Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jason Bay homer sends Boston Red Sox past Cleveland Indians

Jason Bay watched Kerry Wood's first fastball, a stitched, spinning blur, whiz past without taking a swing.

He watched the next one, too.

All the way into the bleachers.

Detroit's Curtis Granderson beats the throw from New York pitcher CC Sabathia to first baseman Mark Teixeira during the sixth inning Monday. The Central Division-leading Tigers won, 4-2, for their third straight victory.
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Bay took another star closer deep, hitting a three-run homer in the ninth inning off Wood as the Red Sox won their 11th straight, 3-1 over the Cleveland Indians on Monday night.

Down one strike, Bay pulled a 99-mph heater from Wood (0-1) into the left-field seats as Boston extended its longest winning streak since a 12-gamer in 2006.

"The guy throws like 100 miles an hour," Bay said. "You have to put it your mind to try and hit a mistake. I got a fastball up over the plate, and I didn't miss it."

Bay's third hit sent the Red Sox to another drama-filled win. They were coming off an emotional three-game sweep at Fenway Park over the rival New York Yankees, a series that began with Bay connecting for a two-run, two-out homer in the ninth off Mariano Rivera.

First Rivera. Now Wood. Bay's afraid he's going to end up on someone's hit list.

"There's going to be a bounty out on me," he said with a laugh.

In his last four games, Bay has nine hits with two homers and nine RBIs.

Wood replaced starter Cliff Lee, who shut out the Red Sox for eight innings, to start the ninth.

He walked Dustin Pedroia to open the ninth and gave up David Ortiz's bloop single to center before Bay pounced on a pitch Wood wishes he could have back.

"It was a matter of missing my spot," Wood said.

"Good hitters hit those pitches, bad hitters hit those pitches. Cliff shuts them down for 106 pitches, then I throw 12, and we're down 3-0. It's not good to waste a great performance by your ace pitcher.

"I didn't do my job."

Lee and Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield matched strikes and zeros for seven innings.

Lee went 22-3 last season with the last loss in Boston on Sept. 23. The left-hander, though, was in award-winning form, allowing five hits in eight innings. He walked none and struck out five.

"That was the Cy Young guy from last year," Bay said. "He was around the plate and getting outs with that fastball. The radar gun says 92-93, but he's got some life on it, and it plays a little bit harder than that."

The Indians have dropped six of eight.

Monday, April 27, 2009

What a great weekend to be a New Orleanean! What with the Jazz Fest, Zurich classic and the Hornets playoff game as well as all of the other choice events that regularly populate the Crescent City calendar. Thursday night was the regular meeting of the Round Table Club where my friend Sam Cashio expounded on the history of Thoroughbred breeding. And of course in addition to the Hornets victory over Denver, the Ole Miss Rebels took two out of three from #1 ranked Georgia, LSU beat Auburn 3 straight, and the Red Sox swept the hated Yankees in three thrilling ball games. How could it get any better?

Sox win 10th straight, sweeping Yanks

It was a rivalry weekend in which the Red Sox provided countless forms of excitement for their fans.

There was a walk-off win on Friday night despite a two-run deficit with two outs in the ninth, a slugfest victory on Saturday to overcome a six-run deficit and finally a 4-1 triumph on Sunday that included an electrifying straight steal of home by Jacoby Ellsbury.

Just like that, the red-hot Red Sox swept the Yankees in this three-game set to run their winning streak to 10 games.

"It was not the most direct route to win those games, but ultimately it came against a huge rival in the division," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "We came in with the same record [as the Yankees]. There's a lot of positives, not just because it's the Yankees -- which is a big plus -- but we want to keep playing well."

The Red Sox's first double-digit winning streak since they went on a 12-game run from June 16-29, 2006, has come on the heels of a 2-6 start.

Having completed a 9-0 homestand, the Red Sox will open a nine-game road trip in Cleveland on Monday night.

"We've played great," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "We've hit, we've pitched -- we've won a lot of different ways. When you're doing a lot of good things, you're going to win."

Sometimes it's not just good things, but extraordinary things.

Ellsbury's steal of home with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning came against Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte. It was the first steal of home by a Red Sox player since Jose Offerman on Aug. 30, 1999. Ellsbury became the first Boston player to register a straight steal of home since Billy Hatcher on April 22, 1994.

