McAdam: It was Giveaway Night for the Sox

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McAdam: It was Giveaway Night for the Sox

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BALTIMORE -- Between stretches of poor starting pitching earlier in the year and a lineup which, even now, has had difficulty producing timely hits, the Red Sox had seemingly cornered the market on ways to lose.

Then, Wednesday night, they discovered another.

In a brutal display of fundamentals, the Sox saw one outfield misplay result in a three-run fourth, then, with the game freshly tied in the eighth inning, a breakdown between pitcher and catcher led to the winning run crossing the plate.

Four of five runs scored by the Baltimore Orioles in the Red Sox' 5-4 loss were essentially gift-wrapped, as the momentum built on their recent five-game West Coast winning streak ebbed further with a second straight loss.

Worse, the setback was largely self-inflicted, or, at the very least, avoidable.

There was one out and nobody on in the fourth when Derrek Lee skied a ball into shallow center. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia broke back. Problem was, so did center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury -- at least for an instant.

Believing the ball had been hit harder than it had, Ellsbury's initial step sent him away from the ball. By the time Ellsbury recovered, sprinting toward the infield with Pedroia scrambling backward, the ball dropped between them, untouched.

Vladimir Guerrero followed with a soft liner to short that should have been the third out. Instead, starter Josh Beckett next surrendered a 423-foot two-run homer to Luke Scott and a solo belt by Adam Jones.

"I've got to limit the damage there," lamented Beckett. "Gotta make a better pitch to Scott."

But there was no getting away from the nagging feeling that the Red Sox should have, could have, been out of the jam without a run scoring.

"Obviously, that's a huge play," Terry Francona said of the ball that wasn't caught. "Any time you give extra outs . . . That ball was up there a long time. It's not an error. But you give them an extra opportunity and it turns out to be three runs.''

A still-frustrated Pedroia practically spat out his words.

"It's got to be caught," he said.

Asked if Ellsbury didn't see the ball well coming off the bat, Pedroia said: "I'm not sure. You'll have to ask him."

"The ball went up and I kind of broke back real quick," Ellsbury recounted. "I was playing him in the left-center gap. It was a split-second back and it fell in between us. We need to make that play for Josh."

In the eighth inning, Kevin Youkilis ripped a three-run homer to left-center to forge a 4-4 tie and suddenly, and it seemed like the fourth-inning mishap wouldn't be as crippling.

"We were scrambling and not doing much offensively,'' said Francona. "Then Youk hit the home run and we get to set-up man Daniel Bard and it's like, 'Let's go.' "

Except more breakdowns were on the way.

Bard allowed the first two hitters to reach in the bottom of the eighth. He then thought catcher Jason Varitek had called for a slider, when, in fact, Varitek had signaled for a fastball.

"We crossed up our signs," said Bard. "My mistake, not his. I didn't see the fingers he put down. I saw them wrong. He put down the right thing, but I saw 'breaking ball' and threw the wrong pitch."

Predictably, it got past Varitek and the wild pitch led to both runners advancing into scoring position.

Next, a sinker handcuffed Varitek "just enough, where I didn't have my glove turned on either side," said the catcher.

Nick Markakis, attempting to score from third, was cut down when Varitek scrambled to corral the ball and flipped it to Bard, whose foot blocked the plate from the oncoming baserunner.

"I'm thinking strikeout of Guerrero for the second out, and then find a way to get the next guy out," said Bard.

The Sox, however, still had Lee at third, and he rode home when Guerrero lined a pitch through the drawn-in infield.

Bard blamed himself for mislocating ("I was yanking the ball over the plate") on all three base hits that inning.

The defeat stung.

"Kind of a roller coaster," grumbled Francona. "It turned in a hurry for us. It's a tough loss . . . Hurts. That could have been an exciting win."

"It sucks," concluded Pedroia. "We want to win."

Harder to do, of course, when they're playing as they did Wednesday night.

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

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.