After another loss, Sox look to Beckett Friday

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After another loss, Sox look to Beckett Friday

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen

BOSTON It was a broken-bat single. But on this night it broke the proverbial back of the Red Sox.

With two outs and runners on first and second, the Rays B.J. Upton shattered his bat on a 1-and-0 fastball from Kyle Weiland. The ball and bat reached Marco Scutaro simultaneously, sending the Sox shortstop in self-preservation mode. Scutaro hopped out of the way, as both the bat and ball skittered through his legs.

At first I didnt see the bat at all, Scutaro said. Was just focusing on the ball and I kind of saw the bat at the last moment. It was bat-ball. So I just jumped. I couldnt do anything else about it.

Rather than ending the inning with an infield groundout, the play scored a run, putting the Rays up 1-0, and set the stage for Evan Longoria to drive his 27th home run of the season into the Sox bullpen for three more runs and a 4-0 lead.

The Sox, meanwhile, could do little with Rays' starter Jeremy Hellickson, who held them to one run on three hits and four walks (one intentional) over 5 13 innings. The Sox lost 9-2 in the opener of their four-game set with the Rays at Fenway Park.

Hellickson, earned the win, improving to 13-10 with a 2.91 ERA. He is now 2-1 in five games, four starts, against the Sox this season, becoming just the third rookie since 1976 to beat the Sox twice in a season at Fenway.

Weiland took the loss, falling to 0-2 with a 7.58 ERA. He went three innings the shortest outing of his four-start big league career giving up four runs on three hits and two walks with one strikeout.

If ever there was a time for Josh Beckett to wear his ace-of-the-staff mantel, it is Friday night. The Red Sox are 1-7 in their last eight games, and have lost 9 of their last 11. Their lead over the Rays in the wild card race is down to three games. And, with the Yankees idle, the Sox lost a half-game, falling to 4 12 back of the American League East leaders.

The Sox are 5-10 against the Rays this season, including 1-5 at Fenway, and are sliding along on a franchise-worst six-game losing streak to the Rays. In those games, the Rays have outscored the Sox 42-15. In the last four games at Fenway, the Sox have managed just 15 hits, including six last night.

Rays pitchers have held Sox batters to a .178 average this season. Since 1946, the lowest the Sox have batted against an opponent in a season with a minimum of 10 games was .204 against the Orioles in 1966. At Fenway, the Rays have held the Sox to just a .162 mark (30-for-185). Since 1946, the lowest the Sox have hit against an opponent at Fenway is .187 against the A's in 1973.

Enter Beckett. He hasnt pitched since getting leaving his last start, Sept. 5 in Toronto after 3 23 innings with a sprained ankle. Of his 27 outings, 19 are quality starts. But his last came three starts ago, on Aug. 24 in Texas. Beckett (12-5, 2.49 ERA) is the Sox best hope to put a stop to their free-fall.

Yeah, itll be nice to see him out there healthy, said manager Terry Francona. Nice to see him out there attacking the strike zone and being the Josh weve come to rely on. They like their guy, too, but that gives us confidence, for sure.

James Shields (15-10, 2.70) is scheduled to start for the Rays. He took the Rays only loss in their three-game set at Fenway last month, despite throwing a complete-game three-hitter.

I dont think its dire, Jarrod Saltalamacchia said of the Sox predicament. Were still three games up. Were going to go out tomorrow and worry about that game. I think we cant really worry about the week ahead or tonights game. Go home tonight and move on.

Still, its comforting to know the ace will be on the mound.

At this point every game is a big game, Saltalamacchia said. Every win counts. I think its big for Josh. Hes had some rest now, so hes rested, ready to go. The ankle seems fine, so were looking for him to go out there and pitch a good game and the offense to go out there and swing the bats.

Its big, man, Scutaro said. We need to start working as a team. Pitching a little better, score some runs and play better defense. We havent been doing that lately so thats why weve been kind of struggling to win games. But the beautiful thing about baseball is tomorrows a new day.

Which is exactly what the Sox need.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen.

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Chris Sale brings with him to Boston some attitude. He also brings a measure of defiance and, perhaps, a little bit of crazy.

All of which the Red Sox starting staff just may need. And if Sale pitches as he has for much of the past five years, he'll probably be celebrated for it.

I still wonder how it will all play here, especially if he underachieves.

What would we do to him locally if he refused to pitch because he didn't like a certain kind of uniform variation the team was going with? What would we say if he not only refused to pitch, but took a knife to his teammates' uniforms and the team had to scrap the promotion? Sale did exactly that in Chicago last year, after which he threw his manager under the bus for not standing by his players and attacked the team for putting business ahead of winning.

