at least keep the Red Sox in the game long enough for Boston’s hitting abilities to emerge. Tomorrow night will see another start from Daisuke Matsuzaka. How long he lasts will have a direct correlation with whether or not the Red Sox win.