Judging from all the banged-up bodies they brought home from their nine-game swing through Baltimore, Toronto, and New York, you would have expected the Red Sox to come staggering into Fenway Park last night led by a battered fife and drum corps.
On a night when they made five roster moves, the biggest of which were placing Josh Beckett (right elbow inflammation) and Sean Casey (strained neck) on the 15-day disabled list, and were forced to scratch center fielder Coco Crisp, hors de combat with flu-like symptoms, the Red Sox demonstrated they still had enough manpower to throttle the White Sox, 8-0, before 37,755.
No Mike Lowell? No J.D. Drew? No Beckett? No Casey or Crisp?
It proved no problem for the resilient Red Sox, who cinched up their stirrups and pounded out 15 hits, including seven doubles by seven players, and broke open a 1-0 game with two runs in the fifth and four in the sixth. Boston's barrage made a winner of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who threw eight dominant innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while ringing up seven strikeouts to improve to 16-2.
Matsuzaka tied Hideo Nomo's season mark (1996, 2002, 2003) for victories by a Japanese native.
"We've got good players around here," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who might have been the best of them all as he reached base five times by going 4 for 4 with a walk, a double, two stolen bases, and three runs, which gave him 104 on the season, surpassing Bobby Doerr's club record for a second baseman set in 1950.
"Yeah, we have to do the little things to win, but we have guys to do the little things," Pedroia added. "Guys run the bases well and we can hit-and-run and we can bunt and we can do all those things to win games, but the key is pitching. Daisuke was outstanding and [Thursday] Jon Lester was outstanding. If we get pitching performances like that, we're going to win games."
Tonight the Red Sox will try to do it with Michael Bowden on the mound in his major league debut. Bowden, whose contract was purchased from Pawtucket, began the season 9-4 with a 2.33 ERA in Double A Portland before earning a promotion to Triple A, where he was 0-3 with a 3.38 ERA in seven games, including six starts. A corresponding roster move, likely involving David Pauley, will have to be made today to create room for Bowden on the 40-man roster.
"Hopefully, he pitches great," said manager Terry Francona. "This is a little bit of a rapid ascent, but I think we all feel, our development people especially, that he can handle whatever comes at him. It's an exciting day for the organization."
Last night's victory didn't help the Red Sox gain ground on the Amazing Rays, who crushed the Orioles, 14-3, to remain 4 1/2 games ahead in the American League East. The White Sox, meanwhile, saw their lead over the Twins in the Central whittled to a half-game.
"We walked one guy, then we hit another guy, then the gates open," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, referring to Boston's four-run eruption in the sixth that sent Javier Vazquez (10-12) to the showers after he allowed five runs on 10 hits while striking out seven.
"Javy threw the ball better than will show up in the box tomorrow," Guillen added. "I think he threw the ball good. He was in trouble early in the game. After that, he settled down and we didn't make a couple of plays for him."
Jacoby Ellsbury, who was Crisp's emergency replacement and made a spectacular diving stab of Orlando Cabrera's liner to center on the first pitch of the game, got things going when he drew a walk. Vazquez proceeded to load the bases by giving up singles to Pedroia and David Ortiz (3 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 double, 2 runs).
Kevin Youkilis's fielder's choice scored Pedroia to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead, which proved to be all Matsuzaka needed.
"Daisuke threw the ball really well and it was well needed when you're facing a guy like Vazquez," said catcher Jason Varitek. "[Matsuzaka] gets his pitch count up and it's hard to keep him in extended innings. But he was more efficient today, even better than he was in Toronto. He had good stuff.
"Today he ran into contact earlier in the count, and you can't always force that because it depends on the hitters, but that helped him. He was strong, he had a good fastball, and it complemented his slider and cutter and mixed in just a couple of changeups."
In the fifth, the Sox gave Matsuzaka a cushion by expanding their lead to 3-0 on Ortiz's double down the right-field line that scored Pedroia (single to left, steal) and, after a Youkilis single, an RBI double to right by Mark Kotsay, who made a favorable impression in his Fenway debut.
The Red Sox blew the game open with a four-run outburst in the sixth.
Alex Cora reached Vazquez for a leadoff double, but he appeared to get marooned when Vazquez struck out Varitek and induced Ellsbury to ground to third. But Vazquez was gone after he walked Pedroia to put men on the corners.
The White Sox bullpen fared no better when Horacio Ramirez came in and walked Ortiz. D.J. Carrasco came in and hit Youkilis to score Cora.
After going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts, Jason Bay came to the plate and broke out of his doldrums with a double off the wall that cleared the bases, giving the Red Sox a 7-0 lead.
Matsuzaka, who retired 13 of 14 batters between the fourth and eighth, was nearly unhittable in silencing the White Sox, whom he beat Aug. 9 in Chicago, 6-2.
"He always pitches good against us," Guillen said. "He threw more strikes today. He's always throwing high counts, but today he threw strikes and we were flailing for it. He threw the ball good. You've got to give him some credit."
Some credit was due as well to the rest of the healthy players on the Red Sox' depleted roster.
"We got good players," said Ortiz. "We got players and guys who know what to do and so we go from there."
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.