Big bang theory
Francona goes to bat for Red Sox and the offense finally explodes
Amid booing by the locals, David Ortiz, Manny Ramírez, and Mike Lowell stood near the Red Sox on-deck circle. Ramírez, just thrown out at the plate after Ortiz crossed it, started to walk toward the infield, his finger pointed in the air, the umpires' signal for a home run.
It was all the pleading he would do. And all in vain. So he continued to left field, leaving manager Terry Francona to do the arguing for him, J.D. Drew, and the team. Though Drew's shot -- a three-run first-inning home run, replays showed -- was only an RBI double in the boxscore, and Francona's tirade resulted only in ejection, the two triggered an explosive night for the Red Sox.
As the Devil Rays blew out the Yankees in New York, the Red Sox did the same to the White Sox, finishing them off with Julio Lugo's grand slam in a 10-3 victory in front of 36,737 at Fenway Park. Not only did it boost Boston's American League East lead to eight games, it pushed Josh Beckett into a tie for the major league lead in wins with 13.
It didn't start that way. Two hours after a closed-door team meeting called by Francona, the manager found himself in short center field face to face with third base umpire Tim McClelland.
"I think I'm stating the obvious when I say that I was disappointed with the call," Francona said. "I'm talking ad nauseam about getting a two-out hit, this and that, and taking two runs off the board is not easy to take. I'm very thankful we came back and played a great game after that, because it doesn't really feel like you're going to end up smiling when you leave the field that early."
Ortiz walked with two outs to start the fireworks, and Ramirez was hit by a pitch. Then came Drew's hit. Although Ortiz scored, Ramírez slowed rounding the bases as Drew pulled into second, thinking the ball had rocketed into the front shelf of the Monster Seats. Which it had.
But the umpires convened and ruled the shot hit off the wall. Ramírez was out at home and the inning was over. That was when Francona got animated. And that was when bench coach Brad Mills ran to the outfield to retrieve the manager.
"The replay indicated that [the umpires] did not rule on it correctly, but the replay is from an angle that people down on the field do not have," said vice president of umpiring Mike Port. "All that can be said is that they did the very best from where they were and the replay was what it was."
So instead of walking to the mound with a 3-0 lead, Beckett had a one-run lead to work with. And though he struck out the side in the second inning, including Josh Fields on a 97-mile-per-hour fastball, he allowed a three-run home run to Jim Thome in the third. It was 3-1, White Sox, but it should have been 3-3.
"When Thome came back up and hit the home run, it was kind of like, 'Dang, that [stinks]' " said Coco Crisp. "Because now it [would have been] a tie ballgame."
It all soon became moot. Without Drew's long ball, the Red Sox turned to small ball in the fifth. After a walk to Jason Varitek, Eric Hinske bunted against a shift, with third baseman Fields well off the bag. Then Lugo beat out a bunt and Crisp (four triples in seven games) delivered the big blow, a bases-clearing triple down the first base line to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead. Crisp scored on Ortiz's single, but the designated hitter was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double, straining his left shoulder on the play.
"This is a team that is going to go by feeling," Lugo said. "Today was a good sign. Everybody did their job, everybody contributed. Our pitching was great. That's the way we've got to play."
After six innings and 114 pitches from Beckett (10 strikeouts, four hits), Mike Timlin, Hideki Okajima, and Joel Piñeiro clamped down on the White Sox. After Thome's homer in the third, Red Sox pitchers allowed just one base runner and faced the minimum over the final six inning. A.J. Pierzynski, who singled with two outs in the sixth off Beckett, was gunned down by Crisp trying to go for second.
The Red Sox' bats reawakened the eighth. After a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Varitek scored Ramírez, Kevin Youkilis, in defensively for Hinske, was hit by a pitch.
Then Lugo connected for his third hit and the third grand slam of his career on the last pitch by White Sox starter Jose Contreras. The shortstop -- who has emerged from a hideous slump with a flourish, raising his average from .189 to .225 since the last series before the All-Star break -- earned a standing ovation and a curtain call, and pushed the lead to 10-3.
"We didn't give up," Crisp said. "We've been battling this whole time and today was our day to break out, so hopefully, we got our swagger back."