There are nights when the Red Sox look like they can go 162-0. They mash the baseball, hitting it to all corners of old Fenway. They throw strikes and make enemy hitters look silly. They put the game out of reach early, taking all the suspense out of it long before "Sweet Caroline."
Last night was one of those nights. Papa Jack's Band routed the traditionally tough Jamie Moyer for six runs in 2 2/3 innings en route to a 7-2 victory over the Mariners on a night (48 degrees at game time) better suited for the Patriots and Seahawks at Gillette.
Matt Clement was the beneficiary of Boston's early offensive outburst, and remains undefeated (4-0) in his first American League season. Clement gave up only five hits, one walk, and one (unearned) run in seven impressive innings. Seventy-two of his 107 pitches were strikes.
And so the defending world champions are 17-12, a mere 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Baltimore Bombers. The Sox have won four straight, six of seven, and are 14-7 since April 13. And if you're still keeping track (we know you are), the Sox are a whopping 6 1/2 games ahead of the last-place Yankees, who lost again last night. Boss Steinbrenner can only hope his horse wins the Kentucky Derby while his baseball team spits the bit.
"We swung the bats better tonight," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "It starts with pitching and Matt was very good tonight. We got a lead for him. He was pounding the strike zone early and he stayed with it."
Back home for the first time since April 27, the Sox crushed Moyer (4-1) and the suddenly moribund Mariners (six straight losses) with three runs in the second inning, and another three in the third. Ever-underrated Bill Mueller knocked in four of those six runs.
"I just want to help the team," said Mueller, a trusty teammate guaranteed to go for the cliche.
Leading off in the second, David Ortiz ("I'm always happy to be back hitting at Fenway") started the onslaught with a Wall-scraping double. After Kevin Millar grounded to third, Jason Varitek reached on an infield hit (nine-game streak), and Jay Payton fouled off a pair of 3-and-2 pitches, then walked to load the bases. Behind in the count, 1 and 2, Mueller reached for a low-and-away changeup and dumped it into right field for a two-run single.
It was a pitcher's pitch. Maybe not even a strike.
"He gave me a good at-bat," said Moyer. "I made a good pitch and he put a good enough swing on it. When things are going well for you, that ball goes foul."
"I was just trying to drive somebody in and stay out of the double play," said Mueller. "I had two strikes. You don't want to take that pitch and put the decision in somebody else's hands."
Payton went to third on Mueller's hit and scored on a single to right by Ramon Vazquez. After Mark Bellhorn lined to center, Trot Nixon was hit by a pitch, which reloaded the bases. That brought up Manny Ramirez, who grounded to short on a 1-and-2 pitch.
With two outs and nobody aboard in the top of the third, Clement evened the score by hitting Randy Winn. Adrian Beltre cracked a single to left, but Clement got out of the jam by fanning Raul Ibanez.
The Sox KO'd Moyer with three runs in the third. Leading off for the second straight inning, Ortiz made it 4-0 with a towering homer, just inside the foul pole in right. His first homer since April 24 (37 at-bats), the blast came on a 2-and-2 pitch and was Ortiz's eighth of the season.
The Sox weren't done. After a walk and an infield hit, Mueller drove in two more runs with a double into the corner in left. When Moyer surrendered a two-out walk to Bellhorn, he was lifted in favor of 6-foot-6-inch lefthander Matt Thornton.
The Sox tacked on another run in the fourth when Thornton surrendered a bases-loaded walk to Payton.
The sometimes-wild Clement knew what to do with the big lead: He threw strikes. He got the visitors in order in the fourth and sixth innings. In the fifth, he gave up an unearned run after Vazquez (playing short because Edgar Renteria has a sore finger on his throwing hand) failed to handle a grounder by Miguel Olivo.
Clement (ERA: 3.35) gave up his only walk in his final inning, the seventh, but got out of a two-on, two-out jam when he retired Ichiro Suzuki on a tapper to the mound.
Mariners hitting coach Don Baylor, who managed Clement with the Cubs in 2002, said, "He threw a lot more strikes. He wears out righthanded hitters pretty much. And it's hard to walk us. I think that one walk he gave up was our first in 22 innings."
Alan Embree came on to pitch the eighth and was followed by Blaine Neal, who gave up a run in the ninth.