Monday, April 24, 2006

Red Sox Avoid Being Swept in Toronto. Beat Blue Jays 6-3.

The Red Sox, after having suffered a back-breaking Friday night 12th inning 7-6 defeat, and an 8-1 Saturday drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays, rebounded with a 6-3 win yesterday at Rogers Centre (formerly Sky Dome).

David Ortiz got things off to a good start with a two-run homer in the top of the first inning, his 8th of the season. Later in the inning Manny Ramirez scored on a Mike Lowell RBI single. In the fourth inning, Willie Harris, who started in center field, was hit by a pitch, stole second base, then scored on a Kevin Youkilis single. The Sox were up 4-0 with Matt Clement appearing to be on cruise control.

Cruise control then hit a few bumps as Mike Lowell overthrew Youkilis at first base to allow Vernon Wells to reach base. After a walk to Lyle Overbay, Jays catcher Gregg Zaun hit a three-run homer, his second of the season, to make it a 4-3 game.

Adding to the sense of uneasiness was the fact that the Sox left the bases loaded in both the fifth and sixth innings without scoring. But in the top of the 8th inning, Jays reliever Vinnie Chulk gave Alex Gonzalez a leadoff walk. Youkilis then singled as he and Gonzalez executed a perfect hit-and-run that moved Gonzalez to third. Mark Loretta then singled to drive in Gonzalez to make it a 5-3 game.

In the top of the ninth, reliever Sean Marcum allowed a Jason Varitek single, and a Mike Lowell double to make the score 6-3 heading into the bottom of the frame. Closer Jonathan Papelbon, sporting the veg-head mowhawk look from Charlie Sheen in "Major League", allowed Russ Adams and Frank Catalanotto to reach base before striking out Vernon Wells, then getting big Troy Glaus to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game, and earning his 8th save of the season.

Clement, now 2-1, went 5 2/3 innings before giving way to Keith Foulke who faced five batters and struck out three of them. Mike Timlin pitched the 8th and delivered two more strikeouts.

Let me discuss the Blue Jays for a moment. As an offensive unit, they are for real. Vernon Wells is healthy and is pounding the ball, as well as playing tight defense in center field. He hit two homers Friday night. New third baseman Troy Glaus may have crapped his pants by hitting into the game ending DP yesterday, but he launched a game-tying homer off of Mike Timlin Friday night to wipe out the 6-2 lead the Sox took into the 8th inning. He also scored the winning run all the way from first base on Lyle Overbay's laser beam double off of slob reliever Rudy Seanez, who somehow stinks whenever he wears a Red Sox uniform.

I think Alex Rios is a monster in the making. The lanky right fielder is also pounding the ball, and looks like he is going to be a star very soon. Manager John Gibbons should stop trying to get Eric Hinske into the lineup in RF in Rios's place, as he did Friday night. Hinske isn't that good, and right now Rios is better, and will only improve. With the usual pests in the lineup like Catalanotto and Russ Adams, the Jays have good table setters for Wells and Glaus. New catcher Bengie Molina, who hit a homer Saturday, fits in well with this group, the way he did with the Angels, and with Zaun as a capable backup, the Jays are solid at that position. Lyle Overbay at first base is solid, and second baseman Aaron Hill seems to be coming on after his slow start with the bat. These guys should score plenty of runs.

The pitching is a little more of a question mark now that AJ Burnett is headed to the disabled list. He went just four innings on Friday night, and allowed Manny Ramirez's first homer of the season. Ace Roy Halladay went just five innings, and was not on top of his game, but he was crafty enough to get through his stint without allowing the Sox bats to gain any traction. Reliever Justin Speier was terrific on Friday night, and is a great setup man for closer BJ Ryan, who was also terrific Friday night. Josh Towers, yesterday's starter, was no mystery to the Sox, but has shown that he can pitch (he was 13-12 last season). He needs to get it going while Burnett and Halladay get healthy. With lefty Ted Lilly throwing his disgusting curve balls, the Jays have the potential for a great front four in their starting rotation. But, as is often the case, they will only go as far as that rotation takes them.

The Red Sox are now 12-7, and in first place in the AL East, 1 1/2 games in front of the Orioles. They have today off before starting a three-game series in Cleveland against the Indians.

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