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Saltalamacchia gets big break

A splintered bat can’t foil homer

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / August 2, 2011

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When Josh Tomlin hung a pitch up and over the plate in the sixth inning, Jarrod Saltalamacchia did what came natural: he laid into it.

The ball went flying, but so did half of Saltalamacchia’s bat.

The business end of the bat had turned into a projectile and Saltalamacchia didn’t even bother tracking it.

“I was looking at the ball,’’ the Red Sox catcher said. “I hit it on the good part of the bat, and I felt the bat break.’’

The ball had air under it. Lots of air.

The bat continued flying, between Indians first baseman Matt LaPorta and second baseman Jason Kipnis.

The ball, still sailing, was the more important matter. It was hugging the right-field line with a chance of sneaking out for a homer. Saltalamacchia had his eyes locked in.

“I was kind of trying to see if it was going to hook around the pole or keep going or what,’’ he said.

Cleveland’s Kosuke Fukudome trotted to the short wall in right, watching as the ball sneaked into the stands for a game-tying, two-run blast. It was Saltalamacchia’s 10th homer of the season and the second hit of his 2-for-4 night. But his offense couldn’t keep the Red Sox from eating a 9-6 loss in their return to Fenway Park after a weekend trip to Chicago.

Sox manager Terry Francona had a clear view of the fly-by from the dugout.

“He hit that ball right on the barrel,’’ Francona said. “That wasn’t a jam-shot home run. He hit that ball right on the barrel and it exploded. That happens from time to time just because the bats are so dry.’’

Saltalamacchia extended his hitting streak to nine games, matching a career high. In that span, he’s hitting .378 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. He has five extra-base hits in the past three games, including a ground-rule double in the second inning.

“I feel good,’’ he said. “I feel comfortable at the plate. For me, just putting quality plate appearances together, feeling comfortable at the plate is good, but it’s not as good if we don’t get the win.’’

Saltalamacchia increased his RBI total to 36 and his extra-base hits total to 27, both career highs, and he feels like he’s in a groove. The more reps a hitter gets, the more comfortable he gets. Saltalamacchia hit in the minor leagues; all he needed was an opportunity in the majors.

Saltalamacchia ended up in a mini-slugfest with the Indians’ All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Saltalamacchia’s bat may have blown up on him, but Cabrera’s bat was the most explosive of the night; he belted two two-run homers.

Cabrera rocked starter John Lackey for one to right field in the sixth, making it 4-3. But Saltalamacchia’s broken-bat long ball evened it up again.

Cabrera added another two-run shot in eighth off Daniel Bard that all but finished off the Sox.

Saltalamacchia’s teammates shrugged off the oddity of his broken-bat long ball.

“Nowadays a lot of bats break like that, even if you hit it on the barrel,’’ said Adrian Gonzalez. “And he’s strong enough to be able to hit balls out, so it’s one of those things where it doesn’t happen often but it happens.’’

“When you put up runs like that and don’t win, you can’t get mad about that,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “It’s just one of those nights. Our bullpen’s been so solid all year long, a night like tonight, it’s going to happen.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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