Installed at DH, Lowell leads Sox past Twins with four hits
MINNEAPOLIS - In most stadiums, a designated hitter can exit the dugout at will, bound for the batting cage or the video room. He can focus on hitting because, for him, that's all there is. So wanting to get a better look at, say, the slider that fooled him in the last inning is encouraged. Not so in the Metrodome, where the batting cages are a marathon away, and a DH might miss his next at-bat if he tried a visit.
So Mike Lowell, removed from his position at third base and installed at DH for David Ortiz, was mostly confined to the bench in yesterday's Memorial Day game against the Twins. Not only are the batting cages all the way out in left field in Minnesota, but the video replays are a hike as well.
"You don't even want to go see the replays of your at-bats, because of the stairs," said Lowell. "That's too much of a haul."
So instead of the traditional DH time-killers and improvement techniques, Lowell said he "stretched, kind of just moved around. Jump in place. Try to stay loose. I just didn't want to get to the point where I felt like I hadn't done anything in 30 minutes before my next at-bat."
While the Sox have been getting virtually no production from their DH spot - last in the American League in average, on-base percentage, slugging, home runs, and hits - that picked up yesterday with four hits from Lowell, as the Sox narrowly won, 6-5, in front of 27,636 at the Metro dome.
Though all his hits were singles, and he picked up just one RBI, it was marked improvement for a player who had had just 27 career at-bats in DH spot.
"Actually, if you get a hit your first at-bat, it kind of makes things easier," Lowell said. "In the fourth inning, Paul [Lessard], our trainer, and I stretched out again. I just didn't want to be cold out there.
"I don't think the fact that I DH'd equals I got four hits, or I'm going to tell David he better start playing first."
As part of a two-day plan, Lowell will get a seat on the bench for the entirety of tonight's game, with Ortiz returning to his customary DH spot. And the Sox will see if the offense they generated behind a hurling Brad Penny (in more ways than one) will continue.
"He'd come out, throw up, laugh, go get 'em," manager Terry Francona said of his starter. "He handled it really well. He was feeling sick all morning. He said every time he threw up, he felt better. I didn't really want to witness that."
With Penny not quite on top of his game - he called himself "lethargic" and said the nausea was a "sinus thing" - and the Sox using a makeshift lineup, the team still battered Francisco Liriano for five runs and 11 hits over four innings, despite a slider that "at times was almost devastating," said Francona.
Each of the first six hitters in the Sox lineup had multihit games - with Jacoby Ellsbury extending his hitting streak to 20 games - but the big blast came from Jeff Bailey.
With the Sox leading by two in the eighth, the rusty Bailey, relegated to the bench with the return of Kevin Youkilis, took knuckleballer R.A. Dickey deep to extend the lead.
"It's kind of hard not playing very much, but you do something positive like that, help the team get the W, it's gratifying," Bailey said. "I just noticed he was throwing fastballs in fastball counts. He gets behind 1-and-0, he was throwing everybody else a fastball, so I just went ahead and sat on the fastball right there."
And the Sox would need it, as Jonathan Papelbon gave up his second two-run homer in his last two outings. This one was a pinch-hit job by sudden slugger Joe Mauer (11 homers in 81 at-bats), and had no need for replay. The four-seamer dropped to earth beyond the center-field wall, scoring Jason Kubel and putting Papelbon within one run of a second blown save in a row.
"Geez," Francona said. "I'm glad he came up where he could hit that ball as far as he wanted, and he about did, but it doesn't lose us a game or tie the game. He is that dangerous. Believe me, we knew he was sitting over there. We were watching from the sixth inning on, seeing if he was going to get loose, because he is that good."
But Papelbon had a cushion he didn't have against the Mets Saturday. His ERA might have exploded from 0.95 to 2.57 over his last two outings, but the Sox won this one.
They scored three runs in the third on Jason Bay's two-run double and Lowell's RBI single. Two more came across in the fourth on Youkilis's double. They had a chance for more, too. In the second inning, Rocco Baldelli's double left men on second and third with no outs. Three strikeouts later, two swinging and one looking, and the Twins were out of it. For a few minutes, at least.
And then they were down, on their way to becoming 3-13 against AL East opponents.
The Sox had new life Sunday after losing their first two to the Mets, and new life yesterday as they began a 10-game road trip with a new DH, if just for one day.
"It's a late arrival, early day, the atmosphere is maybe not what we've had the last couple days," Francona said. "I actually was thrilled with our performance. We had energy. We created our own energy. We had optional hitting, everybody's down there.
"It ends up being a good day."