SOX WIN (9:55, END 9, 4-1 SOX)
In one of their most impressive and heartening wins of the season, the Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels behind a stunningly good return performance by Daisuke Matsuzaka. He shut out the Angels for six innings before Ramon Ramirez, Billy Wagner, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon completed the victory. Papelbon allowed one run in the ninth, on an RBI double by Aybar with two outs.
The Sox took the lead of John Lackey’s throwing error on Dustin Pedroia’s bunt, and they extended it with a triple by J.D. Drew and a solo home run by David Ortiz that made him the all-time leader among desigated hitters.
The Texas Rangers are currently losing to the Oakland A’s. If that holds, the Sox will take a 5 1/2 game lead and see there magic number fall to 14. The Sox have won six straight on the homestand, and they are coming together like at no other point this season.
ORTIZ ADDS ON (9:43, END 8, 4-0 SOX)
Ortiz launched the second pitch Arrendondo threw, a 1-0 fastball, to centerfield, where it landed in the seats and gave Papelbon a four-out lead to work with. That is Ortiz’s 272d career home run as a designated hitter, which makes him the all-time leader in that category, surpassing Frank Thomas.
BAY DELIVERS (9:39, BOT 8, 3-0 SOX)
Bay crushed a ball off the Monster to score Drew and put the Sox ahead by three with Jonathan Papelbon ready to pitch the ninth. Bay got a little aggressive and was thrown out at second, but he did his job and drove in Drew. He also knocked out Lackey, and Jose Arredondo will pitch to Ortiz.
Here’s something to chew on: In their six games since returning to Fenway Park, Sox starters have a 0.95 combined ERA. They’ve won five of those games, and tonight would make six in a row.
SOX THREATENING AGAIN (9:34, BOT 8, 2-0 SOX)
With one out, Drew smacked a line drive to right, which bounced up off the base of the wall. Drew motored to third for a triple.
BARD GETS HIS MAN (9:31, MID 8, 2-0 SOX)
Bard hadn’t pitched since Wednesday, and he had some power. Bard hit 100 on his second fastball, which Guerrero fouled away to run the count to 0-2. Guerrero chopped the third pitch hard up the middle. Bard deflected it with his bare hand toward short, where Gonzalez made the play and a quick flip to Pedroia at second.
Lackey remains in the game having thrown more than 100 pitches.
BARD ENTERS (9:26, TOP 8, 2-0 SOX)
With two outs and a man on first, Daniel Bard will attempt to get the final out of the eighth inning. To lead off the inning, Wagner struck out Figgins when he could not check his swing on a slider in the dirt. Izturis lined a single to center, and Abreu flied out to left. Now here’s Bard, who last pitched five days ago, to face Guerrero — who is 0 for 5 with three Ks against Wagner.
QUICK ONE (9:17, END 7, 2-0 SOX)
The Sox went in order, Lackey inducing easy grounders from Varitek, Gonzalez, and Ellsbury, Varitek made a hard right turn into the dugout and stumbled down the steps. He’s fine, but it’s been a rough night for him — 0 for 3 with one double play. (EDIT: Thanks to Sox Fan in San Fran — only one double play. I had written two. Kotchman was responsioble for the first double play.)
Billy Wagner has entered for the Sox. He’ll face the top of the Angels lineup.
RAMIREZ GETS IT DONE (9:14, TOP 7, 2-0 SOX)
After replacing Matsuzaka, Ramirez shut down the Angels. Rivera flied to right, Aybar flied to left, and Gary Matthews, pinch hitting for Mathis, struck out.
Matsuzaka’s final line is outstanding, better than anyone would have guessed. He allowed no runs on three hits and three walks over six-plus innings. He threw 93 pitches, 52 of them strikes. Just a great and promising outing from Matsuzaka.
Bobby Wilson entered as the catcher, and Lackey remains in the game.
DICE DONE (9:03, TOP 7, 2-0 SOX)
Matsuzaka led off the seventh by walking Morales, and then Terry Francona trudged from the dugout to end his night. Matsuzaka left to a standing ovation and gave the crowd a tip of his cap. His teammates greeted him in the dugout with high fives and fist pounds. He threw 93 pitches.
Ramon Ramirez will replace Matsuzaka. He is throwing all of his warm-up pitches from the rubber.
SOX LEAVE THEM LOADED (8:57, END 6, 2-0 SOX)
The Sox took control of the game, but they also squandered a chance to blow it open. Lowell and Kotchman each struck out with the bases loaded, allowing Lackey to escape the jam he helped create with that error.
SOX EXTEND LEAD (8:55, BOT 6, 2-0 SOX)
Bay loaded the bases with a walk, and Ortiz added to the lead. He smoked a sinking line drive to left, and Rivera could not make the catch at his shoelaces. Ellsbury scored the Sox’ second run.
Lowell struck out, and Kotchman has a chance with two outs and the bases still loaded.
SOX GET GOING (8:48, BOT 6, 1-0 SOX)
The Sox finally got to to Lackey, and they did it with smallball. Alex Gonzalez led off by roping a single off the Wall. Ellsbury bunted down the first base line for a single. Pedroia bunted, too, a poorly placed ball that Lackey scooped near the third-base line. On one knee, he threw to third. He would have nailed Gonzalez, but he bounced the throw and as it trickled away from Figgins, Gonzalez scampered home with the game’s first run.
Drew bounced back to Lackey, and there is one out with two runners in scoring position.