"What we have is a really fast player with some guts," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

With left-handed-hitting outfielder J.D. Drew at the plate and the count at 1-1, Ellsbury got a big lead and bolted just as Pettitte went into his windup. The center fielder went in headfirst to beat Jorge Posada's tag. The pitch was a called strike.

"On the previous pitch, I saw Andy go into his windup," Ellsbury said. "I was joking around with [third-base coach] DeMarlo [Hale] that I could steal home, and it was just one of those situations where it was bases loaded and J.D. up. If I go, I have to make it. But I took the chance, and fortunately I made it."

There were no signs relayed from the dugout to Hale. Ellsbury went on his own.

When Ellsbury crossed home, the Red Sox had a 3-1 lead. Drew promptly drilled a ground-rule double into the corner in right to make it a three-run lead.

"Like I said, it was a huge pick-me-up," said Bay. "It's better than a base hit or a home run. It's something that -- baseball is a game that's hard to play on emotion. But that right there was kind of like a huge infusion of energy. It was one of those times in the game where momentum shifts, and that was a pretty obvious one."

Swing man Justin Masterson, making his second start in place of injured right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, turned in another strong performance. Masterson went 5 1/3 innings, allowing six hits and one run, walking one and striking out four while throwing 99 pitches.

"He was terrific," said Francona. "He attacked the strike zone, he changed speeds -- I thought he had good depth to his slider. He threw a couple of changeups and got his fastball by a couple of guys."

Their bullpen spent after the chaos of the previous two games, the Red Sox went to some new faces but got good results. Left-hander Hunter Jones recorded the final two outs of the sixth inning in his second Major League appearance.

Michael Bowden, also pitching his second Major League game after being activated just for Sunday's game, gave the Red Sox a big lift with two shutout innings.

"Tonight was particularly satisfying," Francona said. "We went to Hunter Jones, and he got big outs. Michael Bowden comes in and gets outs. We didn't have a whole lot of different guys to go to, but it was very satisfying. We did enough to win tonight, and that's what we wanted to do."

With closer Jonathan Papelbon unavailable because of his recent workload, Takashi Saito came on for his second save, completing the sweep.

"It's nice to sweep anybody," said Pedroia. "But we know they're going to be there in the end. We've just got to keep playing good baseball."

Hornets must Get Physical to Battle Denver Tonight

A few things to watch for in Game 4, as the Hornets attempt to even the series prior to their Tuesday’s flight to Denver for Wednesday’s Game 5 at the Pepsi Center:
1) Can the Hornets maintain their level of offensive aggressiveness from Game 3?
An interesting stat from Hornets radio host Joe Block: Over the past two seasons, New Orleans has never attempted 30-plus free throws in consecutive games. The Hornets were 28-for-35 at the foul line on Saturday, after finishing 28th out of NBA 30 teams during the regular season in total free-throw attempts. New Orleans is more reliant on jump-shooting than most NBA clubs, which partly explains its relative lack of trips to the charity stripe. But when the outside shots aren’t falling for the Hornets, they become infinitely more beatable when they’re not trying to drive to the basket. In this series, not settling for perimeter shots has been even more imperative, because Denver’s fast-break attack can be fueled by long rebounds three-point misses that give the Nuggets’ transition game a head start.
2) How will physical play affect Game 4?
Although there has been more drama in a few other 2009 first-round series (especially in Celtics-Bulls, which is shaping up as a classic so far), Nuggets-Hornets has arguably featured more hard fouls and testy moments than any of the eight matchups. There were three flagrant fouls during the second half of Game 3, along with two technical fouls. The atmosphere inside the New Orleans Arena on Saturday was about as intense as you can imagine, with a sellout crowd producing a decibel level that Hornets reserve big man Sean Marks described as “the loudest gym I’ve ever been in.” Players from both teams have said that they understand there has been nothing personal to some of the hard fouls, and that the contact is just part of the territory in the playoffs. So far the Nuggets and Hornets have done a commendable job of staying composed despite a few cases of extraneous jawing and posturing on the floor.
3) How will the Hornets’ frontcourt respond to a subpar Game 3?
Much of the talk from Denver after Game 3 was that it was an encouraging day despite the loss, because the Nuggets played poorly yet still had a chance to win on Carmelo Anthony’s mid-range jumper in the final seconds. From a Hornets standpoint, however, they can point to winning a game despite one of the poorest combined showings of the season from their starting frontcourt of Peja Stojakovic, David West and Tyson Chandler. Stojakovic was 1-for-9 shooting and missed all of its jump shots; West had a miserable time around the basket, missing countless chippies; Chandler’s outing was limited to just 18 minutes due to constant foul trouble. West did end up with decent numbers of 19 points and nine rebounds before fouling out, but New Orleans essentially received no production from its small forward and center. If both Stojakovic and Chandler can make a larger impact tonight, the Hornets’ chances of equaling the series improve drastically.
Other notes from Hornets shootaround this morning in the Arena:
• It’s uncertain how much James Posey will be affected, if at all, by the sprained knee he sustained in Game 3. “He’s going to give it everything he’s got, but I have no idea what to expect tonight,” Byron Scott said. Scott added that if Posey’s minutes need to be reduced, Julian Wright, Devin Brown or Morris Peterson will likely move into the rotation.
• Chris Paul said the knee injury that resulted from his fast-break collision with J.R. Smith in Game 3 will not impact his play tonight. “I’m good to go,” Paul said.
• Tyson Chandler mentioned that after Game 2’s defeat, Posey entered the Hornets’ locker room and told his teammates to “keep fighting” and not think that the series is over. Posey was part of the 2006 NBA champion Miami Heat, who rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Dallas. Based on the physicality of Nuggets-Hornets so far, a reporter jokingly asked Chandler if the “keep fighting” suggestion by Posey was meant to be taken literally. A grinning Chandler responded, “No, not at all. I can’t afford (the fines). I’ve got to be able to send my kids to school.”
• Chandler said he heard Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups visited Jazz Fest on Sunday, but did not receive a warm welcome from New Orleanians. Stressing that there is nothing personal to this series, Chandler smiled and said that if he’d been standing near Billups during Jazz Fest, Chandler would’ve “tried to help him out a little bit” in dealing with the crowd.

