Boston Red Sox: Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 4, Royals 2

September, 12, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There's something about the Kansas City Royals that brings out the best in the Boston Red Sox.

Or maybe these 2014 Red Sox possess some innate quality that turns the Royals into mistake-prone losers. Whatever the cause, the injury-riddled Red Sox team that stumbled into the Barbeque Capital on Thursday on the heels of a four-game losing skid has now whipped KC's pennant contenders two in a row.

Going back to a three-game sweep in Boston right after the All-Star break, the Red Sox have beaten the Royals in each of their first five meetings this year, something they'd never done before. Friday night's 4-2 victory, like the win the night before, was festooned with shoddy mistakes by the home team and also knocked the Royals out of first place in the AL Central.

Koji is back: One week after being shut down for ineffectiveness, former closer Koji Uehara returned with a bang. With the Red Sox winning 4-2, the right-hander started the eighth and got three quick outs on a pair of fly balls and one strikeout. Manager John Farrell had said he would rest the veteran a while, giving him a chance to regroup, and then try to find a spot where the pressure was not great.

Rough-edges Royals: The Red Sox benefitted from KC's fourth error in two games, two hit batsmen and a wild pitch that scored a Boston run. In the three-run third, Jemile Weeks doubled with one out and scored on Mookie Betts' single. Xander Bogaerts struck out, and then things got interesting. Yordano Ventura hit Daniel Nava with a pitch, and Nava wound up on third when Yoenis Cespedes grounded to third baseman Mike Moustakas, who threw wildly to first. Betts scored on what was ruled a single and an error. Nava then scored on Ventura's wild pitch.

Double your fun: While nobody is calling Dustin Pedroia Wally Pipp, Weeks is on quite a hitting tear as the injured second baseman's fill-in. After hitting a two-run double in his final at-bat Thursday night, Weeks doubled in his first at-bat on Friday, then made it three straight doubles the next time he came to the plate. He failed to make it four in a row in the sixth, going out on a foul popup.

Back on track: After struggling and throwing 26 pitches in the two-run fourth inning, starter Allen Webster sat the Royals down on a total of just 15 pitches in the fifth and sixth. He gave up just four hits in six innings, striking out two and allowing a two-run homer to Eric Hosmer.

Fanning: Six of the last seven Boston batters struck out against relievers Jason Frasor and Greg Holland.

Lefty specialist: Tommy Layne knows his role and performs it well. For the second night in a row, the lefty reliever faced one left-handed batter and struck him out. On Thursday, it was Alex Gordon; on Friday, he fanned Moustakas before heading for the showers.

Rapid Reaction: Tigers 6, Red Sox 1

May, 17, 2014

BOSTON -- One of the best teams in baseball is in town this weekend for a critical series, and Friday night, against reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, the Red Sox could barely get off the runway.

Saturday night, they couldn't get out of second gear. The Red Sox dropped their second straight game to the American League Central-leading Detroit Tigers, a 6-1 loss in which Boston produced seven hits with almost nothing to show for them.

While starter John Lackey had some good moments -- particularly the fourth inning, in which he worked in his curve fluidly to ring up Nick Castellanos and Andrew Romine on strikes -- this will go down as another forgettable night. He allowed nine hits and six runs (five earned) in 5⅓ innings, fanning four and walking two on 96 pitches (70 for strikes) and taking the loss to fall to 5-3.

Lackey's counterpart, Rick Porcello, kept Sox batters at bay with his arsenal of curves, sliders and four-seamers, striking out four in eight innings, scattering six hits and allowing just one earned run. He threw 110 pitches, 71 for strikes, and improved to 7-1.

The Tigers got to work on Lackey early in the second, with Victor Martinez leading off by singling through a shift. Austin Jackson then worked a 10-pitch walk after starting the at-bat down 0-2, and he was moved to second on a Castellanos base hit through the left side. Dustin Pedroia made a quick-twitch snag of Alex Avila's grounder at second, but Avila beat out Xander Bogaerts' double-play relay to first to keep the inning alive and score Martinez. Lackey settled down after that, striking out Romine on a fastball-curve-slider sequence, then getting Rajai Davis to fly out to center.

In the third, Miguel Cabrera sat red and took Lackey's 94 mph four-seamer opposite field, slicing it around Pesky's Pole for a solo home run and 2-0 lead.

The Tigers got two more in the fifth, first with Hunter scoring Ian Kinsler from second on a liner down the third-base line, then Cabrera scoring Hunter with a double deep to left-center. That was followed by two more runs in the top of the sixth that ultimately ended Lackey's night -- a Davis RBI double off the Green Monster, then a Kinsler sacrifice fly to score Davis.

Cabrera -- who came into Saturday's game with a .333/.385/.667 career slash line against Lackey -- finished the night 3-for-5 with two RBIs, one strikeout and one run.

Sox stranded: The Sox failed to produce any run support for Lackey, stranding 12 runners. Their best chance was in the fourth, when they loaded up the bases. David Ortiz hit a liner off the Green Monster, then Mike Napoli knocked a bloop hit to shallow center. After Mike Carp drew a five-pitch walk, A.J. Pierzynski dribbled Porcello's third pitch -- a 92 mph four-seamer -- into a 4-3 putout to end the rally before it started.

In the ninth, Napoli singled to left, then moved to second on Grady Sizemore's groundout to first, but Carp grounded out to third, followed by a flyout to center by Pierzynski to end the game.

The Sox's woes weren't devoid of controversy. In the eighth, Shane Victorino hit a dribbler down the first-base line but was called out on batter's interference, leading Red Sox manager John Farrell to leave the dugout to protest the call to no avail.

Bogaerts' blast a bright spot: Sandwiched between the outpour of Tigers runs was a powerful solo shot from Bogaerts, who planted Porcello's 89 mph four-seamer in the third row of Green Monster seats for his second homer of the season. Bogaerts finished 2-for-3 with an RBI.

Holt takes hot corner, Victorino returns: Wearing a brace on his left knee, Victorino returned to the lineup after missing Friday night's contest. He finished 1-for-5 with an RBI and a strikeout. Brock Holt was called up to take over third base for Will Middlebrooks, who was placed on the disabled list with a nondisplaced fracture in his right middle finger. Holt finished 0-for-2 with a walk.

Rapid Reaction: Rays 2, Red Sox 1

May, 1, 2014

BOSTON -- Takeaways from the Fens, where the Red Sox batting average on replay challenges is at the Mendoza Line (1-for-5, .200) after John Farrell lost another Thursday.

