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.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tiger Recruiting From Dandy Don

LSU losing out on quarterback E. J. Manuel from Virginia who committed to FSU caused quite a stir from many Tiger fans. I do not believe it was a case of FSU out-recruiting LSU as much as it was a case of FSU really needing a top quarterback. LSU is in great shape at quarterback with Matt Flynn, Ryan Perrilloux and Jarrett Lee who is the real deal and has been very impressive in the Summer 7 on 7 drills. I have also been told that Jordan Jefferson (6'3", 210) from Destrehan and James Landry (6'5", 210) from Assumption have moved up on LSU's list and are expected to attend the July 27 - August 01 Summer camp. Below are interviews I did with Jefferson and Landry earlier this year.

Jordan Jefferson is a 6'4", 200, 4.6, QB. He missed the first six games of his junior season but finished the season having completed 46 of 78 passes for 1,600 yards and 20 touchdowns. Jefferson attended the USA Army junior camp in San Antonio and competed with close to 200 other high school quarterbacks and was picked as the sixth best quarterback at the camp. Jefferson will attend Summer camp at LSU this Summer and the Peyton Manning passing camp. He has a 3.0 GPA in and has not taken the ACT yet. The rifle-armed quarterback told me that he was receiving mail from schools nationwide, especially LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Miami, Stanford, Tennessee, FSU, Purdue and Southern Mississippi. Jefferson told me that he would like to take official visits to Tennessee, LSU, FSU and Alabama.

Thursday, March 02 I spoke to quarterback James Landry of Assumption high school in Napoleonville. Landry has all the tools to be a highly recruited quarterback if he can bring his GPA up to a 2.5 and make a passing grade on his ACT. Landry told me that he is 6'5", 207 and runs a 4.6 forty and has a 2.3 GPA. He has not taken the ACT yet, but plans to take the test in April. The rifle-arm quarterback told me that he is receiving mail from over 20 schools and named LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, Alabama, GA Tech, Toledo and North Carolina State. He is planning on attending Summer camps at LSU, Ole Miss and Alabama. Landry said that he would like to take official visits to those three schools plus Auburn and GA Tech. In 2006, Landry completed 177 of 265 passes for 67 percent for 2,100 yards and 18 touchdowns. Landry's goals for 2007 are to improve his stats, to make All-State and to lead his team to the class 5-A state title. Landry's hobby is sports, especially pick-up basketball games. Landry attended Junior Day at LSU last weekend. (A late update on James Landry. I have learned that Landry made a 15 on the ACT the only time he has taken the test.)

I urge Tiger fans not to be overly concerned yet about the quarterback situation. I believe LSU will sign Jordan Jefferson and might sign James Landry and hope for the best. Mikie Mahtook from STM and Josh Jordan of ST Amant are also two outstanding in-state quarterback prospects.

In my Wednesday morning update I said that unconfirmed reports had defensive lineman Chris Martin from FT Walton Beach, Florida committing to LSU. According to reports Martin wanted to commit to LSU but Les Miles was not ready to accept his commitment at this time. Martin attended the first LSU Summer camp and was "offered", but not officially offered. I mentioned a few weeks ago in one of my updates that offers are not official until they are received in the mail. I sure hope that Martin will be extended an official offer soon because it appears that he would like to play for LSU.

In other LSU news, Advocate sports writer Will Weather did a great interview with Bastrop high school coach Brad Bradshaw concerning LSU signee DeAngelo Benton who is still working toward being eligible to play as a true freshman at LSU. Benton still needs to pass two Summer classes and receive a passing grade on the ACT that he took two weeks ago. The article also mentions that Demetrius Byrd is still working hard to become eligible to play this coming season. Carl Dubois also did a super interview with Les Miles concerning the status of Ryan Perrilloux and Ricky Jean Francois. Miles said there is no time table for allowing the two players to return to the team but did say that everything he hears about the two is very positive. Miles said he is making sure the two are staying in shape and doing the things they are supposed to do.

Below are a few very important dates for Tiger fans to remember:

Friday July 27 SEC Football Media Days (Hoover, Ala.) 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. LSU will be represented by head coach Les Miles, wide receiver Early Doucet and defensive tackle Glen Dorsey.

