MINNEAPOLIS — As a lefthanded hitter heading into his prime, 26-year-old Jeremy Hermida, a former starter for the Marlins, has had to deal with the reality that he’s a fourth outfielder on a good team.
Yet early this season, Hermida has made the most of his plight. In 14 at-bats he has five hits and six RBIs. Substituting in left field for the injured Jacoby Ellsbury today, Hermida’s three-run double in the eighth inning turned a tense 3-2 Red Sox lead into a comfortable four-run advantage en route to a 6-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
The cushion turned out to be crucial as Daniel Bard allowed a solo homer to Michael Cuddyer in the bottom of the eighth to close the gap to three runs. Jonathan Papelbon finished off the Twins for his third save, with John Lackey earning his first victory with the Red Sox.
Hermida is already being scouted by other teams. The Washington Nationals, for instance, would love a right fielder. But don’t bet on Boston moving Hermida, who has started the last four games, anywhere for the moment. Not with David Ortiz struggling (13 strikeouts in 26 at-bats).
Before Hermida’s hit, the Sox had built their lead thanks to Dustin Pedroia’s bat and Lackey’s gutsy pitching.
Pedroia’s bat has packed a wallop so far early this season; today he stroked his fourth homer in the fifth inning which broke a 2-2 tie.
Pedroia’s offense helped support a workmanlike effort by Lackey, who continues to make friends with his fast and direct approach to pitching. Pedroia also knocked in Boston’s first run in the first inning against Twins starter Kevin Slowey, who lasted five innings and allowed three runs and five hits while walking four and striking out five. Pedroia was fortunate that his first-inning liner was misplayed by left fielder Delmon Young, who let the hard liner land in front of him and then had to chase it all the way to the wall. Marco Scutaro, who had singled, came around to score.
Pedroia has knocked in 10 runs in eight games as the 4-4 Sox moved to .500 with the win, which followed a Target Field-opening loss (5-2) here on Monday afternoon.
The Red Sox added to their lead in the second inning with a two-out single to right by Scutaro. He drove in J.D. Drew, who had walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch, then moved to third on a groundout.
Lackey coerced a couple of double-play balls in his first two innings. In the third he allowed a leadoff double down the first-base line to Young, then got two quick outs before he walked Denard Span. He then allowed a single to center by Orlando Hudson, plating first Twins run. Joe Mauer, who entered the game hitting .450 over his career vs. Lackey, reached on an infield hit, which was knocked down by Scutaro near the second base bag but was enough to get Span home with the tying run.
The teams dodged the rain for the middle innings, quite a foreign sight in Minneapolis where Twins fans had watched baseball indoors for 28 years before Target Field opened Monday. Both Slowey and Lackey had problems with the muddy mound as a steady rain fell, though not one strong enough to halt play.
In the fifth, Slowey got two quick outs on Hermida and Scutaro, but Pedroia got into a hitter’s count at 2-0 and drilled the ball into the left-field seats. The Sox added a pair of baserunners after that — a single by Victor Martinez and a walk to Kevin Youkilis — but after a brief delay, Ortiz flew out to end the inning.
Ortiz, who was the first Red Sox player to arrive to the ballpark and took extra hitting, ended the day 1 for 4 with a walk, his hit a double to left in the ninth. Ortiz struck out in the first inning, stranding two, then walked in the third and was caught stealing (we’re guessing on a missed hit-and-run).
Lackey wasn’t exactly heating up the radar gun — his fastball registered at 90-91 miles per hour through most of his outing, but his savvy change of speeds and locations kept the powerful Twins lineup at bay.
Lackey threw a 1-2-3 fifth inning, but he pitched from the stretch in every other inning. Yet he kept his pitch count reasonable at 105 for 6-2/3 innings before giving way to the bullpen, which shut the Twins down the remainder of the way except for the solo homer by Cuddyer off Bard in the eighth .
In the seventh he struck out J.J. Hardy to lead off the inning, but then Nick Punto reached on an infield hit to shortstop on a ball that was slowed by the wet infield. After Span walked, Hudson flew out to left.
Sox manager Terry Francona came out of the dugout to take the ball from the big righthander. In came Hideki Okajima to face Joe Mauer. But when Martinez committed a passed ball, with the runners advancing, the Sox intentionally walked Mauer.
Though facing Justin Morneau with the bases loaded is not ever comfortable, the strategy worked. Morneau popped to Adrian Beltre near the mound, stranding three.