When the Sox opened their final series of the 2009 regular season, they were coming off of six consecutive losses to division rivals. Two nights later, they have successfully left their losing ways behind.
Daisuke Matsuzaka was solid on the mound in his final tune-up before October, going six strong, and the Red Sox rolled to a 6-2 victory. The Red Sox two through five hitters were a combined 5-for-14 with five RBIs, and the Red Sox never trailed after taking an early 1-0 lead in the first.
Matsuzaka allowed two runs on five hits in his six innings of work, striking out seven Indians and walking three. At one point, he retired 12 straight before succumbing to control issues in the fifth inning.
The Red Sox jumped on Indians starter Jeremy Sowers in the in the third, touching him for three runs on three hits, including a two-run double from Jason Bay. Bay now has 118 RBIs on the season, by a far a career high for the 31-year-old left fielder.
Final: Red Sox 6, Indians 2.
With a four-run lead, Tito lets Jonathan Papelbon sit this one out in a non-save situation. He opts for Takashi Saito
to pitch the ninth instead, and Saito finishes things with only a small
hiccup with two outs. Jamey Carroll clanks one off the Monster in left
for a long single, putting a runner aboard, but Shin-Soo Choo then
flies to left as well, shallow enough for Jason Bay to make the catch
and end the ballgame. The Sox have beaten the Indians again.
End 8th, 6-2 Sox: Wedge opts to give his closer some work for a change, and that means Kerry Wood
comes out of the bullpen to pitch the eighth. Wood manages to get into
just about as much trouble as you can without allowing a hit — he
walks Lowell to leads things off, and later with two outs, he hits
Gonzalez and then allows another walk. But with two outs and the bases
juiced, he gets out of the jam — Pedroia grounds out to short, and the
inning is over. On to the ninth.
Middle 8th, 6-2 Sox: The most entertaining moment in the top of
the eighth comes with one out, when Kevin Youkilis drops a routine
pop-up but manages to get Matt LaPorta out by keeping him from
stretching his one-base error two a two-bagger. Youk's heads-up play
ends up saving the Sox a run — Valbuena follows with a triple, his
third hit of the night, and one that would have scored LaPorta had he
been on base. After the triple, Tito comes to the mound to put in Daniel Bard in place of Ramirez, and Bard gets Kelly Shoppach to ground out to Youkilis and end the inning.
End 7th, 6-2 Sox: A one-out rally chases Tony Sipp from the game
in the seventh inning — Ellsbury reaches on an error, Pedroia walks,
and Wedge lets Sipp get one more out before pulling him with two on and
two out. Kevin Youkilis comes through against reliever Jose Veras,
though, hitting a deep fly off the wall in center field for a double,
scoring both runners. The Sox now lead 6-2 and are six outs away from
the victory at Fenway.
Middle 7th, 4-2 Sox: Terry Francona goes to his bullpen for Billy Wagner
in the seventh, but only to pitch to two batters. After Wagner makes
quick work of Crowe and Brantley, Tito goes to the bullpen again,
getting Ramon Ramirez to face Jamey Carroll. Carroll singles
and Choo walks to mount a threat against Ram-Ram, but the Sox' reliever
bears down and gets the big out when he needs it, striking out Jhonny
End 6th, 4-2 Sox: The Red Sox chase Jess Todd from the game with
back-to-back singles from Bay and Lowell, and with nobody out in the
bottom of the sixth, Eric Wedge turns to Tony Sipp. Against Sipp, the Sox have no luck — pinch-hitter Brian Anderson
hits a soft liner to Peralta at third, and Bay is carelessly caught
jumping way off of second base, allowing Peralta to double him off.
Suddenly, the Sox have two out and only a man on first, at which point
Jason Varitek goes down swinging and Sipp is out of the sixth inning.
Middle 6th, 4-2 Sox: Two innings ago, Dice-K's control was
looking perfect; he now has three walks and a wild pitch to boot.
Hafner walks with one out in the sixth and Valbuena later singles to
make it two on, two out, but Dice-K bears down and gets a key out,
coming back from down 2-0 to strike out out Kelly Shoppach swinging.
It's his seventh K of the night. After 104 pitches, though, his night
is probably done.
End 5th, 4-2 Sox: Todd faces the top of the Red Sox' order in
the fifth, and the Sox keep Michael Brantley busy in center field. They
start the inning with back-to-back flyouts to Brantley off the bats of
Ellsbury and Pedroia, and Victor Martinez follows with a single to
center, dropping it in front of Brantley. The Sox get a runner on with
two outs, but Kevin Youkilis grounds to Valbuena at short to end the inning.
Middle 5th, 4-2 Sox: The streak of 12 straight Indians retired
ends in a hurry as Dice-K starts the fifth. Hafner drills one to the
corner in right field, bouncing it in front of the wall and taking
second base for his 19th double of ths season. Luis Valbuena singles to
center two batters later, and Hafner scores to put the Indians on the
board; Shoppach then walks and Trevor Crowe singles, producing another
Cleveland run. Dice-K still has the lead, but his gem is starting to
come unraveled a little bit.
