Going in right direction
Opposite-field HRs aid Red Sox sweep
Dustin Pedroia looked as surprised as anyone. He had just thwacked one out of Fenway Park, the baseball landing in the Rays bullpen, a location foreign to Pedroia.
Yes, he had gotten the first opposite-field home run of his career earlier this season, taking a Joba Chamberlain pitch out to right field in Yankee Stadium. But that hardly counted. Almost anyone could hit a homer to right at Yankee Stadium.
Yet, with the first game of yesterday’s doubleheader tied at 1-1 in the eighth inning, Pedroia surprised and delighted, his two-run shot helping the Sox to a 3-1 win that later became a sweep of a Rays team that has utterly fallen apart with a Game 2 triumph (4-0).
“Pedroia hitting a home run to right field, I’ve said this several times, is the last thing you expected,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Most of the time when he goes to that side of the field, it’s a line drive. He just got that up and hit it in the opposite-field bullpen. That’s their day when that happens.’’
From the man on the mound, there was this: “That little guy’s got some pop,’’ Clay Buchholz said.
With the sun finally shining on Fenway, and the Sox finally able to play a full nine innings (or, rather, 18), the team returned to its pursuit of the wild-card berth in the playoffs. Thanks to Pedroia, that started off well. It continued going well in Game 2, thanks to Jon Lester and another opposite-field homer by another righthanded batter (Jason Bay).
Not that it was easy, but the Sox were playing the Rays at exactly the right time, turning Tampa Bay’s eight-game losing streak into an 11-game slide by the time the Rays slumped out of Boston.
“It’s been tough, but I think the biggest thing is here in our clubhouse, we’re fighting to make the playoffs,’’ Jonathan Papelbon said. “It makes it a lot easier when you have something to fight for and a goal in mind that, hey, let’s just keep chugging along here and not let rain or weather or anything else that we don’t have any control over really dictate how we’re going to go out there and play.’’
By the end of the three-game sweep, all played in about 24 hours because of weather issues, the Rays had lost their season and the Sox increased their wild-card lead to four games over the Rangers. With stellar performances from both Sox starters, seven innings and one run from Buchholz and eight innings and no runs from Lester, the Rays could never get any offense going, scoring just one run over the 18 innings, and just two in the series.
But, even with Buchholz having given up just the one run, it still came down to the end in the first game. With Matt Garza still pitching in the eighth, David Ortiz smashed a double to begin the inning after having come in 2-for-21 career off Garza.
Then, after pinch runner Joey Gathright was bunted to third, Pedroia stepped to the plate trying for a sacrifice fly to get the run home.
He missed, at least on the sac fly.
“You saw his reaction,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t think he knew he could do it either.’’
“The good hitters are going to make adjustments,’’ hitting coach Dave Magadan said of Pedroia, whose numbers are slightly down from his 2008 MVP season but who is batting .409 in his last six games. “You can’t just get them out the same way throughout the year. He realized that he probably got pitched differently, especially the first half of the season. But your good hitters make their adjustments too. You realize how you’re getting pitched, and you make your adjustment from there.
“He’s probably going to end up with his numbers about where they were last year.’’
And though Pedroia didn’t follow up his Game 1 with offensive production in Game 2, it didn’t matter. Lester wasn’t giving the Rays anything. Lester finished the game not having allowed a run in 17 innings, as he ran his record to 13-7 amid one of the best stretches of his still-young career.
“He had such good power on his two-seamer,’’ Francona said. “The velocity and depth really opened up the plate. We saw some of their righties cheating a little bit, trying to get to it, and then if he changed speeds, it gave him a lot of different ways to go.’’
And the Sox scored enough to pull out the game and the sweep. With a Mike Lowell RBI ground out in the second inning, a two-run, bad-hop single by Jason Varitek in the sixth that went skipping past Rays first baseman Willy Aybar, and a 303-foot home run just past the Pesky Pole by Bay, they got everything they could out of yesterday and out of the weekend.
“I feel like we’ve basically lived here for the last three days because of rain delays,’’ Lowell said. “I thought we showed great composure in not letting a doubleheader or a delay or a cancellation take away from our focus on the games. I thought we played a great series.’’
Yesterday’s games were 2 hours 45 minutes and 2 hours 35 minutes, but it all added up.
“Feel like we’ve been here all day,’’ said Francona.
“Long day of baseball, but a good day of baseball.’’