|Jason Varitek connects for a two-run homer in the second inning against the White Sox. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)|
In the end, it’s Red Sox
Three relievers are stellar in win
CHICAGO - It has become almost customary for the Red Sox to make a move at the trade deadline to strengthen their bullpen. But when the final telephone calls had been made and text messages sent yesterday, the relief pitchers were left intact.
General manager Theo Epstein said his priority was to obtain a starting pitcher, a goal he accomplished by trading four prospects for Seattle lefthander Erik Bedard.
No bullpen help was deemed necessary.
Count Daniel Bard as a proponent of that strategy.
“We didn’t need to make a move. Our bullpen is fine,’’ the righthander said after the Red Sox finished off a successful day with a 5-3 victory over the White Sox. “We just need to keep rolling, keep doing what we’re doing.’’
After Andrew Miller allowed three runs over 5 2/3 innings and left trailing by a run, Alfredo Aceves, Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon shut the White Sox down. Aceves (7-1) got the win when the Red Sox scored twice in the seventh inning.
The Red Sox finished July at 20-6, their best month since the 2007 team went 20-8 in May en route to winning the World Series.
The bullpen has played a significant role in that success. Red Sox relievers are holding opponents to a .233 batting average, are third in the American League with 283 strikeouts, and have given up the lead only seven times all season.
“Our bullpen this year, no matter who it is, is very adaptable,’’ said Papelbon, who struck out the side in the ninth inning for his 24th save.
“We can handle any situation there is in the ballgame. We have the firepower and the men to do that.’’
Aceves has been one of the keys. The quirky righthander - “I think he changes his mechanics once a week,’’ Bard said - has a 2.41 earned run average in 27 relief appearances and leads the team in relief innings.
He has started four games and competed well, but he shines in the role of filling in the spaces before Bard and Papelbon come in.
“I feel like I always have to be ready,’’ Aceves said. “If the phone rings, I want it to be for me.’’
Aceves replaced a tiring Miller in the sixth and left a runner stranded. He then got two outs in the seventh before giving way to Bard.
Bard got four outs and handed the lead to Papelbon. Bard has not allowed a run in 26 1/3 innings. It is the longest active scoreless streak in the majors and the second longest of the season. Cliff Lee of the Phillies went 34 innings without giving up a run from June 11 to July 3.
“We hung on,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “There was some good pitching.’’
One of the reasons the Red Sox were so intent on landing a starter was their desire to keep Aceves in the bullpen.
“Pretty important,’’ Epstein said. “He’s done a fantastic job back there and he’s helped us in a lot of different ways. As the games only get bigger, we feel like his impact will continue to grow.
“He obviously is directly responsible for a lot of wins where he comes in and shuts down rallies and bridges us to later in the game. Really gutty pitcher. Throws strikes and really helps us.’’
The Red Sox can thank the Yankees, who released Aceves in December. He signed with the Sox just before spring training.
“I saw what he did for the Yankees. To be honest, I don’t know how we got him,’’ Papelbon said. “How did they let a guy like this go? That was my first thought.’’
Chicago starter Mark Buehrle was, as usual, pretty solid. He allowed two runs on five hits over six innings. Jason Varitek’s two-run home run in the second inning was his only real mistake.
But Buehrle was not particularly efficient, needing 105 pitches to get through those six innings on a hot day. When Chicago went to its bullpen, the Red Sox grabbed the lead back right away.
Marco Scutaro and Jacoby Ellsbury had singles off Jesse Crain (5-3) in the seventh, then moved up on a passed ball by Tyler Flowers. Dustin Pedroia followed with a two-run single to center field.
Pedroia was 0 for 4 on Friday, snapping his 25-game hit streak. The second baseman has gone 4 for 8 since with three runs batted in.
The Red Sox added to their lead in the ninth. Ellsbury singled and Pedroia walked ahead of an RBI double to right field by Adrian Gonzalez.
That gave Papelbon an extra run, not that he needed it. The closer saw the game as just another example of how secure the final innings have become for the Red Sox.
“We’re the last knot in the rope,’’ Papelbon said. “Everything in the game usually comes to a head with the bullpen.
“If you want a great team, you have to go out and get great setup men and a great closer. When it comes to September and the postseason, that’s what matters. I think we’re set.’’