Sox lose on road but win home-field edge

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
12:40
AM ET
BALTIMORE -- Takeaways on a night when the Red Sox could safely turn their attention to the postseason after Oakland's loss late Saturday afternoon assured them of the league's best record and home-field advantage throughout the postseason:

* John Farrell, on finishing ahead of the Athletics, and the Fenway Factor in October:

"It's a tribute to the guys in uniform, the way they've come in and competed every day to put ourselves in position to secure home-field advantage. We'd have liked this game to finish up differently, but to know going into the postseason that every series we go into we'll have home-field advantage and playing in front of Fenway fans and how comfortable and successful we've been at home, this is a good thing."

* Jon Lester stiffs media after final regular-season start:

[+] Enlarge Jon Lester
Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesJon Lester didn't get a win in his final regular-season start but looks to be in top form entering the postseason.
Not what you think. The Sox left-hander had the best of reasons, flying back home to Boston after coming out of the game to be with his wife, Farrah, who's about to give birth to the couple's second child. Who says life can't take a turn for the better after what was easily the worst season of Lester's career in 2012, when he went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA. The final line on his 2013 regular season: 33 starts, a career-high 213 1/3 innings, 15-8 record, 3.75 ERA, 177 strikeouts and 67 walks. Every significant statistical category was better than the year before: K's per 9 (7.47), walks per 9 (2.8), hits per nine (8.8), home runs per nine (0.8).

Saturday, he was not at his best -- nine hits, including a home run by Brian Roberts, and four runs in five innings -- but he threw 97 pitches and will be well-rested when he goes into next weekend.

"Not as sharp," Farrell said. "Given the way he's righted the ship from a year ago to this year, a very strong season overall."

Farrell continues to hold off on naming his rotation for the postseason. When Alex Speier of WEEI.com asked whether the Lesters planned to name their baby, "Game One Starter," Farrell cracked: "If they do, someone needs to be slapped."

* You can't be a Sox fan without something to worry about:

And the bridge between the starters and closer Koji Uehara remains the obvious choice. Lefty Matt Thornton, on the bubble for an October roster spot, went three up and three down in the sixth, striking out one. Junichi Tazawa then needed just eight pitches to breeze through the heart of the Orioles' order, retiring J.J. Hardy on a fly ball, slugger Chris Davis on a ground ball, and striking out cleanup man Adam Jones.

But then Tazawa came out for the eighth and yielded back-to-back singles to Matt Wieters and Danny Valencia. Maybe, Farrell said afterward, Tazawa is better in one-inning stints at this stage, but because he'd made such fast work of the Orioles in the seventh, the Sox sent him back out to start the eighth.

Franklin Morales came in and overpowered left-handed hitting Nick Markakis, just as he had Colorado's Todd Helton on Wednesday night, with the same result each time: The hitter went down swinging. But then the right-handed hitting DH, Steve Pearce, hit a ball into the corner, where Gomes had a little trouble picking it up, and the Orioles had the lead.

This was only the fifth time in 83 games that the Sox lost after leading through seven innings. That's not a habit you want to develop headed into October.

In the season's second half, setup man Craig Breslow has made 29 appearances, allowing just two earned runs in 26 2/3 innings for an 0.68 ERA.

The rest of the relievers expected to be in the mix for the playoff roster -- Tazawa, Morales, Thornton, Ryan Dempster, Brandon Workman, and Drake Britton -- have a 3.84 ERA in the second half. That's pretty good, but leaves some room to fret.

* Compared to what he did for Chico, he's in a slump:

Daniel Nava went 4-for-4 Saturday night, his sixth career four-hit game and fourth this season, to raise his average to .303 with a game to play, assuring himself of his first .300 season in the big leagues. Nava could go 0-for-5 Sunday and still finish at .300.

The safety zone to finish above .300 is almost as big for Dustin Pedroia, who went 3-for-5 Saturday, his second straight three-hit game, to raise his average to .301. He'd have to go 0-for-4 to drop below .300, to .299. It would be his third season of hitting .300 or better.

Nava, signed out of the independent Golden Baseball League, batted .371 in his last season (2007) for the Chico Outlaws, before his rights were sold for a buck.

What made Saturday's performance stand out was that all four hits came against lefties. Nava is hitting .322 versus right-handers, and his four hits Saturday raised his average against lefties 26 percentage points, from .226 to .252.

"I'm sure he's going to take from this some increased confidence when he faces left-handers," Farrell said. "He's done an outstanding job for us all year, and he's finishing on a high note."

* Overlook Stephen Drew at your own peril:

He doubled and singled and scored two runs Saturday. He tripled and singled and drove in three runs Friday. He is hitting .333 over his past 13 games with eight extra-base hits. He is batting .276 in the season's second half, after batting .233 in the first half, when he was coming back from a concussion and a hamstring issue. He's made eight errors at shortstop all season. He's been underappreciated.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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