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Sox come up losers in latest game of power ball

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 18, 2010

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NEW YORK — The Red Sox had attempted only one stolen base in the last 13 games against the Yankees.

We understand that Jacoby Ellsbury isn’t with the team to provide that dimension, but the Sox have become statues, unable to make anything happen. In Saturday night’s 7-6 loss to the Tigers, Dontrelle Willis walked seven and was timed at 2.18 seconds to the plate on a couple of pitches, according to one scout.

My first reaction is that had to be a mistake.

Yet, the Sox never attempted a steal.

Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are the only two Red Sox with two steals. Marco Scutaro, Kevin Youkilis, Jeremy Hermida, Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall, Adrian Beltre, and J.D. Drew have one. Total: 11 (in 17 attempts). That’s tied for 29th among 30 teams in the Major League Baseball entering last night. The Sox are not running and it has taken energy out of their game.

Steals create aggressive baseball. It puts pressure on the pitcher, the catcher, and the infield. It builds momentum. It changes defensive positioning, pitch location, you name it. The Sox have completely ignored that dimension. Might a running game have helped in the 14 one-run games they had played entering last night, of which they’d won seven? Probably.

Only twice — an 8-6 win over Kansas City April 11 and a 13-12 win over Toronto April 26 — have the Sox stole two bases in a game.

We understand the Sox don’t have a lot of fast players. But what about Pedroia, Scutaro, McDonald, Youkilis, Beltre or even Drew running? Occasionally?

The Sox have become similar to the old Sox teams that had no idea what a stolen base was. If they’ve decided to wait for the three-run homer, like the old Earl Weaver Orioles teams, you’d better hit a lot of them. The Sox were second in the majors entering last night’s game with 49 homers, 11 behind the Blue Jays.

There may be a lot of legitimate reasons for the lack of stolen bases.

Third base coach Tim Bogar, who has been under fire for runners getting thrown out at the plate, likes aggressive base running. He’d love to see more steals, but he doesn’t necessarily believe the Sox are equipped to do it.

“That’s why we’ve missed Jacoby so much,’’ said Bogar. “He’s on first, steals a base, maybe you get a throwing error by the catcher. He affects the pitcher, and the hitters behind him see a different selection of pitches — more fastballs. We’ve missed that element, there’s no doubt about that. I think when Jacoby’s around, stolen bases can be contagious. You see other players wanting to do it. The other thing is you don’t want to take away from the middle of your order by having someone thrown out, so there are a lot of factors involved.’’

Bogar said the Sox haven’t been in position to steal more bases. Part of that is playing from behind.

But it seems the Sox need to force the action.

Maybe they should take a chance now and then. After all, how many catchers can throw anyone out?

When you’ve been such an up-and-down team like the Red Sox, you need a spark. Hitting home runs is one way to do it, aggressive base running is another.

In Saturday night’s game, Scutaro led off with a walk against Willis. Seemed like a great time to make something happen. Nothing. Youkilis walked with two outs and David Ortiz struck out to end the inning. In the second inning, Beltre singled and Drew walked. The Sox again waited for the big inning. Instead they got an inning-ending double play. In the third, Pedroia walked with one out. Again, stationary baseball, although the Sox scored three runs in the inning.

The Sox took a 6-1 lead but lost, 7-6, in 12 innings. One baseball evaluator in attendance couldn’t believe the Sox didn’t steal once against Willis. He thought the Sox blew their chance by not putting more pressure on Willis. Because Willis is a lefthander, the Sox seemed to be reluctant to run.

Before Dave Roberts came along in 2004, the Sox were a pretty stationary team. Then they started running and making things happen and things began to turn around. It appears they need to take that path again.

Once Ellsbury and Mike Cameron return to the lineup, the team’s mind-set may change. The confidence those guys have to steal bases, may, as Bogar said, set off a run.

At the moment, the Sox are putting no pressure on pitchers or catchers. Pitchers can execute and stick to the pattern they’re most comfortable with. They don’t have to be inconvenienced with slide steps that alter deliveries and create less velocity.

They know the Sox aren’t going to run.

Being predictable is often the kiss of death.

And lately the Sox have been very predictable.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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