The Red Sox scored 11 runs on 17 hits last night at Fenway Park and David Ortiz didn't have one of them. Yet he was surrounded by media after the game, probably wondering why anyone would want to speak to him. But the 11-0 win over the Oakland A's, behind Tim Wakefield, proved the Red Sox don't have to rely on Ortiz, who went 0 for 6, or Manny Ramirez, who went 0 for 3.
What had become a two-man lineup expanded a bit last night.
"I didn't get no hits and we scored 11 runs. That tells you how good our team is. That's the way it's supposed to be," said Ortiz after the Sox dismantled the A's, one of the teams they are competing against in the wild-card race.
It wasn't Ortiz and it wasn't Ramirez. It was Johnny Damon's 5 for 6, Bill Mueller's three-run homer, Kevin Millar's three hits and two RBIs, and Nomar Garciaparra's two RBIs. It was Wakefield's seven shutout innings. It was all of the above. It was finally a break for manager Terry Francona, whose postgame press conferences have been dreadful for him, for Red Sox Nation, and the players.
There was finally a positive aura around a team that has already been written off by some of their fans. This wasn't the moribund atmosphere seen in New York and Atlanta the past week, where the Sox managed one win in six games. Even the scoreboard made them smile. The Yankees lost to the Tigers, 9-1. Texas, another potential wild-card competitor, lost, 4-1, at Cleveland. The Rangers come to Fenway for a three-game set beginning Friday.
"We played good tonight," said Francona. "I actually think those 12-inning games [one 13-inning game vs. New York and a 12-inning game vs. Atlanta], I thought we played very good baseball, we just didn't have enough to win a game, and then the wheels came off the last day in Atlanta. So rather than look at it like that, I chose to look at it like we played a real good game tonight and we have something to build on."
The Sox might make a blockbuster deal to shake things up before the trading deadline, but last night was one of those teasers for general manager Theo Epstein, a reason not to do anything. Epstein did his part trying to change the team's luck by sitting in the press box with vice president of baseball operations Mike Port rather than in his seat behind home plate. He spent the early afternoon walking the field with Francona.
And the team went out and played well.
"We expect to do that," said Damon of the offensive explosion. "This whole team needed something like that. It's also a big confidence booster for this team when you do it against a guy like Barry Zito. His curveball was so good, you couldn't even swing at it. It was the best curveball I'd seen in a long time."
And that apparently was the game plan -- lay off the curve and make him beat you with his other stuff. Zito lasted only four innings, throwing 102 pitches.
Wakefield, too, seemed to feel the urgency and his message from the outset was clear: He was not going to be culpable for another loss. Whether it was Oakland's jetlag or Wakefield's dancing knuckleball, the combination left the A's offense in gridlock.
Wakefield, who evened his record at 5-5, allowed three hits and a walk, and struck out six. Lefthander Jimmy Anderson did the rest with two scoreless innings to combine on a four-hit shutout.
"I think it's a big series," said Wakefield. "I think we need to play hard through the All-Star break. I think a lot of time you put it in cruise control and come back to start the second half. I think, as a team, we put ourselves in a little hole and we need to play hard for our next five games and go into the break feeling confident."
Mueller, batting righthanded against Zito, blasted a three-run homer with one out in the second inning to put the Sox on the board.
The Sox might have been more pleased with Millar's single to open the second. Millar, who knocked in two runs in the four-run fourth with a double, was a clutch hitter last season, but has had a disappointing first half.
At the All-Star break a year ago, Millar was hitting .294 with 14 homers, 23 doubles, and 61 RBIs through 83 games. Through 81 games this season, Millar is hitting .275 with 5 homers, 23 RBIs, and 18 doubles.
"If he hits like he can, I should say when he hits like he can, that's going to be the biggest spark for us. I was thrilled for him," said Francona.
Though Millar was erased on Trot Nixon's fielder's choice in the second inning, Doug Mirabelli, who catches Wakefield, stung a grounder through first baseman Scott Hatteberg's legs, a two-base error that put runners in scoring position with one out. That's when Zito threw an 87 mile-per-hour fastball into Mueller's sweet zone, and it was 3-0 Sox.
In the fourth inning, the Sox scored in a different manner. The bottom of the order, Mirabelli and Mueller, struck for back-to-back singles and leadoff man Johnny Damon stroked his third of five singles on the night. With the bases full, Mark Bellhorn walked, forcing Mirabelli in with the fourth run.
After Zito retired Ortiz, Ramirez walked to make it 5-0. Garciaparra hit a vicious liner to third baseman Mark McLemore for the second out, but the Sox weren't done. Millar stroked a two-run double into the left-field corner and the Sox went up, 7-0.
The carnage continued in the fifth, highlighted by Garciaparra's two-run single to center.
Who would have thought -- Ortiz and Ramirez, 0 for 9, and Red Sox Nation was thanking them.