This one was a biggie, too. The Sox appealed that Dustin Pedroia was not out at the plate while trying to score from first on David Ortiz’s double off the left-field wall in the seventh. But after a review, the call on the field stood, the umpires ruling that there was not sufficient evidence to overturn the call by first-base umpire Toby Badner that Pedroia had been tagged out by catcher Jose Molina.

Replays suggested that Pedroia may have beaten the strong relay throw from shortstop Yunel Escobar, but what was unclear is whether Pedroia’s foot ever touched the plate. Third-base coach Brian Butterfield had no doubts; he was ejected after flinging his cap in fury when the umpires upheld the original call.

The result: The Sox fell, 2-1, to the Rays, in the first game of a day-night doubleheader that Tampa Bay hadn’t wanted to play. The Sox have now lost seven straight times in games in which they could have reached the .500 mark.

Piqued Peavy: Sox starter Jake Peavy allowed just three hits in 6 1/3 innings, but three consecutive two-out walks in the fourth inning, following a leadoff double by Desmond Jennings, forced in the go-ahead run. The Rays scored their first run on a Pesky Pole home run by David DeJesus to start the third.

Quiet bats: The Sox could not exploit the six walks issued in five innings by Rays starter Cesar Ramos. Pedroia led off the first with a walk and came to score after another walk and Jonny Gomes’ two-out single, but the Sox left the bases loaded that inning, losing a chance to break the game open early. That was the only hit allowed by Ramos in 4 2/3 innings. Four Rays relievers combined to shut out the Sox on five hits the rest of the way.

Pedroia, whose bobblehead was the day’s giveaway, singled off Rays closer Grant Balfour with one out in the ninth. Shane Victorino tried a surprise bunt, but left it too close to the plate, Molina throwing him out at first with Pedroia advancing to second. Balfour, who hadn’t pitched since giving a walkoff grand slam to Jose Abreu of the White Sox last Friday, was left to face Boston strongman David Ortiz, who tapped out to the mound to end it.

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 1

April, 25, 2014

TORONTO -- Life after the apocalypse? The doomsday crowd will be disappointed, but it's sweeter than you might think.

A night after the Red Sox made Alexander Cartwright/Abner Doubleday/an anonymous Russian boychik rue the day he ever invented the game of baseball, the Sox came roaring back with a display of hardball virtuosity. They pummeled the Toronto Blue Jays 8-1 in the domed comfort of Rogers Centre before a dismayed crowd of 29,411, who had heard rumors the Sox were on their last legs after a 14-5 horror against the Yankees the night before.

Friday night, the Sox had 16 hits, with every player in the lineup collecting at least one. The bottom of the order -- A.J. Pierzynski, Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr. -- combined to go 8-for-2 with five runs scored and four RBIs.

[+] EnlargeWill Middlebrooks, Jackie Bradley Jr.
AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Frank GunnWill Middlebrooks (2-for-4, 2 RBIs, run) returned to action and enjoyed a productive night with Jackie Bradley Jr. (3-for-4, 2 runs, RBI, SB).
Bradley Jr., who had just three hits in his past 19 at-bats, matched that total with two doubles and a triple, and he also stole a base.

Middlebrooks, who had missed the previous 19 games with a strained right calf, singled in a run in his first at-bat back and later doubled.

The Sox, showing no respect for Mark Buehrle's success coming into this game -- 4-0 with an 0.64 ERA in four starts -- opened a 5-0 lead against the Jays left-hander in the first three innings and wound up with eight extra-base hits against Buerhle and two successors.

That included a home run by David Ortiz, who shed another baseball of whatever dignity it possessed by rocketing it into the right-field seats for his fifth home run of the season.

Red Sox starter Jake Peavy, meanwhile, checked the Jays on five hits in seven innings, striking out seven and walking two. He saved his best pitches for the sixth inning, in which he registered back-to-back whiffs of Jays strongmen Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The Jays' only run came on a home run by Juan Francisco in the seventh.

The Sox, a night after committing five errors, also played a clean game afield.

Rapid Reaction: Yanks 9, Red Sox 3

April, 22, 2014

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox dominated the New York Yankees en route to their 2013 World Series title, scoring more than six runs a game and winning 13 of 19 meetings. It was their best winning percentage in a season series between the rivals since 1990, when Boston was 9-4 against New York.

The new-look Yankees have turned the tables early in 2014 and improved to 4-1 versus the Sox after a 9-3 rout Tuesday night. Jacoby Ellsbury is a big reason why, and he helped showcase the disparity between the two teams in his return to Fenway Park for the first time since signing a $153 million contract with New York.

Ellsbury had a triple and a double and two RBIs, helping to provide an early exit for Jon Lester, who gave up eight runs (three earned) on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Lester received little help from his defense and offered up some trademark glares for plate umpire Quinn Walcott after feeling his strike zone had been squeezed early on. But the 11 hits were one shy of a career high, his four issued walks matched his total from the first four outings of the season, and the start as a whole represented an extreme departure from the norm for one of the team’s few constants.

Masahiro Tanaka clearly outshined Lester with 7 1/3 solid innings in his much-anticipated debut at Fenway Park. It’s early, but the Yankees have the decided advantage in 2014.

That’s how you lead off a game: While the Red Sox have struggled mightily to fill Ellsbury’s old spot atop the order, he is thriving for the Yanks (batting both first and third in the lineup). He had a quick answer for the boos he received stepping up to the plate for the first time, launching a shot to straightaway center that caromed off a dolt of a fan in a Bruins jersey and was ruled a triple.

Ellsbury scored the Yankees’ first run moments later and then robbed Boston leadoff man Grady Sizemore with a sliding catch in the bottom of the first.

By the way, Sizemore has one hit in his last 26 at-bats.

Thanks, Jacoby: Once the boos had been booed and Ellsbury was little more than a former player who once gave his all to help the Sox win two World Series titles, he was showered with applause after a video tribute was played following the first inning. Ellsbury was able to doff his cap and wave to the fans. And now we can all move on.

Ellsbury’s absence: Without Ellsbury and No. 2 hitter Shane Victorino in the mix, the Sox have managed a paltry two runs in the first inning this year. Their opponents have produced nine. Boston is 6-1 when it scores first and now 3-11 when the other guys do so.

The Red Sox have also been dominated in the third inning, especially in the past two days. Clay Buchholz gave up five straight singles and seven hits overall in the third inning Monday against Baltimore before being pulled with just one out. Lester surrendered three consecutive doubles to begin the third in this one, and after New York completed its two-run rally, Sox opponents had a 21-8 advantage in that frame this year.

