Monday July 09, 2012 | 06:49 AM

With the Red Sox-Yankees game scheduled for ESPN Sunday night, it was sure to be a late one. Sure enough, the 4-hour, 2-minute game ended after midnight.

For today's column, we had to write early, and decided to focus on the starting pitching problems. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said the starters were coming around (of course, that's a very subjective opinion and, besides, what else is the Red Sox catcher supposed to say?).

If Jon Lester pitched a gem Sunday night, we could write that Salty may have a point. Maybe these starters can pull it together. But Lester remained "consistent" with the other top-line starters, giving up two runs in the first innings and five overall (four earned), leaving in the fifth inning.

The Red Sox 7-3 loss dropped them into a tie for last place in the American League East with Toronto. That's the bad news. The good news is that, with a second wild-card team added this year, Boston is 2.5 games from a playoff berth.

The bad news there is that there are a lot of contending teams.

Here's the standings: 

Yankees 52-33
Orioles 45-40 (7 games back)
Rays 45-41 (7.5)
Red Sox 43-43 (9.5)
Blue Jays 43-43 (9.5)

WILD CARD RACE (top 2 teams)
Angels 48-38
Orioles 45-40
Rays 45-41 (0.5 game back)
Indians 44-41 (1)
Tigers 44-42 (1.5)
Red Sox 43-43 (2.5)
Blue Jays 43-43 (2.5)
Oakland 43-43 (2.5)

In the minors, the bullpens came through for Pawtucket and Portland.

Daniel Bard, in his 1-step-forward/1-step back stint in Triple-A, had a positive outing (1-2-3 innings with two K's (12 pitches/9 strikes) ... the forgotten one, Junichi Tazawa, did that one better with his 1-2-3 inning (3 K's, 13 pitches/11 strikes).

Portland needed help after new starter Mike MacDonald (of Camden, Maine) left in the first inning with a hamstring injury. On came Chris Balcom-Miller (5 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 2 K), Aaron Kurcz (2 1/3 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, 5 K) and Brock Huntzinger (1 IP, 1 K).

At the plate in Pawtucket, Juan Carlos Linares (.263) went 2-for-3 with a double and triple ... Jose Iglesias (.260) was 2-for-4.

About this Blog

Kevin Thomas covers baseball and basketball for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. He wisely moved to Maine in 1994 after working for the St. Petersburg Times. He is married to Nancy and they have nine children.

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