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Jackie MacMullan

Hitting stride at right time

By Jackie MacMullan
Globe Columnist / October 25, 2007

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Remember when there was genuine concern about the Red Sox' lineup? Remember when folks were legitimately fretting that this team couldn't hit?

You are forgiven if you can't recall. Those sentiments were a lifetime ago. It happened to another team, not the one that pummeled the Colorado Rockies, 13-1, last night in Game 1 of the World Series.

That 3-1 deficit to Cleveland in the American League Championship Series nine days ago, caused in part by a Sox power outage, is a hazy memory, a vague recollection, like those old-time grainy black-and-white films you strain to follow on ESPN Classic. The hitting angst was erased by an offensive erup tion that spurred Boston to outscore the Indians, 30-5, in the final three games.

Here's some quick World Series math to keep you sharp, in the event you dozed off during last night's trouncing.

OK, pull out your No. 2 pencils (what other kind is there, anyway?). Take the 30-5 scoring advantage over Cleveland and add their 13-1 score from last night, and you have a 43-6 advantage in runs. (Kids, please do try this at home.)

It sounds like a Patriots final score, not a baseball barometer.

Those numbers are simply ludicrous, particularly when you consider they were compiled against front-line pitchers C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, and, in a new addition to the list of abused opposing aces, one Jeff Francis, who came into this outing as Colorado's version of Josh Beckett.

You know, untouchable, unflappable, unbeatable.

Francis was 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA in the postseason. The young lefthander was a major factor in the Rockies' impressive run, which reached 10 straight wins and 21 of 22 before last night's Fenway smackdown.

The details are grim for National League fans hoping for a Rock 'em, Sock 'em headline this morning. The 13 runs by the Red Sox were a record for a Series opener, surpassing the mark of 12 held by the 1996 Atlanta Braves and 1932 New York Yankees. Every Boston starter got on base, and all but rookie Jacoby Ellsbury recorded a hit.

Heck, even Julio Lugo banged out three singles.

That's right. Your much-maligned shortstop had three more hits than Matt (0 for 4) Holliday, Brad (0 for 3) Hawpe, and Willy (0 for 4) Taveras combined.

"They're an offensive juggernaut," said Matt Herges, one of the few Rockies pitchers who had success containing Boston. "In many people's minds, they are the best team in the major leagues.

"You need to execute pitches against them, or they're going to pound it. And a lot of times, even when you do [execute], they still smoke it. You've got to get the crowd out of it, get their heads hanging a bit. We didn't have a chance to do that tonight."

The Red Sox expect their redoubtable sluggers, David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez, to produce, because they have unfailingly proven they will rise to the occasion - over and over again. Last night, the Twin Terrors combined for six hits, four RBIs, and five runs.

There was reason to believe that Kevin Youkilis, who batted .500 against the Indians, would continue to lay lumber on the ball, because he was in one of those classic wait-'em-out grooves that makes him such a tough out. True to form, Youkilis collected a couple of extra-base hits and drew a walk in the fifth.

You might be wondering if Dustin Pedroia, a Game 7 ALCS hero, could build on his good karma. He wasted no time answering your musings, depositing the second Francis pitch of the night into the Monster seats.

When your top two hitters are repeatedly reaching base, leading to RBI opportunities for the two most dangerous back-to-back hitters in the game, you are asking for trouble. And if you fail to throw strikes, you are flirting with even more danger against one of the most patient ball clubs in baseball.

Boston's hitters have been trained not to chase pitches out of the strike zone. They have been schooled on how to ratchet up pitch counts. They drew eight walks in this game, including a bizarre trifecta in the fifth inning, when three consecutive free passes accounted for three consecutive RBIs.

Top to bottom, Red Sox hitters put dents in Colorado's heralded pitching. J.D. Drew, whose Game 6 ALCS grand slam still resonates, collected two hits and two RBIs. Jason Varitek also drove in two runs on two hits.

We've now come to the juncture in this column where we offer the required euphoria disclaimers. It's only one game, and no matter how lopsided the score, it only counts as one game. There is no guarantee this shellacking will carry over (see Game 2 against Cleveland).

The Rockies appeared undaunted by this beating, which likely explains why they were so resilient down the stretch of the regular season, when they were streaking toward a postseason berth.

"We have two options," Herges explained. "Either we're done or we'll do what we've been doing all year long. Nothing is going to get us down. Nothing has gotten us.

"You'll see tomorrow. We'll bounce back and you'll see the team that won 21 of 22."

It's anyone's guess which Red Sox team will materialize. Hitting tends to be contagious, either positively or negatively. Lugo agreed there was some of that going on last night.

"It's true," Lugo said. "There's this positive energy that goes through the dugout when we're all hitting. It helps with our confidence. Everybody's happy. Everybody is getting hits."

The hits keep on coming, and the wins follow suit.

"The biggest thing is for us to score early and often," reasoned Youkilis.

Remember nine days ago, when that statement would have rung hollow?

Me neither.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at macmullan@globe.com.

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