Gopher balls: Tanaka’s one (slight) bugaboo has been the home run ball. He has given up four so far, including back-to-back bombs by David Ortiz and Mike Napoli in the fourth. Ortiz’s shot landed far beyond the Red Sox's bullpen and Napoli’s went down the left-field line and left the park in about a second. Ortiz’s homer measured at 482 feet, the second-longest in the majors this season (Giancarlo Stanton).

One out later, A.J. Pierzynski doubled within a few feet of a home run off the Green Monster. Tanaka’s splitter, when it fails to sink, can become rather hittable. That was the case in the fourth. He was perfectly fine the rest of the way.

Join the club, Jon: Excluding Felix Doubront’s most recent outing, Red Sox starters have been extremely hittable this most recent time through the rotation. Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy and John Lackey have combined to give up 38 hits in 18 innings in that span. When the offense is ho-hum and the defense downright stinks, you won’t win many games serving up so many hits.

Rehab updates: Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts for Triple-A Pawtucket in his third rehab game Tuesday. Victorino is 1-for-11 in three rehab games and is expected to be activated Wednesday.

Even if the hits do not immediately come for Victorino, the Sox should benefit from his presence.

Up next: Boston carries a 4-7 home record into the second game of the three-game set. John Lackey, who gave up four home runs in his last start versus the Yankees, opposes Michael Pineda.

Rapid Reaction: Orioles 7, Red Sox 6

April, 21, 2014

BOSTON -- The baseball game at Fenway Park on Patriots’ Day was not nearly the most important sporting event in Boston. That much is clear. The Red Sox had a chance to steal some of the thunder, but a rally fell short in a deflating 7-6 loss in front of 37,513 fans.

Clay Buchholz gave up six runs before being pulled with one out in the third inning in his shortest start since 2012. The Orioles added another in the eighth, which was just enough to offset a three-run Boston rally in the fifth, solo homers by David Ross and Mike Napoli, and a single tally in the ninth. Napoli batted with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth but could only muster an RBI groundout, and Mike Carp followed with a grounder to first to end it.

The Sox had the go-ahead runs at the plate in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings but couldn’t complete the comeback. Baltimore gains a series split and Boston finishes its first 20 games at 9-11.

Swinging singles: Buchholz threw just six of his 16 first-inning pitches for strikes. He found the zone in a quick second before getting far too much of the plate in the third, when the first five Orioles hitters singled. That run ended with an RBI groundout before Steve Clevenger doubled in another run to make it 5-0.

Baltimore finished the frame with six singles -- still five shy of Boston’s American League standard of 11 set in a game against Detroit in 1953 -- the last of which chased Buchholz. If not for the 6-4-3 double play turned in on the third pitch thrown by reliever Burke Badenhop, the final line for Buchholz might’ve looked worse.

Mixed signals: With Daniel Nava at first base and Xander Bogaerts at second and one out in the bottom of the eighth, the Sox put the runners in motion multiple times. Herrera fouled off pitches twice and then Bogaerts was nearly picked off by Baltimore lefty Brian Matusz.

On the very next pitch, Matusz struck out Herrera. Nava was running on the play and Bogaerts started to race to third before stopping. He was caught between second and third and became an easy out while Nava stood safely on second. Someone got a signal crossed on that one, and Bogaerts was glancing at Nava with his hands on his hips as the teams cleared the field.

Double up: Badenhop, who entered 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA, induced three inning-ending double plays in all. It helped the righty go 3 2/3 scoreless innings -- his longest outing since a four-inning stint out of the Marlins’ bullpen in 2011 -- and spare a pen that had used up long man Chris Capuano on Sunday night. That made Buchholz’s abbreviated start a virtual non-issue in terms of bullpen use, although Badenhop won’t be available for a game.

Overall, the pen allowed a run and three hits in 6 2/3 frames.

Pedey time: The clean MRI that Dustin Pedroia received on his wrist earlier this month had to give him some confidence going forward. The second baseman is 9-for-25 with six walks since the procedure after going 2-for-3 with two doubles and a pair of free passes Monday. His wall-scraper in the ninth nearly tied it before Orioles closer Tommy Hunter escaped.

A run is a run: If you guessed April 21 for the date on which minor league call-up Brock Holt would drive in slow-footed David Ross on a sacrifice fly to shallow center field, then you win! Alas, nobody entered that date, or any other for that matter, and the contest is now closed after that very unlikely scenario unfolded in Boston’s three-run fifth.

Back to normal: Through Monday, the Red Sox have played games that started within eight different hours (all Eastern Time), a handful of which have involved ceremonies and tributes and massive media attention. Although the Yankees and their usual entourage arrive Tuesday night, it will represent a slight return to normalcy.

The wild fluctuations in start times and quick turnarounds disappear for the time being, as Boston plays night games during the week and day games on weekends into May, and also gets four days off between April 28 and May 12.

Up next: It’s a doozy. Jon Lester opposes Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka in the opener of a three-game set at Fenway on Tuesday, which also marks the return of Jacoby Ellsbury. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m.

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 4, Orioles 2

April, 19, 2014

BOSTON -- A quality start from Felix Doubront and a seventh-inning rally full of intrigue yielded the Red Sox a 4-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles before a sellout crowd of 37,689 Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park.

Here’s how it went down:

For Felix, a cat-like rebound: After a shaky start, Doubront found his groove in the middle innings.

Despite striking out the side in the first, Doubront labored through 29 pitches while the Orioles took a 1-0 lead on a Nelson Cruz RBI single to center, bounding past the dive of Red Sox shortstop Jonathan Herrera.

The lefty then went on to retire the next 13 Orioles, including shutting down the side in order in each of the next four innings, requiring just six pitches to retire the O’s in the fifth. Doubront also kept the K’s coming. After entering action with just eight on the season, Doubront finished the day with seven strikeouts.

Nick Markakis interrupted Doubront’s streak with a lead-off single to left in the sixth, but was immediately erased as Doubront started a 1-6-3 double play on a come-backer from Delmon Young.

Still, Doubront couldn’t quite navigate out of the inning untouched. After Adam Jones hit a two-out double and Chris Davis was hit by a 2-0 pitch, Cruz knocked in his second two-out RBI of the game on a grounder to third. Brock Holt, making his second straight start at the hot corner, made a strong throw from the hole that initially was ruled to be in time by crew chief Ted Barrett. However, after a 49-second review, it was ruled Cruz beat the throw to the bag and the Orioles had tied the score, 2-2.

