Pop goes Sox' batting slump
Hinske leads revived offensive attack
If you think it's difficult for Eric Hinske to come off the bench on short notice (when Kevin Youkilis was told by doctors that he needed to take a night off to rest his strained left quadriceps), consider Hinske's response to the situation: "Playing in Boston is fun. Every night the ballpark is packed. If you can't get ready to play here, you're not alive."
Boston's corner utilityman, a former starter and a Rookie of the Year for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002, is still adapting to life as a sub. But last night he was certainly alive and thriving. He started a three-run rally in the third with a leadoff single and his bases-loaded triple in a three-run fifth helped Boston to a 7-3 win over the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park.
With the offense searching for its former explosiveness, the Sox also got a little pop from Manny Ramírez, who doubled home a run in the third, and received quite a spark from No. 9 hitter Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached base four times with a pair of hits and two walks, had a stolen base, and scored from second on a wild pitch in what might have been the most athletic play of the season.
The Sox, now 50-31 (the same record they had in 2006) at the midway point of the schedule, also welcomed the return of Julio Lugo, who had been benched recently. Boston fans felt sorry for the slumping shortstop, because when he came up with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, there were chants of "Let's go Lugo!" But he grounded to second to end the inning.
Lugo, who hit leadoff, actually did a couple of good things -- he walked twice and put down a nice sacrifice bunt in the third. Both of the runners he advanced scored when Dustin Pedroia slammed a two-run double to give the Sox a 2-0 lead.
But Lugo went 0 for 2, and his awful streak has reached 0 for 33.
Not to worry, though. Hinske came to the rescue.
"It wasn't that tough," said Hinske. "They told me during batting practice at about 4 [p.m.], so that's pretty good notice. So I just prepared in BP like I always do."
On his three-run triple, Hinske said, "I was looking for a pitch out over the plate. Got a good pitch to hit -- and more importantly I got to a hitter's count. I was able to drive it, and it was big for us."
The timing couldn't have been better. Sox starter Kason Gabbard had just allowed a three-run homer into the Texas bullpen to Brad Wilkerson in the top of the fifth to reduce Boston's lead to 4-3.
"It was big to get those back right away," said Hinske, who has 17 hits this season, 10 for extra bases. "We've been struggling a little bit scoring runs [eight in their previous four games]. You can't score 10 every night, but it was a timely hit and it helped us win the game."
Hinske, hitting .400 (6 for 15) with six RBIs in his last seven games, hit it on a line, but with the speedy Kenny Lofton in center, it wasn't etched in stone that it would be beyond his grasp.
"When he turned around, I knew he was making a good run for it," Hinske said. "I couldn't tell until I saw the ball bounce past him [against the garage door]. It's nice when they don't catch them. It was just great to be a part of that."
Of course the truest sign the Sox' offense is clicking is when David Ortiz is producing big hits. That didn't happen again last night. Ortiz singled in the first, but he was retired his next four times up. The continued drought came after a long chat with manager Terry Francona yesterday during which Francona spoke to Ortiz about not letting his frustration get to him.
The Sox got a decent 5 2/3 innings out of Gabbard, whose major mistake was that three-run shot by Wilkerson. He had been cruising until then, but given his role as the No. 5 starter, the Sox were happy to take it.
"[Pitching coach] John Farrell and I had worked on throwing over the top between starts," the lefthanded Gabbard said. "Well, not necessarily over the top, but getting on top of the ball and trying to extend it a bit and just finish it. I think I had a bit more command of my two-seamer, my fastball in, and my changeup, and I threw some good breaking stuff."
The Red Sox had hit .119 with runners in scoring during their previous four games.
The third-inning rally began with the bottom of the order getting on -- Hinske singling to right and Ellsbury beating out an infield single. The good karma continued when Lugo bunted to advance the runners. Pedroia stroked his opposite-field double to right field and it was 2-0 Sox.
If the Sox admit it or not, one of the reasons Ellsbury was promoted was an effort to provide some spark to a team that might get complacent with a double-digit lead in the standings. Ellsbury got his feet wet in his first two games, but last night Red Sox Nation began to see the reasons he is considered one of the top prospects in baseball.
He singled to right with two out in the fourth. He stole his first major league base, with some to spare, and then we really saw what Ellsbury is all about.
Texas reliever Willie Eyre tossed a wild pitch that bounded over near the Rangers dugout. Ellsbury turned on the after-burners and scored all the way from second. It was a true display of his elite speed, and how he makes the fielders have to rush everything just to have a chance of getting him out.
It wowed Francona. It wowed third base coach DeM arlo Hale, who never had seen a player whiz past him quite that fast.
"With that speed, if he just has good at-bats and uses the whole field, he'll be fine wherever he plays," Francona said.