All because he didn't want to wear an untucked jersey?

"(The White Sox throwback uniforms) are uncomfortable and unorthodox,'' said Sale at the time. "I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. ... There's a lot of different things that went into it.''

Wearing a throwback jersey would alter his mechanics? Was that a joke? It's hard to imagine he would get away with that in Boston.

Ditto for his support of Adam LaRoche and his involvement of that goofy story last March.
 
LaRoche, you'll remember, retired when the White Sox had the nerve to tell him that his 14-year-old son could not spend as much time around the team as he had grown accustomed to. Sale responded by pitching a fit.

“We got bald-face lied to by someone we’re supposed to be able to trust,'' said Sale of team president Kenny Williams. ``You can’t come tell the players it was the coaches and then tell the coaches it was the players, and then come in and say something completely different. If we’re all here to win a championship, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”

On what planet does allowing a 14-year-old kid in a clubhouse have anything to do with winning a title? In what universe does a throwback jersey have anything to do with mechanics? If David Price had said things that stupid last year, he'd still be hearing about it. And it won't be any different for Sale.

Thankfully, Sale's defiance and feistiness extends to the mound. Sale isn't afraid to pitch inside and protect his teammates, leading the American League in hit batsmen each of the last two years. He doesn't back down and loves a fight. And while that makes him sound a little goofy off the field, it should play well on it.

In the meantime, the Sox better hope he likes those red alternate jerseys they wear on Fridays.

E-mail Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast appears daily on CSN.

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Chris Sale had been the subject of so many trade rumors for the past year that he admitted feeling somewhat like "the monkey in the middle.”

On Tuesday, the rumors became reality when Sale learned he was being shipped to the Red Sox in exchange for a package of four prospects.
    
It meant leaving the Chicago White Sox, the only organization he'd known after being drafted 13th overall by Chicago in 2010. Leaving, he said, is "bittersweet.''
     
Now, he can finally move forward.
     
"Just to have the whole process out of the way and get back to some kind of normalcy will be nice,” said Sale Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters.

Sale had been linked in trade talks to many clubs, most notably the Washington Nationals, who seemed poised to obtain him as recently as Monday night.

Instead, Sale has changed his Sox from White to Red.

"I'm excited,” he said. "You're talking about one of the greatest franchises ever. I'm excited as anybody. I don't know how you couldn't be. I've always loved going to Boston, pitching in Boston. (My wife and I) both really like the city and (Fenway Park) is a very special place.”
     
It helps that Sale lives in Naples, Fla., just 20 or so miles from Fort Myers, the Red Sox' spring training base. Sale played his college ball at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
     
"Being able to stay in our house a couple of (more) months,” gushed Sale, “it couldn't have worked out better personally or professionally for us.”
     
Sale joins a rotation with two Cy Young Award winners (David Price and reigning winner Rick Porcello), a talented core of mostly younger position players and an improved bullpen.

"There's no reason not to be excited right now,” said Sale. "You look at the talent on this team as a whole... you can't ask for much more.”

Sale was in contact with Price Tuesday, who was the first Red Sox player to reach out. He also spoke with some mutual friends of Porcello.

That three-headed monster will carry the rotation, and the internal competition could lift them all to new heights.
     
"The good thing in all of this,'' Sale said, "is that I can definitely see a competition (with) all of us pushing each others, trying to be better. No matter who's pitching on a (given) night, we have as good or better chance the next night. That relieves some of the pressure that might build on some guys (who feel the need to carry the team every start).”

But Sale isn't the least bit interested in being known as the ace of the talented trio.

"I don’t think that matters,” he said. "When you have a group of guys who come together and fight for the same purpose, nothing else really matters. We play for a trophy, not a tag.”

Sale predicted he would be able to transition from Chicago to Boston without much effort, and didn't seem overwhelmed by moving to a market where media coverage and fan interest will result in more scrutiny.

"It's fine, it's a part of it, it's reality,” he said. "I'm not a big media guy. I'm not on Twitter. I'm really focused on the in-between-the-lines stuff. That's what I love, playing the game of baseball. Everything else will shake out.”

After playing before small crowds and in the shadow of the  Cubs in Chicago, Sale is ready to pitch before sellout crowds at Fenway.

"I'm a firm believer that energy can be created in ballparks,” he said. "I don't think there’s any question about it. When you have a packed house and everyone's on their feet in the eighth inning, that gives every player a jolt.”