Red Sox salvage the finale
When David Ortiz stepped to the plate in the third inning last night, something was missing. Ortiz had ditched his pink bat, used to promote breast cancer awareness on Mother’s Day, picking up his usual lumber. It seemed an interesting choice. Ortiz’s regular bat (and its .178 average) hasn’t exactly been kind to him this season.
It was this time. Ortiz smacked a ground-rule double to right field on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, the ball bouncing once and into the stands. It drove in a run, with Dustin Pedroia heading home to put the Sox ahead of the Yankees, 3-0.
The moment was one of release, as Sox fans could cheer their former hero and believe in their team. There hadn’t been much of either so far this season, and especially in this series, in which the Yankees had obliterated the Sox in the first two games.
But last night, in front of a national television audience, Boston was all it hasn’t consistently been, salvaging a modicum of pride with a 9-3 win over the New Yorkers.
“It was real important,’’ Pedroia said. “We don’t want to bury ourselves. We played good. We pitched good. We scored early. We got to A.J. [Burnett] early, and that helped Jon [Lester] kind of settle in and throw strikes.
“It was a big win for us.’’
The Sox returned, once again, to .500 with the Blue Jays coming into town before the Tigers show up on the schedule, followed by the Yankees again. This would be a good time for the Sox to snap out of their sluggish period and make up ground. But there seems to be little chance of predicting what the Sox will do this season, at least so far.
They could sweep Toronto. They could be swept.
Asked if it was confounding that they can’t put it together every night in the way they did last night, Pedroia said, “If we could do it every night, we’d go 162-0. That’s not really how it is. But we’re going to try our best to do that.’’
Last night was all about preventing the sweep. And on that count, Lester came through, pitching seven strong innings, allowing two runs and four hits to a club that had scored 24 runs (to six by the Sox) Friday and Saturday.
They got their two runs last night on home runs by Nick Swisher and Alex Rodriguez in the fourth, sandwiched around a strikeout of Mark Teixeira. That was it, as Lester continued his hot streak; he’s 3-0 with a 0.98 ERA and 30 strikeouts in his last four starts.
In that time, his ERA has plummeted from 8.44 to 3.71.
“Two walks,’’ manager Terry Francona said, letting that stand for Lester’s performance for a second, before continuing. “He threw strikes, he used his cutter. The two solo homers were the only damage. You don’t walk people against that lineup.’’
The Sox’ lead would only grow from Ortiz’s moment, as a glasses-wearing Adrian Beltre too gave up on his pink bat, doubling in Kevin Youkilis and Ortiz to expand the lead. And Jeremy Hermida added his 15th two-out RBI of the season, as the Sox sent nine men to the plate in the third and scored five of them.
It was an unfamiliar position for the Sox this weekend, up big on the Yankees. They had suffered through two demoralizing losses, ones that had fans and scribes questioning whether the Sox could survive May still in contention.
And while last night’s game was hardly a referendum on the state of the Sox, or of their ability to compete in a seasonlong race with the Yankees and Rays — who were the victims of a perfect game yesterday — it was enough to know that they could beat them on one night.
In fact, last night marked the first time the Sox had beaten either of their chief rivals at home since the opening game of the season, when they beat the Yankees. They had suffered eight straight losses since then.
“I don’t think we’ve ever felt like a win isn’t big. I don’t care [if] it was April, September, that’s what we showed up to do,’’ Francona said. “The last couple nights were pretty miserable. I don’t know about more than that, but we showed up to win and we did. That’s the whole idea.’’
By the time Burnett left the game with one out in the fifth, having allowed Hermida’s two-run homer into the Sox bullpen, the pitcher’s line looked strangely similar to that of Josh Beckett Friday night. Burnett had allowed nine runs (eight earned) on nine hits and three walks, striking out four.
Perhaps his implosion could have been predicted. Including last night’s outing, Burnett has recorded a 12.68 ERA over 22 innings at Fenway as a member of the Yankees. He has allowed 35 runs in that time (31 earned), with eight home runs.
And the Sox took advantage of his weakness. They battered Burnett for an easy win, one with little drama, as they attempt to recapture their ups and leave their downs behind.
“It’s a long season. You can’t get frustrated right now,’’ said Youkilis. “If it was August, September, you’d have to worry a little bit. But in May, still a long way to go. The two teams at the top are hot as hot can be. Hopefully they cool off at some point so you can catch up to them.’’