Doubront was replaced by Junichi Tazawa with two outs in the seventh inning while taking a no-decision. He threw 106 pitches, 70 for strikes, while allowing five hits and two walks.

Tazawa, who worked a 1-2-3 eighth, was credited with the win (1-0), with Koji Uehara collecting his fourth save on the season, striking out the side after issuing a lead-off walk in the ninth.

Tempers flare, Sox rally: The Red Sox did push Norris from the game, however, after Holt’s one-out triple to the right field fence in seventh, scoring Mike Carp from first.

Holt’s second RBI in as many games since his recall from Triple-A Pawtucket came after a contentious sequence in the inning. Following Carp’s lead-off walk, Red Sox catcher David Ross tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Ross was apparently not amused with Norris’ inside pitches, taking steps toward the pitcher’s mound with the count standing at 3-1. After Orioles catcher Matt Weiters intervened, holding Ross at bay, both dugouts filtered onto the field before cooler heads prevailed.

Ross was unable to put down the sacrifice successfully, striking out before Holt’s triple.

Jonathan Herrera -- who made the start at shortstop, spelling Xander Bogaerts for the first time this season -- then laid down a safety squeeze that scored Holt for a 4-2 lead.

All “Buddy Buddy”: While Doubront turned in his second strong performance of the season against Baltimore, including his lone win on the season (which came April 3 at Camden Yards), the Red Sox were held largely in check by Orioles righty Bud Norris.

The Red Sox (8-10) knotted the score, 1-1, in the home half of the first, with Mike Napoli carving one off the edge of the bat down the line to third baseman Jonathan Schoop, who couldn’t corral the bleeder, allowing Dustin Pedroia to score from third on the error. David Ortiz then gave the Red Sox the lead, starting off the home half of the fourth with a line-drive home run inside Pesky’s Pole on a 3-2 offering.

Grady aces the corner: Grady Sizemore made his first start in right field as a member of the Red Sox and passed the initial test with flying colors.

He expertly played a slicing fly ball in the corner, just behind the foul pole, to retire Jones and the Baltimore side in the third. Then, with Davis leading off the fourth, Sizemore again battled a tricky, sinking line drive, making a shoestring catch.

A somewhat gloomy birthday: Saturday marked Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 24th birthday. However, the Red Sox center fielder struck out on his wishes at the plate, going 0-for-3, while grounding into a double play.

Rapid reaction: Royals 4, Red Sox 3

August, 11, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Well, the best thing that can be said about this trip so far -- other than praising the mouth-watering postgame spreads clubhouse manager Tom McLaughlin arranged in both towns -- is that the Red Sox have actually gained ground in the American League East.

When they left town a week ago, the Sox were a game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays. After being shut out by the last-place Astros in Houston on Monday night, their lead was down to a half-game.

But even after losing three out of four to a Kansas City Royals team playing inspired baseball (and when is the last time you’ve heard Royals and “inspired” in the same sentence?), the Sox packed up and headed off to their next stop -- Toronto -- having expanded their advantage over the Rays, who had lost four straight and were trying to avoid a sweep against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon in L.A.

At best, Boston’s lead will be three games when they play again Tuesday in Rogers Centre. At worst, it will be two games with 42 games left to play, and no more three-city trips to navigate the rest of the way.

The Sox did not play a bad ballgame in losing Sunday to the Royals. John Lackey righted himself after a shaky start, retiring 16 of the last 18 batters he faced, and reliever Drake Britton escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth.

It’s just that the Sox could do little against familiar foe James Shields -- known as “Big Game James” when he was with the Rays -- and a lockdown Kansas City bullpen that gave up one run in four games here.

Lackey, pitching for the first time since twisting his ankle Monday night in Houston, walked the first two batters he faced Sunday, the only two walks he would issue all afternoon. But that led to Kansas City’s first run, Alex Gordon singling home rookie David Lough.

The Royals tacked on two more in the second on a double by Mike Moustakas, an RBI single by Jarrod Dyson, and a broken-bat RBI single by Lough after Dyson had stolen second. Base-runners have taken liberties against Lackey all season, stealing 28 times, more than double the next Sox pitcher.

In the third, Gordon, who broke out of a 2-for-22 skid during this series, hit a long home run to right, continuing a puzzling trend for Lackey, who has been taken deep 18 times this season, 14 times on the road but only 4 times at Fenway Park.

The Sox had taken a 1-0 lead in the first when Salvador Perez, Kansas City’s strong-armed catcher, hit Shane Victorino in the back at third base on an attempted pickoff. Victorino, who had doubled and stolen third, trotted home on the error.

The Sox closed to within 4-3 in the sixth when Daniel Nava beat out an infield roller, Stephen Drew doubled, and Ryan Lavarnway singled both runners home, but that would be all.

Reliever Aaron Crow struck out Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew to end the eighth with the tying run on, and closer Greg Holland finished the job, striking out Will Middlebrooks and Jacoby Ellsbury to end it.

Rapid reaction: Cubs 3, Red Sox 0

June, 15, 2012

CHICAGO -- London has the Olympic Games.

Chicago has the Theo Games, pitting the team from Theo Epstein's past, the Red Sox, against the team of Theo Epstein's present, the Cubs.

With the ownership of both teams in the house -- The Gang of Three for the Sox, Tom Ricketts for the Cubs -- the Cubs exploited some early wildness from Daisuke Matsuzaka and some superb pitching from Ryan Dempster to take the opener of this three-game set, 3-0, before a crowd of 40,073 in Wrigley Field.

Matsuzaka, of course, represents something less than Epstein's finest hour, the promise of his first two years fading in a spiral of ineffective outings and a series of injuries.

Matsuzaka walked the bases loaded in the first, then gave up an opposite-field single sliced to left that fell in front of outfielder Scott Podsednik near the line and scored two runs.

The Cubs added another run in the second when Dempster's line drive to right was turned into a triple by Adrian Gonzalez, the first baseman who has generally held his own in the outfield but on this occasion made an ill-advised stab at a diving catch. He compounded that mistake by overthrowing cutoff man Dustin Perdoia, allowing Dempster unchallenged access to third for his first triple in a decade.

Dempster then scored on a two-out single by David DeJesus, one of the first players acquired by Epstein after he was given permission to leave the Sox for Chicago.

