Gold-star effort from Red Sox
Ortiz, Lester shine through
CHICAGO -- Ozzie's All-Stars proved no match last night for Big Papi and the Kid.
The Chicago White Sox, a team stocked with seven All-Stars, including last night's starter, Mark Buehrle, manager Ozzie Guillen's hometown choice over Curt Schilling, were taken down a notch by David Ortiz, who hit his major league-leading 30th home run, and rookie lefty Jon Lester, who has shown a knack for living dangerously and emerging without a scratch, in a 7-2 victory here last night.
Ortiz's home run, a two-run shot, came on his first trip to the plate after a ninth-inning grand slam Thursday night in Tropicana Field, and was his seventh home run in a span of just 23 at-bats. No. 30 put him one ahead of Chicago strongman Jim Thome and signaled another tough night for Buehrle (9-6), who gave up five runs in 6 1/3 innings and has allowed 15 earned runs in two starts since Guillen gave him the All-Star nod over Schilling, who pitches here tomorrow, and Twins rookie Francisco Liriano, the league's ERA leader.
``I've made Ozzie look like a jackass picking me over [other] guys," Buehrle said. ``Frustrating. I'll enjoy it as much as I can but it won't be as much fun going on this note, and having to hear people say, `Other guys deserve it more.' "
Ortiz, who also singled and scored in the third and walked twice, even set off for second on an attempted steal after his walk in the eighth, but the pitch was fouled back. Evidence that he was feeling good, or that the manager had lost his mind?
``I don't know that the manager lost his mind, maybe David lost his -- but I think that's a good sign, he feels good enough to run," Terry Francona said. ``They weren't holding him, and it was a breaking ball. I'm not worried about him running, I'm worried about the sliding in. It's like a car accident [when he slides], like a big SUV hitting a curb."
Lester, meanwhile, looked out of sorts early, in part because of what he called a ``lopsided" mound. He walked two and threw a wild pitch in the first, then loaded the bases with no outs in the third. But in both innings, he escaped with a yield of just a run, Jermaine Dye delivering a sacrifice fly on each occasion, then allowed just one more hit in his last three innings to become the first Red Sox rookie starter to win his first four decisions since Aaron Sele opened 6-0 in 1993.
Lester's best work came in the fifth, after he gave up a leadoff single to Alex Cintron. He threw a 3-and-2 cutter down and away to Thome to strike him out, then induced cleanup man Paul Konerko to hit into a double play smartly started by third baseman Mike Lowell.
``I'll learn," Lester said of pitching in and out of harm's way. ``It's early in the year for me. Right now, instead of making adjustments from pitch to pitch, I'm going batter to batter. I need to make that adjustment quickly. I was glad to see [Thome] swing at that ball, 3-2, that helped me out tremendously, because Konerko hit into a double play, and that really helps the confidence.
``The third inning, I can handle that, they hit some good pitches. The first inning, walking two guys, not executing, really upped my pitch count and had a chance to knock me out early."
Lester gave way after six innings to Manny Delcarmen, the other half of Francona's kiddie pair of middle relievers, and Mike Timlin and Julian Tavarez put the finishing touches on Boston's 16th win in the last 20 games.
Alex Gonzalez had four hits, matching a career high, and Lowell (No. 10) and Coco Crisp (No. 4) added ninth-inning home runs off White Sox reliever Brandon McCarthy as Boston disappointed a sellout crowd of 39,355, whose last memories of the Red Sox came during Chicago's ALDS sweep last October.
``I think they might have gotten better," Francona said when asked about this year's White Sox, who have won 16 of their last 21 games.
``I thought they made some really good offseason moves. They've got a really complete team. They've got starting pitching, they've got bullpen [relief], they've got speed, they've got power, they've got a very good bench, they will be fun for us to play this series."
After extolling their virtues, Francona muttered a curse, then joked, ``We may not be able to beat them."
Not to worry, said Guillen, who came away impressed with what he saw last night.
``You look at the pitching staff and what they have in the field -- great defense," Guillen said. ``Lowell made a couple of great plays. I was watching TV earlier and there's no doubt they have a better team than last year."
On one level, last night's game was a rare and blessed event: It was the first time since 1919 the Red Sox and White Sox had met as winners of the last two World Series, the kind of arcane information this sport is famous for supplying. The White Sox won their first World Series championship since 1917.
Of more relevance to Sox fans (of both stripes) last night was the historic significance of the home run launched by Ortiz. He became the first Red Sox player in history to have 30 before the All-Star break. The previous high for a Boston player? Carl Yastrzemski in 1969 had 29 at the break (the break came late that season, July 23, and the Sox already had played 96 games) and finished with 40.
``Sitting in the dugout, I still catch myself, thinking, `Wow, that's David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez,' " Lester said. ``What these guys can do with one swing, to see them up close and personal every day, is amazing."
Ortiz became the 29th player in history, first since Barry Bonds in 2003, to have 30 by the break. The home run also put Ortiz ahead of Thome, who instead of trying to match Ortiz blow for blow elected to poke singles away from Boston's overshifted infield.
Thome, perhaps mindful of his struggles against lefthanders (.240 this season with four homers) and unfamiliar with Lester, whom he was seeing for the first time, grounded singles through the left side his first two at-bats. Each time, those hits advanced Cintron, who walked his first time and blooped a single his second, and on each occasion, sacrifice flies by Dye scored Cintron.
``We'll take that every time, him trying to beat us that way," Lester said.
Just as he had in his previous start, against the Marlins last Sunday, Lester wriggled out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam with minimal damage. After Dye's second sacrifice fly tied the score at 2, Lester induced Joe Crede to roll into an inning-ending double play.
More trouble beckoned in the fifth, when Cintron reached for a third successive time, grounding a base hit to left. But Thome, after trying to go the opposite way a third time, lining a ball foul to left field, struck out on a nasty splitter, and Konerko, one of three White Sox players with 20 or more home runs, grounded into a double play. This one, like the one in the third, started by Lowell.
The Red Sox nudged ahead in the fourth when Ortiz lined a base hit into the teeth of the White Sox overshift, advanced to third on successive infield outs, and scored when Lowell singled through the hole.
It became 4-2 in the fifth when an ugly swing by Crisp produced a blooper over the right side that broke his 0-for-23 slump. Gonzalez singled to right, sending Crisp to third, and Kevin Youkilis brought the run home with a fly ball to center.
Gabe Kapler's double down the left-field line opened the seventh. Kapler sped to third on an infield out and scored on Gonzalez's broken-bat single, his third hit of the night. That finished Buehrle, McCarthy entering and inducing a double-play ball from Youkilis, who slammed his helmet in frustration.