Notes: Bard once again rock solid out of pen

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Notes: Bard once again rock solid out of pen

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
KANSAS CITY It starts to get old after a while.

Daniel Bard comes into a hairy baseball situation with no discernible escape, and manages to make it look easy while wriggling out of the mess. The flame-throwing Bard did it again on Sunday when he waltzed into a sticky situation in the seventh inning with the tying run on base and nobody out in a 3-1 ballgame against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

Getting out of that jam was the biggest part of that game, said catcher Jason Varitek, who had an excellent view of Bards nuclear stuff from behind the plate.

Jon Lester couldnt put out the fire, and instead Bard came in to retire Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, and Melky Cabrera in a row to escape the jam and preserve what became a 6-1 victory for the Sox. Escobar looked like he was trying to sacrifice the two runners over, but laying down a bunt on a 100-mph fastball motoring through the strike zone is a lot easier said than done.

It was the 48th scoreless outing out of 57 total games pitched for Bostons top reliever this year, and another shred of evidence that Bard is as close to automatic as it gets out of the bullpen these days.

It was another day for a 100-mph hurler thats allowed only 3 of 29 inherited runners to score this season, and ranks third in the American League with the 10 percent inherited runners allowed this season.

Im able to pitch for strikeouts in that situation until I get that first out, said Bard. That was big. Youre saving the game even though youre not necessarily saving the game. My job is maintaining the lead and the easiest way to do that is to strike a guy out and then get a ground ball.

Bard is no longer in the middle of a 26 13 inning scoreless streak like he was during the month of July, but he leads the Sox with 57 outings this season and is second among AL relievers with a .115 batting average against for right-handed hitters.

Thats not easy. But at that point in the game Lester had pitched so well and we wanted to stay away from Alfredo Aceves, said Francona. We figure well go with Bard, and if he has to work hard enough then well go with somebody else. It just depended on how it went. But Id rather leave somebody else with a clean inning. Hes our best getting out of those innings.

Bard proved why hes the best once again when things got tight against the Royals.

Jason Varitek smacked an RBI triple to the right field gap in Sundays win over the Royals a hit that was made notable because it had been four years and 406 games since his last triple on June 24, 2007 against the San Diego Padres.

I like to space them out, joked Varitek after the game was over. Maybe the next inning I needed some oxygen. With two outs I need to make sure its something I can get to third on, and I felt like it was something I shouldnt have a problem getting to.

Its not like Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford . . . trust me.

Carl Crawford rocketed a home run in the seventh inning and has now hit safely in 20 of his last 32 games since returning from the 15-day disabled list on July 18. He is batting .287(58-for-202) in his last 53 games.

The Red Sox have hit 85 home runs on the road this season to lead the Major Leagues, and have a commanding lead over second-place St. Louis, who entered Sunday with 75 road homers this season.

Funny scene after the game with 24-year-old rookie Ryan Lavarnway readying for his first trip traveling with the Sox, and sporting a nice suit jacket that still had all of the tags on it as he walked around the visiting clubhouse.

Carl Crawford still found himself batting in the seventh spot over the weekend despite a plethora of injuries to many of Bostons best positional players, and some saw the situation as a reflection on Crawfords struggles this season.

While some of that may be true, it appears to be more about leaving the Sox left fielder in a lineup position thats become comfortable to him and getting the most out of Crawford. In 65 at bats this season in the top five spots in the Sox lineup, Crawford is hitting a scant .125 and has gathered up virtually no offensive momentum in whats been a lackluster season.

Sox Manager Terry Francona said that he had talked with bench coach DeMarlo Hale about moving Crawford up into the leadoff spot or the No. 2 hole given Jacoby Ellsburys absence in the lineup, but the big ticket free agent hasnt been a very good fit there all year.

Crawford has also stabilized at the plate a bit, and entered Sunday hitting .278 during the month of August. The last thing Francona wanted to do was change things around for his left fielder and potentially send him into another funk.

You just dont really want to bounce Crawford around too much, said Terry Francona of his outfielder that went into Sundays game hitting .251 on the season. "We just didnt think it made sense. But we did talk about it.

Some guys are creatures of habit, Francona explained. You get to like the four and five guys of your lineup, you can move other guys where youre keeping the essence of your batting order kind of the same, balance, things like that. But sometimes you cant. Just want to protect people.

Instead Marco Scutaro was given the leadoff spot over the last two games for the Sox a position where he filled in ably many times last season when Ellsbury was limited to 18 games due to fractured ribs.

Ellsbury was still sore on Sunday after getting drilled with an 88-mph fastball in the upper back on Friday night, and Francona indicated that the Sox centerfielder may miss the beginning of the Texas series as well.

David Ortiz hit for the second straight day in Kansas City, and was exuberantly running sprints through the Sox clubhouse in his flip-flops much to the amusement of Dustin Pedroia. Ortiz said that hes feeling good and was in high spirits watching the Little League World Series in the visiting clubhouse prior to Sundays series finale.

Ortiz is expected to be completely out of the protective boot on his right foot on Monday, but would still likely be a couple of days away from returning to the Sox lineup when they arrive in Texas.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs.

