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A nice run of offense

Red Sox are in line to lead league in scoring for third straight year

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Talk about your promises kept. Theo Epstein vowed shortly after becoming general manager of the Red Sox on Nov. 25, 2002, that the Sox would become a run-scoring machine, and now they have a chance to become the first team in more than a half-century to lead their league in runs three consecutive seasons.

The Sox need just four runs to become the first major league team to score 700 this season. Only three other teams in the American League have scored 600 runs: the Rangers (662), Yankees (658), and Blue Jays (604). The Sox, averaging 5.7 runs a game, are on pace to score 923 runs, which actually would be a handful less than they scored in leading the majors in 2004 (949) and 2003 (961).

''For three years, our philosophy has been consistent quality at-bats up and down the lineup and on the bench," Epstein said Sunday in Anaheim. ''We want to avoid black holes in the lineup. That is as impactful in a negative way as having a superstar is in a positive way.

''We said it at the time -- the offseason before the '03 season -- we talked about wanting to have a relentless lineup, to have all hitters who work the count, who can grind the starting pitcher. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts in respect to our offense, and I'm proud of the way these guys go about it."

The legendary Brooklyn Dodgers of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, and Carl Furillo were the last team to lead their league three straight times in scoring, which they did from 1951-53. The last AL team to do so was the Red Sox of 1948-50. The '50 Sox had five players score 100 -- Dom DiMaggio, Vern Stephens, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, and Walt Dropo -- and Ted Williams almost certainly would have been a sixth if he hadn't fractured his left elbow running into an outfield wall in the All-Star Game. Williams was limited to 89 games and still managed to score 82 runs, and the Sox set a club record of 1,027 runs -- in a 154-game season.

With 40 games left, the 2005 Sox have four players -- Johnny Damon (92), David Ortiz (91), Manny Ramirez (87), and Edgar Renteria (78) -- on pace to score more than 100 runs. That would be the first time since 1950, though the 1977 Sox came close, when Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, and George Scott all scored more than 100, and Carl Yastrzemski fell just short with 99.

Boston's offensive domination goes beyond the number of runners crossing the plate. Calculate the cumulative numbers since the 2003 season, as Sox PR man Peter Chase did upon request yesterday, and the Sox lead the majors in batting average (.285), runs (2,606), doubles (1,005), hits (4,491), on-base percentage (.360), and slugging percentage (.475). Home runs? The Sox are fourth with 607, but join the Rangers (669), Yankees (642), and White Sox (617) as the only teams with 600.

''It's demoralizing to an opposing pitching staff," Epstein said of the top-to-bottom production. ''We know when they sit down in their advance meeting, by the time they run through the whole lineup, their starting pitchers have got to be thinking, 'I've got to make quality pitches throughout. I can't take a half-inning off.' I think this type of offensive approach and philosophy can withstand off years by certain guys, because you're still going to have a consistent approach."

Some of the names have changed over the three years, including such key contributors as Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Walker. Mark Bellhorn, last year's starting second baseman and postseason star, endured an awful slump and recently was designated for assignment. First baseman Kevin Millar, who has played regularly for most of that time, has been relegated to part-time status, at least temporarily, ceding first base to John Olerud.

Still, the Sox score, and score, and score. And it's not just because the stars are aligned properly. In Ramirez, Ortiz, and Damon, the Sox have three of the most dominating offensive players of this generation; another, Bill Mueller, two years ago won the batting title; and catcher Jason Varitek puts up numbers that far exceed the norm at his position.

But the complementary players reflect the same approach as the big guns. On most nights, every player in Terry Francona's lineup has an on-base percentage higher than the league norm. The lowest OBP among Sox players who have gotten regular playing time is the .344 carried by Renteria; the league average is .331.

Then you have guys come off the bench reflecting the same philosophy, as Roberto Petagine did in Anaheim Friday, when he battled reliever Scot Shields through a 10-pitch at-bat before drawing a walk, the catalyst to an extra-inning win.

''If your lowest on-base guy is still only making outs 65 percent of the time, you're going to score a load of runs," Epstein said. ''It's been our guiding offensive philosophy: Don't make outs. Don't have a black hole in your lineup.

''We make sacrifices in other areas," added Epstein, in a nod to economic realities. ''You can't have everything. We try not to make sacrifices anywhere, but we're not the best base-running team, we're not the best defensive club, but we don't have that black hole in the lineup.

''That might change next year. The value might be somewhere else in the market. We might have no defensive liabilities, we might have no base-running liabilities, but we might have a couple of guys who don't get on base as much. The way it's worked out, we've chosen this consistent offensive approach for now."

It is a philosophy the Sox emphasize throughout their minor league system, which is why the two players most likely to compete for starting jobs next season are infielders Kevin Youkilis (.390 OBP with the Sox) and Dustin Pedroia, who in less than one professional season has advanced to Triple A because of his knack for getting on base.

''We hadn't made the postseason in three straight years," Epstein said. ''Everyone said, 'The Red Sox, you should be in the postseason.' We weren't in 2000, we weren't in 2001, we weren't in 2002. With this approach, finding value where we can, the last three years it's taken an offensive format and hopefully we'll get in again."

But Epstein is willing to tamper with success.

''If you tie yourself to a certain philosophy and don't adjust to what the market gives you, you're hurting yourself," Epstein said.

For now, though, with what the Sox have at their core, and the players they have coming up, don't look for a great deviation from the current model.

''The market is pretty thin this winter," Epstein said. ''It's a good time to have a lot of players back, which we do, and a good time to have a lot of players, especially arms, coming up and being ready from your farm system."

Pop-up GLOBE GRAPHIC: Red Sox offense, 2003-05
Pop-up GLOBE GRAPHIC: Running up the score
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