Fri., Aug. 3 Team reports to campus

Sat., Aug. 4 First day of practice

Wed., Aug. 8 First day in full pads

Sun., Aug 12 LSU Media Day and Fan Day * Time TBA

Mon., 27 First Day of Class on LSU Campus; First Les Miles Weekly Press Luncheon * 11:30 a.m.

Wed., 29 Depart for Starkville, Miss.

Thurs., 30 LSU season opener at Mississippi State * 7 p.m. (ESPN)

In other LSU football news: All tickets allotted to LSU for the Tigersí away games have been sold, with the exception of a September 29 engagement with Tulane in the Superdome. Tickets to that game are on sale at the LSU Athletic Ticket Office. LSU has a unique agreement with Tulane in which LSU is allotted 40,000 tickets to the game and retains all revenue from those ticket sales. Tickets to the LSU-Tulane game range in price from $40 to $55. LSU season ticket holder requests claimed 22,300 of the 40,000 tickets for the LSU-Tulane game. The remaining are on sale at the LSU Athletic Ticket Office, online at and by phone at (225) 578-2184.

Sox Swept in Seattle

SEATTLE -- The advertised "Showdown in Seattle" was between Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki, and the principals didn't disappoint. But there's little question that back in New England, the talk will be of manager Terry Francona's choice between Julio Lugo and a hyphen.

Francona opted for Lugo. In the aftermath of a 2-1, 11-inning Red Sox loss to the Seattle Mariners yesterday, he might have been better off taking his chances against the punctuation mark.

While Matsuzaka was masterful against the Mariners, limiting them to a run on three hits while striking out eight in eight innings, the Sox definitely saw too much of Ichiro, who knocked in the Mariners' first run with a bloop single off Matsuzaka, scored the winner on Jose Lopez's double in the 11th off Joel Piñeiro, and came within one fly ball of tying the major league record for put outs by an outfielder (12).

But the Sox may also have gone too far with Lugo, the slumping shortstop who whiffed with two on and two out in the eighth inning of a tie game.

Why did Francona elect to let Lugo, despite his crippling hitless streak, bat for himself against Brandon Morrow, who is in his first full season of pro ball? It was either that, Francona said, or send up a lefthanded pinch hitter, Alex Cora or Eric Hinske, to face a lefthanded reliever.

Seattle's best lefty, George Sherrill, already had been used -- Mike Hargrove had sent him to get David Ortiz, and for the second straight game, Sherrill was up to the task, retiring Ortiz on a fly ball with two on and one out in the seventh. Warming up in the Mariners' bullpen was one Ryan Rowland-Smith, a rookie lefthander from Australia who has the distinction of being the first player with a hyphenated last name to appear in a big league game. That makes him one out of about 17,000, which these days is about the odds of Lugo getting a hit.

Rowland-Smith, who pitched in the 2004 Olympics for Sox scout Jon Deeble, the man who is partly responsible for Matsuzaka being in a Red Sox uniform, has 2 1/3 innings of big league experience. And they weren't especially pretty. He'd given up three hits and two runs -- two hits and two runs in a blowout victory over the Sox Monday.

Nonetheless, Francona didn't want to see Rowland-Smith in the game. He sent Lugo to the plate. His decision looked savvy when the first three pitches were balls. It looked less so when Lugo went down swinging to extend his hitless streak to 0 for 31, dropping his batting average to a major league-low .190.

"The eighth inning seems like it was about three hours ago," Francona said when asked about his decision. "I honestly don't remember now. Walk me through the eighth."
Reminded that Kevin Youkilis had walked and advanced to second on a passed ball, and J.D. Drew was intentionally walked to bring Lugo to the plate, Francona offered his explanation.

"Did they have a lefty up? They had two other lefties," Francona said. "This was a situation where we have a hole open, and if we get ahead in the count, we can hit-and-run. We can manipulate the bat a little bit, do something like that. There was a lefty up in the eighth. That was kind of hard to bring a guy off the bench and have them face a lefty."

