THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

This glove story ends happily

Red Sox defense shows signs of coming alive

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 23, 2010

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PHILADELPHIA — To throw a no-hitter, a pitcher usually needs a great defensive play or two behind him. The Red Sox made four for Daisuke Matsuzaka last night and it wasn’t quite enough.

“We were on our toes,’’ second baseman Dustin Pedroia said after the Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-0. “I really thought he was going to do it.’’

Matsuzaka was four outs away when Juan Castro sneaked a single just over the glove of shortstop Marco Scutaro. But until then, the Sox made every play they had to and some they had no business making.

The glove work started in the first inning. After Matsuzaka walked Placido Polanco with one out, Chase Utley lined a fastball to the right side. Pedroia reached up to snap it out of the air and made a quick throw to first base to double off Polanco and end the inning.

“You only have time to react. I was lucky enough to get those extra inches in my glove,’’ Pedroia said.

Utley was robbed again in the fourth, this time by left fielder Jeremy Hermida. The Philadelphia second baseman drove a ball toward the gap in left-center. Hermida took off running and caught up to it at the wall.

“I knew he had a no-hitter,’’ Hermida said. “Once you get one time through the lineup you notice if the other team doesn’t have any hits. You get the feeling when you make a few of those plays that it’s meant to be.’’

The next good play came in the sixth inning from an unexpected source: David Ortiz.

Playing first base for the first time since last June 28, Ortiz picked up a tricky hop off the bat of Shane Victorino and made a graceful underhand flip to Matsuzaka covering the bag.

“Leather, man,’’ Ortiz said. “I wanted to use that leather out there today. Don’t get used to it.’’

Ortiz acknowledged he had no idea Matsuzaka had a no-hitter going until Castro broke it up.

“I was too focused trying to protect myself at first base,’’ he said.

Because he has been hitting well, manager Terry Francona wanted to get Ortiz at least one start in this series. It came last night at the expense of another hot hitter in Kevin Youkilis.

“It might be easier for him to go out and do it [for] a day, as opposed to going out and doing it for a week,’’ Francona said before the game. “I think tonight you’re going to see his concentration. He hasn’t done it. He’s going to, because he’s got hands that are fine. His reactions are fine.’’

That proved to be the case as Ortiz handled the position flawlessly for seven innings before being replaced by Youkilis.

Youkilis has started 178 games at third base in his career, 56 of them last season. But with Adrian Beltre and Mike Lowell on the roster, Francona said he would rather not shift his first baseman around.

Beltre made a solid play in the third inning when he cut off a grounder headed for the hole and threw out Victorino. But he made his best play of the season in the eighth.

With Raul Ibanez on first after a walk, Carlos Ruiz connected on a 2-and-2 fastball and hit a low line drive to the left side.

“I thought it was coming right at me,’’ Hermida said.

But Beltre made a diving play and gloved the ball before it hit the ground then fired to first base before Ibanez could get back. Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said he thought Matsuzaka would get the no-hitter after that play.

“I don’t know if he makes that play again, it’s that good of a play,’’ Francona said.

The Red Sox built what they thought would be an outstanding defensive team in the offseason with the additions of Beltre, Scutaro, and center fielder Mike Cameron. That has not been the case until the last few weeks.

But last night was an example of what the Sox are capable of.

“Those errors are already there. If we play like we can, it doesn’t matter,’’ Francona said. “I know our record is what it is. But we are playing better.’’

Amalie Benjamin of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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