Red Sox

Notes: Beckett turns it around in final start

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Notes: Beckett turns it around in final start

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

HOUSTON -- Strictly in terms of results, this was hardly the best spring for Josh Beckett.

In five starts before Wednesday night, Beckett had compiled a 6.64 ERA, hardly the kind of performance to make people think about his nightmarish 2010 season.

But in his last start before the regular season, Beckett limited the Houston Astros to one hit over five scoreless innings while walking none and striking out three in the Red Sox 10-0 thumping of Houston.

"We talk all spring training about how numbers don't mean anything,'' said Terry Francona, "and they don't. Then when he comes out tonight in a big-league stadium and his fastball has that kind of life, boy, that's fun to watch. He really looked sharp tonight.''

In three of the five innings, Beckett retired the side in order. In the other two, he allowed just one baserunner.

"I felt good,'' said Beckett. "I had a good changeup and some well-located fastballs when I needed to . . . It's definitely nice to have some confidence going into your next start, but the big thing is that the mechanical things that we worked on at the beginning of the spring are starting to come together at the right time.''

For the final exhibition game of the season, the Red Sox rolled out a lineup which looks suspiciously like the one which might be used Friday afternoon in Arlington for the season opener.

And still, Francona refused to tip his hand.

"I'll give it you Thursday, OK?'' said Francona before the Sox took on the Astros. "I've actually talk to everybody involved and I think I know what I'm going to do. But we'll wait until Thursday.''

The main complication is the presence of lefty C.J. Wilson, who is starting for the Texas Rangers. Ordinarily, Francona might want to sit outfielder J.D. Drew and perhaps even DH David Ortiz after their struggles against lefties last season.

But because it is Opening Day, Francona is probably leaning toward having both in the lineup.

The other potential adjustment could be dropping Jacoby Ellsbury to ninth and installing Marco Scutaro as the leadoff man against Wilson. But Ellsbury has had such a strong spring, that he's likely to remain at the top.

Minor-league catcher Dan Butler, brought along as an extra, got into the game late and cranked a two-run homer to left in the ninth inning off Gustavo Chacin.

That would have been a thrill any time, but it was even more so since Butler's parents and grandparents drove from northern Arizona -- about 18 hours away -- to see him play.

"As I was running around the bases, I didn't know what to do,'' said a still-smiling Butler. "When I got to the plate and saw Jason Varitek, who scored ahead of him smiling, it sunk in. It was a good feeling.''

The ball carried far over the left-field fence, estimated at more than 400 feet.

"I saw it bounce but I didn't look at it after,'' he said. "I didn't want to be that guy.''

"You had a team full of veterans who were mobbing him in the dugout,'' said Francona. "Everybody knew his family was here. That was really fun. To me, that was probably the topper of the night. For one night, regardless of what happens, that was a pretty fun night for him and his family.''

Carl Crawford, a native of Houston, left about 70 tickets for Wednesday night's game.

Crawford grew up rooting for the Astros and second baseman Craig Biggio, and the NFL's Oilers and quarterback Warren Moon.

"I played here early on, in '02, or '03,'' said Crawford, "and I played in the All-Star game here in '04 and we Tampa Bay were here last year. I've been here a few times and I enjoy it every time we come.

"I kind of like coming back home. I get to relax a little bit. I have a lot of family and friends here and we have fun. It takes your mind off the game a little bit, so I have a good time here.''

The Red Sox have nine more days to figure out what to do with catcher Mark Wagner, who was designated for assignment Tuesday to make room for Mike McKenry, obtained in a minor league deal with the Colorado Rockies.

Ideally, the Sox will find a deal for Wagner and get something in return for him. Otherwise, he'll have to pass through waivers to get assigned back to the minors and could get claimed.

The Sox were hoping to see some defensive improvement from Wagner this spring, but were disappointed by his lack of progress behind the plate. Without a more experienced catcher at Pawtucket to summon in the event of an injury to either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Jason Varitek, they acquired McKenry.

McKenry is regarded as a defensive upgrade, capable of filling in as the backup in the big leagues if necessary.

It was here, at Minute Maid Park, that an altercation between former Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez and traveling secretary Jack McCormick took place. Less than two months later, following other incidents, that Ramirez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-team deal at the deadline.

Ramirez had asked McCormick for extra tickets to a game here, which McCormick was unsure he could provide. Enraged, Ramriez shoved McCormick to the ground.

Wednesday afternoon, an outine of a body -- much like one would find at a crime scene -- was marked in tape in the players' lounge, where the altercation took place.

Investigators have reason to believe that Francona and Dustin Pedroia were behind the prank, which amused players and staff members.

