First Pitch: When losing is winning

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First Pitch: When losing is winning

ARLINGTON, Texas - It's a given that there's no such thing as a meaningless series between the Red Sox and Yankees, and the weekend set that begins Friday night at Yankee Stadium is further proof.

The Red Sox trail the Yankees by 10 12 games in the standings, so to suggest that the outcome of these three games will have some bearing on the divisional race is a stretch.

Even if the Yankees have been stung by a string of recent injuries, topped by Alez Rodriguez's broken hand in Seattle, it seems far more likely that a team other than the Red Sox will be the beneficiary of the Yanks' ill fortune.

The Sox, having lost six of their last seven, have other, more modest goals in their sights. The second wild card would seem to be their best path to the postseason, and for now even that seems unattainable.

But that doesn't render these games meaningless. For the Red Sox, they're indeed critical -- but for reasons that have little to do with their seemingly hopeless pursuit of their archrivals.

Instead, how the Red Sox fare this weekend will have a significant impact on the team's approach to the non-waiver trading deadline, which arrives soon after the Red Sox return to Boston early Monday morning.

Multiple baseball sources indicated Wednesday that general manager Ben Cherington was eyeing the team's play carefully as he decides how to handle the deadline.

Had the Sox won Wednesday's game -- rather than losing, 5-3, at they did to Texas -- and won the series from the first-place Rangers, and followed that with a series win in the Bronx, Cherington might have been motivated to more aggressively pursue help for the season's final two months.

If the Sox had hinted that they were worth investing in, then Cherington would have acted accordingly and gone about the business of looking for starting pitching reinforcements to augment the current rotation.

But dropping the series to the Rangers, followed with the prospect of a rough weekend against the Yankees, could push Cherington into full-on sell mode.

After all, what's the sense of packaging valauble prospects for pitching help to push the Red Sox across the playoff finish line when there's every chance that the team's stay in the postseason might not last more than a single game in the new winner-take-all, wild-card format?

As it is, a short-term rental such as Zack Greinke or Ryan Demptster is already virtually out of the question, especially considering the changes in the new collective bargaining agreement which make rentals more problematic than ever.

It's hard to justify shipping off two upper-tier prospects for the sake of a one-game playoff, especially given that teams can no longer recoup draft picks by offering newly-acquired free-agents-to-be arbitration.

Landing a player who isn't eligible for free agency until after 2013 -- such as Matt Garza -- might make somewhat more sense, since such a player would be under the team's control for all of next season, too. And unlike rentals, players with more than this year remaining can return draft picks if they sign elsewhere.

Left in limbo, at least until after this weekend at least, are such spare parts as Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Sweeney, both of whom have value and could be dealt for some return if the Sox determine by Tuesday that all hope is essentially lost.

In that sense, as counterintuitive as it may be, the Sox might be better off losing the series and cashing in on what has all the appearances of a lost season.

At nearly 100 games in, the Sox are below .500 and can't seem to gain any traction. They're like a overheated car in stop-and-go beach traffic, lurching forward for a short while, only to just as quickly stall and sputter.

Putting competitive pride aside, the Sox might benefit by some losses, since it will give them the go-ahead to pull the plug on 2012 and begin the process of getting ready for 2013 months ahead of schedule.

Shoppach, Sweeney and perhaps a bullpen arm can be auctioned to the highest bidders and prospects won't be needless sacrificed for the illusion of short-term gain.

For once, then, Red Sox and Yankee fans might agree on something, with both sets -- one silently and full of shame, of course -- rooting for the same team and the same result starting Friday night.

Tuesday’s Red Sox-Rays lineups: Benintendi back in left, Buchholz on mound

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Tuesday’s Red Sox-Rays lineups: Benintendi back in left, Buchholz on mound

A night after his spectacular catch in left field that took a home run away from the Rays’ Scott Souza, rookie Andrew Benintendi is back in the Red Sox lineup, batting ninth and playing left, as they continue their four-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

The Red Sox won the series opener Monday, 6-2, with help from Benintendi’s catch and David Price’s pitching. 

Clay Buchholz gets another start in place of Steven Wright (right shoulder) for Boston. Buchholz (4-9, 5.42 ERA) is coming off a strong six-inning start in a 4-3 loss in Detroit on Thursday in his previous start.

Right-hander Chris Archer (7-16, 4.18) will try to avoid his 17th loss for the Rays. 

The lineups:

RED SOX

Dustin Pedroia 2B

Xander Bogaerts SS

David Ortiz DH

Mookie Betts RF

Hanley Ramirez 1B

Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

Sandy Leon C

Travis Shaw 3B

Andrew Benintendi LF

Clay Buchholz RHP

RAYS

Logan Forsythe 2B

Kevin Kiermaier CF

Evan Longoria 3B

Brad Miller 1B

Tim Beckham SS

Logan Morrison DH

Scott Souza RF

Cody Dickerson LF

Bobby Wilson C

Chris Archer RHP 

McAdam: Price is working for Red Sox

McAdam: Price is working for Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The ERA, though now at its lowest since the first week of the season, is still alarmingly high. So, too, are the hits allowed -- most in the league.

