Bullpen deserves credit for Sox' first win

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Bullpen deserves credit for Sox' first win

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com

BOSTON It may have taken seven games, and it wasnt always pretty, but the Red Sox finally got their first win of the season Friday in their Fenway Park opener, beating the Yankees, 9-6.

While John Lackey (1-1) was credited with the win, the bullpen deserves most of the credit for it.

Lackey went five innings, giving up six runs. After that Alfredo Aceves, Bobby Jenks, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon combined to pitch four scoreless innings, giving up one hit and two walks with five strikeouts, facing two batters over the minimum.

It was hard, said manager Terry Francona. We didnt keep them off the board first five innings. Thats a hard way to win. Our bullpen came in and put up four zeroes. Thats tough to do.

Entering the game, the bullpen combined for an ERA of 8.04, allowing 14 runs with nine walks and 16 strikeouts in 15 23 innings over the previous six games. Even with the jettisoning of left-hander Dennys Reyes (16.20), who was designated for assignment before the game, the bullpens cumulative ERA was still 7.07. After going through last season with one of the worst bullpens in the American League only Baltimore and Kansas City had worse ERAs that was not the result the Sox expected after nearly completely revamping the bullpen, including the additions of Jenks and Daniel Wheeler.

But, in this game, the results were finallywhat they have been looking for.

Papelbon earned the save, throwing a perfect ninth, including striking out Brett Gardner (looking) and Derek Jeter (swinging) before getting Mark Teixeira to fly out.

Well, I think thats what they planned to do, Papelbon said. I think thats the reason why they brought Jenks here. I think as a bullpen unit down there we feel like if you can get the ball to us in the late innings of a game with a lead, we should be able to hold it.

Bard, who had been the only consistently reliable member of the bullpen last season, entered the game with a record of 0-2 and 16.88 ERA in three appearances this season. He pitched a perfect eighth inning to set up Papelbons save.

I felt good, he said. Ive felt good all my outings. They just havent gone that well.

Ive been working on getting some more downward plane on the ball. I was on the side of it my first couple, and just letting the ball be really flat, which makes it easy to see and easy to hit. They werent necessarily hitting the balls hard. But they were consistently getting the barrel to it. So I knew something wasnt right. Normally, if Im throwing my fastball right, its got downhill plane. Even when I miss down the middle theyre pounding balls into the ground, just mis-hits. So, good to see that again.

Jenks came into the game in the seventh inning and issued a lead-off walk to Mark Teixeira, then went to 2-0 on Alex Rodriguez. At that point, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia paid a visit to the mound.

Its just its his first game here, Saltalamacchia said. I can definitely attest to that. You get amped up a little bit and you start trying to overdo some things. He got back to where he needed to be.

I was out there, I think a little over-amped, new everything, new uniform, new home fans and all that, Jenks said. Once I slowed the game down and started pitching again -- I dont want to say it came easier -- but just knowing how to get out of those situations, it made it easier to pitch.

Once I got 2-0, Salty came out and just triggered one of my keys that I use as far as mechanically-wise, Jenks said. Once he did that and he started walking back, I took a second for myself and said, What are you doing? Youve done this thousands of times? And I just stopped worrying about the guy on first base and I just needed to execute a pitch, and I know how to do that. Throw the ball down the middle, get one and rom there you try to get back ahead on the next hitter.

Jenks struck out Rodriguez and retired the next two batters.

With Aceves in the sixth, the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings went exactly how the Red Sox had planned and hoped.

Its awesome, Bard said. Bobby got the heart of the lineup and worked around that lead-off walk, did everything we asked of them. And Pap, thats as good as Ive seen him in two years probably. He looked really good. Its a good thing.

And not a moment too soon.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

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Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.

Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

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Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

CHICAGO — More than anything else, Monday’s 5-4 Red Sox loss was a reminder of how much the Red Sox had go right for them a year ago, and just how unrealistic it was to expect so much of it to carry over into 2017.

The Red Sox remain a very good team. But the success of last year’s 93-win team, of any 93-win team is, truly, difficult to replicate. Unlikely, even.

Baseball’s age of parity, the randomness of freak injuries, good old regression — the Sox were due for some elements to catch up to them after a season that was more or less golden in 2016.

Dustin Pedroia, who headed back to Boston on Monday for an MRI on his left wrist, was healthy enough to hit 15 home runs a year ago, his highest total since 2012. The way this year is going for him health-wise, just having him on the field and hitting close to .300 sounds like a worthwhile goal the rest of the way.

(Slides are Pedroia’s enemy, be it from an oncoming base runner, like Manny Machado, or an oncoming first baseman, like Jose Abreu.)

David Price wasn’t living David Price’s best baseball life a year ago. But you know what you can, and probably do, take for granted? He was healthy and devouring innings. He cleared more frames than anyone else in the regular season. Even when he wasn’t pitching well, he could pitch and pitch and pitch. 

Jackie Bradley Jr. had a 1.001 OPS at the end of play on May 29, 2016. His OPS after play May 29, 2017, was .670.

We know how special David Ortiz was. Let’s not go there, because it seems like no one can talk about Ortiz’s absence rationally. His exit did not suck every home run out of the Sox lineup, as many like to say is the case, but he is — of course — a big missing piece.

Not everything was perfect in 2016, lest we remember our ex-girlfriends too fondly. Carson Smith went for Tommy John surgery, for example. 

But look now: Smith still isn’t back, Tyler Thornburg is a mystery if not quiet yet an afterthought and Robbie Ross Jr. not only struggled to the point he was demoted, he’s going through elbow trouble.

Rick Porcello won the American League Cy Young, much to Kate Upton’s chagrin. Porcello will not win the Cy Young this year, if you hadn’t been paying attention, although Chris Sale might.

There’s something going well for the Sox right now: that Sale guy. The bullpen coughed up the game Monday, Matt Barnes in particular. Yet Sox relievers had the fifth best ERA of any team to start the day. 

Hey, Eduardo Rodriguez looks pretty good, doesn't he?

With some downward trends have come some positives. Craig Kimbrel's on another planet.

The Sox may still be a 90-win team. Again, they remain a very good club.

But the wins, the breaks aren’t coming as easily as they did a year ago. You should never have expected they would.