It probably was harder to see Lugo go down on strikes, after the Sox had spent much of the afternoon teeing off on Mariners starter Ryan Feierabend and coming up empty. When Lugo's turn came around in the 11th, with Jason Varitek aboard on a single, Francona sent Cora to the plate. Cora hit into an inning-ending double play against Jason Davis, the sixth Seattle pitcher.

Then everyone went home when Piñeiro, pitching in Seattle for the first time since he left the Mariners as a free agent, walked Ichiro on a full count and watched Lopez's double clear the glove of a leaping Manny Ramírez, who was higher than the ball was when it struck the wall.

By sweeping the Sox in three games -- that makes it eight losses in a row in Safeco Field -- the Mariners sent them back to Boston with a losing record (4-5) on their three-city, 10-day, nine-game trip.

"I'm ready to get the hell out of here," said closer Jonathan Papelbon, who left the potential winning run 90 feet away when he replaced Hideki Okajima in the ninth with runners on first and third and retired Richie Sexson on a first-pitch popup and Ben Broussard on a grounder to second, then worked a scoreless 10th.

"It's tough to get swept, obviously. I mean, I feel like we did everything we could to stay in that ballgame and have a chance to win. But things just kind of bounced their way, you know, and it was just like one of those neither-team-deserved-to-lose-that-game type."

Matsuzaka, who yesterday was as geographically close to his native Japan as he has been all year, may have been the best he's been all season. "He had the best fastball command he's had all year," pitching coach John Farrell said.

Matsuzaka set down the first eight Mariners before Jamie Burke, the backup catcher, hit a liner that Coco Crisp attempted to collar with a shoestring catch, but for one of the few times this season didn't come up with the ball. All he got for his trouble was an apparently jammed left thumb, which he had wrapped in a big icepack after the game. "Sorry, but I don't want to talk," he said.

The Sox had the Mariners' outfielders on the move all afternoon, but were held scoreless until the seventh, when Drew, pinch hitting for Wily Mo Peña, singled to right off Sean Green. Lugo, the next batter, bunted, and both runners reached, Drew sprinting to third when Green's throw to first was low and off the bag. Drew scored on Crisp's sacrifice fly, Ichiro running the ball down in the gap.

But after Lugo couldn't get it done in the eighth (Ortiz earlier left five runners on base and ended four innings with outs), the Sox couldn't touch the Mariners' bullpen, especially closer J.J. Putz, who set down Boston in the ninth, striking out Ortiz on a 97-mile-per-hour fastball.

Piñeiro, meanwhile, had a gimpy ankle, twisted when he stepped on Hinske during stretching exercises Monday night. He said it was still sore. Francona said he'd checked out before the game and was ready to go.

And that's what he did. He came, and went, when Ramírez couldn't run down Lopez's drive.

"We were already in a no-doubles defense," Francona said. "We were back pretty far already. Tough play. He gave it his best."

In this town, these days, that seems to be not quite enough. The exclamation points belonged to Ichiro and the Mariners.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Holliday to Emphasize Football

LSU received some great news Tuesday afternoon when Trindon Holliday announced that he would not participate in the IAAF world championship this Summer. Holliday decided to remain at LSU to prepare himself for the upcoming football season. Holliday would have missed the first three games of the season had he took part in the world championship event. I suspect that Holliday would have chosen to run the 100 meters and the 400 relays if LSU was not playing VA Tech the second game of the season. The VA Tech game is one of the three key games on the 2007 schedule and a win over the Hokies would be huge in LSU's bid to win the national championship. Trindon Holliday also has a strong desire to play in the NFL one day, and having a huge game against a top ranked team early in the season would impress NFL teams. I would like to congratulate Holliday for putting LSU football first for the time being. Holliday will take part in the Olympic trials next Summer and is almost a sure bet to represent the USA in the next Olympic games.

Football recruiting news: One of Florida's top defensive linemen has committed to play at LSU, according to unconfirmed reports out of Florida and a handful of emails I have received. The word is that Martin (6'5", 293, DT) from FT Walton Beach, Florida chose LSU over Alabama, Purdue, and Central Florida, and was being recruited by Auburn, FSU, Clemson and several other schools. I will have more later on Martin.

