As the Sox slowly try to field the lineup they envisioned all year long (dealt another blow by Ellsbury's glass-like ribs), they have fought to keep up with the Yanks and Rays in the AL East. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games, including last night's 7-5 win over the Angels. But Boston still finds themselves 5.5 games back of both New York and Tampa.
Still, the Sox are gutting out wins. Lackey picked up his 11th win of the year in what would usually be termed an "ugly win"; seven innings, 10 hits and five runs. But what isn't shown in those stats is Lackey's control last night. He struck out five and walked none. He threw first-pitch strikes to a remarkable 75% of batters he faced and 65.5% of his total pitches were for strikes. Those numbers are why Lackey could surrender those hits and runs and still keep Boston in the game. Lackey pitched better than it would appear at first glance.
Bard allowed two walks but pitched a scoreless eighth. And then Paps came out for one of his most dominant relief appearances of the year with three strikeouts. That gave him 30 saves on the year and makes him the first pitcher in MLB history to have 30 saves in each of his first five full seasons. Which just adds another layer of complexity to Boston having to decide what to do with Papelbon in the next year.
Speaking of tough decisions, Adrian Beltre continues to make the upcoming off-season an interesting one for Boston. Beltre was the offensive engine last night, going 2-5 with a homer and three RBI. He is hitting .328 on the year with a .934 OPS. He is in the AL Top 10 for batting average, slugging, RBI, OPS and home runs. The issue is his glove. He has 16 errors so far in 2010, tied for the most by an AL third baseman with Michael Young and Jose Lopez. But he is far and away the best hitting third baseman in the AL, and you could argue he is the best hitting third-baseman in the majors.*
The other highlight was Pedroia getting his first hit since returning from his injury. And he stole a base to boot along with scoring a run and drawing a walk.
Tonight Beckett and Santana face off. Which Beckett will we see; the dominant one from July or the run machine of August? The answer to that question will go a long way to answering not only who wins tonight, but how the Sox will finish in 2010.
* Yes, Yankee fans, he is hitting better than A-Rod. Get over it.