Red Sox rookies provide rays of hope vs. Tampa
The wooden temporary lockers have multiplied in the clubhouse, bringing with them fresh rookies to fill an already over-filled room. Usually, that signals the drive for the postseason in Boston. But, after getting swept by the White Sox over the weekend, it appeared that September might be more about evaluating future talent — the Josh Reddicks and Ryan Kalishes and Lars Andersons — than about wins and losses.
As Anderson said, laughing, “It felt like I was playing in half-Pawtucket for a second looking out there.’’
But the Sox did more than check out their future last night against the Rays. They won in the present, 12-5, at Fenway Park, as Kalish put on a hitting display that included his second grand slam of the season in just 32 games, making him the seventh Red Sox rookie to hit two in one season, the first since Bob Zupcic in 1992. That perhaps brought a measure of satisfaction against a team that had, for all intents and purposes, knocked the Sox out of the wild-card race last weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“Aw, man, what a good swing,’’ manager Terry Francona said of Kalish’s shot to right. “Took a very welcome swing. Good for him.’’
It was a demonstration what Kalish has to offer. The outfielder also doubled, and added two stolen bases and three runs. In a lineup replete with rookies — Daniel Nava, Kalish, Anderson (big league debut), Yamaico Navarro — it was Kalish who stood out the most, as he makes a bid to accelerate his timeline to the major leagues.
“I think he’s really an intelligent kid,’’ Francona said. “I think he’s aggressive by nature. He’s probably getting a lot thrown at him pretty quickly. Regardless of what his batting average ends up the last three weeks of the season, this experience I have no doubt will be great for him.
“Because there’s going to be a point in his career where he’s a really good player. But he still has some maturing to do as a player. You’re going to get every ounce of what he has every day. The at-bats are huge for him right now.’’
Up with the bases loaded in the fourth, the Sox already leading, 7-2, Kalish was getting a steady diet of cutters from Andy Sonnanstine. He was, he said, looking for something in his zone. On the third cutter and fifth pitch, he got it.
“I’m not surprised at all,’’ Anderson said. “That guy is like one of the most dynamic players I’ve seen, as far as all the tools, being together. Pretty fun to watch.’’
So much for a lineup that, on paper, appeared to be overmatched. Rays starter Jeff Niemann came in with a 3.97 ERA but he couldn’t get out of the second inning, done in by the rookies and veterans.
Kalish wasn’t the only one knocking around Tampa Bay’s pitching. By the time Kalish came up in the fourth inning, the game was more than two hours old, and had turned into a rout, the Sox finishing the inning ahead, 11-2.
Niemann had lasted just five outs, allowing six runs on four hits and three walks. Sonnanstine came on, but didn’t do much better, allowing five more runs in a 4 1/3-inning appearance out of the bullpen.
“We were just patient and went for pitches to hit,’’ David Ortiz said. “That was the key.’’
Ortiz got the Sox started in the first, hitting a two-out, two-run homer around Pesky’s Pole, erasing a 1-0 deficit. Adrian Beltre followed with a shot into the Monster seats, the sixth time the Sox have gone back-to-back this season. The Sox got three more in the second on a two-run single by Victor Martinez and an RBI double by Ortiz.
The home run was the first for Ortiz in 15 games, spanning 60 at-bats.
“You guys have seen the strike zone, how it’s been,’’ Ortiz said. “It’s been crazy, so you’re not comfortable to just sit down and take a pitch. Next thing you know, it can be a strike. You’ve just got to keep on swinging. Let them do their job, and you do yours.’’
The Sox put it away in the fourth. After Sonnanstine loaded the bases with two outs on an intentional walk to Beltre, he walked Jed Lowrie to bring in a run. It was time for Kalish to bat. And bat he did, drilling his third homer of the season.
The offense wasn’t the only thing going right for the Sox. Jon Lester (16-8) left after six innings and 95 pitches, recording his third straight 10-strikeout game. He gave up two runs on four hits and three walks, giving the Sox ample chance to win, even though the bullpen didn’t make it easy.
Ahead, 11-2, entering the seventh, Robert Coello — one of two Sox making his debut last night — loaded the bases on three singles before walking in consecutive runs. He was replaced by Dustin Richardson, who walked in a third run. That was it for him, with Scott Atchison coming on to finally end the inning.
“Atch did a really good job,’’ Francona said. “We had spread it out, you’d like to let Coello pitch. It didn’t work out that way.’’
So the Sox took the first game of the three-game series, getting within 6 1/2 games of the Rays, who blew a chance to gain on the Yankees. And they got a chance to see what the future might bring.
“Baseball is a day-by-day game,’’ Kalish said. “You’ve got to stay really even. Consistency is a big thing. Obviously I’ve been here a short time. There’s always more to show. Winning is a part of that. If I can show them that I can help a team win, then, yeah, that’s a good thing.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.