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Red Sox 11, Royals 8

Sox' win over Royals doubly grand

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / May 23, 2008

The schedule makers - the same ones who bookended this perfect (7-0) Red Sox homestand between two three-city, 10-game trips played in two time zones - do not have the Kansas City Royals returning to Boston this season.

Too bad, because there's no telling what rare feat the Sox would accomplish, courtesy of a return visit from the Royals.

As if Jon Lester's no-hitter was not spectacle enough Monday night, the Sox yesterday hit two grand slams off the obliging Royals, which actually happens with less frequency than a no-no.

J.D. Drew connected with the bases loaded in the second off starter Brian Bannister. Mike Lowell, following an intentional walk to Manny Ramírez, delivered in the sixth off lefthander Jimmy Gobble, runs that proved the difference in an 11-8 win that kept Daisuke Matsuzaka undefeated (8-0) before 37,613 at Fenway Park.

It was the first time the Sox have had two slams in a game since switch-hitting Bill Mueller hit two in Texas in 2003. Mo Vaughn and John Valentin did it in New York in 1995, and Tony Armas and Bill Buckner were the last Sox tandem to do it in Fenway, in 1984. According to David Vincent, the home run historian, there have been only 72 occasions in which a team has hit two grand slams in one game, and his records go back to 1876. In that span, there have been 245 no-hitters.

The next thing you know, Lowell will be hitting for the cycle.

"Never," the third baseman said after hitting a single, double, and home run, the third time this month, the seventh time in three seasons with the Sox, and the 14th time in his career he has come within a hit of the cycle.

"I can't hit a triple," Lowell lamented. "I need two outfielders to run into each other and they both have to be on stretchers as the third outfielder throws home while I'm sliding headfirst into third.

"I did it in the minor leagues, by the way. Believe it."

Who can resist that challenge? Sure enough, on Aug. 16, 1997, a 23-year-old Lowell became the first player in the history of the Triple A Columbus Clippers to hit for the cycle, the triple and double coming when he batted twice in an eight-run ninth inning.

That was the first triple of his professional career, and it took more than 1,000 at-bats. He has had nine since, in more than 5,000 at-bats, so his pessimism about the cycle, especially at an age when he might be lapped by Jacoby Ellsbury, is well-placed.

Lowell was surprised, by the way, to hear that his slam was the seventh of his career. "I didn't know that," he said.

How many did he think he had? "Like, six," he said.

Forgive Sox fans, meanwhile, for starting to believe that slams are as much second nature to Drew as they are to Ramírez, the grand pooh-bah of slams (20, but none since 2005). Drew's first one with the Sox was a signature moment in team history, coming in the first inning of Game 6 of last year's American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians, a single swing buying him absolution for a desultory regular season.

The stakes were much lower yesterday, but Drew hadn't homered in 29 games and he'd knocked home just three runs in his last 13. He'd sat out Wednesday's game after fouling a ball off his right knee, and yesterday's slam came after he whacked one off his foot.

"I fouled a changeup off my foot," he said. "I walked around for a few moments and got in a situation where it was 2 and 1 and I got a sinking fastball on the outside corner that I was able to put a swing on."

Trey Hillman, the Royals' first-year manager whose team had won six of seven coming in but was badly outplayed in losing four straight here, said Bannister's pitch to Drew "wasn't a good pitch selection and it was a bad location."

The surprising thing is that Bannister fared so poorly (12 hits and 7 runs in 5 1/3 innings) in broad daylight. He came in with a 4-0 record and 0.62 ERA in four daytime starts. At night, he is 0-5 with an 8.13 ERA.

But the Sox sent Bannister day-tripping on an afternoon in which they had 14 hits, with every player in the lineup having at least one. That included Ramírez, who beat out an infield hit but also whiffed twice and popped to second, ending a homestand on which he was 3 for 22 with no extra-base hits and one RBI.

"It's a lot easier said than done," said manager Terry Francona, who contends Ramírez is having timing issues with his front foot, "but the good thing about Manny is he'll figure it out and in the meantime we've won some games."

So far, they have yet to lose with Matsuzaka on the mound, even on a day when he gave up three runs on six hits and six walks in 5 2/3 innings and relievers Craig Hansen and David Aardsma combined to give up five runs, surrendering a home run apiece.

Matsuzaka is a win away from matching Josh Beckett's 9-0 start last season, and the Sox haven't lost in his last 12 regular-season starts dating to Sept. 22. That's the longest such streak for a Sox pitcher since they won 12 in a row with David Cone on the hill in 2001.

Matsuzaka had a new catcher on the receiving end of yesterday's win - Kevin Cash - with Jason Varitek getting the day off. Cash had caught Matsuzaka once in spring training.

"It was something new for me," said Cash of catching Matsuzaka, the only pitcher in the majors this season to walk six or more batters three times (Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman has done it twice).

"I don't ever want to take a pitcher out of his rhythm. We were pretty much on the same page except for one inning. We weren't disagreeing, I just couldn't figure out how he was trying to set up hitters and what he wanted to go to next. I took him out of his rhythm a couple of times. That didn't help the situation.

"But he kept his composure really well."

And he won, something the Sox have done better than anyone else at home this season. The seven-game sweep of the Brewers and Royals ran the Sox' home record to 21-5, best in the majors and best for the Sox since the '78 team started 22-4. And now it's off to Oakland and Seattle on the Coast, and a return four-game engagement in Baltimore, the same place the Sox ended their last trip.

"I'd like to meet our schedule maker," Lowell said. "Japan, 10-game trips, four-game series, two-game series. I don't think they're a Red Sox fan."

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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