Saturday, June 30, 2007

Pitching Halts Sox Losing Streak

The Red Sox hope home-grown reliever Manny Delcarmen may have achieved his defining moment last night in the seventh inning.

With Brendan Donnelly on the disabled list and Mike Timlin struggling, the Red Sox have been trying to find another strong arm out of the bullpen to support Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon. They got a huge lift when Delcarmen, a Boston native, struck out Sammy Sosa with the bases loaded to preserve a 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park.

Tim Wakefield (8-8) gave the Red Sox 6 2/3 innings, allowing one run on seven hits and four walks, leaving with two on and two outs. Delcarmen, throwing 95-97 miles per hour, walked No. 3 batter Michael Young on a full count, then started 2 and 0 on Sosa.

"This is the toughest position for a pitcher to be in," said Delcarmen. "A 2-1 game, trying to save Wakefield's win. Mike Lowell came by [after the second ball to Sosa] and said, 'Trust yourself because they're not going to hit your fastball. Just control it.' I was happy to get out of that inning."

Although Sosa has lost bat speed, there was no question what was coming. It was Delcarmen's best fastball against Sosa's hardest swing. Delcarmen won.

The Sox bullpen excelled, as Okajima had a 1-2-3 eighth. Papelbon secured his 19th save -- albeit with dramatics in the ninth when he put two on, starting with a disputed play at first on an infield hit by Kenny Lofton that nearly got the closer run -- by retiring Michael Young on a called third strike.

"It's part of the game," said Papelbon about his confrontation with first base umpire Mike Reilly. "It just got out of hand. It was obviously a close play. I was just happy it came out the way it did."

The Sox snapped a three-game losing streak, with Wakefield in the role of stopper.

"Wake was great," said manager Terry Francona. "He got us to the point where we could match up. We had Oki up for [Frank] Catalanotto if something had happened. But he was terrific. He had to be because we scored just two runs. We talk so much about how it's nice to have some room if you make a mistake."

Not last night. The Sox offense scored on balls that did not get out of the infield. One run came on Wily Mo Peña's infield single in the fourth. The other scored on a Manny Ramírez grounder in the fifth that hit off Texas starter Jamey Wright's foot and bounded to third baseman Ramon Vazquez, who instead of throwing to first tagged David Ortiz going to third, but only after Kevin Youkilis had scored.
Youkilis made a huge play by running hard to touch the plate.

"I've seen that happen before," Youkilis said. "I thought when I saw it up the middle, there'd be a play on Manny at first base. I thought it was going to be close at first, so I ran hard, but it turned out they made the tag on David and the run counted."

There was evidence in this tale of two seasons that Wakefield was back in the groove. He allowed only one run through five innings.

In his first seven starts through May 10, the veteran knuckleballer was 4-3 with a 1.79 ERA and allowed as many as three runs only twice. In his last eight starts, he was 3-5 with a 7.08 ERA, giving up five earned runs or more in five.

The first six innings weren't flawless. Wakefield allowed a single to the first batter -- Lofton, who stole four bases -- and gave up two hits but wiggled out of a jam in the first. He surrendered a one-out double to Marlon Byrd in the second, put two on in the third, then allowed a ground-rule double in the fourth, and a leadoff double in the fifth to Adam Melhuse, who came home on a sacrifice fly by Jerry Hairston to tie the score, 1-1. Wakefield walked a batter in the sixth, allowed an infield hit (to Lofton), and walked one in the seventh. But in the end, with Curt Schilling on the disabled list and Julian Tavarez shaky his last time out, Wakefield came through.

Delcarmen has been up twice this season and seems to be the guy who has to go back to Triple A when a veteran is ready. Delcarmen had not given the Sox' brass a reason to keep him. Donnelly is eligible to return Monday, though that could be delayed. Delcarmen will be vulnerable, but the fact he was asked to pitch in a 2-1 game speaks volumes about how the Sox are beginning to feel about him.

Delcarmen allowed two runs in the fifth inning Tuesday against Seattle, but had pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings for the Sox prior to that outing. He had thrown 15 2/3 scoreless innings in his last 10 outings at Pawtucket.

"Right now, my shoulder feels really, really strong," said Delcarmen. "I tend to overthrow sometimes. Right now, my velocity is up a little bit so I don't want to throw [Sosa] a breaking ball and end up walking the guy."

It was a huge moment for the Red Sox' home-grown kid. One he hopes will keep him in the big leagues.

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