[+] EnlargeDaisuke Matsuzaka
David Banks/Getty ImagesAfter giving up three runs in the first two innings, Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched four straight scoreless innings.
Matsuzaka went on to retire 13 of the last 14 batters he faced before leaving after the sixth, but the Sox could do little with Dempster, who allowed just four singles -- one a bunt, another an infield hit -- through seven innings. Dempster now has thrown 22 consecutive scoreless innings and is certain to be a hotly pursued commodity at the trading deadline.

The Sox loaded the bases in the ninth on a single by Ryan Sweeney, an infield error by Luis Valbuena, and a two-out walk to Scott Podsednik by reliever Carlos Marmol. Dustin Pedroia ended the game by grounding into a force at third.

Two days after scoring 10 runs against the Marlins, the Sox were shut out for the third time this season.

Frustration spilled over for Dustin Pedroia, who pulverized his helmet with a two-handed slam after lining out for the second time Friday in an 0-for-4 performance that left him hitting .150 (6 for 40) since attempting to play with a torn muscle in his right thumb.

Kevin Youkilis, meanwhile, is hitless in his last 18 at-bats after also going 0 for 4 on an afternoon in which he, too, lined out twice. He is batting ..206 (14 for 68) in 20 games since he came off the DL.

Adrian Gonzalez, who had three hits Wednesday, whiffed twice in an 0 for 4 that left him batting .247 (22 for 89) in the 22 games where he has become a part-time outfielder. Gonzalez has not been the defensive liability anticipated by those unaware of how well his instincts carry over to the outfield, though he exercised faulty judgment in diving for a ball that became a triple for Dempster and ultimately resulted in a run.

“They say they even out, and if they even out I’m in good shape,’’ Youkilis said. “This is one of those things, it’s frustrating. I had a great approach and hit the ball hard, but nothing to show for them.

“Just one of those things. You go through stretches like this, and you hope the baseball gods even it out.’’

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 5, Rays 3

May, 17, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox right fielder Cody Ross, whose miscue on a fly ball on Wednesday allowed the eventual game-winning run to score on a sacrifice fly, answered with his bat on Thursday to help Boston to a 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

Ross went 2-for-3 with four RBIs, a run and a walk.

He hit his seventh homer of the season, a solo shot, in the top of the third inning. Then, with the Sox clinging to a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth, Ross delivered a two-out, two-run single.

"Cody was big tonight," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said after the game. "He busted the third changeup he saw over the center-field fence and he busted their shift with two RBI that turned out to be the two that we needed. Cody will give you everything he has and that's enough for me. He's a good player."

Red Sox starter Felix Doubront worked 5 2/3 innings and allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits with four walks and seven strikeouts. He tossed 97 pitches, 62 for strikes. On the other side, Tampa starter Matt Moore worked six innings and allowed three runs on five hits with one walk and eight strikeouts.

Moore tossed 33 pitches in the first inning and walked in Boston's first run of the game when Ross drew the free pass with the bases loaded.

CATCHER'S INTERFERENCE: Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach is a strong, solid defender behind the plate. There's a reason the club signed him to a one-year deal in the offseason to serve as Jarrod Saltalamacchia's backup. Shoppach, playing against his former team, served as Felix Doubront's batterymate Thursday. The Red Sox held a 3-0 lead with two outs in the bottom of the third inning when Shoppach interfered on a swing by the Rays' B.J. Upton. The batter was awarded first base and he later scored to give Tampa its first run of the game. Shoppach also allowed a passed ball and went 0-for-3 at the plate and was pinch-hit for by Saltalamacchia in the top of the ninth inning.

BYE-BYE BYRDIE: Recently acquired Red Sox outfielder, Marlon Byrd, hit is first home run of the season with Boston to lead off the top of the second inning Thursday night. He crushed a 3-2 offering from Moore and deposited it into the left-field seats. It was his first homer in 126 at-bats, dating back to last season when he was with the Cubs.

HEADS-UP: In the early afternoon hours on Thursday, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price retweeted this from a fan: "Moore should put one right between his numbers."

What Price's Twitter follower was referring to was the fact that Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez predicted after Wednesday's 2-1 loss that he would hit a home run in Thursday's game against the Rays at Tropicana.

Gonzalez is stuck at two homers this season and hasn't hit one since April 17. So, with two runners on and one out in the top of the first inning, he stepped into the batter's box against Tampa starter Matt Moore and, on the first offering, the right-hander drilled Gonzalez in the back.

Gonzalez led off the top of the third inning and absolutely crushed a foul ball deep down the right-field line. On the next pitch, he struck out looking. In the bottom half of the inning, Red Sox starter Felix Doubront returned the favor and drilled the Rays' Luke Scott in the back, who appeared a little upset with the HBP as he made his way to first base.

Gonzalez grounded out to shortstop in the fifth inning and then just got under one in the eighth inning, flying out to right field.

TOSSED: Gonzalez had also complained about the balls and strikes calls in Wednesday's game. Well, teammate Mike Aviles took it a step further and got ejected in Thursday's game. Plate umpire Dan Bellino tossed Aviles for arguing a called third strike. It was the first ejection of Aviles' career.

"It was just frustrating, I guess," Aviles said after the game. "I really wasn't questioning if it was a ball or strike on the last one. It was more of the fact that he had called two [other pitches] very similar balls, so I kind of shut off that pitch and when it got called a strike, I thought he gave me the hook prematurely, but at that point I definitely lost my cool and I apologize for that. It was definitely a little frustrating."

REHAB START: Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka made his fifth minor league rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday night in Durham, N.C. The rehabbing right-hander worked 6 2/3 innings and allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits with no walks and three strikeouts. He also surrendered two home runs and tossed 95 pitches, 64 for strikes. He's slated to make another rehab start on Tuesday.

UP NEXT: Bring on interleague play. After a quick two-game set in Tampa, the Red Sox head to Philadelphia for a three-game series against the Phillies and Jonathan Papelbon. On Friday, Boston right-hander Daniel Bard (3-4, 4.30 ER) toes the rubber against Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels (5-1, 2.28).

Rapid reaction: Red Sox 5, Mariners 0

May, 15, 2012

BOSTON -- Maybe this is why the extra TV cameras were here Tuesday afternoon -- they were anticipating the sight of a Red Sox pitcher succumbing to tears on the mound.

That's what people do in reality shows, isn't it?

But while Josh Beckett complained last week that he'd become the reluctant star of Off-Days of Our Lives, he managed to shift attention back to the ball field Tuesday afternoon with an outing as dominating as his last effort was depressing.

