Red Sox hit all the right notes
This may be as close as it comes to a harmonic convergence on Yawkey Way, on a day that hardly could have been sweeter for the Red Sox even if Julian Tavarez -- a man who just lost his starting job -- hadn't happily sprayed his expensive Parisian cologne around the clubhouse as if it were drugstore air freshener.
The 8-5 win over the White Sox yesterday, the one Jonathan Papelbon saved after loading the bases with none out in the ninth? That was only the most obvious incentive for the conga line of Sox high-fives that followed the game, their third straight win over the White Sox and one that allowed them to finish this 11-game homestand, their longest of the season, with a winning (6-5) record.
Manager Terry Francona started the day by announcing that Jon Lester, cancer survivor, once again will be Jon Lester, big league pitcher, when he takes Tavarez's place tonight in Cleveland. Curt Schilling walked through the clubhouse, the old swagger back after a terrific rehab outing the night before, with a smile doubled in wattage because of Lester's return. "I feel great," Schilling said, referring to his own status, then said of Lester, "It's such an incredibly good story about a good person."
Tavarez bitter? He was too busy welcoming back Lester. "I asked him how he was doing," Tavarez said. "He had a big smile on his face, which means he's doing good. I hope he pitches a great game."
Francona flip-flopped Manny Ramírez and Kevin Youkilis in the batting order, one day after hitting Manny in the 3-hole pretty much because Manny felt like it, and Ramírez hit a three-run home run. "Great managing there," Francona dryly noted of his deployment of Ramírez, who hit .385 on the homestand with four home runs, knocking in 13.
Tim Wakefield, who pitched in a game for the 500th time in his career and at this rate may be good for 500 more, won his 11th game, limiting the White Sox to a run through the first six innings before he was charged with three in the seventh. "I've been blessed to be able to wear this uniform for as long as I have, and to be able to get in that many games," said Wakefield, who now has pitched 20 times this season and gotten the decision in all 20 (11-9).
A blessing is what Francona called Hideki Okajima, who struck out A.J. Pierzynski with the bases loaded to end the seventh after an uncharacteristic stumble by Manny Delcarmen in relief of Wakefield.
"I think he is the key to their ball club," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of Okajima.
And the Red Sox offense, the one castigated for its inability to hit with runners in scoring position, generated another three-run homer, this one by Mike Lowell, and amassed 29 runs in three days against White Sox pitching, which couldn't break the habit of walking batters for Boston hitters to knock in.
"We felt like our offense should kick into gear sooner or later," Lowell said. "All we had to do was put David [Ortiz] on the bench, and we're fine."
Ortiz sat out his second straight game with a strained left shoulder, and told reporters before the game that it might be Wednesday before he plays again. But even without their hurting Big Papi, who already had an aching knee, the Sox maintained their 7 1/2-game lead in the AL East over the Yankees, who did not go unnoticed here when the left field scoreboard operator placed a "21" next to NYY.
"I thought it was Jets-Buccaneers," Lowell said of the 21-4 final score in Yankee Stadium.
But the Sox did some damage of their own, with considerable assistance from a Chicago staff that walked eight more batters yesterday after walking nine the day before. Of the 19 runs the Red Sox scored in the last two days, 13 could be traced directly to walks.
The tone was set in the first inning, when the first three batters in the Sox lineup -- Julio Lugo, Alex Cora, and Youkilis -- pressed Jon Garland into throwing 25 pitches. Both Lugo and Youkilis wangled walks after starting out 0-and-2, while Cora fouled off a half-dozen pitches before grounding into a fielder's choice.
"We're getting good at-bats right now, and that's how we're doing it, fouling off pitches getting on base, walking," said Youkilis, who also had a sacrifice fly when the Sox made it 8-1 in the sixth, capitalizing on two walks by reliever Charlie Haeger, the "other" knuckleballer yesterday. "You've got to tip your cap to Alex Cora. Julio and I get to play every day. Alex doesn't, but he had a great at-bat."
Papelbon kept everyone on edge in the ninth. Pitching for the first time in four days, he gave up singles to Juan Uribe and Jerry Owens, walked Alex Cintron, and fell behind Chicago strongman Jim Thome, 2 and 0.
"You don't feel too good right there," Lowell said.
No one felt better than Papelbon when he blew away Thome with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball, then induced Paul Konerko to ground to Lowell for a game-ending double play.
"I'm definitely fighting for survival there," Papelbon said, clearly affected by his lack of recent work. "In that situation, my feelings, thoughts, body -- everything, man, I hadn't experienced for a while. I had to take step back and regroup."
He did so, beautifully, giving catcher Doug Mirabelli an assist for steering him out of harm's way.
"That was agonizing," Francona said, "but it's a heck of a lot better than losing. We finished the day like we set out to do."
So now it's on to Cleveland, and the start of a seven-game trip that also takes them to Tampa Bay. How good should the Sox feel on their way out of town?
"We should feel good," Schilling said. "We're playing well. I think, like the Yankees, one of our strengths is [focusing on] the day-to-day thing. We finished the homestand 6-5. Regardless of what should have been, could have been, we were 6-5. And we've got a nice competitive four days ahead of us."