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Turning back the hands of time

Turning back the hands of time
BOSTON -- When Pumpsie Green, who broke the color barrier on the last major-league team to integrate, arrived at Fenway Park yesterday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, you couldn't have blamed him if he thought he'd time-traveled all the way back to 1959.

Fifty years later there wasn't a black face in the Red Sox clubhouse, although that's no longer by design but a matter of circumstance.

There was a Green, however, -- infielder Nick Green -- but he's white. There were also Latins and Orientals, but no blacks on the playing roster.

And just as they were when Pumpsie Green made his major-league debut on July 21, 1959, the Sox were in last place going into last night's game.

They were 40-50 and 11 games behind the league-leading Cleveland Indians back in 1959. These Red Sox were 3-6 and at the bottom of the AL East standings after losing all three of their season-opening series, the first time that had happened since 1958.

These Red Sox had a reigning MVP in Dustin Pedroia, just like the 1959 Red Sox had one in Jackie Jensen. So that would have been familiar to Pumpsie Green, too.

So would the Red Sox pitching staff that came into last night's game with the Baltimore Orioles ranking ninth in the league with a 5.02 ERA. And especially so after he watched Brad Penny turn in a horrible effort, giving up six hits, five walks, and eight runs in three-plus innings. Shades of Ted Wills!

But also like the 1959 Red Sox , who finished second in the AL in runs despite the worst season of Ted Williams' career (.254-10-43), the 2009 Red Sox can swing the bats, even though it took this team nine games to get the offense into gear.

And after Penny spotted the Orioles seven runs in the second inning, the Red Sox battered their way back into this one and won 10-8 in front of the largest post-World War II crowd in club history, a throng of 38,266.

J.D. Drew, whose three-run homer in the eighth inning on Wednesday broke open a game in Oakland and propelled the Sox to an 8-2 win, was on base five times last night with another homer, a triple, three walks, three runs, and an RBI.

Pedroia also showed signs of bursting out of his slump, collecting three hits.

The other Green -- Nick, like Pumpsie a utility infielder -- came up with a key two-run double in the fifth that tied the game 8-8.

At the moment only David Ortiz continues to struggle. He went 0-for-4 with a sacrifice fly and struck out three times, twice on high fastballs he couldn't get to. He left seven runners on base.

Of more concern to Red Sox manager Terry Francona at the moment, however, has to be the struggles of a pitching staff that most experts predicted would be the best in Baseball in 2009. Ten games into the year only Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield have turned in quality starts. And they're each just one-for-two in that department. Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka have been pounded in both their outings, and Dice-K is already on the disabled list suffering from shoulder fatigue. Penny had a so-so first start, and although he was throwing 95 mph last night, he couldn't get anybody out.

Francona can count his lucky stars for Wakefield, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning on Wednesday and threw a complete game. Because while the Red Sox bullpen is deep, Francona has had to burn it up in the two games sandwiched around Wakefield's gem.

Thursday's off-day helped the bullpen get another day of rest. But the Red Sox can't keep using their relievers like this and expect them to remain fresh enough to keep them in the pennant race.

The bullpen bailed out Penny last night. Manny Delcarmen gave up an RBI double to the first batter he faced, Nick Markakis, a run charged to Penny. But Delcarmen, Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, Hideki Okajima, and Jonathan Papelbon teamed up to shut out the Orioles after the fourth inning.

The bullpen has allowed just one run in its last 16 2/3 innings of work.

That 1959 season was the beginning of a gloomy era for the Red Sox . They finished in fifth place with a 75-79 record, 19 games out of first place. That was the first of eight consecutive losing seasons for the Red Sox , a downturn that didn't end until the Impossible Dream of 1967.

If the current Red Sox starters don't turn things around, this season could turn ugly, too.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 18, 2009

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