ARLINGTON, Texas -- The question was, perhaps, inevitable. With all of his hits, all of his timely hits, at some point an overeager reporter was bound to ask Red Sox manager Terry Francona whether Kevin Youkilis could now be put in the category of Manny Ramírez, or even David Ortiz, in terms of his ability in the clutch. So apparently, yesterday was the day.
Lumping Youkilis with those two is certainly premature. But the question even being asked highlighted the dynamic offense Youkilis has produced during a season in which his batting average has often been in elite company.
"Well, you might be a little early to put him in that group," Francona said of Youkilis before last night's 7-4 win over the Texas Rangers, with the Sox going for a sweep this afternoon. "Youk's a really fine young hitter, in a great streak right now [having hit safely in a career-best 18 games] , feels good about himself. But I think he would need to do that for a while. I think Youk would probably say the same thing."
"But Youk is really maturing is a hitter."
And the best news for the Red Sox is that they don't have to choose. They've got all three, with Ramírez ( finishing a home run short of the cycle) and Youkilis (two hits, two runs, one RBI) last night combining to illustrate Boston's potent offense, and the deficiencies of the Texas pitching staff.
Though Ramírez provided the laugh- track highlight of the game with a headfirst slide that sent him over the third base bag on his sixth-inning triple -- "Pete Rose?" Francona quipped -- it was more than just him and Youkilis.
Because, as usual, the Red Sox' offense came back after the Rangers took the lead in the second inning.
"I think you have to have good hitters, but they don't seem to get knocked back for a couple innings," Francona said. "You see it happens sometimes, kind of get the breath knocked out of you, then you make your run, maybe it's too late. We've had a good tendency to score early and come back after the other team scores. Those are good traits."
As the skies moved from a threatening gray to a light rain in the late innings, it was that offense that buoyed Tim Wakefield on a night he required a mechanical tweak in the bullpen -- pitching coach John Farrell suggested he get his arm up a little after the first inning -- making his pretty good, good enough. Breaking out in the sixth inning for five runs on four hits and four walks, the Sox answered the Rangers' three-run fifth and took the lead for good, giving Wakefield just his fifth win in 17 career games in Texas in front of 37,974.
"I can't remember the last time I won here," Wakefield joked.
That's why, after hiccups against Detroit (seven innings, five runs) and in New York (five innings, six runs), Texas was likely the last place Wakefield wanted to find himself. Coming into the game, he was 4-11 in Texas with a 5.63 ERA.
Of course, in Texas, at least in this series, it has simply been a matter of keeping one's team in the game and waiting.
Even as Wakefield gave up four runs, his teammates came back with outbursts in the fourth and sixth innings, battering Rangers starter Vicente Padilla and reliever Joaquin Benoit (two-thirds of an inning, two hits, three walks, one run, two inherited runners scored) to take a 7-4 lead after an interminable sixth in which the Sox batted around on four hits and four walks. Included in the onslaught was a run-scoring triple by Ramírez that died in the right-field corner (with Ramírez then coming home on a wild pitch), an RBI single by Coco Crisp, and a bases-loaded walk to Youkilis.
It was a combination of an offense perhaps hitting its stride, having scored 10 runs the night before, and some truly awful pitching by the Rangers.
Wakefield, meanwhile, was showing remarkable efficiency in facing just three batters in five of his seven innings, plus four in the second, during which the Rangers scored their first run.
"As a barometer for me, it tells me I'm in the strike zone a little more often, the ball's moving the way I want it to move, I'm throwing strikes, I'm getting early swings," Wakefield said. "I'm able to minimize as much damage as I could."
Trailing, 2-1, the Rangers again got to Wakefield in the fifth, the three-run inning starting when Frank Catalanotto was hit by a pitch. Ian Kinsler then doubled, and Gerald Laird's double brought home two. Laird's drive hit the ball girl down the left-field line, but Kinsler was still able to score from first. Kenny Lofton's sacrifice fly scored Laird, who had moved to third on Ramon Vazquez's single.
But that was it, though the Rangers put two men on base against Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth (one on an error by shortstop Julio Lugo, one on a single by Kinsler). But Papelbon got Laird to fly to the warning track in center to record his first save since May 17 against Detroit.
"We're playing good baseball right now," Wakefield said, as the Sox pushed their lead in the American League East to 11 games over Toronto. "We've just got to continue to do that and not worry about where everybody else is. We've got to try to win every series, and try to win every game that we can."