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Monday, February 25, 2013 – Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte

Rays 6, Red Sox 3

Monday found the Red Sox partaking in a pair of split-squad games.  Half the team would be traveling up beyond Tampa to Dunedin to take on the Blue Jays, while the other half would be making a shorter trip to Port Charlotte to play the Rays.  We opted for the Rays game, since that stadium is much closer to where we stay.  Most of the focus from the media was on the Dunedin game, because Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright was taking on last year’s Cy Young winner and fellow knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and because new Sox manager John Farrell was returning to his old stomping grounds where he used to manage with the Blue Jays.  Meanwhile, in our game, bench coach Torey Lovullo served as manager for the day.

With John Farrell in Dunedin for the other game, bench coach Torey Lovullo was left to manage this one, including meeting with the media before the game.

With John Farrell in Dunedin for the other game, bench coach Torey Lovullo was left to manage this one, including meeting with the media before the game.

We started off near the dugout, and wound up getting autographs from Daniel Nava and Mark Hamilton, who’s one of the guys competing for the backup first baseman’s job.  We also went down the left field line for a bit while the players were long-tossing and wound up getting a baseball (with a Fenway Park 100th Anniversary logo) from a player who we later found out was catching prospect Christian Vazquez.

Jacoby Ellsbury steps in to lead off the game, while Jonny Gomes watches in the background.

Jacoby Ellsbury steps in to lead off the game, while Jonny Gomes waits on the top step.

We were happy to see that the first five batters in the lineup – Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, and Stephen Drew – were all major league regulars.  Pedroia drilled a homer over the left field fence to give the Sox an early lead.  Victorino followed with a walk, and he attempted to go to third on Gomes’s hit, but he overslid the bag and was tagged out.  In the second inning, Ryan Sweeney singled, and Mike Carp, another player who’s vying for the backup first base/outfield spot, doubled him home.

There was less to cheer about on the pitching side.  Alfredo Aceves (who is now a bum in my book because he’s been signing autographs with “Yankees 2009″ all spring – is there seriously a ruder way to treat Red Sox fans?) started, but he wasn’t sharp in his two innings of work.  The new “embedded Yankee” gave up two runs on two hits and two walks.  He was followed by Chris Hernandez, who pitched very well in Triple A for the PawSox last season, but gave up three runs this afternoon.  Daniel Bard was next, and he didn’t seem to have improved over his disastrous season last year.  He walked one and hit a batter, and topped out at 94 on the radar, though he did pick up a strikeout on a nice off-speed pitch.  Next on the mound was Terry Doyle, the New England native who used to play for Boston College.  He gave up one run in two innings of work.  The final pitcher was Pete Ruiz, a call-up from minor league camp who was wearing number 98.

Terry Doyle pitched two innings.

Terry Doyle pitched two innings.

Our seats were good, just behind first base, but that put us in the sun for the whole game, and despite my best efforts, I’m now sporting the beginnings of my annual farmer’s tan.  (Who knew farmers watched so many baseball games from the bleachers?)  Some friends of my parents were in shaded seats behind third base, and we noticed that the seats in the row in front of them had never filled in, so in the middle of the sixth we made our move and went to sit with them.  It was much more comfortable in the shade, and from there we got to watch as the younger players subbed in.  Catcher Christian Vazquez made two nice plays – a sliding catch of a foul popup and a throw to second to nab a would-be base stealer.  And Jose Iglesias drove in a run with an infield single.

Charlotte Sports Park on a sunny afternoon.

Charlotte Sports Park on a sunny afternoon.

Down 6-3 heading into the ninth, the Red Sox had a chance to stage a rally.  The first two batters of the ninth reached base, thanks to a walk and a Tampa error, but Vazquez and two minor league call-ups (Peter Hissey and Tony Thomas) all struck out to end the threat.  Next up for me is a home game at JetBlue Park tomorrow.

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