Roger Clemens was in attendance Wednesday night. Clemens's son, Koby, is an Astros' prospect and was with the team as an extra and got into the game in the late innings as a defensive replacement at first base . . . A number of Red Sox changed uniform numbers Wednesday night: Dennys Reyes switched from No. 44 to No. 59; Marco Scutaro went from No. 16 to No. 10 and Dan Wheeler dropped down from No. 36 to No. 35. Also, bench coach DeMarlo Hale changed to No. 22 from No. 35 and third base coach Tim Bogar changed to No. 17 from No. 10 . . . Daisuke Matsuzaka will throw a four-inning simulated game Thursday morning as part of the team's workout prior to traveling to Arlington.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

ALCS: Tanaka, Yankees top Keuchel, Astros 5-0 for 3-2 lead

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ALCS: Tanaka, Yankees top Keuchel, Astros 5-0 for 3-2 lead

NEW YORK - Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans.

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NLCS: Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs

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NLCS: Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs

CHICAGO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have a tough lineup, a talented pitching staff and a manager making all the right moves.

Yup, it's beginning to look a lot like 1988.

Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles improved to 6-0 in this postseason, setting a franchise record for consecutive playoff wins. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip - on a long foul ball in the first inning.

"The focus has certainly been heightened in the postseason," manager Dave Roberts said.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to the club's last championship 29 years ago.

Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

"I think we've won four games in a row before," Chicago slugger Kris Bryant said. "Obviously, it's going to be a tougher road. But it'll make the story that much better. Can you imagine that?"

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. Their patient lineup is coming up big in key spots and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline.

Not even a return to Wrigley could get the Cubs back on track after a rough stay in Los Angeles. Chicago manager Joe Maddon juggled his lineup, inserting Kyle Schwarber into the No. 2 slot and benching slumping second baseman Javier Baez, but the defending World Series champions were shut down by another Dodgers starter and more stellar relief from the NL West champions.

"I really didn't change much approach-wise from first inning until the end of the game," Darvish said through a translator. "I just kept pitching the same way."

Making their third straight appearance in the NLCS, the weary Cubs also hurt themselves with a couple of big mistakes. Carl Edwards Jr. walked Darvish on four pitches with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, continuing a rocky postseason for the reliever and leading to a round of boos from a frustrated crowd of 41,871.

A passed ball brought home another run in the eighth, and pinch hitter Kyle Farmer hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-1.

Darvish departed after striking out Addison Russell in the seventh, pausing for congratulations from his whole infield before heading to the dugout. The Japanese right-hander allowed six hits, including Schwarber's first-inning homer, in his second career playoff win - both this year. He struck out seven and walked one.

Tony Watson got two outs, Brandon Morrow worked the eighth and Kenley Jansen closed it out after Ross Stripling gave up two hits in the ninth. With Roberts pushing the right buttons, Los Angeles' bullpen has yet to allow a run in the series.

"I think everybody's just been attacking," Morrow said. "That's the No. 1 thing."

The only four-game postseason sweep for the Dodgers came in the 1963 World Series against the New York Yankees. If Los Angeles can finish off Chicago on Wednesday, the Dodgers would have five days off before hosting the Yankees or Houston Astros in the World Series opener.

"We knew today was the most important game, and now tomorrow's the most important game," Ethier said. "We're going to come out and figure out how to get the job done again."

Schwarber's sixth career postseason homer got Chicago off to a fast start, but Jon Jay struck out with two on to end the inning. The Dodgers responded with Ethier's leadoff drive in the second and Taylor's second homer of the series in the third, a mammoth shot to center off losing pitcher Kyle Hendricks.

"We had a chance obviously, early," Maddon said. "We hit some balls well early in the game, and then he settled in."

Ethier had two hits in his first start of this year's playoffs after he missed most of the season with a herniated lumbar disk. Taylor also had two hits and is 4 for 14 for the series, helping make up for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager to a back injury.

ON THIS DAY

Tuesday was the 13th anniversary of Roberts' memorable stolen base for Boston in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees. The Red Sox were three outs from elimination when Roberts ran for Kevin Millar, swiped second and scored on Bill Mueller's single.

Boston went on to rally past New York and sweep St. Louis for its first World Series championship since 1918. Roberts said he never mentions the steal to his players, but it comes up occasionally.

"Yu Darvish about two weeks ago I guess was surfing the internet, and there was an `aha' moment," Roberts said. "He ran across the stolen base and kind of put two and two together and didn't realize that was his manager. So he proceeded to kind of awkwardly approach me about it and talked about my goatee and how I could steal a base."

UP NEXT

Dodgers: Wood, who had a career-high 16 wins this season, will make his first appearance since Sept. 26. He was lined up for Game 4 of the NLDS, but the Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks in three games.

Cubs: Arrieta has pitched just 14 1/3 innings since Aug. 30, including four innings of two-hit ball against Washington in Game 4 of the NLDS. The 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner was hampered by a right hamstring injury at the end of the season.

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