Chilly night no problem for hot team
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Another hot team comes to town. Another regular member of the Red Sox lineup goes on the disabled list. Another day goes by with no progress on the contracts of the Big Four.
None of it matters. In the end, it's just another day in paradise by the Back Bay. The Red Sox continue to get great pitching. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez keep playing the Monster Mash. And the Sox, it seems, cannot be beaten at home.
Maybe it's Matty in the Morning or the WEEI Whiner Line that gets them fired up. Maybe it's the Bernie and Phyl commercials, or Bob Lobel on the left-field wall. Or maybe they just love hearing Neil Diamond before the home half of the eighth. Whatever. Last night's shockingly easy 12-2 victory over Tim Hudson and the vaunted Oakland A's makes the Sox 15-6 at Fenway. They've won 11 of the last 14 in The House The Globe Built.
It certainly can't be the weather. It was a frosty 47 degrees at game time last night, and the usual sellout anticipated a classic pitchers' duel featuring Hudson and Curt Schilling. Boston's prime-time pitchman held up his end, but Hudson was routed for nine hits and five runs in only four innings.
The Sox pounded out a season-high 19 hits (12 runs were also a season high), including a homer off Pesky's Pole by Mark Bellhorn, who scored four runs and drove home five. You know things are going well when your guys are clanging 302-foot shots off the yellow tower in right. Meanwhile, the Dominican Duo of Ramirez and Ortiz continued to bash just about every pitch that crossed the strike zone. Manny hit another double and another homer. Ortiz pounded two doubles and two singles and now leads the American League in two-baggers, extra-base hits, and RBIs. How long before the first loaves of Big David Bread hit the shelves at Shaw's?
"Obviously, we're pleased," said manager Terry Francona. "Going into a game like that, you don't expect to do that."
"We'll take it," added Johnny Damon [three hits, two runs]. "We never want to see [Hudson] on his game."
Schilling was Schilling. Talk about a guy who comes as advertised. Staked to a 9-0 lead after five, he hung around for two more innings, giving up a pair of runs before striking out Eric Chavez with the bases loaded to end the seventh. Curt-From-Medfield-You're-Next is 6-3 with a 2.82 ERA and leads the American League with 66 strikeouts.
"I felt as good as I've felt in six or eight weeks," said Schilling, who took a shot in his right ankle to numb some pain before the game. "The medicine wore off after the fifth inning and I struggled mentally."
The wealth of offense came on a night when, once again, the medical news for the Sox was not good. American League batting champion Bill Mueller is the latest to fall. He's due for surgery on his right knee and will be out for approximately six weeks.
If you're still counting, that makes four members of the 2003 lineup who are no longer batting for Boston. Todd Walker was allowed to walk. Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon have yet to play an inning. And now Mueller is gone probably through the All-Star break. The lineup that set a major league record for slugging percentage has been stripped of almost half its hitters and is peppered with the names of Reese, Youkilis, Bellhorn, and Crespo on a nightly basis.
It's a credit to the Sox and their pitching that they've been able to match last year's start despite so many injuries. The 2003 season was refreshingly, almost impossibly, without major injuries. The Sox had the same lineup just about every day. Those days are over, and so are the Days of Thunder. Ortiz and Ramirez continue to crush the ball, but the Sox aren't going to crack double digits in runs on a regular basis the way they did last night -- the way they did so often last year.
"Bill Mueller is a really important part of our ball club," said Francona. "But when somebody goes down, we don't use that as an excuse to lose. That's the way we all feel."
"Maybe you become stronger that way," said de facto captain Jason Varitek. "We've faced a little adversity, but we're still in the right position."
Indeed. They are in the upright and locked position, maintaining a hold on first place while introducing a parade of people from Pawtucket. Catcher/designated hitter Andy Dominique is the latest arrival from McCoy Stadium, making his big league debut at first base in the eighth. He struck out in the bottom of the inning while fans stood and chanted his name. Only at Fenway.
Tonight all the good karma is put to the test when Derek Lowe lugs his abysmal numbers (3-4, 6.02 ERA) to the hill. He couldn't get out of the third inning in Tampa last week. There's too much noise in his head and his sinker is flatter than day-old ginger ale. Making matters worse, Lowe is facing a team still angry over his antics in the thrilling Division Series clincher in Oakland last October.
Shortstop Miguel Tejada has taken his wonderful game to Baltimore, but there are plenty of A's still angry at gestures Lowe made after he fanned Terrence Long for the final out of the series.
"He didn't make any friends with that," said first baseman Scott Hatteberg, who played with Lowe in Boston. "I know Derek and that was out of character for him. It was an emotional time."
That was October, when it was tough. This is May, when it's sometimes just too easy for the Red Sox. Like last night. And just about every night at Fenway this year.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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