|A scoreless ninth in a tight game against the Indians is something for Jonathan Papelbon and his catcher, Jason Varitek, to celebrate; Papelbon earned his 23d save of the season. (RON SCHWANE/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
Just like his average, Crisp movin' on up
CLEVELAND -- Back when Coco Crisp was mired in a deep slump, he didn't mind taking breaks from the questions of the media horde. But, he joked with a reporter, he would be more than happy to talk on the record once he was hitting well enough to be placed in the cleanup spot.
Though it wasn't quite the No. 4 slot, Crisp was fifth in the order last night, with dominating lefty C.C. Sabathia on the mound and David Ortiz (left shoulder) on the mend. And while the moves had something to do with Ortiz's bat missing from the order, it also demonstrated just how much Crisp's season has turned around on offense.
"With David out, C.C. pitching, one lefty's going to play," Francona said. J.D. Drew hit eighth, and the manager said, "Not that we wouldn't play J.D., but maybe we would [have given] him a night where he wouldn't play."
Francona added, "The way Coco's swinging the bat, let's go ahead and hit him in the middle there. It keeps [Mike ] Lowell and [Jason] Varitek where they're supposed to be.
"This guy [Sabathia] is tough. [We're] just trying to get through some bumps and bruises and not have it affect the outcome in a bad way."
Entering the game, Crisp had four career at-bats in the fifth spot (none in the fourth spot), having gone 1 for 4.
Crisp went 0 for 4 in the Sox' 1-0 win, including a strikeout with men on first and second in the fourth inning. Luckily for the Sox, Lowell dumped a single to left to score Kevin Youkilis for the only run.
Crisp is on a 10-for-17 stretch over his last four games, and on a 47-for-121 tear (.388) over his last 31, improving his average to .281. But it wasn't just the numbers that showed Francona he could trust his center fielder with the fifth spot.
"The way he's swinging the bat, he can hit 1 through 9 and it doesn't matter," the manager said.
All three have higher averages against lefthanders this season, though none could do damage in a 1-2-3 inning for Okajima. But Matsuzaka didn't mind. He knows who's following him.
"By my own count I was not quite at 100 pitches, so I certainly felt OK for continuing to pitch in the eighth inning," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter. "But the manager came up to me and told me that Okajima and [Jonathan] Papelbon would take it from here. When you hear those names, it's tough to argue."
Matsuzaka became the first Red Sox rookie to win 12 games since Mike Nagy in 1969.
"I think my stuff was about the same," Matsuzaka said, in comparison with his last three starts. "But I definitely felt my control was better. I felt I was able to pitch well with runners on board."
Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report.