Sox provide crowd-pleaser
Fenway faithful sent home with win
Perhaps it was that giant “500’’ mowed into the grass. Perhaps it was an aberration. But for whatever reason, last night Jacoby Ellsbury wasn’t anything like the Ellsbury he had been all season.
It started with the bad, his first error in 232 career major league games, which enabled the Marlins to score an unearned run off Brad Penny.
From there? Well, it took a turn for the better. Ellsbury demonstrated that even when he’s not looking for walks, he is capable of getting on base at a clip that has accelerated greatly since he was dropped in the batting order. He demonstrated, too, that there is power in his swing, as he took a pitch from Brian Sanches and deposited it into the stands beyond the bullpens in right field in the seventh.
“That’s the game,’’ said Ellsbury, who finished 1 for 3 with two walks, a run, and an RBI. “You have to keep your head in it. There’s nine innings to be played.’’
Batting second, Ellsbury (and leadoff man Dustin Pedroia) helped drive the Sox to their 23d home win of the season, 6-1, in front of a sold-out crowd of 38,196 that marked the 500th consecutive full house at Fenway Park. But it was a game of the bizarre, starting with Ellsbury being the one standing at the plate waiting for the stolen base, as Pedroia registered a pair of thefts.
“He can lead off,’’ Ellsbury said. “I’ll start hitting home runs. No, I’m just kidding. Whatever [manager Terry Francona] throws out there seems to be working. If we’re winning ballgames, everybody’s happy.’’
And if you’re looking for bizarre beyond Ellsbury, there was Bobby Orr waving Jason Bay over for a word after emerging from the left-field scoreboard.
Yup. Just one of those nights at the park. Yet even with the oddities, everything went well for the Sox. With the exception of Penny taking a liner in the chest in the first inning. But he recovered, the welt over his heart notwithstanding, as he pitched the Sox to the win, improving their record as the best home team in baseball to 23-8.
With Ellsbury suddenly dedicated to walking - he did it twice in the first four innings - and Pedroia taking his place swiping bags - he did it twice in the first four innings - it seemed a role reversal was taking place in the early going. No matter. The Sox will take the walks from Ellsbury, whose on-base percentage had shot up from .332 at the end of May to .357 by the end of the night.
He and Pedroia each reached base three times - with three hits from Pedroia - and drove in four of the six runs.
“We love it when all of our guys get on base,’’ Francona said. “But we talked early in the season about Jacoby and when he’s leading off how important it is and how much he can do. And now that he’s hitting, whether it’s second, seventh, he makes so many things happen. He’s swinging at strikes. I just think he’s starting to feel better about himself. A lot of guys you get into the season, especially young players as they accumulate at-bats, start feeling more confident.’’
And Pedroia, after a day off in Philadelphia Sunday following a 2-for-28 stretch, has five hits in 10 at-bats in the last two games.
With the Sox having scored two runs in the second on David Ortiz’s double that drove home Mike Lowell (single), and Jason Varitek’s double-play grounder, they added more in the fourth.
Ortiz worked a one-out walk, a more frequent occurrence these days as pitchers have to respect him more because of his emergence from a seasonlong slump. That was followed by a Rocco Baldelli single, and a Varitek strikeout. That left two outs, with runners on first and second. Nick Green, who it seems can do everything these days, hit a slow roller to second. Dan Uggla could do little more than shovel the ball to first, and it arrived too late to get Green. So the bases were loaded when Pedroia lined a single to right, driving in a pair and adding to the cushion for Penny.
“[Bench coach Brad Mills] actually made a comment to me,’’ Francona said. “He goes, ‘I don’t think they know what to do [with Pedroia].’ Bases loaded, if you elevate, teams used to try to do that, and he gets on top of it. You throw him a ball a foot off the plate and he hits it to right. I think there’s times when Pedey’s feeling good about himself that it probably doesn’t matter.’’
With the combination of Pedroia and Ellsbury, plus the pitching of Penny, the Sox took their second straight from the Marlins, as they go for the sweep tonight. Although Penny wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was in his last outing against the Yankees, he shook off that shot to the chest and kept throwing fastballs to a fastball-hitting team. Helped by shortstop Green’s outstanding play on Hanley Ramirez to begin the fifth inning, in which he dived to his right to stab the ball, then got up in time to make a strong throw across the diamond, Penny went five innings and allowed just one unearned run for his 100th victory.
Ellsbury was given the first error of his major league career on a drive hit by Jorge Cantu with two outs in the first. The ball hit the top of Ellsbury’s glove and got past him, scoring Ramirez. That ended the longest errorless streak ever by a Sox outfielder, and the longest in the majors for an outfielder since Endy Chavez’s 253-game streak from 2005-08.
“Got a good jump on the ball going after it,’’ Ellsbury said. “Made a good effort at it. The ball’s kind of waffling a little bit, unfortunately went off my glove. It’s one of those things where I was told at a young age, you can’t let your offense carry over to your defense and your defense carry over to your offense. It’s unfortunate, but most importantly it didn’t cost us.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.