McAdam: Seeds of first place Red Sox planted in A.L. East basement

McAdam: Seeds of first place Red Sox planted in A.L. East basement

NEW YORK -- Worst to first.

Again.

Sound familiar?

It should, since the Red Sox are now making this a habit. For the second time in the last four years, the Red Sox have rebounded from a last-place finish -- two, in fact, in this instance -- to claim a division title.

On Wednesday, they won it the hard way -- by losing the game, 5-3, on a walk-off grand slam by the New York Yankees' Mark Teixeira, but clinching first thanks to a loss by the second-place Toronto Blue Jays.

It's as though the Red Sox were determined to win it on a trick bank shot. They had already won the A.L. East more conventionally in 2013, by actually winning their clinching game. But the awkwardness of blowing a three-run lead in the ninth was soon washed away in a spray of champagne and beer in a raucous clubhouse.

"One inning,'' declared John Farrell, "should not take away from the fact that we're champions.''

Indeed, the Red Sox had already paid the price to get to this point with two consecutive finishes in the division basement. They had to wait for their young foundation to mature and evolve.

Mookie Betts went from being a good, promising player to a legitimate MVP candidate. Jackie Bradley Jr. transformed from defensive marvel and streaky hitter to solid, all-around All-Star. Xander Bogaerts continued to improve and finally checked the "power'' box.

"I don't know what expectations we had coming in,'' confessed Bradley. "You just know that as long as you play hard, do the right things, keep together. . . We knew we had a talented team, but you still have to play the game. We were able to play the game at a high level this year.

"I think we knew this could happen in spring training, that we could be a pretty special team.''

By this year, the growing pains were over. The young stars had arrived and were ready to not just flash potential, but this time, do something with it.

"Everything came to fruition,'' noted Bradley, "and we're here.''

Along with the expected developments, there were surprises: Sandy Leon went from fourth-string journeyman to starting catcher, unseating several teammates along the way. Steven Wright went from bullpen long man to All-Star starter. Andrew Benintendi came from nowhere to claim the left field job in the final two months.

Some of this was planned. The rest -- and this is the beauty of sports -- was not.

"We had two rough years," said Farrell. "But at the same time, it was true meaning in the struggles. We're benefitting from that now.,''

The team showed a powerful finishing kick down the stretch, obliterating anything and anyone in its way in the final month, winning 11 straight, including seven in a row on the road -- all against division opponents.

The road-heavy second-half schedule that threatened to derail them instead toughened them and served as a springboard.

Comparisons will be made, of course, to the last two championship teams - 2004 stands alone for obvious reasons. Farrell was the pitching coach for one (2007) and the manager of another (2013).

"This is a more dynamic offense than those other teams,'' said Farrell. "We've got more team speed, we've got more athleticism. I can't say that this is a better team; it's different.''

"Better'' may have to wait until November, and the end of the postseason. It will require a World Series victory to match 2007 and 2013.

Time will tell. But for a night, there was enough to celebrate.

"By no means,'' said Farrell, dripping in champagne, "is this the end. This is just the beginning of our postseason.''

 

Quotes, notes and stars: Red Sox lose, but 'celebrate anyway'

Quotes, notes and stars: Red Sox lose, but 'celebrate anyway'

NEW YORK - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 5-3 loss in New York.

 

QUOTES:

"I feel pretty good. Let's put it this way: Where we are now, I wouldn't want to play us going into the playoffs." - Red Sox principal owner John Henry

"I wanted to celebrate on that field so bad, but it is what it is. We end up being the first place team in the American League, and we're going to celebrate anyway." - David Ortiz, after the Red Sox lose on a walkoff, but clinch the division anyway.

“I’ll still be trying to hit the next four games, but if it just happens to be my last one (homer of his career), it’ll be pretty special." - Mark Teixeira, who's retiring Sunday and hit the walk-off grand slam.

 

NOTES:

* Joe Kelly became the first Red Sox pitcher to allow a walkoff grand slam since Julian Tavarez in 2006.

* Craig Kimbrel failed to record an out -- in 28 pitches -- marking the third time in 410 career appearances that that happened.

* Koji Uehara posted his 14th straight scoreless appearance.

* Brad Ziegler hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 19 appearances.

* Dustin Pedroia has scored five runs and knocked in seven in his last five games.

* Mookie Betts posted his major league-leading 66th multi-hit game.

* Clay Buchholz has a 2.63 ERA in his last seven starts.

* The one hit allowed by Buchholz marks the fewest hits allowed by him in a non-injury-shortened game since his no-hitter in 2007.

* The win marked only the second time the Red Sox have clinched the A.L. East away from home. The other time was in Cleveland in 1998.

 

STARS:

1) Mark Teixeira

The first baseman is going out in style. In the final week of his career, he hit his second game-winning homer of the week, with Wednesday's being a walk-off grand slam.

2) Clay Buchholz

Buchholz was brilliant, allowing three baserunners -- an infield hit and two walks -- in six shutout innings.

3) Mookie Betts

Betts delivered what appeared to be the game's biggest blow -- a two-run chopped double in the eighth to break open a scoreless tie.