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Boston Red Sox: Pawtucket Advances to International League Championship

Like parent club, like child club?

If the 2012 Pawtucket Red Sox are keen on emulating the Boston Red Sox circa 2004, then the New England baseball fanbase is in line for some much pined-for fulfillment this autumn.

Of the International League’s current member clubs, only the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (nee Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons) and Syracuse Chiefs have waited longer for a championship than the PawSox.

But just as it was for Boston in its 2004 Curse-breaking campaign, the wild-card Pawsox have taken one liberating step by vanquishing the divisional champion and their rival club, the Yankees.

Through a seven-run salvo in the second inning Saturday night, the PawSox paced themselves to a series-clinching 7-1 victory over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. With the three-games-to-one triumph in the best-of-five first-round series, they claimed their first passport to the Governor’s Cup championship since 2003.

The PawSox, whose roster has been overwhelmingly plucked to fill the needs of their floundering parent, polished off the Yanks with the primary highlights on both sides of the ball coming from two external imports.

Danny Valencia, who had a full major-league season with the Minnesota Twins last year and started this spring as a Rochester Red Wing, belted a three-run homer to round out a full bat-around in the second inning.

That would be a surplus of support for pitcher Nelson Figueroa, who had begun the season as a Triple-A Yankee before converting to the other side of the rivalry in July. He struck out eight of his former teammates in as many innings of work in the Game 4 clincher.

The luxurious cushion of support from his bat rack, combined with his one-run, two-hit gem, gave Figueroa his second win in three encounters with his previous allies. He had previously pitched an identical eight innings against Scranton one week prior to Saturday’s playoff bout, holding the Yanks scoreless on four hits.

Figueroa has yet to see action at the major-league level in 2012, though he has previously run up a 13-18 record on the MLB mound with five other organizations.

The fresh addenda to his transcript, with the potential for more, could earn him a long, diligent look with Boston no later than next spring. Ditto Valencia.

Before that, though, the two will be among those in lofty demand for Pawtucket for up to 10 more days.

Entering Saturday night’s action, the Charlotte Knights, Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, were looking to similarly put away the Indianapolis Indians, primary feeder club of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The PawSox, who claimed the I.L. wild card to put in their second straight playoff appearance, shall host the winner of the other series this Tuesday and Wednesday for Games 1 and 2 of the final round. The best-of-five series will subsequently shuffle to either Charlotte or Indianapolis for up to three elimination games.

The I.L. champion will converge with the Pacific Coast League champion next Tuesday, Sept. 18, for the Triple-A title game in Durham, N.C.

As it happens, the host Durham Bulls was the team that denied Pawtucket in its last bid for the I.L. pennant in 2003.

This coming week will mark the PawSox’ third appearance in the Governor’s Cup Finals since they won their last title in 1984, when they defeated the now-defunct Maine Guides.

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Why Josh Beckett Should Be Moved to the Boston Red Sox Bullpen

Like a skipping CD in dire need of a cleansing, Josh Beckett is following a mortifying motif of practically conceding critical games against American League East adversaries before sundown.

The visiting Toronto Blue Jays proved to pick up all they would need in the first inning on Friday, then doubled their output in the second inning before pacing themselves to a 6-1 thrashing of the Red Sox.

Beckett is now 1-4, and the team 1-6, in his last seven starts since May 31. He was previously 4-4, and the Sox 5-4, when he started, though the team’s overall progress has not swayed too far in either direction.

Boston was 26-25 after Beckett’s losing decision to Detroit on May 31 and was 48-46 by the end of Friday’s falter to the Blue Jays.

If anything, though, that means Boston could be further along in its effort to retain its postseason viability if Beckett were consistently and certifiably committed. Instead, his blatant lack of preparedness is holding the club back.

After three strikes of this nature, manager Bobby Valentine ought to consider experimenting with a radical reformation to try to remedy the pitching staff. Perhaps Beckett should temporarily swap jobs with the versatile Franklin Morales, who has alternated between starting and relieving this season and is 2-1 with two no-decisions in games in which he has pitched at least five full innings.

There is enough room and enough potential for improvement in such a switch for Valentine to try it. For if the last two weeks and his last three outings are any indication, continuing with the status quo is no way to get the best out of Beckett at this time.

Within the first two innings Friday night, Beckett authorized eight baserunners, including three on extra-base hits, and saw half of them cross the plate, for a swiftly sculpted 4-0 deficit.

This was coming five nights after he recovered from a three-run, four-hit, five-baserunner first inning en route to a rare winning decision at Tampa Bay.

One could call that an appropriate mulligan for a fairly tough, 3-2 loss in Seattle on June 30. But between those two starts, he yielded 5-0 and 6-5 deficits within the first two stanzas of an eventual 10-8 loss to the Yankees in his final start before his not-so-hard-earned All-Star break.

In that July 6 tilt at Fenway Park, Beckett’s first bout with the Bronx Bombers since before last year’s September meltdown, he loaded the bases on a hit batsman and walked in the opening run before he had even recorded an out.

By the time he sat down for the bottom of the second, he had yielded six runs on six hits and eight total runners.

Yet just as routinely, after each of these three early-inning sputters, Beckett has recovered and apparently settled in for comparatively smoother third, fourth, fifth and sometimes sixth innings.

He lasted four more frames on Friday and allowed one run on two hits, threw five straight shutout innings against the Rays, and tamed the Yankees for three stanzas July 6 before giving way to Matt Albers.

Not only could relegation to the bullpen ultimately signal the right wake-up call to Beckett, but it may also bar his current bane while promoting his current boon to help serve Boston’s interests.

So far in July, Beckett’s inning-by-inning transcript has pointed to a tendency to settle in and start pitching to a much less reprehensible effect only after extramural baseball has been played for a while.

Whether he realizes it or not, it could be that Beckett is focused and committed only after the game-time atmosphere has officially kicked in at the ballpark.

Accordingly, instead of banking on Beckett’s finishing his mental preparation in the clubhouse right before the national anthem, Valentine should put him in the bullpen for an indefinite period. That way, Beckett can prolong his warm-up and be surrounded by that tangible game-time atmosphere for one or two hours before he is summoned to the mound.

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