Red Sox: Philly series not a World Series preview

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Red Sox: Philly series not a World Series preview

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
PITTSBURGH After losing two of three to the Pirates, the Red Sox head to Philadelphia to face the team with the best record in baseball for a three-game series that has some prognosticating a World Series match.

"It's a good challenge," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Like I said in spring training, I think the Red Sox are the best team in baseball. It's going to be two good teams playing against each other, and hopefully we're up for the challenge."

But over the weekend, manager Terry Francona was hesitant to look ahead.

I think its a little dangerous pointing to series because then you got a chance to stumble somewhere else, he said.

I havent really looked at the Phillies as much as you . . . We know the obvious. Their starting pitching, they got dangerous bats, they got some guys nicked up. Theres some guys that we dont know that well have to learn quickly. But theyre good. Theyre veteran."

The Sox are scheduled to face left-hander Cliff Lee on Tuesday. On May 31 Lee was 4-5 with a 3.94 ERA. In four starts since then, he is 4-0 with an 0.27 ERA.

"Were going to see their best on Tuesday," said Francona. "I think hes their best, isnt he? One of their best."

Lee has thrown a combined 33 innings in those games, giving up just one earned run, with complete-game shutouts against the Marlins and Cardinals in his last two. He has not given up a run in his last 23 straight innings.

While the Phillies offense has struggled at times, manager Charlie Manuel knows he will have to rely on his pitching against the team with the American Leagues most potent offense. The Sox, a half game behind the Yankees in the AL East, are batting .277 with 409 runs scored, both tops in the league.

I think we measure up good if our pitchers pitch like hell, Manuel said to the Philadelphia Daily News. If were seeing a better offense, thats where our pitching would have to shine.

As proof that the Sox arent looking past the Phillies, at least one player was surprised to learn who they would face in the series opener.

Cliff Lee? Didnt he just pitch Saturday? Kevin Youkilis said before Sundays game. Are we really going to talk about Philly now? I wasnt even ready to answer questions about today, let alone Philly. I guess go in, and Cliff Lee is a good pitcher but, weve faced him a bunch of times being in Cleveland and Texas. So we know what he has and hopefully we can jump on him early.

Youkilis isnt looking at the series against Phillies as a chance for the Sox to make a statement.

We just try to go out and win ballgames, he said. We dont care who its against. At the end of the season, if you finish in first place, youre winning games against a lot of different teams, youre losing games against a lot of different teams. So, it really doesnt matter. Its just about going out there and playing good ball and trying to win a series.

Im not really interested in the series other than just going out there and playing baseball. I dont look at it as foreshadowing. I dont look at it as something thats going to happen because both teams still have to play a lot more baseball to make it in the playoffs, let alone the World Series. If its in October and were both in the playoffs and were both playing well, then we can talk about it. Until then, its just a series where we got to go out and play some good baseball and hopefully try to take two out of three and hopefully win the series.

But that is something the Sox have not been able to do in their last two series, against the Pirates and Padres. Still, the Sox wont change their approach against the Phillies, Jason Varitek said.

You got to approach it like always, he said. Theyre a very good team and there are a lot of good teams right now. Still, no matter what we do, we just try to focus on ourselves and play good baseball.

We are who we are. So, I dont think it changes. We have to focus really on us and how we play.

But, could this series be a preview of things to come in October?

Well see. Time will tell on that one, Varitek said with a smile.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

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First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

BOSTON -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 5-3 win over Toronto:

* What's left to say about David Ortiz?

Ortiz acknowledged before Friday's game that the pre-game ceremonies and the attendant fuss over his pending retirement have created a challenge for him. Sometimes, it's hard to go from being feted to trying to win a game.

Not that you would know it by Friday night.

In his first at-bat, he singled home the first run of the game. Two at-bats later, he lined a bullet that was right at Jose Bautista.

But he saved his best for the seventh when, after the Red Sox tied the game at 3-3, Ortiz promptly untied it with a laser down the line, landing in the right field seats.

