First pitch: Wins in New York something to build on

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First pitch: Wins in New York something to build on

NEW YORK -- At various points along the way in their season to date, the Red Sox have won games that looked to be a springboard to the run for which they've been waiting.

Most recently, Cody Ross's walkoff, three-run homer against the Chicago White Sox two weeks ago at Fenway seemed to be that launching pad. That dramaatic victory, however, was followed by three straight dispiriting losses -- and five in the next six games -- that sent them not soaring, but instead, plummeting.

Perhaps that's why not even Bobby Valentine, who expressed unbridled enthusiasm for his team Friday afternoon -- maintaining that they were "headed in the right direction'' and eminently capable of going on a streak that would soon carry them "10, 15, 20 games over .500 -- refused to take the bait in the aftermath of his team's 3-2 win over the New York Yankees Sunday night.

"I don't know that it does anything for (Monday),'' shrugged the manager. "We're playing a tough Detroit team. But I like the way the guys played.''

But if the Red Sox can't make something of back-to-back last-at-bat wins in Yankee Stadium, then this season may truly be a lost cause.

In the clubhouse, there seemed to be more hope that the Sox could build off the weekend wins.

Adrian Gonzalez, finally hitting with authority, predicted that the Sox should brace themselves for, in effect, two straight months of a playoff-like pressure-cooker, with each game providing some sense of urgency.

"We put ourselves in the position where that's basically what we've got,'' said Gonzalez. "We need to win every game.''

Dustin Pedroia, seated next to Gonzalez in the visitor's clubhouse, put a finer point on it.

"It couldn't have come at a better time,'' said Pedroia. "We need to win. We can build on this, get back home and play good ball. I hope (these) are huge. We just have to continue to build ballgames and let the momentum build up.''

It's been precisely that momentum that the Sox have been unable to sustain through the first 102 games. They've been locked in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back rut for much of the year.

Valentine, taking the macro approach, said the club has to focus on winning series, but the win Sunday was their first in the last three. The Sox can't afford to lose any more ground, not with six teams in front of them in the crowded American League wild card chase.

In the near term, the two late-inning wins might serve another purpose. General manager Ben Cherington has said for the last week that he would be watching his team closely on the road trip to determine his approach to the non-waiver trading deadline.

The Sox might not have wowed him with their play -- they finished an admittedly difficult road trip against the top two teams in the A.L. at 3-3 -- but Saturday and Sunday's victories may have, if nothing else, bought them some time.

"Obviously, we're playing as hard as we can,'' said Pedroia. "We feel that we have a great team, so hopefully (Cherington) sees that and knows that we have a championship-caliber team. We just gotta go play like it.''

That, of course, has been the hard part. Whether they were hamstrung by injuries or damned by their own underachievement, the Sox have, at no time, resembled the "championshoip-caliber team'' of which Pedroia spoke.

And whether they get help from a move or two by Cherington before Tuesday afternoon, time is running out on them.

If beating the Yankees twice -- on the road and in their final at-bats -- doesn't spur them, what will?

Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

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Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

BOSTON - David Ortiz became one of the most celebrated players in Red Sox history during his storied 14-year run in Boston.

On the night he returned to Fenway to have his No. 34 take its place among the franchise's other legends, his former teammates did their part to make sure it was a memorable one.

Hanley Ramirez and Sandy Leon hit two-run homers and the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 9-4 on Friday to cap a night in which Ortiz's number became the latest retired at Fenway Park.

It was the 250th career home run for Ramirez, a good friend of Ortiz who was also born in the Dominican Republic. Leon finished with three hits and four RBIs.

Ramirez said he played with Ortiz on his mind.

"He's my mentor, my big brother. He's everything," Ramirez said. "Today when I saw him on the field crying, it made me cry."

He said his home run was in Big Papi's honor.

"Definitely, definitely, definitely," he said. "I was going to do his thing (pointing his hands in the air) but I forgot."