Sox Lose Offensive Battle to Seattle 9-8

SEATTLE -- It was only the first inning, but the sound of TV sets shutting off all over New England could be heard 2,500 miles away. Why risk sleeping through the morning alarm, when Kason Gabbard couldn't throw a strike?

For Red Sox fans who hung in there, even after Gabbard walked home two runs and hit a batter to force in a third, the rest of the night had to be as disorienting as it was ultimately unrewarding. You dozed off at your own peril.

Gabbard lasted just 3 1/3 innings, the shortest outing for a Sox starter this season, but improbably left with the game still within reach. Indeed, the Sox came back to tie the score, not once but twice, against Felix Hernandez, who was the same pitcher in name only as the guy who threw a one-hit shutout in Fenway Park in April.

But each time the Sox squared the score, coming back from deficits of 4-1 and 6-4, the Sox bullpen gave it right back to the Mariners. Manny Delcarmen gave up two runs on a couple of hits, a hit batsman, and a sacrifice fly in the fifth. Javier Lopez was taken deep for a two-run home run by Richie Sexson in the sixth that gave Seattle an 8-6 lead, and with J.J. Putz striking out the side in the ninth, the Mariners held on for an 8-7 win before 35,045 in Safeco Field.

Why was the lefthanded Lopez allowed to face the righthanded Sexson, who blasted his 15th home run to the opposite field? Manager Terry Francona revealed after the game that former Mariner Joel Piñeiro had stepped on Eric Hinske during stretching the previous day and twisted his right ankle, making him unavailable.

"Javy can get anybody out," Francona said of Lopez, who had retired Sexson all three times he'd faced him previously. "But that was not the matchup we wanted. It was a tough night. We were fighting uphill all the way.

"We showed a lot of fight and spirit coming back against good pitching the way we did. Hernandez was hurt for a while, but his last outing was tremendous and he was throwing in the high 90s, a slider and breaking ball. I'm sure they felt pretty good with him out there with a lead."

The Sox had the makings of one more comeback in the eighth, when Coco Crisp walked to open the inning and Dustin Pedroia blooped a single to right. But lefty reliever George Sherrill struck out David Ortiz, and Putz gave up a sacrifice fly to Kevin Youkilis before retiring J.D. Drew on a tapper to first.

In the ninth, Putz struck out Mike Lowell on a fastball that Lowell took at the letters, got Jason Varitek on a neck-high fastball when the catcher could not check his swing, then needed only three pitches to fan pinch hitter Manny Ramirez, who was unable to catch up with another fastball. Putz has converted all 22 of his save opportunities this season.
It will be up to Daisuke Matsuzaka to salvage the finale of this three-city, nine-game trip and keep the Sox from losing again in a place that is far too lovely to have become a black hole for any team. But the Sox have now lost seven straight in Safeco, and Matsuzaka also has to cope with the sideshow of facing fellow Japanese icon Ichiro Suzuki again.

Outside the ballpark, they were selling "Showdown in Seattle" programs that featured photos of Matsuzaka and Ichiro, who went hitless in four at-bats against Matsuzaka in Fenway Park April 11.

The first four batters to face Hernandez reached safely in the first. Two batters into the game, the Sox had more hits than they had the last time they saw Hernandez, as Crisp lined a single to right and Pedroia followed with a hit to left. When Ortiz walked and Youkilis singled, the Sox had a run, but Drew struck out and Lowell grounded into a double play.

Gabbard, starting in place of the disabled Curt Schilling, struck out Ichiro to open the Mariner first but proceeded to go walk, single, walk, hit batter, walk, walk. Yuniesky Betancourt hit into a double play to end the inning, Pedroia making a great turn at second, or it could have been much worse.

That was only a temporary reprieve, as Willie Bloomquist led off the second with a home run and Ichiro and Jose Lopez followed with singles. The Sox bullpen stirred to life as pitching coach John Farrell visited his shaken pitcher, who lived to see another inning when Jose Vidro rolled into a double play and Sexson struck out.

But when Gabbard loaded the bases again with one out in fourth, Francona wasn't about to see whether the rookie had one more escape act left. He called for Delcarmen, who struck out Sexson and coaxed Kenji Johjima to hit into a force play.