Tim Wakefield, honored before the game in a touching ceremony, was the only person in a Red Sox uniform weeping Tuesday, when the Red Sox closed out a six-game homestand with their fifth straight win, 5-0 over the Seattle Mariners.

Beckett, who turned 32 on Tuesday, struck out 7 of the first 11 Mariners he faced on his way to seven scoreless innings in which he allowed just four hits, walked two and finished with nine whiffs.

That was a dramatic turnaround from his previous effort, in which he lasted just seven outs while giving up seven runs, making him a jumbo-sized target for those who had questioned his decision to play golf a day after the club had announced he was physically unable to make his next start because of a strained back muscle.

The withering boos Beckett heard as he left the mound last Thursday were merely a warmup to the cascade of criticism he endured after a postgame press conference in which he essentially invited everyone to butt out of his life, stating that what he did on his day off was no one's business but his own.

Given that "Josh Beckett: I Answer to No One But Me" was probably not the marketing slogan the Sox had in mind for the man who supposedly sets the tone for the starting rotation, interest in his next start heightened, which probably accounted for the cameras of ESPN, among others, to be present when he took the mound Tuesday.

But there were no sideshows Tuesday, just Beckett toying with the overmatched Mariners, who advanced only one runner to third base -- Ichiro Suzuki, who took advantage of Beckett's indifference to what he did by stealing second and third with two out and the Sox ahead by four runs in the sixth.

Beckett's performance meant that the Sox made it one full turn through the rotation in which each of their five starters was credited with a win, the most encouraging development during a streak that has drawn the Sox to within two games of .500 (17-19) after they'd begun the month of May with losses in 8 of their first 9 games.

David Ortiz homered over the visitors' bullpen to give the Sox a 1-0 lead in the third, the homer his eighth of the season.

Daniel Nava, who has been a catalyst since his recall last week, was in the middle of a two-run Sox rally in the fourth, his single sending Cody Ross, who had walked, to third. Mike Aviles doubled home one run, and an infield out scored the other.

Ortiz's surprise bunt single in the fifth led to another run, Will Middlebrooks bringing home Ortiz with a wall-ball single, accounting for his 14th RBI in just a dozen games. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, playing for the first time since his 5-RBI game Sunday, doubled and scored on another double by Aviles in the eighth.

The Sox outscored the Mariners, 11-1, in this two-game set, and in their five wins against Cleveland and Seattle outscored their opponents, 34-8. They head to St. Petersburg, Fla., after the game for the start of an eight-game trip bookended by games against AL East rivals Tampa Bay (2) and Baltimore (3), with an interleague three-game set against the Phillies in between.

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 6, Mariners 1

May, 14, 2012

BOSTON -- Backed by another solid starting pitching performance, the Boston Red Sox have now won four in a row.

Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester tossed a complete game en route to a 6-1 win over the Seattle Mariners on Monday night at Fenway Park. With the victory, Boston has its first four-game winning streak at home this season.

Lester allowed eight hits, posted six strikeouts with zero walks, while improving his record to 2-3 this season. He threw a total of 119 pitches (73 strikes). This was his eighth career complete game.

Lester retired the first 11 batters he faced, including three strikeouts, but with two outs in the top of the fourth inning, the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki hit a hard grounder up the middle.

Lester got a glove on the come-backer but the ball trickled away and out of reach of both the pitcher and third baseman Will Middlebrooks before a play could be made.

The lost bid on a perfect game, or even a no-hitter, did not faze Lester.

Boston’s southpaw retired the next four Seattle batters before allowing a leadoff single to the Mariners’ Michael Saunders in the top of the sixth. Lester allowed one other hit in that inning but was able to get out of it unscathed as Boston led 5-0.

Lester surrendered a total of three hits in the seventh, but a double play helped his case and he again finished with a zero on the board. He retired the side in order in the top of the eighth inning before allowing his only run of the game in the top of the ninth.

NON-EXTENSION: Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia saw his 14-game hitting streak come to an end, as he went 0-for-3 with a walk. He went 21-for-63 (.333) with 8 doubles, 2 homers, 11 RBIs, 12 runs, 9 walks and 2 stolen bases during that stretch.

NAVA-BOOM: You never personally forget your first home run. Everyone should remember Daniel Nava’s first one in the majors. It came on June 12, 2010, when he drilled a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues against the Philadelphia Phillies. Nava, who was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday, drilled his second homer of his big-league career in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday night off Mariners starter Jason Vargas. Nava crushed the first offering and deposited it into the first row of the Monster seats for a two-run shot to give Boston a 5-0 lead over Seattle.

SHOP’S HOUSE: Boston catcher Kelly Shoppach finally hit his first home run while in a Red Sox uniform, with a solo shot in the bottom of the fourth inning. Originally selected by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2001 draft, Shoppach was traded to the Cleveland Indians as part of a six-player trade in 2006. Before re-signing with Boston as a free agent last offseason, Shoppach hit a total of 59 homers with the Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays.

UP NEXT: The Red Sox close out the homestand with a 4:05 p.m. game against the Mariners on Tuesday at Fenway. Boston right-hander Josh Beckett (2-4, 5.97 ERA) will face Mariners righty Blake Beavin (1-3, 4.32). The Red Sox then leave town for an eight-game road trip through Tampa, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 7, Indians 5

May, 11, 2012

BOSTON -- In between starts, Clay Buchholz got a haircut. Based on the disparity of results between his previous outing and his latest one Friday night at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox clubhouse may begin to resemble a barber shop.

Buchholz has had many better starts in his career than the one he put forth in a 7-5 victory over the Cleveland Indians. He didn't need to throw a perfect game, though. He simply needed to have some semblance of a solid outing after a historically poor run to begin the year.

Mission accomplished. The freshly shorn Buchholz allowed three earned runs on eight hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings. It was his first quality start in nearly one year at Fenway Park. He lowered his ERA from 9.09 to 8.31. He did not record a single strikeout but did manage to keep the ball in the yard -- Buchholz had allowed 10 home runs in his first six starts.

Prior to the game, Boston manager Bobby Valentine put it bluntly when asked what he needed to see from his rotation. "Pitch better," he said. Again, mission accomplished.

An indictment on win-loss records: Buchholz is 4-1 to begin a season for the first time in his career. In fact, he had been 3-1 only once and that was in his abbreviated debut with the Sox back in 2007. To think that the year that his ERA reads like a 100-yard dash time is the first year he wins four of his first five decisions says all you need to know about the merits of run support.