But there is another number regarding David Price that is not so discouraging. To the contrary, it's an indication that Price has contributed in a very real way and, more to the point, that there's reason for optimism as the final quarter of the season unfolds.

Innings.

Price has pitched 177 2/3 innings this season, the most of any American League starter.

The ability to consume innings is nothing new for Price, who threw 220 1/3 last season and led the American League the year before, 2014, with 248. Unless something unforseen takes place, Price will top 200 innings for the sixth time in seven seasons.

And, at a time of the year when pitchers tend to being running on fumes, exhausted by the heat and the demands of the schedule, Price is actually becoming more of a workhorse. Monday night's eight shutout innings represented the third time in the last six outingts in which he's pitched eight.

Since the beginning of July, in fact, Price has made 10 starts and pitched eight innings five times. Six times, Price pitched seven innings or more . . . and that number would almost certainly have been increased had not rain shortened his previous start in Baltimore last week.

It's the time of year when pitchers need to grind through starts and chew up innings and Price is doing that better than anyone right now.

After six innings last night, he was at 96 pitches and it seemed certain that the seventh inning would be his last. But then Price threw an eight-pitch seventh and was sent back out for the eighth.

When a runner reached with one out, John Farrell came out to check on Price.

"He just asked me how I was,'' recounted Price. "I told him, 'I'm good -- I got this.' ''

And with some help from Andrew Benintendi in left field, he did.

The deeper the season gets, the deeper Price has been going in games.

"That's what I expect every fifth day,'' he said of his ability to get into the seventh or eighth. "That's what I've done for a long time now. That's what I expect to do now that I'm a Red Sox. It hasn't happened as much as I feel like I should have this year, but like I said a couple of weeks ago, good things are going to happen.

"Innings are big for sure.''

As his habit, Price attributed the ability to go deeper into games to improved "execution'' -- perhaps the word he uses more than any other when analyzing his starts, good or bad.

"Making pitches, that's the name of the game,'' said Price. "The games that I've gone deeper in, I've executed a lot better.''

Given the struggles of the Red Sox bullpen of late -- see: Monday's ninth inning, in which Matt Barnes allowed two runs to spoil the shutout bid -- every inning that a starter provides is an inning a reliever doesn't have to worry about.

Just when they need him most, David Price may finally be getting locked in.

Benintendi saves Sox' bacon with catch of the year

Benintendi saves Sox' bacon with catch of the year

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When the Red Sox were preparing to promote Andrew Benintendi from Double A Portland, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski expressed confidence that the rookie would be able to hold his own offensively in the big leagues.

But, Dombrowski added, even if he struggled -- and he hasn't (.306/.353/.468) -- Benintendi could still contribute on the bases and in the outfield.

Monday was a case in point. Benintendi didn't collect a hit (though he did have a sacrifice fly to knock in the second run of the game), but he made a game-changing catch in the eighth inning to rob Steve Souza Jr. of what seemed destinated to be a two-run homer, paving the way for the Red Sox' 6-2 victory over the Rays.

Benintendi -- who had started the game in center field but was moved to left in the bottom of the eighth when Jackie Bradley Jr. replaced Chris Young -- sprinted sideways to the short wall just next to the foul pole, where it appeared Souza's drive would sneak over the fence. Without ever looking at the fence, he leaped, snared the ball just as it was leaving the field, then hit the wall with his waist and teetered periously close to tumbling off the field before righting himself and throwing the ball back to the infield.

Click here to see the play. According to Statcast, Benintendi covered 92 feet in getting over to make the catch.

"Pretty stunned," said Souza when asked his reaction. "That was an unbelievable play. He ran a long way, was at full speed and then to go over [the wall] and hold onto the ball . . . [that] was pretty impressive."

"Yeah, I think that's the best catch I've ever made," said Benintendi. "I've never really had an opportunity to take one back and I was fortunate enough I could."

Had Souza's ball cleared the fence, the Rays would have trailed 3-2 and that probably would have ended David Price's night, handing the game over to a less-than secure bullpen crew. Instead, Price got through the eighth unscored upon, and when the Sox tacked on three more runs in the ninth, the cushion was even larger.

"I spent seven years here," said Price, who began his career with Tampa Bay, "and I didn't see that catch too many times. It doesn't happen a whole lot. That was huge."

"That's a highlight-reel play at a pivotal time in the game," John Farrell said of the catch. "[Price] was outstanding. But in a three-run game, that late, take away a two-run homer, it's a huge difference in the ballgame."

That's an example of what Dombrowski was talking about: That Benintendi is a complete enough player to help the Sox win even when he isn't contributing at the plate.