The homers helped provide a nice cushion for Rick Porcello (4-9), who gave up four runs and struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory. It was the 13th straight start Porcello has gone at least six innings.

"It was vintage Porcello," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "A couple of pitches that cut his night short, but he was crisp throughout."

This could serve as a needed confidence boost for Porcello, who had been 0-4 with a 7.92 ERA in his previous five starts, allowing 47 hits and 27 earned runs.

He had command of his pitches early, holding the Angels scoreless until the fourth, when a catching error by Leon at home allowed Albert Pujols to cross the plate.

Porcello said he isn't sure if he has completely turned a corner yet after his slow start, but he has felt better in his recent starts.

"Today was a step in the right direction," he said.

Alex Meyer (3-4) allowed five runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Los Angeles scored three runs in the seventh, but cooled off after Porcello left.

Boston got out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, scoring on an RBI double by Xander Bogaerts and then getting two more runs off wild pitches by Meyer.

Ramirez gave Porcello a 5-1 lead in the fourth with his two-run shot to right field.

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

BOSTON —  The Red Sox have become well known for their ceremonies, for their pull-out-all-the-stops approach to pomp. The retirement of David Ortiz’s No. 34 on Friday evening was in one way, then, typical.

A red banner covered up Ortiz’s No. 34 in right field, on the facade of the grandstand, until it was dropped down as Ortiz, his family, Red Sox ownership and others who have been immortalized in Fenway lore looked on. Carl Yazstremski and Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Pedro Martinez. 

The half-hour long tribute further guaranteed permanence to a baseball icon whose permanence in the city and the sport was never in doubt. But the moments that made Friday actually feel special, rather than expected, were stripped down and quick. 

Dustin Pedroia’s not one to belabor many points, never been the most effusive guy around. (He’d probably do well on a newspaper deadline.) The second baseman spoke right before Ortiz took to the podium behind the mound.

“We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs, we want to thank you for how you made us feel and it’s love,” Pedroia said, with No. 34 painted into both on-deck circles and cut into the grass in center field. “And you’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend, you’re our family. … Thank you, we love you.”

Those words were enough for Ortiz to have tears in his eyes.

“Little guy made me cry,” Ortiz said, wiping his hands across his face. “I feel so grateful. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career that I have. But I thank God even more for giving me the family and what I came from, who teach me how to try to do everything the right way. Nothing — not money — nothing is better than socializing with the people that are around you, get familiar with, show them love, every single day. It’s honor to get to see my number …. I remember hitting batting practice on this field, I always was trying to hit those numbers.”

Now that’s a poignant image for a left-handed slugger at Fenway Park.

He did it once, he said — hit the numbers. He wasn’t sure when. Somewhere in 2011-13, he estimated — but he said he hit Bobby Doerr’s No. 1.

“It was a good day to hit during batting practice,” Ortiz remembered afterward in a press conference. “But to be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far. My comment based on those numbers was, like, I started just getting behind the history of this organization. Those guys, those numbers have a lot of good baseball in them. It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there, so that happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there, hanging with those guys.”

The day was all about his number, ultimately, and his number took inspiration from the late Kirby Puckett. Ortiz’s major league career began with the Twins in 1997. Puckett passed away in 2006, but the Red Sox brought his children to Fenway Park. They did not speak at the podium or throw a ceremonial first pitch, but their presence likely meant more than, say, Jason Varitek’s or Tim Wakefield’s.

“Oh man, that was very emotional,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to lie to you, like, when I saw them coming toward me, I thought about Kirby. A lot. That was my man, you know. It was super nice to see his kids. Because I remember, when they were little guys, little kids. Once I got to join the Minnesota Twins, Kirby was already working in the front office. So they were, they used to come in and out. I used to get to see them. But their dad was a very special person for me and that’s why you saw me carry the No. 34 when I got here. It was very special to get to see them, to get kind of connected with Kirby somehow someway.”

Ortiz’s place in the row of 11 retired numbers comes in between Boggs’ No. 26 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.