First pitch: Silent nights (and days) for Red Sox

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First pitch: Silent nights (and days) for Red Sox

MIAMI -- For so long this season, the Red Sox have had such difficulties with their pitching staff -- first the bullpen, later the starting rotation -- that it was nearly unthinkable to consider the offense as bearing any blame for their struggles.

Yet, with the team reeling after its fourth straight loss, that's exactly where it belongs.

Until recently, in fact, the offense had been so dependable that not even the players themselves seemed capable of recognizing the problem.

Over the weekend, when the Sox were being swept by the Washington Nationals, the Boston clubhouse was divided between criticizing the umpires and crediting the Washington pitching staff.

To be sure, the Sox ran into a tough string of starters at Fenway (Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman). And facing Josh Johnson Monday night in Miami didn't make things any easier.

But there's a limit to how much praise should go the opposition when the lineup is sputtering. Johnson, after all, came into Monday night with a 4.56 ERA. Yet he limited the Sox to four hits and one run over seven innings, with seven strikeouts, as Boston once again went down meekly, 4-1.

"With our offense,'' said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, "we should be able to come up and score some runs . . . We're facing some really good pitching, but this is the big leagues. We need to step it up, get some guys over, get some guys in. That includes everybody.''

Indeed, the downturn has been from top to bottom in the lineup. For a team that was second in the league in runs scored only 10 days ago, the last eight games (1-7) have seen the Red Sox average 3.1 runs per game and hit just .221 collectively.

In that eight-game stretch, the Sox have lost games by two runs twice, one run two other times, and three runs on two other occasions.

"You get that one hit that continues the inning and you get two or three to follow . . . '' said Bobby Valentine wistfully. ''But we're just not getting that one to continue the inning. It seems the other team is getting it against us.''

Among the regulars, only David Ortiz has been a consistent performer. Dustin Pedroia's double Monday night was just his second since May 13, sure evidence that the infielder is being hampered by his right thumb injury.

Meanwhile, the brief hot spurt by Adrian Gonzalez last week seems to be over as quickly as it began.

The long-term losses of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford -- to say nothing of Cody Ross, who was second on the team in homers and slugging percentage when he broke a bone in his foot last month -- seem to become more acute with each passing day.

"We don't have a lot of options with the lineup,'' acknowledged Valentine ruefully, "so we're trying just get guys in motion once in a while. We need that homer, we need that bloop -- one of the two.''

"There's a lot of frustration,'' said Saltalamacchia. "We know we're better than this. We know we can put some runs on the board. It just seems like right now, guys are pitching us really well and we're not hitting any mistakes. When you miss the mistakes, it's tough to do much.''

Former Red Sox prospect Andy Marte killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

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Former Red Sox prospect Andy Marte killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

Former major leaguer Andy Marte, a one-time top prospect in the Red Sox organization, was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic on Sunday. He was 33.

Marte was killed the same day that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura died in a separate car crash in the Dominican. Ventura was 25. Coincidentally, Ventura was the Royals starting pitcher in Marte's final major league game, for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 6, 2014.

Marte, drafted by the Braves in 2000, was ranked the No. 9 prospect in baseball in 2005 when the third baseman was traded to the Red Sox as part of the deal that sent shortstop Edgar Renteria to Atlanta and Marte became the top-ranked prospect in the Red Sox organization.  

Marte was traded by the Red Sox to the Indians in 2006 in the deal that sent Coco Crisp to Boston and spent five seasons with Cleveland. His best season was 2009 (.232, six home runs, 25 RBI in 47 games). After a six-game stint with Arizona in 2014, he played in South Korea the past two years.  

Metropolitan traffic authorities in the Dominican told the Associated Press that Marte died when a car he was driving his a house along the highway between San Francisco de Macoris and Pimentel, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital.
 

Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

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Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car crash in in the Dominican Republic on Sunday morning, according to multiple reports. Ventura was 25 years old.

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo told the Associated Press that Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of Santo Domingo. He says it's not clear if Ventura was driving.

Ventura was killed the same day former major leaguer Andy Marte died in a separate car crash in the Dominican. Coincidentally, Ventura was the starting pitcher in Marte's final MLB game, for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 6, 2014. 

Ventura was 13-8 with a 4.08 ERA for the Royals' 2015 World Series champions and 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA in 32 starts in 2016. The right-hander made his major league debut in 2013 and in 2014 went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA for Kansas City's A.L. pennant winners. 

Ironically, Ventura paid tribute to his good friend and fellow Dominican, Oscar Tavares, who was also killed in a car crash in the D.R. in October 2014, by wearing Tavares' initials and R.I.P. on his cap before Ventura's start in Game 6 of the World Series in 2014. 

Ventura is the second current major league player to die in the past five months. Former Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident in Miami on Sept. 25.