Arm and hammer
Arroyo, Damon lead way as Sox pound Rangers
At least the large bobblehead doll of Pedro Martinez, positioned in the far end of the Red Sox dugout, got a glimpse of 27-year-old Bronson Arroyo's terrific, eight-inning three-hitter. Martinez didn't witness the masterpiece because he flew to his home in the Dominican Republic for an excused All-Star break respite.
Arroyo allowed two hits in the first inning, then settled down and shut down the most potent offensive team in baseball -- the Texas Rangers -- 7-0 last night at Fenway Park. Arroyo snapped a six-game losing streak while vaulting the Sox to their fourth straight victory on this six-game homestand before the All-Star break.
"Every time you go out, you think, `Today's the day,' " said Arroyo, who was throwing in the low 90s. "I had a good feeling in Atlanta [allowing two runs in seven innings in a no-decision last weekend]. You keep plugging away. Keep going out. I keep feeling good on the mound and eventually I knew I was going to get [a win]."
Arroyo, who had the least run support on the staff (3.7 runs per start), had plenty of offensive support from the sizzling Johnny Damon, who went 4 for 5 with a pair of solo home runs, which brought him out for a curtain call in the eighth after his second homer.
Damon, who has a team-high 14-game hitting streak, is 19 for 32 (.594) in his last six games, raising his average from .290 to .319. He's also hit five homers in his last 10 games and he's scored at least one run in 13 of his last 14 games.
"That guy is on [fire]," said slugger David Ortiz.
"What he's done with the number of at-bats under his belt is amazing," said manager Terry Francona. "He's given us a big, big lift."
And Kevin Millar, not known for his base running or defense, came through on both fronts, stealing his fifth career base in 727 major league games as well as throwing the leather around the first base bag as if he were George Scott.
"I think Manny and I are now competing for the Gold Glove," mused Millar.
Certainly with a sweep of the A's and winning the first game against Texas, hope sprung eternal at Fenway. The Sox are one game ahead of the A's in the wild-card race after being down three last week. The Sox are six games behind the Yankees in the AL East.
Arroyo last won May 21, beating Toronto, 11-5. He had lost his last six decisions and didn't figure in the outcome of a 6-3, 12-inning loss to the Braves July 2, despite pitching seven innings, allowing five hits and only two runs.
But Arroyo (3-7, 4.09) kept the mighty Rangers -- league leaders in runs (475) and homers (130) -- in check.
Arroyo thought he might be done after seven innings when "they came to me and said, `Are you done? You look like you're breathing a little hard out there.' But I was working too quick and I covered first base on the first out. So they let me go out for the eighth. I knew that was going to be it though," said Arroyo. His relief, Curtis Leskanic, set down the Rangers in order in the ninth.
The key for Arroyo seemed to be getting out of the first inning. He allowed a pair of doubles and hit a batter but the Rangers came away with nothing.
"I think early he was getting a feel for it," catcher Jason Varitek said. "As he got to the 10-15-pitch mark he was hitting his stride. He isn't a guy that lets too much bother him. We were able to get him some runs and we made some great defensive plays around him."
The Sox got a run in the first inning on Manny Ramirez's line drive to center field that scored Damon, who led off with a single to left off Texas starter Joaquin Benoit. Damon blasted a home run into the right-field seats on an 0-and-1 offering by Benoit in the fifth. And then in the sixth, the Sox finally got rid of Benoit after Bill Mueller's bases-loaded sacrifice fly to right-center scored Nomar Garciaparra, who beat out an infield hit to short to start the inning.
The Rangers called on lefty Ron Mahay to face Damon, and he doubled off the left-center-field wall to extend Boston's lead to 5-0. The Sox scored single runs in the seventh (a Trot Nixon RBI single) and in the eighth (Damon's second homer of the game, off Nick Regilio, who was making his major league debut).
Millar made a nice catch of Hank Blalock's liner, converting it into an unassisted double play to end the third inning. In the fourth, he made a diving stab of David Dellucci's grounder, picked himself up, and made the play unassisted with a runner aboard.
In the sixth, he made a semi-diving stop of Michael Young's grounder and ended the inning by starting a 3-6 double play. Millar also handled two plays nicely in the seventh, another tough grounder near the chalk to rob Brad Fullmer, and then he fielded Dellucci's grounder and flipped to Arroyo covering for the final out of the seventh.
Millar said the most significant was Blalock's liner because "he really smoked that ball." But Millar conceded that on a night when the leadoff hitter was on fire, it was Arroyo who "set the tone for us. [The Rangers] are a tough team to shut out."