--The likely Red Sox procession to the postseason is an unusual one. Despite leading the division for each of the last 29 days and 53 of the last 54, Boston continues to shuffle personnel looking for elusive late-inning alchemy.
Despite completing more than two-thirds of the schedule, the final shape of the bullpen, in particular, has yet to take form.
That reality reflects the fact that, while the club stands a strong likelihood of reaching October, it continues to exhibit vulnerability in its late-inning pitchers. The Red Sox entered Tuesday night with a relief ERA of 5.27, worst among all 14 American League teams.
RHP Curt Schilling's statistics as the closer (3-3, 5.48, 9-for-11 in save situations) were not vastly superior to those assembled by injured finisher Keith Foulke (5-5, 6.23. 15-of-29). Schilling's recent stumble represents merely the latest example of the bullpen's season long inconsistency, the byproduct of which is a constantly shifting bullpen corps.
Recently, manager Terry Francona has seemed comfortable going to right-handed submariner Chad Bradford. Beyond that crew, the Red Sox appear to be holding auditions in hopes that someone can stabilize their path through the late innings.
The club has shown no boundaries to its search for assistance. Veterans Mike Remlinger and Jeremi Gonzalez are being used in a variety of situations to determine their usefulness. In the remaining weeks of the season, the team hopes to see whether Foulke can live up to his track record while also offering innings to the likes of prospects Jon Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen and perhaps Craig Hansen to determine if any can contribute.
--RHP Curt Schilling is officially in his first slump as a closer. After a rough entry into his conversion to the back end of games, Schilling posted a 2.11 ERA in 17 innings from July 16 through Aug. 9. In his last three games, however, opponents have tagged him for seven runs in just 3 1/3 innings, an 18.92 mark.
Because he entered contests with enormous leads over the weekend, Schilling's mishaps did not deny his club a victory. On Monday, however, his three-run concession transformed a 6-4 Red Sox advantage against the Tigers into a 7-6 defeat.
Over the weekend, Schilling admitted that his transformation into a fireman remained a work in progress. He continues to try to adjust on the fly to his unpredictable fastball, the byproduct of inconsistent mechanics on the mound. Still, the closer by necessity could not offer such a justification for his recent struggles.
"You can't cost your team games trying to learn how to do a job," Schilling told reporters. "There's no excuse for what happened tonight."
That said, the club must consider whether the heavy bullpen load shouldered by Schilling is creating some fatigue. His fastball remained for much of his outing on Monday in the 88-91 mph range, and his recent rut raises the question of whether he's hit a wall in his rehab. His usage and performance will thus take equal prominence in the coming days.
--The Red Sox's home winning streak officially entered the realm of the absurd in a game that the club did not even win. Nature interceded Sunday to preserve Boston's unblemished 13-game run, washing out a contest in which the Red Sox trailed their White Sox counterparts by an 5-2 count in the fourth inning.
As a result of the rainout, the fourth-longest home winning streak in club history remains intact. It is the longest span during which the Sox have gone without a defeat in Fenway Park since 1988, when they won 24 in a row at home, a club record.
The team's pitching has been merely adequate at home, permitting opponents an average of 4.9 runs over the 13 victories. Instead, a Wall-walloping offense has proven the engine of the current streak, with the club crossing the plate an average of 8.4 times per night.
After the Sox conclude a current 10-game road trip, they will hope to exploit their home-field advantage (38-18, .679 entering Sunday) for a strong finish. The team plays 24 of its final 36 contests in Fenway. Yet with natural forces also apparently on their side, the Sox seem content not to dwell on the reasons for their success.
"I haven't been walking around on Cloud Nine," Francona noted shortly before the clouds descended upon his yard. "We just show up and do our stuff. It's a lot more fun to win, but I don't think I have it in my back pocket how many we've won, or reflect on it."
--RHP Wade Miller threw a side session on Monday for the first time since landing on the disabled list the previous week. Prior to the road trip, Miller did not anticipate the need for a rehab outing in the minors, believing that he would require little more than the 15 days to return to the rotation.
--OF Trot Nixon is progressing rapidly in his recovery from a strained left oblique muscle. Nixon told reporters that he would need only a brief rehab before returning to the majors.
--2B Mark Bellhorn faces a crossroads on Saturday. That day marks the conclusion of his 20-day rehab assignment for a thumb strain, at which point the Red Sox will either have to recall Bellhorn or designate him for assignment. Through Monday, Bellhorn was hitting .167 with a .250 OBP for Triple-A Pawtucket, striking out 18 times in 54 at-bats.
--OF Johnny Damon returned to the lineup Monday after sitting out two starts (one of which was rained out) with a balky left hamstring. Damon went 0-for-4, ending his 15-game hitting streak, but he did walk and score a run.
--OF Adam Stern made just his third start of the season on Sunday. Stern is just (2-for-15 plus Sunday) in his part-time role. While Stern has appeared in 28 contests, his role has been almost exclusively as a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch-runner. Despite those limited responsibilities, manager Terry Francona reasserted that Stern cannot be compared to OF Dave Roberts, as the Rule 5 draftee cannot match his predecessor's ability to enter from the bench and steal a base.
--1B Roberto Petagine launched a homer to right on Saturday, his first big-league dinger since 1998. With Petagine hitting well (.333 average and 8 RBIs in his first 18 at-bats), the club faces an interesting dilemma when 1B John Olerud is eligible to come off the disabled list on Tuesday. The Sox may elect to keep both Olerud and Petagine while optioning 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis to Triple-A Pawtucket.
BY THE NUMBERS
.375 -- C Jason Varitek's average against left-handed pitchers, best in the American League.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I haven't been walking around on Cloud Nine. We just show up and do our stuff. It's a lot more fun to win, but I don't think I have it in my back pocket how many we've won, or reflect on it." -- Boston manager Terry Francona, whose team's 13-game home win streak is the second-longest in club history.
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