Starting pitching keeps banged-up Red Sox in the AL East hunt
NEW YORK -- The last time
Boston's ace repeated that situation last night after an intervening four months in which New York built a six-game lead in the American League East. This time there was no comeback and hardly any offense, as the Red Sox managed just two runs in 6 2/3 innings against substitute starter
The Sox lost 7-2, as Beckett took responsibility for pitching poorly, allowing 11 hits and seven runs over 4 2/3 innings.
"You give up seven runs, who else are you going to blame?" Beckett said.
Such a performance would sink most games anyway but especially right now while Boston's starting rotation is bearing a disproportionate share of the burden in determining the team's fortunes.
Of the Red Sox's 10 Opening Day starters, six have spent time on the disabled list, including Beckett who missed two months with a back strain. And the team's two best all-around players, second baseman
Though Sox manager
"Our margin for error is less because some guys are hurt, but that doesn't mean we can't win," Francona said. "We're not in first place. We're not where we want to be."
Francona's infield is in tatters. His outfield has been held together by unheralded journeymen. His bullpen has only two reliable relievers. But his starting rotation, in which the Red Sox have invested well over $200 million for the next few years, is finally intact for the first time since a two-week stretch in early May.
Thus the onus of the Red Sox's season -- which, because of a four-game deficit to the Rays for the wild card, is in jeopardy of not extending into October -- rests on the starters.
"That's probably an understatement," starter
The rotation is currently the club's one healthy unit and certainly its most accomplished. Four of the five members are current or former All-Stars and the fifth,
Since Beckett returned on July 23, the staff has pitched like the season has depended upon them -- which it does. The Sox have gone 9-7 in that stretch. The starters have averaged 6 1/3 innings per outing with a 3.94 ERA and a .251 opponents' batting average. They've had to pitch well to win, as the Sox offense has only averaged 3.8 runs in that time span.
The rotation has a tough task ahead. The Red Sox haven't been in second place since July 4. Since then they've gone 14-16, but with seven more games against the Yankees and six more with the Rays, they remain in contention. Increasingly, however, New York and Tampa Bay are looking like great teams, while Boston is merely very good.
The irony is that what could propel the Red Sox to the playoffs is the run prevention the club sought in the offseason. Before the year the Sox loaded up on pitching and defense, only to win most of its game by pounding the ball. Until recently the Sox had the majors' highest-scoring offense; now they're second, trailing only the Yankees.
This offensive output amid such a slew of injuries is a testament to the organization as a whole. The Red Sox have employed the most batters in the AL (39) and, probably not coincidentally, those batters are the league's oldest (an average of 31.5 years). In all Francona has filled out 97 different batting orders and used 82 different defensive lineups in 111 games.
The worst of Boston's carnage happened in a three-game series in San Francisco, in which one All-Star each day got injured: Pedroia broke his foot, Buchholz strained his hamstring, and catcher
"This is obviously the most injuries I've ever seen happen to one team, especially in the time frame that they did," said Red Sox Swiss Army knife
Even a few of the guys in the lineup are struggling physically. Shortstop
The Sox do have a few feared hitters packing the middle of the lineup in DH
"Everyone's talking about how their lineup has been depleted, but
The Red Sox have also dealt with some internal grumbling. On Boston's last trip to the Bronx, Lowell sat in front of his locker in Yankee Stadium and gave a premeditated spiel when reporters approached, voicing his frustrations over his lack of playing time. On Friday Lowell, who, with the injury to Youkilis, had received the role he was looking for, stood facing that same locker until he felt the presence of about two dozen reporters gathering behind him. He pulled out his chair to make himself comfortable.
"Everything about this season has been a little bit weird," Lowell said. "Am I happy that I'm playing? Yeah, I enjoy playing baseball. But with Kevin Youkilis not on your team, you're really not better. Do I think that I can plug the hole? I'm going to try my best."
After missing all of July with hip problems, Lowell homered on the first pitch he saw. In the first three games against the Yankees, he's 3-for-10 with a double, two RBIs and two runs while playing first base -- but the drama continues. When asked about rumors that the Red Sox were interested in adding a left-handed first baseman to platoon with him, Lowell said he wouldn't address that speculation until a player was signed. When the Sox signed
Through it all, the Red Sox have managed to stay upbeat, catching that optimism from Francona, whose frequent refrain to players is a manageable one: "Just go out and try to do your job the best you can."
Soon after the team bus pulled up to Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon, music began filling the visiting clubhouse, plenty loud and upbeat. Centerfielder
"We just need some good vibrations sometimes," Cameron said. "We run ourselves into the ground so much at the end of the day, so there are times when you just try to enjoy the day."
After the loss, Cameron waxed philosophical while sitting in front of his locker, an ice pack across his strained abdomen bulging through his shirt.
"I try not to stress too much because it doesn't help my body to heal," he said. "During the course of the game I get a little itchy from time to time, but for the most part, man, I just try to stay positive. Positive minds lead to a positive vibe, and a positive vibe leads to something good."