Sox get their fill in opener
Boston blasts off with three homers in Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA -- As David Ortiz tells it, two of the little guys in the Red Sox dugout, Alex Cora and Alex Gonzalez, were pondering the magnitude of Ortiz's home run last night into the second deck of Citizens Bank Park, a ball that at one time appeared headed to the same spot -- a
''Alex Cora told Alex Gonzalez, 'David's ball, he almost got to McDonald's,' " Ortiz said. ''Alex went, 'That ball didn't even make it to
''Bro, to hit a ball out there, you gotta be strong, baby."
But even before Ortiz's two-run home run in the fifth inning, one of three home runs the Sox hit in a 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, Boston manager Terry Francona had said it might not make much difference moving the fences back 5 feet, as the Phillies had done over the winter, in a park David Wells last year said was better suited for the Little League World Series. Not with Big Papi at the dish.
''I don't know, some of those balls David hit, you'll have to move the upper deck back five rows," Francona said.
Ortiz's 14th home run of the season, which followed Mike Lowell's two-run home run in the second and Jason Varitek's solo homer (and second home run in three games) in the fourth made a winner of Matt Clement, who had what was a rare view of Ortiz's home run, given that he was standing on third base at the time.
Being a former National Leaguer, Clement has more experience at the plate than the Sox pitchers whose only chance to hit comes in these interleague games. But that's not the same as saying he is an accomplished hitter. Clement came into the game batting .093 lifetime (32 for 345) and had not had a hit in nearly two years (single on Aug. 24, 2004, against Houston) until he caromed a single off losing pitcher Jon Lieber, a former Cubs teammate.
The ball skipped over to third baseman David Bell, who threw wildly to first, allowing Clement the benefit of an extra base. He took third on Trot Nixon's fly ball and scored ahead of Ortiz's home run, which made it 5-1.
''I usually don't do too much assessing of my [hitting]," said Clement, who made that lead stand up until departing after giving up two-out singles in the seventh to Alex Gonzalez (the other Alex Gonzalez in the box score) and Jimmy Rollins, both of whom scored on Chase Utley's double off Keith Foulke.
''I used Trot's batting gloves and Dustan [Mohr's] bat," Clement said. ''Last year, I tried a different mixture. I used [Mark] Bellhorn's bat and I don't remember whose gloves, but it didn't work out."
Ortiz isn't normally asked about his fielding, either, but this being interleague play, he was installed at first base, where the first Phillies batter of the night, Rollins, smacked a one-hopper at him, which he backhanded cleanly. Good to get the first one out of the way?
''Hell, no," he exclaimed loudly. ''Are you out of your mind? The man is trying to relax."
But even with regular first baseman Kevin Youkilis sitting this one out, the Sox had what is now becoming commonplace, another errorless game, their season-high eighth in a row. A franchise that has not led the league in fielding since 1950 has now made just one error in its last 14 games.
''I've got a 1.000 fielding percentage right now," said Ortiz, who is scheduled to play first base again tonight before sitting out the series finale tomorrow. ''But don't get too happy, OK? I got a couple more games coming up, so don't get too excited."
The Sox, who have now won three out of four on a trip that began in Baltimore, moved 1 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees in the American League East. The Phillies, swept three straight by the Brewers in Milwaukee before last night's loss, fell three games behind the Mets in the National League East. Lieber seemed an ideal candidate to put a stop to the losing streak, having pitched 6 2/3 perfect innings in his last start against the Reds, his streak of 20 batters retired coming to an end when Adam Dunn singled with two outs in the seventh.
But he was done in by the long ball and by Clement, his close friend from their Cubs days, who rebounded from a dreadful start in a deluge last Friday in Fenway to improve his record to 4-3. Clement pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the first, inducing Shane Victorino (who hit a solo homer in the fourth) to fly out to center, and got budding superstar Ryan Howard to ground into a double play with two on and no outs in the sixth.
''It was fun," said Clement, praised by Varitek for using his cutter and sinker to get ahead of hitters, then putting them away with his slider. ''Jon Lieber is a former teammate of mine, and I learned a lot about baseball and professionalism from him. It's fun to go head to head with him. Every time we play Philly, I hope to face him just because we had a lot of fun together in Chicago."
Foulke had not allowed an inherited runner to score (stranding eight previously) until Utley's double, but he ended that rally when Bobby Abreu looked at a called third strike. Mike Timlin worked a 1-2-3 eighth -- he has not allowed a run since April 21 -- and Jonathan Papelbon made it 15 saves in 15 chances with a three-up, three-down ninth, but not before falling down himself while fielding Bell's comebacker.
''It's one of those things, man," Papelbon said. ''I lost my footing, what can I say? And then I just had to regroup and go get the ball to first. My foot came out from underneath me as I was going to get the ball and going to first, all at the same time."
Francona and the trainers hustled to the mound. Yes, Lowell said, he was worried for a moment.
''But not once he said he was all right," Lowell said. ''It didn't look too pretty. I didn't know you should pirouette before you throw to first."