RED SOX: After Wakefield's 200th career win earlier this week, the Red Sox continued to struggle- splitting their 2-game series against Toronto and dropping this weekend's series opener against the Rays on Thursday night.
With Red Sox nation teetering on the brink of all-out panic (OK- slight exaggeration) Friday night's game marked Beckett's first start since leaving early in the September 5th game against the Toronto Blue Jays with a sprained right ankle.
Friday night's game also left them without Youkilis in the lineup, after Terry Francona announced that the hobbled third baseman would be sitting out Friday night's game- and possible Saturday's as well. Youkilis had been sidelined with a sore hip and sports hernia earlier this month.
While not a must-win game just yet, the Red Sox had only won a grand total of three games in the month of September and the Rays had gained considerable ground on them in the Wild Card standings last week. All this bad news seemed to be compounded when with a runner on in the top of the 1st, Rays 3B Evan Longoria launched a 2 run shot to immediately put Tampa Bay up 2-0. However, Boston would come right back in the bottom of the first with the equalizers in the form of a pair of RBI singles (one from Pedroia and one from Big Papi) off of Rays starter James Shields to tie things up at 2-2.
In the top of the 3rd, the Rays would once again pull ahead thanks to Longoria, this time in the form of a less dramatic RBI single. However, in the Red Sox half of the frame, Big Papi would once again knot the contest up thanks to an RBI double, leaving things at 3-3.
Acquired at the trade deadline from Kansas City and filling in for Youkilis at the hot corner, Mike Aviles couldn't have picked a better time for his first home run as a member of the Red Sox in the bottom of the 4th inning. Aviles' solo homer hit the first 'O' in the middle of the Sports Authority sign to give the Red Sox the 4-3 lead.
And that was all the offense either team could muster. Beckett would go 6 innings, striking out 6 and walking one while Aceves and Bard would hold the lead for Papelbon to come on in the top of the 9th. Although the first two outs came pretty easily, Papelbon gave up a 2-out single to OF BJ Upton, bringing up Evan Longoria as the possible go-ahead run. After the Rays 3B fouled off a couple of offerings, Papelbon managed to strike him out to preserve the 4-3 win
The Red Sox needed this one on a couple of different levels- obvious implications about the AL East and Wild Card aside, Boston's bullpen needed to demonstrate that they could hold a lead in a close ballgame against a capable offense in a meaningful game.
Meanwhile, the Yankees lost in Toronto, making it a 3 ½ game division lead for the Bronx Bombers in the AL East while the Angels lost to Baltimore, so Anaheim fails to gain any ground on Tampa Bay in the Wild Card standings.
ELSEWHERE IN MLB: The Detroit Tigers have won their first division title since 1987 on Friday night with a 3-1 road win against the Oakland A's. The Tigers advanced to the World Series in 2006 after clinching the Wild Card only to lose to the St Louis Cardinals. The Tigers become the first team in either the AL or NL to clinch a division title int he 2011 season.
NCAA FOOTBALL: The UConn Huskies lost their second game in a row, this time to the undefeated Iowa State Cyclones. The Cyclones went ahead by a score of 24-20 at around the 9 minute mark of the 4th quarter and managed to run the clock out to go 3-0. UConn is now 1-2 and will travel to Buffalo next week to take on the Bulls (currently 1-1) at 6PM ET.
ELSEWHERE IN THE NCAA: #4 Boise State dispatched the Toledo Rockets of the Mid America conference pretty easily by a 40-15 final on Friday night while #3 LSU took down #25 Mississippi State on Thursday.
BIG EAST: According to reports in the New York Times, two schools from the Big East are in talks with the Atlantic Coast Conference about a possible move there. Syracuse, a founding member of the Big East, and Pittsburgh were reportedly in discussions with ACC officials earlier this month.
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