Last weekend the Boston Red Sox trailed the Tampa Bay Rays by 5 games in the AL East standings. After Sunday’s 2-1 victory of the Baltimore Orioles, the Sox find themselves with half a game lead over the Rays heading into the 2008 All-Star break.
Dice-K Matsuzaka pitched six scoreless innings, allowing four hits and five walks while striking out seven batters to earn his 10th victory on the year. Matsuzaka finished the first half of the season with a 10-1 record, the best winning percentage for all starting pitchers with more then 8 decisions in MLB.
The half game lead over the Rays is Boston’s first advantage in the division since June 28th. Boston trailed by a season-high five games last weekend, then won five of six while in the meantime, the Rays lost seven in a row.
Boston has been without All-Star DH David Ortiz since late May and the superstar slugger was even giving his teammates a hard time that when he left with a wrist injury they were in first, so they better be in first when he comes back.
“I was talking trash to my teammates to make sure they got back in first place before I came back,” Ortiz said. “I can’t wait to start playing again and I am feeling good.”
Ortiz has missed a total of 39 games, in his absence the Sox have gone 23-16.
While he was gone, one player who stepped up in a big way, including his performance on Sunday, was J.D. Drew. Drew hit an RBI double in the first inning to knock home Dustin Pedroia to give the Sox an early 1-0 lead. Drew’s average has gone up 20 points from .282 to .302 in Ortiz’s absence, he’s also belted 13 home runs in that time and knocked in 20 RBI’s.
The Sox scored their second run of the game in the fourth inning on a Pedroia fielder’s choice that plated Sean Casey to give the Sox a 2-0 advantage.
Boston’s pitching made sure that the two runs held up. Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen combined to pitch scoreless seventh and eighth innings, each earning holds. Jonathan Papelbon came on to work the ninth and allowed a one run on three hits but was able to strand runners on the corners and earn his 28th save of the season. The save was Papelbon’s 100th of his career.
“I would’ve liked to have done it without giving up a run,” Papelbon said. “One hundred down and hopefully 3(00), 400 more to go.”
Manager Terry Francona was very pleased with his teams all around effort in their last game before the break. Francona and his staff will be coaching the AL team in the All-Star game because of the Red Sox World Series Championship victory last October. The Sox will be well represented at the Game sending Manny Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek, Pedroia, Drew, Ortiz and Papelbon to represent the AL.
One member who may be deserving of a spot but will not be making the trip is Matsuzaka. With a 10-1 record and a 2.65 ERA, the Japanese starting pitcher certainly deserves to be there but because he missed some time on the DL with some arm fatigue he was not considered as a top pick. This may also just be Francona not wanting it to look like he stacked the AL team with one more Red Sox member, with seven already heading to the Bronx.
About Matsuzaka’s performance Sunday Francona said, “When he locates, he’s as good as there is. He created some jams for himself, but fortunately they did not string together a couple of hits.”
The Sox resume play on Friday July 18th for a three game series against the AL West leaders, the Los Angeles Angels. Following that, Boston will stay out West for three games against the Seattle Mariners. The Sox are 11-9 against the AL West so far this season.
Following the road trip, the Sox will come back to Fenway where they have the best home record in baseball at 36-11 to face the New York Yankees in a huge inter-divisional weekend series July 25th through July 27th followed by three more games against the Angels, this time in Boston.
Tickets are still available to all remaining home series.