Buchholz entered leading all major league pitchers in that category. After the Red Sox jumped all over Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez, Buchholz had received 42 runs in 39 innings this year, or 9.69 runs of support per nine innings.

Too slow with the hook? There was some talk in the press box that Valentine waited a batter or two or three too long to get Buchholz out of the game. It's a fair point. He began the seventh inning at 92 pitches and the bullpen has been severely overworked. Still, there was great incentive in allowing Buchholz to exit this one feeling good about things. He got the first out but gave up two singles and a walk before Valentine finally grabbed him after 111 pitches.

A walk, a single and an error allowed three more runs -- two earned -- to be added to Buchholz's line before he could hit the showers.

[+] EnlargeJarrod Saltalamacchia
AP Photo/Charles KrupaJarrod Saltalamacchia was 0-for-5, but prevented Jack Hannahan from scoring on this play.
Pressure, for once: While the bullpen has performed beyond the wildest dreams of anyone who saw it stink up the joint during the first three weeks of the season, it has not had to protect many leads of late. The high-leverage situations were kept to a minimum.

Given a higher dose of intensity, the 'pen bent but didn't break on Friday. Five relievers combined to give up four hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings and allowed each of the runners that Buchholz left behind to score.

Varitek's influence: Possibly. Jason Varitek was known for his many attributes behind the plate, among them the way he would stonewall incoming runners with a firmly planted left foot. It was as if the foot had taken root where he put it down, and players sliding into him would often never touch home plate.

That's exactly what happened in the top of the second inning, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia blocked Jack Hannahan's slide. Because of Saltalamacchia's leg, Hannahan was unable to get a foot on the plate. As he attempted to get back up and go touch the dish, Saltalamacchia tagged him.

Hannahan argued, but not nearly as vehemently as third-base coach Steve Smith, who was ejected in a matter of a few seconds. You may recall Smith as the man in the middle of a bench-clearing incident at Fenway Park on Aug. 3, 2010. He and former Red Sox manager Terry Francona got into a very heated conversation before Smith was ejected.

According to Indians media relations, Smith has been ejected 11 times in his career, a pretty hefty sum for a third-base coach.

Speaking of defense: It was in Thursday night's Rapid Reaction that we mentioned Daniel Nava's merit as a left fielder. He won't win a Gold Glove, but he does a solid job whenever planted in front of the Green Monster.

It was Nava's throw that cut down Hannahan at home plate. It was Nava's running catch headed toward the line that ended the top of the third with two men in scoring position. Before that it was Nava's clean play of a carom off the Monster that kept that runner at third from scoring.

Nava followed up the running grab with a leadoff double in the bottom of the third on a play that would've been a single for most. He later scored on a Pete Rose-like face-first flop at home plate. The hustle was notable for a team that needs a spark.

Rapid reaction: Indians 8, Red Sox 3

May, 10, 2012

BOSTON -- If you put the kids to bed before 8 Thursday night, the Red Sox send their apologies. Bedtime stories were likely interrupted by loud cracks of the bat and booing as severe as anything this town has ever unleashed on one of its own athletes. Nobody inside the I-95 corridor slept until Josh Beckett had taken a seat.

Beckett, already Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of many, lasted only 2 1/3 loud innings against the Cleveland Indians, his shortest start since Aug. 17, 2008. There were no cheapies among the seven hits he allowed. The Tribe had two home runs and three doubles off Beckett, who left facing a 7-1 deficit and a handful of fans behind the Boston dugout who were mimicking a golf swing.

Such is the state of affairs for the Red Sox, who lost 8-3 and are now 1-11 in their last 12 home games, as they still await some degree of consistency or effectiveness from their starting rotation. Boston starters have managed to push their ERA up to 6.06.

Through 31 games.

Nearly 20 percent of the season.

A staff ERA of 6.06.

Have no fear though, Sox fans. Clay Buchholz, the man who leads the way (the wrong way) with a 9.09 mark, gets the nod Friday. To be on the safe side, push bedtime back to 8:30 or so.

Something about the Indians: In a win over the Indians last May, Beckett showed as much emotion as you will ever see from him when reliever Rich Hill recorded a big strikeout to strand two of Beckett’s runners and help secure the victory. It was a big K for Hill, but Beckett’s outburst had as much to do with the fact that he has never enjoyed much success against Cleveland.

After the disaster Thursday night, Beckett fell to 4-6 with a 5.65 ERA against the Indians. That is his highest mark among American League teams with the exception of Toronto (6.30).

No blame for the bullpen: Actually, there hasn’t been any for weeks now. If the Red Sox starters are the cool kids who get Ds and don’t care, the bullpen is filled with drama club members who strive for, and achieve, high marks. Excluding Darnell McDonald’s one inning of work in that 17-inning loss to Baltimore, the bullpen has an ERA of 1.07 (eight earned runs in 67 innings) over its last 17 games.

He needed to be an inch taller: The Red Sox are in one of those funks where things just don’t go right, even when they have all the elements in place.

If they were to pick any pitcher, perhaps in their entire history, to make a diving catch on a flare behind the mound, Andrew Miller would be the one. He stands at 6-foot-7, has a vast wing span and can run at a pretty good pace. But even Miller couldn’t get to Johnny Damon’s bloop over the mound in the fourth, despite an all-out dive. The effort was appreciated, as it should be on a staff that is being questioned in that regard.

Don’t count out Daniel: As long as Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford remain sidelined, and as long as their replacements are sort of so-so, Daniel Nava has a chance to be a pretty big factor in the coming weeks. He hit .404 (21-for-52) with two homers, one triple and a double in his last 15 games at Pawtucket before being promoted to the active roster Thursday. And this is a guy who was hitting over .300 more than a month into his Major League debut in 2010, most of that as a starter. He also plays an adequate left field with a pretty strong arm.

Nava had an RBI double in the fifth inning and also drew a pair of walks. His double was not far from becoming his second career homer. We all remember the first.

Speaking of homers: Is it any surprise that the most consistent Red Sox player, in the field and at the plate, has been Dustin Pedroia? While the team itself rides a roller coaster, Pedroia does what he does. His home run in the seventh extended his hitting streak to 11 games, during which the former MVP has hit .313 (15-for-48).

However, Pedroia popped out with the bases loaded to end the eighth.

Home unsweet home: Boston’s issues at Fenway Park have been well-chronicled this year. While that may feel odd to those who are used to Red Sox dominance in the park, it is nothing new to Bobby Valentine. Including his time as manager of Texas and the New York Mets, Valentine is now 22-43 at Fenway.

