Red Sox 12, Tigers 6

Red Sox show stripes

They hang tough, then break loose

By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / April 11, 2008

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It was a hopeless endeavor, Terry Francona trying to explain to Hideki Okajima he was coming out of the game before he'd thrown a single pitch in the eighth inning.

"I was trying to explain in my Western Pennsylvania English, he's looking at me, I try switching to a little Spanish, Cashie [catcher Kevin Cash] finally says to me, 'He has no idea about anything you're saying,' " Francona said of his effort to tell Okajima, who'd gotten the last out of the seventh, he'd sent him out to start the eighth to give Julian Tavarez a little more time to warm up on a cold night.

Indecipherable syntax was joined by what began to look like severely flawed logic when Tavarez nearly gave back all of a five-run lead - five straight Tigers reaching base before Gary Sheffield hit into a double play - but Jonathan Papelbon got the last four outs, the Red Sox tacked on four more runs, and they took the rubber game of their three-game set with De troit, 12-6, before 37,612 at Fenway Park.

"It got a little hairy, it was not real comfortable for me," said Francona, whose team scored a season-high dozen runs in its first game without Mike Lowell, who went on the 15-day disabled list with a strained ligament in his left thumb, and despite the ongoing woes of David Ortiz, enduring the worst slump he's had since coming to the Sox and the equal of any he's suffered in his career.

Francona removed Okajima, who retired Carlos Guillen on a fly ball to end the seventh, after Magglio Ordonez homered off Manny Delcarmen to pull the Tigers within a run (4-3), because the Sox scored four times in the bottom of the inning, the big blow a two-run double by Manny Ramírez after he'd fouled off three full-count pitches.

"You don't want to use [Okajima's] bullets when we've got a big lead," said Francona, mindful of the Yankees' arrival tonight with their arsenal of lefthanded bats.

But Tavarez's ineffectiveness nearly scuttled that plan. He went walk, single, walk, single, single before Sheffield, who has made a career of doing damage in Fenway, came to the plate with the bases loaded, representing the go-ahead run. Papelbon, meanwhile, was up and throwing in the bullpen but was not ready to enter.

Tavarez saved the lead, and spared Francona an unholy round of second-guessing, when he induced Sheffield to hit a bouncer to shortstop Julio Lugo, who stepped on the bag and threw to first for the double play while a run scored to make it 8-6.

"When he got that double play," Francona said, "there was nobody in the ballpark happier than me. Again, I still believe in what we did, but it wasn't going the way we envisioned. Any time you have a lead, the last thing you want to do is let a ball club back in the game."

All of Detroit's efforts to make it a game again went for naught, as the Sox piled on against Tigers reliever Yorman Bazardo, who threw an excruciating 38 pitches while walking two and giving up a single to Dustin Pedroia, a double to Kevin Youkilis, a sacrifice fly to J.D. Drew, and an RBI single by Coco Crisp.

The Tigers bullpen gave up eight runs in 2 2/3 innings, but anyone expecting Jim Leyland to eviscerate his pen, especially with his club leaving town dragging a 1-8 record, was disappointed.

"It all starts with starting pitching," said Leyland, aggravated that none of his starters in this series got through the sixth inning.

"Because if you're using your bullpen every night because you have to and not because you want to, there's not a bullpen in the world that will survive that."

The Sox, adjusting to survive without Lowell, got a perfect night from Drew (three hits, a walk, two runs in addition to his sacrifice fly), two hits each from Crisp and Casey, who will play first in Lowell's absence, and everyone in the lineup reaching base at least once. That includes Ortiz, who walked twice even as he went hitless in three more at-bats (double play and two strikeouts), dropping his average to .083 (3 for 36).

Youkilis, meanwhile, shifted across the diamond from first base and played a flawless game at third, handling seven chances, including a spectacular barehand snatch of Placido Polanco's ground ball that hit the bag on the way up.

"Youk put on a show defensively," Lowell said approvingly, "and both [Youkilis and Casey] are swinging a real good bat. That makes you feel good, that we've got depth on this team that can produce and help us win."

The winner was Tim Wakefield, who threw a startling 108 pitches in five innings in which he whiffed five, walked five, and hit two batters, but kept the damage to a minimum by allowing just three hits, two of which came in the fourth, when the Tigers scored twice, one run unearned because of a passed ball charged to Cash.

"I felt great," said Wakefield, who is just 112 days shy of his 42d birthday, making him the oldest pitcher to start for the Sox since David Wells (43 years 93 days) started Aug. 21, 2006. "Obviously, my control wasn't there, my stuff was all over the place, and I was having a tough time throwing strikes, but when I did, there was not much contact being made."

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