Lester dominates as Sox beat Orioles, 6-2

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Lester dominates as Sox beat Orioles, 6-2

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

BALTIMORE -- Someday, maybe, the Baltimore Orioles will figure out a way to beat Jon Lester.

Maybe.

For now, Lester is literally unbeatable to the Orioles. He limited them to two runs over eight innings in a 6-2 victory to improve his lifetime mark to 14-0 in 17 career starts against them with a 2.33 ERA. The 14 wins represent the longest winning streak for any active pitcher against one team.

The Sox snapped a 2-2 tie in the seventh when Dustin Pedroia -- who had been 1-for-20 before that at-bat -- scored Carl Crawford from third on an infield dribbler. Boston added to its lead in the eighth with an RBI-single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a two-run single by Jacoby Ellsbury.

The top three hitters in the Red Sox order -- Ellsbury, Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez -- combined for eight hits and five RBI on the night. Ellsbury enjoyed his second consecutive three-hit game.

Lester allowed four hits and two runs over eight innings. Jonathan Papelbon pitched the ninth in a non-save situation.

The win snapped a two-game losing streak and left the Sox with a 6-3 mark on their three-city, nine-game road trip.

STAR OF THE GAME: Jon Lester
Lester allowed two runs over eight innings to improve to 3-1 this season and 14-0 lifetime against the Orioles.

The night began ominously for the lefty, who allowed a walk and two singles to the first three hitters he faced. But after allowing a run on the second hit, he got himself out of the jam and allowed just one more run the rest of the way -- a solo homer to Vladmir Guerrero in the sixth.

HONORABLE MENTION: Adrian Gonzalez
Gonzalez had three hits -- including two doubles -- and drove in two runs. The first baseman has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games and has eight RBI in that span.

Gonzalez is one of just two Red Sox regulars to be hitting over .300 this season (.308); Jed Lowrie is the other.

GOAT OF THE GAME: Mike Gonzalez
Baltimore lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez came in with a runner on and no out in the eighth and allowed three of the four hitters he faced to reach. Two later scored.

TURNING POINT
Jarrod Saltalamacchia's bases-loaded single in the eighth increased the Red Sox lead from a run to two runs.

BY THE NUMBERS
Adrian Gonzalez had two doubles Thursday and four in the series, giving him 10 through 24 games.

QUOTE OF NOTE
"It ticked me off a little.'' -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia on Orioles' decision to intentionally walk J.D. Drew in the sixth to get to him.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Red Sox welcome Betts’ surprising power surge

Red Sox welcome Betts’ surprising power surge

BOSTON - With one quick flick of his wrists Monday night, Mookie Betts drove a pitch into the Monster Seats, marking his 30th homer of the season.

The homer put Betts into exclusive company in team history. Only two others before him -- Ted Williams and Tony Conigliaro -- had ever reached the 30-homer milestone before turning 24. 

It's a reasonable assumption that, with five weeks still to play in the regular season, Betts will more than double his home run total (17) from last year, a remarkable jump.    

More to the point, Betts wasn't projected as a power hitter. In 2011 and 2012, Betts played the first 72 games of his pro career career without hitting a single homer. 

The power began to manifest itself somewhat the following year when he belted 15 homers between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem, but still, few envisioned that Betts would show this kind of power at the major league level.

He was athletic, with extra-base capability, and speed. But a 30-home run hitter? That wasn't in the cards.

"That's pretty cool, hitting 30,” allowed Betts after the Red Sox' 9-4 win over Tampa Bay. "But that's not the reason we play.''

 For several minutes, Betts did his best to deflect questions about his milestone, consistently emphasizing team goals "first and foremost” over his own personal achievements.

"Trying to affect the game in some form or fashion,” he shrugged. "We're in a race right now and that's way more important[than individual stats].”

Still, Betts himself acknowledged that his homer total has come as something of a revelation.

"I definitely wasn't expecting [this kind of] power,'' he said. "But I'll take it while it's here.''

