Red Sox nip it in the bud
Offensive troubles solved in the seventh
HOUSTON - As Bud Norris stacked one shutout inning upon another after a flawed start in the first, ringing up 10 strikeouts in the process, it appeared Marco Scutaro’s leadoff home run was all the offense the Red Sox would muster against the Astros’ righthander.
Until, that is, the offense came to life in the seventh inning.
The Sox opened the floodgates with an eye-popping, six-run, six-hit outburst in the seventh - sparked by Dustin Pedroia’s tying two-run single and Adrian Gonzalez’s towering two-run double for the go-ahead runs - in last night’s 7-5 victory over the Astros before 36,279 at Minute Maid Park.
“We only had one run on one hit,’’ said Scutaro, who was penciled in as the leadoff hitter when an ill Jacoby Ellsbury was a late scratch. “We had a couple of guys get on and we got a couple of big hits. Pedey came up with a big hit, then Gonzo.
“It was great, especially with the way we’ve been hitting the ball lately,’’ Scutaro said. “We’ve been having trouble scoring runs lately, so it was huge.’’
The Sox have not had any issues scoring in the seventh inning, outscoring their opponents, 74-30.
“We can put up a crooked number with the best of them,’’ said Dan Wheeler, who picked up the win (1-1) in relief of starter Tim Wakefield, who was thwarted from recording his 198th career victory after allowing five runs on a season-high 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings.
The victory enabled the Sox to post their 47th win of the season at the halfway point and even their interleague record to 8-8.
Batting in the leadoff position for the first time this season, Scutaro gave the Sox a jolt with his homer off Norris on a 2-and-2 pitch.
“I just got a good pitch to hit and I hit it good,’’ Scutaro said of his third homer of the season and fifth career leadoff homer. “After that, the guy was throwing the ball very good.’’
So good, in fact, Norris looked like the second coming of Nolan Ryan when he settled down.
After getting Pedroia to fly to deep right, he finished the first with strikeouts of Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis.
The Astros answered in the bottom half. Michael Bourn led off with a single to center off Wakefield. Bourn advanced to second on his major league-leading 35th stolen base, then took third on Angel Sanchez’s ground out to short. Hunter Pence tied it with a towering fly to center.
The Astros went ahead in the second, getting an RBI single from Bourn, who came around on Pence’s ground-rule double.
Trailing, 3-1, the Sox were unable to get anything going against Norris, who struck out six of the next seven batters, including the side in the fourth inning.
“A good slider and a lot of ’em,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said of Norris. “He’s been giving righthanders fits all year. He’s been giving everybody a tough time.’’
The Astros made it 4-1 in the fifth on Lee’s double to left that scored Sanchez, who singled to right and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Wakefield wound up getting chased from the game in the sixth - by Norris, no less - when he allowed the Astros to tack on a fifth run on Norris’s RBI single to left.
The Sox finally got to Norris in the seventh. J.D. Drew and Jarrod Saltamacchia opened with singles before Josh Reddick belted a double to left that scored Drew to cut Houston’s lead to 5-2.
Lefthander Sergio Escalona came in for Norris (four runs, four hits in six-plus innings) and promptly gave up a hard-hit grounder to short that Sutton beat out. Saltalamacchia scored from third, making it 5-3.
Escalona hit Darnell McDonald, who was pinch-hitting for Wheeler, to load the bases. Escalona gave way to Wilton Lopez, who sprinted in from the Astros’ bullpen in right center.
Lopez’s exuberance seemed to get the best of Scutaro, who struck out swinging, but not Pedroia, who took issue with a called second strike by plate umpire Laz Diaz before rifling a two-run single to right.
As he sprinted toward first, Pedroia looked behind him at Diaz and seemed to yell in defiance as Reddick and Sutton scored the tying runs.
“I was just trying to put it in play and it found a hole, that was basically it,’’ Pedroia said.
Asked if he intended to look back at Diaz while running to first, Pedroia said, “I don’t know. I don’t even remember. I’m out of my mind half the time, anyways.’’
Gonzalez, who had gone 0 for 3 with a pair of strikeouts, followed with a two-run double to left, scoring McDonald and Pedroia to put the Sox ahead, 7-5.
“Gonzy didn’t really swing the bat all night, except for the time we needed it,’’ Francona said. “He rifles one to left-center and changes the whole game.’’
Asked what it was like for him to watch that seventh inning unfold, Wheeler said, “It was awesome. I mean, it really was. It was kind of nerve-racking at the same time, you know. Just get that one more hit, one more hit.
“To finish it off like that, it was pretty awesome, pretty exciting.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.