BOSTON For the second time in as many games, Cody Ross punished Chicago pitchers. This time it was a walk-off three-run blast into the Monster seats to give the Red Sox a 3-1 win.It was Ross third three-run home run in the last two games, giving him 16 home runs and 50 RBI this season.Carl Crawford led off the ninth with a single off White Sox reliever Matt Thornton, but was erased on Dustin Pedroias fielders choice. Adrian Gonzalezs single put runners on first and second, and ended Thorntons outing. Closer Addison Reed entered. Ross blasted Reeds third pitch -- a 1-and-1, 95-mph fastball -- over the left field wall for the walk-off win.Thornton and Reed combined to waste an admirable effort by rookie left-hander Jose Quintana, went eight scoreless innings, giving up five hits with no walks, two strikeouts, and a wild pitch.Alfredo Aceves replaced Clay Buchholz in the ninth to earn the win, Aceves first of the season, as he improved to 1-6 with a 3.97 ERA.Buchholz went eight innings, giving up one run on six hits and a walk, with six strikeouts. He lowered his ERA from 5.54 to 5.19.Chicago scored in the fourth when Adam Dunn led off with a walk off Buchholz. Paul Konerko followed with a single to right, sending Dunn to third. Alex Rios sacrifice fly to right scored Dunn, giving Chicago the 1-0 advantage.After pummeling the White Sox for 10 runs on 14 hits on Wednesday, the Red Sox were mostly handcuffed by Quintana on Thursday.The Sox could muster just one baserunner off Quintana over the first six innings, on a Pedro Ciriaco third-inning, two-out triple. But Jacoby Ellsbury struck out to end the inning, stranding Ciriaco at third.Before the ninth, the Sox best scoring chance came in the seventh. After Carl Crawford grounded out, consecutive singles by Dustin Pedroia, Alex Gonzalez, and Cody Ross loaded the bases for Will Middlebrooks. But Middlebrooks hit into a double play, ending the inning.Holding the White Sox scoreless in the first, Buchholz snapped a streak of Red Sox pitchers of allowing a run in the first inning. Sox pitchers had allowed at least one run in the first inning in the last 10 games at home since June 10, with a total of 24 runs in that span.In the ninth, Aceves gave up a two-out single to Dayan Viciedo and a ground-rule double to Gordon Beckham, but got Eduardo Escobar to ground out to end the inning.Thornton was charged with the loss, falling to 2-6 with a 3.86 ERA. Reed was charged with his third blown save.
BOSTON -- The Red Sox and Braves play the finale of their home-and-home, four-game series tonight . . . to the Sox' dismay, no doubt.
Boston has won the first three games by a combined score of 21-8, extending its overall winning streak to four. The Sox have also won five of their last six, and six of their last eight, as they've closed to within a half-game of the first-place Orioles in the A.L. East. In addition, they now hold one of the two A.L. wild-card positions.
Nick Markakis RF
Daniel Castro 3B
Adonis Garcia DH
Freddie Freeman 1B
A.J. Pierzynski C
Jeff Francoeur LF
Jace Peterson 2B
Erick Aybar SS
Mallex Smith CF
Jhoulys Chacin P
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Travis Shaw 3B
Chris Young LF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Christian Vazquez C
Clay Buchholz P
BOSTON - Major league catchers take a beating behind the plate. It goes with the territory.
There are foul tips off fingers, jarring blows to facemasks and, even in the aftermath of new rules regarding slides, vicious collisions with baserunners.
Those are all well-known parts of the job. Goes with the territory, catchers will shrug and say.
But what happened to Ryan Hanigan Wednesday night -- and last Friday night in Houston, for that matter -- was a different sort of test.
It was Hanigan's job to coral Steven Wright's knuckleball, dipping and darting in most unpredictable ways. Even the Atlanta Braves hitters seemingly had an easier time hitting the pitch than Hanigan did catching it.
Forget 99-mph fastballs; the toughest pitch for a catcher to handle is a knuckler that may not top 75 mph.
From the second through the fourth inning, Hanigan battled and boxed balls, almost blocking and tackling them -- when he wasn't chasing them to the backstop, that is.
"It was really dancing tonight,'' said Hanigan after the Red Sox' 9-4 win over Atlanta. "I think the wind played a factor. It was going all over the place.''
And, so, at times, was Hanigan, scrambling to keep the ball in front of him, and, occasionally, going to retrieve it.
In the fourth inning, Erick Aybar reached on a strikeout passed ball, took second base, and eventually third on two more passed balls. He was
one more floating, errant knuckler away from circling the bases despite never making contact with a pitch, or being advanced by a teammate making contact.
All Hanigan could do was hold on -- make that TRY to hold on -- for dear life.
"I was talking to the [home plate] umpire back there,'' chuckled Hanigan. "It was going up, down, left, right...It's always a battle. It's
tough - every time I catch it, it's a small victory. Some days, it's more consistent in the way it moves. Some days, it's darting left and right and all over. It was one of those nights. I struggled a little bit with some of them back there.
"You're not going to catch all of them. That's just how it is. You have to try to stay positive, try working with him back there, keep him in his rhythm and [have him] throw as many strikes as he can.''
Problem is, even the strikes can be difficult to catch. At the last possible instant, the knuckleball can evade Hanigan's mitt, like a butterfly eluding capture.
Wright can't help but have some sympathy for his batterymate.
"There's times where it can get frustrating [for him],’’ said Wright. "He does a great job. I can't give enough credit to him and what he's done.''
The paradox, of course, is that Wright wants the ball to move as much as possible to confound the hitters. Hanigan does too, but he has to deal with the consequences.
"The ones that stay high,'' he explained, "you expect a little drop. But they just don't. They tip off the top [of the catcher's mitt]. Those are tough. He had them really darting tonight. It just takes a left turn on me. Those are tough. But that's what you want. So I just try to knock 'em down.
"You just can't really anticipate which way it's going to go. One will go right, one will go left, one will be flat, one will kind of take off. And I think the wind [is a factor]. It helps [Wright].’’
While at the same time, hurting Hanigan.
Wright lasted seven innings, allowing just one unearned run. Hanigan then went back to conventional pitchers Tommy Layne and Matt Barnes.
"Man, when I put the other glove on...it's all gravy after that,'' he said. "There's predictability as to which way the ball is going to move, at least to some extent. With the knuckleball, it does what it wants.''
And it's Hanigan's thankless task to catch it. Or chase after it.
Former Atlanta Braves pitcher and baseball Hall of Famer Tom Glavine talks with Toucher & Rich about the apathy of the Atlanta fan base, where playoff games in the early rounds would frequently not sellout.