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Huge homers in big spots continue to help Red Sox win games

Posted by David D'Onofrio  October 28, 2013 11:30 AM

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By the organization's own recent standards, the Red Sox weren't a team that hit a lot of home runs for much of this season. They finished with 178, which ranked fifth in the American League, but that was buoyed by the 39 they hit in September, and the eight they hit on a single night against Detroit. But through 140 games they'd gone deep 140 times, and no Boston team has slugged as few as a homer per game since Butch Hobson's underwhelming bunch in 1993.

In the postseason, the homers have -- naturally, given the quality of the competition standing on the mound -- been even fewer and farther between. During the regular season, the Sox averaged a homer every 31.7 at-bats; this postseason it's been every 50.3 at-bats.

But, as they say, timing is everything.

When the Cardinals blatantly pitched around David Ortiz in the sixth inning of a tie game Sunday night -- despite the fact that Dustin Pedroia already occupied first base -- and Jonny Gomes sent a 387-foot blast to the visitors' bullpen, the emergency left fielder not only gave Boston a 4-1 lead, but he presented the latest example of the decisive weapon the long ball has been for the Sox during this postseason.

The simplest way to put it is this: In these playoffs, the Red Sox are 7-1 when they homer in a game; they're just 2-4 when they don't.

And looking at those blasts a little bit closer, Baseball-Reference's win expectancy calculations show that Boston's home runs haven't merely been part of those victories, they've been among the primary reasons why the club is just two triumphs away from celebrating a World Series championship.

The calculations aim to figure out how much the result of each play in a game changes a team's probability of winning that contest, based on the score and the situation at the point the play begins and when the play ends.

For example, Gomes' circuit clout Sunday night improved the Red Sox' probability of winning from 49 percent to 87 percent. In one mighty swing, he improved his team's chance of winning by 38 percent.

And that's been the way these Sox have been getting it done of late. Thus far in the postseason, the Sox have notched six hits that improved their win expectancy by at least 20 percent -- and five of those have been homers. Meanwhile, four hits have improved their likelihood by at least 33 percent. And all four of them have left the yard.

Sox HRFive of their nine blasts this postseason have taken the Sox from a probability of 50-50 or worse to a point where they were favored. One rather famously tied the game -- David Ortiz's Game 2 grand slam in the ALCS -- while Gomes' shot Sunday was the sixth that has given the Sox the lead, and the third that has ultimately supplied the game-winning run.

Conversely, only two of their homers have impacted the Sox' win probability by less than 5 percent. In both of those cases, they came in the late innings, during an at-bat Boston began with a 94 percent likelihood of winning anyway. And the only time they've lost when homering was Game 2 of this series against St. Louis, when the Cardinals used the Sox' defensive sloppiness to comeback against the bullpen.

Maybe it's a coincidence. But maybe -- particularly in conjunction with the characteristics this team has shown all year -- it's not. All year this team has been the type that has thrived in the moment, that has battled resiliently. It's a team that has been defined by its relentlessness, its flair for the dramatic, and its willingness to fight. It's a team that hasn't hit a ton of home runs, but when it's been pushed up against the wall, it's come out swinging.

And, this postseason, swinging for the fences.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Dave D'Onofrio is a sports journalist who focuses on the Red Sox and Patriots, and also writes's "Off The Field" blog about what Boston's sportsmen do away from the More »

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