Sox still having a hot time in Tampa, and are happy with another win
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- All of the Red Sox may not love the Devil Rays as much as Curt Schilling, who yesterday on the radio talked about Tampa Bay as a potential future employer.
But it's hard not to have abiding affection for a team as accommodating as the Devil Rays, who are doing their part to facilitate Boston's first division title since 1995. For the ninth time in 11 meetings this season -- all of them since July 3 -- the Sox not only took the measure of the Devil Rays, last night by an 8-6 count. They finished the night with a six-game lead over the Yankees, knowing they'll play the Devil Rays seven more times between now and the start of the playoffs.
The Sox' seemingly inexhaustible supply of ways to beat the division doormats last night featured a used car salesman doing things that no used car salesman could be expected to do, especially this one. David Ortiz, who has gone on
The triple, to left-center, was the first of the season for Big Papi and drove in the first two runs. The infield roller between the mound and the third-base line jump-started a five-run fourth inning against Andy Sonnanstine, the Devil Rays rookie who only last week had held the Sox to two hits through six innings, despite his 6-plus ERA.
"It's not fun to give guys days off, but it certainly helps," said manager Terry Francona, who'd given Ortiz a pass the night before. "He can get 'em going when he needs to. I think he felt that triple for about five innings, but he can get a move."
Ortiz was still light on his feet after the game, dancing in the buff back and forth in the shower room while singing over and over at the top of his lungs the theme from "Monday Night Football." "Dah-dah-dah-DAH, dah-dah-dah-DAH," sang Ortiz, apparently jacked up that the team's fantasy football draft was about to commence as soon as he could find a towel.
"When he perms down his hair, he can move a little," said center fielder Coco Crisp, whose two-run double was sandwiched by Jason Varitek's RBI single and Julio Lugo's two-run double in the fourth-inning uprising. "I thought he was Cadillacking a little bit on the triple. He's faster than that. He could have run harder."
The last four outs were recorded by Jonathan Papelbon, who became the first Sox reliever to record 30 saves in two different seasons, but was more concerned that history remember him as a modern-day Edison. Papelbon was telling everyone within earshot that he has invented a new pitch, a combination slider and cutter that he has dubbed "the slutter."
"I kind of turned the cutter, because it didn't work, into the slutter," said Papelbon, who was only too happy to discuss what he called "the biomechanics of Jonathan Papelbon," which is something they don't teach at his alma mater, Mississippi State, never mind MIT. "I consider inventing a pitch a lot harder than saving 30 games back to back."
Papelbon entered with one on and two out in the eighth and struck out Jonny Gomes -- for those scoring at home, that's at least one whiff in 19 of his last 20 games -- then finished off the D-Rays in the ninth, striking out Josh Wilson and Dioner Navarro before Akinori Iwamura popped to short to end it.
Papelbon says he threw one "slutter" -- the first pitch to Gomes, which the Devil Ray DH swung through -- although let the record show that Papelbon's claim that he deserves a patent for the pitch had at least one teammate rolling his eyes in disbelief.
The evening was not without some anxiety for the Sox. Starter Jon Lester walked B.J. Upton with two outs in the first, then gave up a home run to Carlos Peña, the former Northeastern star who set a career high with his 28th home run. Another long ball, this one a three-run home run by Iwamura in the fifth, drew the Devil Rays within two runs, 7-5. Carl Crawford followed with a base hit, but Lester struck out B.J. Upton to end the inning.
Francona sent out Lester to start the sixth, but when he walked Delmon Young with one out, Francona went to his bullpen. With one pitch, Manny Delcarmen retired the side, Brendan Harris grounding into a double play started by third baseman Mike Lowell.
"Inconsistent once again, but luckily the bullpen picked me up," said Lester, who was credited for his first win since July 23 after a yield of four hits and four walks in 5 1/3 innings.
"Four walks. Take away the walks, it's a different ballgame. Two-run shot in the first inning, maybe we don't get to Peña, maybe we would have got the third out. It's just shoulda, woulda, coulda when it comes to walks, but as long as I keep those down, it seems to be all right."
The Sox added an unearned run in the seventh when Dustin Pedroia doubled, took third when Kevin Youkilis lined to right, and scored on a two-out error by D-Rays shortstop Wilson. The D-Rays answered with an unearned run of their own in the home seventh. With one out, Delcarmen hit Wilson with a pitch. Navarro tapped to first, but Delcarmen walked Iwamura, which brought Francona out to summon Hideki Okajima. Crawford hit a low liner to Pedroia, who had the ball carom off his glove for only his third error in 97 games. Wilson scored and Iwamura made it to third, but Okajima remained composed and struck out Upton to end the inning.
Okajima walked Peña to start the eighth, then blanched when Young launched a drive deep to left-center, which made for a long run for Crisp, but as usual, he caught up with it on the track and made the catch. Okajima struck out Harris for the second out, and then the bullpen door opened. With Peña aboard on a walk and two out in the eighth, it was time for Papelbon.
Lights out for the D-Rays. Let the countdown to the Schilling era begin.