Tigers Sweep Auburn at the Box

LSU third baseman Tyler Hanover delivered a three-run homer, and right fielder Jared Mitchell collected three hits to lead the sixth-ranked Tigers to a 7-6 victory and SEC series sweep of Auburn Sunday afternoon in Alex Box Stadium.

LSU (33-12, 14-7 SEC) moved into a first-place tie with Georgia in the SEC overall standings following the Bulldogs’ loss to Ole Miss Sunday. Auburn fell to 25-19 overall and 8-13 in the conference despite a five-hit performance from shortstop Casey McElroy.

Hanover’s dinger, which came with two outs and runners in scoring position, was his fourth on the year. The freshman is now batting a robust .522 with two outs and runners in scoring position this season.

In addition, second baseman DJ LeMahieu and center fielder Mikie Mahtook each finished with two hits, and catcher Micah Gibbs and first baseman Buzzy Haydel drove in one run apiece on RBI doubles.

Right-hander Daniel Bradshaw (3-0) recorded his third win of the season, hurling 2.1 innings out of the bullpen and giving up two earned runs. Freshman Matty Ott tallied his 10th save on the year as the freshman surrendered only one hit and gave up no runs in 1.1 innings.

The Tigers also received a big spark from sophomore Chad Jones, who made his collegiate pitching debut out of the bullpen. The southpaw entered at a critical juncture in the eighth inning, and after giving up a single, he fanned two lefties with the bases loaded.

“Tyler Hanover gave us the big hit of the game when we were down 4-2,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “He hit the three-run homer to give us the lead. Daniel Bradshaw did a pretty good job for a couple of innings there, but he kind of lost it in the eighth inning, so I pulled out the secret weapon (Jones).

“Once Chad started showing that he could throw strikes with his fastball, I felt really confident he could do the job. If he could get to an advantage count, I knew he could throw that slider, which can be a wicked pitch to left-handed hitters, and he just did a tremendous job.”

LSU notched two runs in the second to take an early 2-0 lead. Following a single by Mahtook and a walk to Gibbs, Haydel lined a double down the third base line to drive in a run. Left fielder Ryan Schimpf drove in another two batters later on a grounder to second.

Auburn struck back in the third with two runs to tie it at 2-2. First baseman Hunter Morris launched a two-run homer over the right field wall.

The Plainsmen scored two runs in the fifth to go up, 4-2 when LSU right-hander Paul Bertuccini hit left fielder Brian Fletcher with the bases loaded, and third baseman Wes Gilmer drew a walk in the next plate appearance.

However, Hanover put the Tigers back on top, 5-4, in the bottom of the frame with a three-run dinger to left. Mahtook followed with an infield single, and Gibbs drove him in with a double off the wall in right center to give the Tigers a two-run lead.

