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Celebrating the 700 club

Francona big fan of sellout streak

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / September 3, 2011

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The Red Sox sold out another game at Fenway Park last night, making it 700 in a row since May 15, 2003.

That every seat is taken for every game has come to be expected. But it’s not something manager Terry Francona takes for granted.

“I actually think it’s really cool, maybe more cool than most people,’’ Francona said before the Sox were beaten by the Rangers, 10-0. “I’ve been in places where there’s been apathy and there’s nothing worse than that.’’

The Phillies averaged a little fewer than 20,000 fans per game at cavernous Veterans Stadium in 2000, Francona’s final season there as manager. He knows what it’s like to look up from the dugout and see more empty seats than full ones.

“You come here on a Sunday day game after a Saturday night game, the place is always full,’’ Francona said. “I think that is one of the really truly special things about being here. I hope the streak goes on for a while; it’s really cool.

“It’s nice to play in front of people who care so much.’’

Carl Crawford, in his first season with the Sox after nine in Tampa Bay, was astonished to learn that the streak had stretched so long.

“A sellout crowd every night, that’s amazing to me,’’ he said. “It gets you going because it’s exciting to be here. Every night, 37,000 people no matter what. It’s a different feeling than anywhere else in the game.’’

The Sox gave fans commemorative baseballs to mark the milestone. Francona and the players also tipped their caps to the crowd when the game became official in the fifth inning.

“Our fans have demonstrated unwavering loyalty and support from the stands at Fenway Park every day of the regular season for more than eight years, and everyone in the organization is grateful for their steadfast dedication,’’ owner John Henry said in a statement released by the team.

The Sox have the longest sellout streak in baseball history. The record for the four major sports in North America is 814 games by the Portland Trail Blazers from April 9, 1977, to Nov. 16, 1995.

If the streak continues, the Sox would break that record in 2013.

Youkilis in lineup Kevin Youkilis was activated off the disabled list and was back at third base, batting fourth. He went 0 for 3, striking out twice. He missed 14 games because of a sore back.

“Having him right smack in [the middle of] the order is huge,’’ Francona said. “One big hitter in the middle makes everybody better.’’

A bad back was only part of the problem for Youkilis. He has missed games with bruised and battered hips, ankles, and shins this season. Spending 15 days on the DL should have him in much better shape for the postseason.

“I think it was needed to go on the DL,’’ Youkilis said. “Probably would have done worse damage to myself if I kept playing. It was a good move on everyone’s part to do it. Hopefully, I won’t have more problems the rest of the year.’’

Said Francona: “Sometimes a forced break, because of one thing, helps the rest of your body. He was so beat up. He was hitting balls off both ankles. The way he attacks first base when he runs over it. I’m sure he doesn’t feel like it’s the first of the year, but I think it’ll do him some good.’’

Youkilis received an epidural a day after he was shut down and started working out a few days later.

“Getting the shot, doing rehab, it definitely helped out. I’m ready to play,’’ he said. “I definitely feel better. I wouldn’t have come off if I didn’t feel like I could play at a high level.’’

The Red Sox handled Youkilis’s absence without a hitch, going 9-5 and averaging 5.9 runs.

“The team did really well, we’re in first place and hopefully we can stay in first place even with me in the lineup,’’ Youkilis cracked before the game.

For now, Francona plans to use Youkilis as the cleanup hitter. But he is entertaining the idea of switching him with No. 5 hitter David Ortiz to see how that works.

“There may come a day, or days, where we flip-flop Youk and David a little bit just as we get close to the playoffs,’’ Francona said. “Who knows?’’

Fine start in relief Felix Doubront, summoned from Triple A Pawtucket earlier in the day, looked sharp against the Yankees Thursday, striking out two in 1 1/3 innings without allowing a hit.

Francona likes the lefthander’s mix of pitches.

“The breaking ball is going to be a good pitch. It’s got to be a little more consistent. How much he throws that cutter will be interesting as he gets a little more mature because he has a nice feel for it,’’ the manager said.

“He’s got that fastball that’s 92, 93, 94 with some life on it, and it’s hard to run on him because he’s so short and efficient to the plate. There’s a lot to like. “

It’s conceivable that Doubront could play himself onto the postseason roster. Francona would welcome the idea of two lefthanders in the bullpen, especially one capable of going multiple innings.

Crawford ill Crawford was taken out of the lineup a few minutes before the first pitch because of illness. Conor Jackson made his Sox debut, starting in left field and going 0 for 3. “He was really sick before the game,’’ Francona said of Crawford. “He wanted to play. That was when breakfast came up. When lunch came up, it was time to call it a night.’’ . . . Jon Lester started on Thursday, Andrew Miller last night, and Erik Bedard is scheduled for today. The Red Sox haven’t started three straight lefthanders since May 18-20, 1995, when Vaughn Eshelman, Zane Smith, and Rheal Cormier were the southpaws. Sox historian Dick Bresciani dug up that nugget . . . The Rangers were at Fenway Park for the first time in 410 days. This is the latest in a season Texas had played in Boston for the first time . . . Dustin Pedroia has 25 stolen bases, the most for a Red Sox second baseman since Jerry Remy had 30 in 1978 . . . Ortiz (0 for 3) saw his hit streak snapped at 15 games . . . Josh Beckett was selected for the Portland Sea Dogs Hall of Fame. Beckett was 8-1 with a 1.82 ERA for Portland in 2001 when they were a Florida affiliate.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@PeteAbe.

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