The Sox had countered with another run in the third on Sexson's error and singles by Ortiz and Youkilis, and were deprived of more when second baseman Lopez made a terrific diving catch to take away a hit from Lowell. But they evened the score in the fifth on singles by Ortiz and Drew and a triple by Lowell that just missed being a home run. Varitek was called out on strikes to end the inning, but Hernandez, who had missed a month with a strained forearm, was proving eminently hittable.

Seattle manager Mike Hargrove was forced to concede that point in the sixth, when Hinske, starting in place of Ramírez, lined a home run off the facade of the first deck in right, and Alex Cora doubled over the head of right fielder Jose Guillen, who looked to be playing a solitaire version of Twister, turning the wrong way on the ball.

Crisp sacrificed Cora to third. Hernandez induced Pedroia to tap back to the mound, but Ortiz, facing lefthanded reliever Eric O'Flaherty, hit an opposite-field single off the end of his bat to tie the score.

After Sexson gave the lead back to Seattle, the Mariners threatened to expand the margin in the seventh, when Lopez walked two batters, one intentionally. But Mike Timlin, who gave up home runs on consecutive pitches the night before, entered and got two fly balls to end the threat

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The sun refused to go down on Julian Tavarez, but that's only because at this time of year in the Pacific Northwest, the sun tends to linger deep into the evening.

The sun could have shone until midnight and it still would have looked like darkness to Julio Lugo, who with his pen flashlight of a bat sees no end to what is becoming an epic slump.

And when night looks like day and time is passing so slowly that you can't tell the difference anymore, then maybe it's best to start thinking about coming home. That sentiment surely occurred to at least some of those wearing "Boston" on the front of their jerseys, after they fell, 9-4, to the Mariners, their opponent for the last three games of this three-city, nine-game, 10-day, 7,611-mile excursion.

When night finally did fall, it did so heavily on the head of Mike Timlin, the 41-year-old reliever who was flattened by the shards of a broken bat that he deflected with his glove in the seventh inning. Timlin dusted himself off, then promptly gave up home runs on his next two pitches, to Kenji Johjima and Adrian Beltre.

This was the sixth straight time the Sox have lost at Safeco Field, their longest road losing streak in Seattle, even including the little-mourned days of the Kingdome.

The game ended with Mike Lowell flipping his bat after being called out on strikes by plate umpire Jim Reynolds, the player and arbiter exchanging a few words before Reynolds pointed at Lowell, which may mean a fine is forthcoming.

Tavarez, who raised suspicions that he may have aggravated a balky hamstring that has bothered him the last couple of weeks, was unable to last through a fifth inning he made more problematic with a wild throw on Yuniesky Betancourt's sacrifice bunt.

"Lowell was calling him off it all the way," manager Terry Francona said. "He grabbed at it, and I think he got it with a full hand. That was a tough play for him right there."

Tavarez said he heard Lowell, but decided he had a better chance to make the play.

Tavarez, who had gone unbeaten in his previous seven starts, was charged with six runs (three earned) in 4 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since he went four against the Rangers in his first start, April 7 in Texas.

"I didn't do anything different today," Tavarez said. "I just got behind a little behind in the count. I don't get the ground ball, double play. I don't feel bad about today. I just didn't get any breaks."

Kyle Snyder, who inherited a bases-loaded mess from Tavarez, did not lighten his load, walking in two runs as the Mariners sent 11 men to the plate and scored five times in the inning, seizing a 6-2 lead in a game in which they trailed, 2-1.

Monday, June 25, 2007

SAN DIEGO -- A battle featuring two high-end pitchers in the midst of breakout seasons went the way of the Red Sox, who wore down Padres ace Jake Peavy en route to a 4-2 victory in the rubber match of the three-game Interleague series at PETCO Park on Sunday.
It no longer seems to matter which pitcher or team Josh Beckett faces these days. He's been that good. The Padres became his latest victim on a day the right-hander ran his record to 11-1 and lowered his ERA to 3.07.

"I don't know if it's just today," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He pitched today the way he's pitched pretty much all year. Explosive fastball, good breaking ball -- some changeups at times in the game really kept them off the fastball."

Beckett (eight innings, six hits, two runs and eight strikeouts) has never been an All-Star, but that seems all but certain to change when the squads are unveiled on July 1.

