RED SOX NOTEBOOK
Very few bumps in the road
Smooth sailing for solid staff
NEW YORK -- As they might say in Toronto, where the Red Sox started the six-game trek that ended yesterday in the Bronx: "Pretty nifty road trip, eh?"
Only Chris Gomez's jarring grand slam off Curt Schilling in the finale of a three-game series north of the border prevented the Sox from returning home 6-0 on the journey. But a 5-1 trip was sweet consolation, especially since it lifted the Sox atop the American League East without two of their key contributors, Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon.
The absence of Garciaparra and Nixon hurt the Sox offense, whose batting average with runners in scoring position dropped during the trip to .221 this season. But the pitching was spectacular, as the Sox allowed only 15 runs (14 earned) on the trip, or 2.5 per game. Sox pitchers logged a 2.33 ERA and held the Blue Jays and Yankees to a .133 average.
"That's probably the best we've pitched in a long time," Johnny Damon said. "You can't blame those guys for not hitting."
The bullpen was all but perfect on the trip as Sox relievers extended their streak of scoreless innings to 24 2/3. The relief corps has been so nasty, in fact, that opponents have hit only .086 against the Sox pen over the last 10 games.
"Our pitching has been phenomenal," Kevin Millar said. "We're winning games with pitching and defense. That's what wins baseball games, whether it's April or August. Right now, we're starting to get that feel of winning baseball."
The Sox offense hardly killed the ball on the trip, averaging 4.5 runs a game despite an 11-run outburst Saturday in the Bronx. But it produced enough to prevail, thanks largely to Manny Ramirez, who hit .477 (10 for 24) on the trip with two homers and five RBIs.
"He's the reason we won these ballgames," Damon said.
But Pedro Martinez wanted to spread the credit, especially after he led the Sox past the Yankees yesterday, 2-0.
"You have to talk about the whole team," he said. "They never gave up. They played hard. It was up to me to step up and give them a chance to win."
Surgery for Burks
Ellis Burks is expected to be placed on the disabled list as soon as today to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair torn meniscus, or cartilage, in his left knee, according to an industry source.
Burks, 39, was diagnosed last week with the injury but continued to play, going 1 for 4, scoring two runs, and stealing a base Friday against the Yankees and getting hit by a pitch as a pinch hitter Saturday in the Bronx. He suffered the injury when he slipped changing directions running between second and third base in spring training.
Burks received cortisone shots to relieve the swelling before he elected to undergo the surgery, which could sideline him at least four weeks.
The Sox are expected to recall Brian Daubach from Triple A Pawtucket to replace Burks.
Kim return near
The reports on Byung Hyun Kim's third and perhaps final rehab start Saturday were positive enough to complicate things today when the Sox weigh whether to slide Kim into the rotation Friday and bump Bronson Arroyo to the bullpen. Arroyo pitched well enough against the Yankees Saturday (two earned runs over six innings plus) that in most cases he would have earned another start. But Kim, who has been all but guaranteed a spot in the rotation, has fared well in his rehab outings, limiting opponents at Single A and Triple A to one unearned run over 8 1/3 innings.
Manager Terry Francona said Kim's velocity of 85-88 miles per hour was improved from spring and he had good command.
"Some people said his breaking ball is better than it's been since he's been here," Francona said. "There are some real encouraging signs."
The manager indicated the Sox would not delay Kim's return solely to keep Arroyo in the rotation.
"That's probably not fair," he said. "When a guy is ready, he's ready. What we have to answer is when he's ready to help us and get to a point where [Kim's limited number of innings] doesn't hurt our bullpen too much."
Kim, who threw 60 pitches Saturday for Pawtucket, could throw on the side today, which Francona said could help the team gauge the righthander's readiness.
No one but Bill Mueller had started every game at the same position for the Sox over the first 17 games. The streak ended in the 18th game as Francona rested Mueller and started Mark Bellhorn at third, with Cesar Crespo playing second. Mueller missed much of spring training with a hyperextended elbow he suffered swinging a weighted bat.
"Myself included, I think we all kind of forget he didn't play a lot in spring training until the end," Francona said. "When the bell rings, you just play, but I think this will be really good for him."
The reigning AL batting champion, Mueller is batting .270 with three homers, 11 RBIs (third most on the team), and a .357 on-base percentage. He was the only Sox player to bat in the same place in the order (second) over the first 17 games, and he had reached base via a hit or a walk in 13 straight.
"He certainly wasn't going to offer [to sit]," Francona said. "But he really needed a day."
The move may have cost the Sox some offense since Mueller effectively was replaced by Crespo, who is batting .133 after going 0 for 4. But Bellhorn, batting in Mueller's spot, scored the game's first run when he walked leading off the fourth inning and came around on Ramirez's homer.
Today's offday will give Mueller an extra day of rest. Jason Varitek also will get two straight days as Doug Mirabelli catches Tim Wakefield tomorrow.
Ramirez's blast into the Sox bullpen was his 20th home run at Yankee Stadium, tying him with Rafael Palmeiro for the most by active opposing players. The homer was the 352d of Ramirez's career, tying him with Burks . . . David Ortiz's double in the sixth inning marked his seventh straight game with an extra-base hit (six doubles and a homer). It's the longest streak for the Sox since Mueller's nine-game run from April 30 to May 11 . . . David McCarty started his third game of the season at first base, going 0 for 3 with a walk . . . Nixon (mildly herniated disk) could DH in a game in extended spring training as soon as today . . . Garciaparra (right Achilles' tendinitis) has run only in straight lines. His next step is to follow a lateral, or serpentine, course . . . Ramirez and his Yankee pal Enrique Wilson left the stadium together after Saturday's game . . . Mariano Rivera's appearance was his 522d with the Yankees, tying him with Dave Righetti for first place on the team's all-time list . . . Yankee fans draped images of Grady Little from the upper deck to mark starter Javier Vazquez's strikeouts.
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