Red Sox

Red Sox await Bard's return from recent slump

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Red Sox await Bard's return from recent slump

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen

BOSTON The Daniel Bard of August and September is not the Daniel Bard of April through July or, that matter, the Daniel Bard of the first 2 12 years of his career.

Bards ERA through July 31 was 1.76. Since then, however, he has pitched 15 23 innings over 15 games, giving up 14 runs, 13 earned, on 12 hits and 7 walks with 19 strikeouts and two home runs allowed for a 7.45 ERA.

His problems have become more acute in September. In five games this month, spanning 4 23 innings, he has allowed 10 runs, 9 earned, with 5 walks, 5 strikeouts, and a hit batter, for a whopping 17.34 ERA. In those five games, he has recorded three blown saves and losses in his last three outings.

He took a blown save and the loss when the Sox were beaten by the Blue Jays, 5-4, Wednesday afternoon at Fenway Park.

Entering to start the eighth inning, with the Sox leading, 4-2, Bards outing quickly unraveled.

He walked the first two batters, Edwin Encarnacion and Kelly Johnson, on nine pitches. His own error attempting to field Mark Teahens sacrifice bunt loaded the bases. J.P Arencibia grounded out to Kevin Youkilis at third, cutting the Sox lead to one. No. 9 batter Adam Loewen, a pitcher turned outfielder, singled to center, scoring two runs to give the Jays the lead. An unorthodox 4-3-5 double play ended the inning, saving Bard from further damage.

But the Jays had done enough already, holding on for the win and handing Bard the loss. His record for the season fell to 2-8 with a 3.10 ERA. Bard is second on the staff in losses, behind only the 12 of John Lackey, who started the game and was in line for the win (not counting Erik Bedard's nine losses, seven with the Mariners). Bards 7.71 ERA against the Jays this season is his second-worst against any team this season, behind only his 16.88 ERA against the Indians

Im struggling with timing with my delivery, Bard said. I can feel it on every pitch. Feels a little different. Ive been through it before. I think the effects of it are just magnified by how big these games are. Sometimes you go out there and your mechanics are a little off and they swing at a couple of pitches and youre able to get through it. Unfortunately they really havent been swinging and missing.

The outing was frustrating not only for Bard but for the team. The Rays, who enter Fenway Thursday trailing by four games in the wild card after a 6-2 loss in Baltimore Wednesday night, were watching in their clubhouse in Camden Yards and cheering when the Jays took the lead.

Obviously that was a tough inning, said manager Terry Francona. We worked so hard to get to him and right now the fastball command is certainly an issue. Its getting him in trouble. His fastballs kind of cutting on him a little bit, probably when hes not trying to. So weve got to get him back to being the Bard weve all come to trust because he's such an important part of what were doing.

Things happen throughout a long season, said pitching coach Curt Young. Youre going to have games that get away from you the way it did. He came back good after walking the first two guys. Came back, got a ground ball and then gave up the base hit but finished with a grounder and throwing with his regular stuff.

Young said Bards mechanics are good.

Hes got a nice checkpoint that he has with his delivery, Young said. Well get back on that tomorrow. Im sure he feels bad. You get in that situation and you know its tough. Youre in the eighth inning there trying to close out an inning and when you dont do it, it is disappointing. But hes a guy that will bounce back good. His arm's feeling great, health is good. So the one little thing hes feeling isnt working for him. So well get him going in the right direction.

Perhaps Bard is fatigued. But he has pitched 66 23 innings over 64 games this season, compared to a total of 68 23 innings over 66 games on the same date last season. His average fastball velocity, however, has dipped this month, from 97.7 in August to 96.2 in September.

I think everybodys beat up physically a little bit, Young said. The seasons so long and you play 162 games and sometimes it shows up physically at the end as well as mentally. Like I say, well get back at it tomorrow and hell be fine.

I dont think theres anything wrong with him, said catcher Jason Varitek. He needs some stuff going his way a little bit. We just got a little bit of walk trouble and then gave him them a couple of extra outs. They had the big hit by Loewen on a bad pitch.

But maybe its more than physical. Bard acknowledged his recent outings have crept into his thoughts while hes on the mound.

I think it starts with mechanics getting a little bit out of whack, he said. Anytime youre thinking about mechanics its not a good thing. When theyre out of whack you have to do things to straighten them out. As soon as I get back to the fluid delivery Im used to and its probably going to look the same to you guys going to be some minor tweaks that only I can feel. But youll notice it by the way the ball is coming out of my hands.

Asked if he noticed anything different about Bards demeanor on the mound, Varitek wasted few words defending the pitcher.

Ill put this to rest with Daniel, Varitek said. Hows this: Daniels been the hugest part of this bullpen, he and Jonathan Papelbon. And hes had a tough little stretch for the last few outings. We need Daniel. And Daniels going to pitch well. Period.

But the Daniel they need is the one who showed up before September.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen.

Astros beat Yankees in Game 7 to advance to World Series, 4-0

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Astros beat Yankees in Game 7 to advance to World Series, 4-0

HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP , and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve , the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron JudgeGary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."

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Red Sox reportedly make offer to Cora

Red Sox reportedly make offer to Cora

UPDATE: The deal is for three years, per Ken Rosenthal.

BOSTON — We’re just waiting on an announcement now.

A pair of national reports on Saturday afternoon, one from FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal... 

...And another from MLB Network and FanRagSports.com's Jon Heyman...

have firmed up Alex Cora’s expected hiring as Red Sox manager. Both reported that Cora, the Astros bench coach, is expected to take the job once Houston's season ends, which could come as soon as Saturday night after Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. 

Heyman reported a contract offer has already been made to Cora. 

A baseball source said this week that there was “not a doubt” Cora, the Astros bench coach, would wind up with the Red Sox gig. It’s unclear when exactly the offer was made to him, but one had not been made as of midday Wednesday, the source said. 

Cora, 41, a former Red Sox infielder (2005-08) who's also worked in the media and is the most sought-after managerial candidate at the moment, appeared the front-runner since the outset of what proved a small search for the Red Sox.

Earlier, Boston Globe reported that the Washington Nationals were interested in Cora after they fired Dusty Baker on Friday.