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Saturday, July 27, 2013
Items to mull from second place

By Gordon Edes



BALTIMORE -- Takeaways from the night the Tampa Bay Rays, in absentia, supplanted the Red Sox in first place in the American League East, while the Orioles signaled their intentions of making this a three-team race by beating the Sox, 6-0, before 39,063 in Camden Yards:

* The Rays killed whatever hopes the Blue Jays had of getting back into this thing by sweeping them last weekend in Toronto. They could deliver a similar, if not fatal, blow to the Yankees with a sweep this weekend in the Bronx.

* So Adam Jones hit two opposite-field home runs Friday night off John Lackey, both of which cleared the scoreboard in right field. “By a total of about three inches,” Lackey said.

John Lackey
After containing Adam Jones most of his career, John Lackey gave up a pair of opposite-field homers to Jones on Friday.
How often has Jones taken Lackey the opposite way? “Never,” sniffed the pitcher, who figures Jones wasn’t intending to do so Friday, at least not on the first one.

A look back at their head-to-head matchups proves the pitcher’s memory pretty accurate. Coming into play Friday, Jones had 32 plate appearances against Lackey. He had struck out 10 times and had seven hits, all but one a single (Jones had one triple). Before Friday night, Jones hit two balls to right field, both in 2010, both in Fenway, both caught.

* With their four home runs Friday, the Orioles have homered in 11 straight games against the Sox, dating back to Sept. 28, 2012; one more, according to STATS, and they’ll match their longest streak since 1954 against the Sox, 12 games in 1999. The Orioles have outhomered the Sox in the stretch, 20-11.

* The Phillies won the bidding on Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, with Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reporting that the deal was for more than $50 million and could be worth more than $60 million. That would eclipse the $51,111,111 the Sox gave Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2007 (not including the $52 million posting bid). The Sox were very much in the running for the 26-year-old Gonzalez, a major league source said Friday night. How close they came to the Phillies’ offer, the Sox aren’t saying.

* It may be comparing apples and oranges, but if the Phillies are indeed paying Gonzalez $60 million plus, that would make it a wash if they unloaded Cliff Lee. Lee has about $62 million left on his deal, including $25 million in both 2014 and ’15. Lee has been discussed internally by the Sox plenty in recent months, which is not to say a trade to Boston will happen. Lee turns 35 in a few weeks.

* How good did Jake Peavy look Thursday night against the Tigers in Chicago? Good, but not as good as he looked last year, according to Someone Who Was There. Still, Peavy is a guy who could help a lot of clubs, which is why the Sox have had multiple eyeballs on him for his two starts since coming off the DL.

* The defensive play of the night was made by Red Sox third baseman Jose Iglesias, who made a running, stick-my-glove-in-front-of-me with his back to home plate catch of a foul fly ball in the fifth inning. But for game-in, game-out defense, it’s hard to match the Orioles, who have committed just 32 errors in 104 games, putting them on pace to finish with 50 in 162 games. The big-league record for fewest errors in a 162-game season is 65 by the 2003 Seattle Mariners, who had a guy named Mike Cameron in center field.

* The Sox, meanwhile, have played some sketchy defense since the All-Star break. Three more plays fell short of crisp execution Friday, the biggest being Jacoby Ellsbury’s inability to hold onto Nate McLouth’s drive after running a country mile for it in the third. The ball bounced off Ellsbury’s glove; it would have been a fine play, but appeared catchable.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino
Jacoby Ellsbury can't come up with a deep fly by Nate McLouth, who ended up with a triple.
First baseman Mike Napoli threw high to second base on what would have been a double play on Nick Markakis’ ground ball in the same inning, the third, and Napoli was unable to put a glove on Lackey’s throw to first on rookie Henry Urrutia’s squibber in the sixth. Lackey was the one charged with an error.

Boston’s other good defensive play was made by right fielder Shane Victorino, who threw out J.J. Hardy at the plate in the fourth. It was Victorino's seventh assist of the season, and came two nights after his throw was just slightly off line, or he would have gunned down Tampa Bay’s Luke Scott too.

* The Sox are in their deepest offensive slump of the season: 23 runs in nine games, six games of two runs or fewer, a collective batting average of .216 and just 17 walks. Stephen Drew is 1-for-15 since coming off the DL; Jose Iglesias is 3 for his last 24; Daniel Nava 2-for-12 after a 3-K game; Dustin Pedroia 3-for-27 after singling in four trips; Jarrod Saltalamacchia 3-for-21.

It should be noted, of course, that they’ve faced Bartolo Colon, Hiroki Kuroda, David Price, Matt Moore and Friday night's winner Chris Tillman, who has a 2.08 ERA in eight career starts against the O’s.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are really great hitters,” said Lackey, who has been a victim of poor run support all season. “They’ll come through and get it going.”

Said Pedroia: “I think a lot of guys are trying too hard right now. There are times two or three guys go into funks and other guys step up. It seems right now everybody’s trying to be the guy that gets us out of it. That makes it tough because then you try too hard, get out of what makes you good. We got to take a step back, go back to having quality at-bats, pass it on to the next guy.”

* Will Middlebrooks’ streak of four straight two-hit games in Pawtucket came to an end Friday night, when he went 0-for-4. Of course, teams are asking about him in trade talks.