Peavy, meanwhile, might face Beckett again in that July 10 spectacle in San Francisco. Even after this defeat, Peavy's numbers (9-2, 2.14 ERA) are still dazzling.

"Any time you're going against Jake Peavy, it's going to be a tough day," Beckett said. "We were fortunate to get a couple of big hits with guys in scoring position, and [the] guys picked me up. To score three runs against him, you're not expecting to get that much."

If the Padres thought Beckett was tough over the first eight, there was no letup when Jonathan Papelbon came in for the ninth inning, amid the roars of the big bandwagon of Sox fans that ventured out to San Diego for the weekend. Papelbon did not disappoint, firing high-octane gas and striking out the first two in a 1-2-3 ninth.

"That's what he's supposed to do," Francona said. "When you can get to him and not overuse people, he had a chance to pitch like he pitches. That's why we're trying to be, I don't know if the word is careful or prudent or conscientious, but he has that ability. We just need to not overuse him."

The game could be looked at in two ways. Beckett, who threw 116 pitches over eight innings, had better command of the strike zone than Peavy (111 pitches over five). Or was it that the Boston batters simply grinded Peavy so much that it only looked like he didn't have that same command as Beckett.

"I'm glad I'm on this team and not on a team where I have to face this team, because they grind," said Beckett. "There's not too many guys that get through five innings [against us] without 95 or 100 pitches. He pitched a good game; it's just one of those deals where we grind at-bats out."

The grind factor was never bigger than in the third inning, when the Red Sox worked Peavy for some 38 pitches and scored three runs.

Coco Crisp started it innocently enough with a one-out bloop single to center. Alex Cora -- making something happen as he always does when he starts -- followed with a single to right. David Ortiz stepped up next and rifled one out of the reach of second baseman Geoff Blum and into right for an RBI single that broke the scoreless tie. Manny Ramirez then got the job done, lifting a sac fly to right to make it 2-0.

Complete coverage >
J.D. Drew kept the inning alive by hitting a grounder that Blum couldn't field clean. He was credited with an infield hit. Mike Lowell went to the opposite field for a single that brought home Ortiz from second, giving Beckett a three-run cushion. By that time, Peavy had thrown 71 pitches and you could tell he was not going to be in for a long day.

"I thought we did a great job," Francona said. "And to add on the three that we did was huge also. He's obviously, if not the best, one of the best in the game. We did make him work hard. Fortunately for us, one of the other best is on our team. He was great."

The Padres came up with their only breakthrough against Beckett in the fifth. It started with a leadoff walk to Kevin Kouzmanoff. Blum followed with a single up the middle, and pinch-hitter Terrmel Sledge brought two runs home with a double to center.

But Beckett protected the 3-2 lead, sending down the next three hitters and ending the inning by striking out Adrian Gonzalez on a nasty curveball. It might have been Beckett's best bender of the day.

"Well, that's when you need your best one," Beckett said. "You definitely want to break it out in one of those situations. He's the guy in their clubhouse you don't want to let beat you, and he was up in a spot where he could have done that."

Kouzmanoff later produced a big scare to the Red Sox, pummeling a drive to left that Ramirez caught just in front of the wall to start the seventh.

Did Francona think it was gone?

"Oh yeah," Francona said. "Even right now. Yeah."

Beckett realizes he got away with one.

"Hanging curveball," Beckett said. "This field plays so big; in a lot of ballparks, it definitely could have been a home run. It's one of those deals where you thank God for where you're playing."

Jason Varitek gave the Sox an insurance run in the eighth inning, clubbing a solo homer over the wall in center on a 3-0 pitch from Scott Linebrink.

"I don't always swing on 3-0, but I was looking for something to handle and was able to put a good swing on it," said Varitek.

Varitek, hitting .272 with eight homers and 33 RBIs, doesn't light up the stat sheet. But his hits seem to have a habit of counting.

"He's awesome," Beckett said. "There's a reason he's got that 'C' on his jersey, because he's the captain. Inside the clubhouse and out there [on the field], he's been great for all of us."

But perhaps not even the captain has more valuable to the Red Sox this season than Beckett, who looks primed to be back in a more northern part of California for a certain other game in July.