Auburn strung together three consecutive singles to load the bases with one out in the sixth, but LSU reliever Daniel Bradshaw retired the next two batters to pitch his way out of the jam and preserve the 6-4 advantage.

The Tigers added a run in the sixth as LeMahieu came through with a clutch, RBI single with two outs to bring home Mitchell.

After Jones’ back-to-back strikeouts with the bases loaded in the eighth, Auburn was able to close the gap with a two-run single by Fletcher off of Ott to cut the lead to 7-6, but Ott kept the Plainsmen off the scoreboard in the ninth to preserve the victory.

Ott forced second baseman Justin Hargett to ground into a 4-6-3 double play with one out and runners on first and second to end the game.

LSU returns to action Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. (CDT) with a home game against in-state rival Tulane. The contest will be broadcast by Cox Sports Television and can be heard on the LSU Sports Radio Network (98.1 FM). In addition, live video, audio and stats will be available in the Geaux Zone at www.LSUsports.net.

LSU 7, Auburn 6 (Apr 26, 2009 at Baton Rouge, La.)

Auburn.............. 002 020 020 - 6 11 0 (25-19, 8-13 SEC)
LSU.................... 020 041 00X - 7 11 0 (33-12, 14-7 SEC)

Rebels Take Series From No. 1 Georgia With 6-1 Win

Scott Bittle continued to perform masterfully on the mound while the Rebel offense out-hit the Bulldogs to a tune of 10-5 as No. 11 Ole Miss (32-12, 13-8 SEC) defeated No. 1 Georgia (33-11, 14-7 SEC) by a score of 6-1 to claim the weekend series.
Sunday’s crowd reached 8,219 fans to push the three-day total to 26,929 fans in attendance for the weekend series. It’s the largest three-game series attendance for the Rebels in school history.

Bittle (5-2) picked up the win as he worked 7.0 innings and held the Bulldogs to one run on five hits with one walk and 11 strikeouts. The senior did not allow a hit from Georgia after the first batter of the third inning as the pitching staff combined to hold the Bulldogs hitless from that point on. Only one Georgia batter reached base in the final 7.0 innings.

Georgia starter Justin Grimm (2-3) suffered the loss as he allowed five runs - four earned - on eight hits with two walks and two strikeouts in 5.0 innings of work.

“It was a great baseball game today that topped off a great weekend,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “That was a tremendous effort by Scott Bittle - to do what he did with the three hits in the first before hanging in there and really holding them off. I thought Justin Grimm did a great job, but we were able to squeak out a few runs against him.

“The crowd really took over when we loaded the bases (in the sixth). It’s not often you see that in a college baseball game, but I think that certainly happened today.”

Georgia got on the board in the first inning for the third time on the weekend with a single run to open the game. Colby May came up with a single before moving to second on a single from Rich Poythress and then scoring on a single from Joey Lewis.

Ole Miss answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning to take the lead. Jordan Henry singled before stealing second and then moved to third on a sac bunt from Logan Power. He then scored on a single from Matt Snyder. Snyder then scored two batters later on a fielding error in right field on a high fly ball from Kyle Henson that was dropped, allowing the freshman to score from first and give the Rebels the 2-1 lead.

Ole Miss never trailed again.

The Rebels got a surprising run in the fourth inning when Michael Hubbard hit an inside-the-park home run to push the lead out to 3-1. Hubbard hit the ball deep to left center where it bounced off the wall. Hubbard then beat the relay in for the score.

Ole Miss added three runs in the sixth for the final margin of victory at 6-1. Henson opened the inning with a single before taking second on a wild pitch. Zach MillerTaylor Hashman to load the bases with no outs. then drew a walk before a passed ball advanced both runners to scoring position. Georgia then went to its bullpen for Justin Earls, who walked pinch-hitter

Georgia again went to its bullpen for Jeff Walters who struck out Kevin Mort, but saw Evan Button lay down a bunt single that scored Henson and gave Ole Miss the 4-1 lead as all runners advanced safely, keeping the bases loaded. Henry then came up with a two-RBI single up the middle to score Miller and Hashman and give the Rebels the 6-1 lead.

Bittle then held the Bulldogs off the board in the seventh, while David Goforth and Jake Morgan closed out the eighth and ninth, respectively, to secure the win.

Ole Miss will return to action on Tuesday night when the Rebels will face Southern Miss at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.