One more clutch hit from Ortiz in a career full of them.

* Brock Holt's defense at third has stood out.

John Farrell is looking for someone to step up with the third base job, given that Travis Shaw is hitting under .200 since the All-Star break and Aaron Hill has had difficulty hitting righties.

Holt, meanwhile, has seized the job somewhat by default, with a .319 average in the last 24 games.

But since starting the last four games at third, Holt has also contributed with his glove.

On Friday night, Holt made a fine stop with his backhand, on the third base line, and fired to nail Devon Travis on a close play at first.

Later, he came on a slow roller to gun down Josh Donaldson out at first.

* The Red Sox have done a better job of late capitalizing on opponents' mistakes.

Last week in Baltimore, the Red Sox were handed a gift by the Orioles when a throwing error by Chris Davis resulted in five runs being scored -- all of them unearned. It took exactly two pitches for the Red Sox to pounce on the opportunity.

On Friday night, it happened again.

Trailing 3-1, the Red Sox used a throwing error by Russell Martin to score one run and put another runner in scoring position. A groundout and single by Mookie Betts tied things, and Ortiz's homer broke the tie and gave the Red Sox a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Good teams take advantage of mistakes. Two of the last six Red Sox wins are prime examples of that maxim.

Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

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Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

BOSTON — As has been well-documented, the Red Sox have tried any number of solutions at third base this season, with eight different players getting starts at the position.

Travis Shaw has the most starts of anyone, with 99. But with three games left in the season, it's become apparent that Brock Holt is being viewed as the likely starter in the post-season.

Holt started all three games in the recent series in New York and was the starter Friday night against Toronto, too.

"You look at the consistent quality to the at-bats," said John Farrell, "and they've been there for him. That's not to say the other guys aren't important to us. But this is the time of year where you're looking to put the best, current lineup on the field and his versatility has shown up a number of ways. He's a confident defender at third base and his skill set is a little bit different from the other guys.

"So against righthanded pitching, that could be the guy we're going with."

Holt came into Friday hitting .319 (22-for-69) in the last 24 games.

Shaw, meanwhile, has been streaky to a fault. In the second half of the season, Shaw has posted a slash line of .195/.260/.362.

"We've seen (the streakiness both ways) in short spurts," Farrell said. "He does have the ability to carry us. But we're trying to get there and we're at a point in the year where every game is meaningful. That's not to say you turn your back on what he did earlier in the season. But we're looking for sparks somewhere."

What's more, Farrell had Holt hitting second in the lineup, in an effort to produce more offense. The Sox were limited to just eight runs in the three-game series at Yankee Stadium, and over the last 11 games, scored more than five runs just once.

Holt hit second, with Xander Bogaerts dropped to sixth.

"This is to create a little bit of a spark for us offensively," explained Farrell. "We've been grinding a little bit. And also, (we want) to create a little more (left-right) balance up and down the lineup."

TIME TO PLAY

As the final few regular season games of his career wind down, David Ortiz acknowledged that it's becoming increasing difficult to focus on the games with all the tributes and ceremonies going on.

In the final 11 days of the season, Ortiz will have had five pre-game ceremonies held in his honor -- and it would have been six had not Ortiz asked the Tampa Bay Rays to cancel the ceremony they had planned in the aftermath of the death that morning of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

On Thursday night, Ortiz has his family on the field for a pre-game celebration hosted by the New York Yankees.

Minutes later, he had to step in to the batter's box against CC Sabathia. Sometimes, it's hard to flip that switch and be emotionally ready to compete.

"I'm not going to lie to you -- it has (gotten harder)," said Ortiz. "We're already in the playoffs, so for the next three days, I don't really have to worry about it. But the best thing about it is that once we get into the playoffs, there's not going to be all these distractions.

"I like to mentally focus when we play, especially when I'm playing for a reason. We work extremely hard during the regular season to get into the playoffs and once we get there, I don't want to blow that off. It's not easy to (do all the ceremonies) and play baseball at the same time. It can be a distraction."