End 4th, 4-0 Sox: The night is still young, but Jeremy Sowers is headed for an early shower. Jess Todd comes
in to pitch the fourth inning in relief of Sowers, and he's bailed out
by a pretty play from the Tribe's defense. After Baldelli reaches on a
Jhonny Peralta error and Josh Reddick heads to first base to
pinch-run, he's doubled off by a redemptive double play turned by the
third baseman Peralta. Peralta stabs a hard line drive to third by Alex
Gonzalez, and with quick reflexes, he wings it over to first and
doubles Reddick off. Inning over.
Middle 4th, 4-0 Sox: If anyone doubted that Daisuke Matsuzaka
was ready for the playoffs, Dice-K has certainly silenced them so far
tonight. Since the Brantley double in the first, he's retired 12
straight Indians — in the fourth, he ends the inning by striking out
Choo and Peralta back-to-back with a total of seven pitches. The
numbers so far for Dice-K: 13 up, 12 down, four strikeouts, zero walks,
56 pitches, 40 strikes. Hard to get much better than that.
End 3rd, 4-0 Sox: So much for the pitchers' duel between Sowers and Matsuzaka. The Red Sox put a hurting on the Tribe lefty in the third — Jason Varitek
starts things off with a double to center field, and after a HBP and a
walk, the bases are loaded for Dustin Pedroia with nobody out. Pedey
comes through, lofting one to center deep enough for a sac fly to score
Varitek. After that, the Sox get two more.
Victor Martinez then follows with a hard line drive to right field. Shin-Soo Choo charges in to make the catch, but Angel Hernandez, the umpire behind first, rules it a trap and calls the ball in play. Alex Gonzalez comes home with another Boston run — two batters later, Bay doubles down the line in left field to plate another run. It's now 4-0 Red Sox, heading into the fourth inning.
Middle 3rd, 1-0 Sox: Make it nine straight Indians retired. No
one from either team has reached base since the Ellsbury leadoff double
in the first inning; Dice-K induces a quick groundout and two flyouts
here, getting out of the third inning with his pitch count holding
steady at an economical 44. Neither team can get anything going at the
End 2nd, 1-0 Sox: First Dice-K retires six straight for the Sox; then Sowers does the same for the Tribe. Jason Bay, Mike Lowell and Rocco Baldelli go down in order — groundout, flyout, popout, and we move on to the bottom of the third.
Middle 2nd, 1-0 Sox: Make it six straight Indians retired by
Dice-K since the leadoff double from Brantley. A couple of flyouts get
things started in the second, and Dice then mows down Luis Valbuena for
his second strikeout of the night. Thirty-four pitches for the Sox'
righty through two innings, 22 of them strikes.
End 1st, 1-0 Sox: It's not the first time we've seen this, and
it won't be the last: The Red Sox conjure up a run out of thin air,
using nothing but the speed of Jacoby Ellsbury. First, Ellsbury
manages to stretch a routine line drive to right into a double, and he
makes it look easy; then he bolts to third on the very first pitch to Dustin Pedroia, and when the throw down from Shoppach sails wild, Ellsbury races home. The Sox are on the board right off the bat.
Middle 1st, 0-0: Not a bad start for Daisuke Matsuzaka against the Indians. Cleveland rookie Michael Brantley
leads things off with a double into the gap in right-center, but Dice-K
comes back and retires the next three batters he faces. Jamey Carroll strikes out looking, Shin-Soo Choo flies to right, Jhonny Peralta grounds out to third, and we're on to the bottom of the first.
7:00 p.m.: Some lineup notes as we get ready for baseball at Fenway Park: After a night off last night, Travis Hafner is back in the lineup for the Tribe. Pronk will DH and Kelly Shoppach takes over behind the plate in place of rookie Lou Marson. In the outfield, Shin-Soo Choo is back in right field after a night off; Trevor Crowe moves to left, and Matt LaPorta comes in to play first base. Andy Marte, who was once traded from Boston to Cleveland along with Shoppach, will keep the bench warm.
For Boston, the regular starters are back in the lineup after taking some time to relax earlier this week. The two exceptions are J.D. Drew, who takes a seat against the lefty Sowers in favor of Rocco Baldelli, and fellow lefty David Ortiz, who will let Mike Lowell assume the Sox' DH duties for a change.
3:30 p.m.: When the Red Sox opened their final series of the
regular season on Thursday night, they learned that Jon Lester was
healthy and ready for the 2009 postseason. Now they'll look to discover
the same about another potential October arm.
This is the first start of the month for Red Sox righty Daisuke Matsuzaka, but there's a good chance it won't be the last. With his status as the Sox' potential third or fourth starter in the playoff rotation hanging in the balance, Dice-K takes the mound against the Cleveland Indians looking for his fourth straight solid start since returning from the minor leagues.
Matsuzaka, who sports a 1.96 ERA since his return, will be matched up against Cleveland lefty Jeremy Sowers, a 26-year-old former first-round draft pick and home-grown Indian. Sowers showed great promise when he first came up, but after a couple of bad starts toward the end of September, he now appears headed for this third straight season with an ERA over 5.
It may appear that these two teams have nothing to play for, but for the Red Sox, this series is a final tune-up before they start the games that really count. The Sox say they're ready to go, and now they'll look to prove it.