Former Sox Reliever Rod Beck Found Dead

The license plates on one of the several cars Rod Beck owned read "9 IS MINE."

The former Cubs closer owned more than just the ninth inning. He amused and engaged those who covered him, earned the respect of his teammates and won the hearts of fans who admired him for more than his Fu Manchu mustache and long, wavy hair.

Beck, 38, was found dead Saturday at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., and police are investigating the cause. He is survived by two daughters and a lifetime worth of memories.

Beck collected 286 saves for the Giants, Cubs, Red Sox and Padres, but life went fast for him shortly after his 13-year major-league career ended with San Diego during the 2004 season.

He drove a 1980s-style van during his early playing days in San Francisco, but gained more fame for the motor home he parked next to Sec Taylor Stadium and lived in during his brief stint with the Iowa Cubs as he attempted to revive his career following reconstructive shoulder surgery in 2003.

"Tragic," Cubs President John McDonough said. "Colorful character. Great for baseball. It's sad. I don't know all the details, but he was a big part of the '98 team. He was at the Cubs Convention [in January]. … Baseball needs more people like Rod Beck. It's tragic and all of us are saddened.

"It's almost a contradiction where you call a guy who throws 86 or 87 (m.p.h.) 'the Shooter.' You always remember him coming in, his arm, dangling. It's a very sad day."

With the Giants, Beck drank his beer out of a boot-shaped mug and was revered in the clubhouse for his willingness to take the ball—despite an aching hip that required painkilling shots, he pitched in nine of the Giants' final 11 games in 1993 until they were eliminated from the division race on the final day of the season.

He was just as quick to grab a dinner check, once picking up a $700 tab for a group of writers sitting near his family at a Scottsdale restaurant one year during spring training.

Beck got by on guile when his split-finger fastball wasn't dipping or his arm was tired. He heeded the advice of his former manager, Dusty Baker, when the Cubs faced Baker's Giants in a one-game playoff to determine the National League wild-card entrant in 1998.

Remembering what Baker told him about hitters tending to lean over at pitches, Beck jammed Joe Carter with an 81-m.p.h. fastball for the final out, igniting one of the craziest parties at Wrigley Field in nearly a decade.

Beck could have torn into the Giants for letting him go after the 1997 season, when they signed Robb Nen as their closer, but instead he tossed a champagne bottle in the direction of the visitors' dugout during the celebration.

Several of his former Giants teammates, including Shawn Estes, Steve Scarsone, Mike Benjamin and Russ Ortiz, were frequent guests at Beck's annual holiday party, at which his family collected toys to be donated as gifts for needy kids.

Beck became an instant favorite during my first season covering the San Francisco Giants in 1992 for the San Jose Mercury News. His weight was always an issue early in his career, but he treated it with typical candor.

"I've never heard of anyone going on the disabled list because of pulled fat," was one of his many memorable quotes.

And he couldn't wait to take the ball in the ninth inning, or sooner if needed.

Beck lived in a spacious Scottsdale home for most of his baseball career, but he was as casual as your average neighbor.

He had a passion for fixing up cars or camping with some of his ex-teammates and looked totally comfortable with a can of beer and pinch of dip. He was the only player invited to my wedding in 2004, and he fit in nicely at a table that included a doctor, an accountant and ESPN reporter Pedro Gomez.

"In '03 when I was down in Triple A with him, it was my first time in the bullpen, and just being able to talk to him about baseball and certain things, he was a great human being," Cubs reliever Michael Wuertz said.

"When I heard it [Sunday] morning, I was in shock. He was quite the character. He went about his business and he pitched hard and pitched well."

Wuertz was invited to Beck's RV after Iowa Cubs games.

"It was amazing how many people went back there behind the wall in center field," Wuertz said. "He'd have his cooler underneath, and grounds crew people and fans would come back. That's how he was. It was unbelievable how many fans would go back there and how he'd treat the fans. That's how he was.

"Just being able to take bits and pieces from him was a great thing. It's so sad. What he's done will leave a lasting impression on me. He treated fans like friends, no matter who they are. He always said it like it was. Watching him do that was an incredible thing."