Maybe the power explosion shouldn't come as a shock, however. Betts has always demonstrated exceptional strength and fast reflexes, exhibiting the sort of "quick-twitch'' athleticism that make scouts drool.

He's improved his pitch selection and recognition, and it surely hasn't hurt to be part of a powerful Red Sox lineup that currently has him hitting behind David Ortiz and in front of Hanley Ramirez.

"Experience...knowing when and when not to turn on balls,” Betts explained further. "There's a whole bunch of things that kind of go into it.”

As he's gained confidence, Betts now picks certain counts where he allows himself to take bigger swings, though he's careful to  point out that he's not ever trying to hit homers.

"Not necessarily trying to hit a home run,'' he offered, "but trying to drive [the ball]. Those things come with experience and knowing when and when not to. I'm not trying to hit a home run. They just kind of come.''

In this, just his second full season in the big leagues, they're coming more and more frequently -- whether anyone expected it or not.

     

Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

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Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

BOSTON -- Early in 2016 praises, were sung around the league that Xander Bogaerts was the best hitter in baseball.

Rightfully so. For a good portion of the season he led the league in both batting average and hits. But between Mookie Betts’ ascension and Bogaerts’ drop in average from .331 on 7/29 to .306 after Monday night’s game, he’s taken a back seat.

But the Red Sox shortstop’s month-long dry spell hasn’t been a straight decline. Although he was held hitless Monday, Bogaerts went 6-for-13 (.462) against Kansas City.

In fact, the 23-year-old doesn’t even consider the recent month of struggles the worst stretch of his career.

“2014 probably,” Bogaerts said, “yeah I had a terrible, terrible few months -- probably three months.”

That was of course the season a lot came into question surrounding the now All-Star shortstop, so he was pretty spot on. In 2014 Bogaerts went from hitting .304 through 5/31, to .248 by the end of June, .244 after his last game in July, all the way down to .224 by the last day of August.

Bogaerts would hit .313 that September and finish with a .240 average -- but more importantly, an appreciation of what he’d experienced.

“That definitely helped me become a better person, a better player -- and understanding from that and learning,” Bogaerts said.

From that experience, he gained a better understanding of the importance of maintaining a consistent day-to-day routine.

“That has to stay the same,” Bogaerts said without question in his voice. “The league adjusted, they adjusted to me. It kind of took a longer time to adjust to them. They’ve just been pitching me so differently compared to other years.”

Bogaerts has had the point reinforced to him throughout, with Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez serving as one voice of reinforcement.

“When you have a routine from the mental side, physical side, when you struggle that’s when you really need that,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been so good with his daily preparation, it doesn’t matter the result of the game. He can always go to something that feels comfortable.”

“He’s been so comfortable and confident with his daily routine and preparation that it allows him -- when he doesn’t get the results he wants in the game -- to have some peace knowing that the next day, we’re going to go back to doing that again.”

It’s clear Bogaerts needs to maintain his daily routine to help work through slumps -- and maintain hot streaks -- but Rodriguez made it clear, consistent preparation from a hitter doesn’t magically cure every problem.

“That doesn’t mean that because you stick with the routine you’re going to have results,” Rodriguez said. “What it means is, [because] you know and believe in that routine that you know you’re going to get out of it.”

Which means in addition to sticking to his normal routine, Bogaerts also had to identify flaws elsewhere in order work through his problems. He came to realize the problem was more mechanically based than mental -- given he’d done everything to address that.

“They pitched me differently, and some stuff I wanted to do with the ball I couldn’t do,” Bogaerts said. “I just continued doing it until I had to make the adjustment back.”

Bogaerts isn’t fully out of the dark, but he’s taken steps in the right direction of late -- and is nowhere near the skid he experienced in 2014. He and Rodriguez fully believe the All-Star’s ability to maintain a clear mind will carry him through whatever troubles he’s presented with the rest of the way.

“The more stuff you have in you’re head is probably not going to help your chances,” Bogaerts explained, “so have a clear mind -- but also have the trust in your swing that you’re going to put a good swing on [the pitch] regardless of whatever the count is.”

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.