Green and Red Sox hit on all cylinders to beat Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - With the lights dimmed over most of Tropicana Field, the playing surface looks innocuous. The stands are mute without the cowbells, home plate nonthreatening without Evan Longoria beside it. And yet, its unfriendly confines have yielded a strange sort of hope for the Red Sox on this their first of three trips here this season to play the Rays.
"With the way it started, that would almost be like a win for us," Jason Bay said of the series if the Sox could salvage today's game. "I think going down two out of three will do that. To use that momentum going to New York would be huge. But especially a place we haven't really played that well - I mean a split here, like I said, would almost be like us winning here."
Having started out the series by being outscored, 19-2, over two games, that 11-game winning streak seemed a distant memory, until the Sox' bats burst out with an early uprising last night, holding on to win, 10-6, in front of 34,910.
So with the win, one that went to Tim Wakefield on a night when he was hardly as sharp as in his seven-inning, one-hit no-decision Monday in Cleveland, the Sox have given themselves the chance for a split. It won't be easy, of course. Not just because the Sox have won just two of their last 12 games in this building, but also because the starting pitchers have allowed at least five runs in each of their last five outings. Pitching today? Brad Penny, he of the 8.66 ERA.
This one, though, was not about the pitching. As Wakefield said, "The offense won the game tonight."
Four Sox had more than one hit. Jacoby Ellsbury stole three bases. Slumping David Ortiz - whose fall has been hard enough that Dustin Pedroia was walked intentionally so Brian Shouse could face him - was the only starter without a hit.
And still, Nick Green was the name that kept popping up. In his scarcely three weeks of starting, Green has managed to do what Julio Lugo only desires. The fill-in shortstop, the beneficiary of spring training and early-season injuries to the top two on the depth chart at the position, has garnered the fans' attention and support by playing average defense at what is clearly not his best position, by hitting north of .300, and by attempting to stabilize a spot that could have been trouble.
Not that there haven't been gaffes. Like last night, when Green stumbled halfway between first and second base as he tried to steal in the second inning.
"I thought he had a great jump, and he didn't seem to be getting anywhere fast," said manager Terry Francona.
Like again last night, when he recorded his sixth error in 17 games, his throw bouncing away from first baseman Kevin Youkilis.
"I would say he had a busy night," Francona said of Green. "He's going to steal second, we look up, and he disappeared. He ended up throwing the ball away [on the error] about where he fell. But he was also whacking the ball over the ballpark, and made some big contributions offensively. He's done a good job."
"I tripped over my feet," Green explained. "It's one of those things that happens now and then. I thought it was 40 feet instead of 90. It's embarrassing at the time. They loved it [in the dugout]. I think they got a laugh out of it. If I can give somebody a laugh a day, then I'm good."
The miscues could be forgiven, especially when the error didn't lead to any runs, and especially when Green got three more hits, drove in three runs, and scored one. Even more so because those three RBIs came in the first three innings, as the Red Sox, for once in this series, gave their starting pitcher a wealth of runs with which to work. Wakefield, meanwhile, despite his recent stellar performances, gave up five runs, and left four innings to the bullpen.
"We got on the board early," Francona said. "It's a lot easier to play that way than trying to come back."
Mike Lowell had acknowledged after Friday night's loss how difficult it is for an offense when it gets behind early. Can't steal. Can't be as aggressive. Can't function normally. So, the Sox turned that around on the Rays last night, lashing out at Jeff Niemann, taking out their frustrations after the outings of Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine in the first two games of the series. Boston scored in each of the first three innings, with two runs in the first, three in the second, and one in the third, knocking Niemann out of the game.
While Wakefield wasn't as sharp as he had been recently , it appeared he wouldn't have to be. Superhuman wasn't required. Merely super would have been fine.
And Wakefield was, through four innings. Then Longoria struck again in the fifth, recording his eighth and ninth RBIs of the series on a single to left field, scoring Dioner Navarro and B.J. Upton, who both walked. Pat Burrell then chipped in, his double rolling to the wall in left, scoring Longoria. The lead, which had seemed safe, was down to a run at 6-5.
Some breathing room came in the sixth, courtesy of Youkilis. Ellsbury singled off Grant Balfour, then stole second and third, his second and third thefts of the game. Pedroia and Ortiz walked, loading the bases. Shouse relieved Balfour, and Youkilis then doubled to left, driving in a pair. J.D. Drew struck out, and Jeff Bailey - batting in place of Bay, who left the game with a left ankle contusion - popped out to second base to end the inning.
Though it had a lead, the bullpen again was called upon for more than its share of innings, as Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez, and Takashi Saito finished for Wakefield.
"[The knuckleball] was moving quite a bit," said Wakefield, who threw just 55 strikes in 101 pitches. "Mechanically, I don't think I was right tonight. Kind of struggled trying to find my feel from the first inning on. Able to make some good pitches when I needed to, then in the fifth inning it wasn't great. I struggled through five, gave up five runs and seven hits.
"It's been uncharacteristic of me so far. I'm just glad we won."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.