Terry Francona restructured his batting order dramatically Sunday, then talked about the need for a consistent approach. To the Boston Red Sox manager, they aren't mutually exclusive.
"One thing I'm supposed to be is consistent, and 50 games into the year the numbers start to mean something," Francona said after his 499th win as the Red Sox manager, an 8-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. "I just feel when you're not hitting on all cylinders, that's when you really need your on-base-percentage guys ahead of your middle hitters."
After scoring 12 runs in six games, Francona moved Dustin Pedroia into the lead-off spot for the first time this year and dropped Jacoby Ellsbury into the eighth spot. J.D. Drew hit second while Kevin Youkilis hit third and Jason Bay cleaned up. The results were instantaneous for a team that was just 11th in the American League in road batting average.
Francona kept power-sapped slugger David Ortiz in the sixth spot. Ellsbury and Pedroia (who led off in 2007 and for part of last year) each dropped sacrifice bunts - noteworthy because the Red Sox were the last team in the majors without a sacrifice bunt this season.
The weekend provided an interesting study in managerial approach. While Francona made changes, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston stubbornly stuck to the status quo despite losing nine consecutive games.
There were signs of rebirth for Gaston's team, winning the first two games of the series against Boston before the loss Sunday.
Gaston believes most slumps happen because hitters start their swings late. Vernon Wells had better at-bats in the first two games of the series, as did Alex Rios, who hit an excuse-me home run.
Francona said he was still a little "in-between" as far as his lineup went, but he also went into detail about making use of Ellsbury's speed at the bottom of the order and utilizing the different strengths of his hitters. That only reinforced the notion that the Red Sox have a more versatile lineup than either the Blue Jays or their AL East rivals, the New York Yankees. They have surplus pitching, and who knows if the presence of Philadelphia Phillies senior adviser Pat Gillick at Sunday's game means there's more versatility to come.
MONDAY 2 MONDAY
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did his annual whistling past the graveyard thing on Saturday - just before the first game of the Stanley Cup final was shown on a U.S. network that didn't pay a cent for the rights.
Meanwhile, the public relations campaign of Jim Balsillie's Make It Seven continues unabated. One of the campaign's Twitter messages Sunday referred to a New York Post column on the weekend that supports Balsillie's bid to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton - if Balsillie compensates the Toronto Maple Leafs and, especially, the Buffalo Sabres for invading their turf. "Bettman should mandate that Balsillie pay the Sabres an annual indemnification fee that would ensure Buffalo remains whole while the new team skates in Hamilton," Larry Brooks writes. "And then the commissioner should charge Balsillie an additional $135-million as an expansion fee, to be divided among the other 27 clubs."
That raises some interesting questions. Would Balsillie cough up that much cash? Could a deal between him and the NHL be reached if he did? Given the way Balsillie has set the agenda, there is cause to wonder. Ask yourself this: With all the money he has and all the effort Balsillie's put into this, what would happen if the NHL simply said: "Cut us a cheque?"
I don't often disagree with Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre, but he's off base suggesting Manny Ramirez shouldn't go to the All-Star Game if he's voted in despite his 50-game suspension for doping. If the fans want to make a statement, silly or protest or otherwise, fair play to them. At any rate, my guess is Major League Baseball wouldn't let the vote get to that, if you catch my drift. … The Edmonton Oilers hire Pat Quinn as their new coach and the Calgary Flames' ownership continues to underestimate the intelligence of its fan base and is too frightened to take a stand and end Darryl Sutter's mismanagement. Who do you think will be the better team next year? Thought so. … Memphis guard Tyreke Evans is among a group of players who might be available when the Toronto Raptors make their pick (No. 9) in the NBA draft. Evans' wing-span was recently measured at 6 feet 113/4 inches, the largest measured of any guard in recent years, including Dwyane Wade. Evans has a big fan: U.S. President Barack Obama recently told the Maloof brothers, who own the Sacramento Kings, that they should take Evans when the Kings pick fourth overall. … The advent of instant replay in pro sports seems to have only increased the level of whining from head coaches. That's what happens when you take the game out of the hands of the on-ice or on-court officials. That's what happens when you introduce group-think into an event that is meant to be entertainment. So kudos to Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson for his theory that two officials can do a better job than three officials refereeing a basketball game. "The placement of a two-referee system perhaps is better than the placement of three referees because of the angles the two referees have on the court," Jackson told the Los Angeles Times. … The weekly Embarrassing NFL Player Award goes to Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka, who was released on bond following a charge of simple battery stemming from a fight with his wife over the player's Facebook activity. Ojinnaka said his wife started the fight when she stabbed him with a pen after she confronted him about "contact with a female friend on Facebook," according to police, who say Ojinnaka responded by "tossing her down some stairs and throwing her out of their house." Nice. … Nobody should be surprised that Tom Hicks would rather sell the Texas Rangers than another team he owns, the Dallas Stars. You can sell a Major League Baseball team. Ask Phoenix Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes how easy it is to sell an NHL team.
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