Red Sox 7, Rays 3

Sox don't bat an eye without Ortiz

Big day for Youk

Kevin Youkilis recorded his eleventh multi-hit game, going 3 for 4 with 4 RBIs.
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 5, 2008

It was coming up on game time, about 20 minutes before the first pitch was scheduled. Then the announcement came over the PA system in the press box, noting a lineup change in yesterday's game against the Rays. David Ortiz was out. Kevin Youkilis was in, at least in Ortiz's No. 3 spot in the order.

And what a fortuitous change that was, as Youkilis moved up from sixth in the Red Sox order, Jacoby Ellsbury was inserted in left field, with Manny Ramírez moving to designated hitter. Fortuitous because Youkilis had three hits in four at-bats, including a home run and two doubles, drove in four runs, and scored two.

"You put him there on a day like today when you have a big hole out of your lineup, and look what he does," manager Terry Francona said. "He gives us production, he always gives you a professional at-bat. And it makes it a little easier for a guy like Manny. Again because when David or Manny doesn't play, our lineup obviously looks different.

"I'm sure the opponents are thrilled when one of those guys isn't in there. Then a guy like Youk steps in and gives us half our offense."

Who needs Ortiz?

OK, this team does, over the long haul. But for one afternoon, a series-sweeping 7-3 win over the Rays at Fenway Park in front of 37,091, there was no need to put even more weight on Ortiz's balky right knee. ("It's all right," he said as he exited the clubhouse yesterday. "It's feeling better.") Not with his career numbers against Scott Kazmir (7 for 37, .189). Not with Youkilis around.

"I think it adds to our versatility, and I think not only offensively but defensively," Mike Lowell said of Youkilis. "He plays all over the place, he plays well. And he's a solid bat. I think he's the type of guy who's not going to change his approach whether he's hitting first, second, third, fifth, sixth, whatever the case may be."

Against Kazmir, the lefthander who had befuddled Boston over his young career, Youkilis had come in 5 for 26, but he softened those numbers with a first-inning sacrifice fly to score Ellsbury and a third-inning double. That second at-bat against Kazmir, part of a two-run inning, helped chase the lefty after four innings and four runs (three earned).

So it was not as nice a season debut for Kazmir as he'd have liked. For Jon Lester, it was another step in the right direction. Though Lester abandoned his extreme up-tempo style (and embrace of the changeup) that had allowed him to stay step-for-step with Roy Halladay last week, he still was very effective, especially with his two-seamer.

Still, it seemed that he might not last long, as he reached 52 pitches by the second inning, getting out of jams in both the first and second, stranding two each frame. But he settled down, going 1-2-3 in the third, and allowing four runners over his final three innings. That included Carlos Pena, whose sixth-inning solo home run into the right field stands ended Lester's scoreless innings streak at 13.

"We're trying to speed things up, trying to get tempo better," Lester said. "And it's better the past couple games. Not a lot of time out there to let bad thoughts get in my head and overthink things. Get the ball, get back up there, figure out what I want to throw next and then go from there. Don't let anything else affect it.

"I've been figuring some things out this year. Figuring out how to set guys up more. How to go to other pitches other than what I think are my strengths and get guys out. So I think it's more just confidence than anything."

Though yesterday's win was Lester's first since April 2 against Oakland, his six innings of one-run, four-hit, three-walk, five-strikeout ball combined with his last start to give him five hits allowed over 14 innings, with a 0.64 ERA.

"He's taking steps," catcher Jason Varitek said. "He's continuing to do that. He even added stuff today in his repertoire, so it's just the expanding of what he can do."

Which has been quite a bit lately. Combine that with an offense that contributed seven runs - the Sox added one in the seventh on Youkilis's homer, then another two in the eighth on a Youkilis double - and this team is doing well heading into a 10-game road trip, with stops in Detroit, Minnesota, and Baltimore. Two of the Sox' runs came courtesy of Ellsbury, who added two more steals yesterday, giving Boston five in a game for the first time since 2002.

Sweeping a team that swept them last weekend was satisfying, as was the 39-for-106 (.368) batting average against Tampa pitching.

"I think we've been hitting the ball well," Youkilis said. "I think sometimes people around here tend to look at the box scores and base their opinion on how we're hitting and not hitting on the numbers. It's more than numbers. It's the quality of the at-bat, how you hit the ball, even if you make an out. That's what we look at."

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