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The Red Sox had been in the postseason five of the preceding eight seasons, finishing in second place each time. Even when they hadn’t gotten into the playoffs, they still finished second. Until 2006, when they’d dropped to third place. They’d not actually led the division since 1995. The hundred-million dollar man, Daisuke Matsuzaka, struck out 10 and banked his first win on April 5, beating KC, 4-1. Lavish contracts brought a couple of other new faces to the team in Julio Lugo at shortstop and J. D. Drew in right field. The Red Sox took over first place on April 18 and, this time, they never left - not even for one game - for the rest of the year, for the final 166 days of the year, a new Red Sox record, achieved with consistent play and yet with nothing longer than a five-game winning streak. There were close calls. On April 20, the Yankees held a 6-2 lead after 7 1/2 innings. Down to their last six outs, the Red Sox scored five times in the eighth, giving Mariano Rivera a loss. On the 22nd, New York’s Chase Wright was left in long enough to give up four home runs in a row – to Manny Ramirez, J. D. Drew, Mike Lowell, and Jason Varitek. These were no 320-foot shots down the line. Estimates calculated a grand total of 1,711 feet, more than 427 feet on average. Another great come-from-behind win was the Mother’s Day Miracle. Baltimore was leading 5-0, with the Red Sox batting with one out in the bottom of the ninth. They scored six runs and won. On September 1, Clay Buchholz made his second start for Boston at Fenway, and he pitched a no-hitter against the same Orioles, 10-0. He’s lucky he wrapped it up with 115 pitches; anxious to preserve a very promising young arm, the Red Sox weren’t going to let him go any higher on the pitch count. In Daisuke Matsuzaka’s first Red Sox season, he won 15 games, with 12 losses and a 4.40 ERA. He struck out 159, and became the all-time Red Sox rookie single-season strikeout leader. There was another that didn’t work out: just at the trading deadline, the Sox acquired reliever Eric Gagne, giving up David Murphy and others. It looked like a good deal on paper, though Gagne pitched so poorly that there were even bumper stickers printed for the moment: Gagne is a Yankees Spy. And second baseman Dustin Pedroia batted 10th in the league - .317 - and added a lot of spark, and was voted American League Rookie of the Year, with 24 of the 28 first-place votes. It was later learned that he’s played the last several weeks of the season and throughout the playoffs with a broken hamate bone in his hand which required surgery in early November. Mike Lowell drove in 120 runs and led the ballclub, driving in three more than Big Papi, who led in homers (35 to Lowell’s 21) and out-hitting Lowell, .332 to .324. Manny Ramirez was solid but not spectacular - subpar by the standard he’d set for himself - with 20 homers and 88 RBIs. The Red Sox won 96 games and claimed first place in the division, two games ahead of New York.

By Bill Nowlin
 

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Tagged:
Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Murphy, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Eric Gagne, J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, Julio Lugo, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell, World Series

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