Commentary

9 stolen bases? Yes, that's a problem

Red Sox try to figure out how to stop opponents from running wild

Updated: April 21, 2010, 11:49 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said before Tuesday's game that, yes, the Red Sox did care about stopping the opposition's running game and had to do a better job of doing so.

Evidently, that message, which Epstein delivered in the dugout to a group of reporters, didn't make it back to the clubhouse. Or if it did, he might want to say it a little louder next time.

The Texas Rangers stole nine bases Tuesday night, a club record and most by a Rangers team since last Aug. 15, when they stole eight times, also against the Red Sox. The Sox had allowed just nine stolen bases once in their history, and that was Oct. 3, 1913, when Fenway Park was just finishing its second season as the team's playground.

Tim Wakefield has some mileage on him, too -- he passed Cy Young for second-most innings pitched in a Sox uniform -- but even for him that's ancient history. It was the combination of Wakefield on the hill and Victor Martinez behind the plate Tuesday night that summoned the ghosts of track meets past.

"Some have speculated that we don't care about [all the stolen bases],'' Epstein had said before the game, "that we just want to always make the pitch and not worry about the baserunner. That's not true. I almost wish that were true. We care about it.

"We definitely recognize the importance of stopping the running game, and thus far we haven't been able to do it. It was an emphasis throughout spring training and thus far we haven't got the results.

"We need to continue to work at every aspect of it, and it's multidimensional. We're giving the opposition an unnecessary advantage right now in that area."

The Rangers began with the equivalent of a jog Tuesday night. Nelson Cruz stole second in the first inning. The Rangers went down in order in the second inning.

But in the third inning, they stole five bases, the most allowed in an inning by the Red Sox in 27 years, when Oakland swiped five July 17, 1983.

In the same at-bat, Elvis Andrus stole second and third. Vlad Guerrero, who is 35 and even sits with a limp, stole second. Incredibly, he was then on the front end of a double steal with Cruz, who had drawn an intentional walk.

In the fourth, double jeopardy: While Julio Borbon stole second, Wakefield uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Joaquin Arias to score. On ball four to Andrus, Wakefield threw another wild pitch, Borbon taking third. With second base unoccupied, Andrus naturally stole it, his third steal of the night.

In the fifth, Cruz stole third, his third steal of the night, matching Andrus and setting the Rangers' club record with theft No. 9.

Wakefield's last inning was the sixth, when he set down the Rangers in order. That's when the meter, and the Rangers, stopped running.

"Yes, we're very concerned,'' manager Terry Francona said of a team that has allowed 29 straight stolen bases since Martinez threw out Robinson Cano of the Yankees attempting to steal in the fourth inning April 7, the third game of the season.

"That's a hard way to win a game.''

Teams have always taken liberties on the bases against Wakefield's knuckleball. They've stolen 422 times while being caught just 132 times, a success rate of 76 percent. But as recently as 2008, when Kevin Cash primarily caught Wakefield, the Sox nabbed 10 of 37 attempted base stealers, a 27 percent success rate.

Last season, however, teams stole successfully 23 of 26 times, and this year it's a perfect 10 for 10.

Wakefield absolved Martinez of blame Tuesday night, though it has made little difference who has been on the mound. Martinez has thrown out one of 25 base stealers, while Jason Varitek, who had caught Josh Beckett exclusively until entering Tuesday's game in the eighth inning, is 0-for-8 this season.

"I didn't keep a close eye on the running game, and obviously it showed; they stole nine bases off me in six innings,'' Wakefield said. "It's not something I'm happy about, but it's something I'll keep working on.''

Martinez, whose throws have consistently been high and off the mark, told reporters after the game that he, too, was "bothered" by the liberties the Rangers took.

With Beckett on the mound Wednesday night, the onus is likely to be off Martinez for a night. The pressure reverts to Varitek, and a pitching staff that has to find a way to stop opposing teams from waltzing into scoring position at will.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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