DICE ROLLS (8:42, MID 6, 0-0)
Matsuzaka stranded another runner in scoring position. After Abreu doubled with one out, Matsuzaka beared down. Guerrero struck out looking at a pitch outside that seemed to be a generous call for Matsuzaka. Hunter lined to Lowell, ending the inning with Abreu still on first.
Matsuzaka seems to be pitching more assertively tonight than in the past. He is using mostly fastballs, inducing early, soft contact and getting ahead in the count with proper location and movement on his pitches.
DOUBLED UP (8:34, END 5, 0-0)
Lackey faced the minimum again despite giving up his third hit of the game. Lowell struck out, and then Kotchman laced a single to center. Varitek grounded to Aybar, who touched and made a leaping throw to complete a double play, the second of the night that Varitek grounded into.
STILL SCORELESS (8:27, MID 5, 0-0)
After four months, Matsuzaka still knows how to get out of a jam. With Morales still on first after Rivera flied to right, Aybar ripped a hit past Kotchman down the rightfield line. Drew’s slick play off the wall that juts into right kept Aybar at first. He stole second uncontested, though, putting two men in scoring position with one out. Matsuzaka made certain they stayed there. He struck out Mathis swinging at a 92-mph fastball. The crowd rose and roared when Matsuzka went 1-2 on Figgins, and then he struck him out swinging at a low fastball. He has thrown 72 pitches and has shown no signs of fatigue.
NO NO-NO (8:19, TOP 5, 0-0)
Matsuzaka allowed his first hit of the night, a line-drive single to right to lead off the fifth.
LACKEY DOMINATES (8:16, END 4, 0-0)
It’s still a back-and-forth duel between Matsuzaka and Lackey. Bay walked with two outs, but Lackey struck out Ortiz on a 2-2 slider in the dirt that Ortiz flailed at. The Sox have only two hits tonight off Lackey, who has now allowed one run in his last 29 innings.
THREE UP, THREE DOWN (8:07, MID 4, 0-0)
What a performance by Matsuzaka so far. He struck out Abreu looking at an inside, 92-mph fastball. Guerrero flied to center, and Hunter popped up to right side. Matsuzaka has allowed lower his season ERA to 7.38 — nearly a full run down from where it began the night. He’s thrown 54 pitches, 27 strikes.
MATSUZAKA, LACKEY TRADING BLOWS (7:58, END 3, 0-0)
The Angels have only two base runners so far, both walks by Figgins. Matsuzaka got his first strike out of the night, throwing a 93-mph fastball by Jeff Mathis. Izturis ended the inning with a fly ball to right.
Lackey continues to match him. Jason Varitek struck out and Alex Gonzalez grounded to short to start the inning. Ellsbury drilled a single, but Mathis threw him out with Pedroia at the plate to end the inning. Here comes Matsuzaka, and again he is throwing his first few tosses from about 75 feet.
LACKEY ROLLS (7:44, END 2, 0-0)
Some good pitching so far. David Ortiz grounded out to first. Lackey walked Mike Lowell, but Casey Kotchman grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. Matsuzaka again did his unique warm-up routine. He does a small cro-hop before the throws from behind the mound.
LOOKING GOOD THROUGH TWO (7:38, MID 2, 0-0)
Matsuzaka needed only six pitches in the second, getting Juan Rivera to pop up to Pedroia in shallow right. It’s been just two innings, but the Red Sox really could not have asked for anything more than they’ve seen from Matsuzaka.
DICE-K BACK AT IT (7:35, TOP 2, 0-0)
Before the second inning, Matsuzaka did something interesting: He threw his first few warm-up from behind the mound, about 75 feet. I can’t recall him doing that before. It will be interesting to see after the game if he has an explanation for why he does that. It seems to be working — Torii Hunter grounded to short, Kendry Morales grounded to second, and Matsuzaka has two outs in four pitches.
OFFENSE LACKING (7:32, END 1, 0-0)
The Sox couldn’t muster much of anything against John Lackey, who entered tonight having allowed one earned run in his past 25 innings. Jacoby Ellsbury chopped to short. Dustin Pedroia rolled a single through the middle. J.D. Drew lined out to right, and Jason Bay struck out looking at a 3-2, 93-mph fastball.
GOOD START FOR MATSUZAKA (7:21, MID 1, 0-0)
Matsuzaka was impressive after the leadoff walk. Izturis grounded to Kotchman, who held Figgins at second before flipping to Matsuzaka covering first. Bobby Abreu flied to the warning track in left. Vladmir Guerrero grounded to short.
Matsuzaka topped out at 94 mph with his four-seam fastball and consistently his 92 from the stretch, 93 from the wind-up in the first at-bat to Figgins. He threw 19 pitches, 10 strikes, while mixing his cutter, curve, and slider.
WE’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE (7:15, TOP 1, 0-0)
Matsuzaka’s first batter? A 3-2 count and a walk to Chone Figgins, who then stole second as the count moved to 1-1 on Macier Izturis.
READY TO GO (7:00, PRE, 0-0)
The anthem is done and the first pitch from Daisuke Matsuzaka is coming soon. Matsuzaka’s pitch count “will not be a major part of the game,” manager Terry Francona said. The Red Sox will of course take into account how many pitches he has thrown, but he threw 89 in his last rehab start for Class A Salem, so stamina is not an issue. When Matsuzaka comes out of the game tonight, the score of the game and his effectiveness will be the determining factors.