Less than 24 hours after delivering one of the biggest walkoff hits of the season, Mark Bellhorn last night found himself answering more questions about his strikeout total than his substantial contributions to the Red Sox. Bellhorn, who ranks among the team's leaders in walks, runs, and RBIs, set the major league record for strikeouts by a switch hitter Tuesday when Baltimore's Rodrigo Lopez fanned him in the fifth inning of a 3-2 victory. Bellhorn made the difference in the game with a walkoff, two-run single with two outs in the ninth.
The strikeout was Bellhorn's 161st of the season, surpassing the major league mark for switch-hitters set by Baltimore's Mickey Tettleton in 1990. When Bellhorn took a third strike from Sidney Ponson in the third inning last night for his 162d strikeout, he matched Butch Hobson's season franchise record, set in 1977. He passed Hobson looking at strike three in the fifth, and struck out swinging in the eighth.
Bellhorn recognized the significance of the records, but he preferred not to dwell on them.
"This organization has been around a long time, and it's probably not the record you want," he said.
When Hobson set the franchise record, he hit .265 with 30 homers, 112 RBIs, 77 runs and a .300 on-base percentage. He walked only 27 times in 637 plate appearances over 159 games. After going 0 for 5, last night, Bellhorn is batting .259 with 17 homers, 80 RBIs, 86 runs and a .368 on-base percentage. He has drawn 82 walks in 495 plate appearances over 129 games.
"I hope it doesn't get a lot of attention," manager Terry Francona said of Bellhorn's strikeout marks. "He's done so many good things. I don't think he's the prototype No. 2 hitter, but when you break it down on our team, he gets on base a lot, has the ability to drive in runs, and sees a lot of pitches. He's really done a good job. I think the positives far outweigh the negatives."
Bobby Bonds set the major league record for strikeouts with 189 for the Giants in 1970. The American League mark is 186, set by Milwaukee's Rob Deer in 1987.
Bellhorn, like Hobson before him, has fanned much less frequently with runners on base. He entered the game hitting .222 with 102 strikeouts in 257 at-bats with the bases empty. By contrast, he was batting .305 with only 59 strikeouts in 233 at-bats with runners on.
"My approach is a little bit different," Bellhorn said. "I try to be a little bit more aggressive and try to drive the run in as opposed to get on base. Maybe I need to have that approach all the time."
Francona was not so sure.
"If he struck out less and walked less," Francona said, "I'm not sure if you have a better player."
Bellhorn's ability to get on base is based largely on his selectivity at the plate, which also has contributed to his high strikeout total.
"I don't like strikeouts," he said, "but that's kind of a product of how I go about my at-bats."
One reason Bellhorn's teammates were so excited for him after his game-winning hit was the criticism he has received for his strikeouts. To Bellhorn, it was a sign of the team's unity.
"We're not really looking at [the strikeouts]," he said. "We're looking at one goal, to win the World Series. If you're always harping on negatives, you're thinking about that all the time instead of the other stuff."
He preferred to remember Tuesday's big hit. "You want to keep those kinds of moments in your mind," he said, "and build off that in every at-bat."
Bellhorn's hit prevented the Sox from losing at Fenway Park for the first time since June 28, 2003 after taking a lead into the ninth inning.
Man for all seasons
The Sox nominated Tim Wakefield for the Roberto Clemente Award for the fifth straight year and sixth year overall. The award recognizes outstanding work on the field and in the community. Wakefield, who was honored before the game, is one of 30 nominees, one from each team in the majors. The winner will be announced at the World Series. Wakefield has been a major benefactor of the Franciscan Hospital for Children, among other institutions serving children . . . Look for Ellis Burks to come off the disabled list today as the Sox try to give fans in Boston a chance to honor him before the home schedule ends Sunday. Burks, 40, who appears certain to retire after the season, has battled through two knee surgeries this season. The Sox would have activated him yesterday, Francona said, but Burks wanted another day to test his knee running. "He's a sharp enough guy where he doesn't want to hurt the ball club," the manager said. "At the same time, I'd like for him to be able to go back out there again, as a Red Sox, here.". . . Trot Nixon (2 for 4) started a second straight game for the first time since he returned from the disabled list Sept. 7 . . . Curt Schilling called in to WEEI to forcefully dismiss a suggestion by co-host Butch Stearns that a picture showing Schilling and Pedro Martinez being friendly together would be extremely rare. Schilling called the suggestion "stupid" and "ignorant" and said his relationship with Martinez was solid, prompting Stearns to apologize . . . Orlando Cabrera's walkoff homer in the 12th inning was the fourth for the Sox this season and the first since Bill Mueller's off New York's Mariano Rivera July 24 . . . The Sox won their eighth straight game decided by one run and improved to 12-2 in their last 14 games decided by one run or fewer. With their 53d victory of the season at Fenway, the Sox have won at least 53 games in consecutive years at Fenway for only the second time in club history. The last time was a three-year run from 1948-50 . . . David Ortiz became the 10th Sox player to hit at least 40 homers in a season. The homer was his 86th extra-base hit of the season, tying him with Jim Rice (1978) and Ted Williams ('39) for the second-most in a season in franchise history . . . Rafael Palmeiro's pinch homer off Foulke was the 549th shot of his career, moving him past Mike Schmidt for 10th place on the all-time list . . . Tables are available for the Red Sox Hall of Fame induction ceremony Nov. 10 at the Boston Convention Center. Dennis Eckersley, Wade Boggs, and Bruce Hurst will be inducted. For information, visit www.redsoxfoundation.org. . . .