Rapid reaction: O's 9, Sox 6 in 17 innings

May, 6, 2012

BOSTON -- Rapid reaction after the Baltimore Orioles outlasted the Boston Red Sox 9-6 in 17 innings:

OK, he left this one several hours before it ended, but let us start with Clay Buchholz. The rest of it was a maelstrom of errors (five of them), double plays (eight), baserunning miscues and position players trying to pitch (Orioles designated hitter Chris Davis threw two scoreless innings to get the win while Darnell McDonald gave up the go-ahead runs in the 17th for Boston). In other words, it was a mess, as was the Red Sox homestand.

But first, Buchholz. Initially he was just shaking off the rust from his injury-shortened 2011 season. Then, according to his manager, Buchholz had a blister issue. There were positives in each of his starts, they all said, regardless of the numbers. Give him time. He'll work it out.

[+] EnlargeClay Buchholz
Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesClay Buchholz is serving up an alarming number of long balls.
Perhaps that is the case and Buchholz still has it in him to be an effective pitcher once again. But the Red Sox cannot endure much more of this before getting to the root of Buchholz's issues. That may require time on the disabled list, whether he is hurt or not, or a move to the bullpen. Almost any alternative will do, for Buchholz is up in John Lackey territory. Actually, it's worse -- Lackey's ERA after six starts last year was "only" 7.16. Buchholz's has climbed to 9.05 after he was lit up for five runs in just 3 2/3 innings of Sunday's loss.

The right-hander has surrendered 47 hits (10 of them homers) in only 32 2/3 innings. He has struck out just one more batter (20) than he has walked (19).

Despite all of that, Buchholz was already off the hook by the bottom of the fifth inning, when rookie Will Middlebrooks tied the game with a grand slam. Amazingly, Buchholz has just one loss in six subpar starts.

In keeping with the one-in-six theme, Boston won one of six games on this homestand. They are 1-10 in their Past 11 games at Fenway Park. Hard to believe. Then again, when your starting pitching stinks ...

Back to the bullpen: It was imperative that Buchholz have a lengthy outing Sunday. Between the 13-inning affair on Friday and the abbreviated start by Aaron Cook on Saturday, Red Sox relievers had already thrown 13 1/3 innings in the first two games of the series. That was bumped up to 26 2/3 innings when Buchholz left early and the matinee affair played into the evening.

Seemingly, the highlight of every Red Sox game lately has been the work of the bullpen. With Sunday's effort by Andrew Miller, Matt Albers, Vicente Padilla, Alfredo Aceves, Rich Hill and Scott Atchison, the relief unit has now allowed just six earned runs in the last 53 2/3 innings (1.01 ERA). That does not include the inning by McDonald, but let's be fair here.

Expect another roster move before Boston begins a three-game series in Kansas City on Monday. The crew is severely overworked and Felix Doubront, who has struggled to last deep into games, goes in the opener versus the Royals.

Making his second career pitching appearance, McDonald gave up a tiebreaking three-run homer to Adam Jones in his second career pitching appearance. That was the difference.

Miller time: Let's be honest. Even the Red Sox have almost no idea what to expect from Miller, who was activated from the disabled list Sunday. Not only was he up and down all of last season, but his rehab appearances in Pawtucket produced some of the more awe-inspiring numbers you could imagine, in both good and bad ways.

Miller struck out 23 men in 11 innings for the PawSox. He also walked 14. Obviously there was very little contact made, as evidenced by the paltry total of four hits allowed.

Before the game, Valentine was asked about Miller's control issues and what to expect. He said it depended on many variables -- the skipper even mentioned the wind as one such factor. Apparently the breeze was an agreeable one, for Miller struck out three in 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

Give me a double. Play, that is: The Red Sox turned six double plays, twice their previous season high. Four of the twin killings were turned in consecutive innings from the 12th through the 15th.

The worst good day imaginable: Although this falls under the header "Red Sox Report," Davis' day (night) has to be recognized. The O's DH struck out in each of his first five at-bats before grounding into a double play in the 13th. He grounded out again in the 14th and 17th. He will probably take that any day he can throw two scoreless innings and get the first, and probably only, win of his major league career.

The worst day imaginable: Adrian Gonzalez was 0-for-8 and struck out against Davis in the 17th with two runners on base.

[+] EnlargeWill Middlebrooks
Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesWill Middlebrooks become the fourth Red Sox player to hit a grand slam for his first career home run.
Man in the middle: In the five days since being recalled from Pawtucket, Middlebrooks has batted eighth, enjoyed an off-day, batted second, been scratched because of a tight hamstring and batted eighth again. Nothing uniform about that opening weekend in the big leagues. One thing that has remained constant is his ability to hit the ball.

Middlebrooks hammered a Tommy Hunter offering over the Green Monster in the fifth for his grand slam. His first career homer is also his third career extra-base hit. He has four hits overall, so the reputation for slugging has not come without merit.

The 23-year-old is the first Red Sox player with an extra-base hit in each of his first three games.

The second coming? Middlebrooks' homer came exactly 97 years after Babe Ruth hit his first. Just sayin'.

He also got a few other firsts out of the way, including his first error and his first rookie mistake when he failed to run hard out of the box on a ball that fell into the left-field corner. He got only a single out of what should have been a double, and that came with two outs in the 11th, a time when you might want a runner in scoring position.

In other news: Kevin Youkilis, who just might get Wally Pipp-ed by Middlebrooks, has begun a "walking program" in his effort to come back from a lower back strain. As one astute member of the media corps was quick to point out, he is the "Greek God of Walking Programs." Or something like that.

It may be a stretch to expect Youkilis back when he is eligible to come off the disabled list early next week. When asked about that, Valentine said only, "It's tough to put a clock on an injury. When Youk's ready, he'll definitely let us know."

Salt in the wound: It hasn't been a very smooth season behind the plate for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, especially of late. He misplayed a foul pop during the loss on Saturday and did the same in this one. Only the second act was ruled an error, and it immediately hurt. Given a second chance, Adam Jones singled. He then went from first to third on a stolen base and throwing error by Saltalamacchia and eventually scored.

Add in the passed ball Saturday that led to Aaron Cook getting spiked and you have a pretty poor couple of days behind the plate for Saltalamacchia.

Wrong field: It was not until the top of the 10th that either right fielder had a putout. Ryan Sweeney caught the elusive fly off the bat of Adam Jones. Baltimore's right fielder, Nick Markakis, did not catch one until the 13th inning.