Red Sox

Haggerty: Sox make it interesting by racking up wins

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Haggerty: Sox make it interesting by racking up wins

Less than a week ago, Sox manager Bobby Valentine expressed optimism his baseball team could finish as high as 20 games over .500 when the season has mercifully come to a conclusion.
That would leave the Sox in playoff position, and it would also require them to win two out of every three games for the final three months of the baseball season. That still seems like a preposterous goal given the rampant underachievement up and down Bostons roster and the injuries that continue to plague the Sox.
But a funny thing has happened while the Sox essentially stood pat at the trade deadline aside from the Craig Breslow trade: theyve started winning series against playoff-caliber teams, theyve climbed over .500 again and stand just four games back in the loss column for a wild card playoff spot.
The Sox fell to the Detroit Tigers by a 7-5 score at Fenway Park and snapped a four-game winning streak, but they took the all-important two-out-of-three against Jim Leylands bunch.
You dont expect to win every game from here on out, obviously, said Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But weve got to win every series. Thats something we definitely have to do, and just continue to keep going.
Every win countsespecially at this point. Weve just got to continue to go and weve got a lot of games against teams in our division.
The Sox also have the most difficult schedule in the Major Leagues over the stretch run this season, but they also have the talent to withstand quality teams if theyre actually playing well. Adrian Gonzalez was the leagues hottest hitter with a .372 batting average in July to go with four home runs and 19 RBIs in 24 games, and is finally living up to his reputation.
Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting over .300 since returning from a long stint on the disabled list and is back to throwing his body around in centerfield making spectacular catches. Pedro Ciriaco has been a feel-good story filling in at second base and shortstop with clutch hitting while Dustin Pedroia and Mike Aviles grapple with injuries.
Meanwhile Clay Buchholz has pushed to the front of the starting rotation (2.45 ERA in four starts during July) and looks ready to embark on a three-month stretch of dominant pitching with his otherworldly stuff. Jon Lester is showing faint signs of returning from the out-of-body experience thats been his dreadfully disappointing 2012 season, and Franklin Morales can go back to showing his stuff with Josh Beckett on the shelf with a bad back.
Even erstwhile Sox closer Andrew Bailey, who has yet to produce a single thing for Boston after arriving in exchange for the suddenly slugging Josh Reddick in the offseason, is a handful of minor league rehab innings away from a return. The arrival of Craig Breslow and the return of Bailey will make an already dependable Boston bullpen all that much better.
Even in Wednesday nights loss, the Sox fought back from a 6-1 deficit and made it a close game before eventually falling to the Tigers. The Sox arent going to win every night and theyll need something miraculous to get them into the postseason even with the charity second wild card.
I was really proud of the way the guys battled out there. That was another series that we won, said Valentine. If we keep winning series against tough teams like the Yankees and Detroit then were going to be just fine.
There are still many things that have to happen for the Sox to be fine. David Ortiz is going to have to return happy, healthy and motivated while his unknown future hangs around him like a dark cloud. A surgical procedure to remove Josh Beckett and John Lackey who really has no good reason for hanging around and riding the coattails of his healthy teammates would clearly help in a starting rotation clique thats gone horribly rogue.
Those things can help, but its simply about piling up wins and taking series as theyve done against the Yankees and the Tigers over the last six games. An electrifying Cody Ross walk-off homer or a textbook Pedroia laser show over a prolonged period are momentum-building moments for the Sox, but its not about precious, feel-good Fenway moments for this baseball team.
Its about collectively rolling up their sleeves, slapping together long strings of wins and passing Oakland, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Baltimore for that final wild card spot. It may not be possible for thats done plenty of things wrong for more than a calendar year of baseball.
But it might just be worth watching them try after some encouraging nights against good baseball teams over the last week.

ALCS: Judge home run sparks New York, Yankees beat Astros 6-4 to even series

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ALCS: Judge home run sparks New York, Yankees beat Astros 6-4 to even series

NEW YORK -  With a soaring shot headed for Yankee Stadium's Monument Park, Aaron Judge got New York back on track for another memorable October.

Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the unflappable New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and tie the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Baby Bombers trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored when Gary Sanchez hit a go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees overcame three errors and have roared back from a second straight 0-2 series deficit - they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth to cap a three-hitter. New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs and won for the 18th time in their last 21 home games.

Yankee Stadium will be rocking again when Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday. It's a rematch of the series opener, when Keuchel outdid the Japanese right-hander in a 2-1 Astros win.

An AL MVP candidate marred in a sluggish October, Judge sparked the Yankees by chasing McCullers, who baffled the Yankees with his power breaking ball.

Except for the last one.

Judge launched a curveball into the netting above center field's Monument Park for New York's second hit.

"Once we're within striking distance like that, anything can happen," Judge said.

Houston manager A.J. Hinch pulled McCullers after 81 pitches, Didi Gregorius tripled off Chris Devenski and Sanchez brought Gregorius in with a sacrifice fly.

"I thought Aaron's home run just lit a little spark," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Todd Frazier led off the eighth with a double to left, and pinch hitter Chase Headley then did the same - only after falling between first and second base, taking one step back, then heading for second and sliding in ahead of Jose Altuve's tag.

"Panic," Headley recalled. "I went from one of the best feelings of my career to one of the worst in just a matter of seconds, but fortunately it worked out."

Brett Gardner brought in Frazier on a groundout, and Judge came to bat with the bundled crowd on its feet.

He reached down to stay with a slider and drilled a double high off the left-field wall as a fan in a longsleeve yellow shirt reached down and touched the ball. Gardner came home with the tying run, and Gregorius grounded a single just beyond shortstop Carlos Correa's reach to put runners at the corner. Sanchez, who had been 0 for 13 in the series, scored them both with a slicing drive that skipped to the wall in right-center.

Houston had not lost consecutive games since Sept. 8-10 at Oakland and the major leagues' best road record during the regular season. The Astros had just three hits and are hitting .153 in the series.

Yankees starter Sonny Gray pitched one-hit ball through five innings but again had no run support. His teammates have yet to score for him in four career postseason starts while he's still on the mound, including twice with New York this year.

Houston took a 3-0 lead in the sixth after George Springer walked leading off, and Josh Reddick reached on catcher's interference by Austin Romine - inserted into lineup for his defense.

Robertson walked Altuve and struck out Carlos Correa before Yuri Gurriel lined a three-run double past Frazier and all the way to the wall. Gurriel got hung up between second and third as Altuve scored, and he was tagged out by Judge to end a rundown.

Houston added a fourth run when second baseman Starlin Castro misplayed Brian McCann's grounder in the seventh, allowing Marwin Gonzalez to score from second. It was Castro's second error of the game.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Ron Gardenhire to interview with Red Sox Wednesday

Ron Gardenhire to interview with Red Sox Wednesday

BOSTON — Diamondbacks bench coach Ron Gardenhire's interview for Red Sox manager is scheduled for Wednesday, a baseball source told NBC Sports Boston. He'll be the third to interview for John Farrell's old job, following favorite Alex Cora on Sunday and Brad Ausmus on Monday — and may be the last to interview as well. 

The Sox could move quickly from here. Announcing hiring is tricky this time of year, because MLB doesn't want personnel moves to detract from the playoffs. 

But if Cora ends up the choice, as is most likely, his introduction is further complicated by the fact that his team, Houston, is still playing — and could be playing in the World Series.

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Cora, who would be a first-time manager unlike Ausmus and Gardenhire, is close with Red Sox second baseman and leader Dustin Pedroia and is drawing interest across the game.

Gardenhire would be something of a safe hiring, considering his 13 years as manager of the Minnesota Twins. A few days shy of his 60th birthday, Gardenhire would have to prove he could handle a vastly different market than Minnesota, and also connect with players despite being older than both Ausmus (48) and Cora (41). 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE