Everything is in good order for Red Sox
Flip in lineup no flop; Lester tames Orioles
BALTIMORE - When J.D. Drew stepped to the plate in the eighth inning, with Jason Varitek standing on second base and the day yielding to darkness, a feat lay before him, in the gaps and down the lines. Despite his best intentions - and you better believe he was trying to hit a double to complete his first career cycle - Drew bounced a changeup to Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts.
Drew had already collected a triple, home run, and single. As he faced reliever Brian Bass, that double was on his mind. Why wouldn’t it be?
“Absolutely,’’ Drew said, his dry sense of humor awakened. “Not a player alive wouldn’t know that he was ready to hit a double in that situation. Had a ball down and away, swung through it, then hit a changeup. That’s how it goes. I was trying to hit a double. Just didn’t quite work out.’’
How exactly do you try to hit a double?
“I don’t know how you try,’’ Drew cracked. “I was just going to hit the ball and just run straight to second, if I had to. Just right through the middle of the infield.’’
Personal achievement aside, the Red Sox weren’t in need of more offense. They only needed two more innings from their bullpen to close out the Orioles, 4-0, last night, the team’s second shutout in three days.
Jonathan Papelbon was called upon to get the last out, and Jason Bay made it a good one with an outstanding sliding, backhanded catch with two runners aboard. Papelbon got his 132d save in front of 36,548 at Camden Yards to tie Bob Stanley’s club record.
While Jon Lester’s excellent stuff - especially a sweeping curveball that accounted for half of Lester’s eight strikeouts - commanded attention, it was manager Terry Francona’s lineup change that engendered the offensive revitalization.
With Dustin Pedroia struggling in the leadoff spot, Francona switched his first two batters in the order, moving Drew up and dropping Pedroia to No. 2. The move paid off immediately. Drew opened the game with a ringing triple to left-center, and Pedroia drove him home with a single up the middle.
“You know what I’m going to take credit for is having good players,’’ Francona said. “That got a little bit of a reaction in the dugout in the first inning, as you can imagine.’’
“Seemed to work out all right,’’ Drew said.
Asked how smart his manager was, Pedroia smiled and said, “Yeah, right. That’s more the opposite. Nah, J.D. swung the bat great. Seemed like every time [Francona] mixes it up, we do something good for him.’’
Not that the change will last long, with the plan calling for Rocco Baldelli to play right field tonight with lefty Rich Hill pitching for the Orioles. But for one day, at least, it was just about perfect.
Drew and Pedroia reached base six times on four hits and two walks (both Pedroia’s). The offense woke up from a weekend sluggishness foisted upon them by the heat in Atlanta and the Braves’ pitchers. The Sox had no such trouble last night, adding three more runs in the fourth inning on a Jason Varitek RBI single and the two-run homer by Drew that traveled 382 feet to center field.
Lester kept his record against Baltimore pristine, improving to 8-0 in 10 career starts with a 2.18 ERA. It was obvious quite early that the Orioles were in for an uncomfortable night.
“When he was coming up and learning how to pitch, you could see him learning how to throw the breaking ball,’’ Francona said. “Get it over for strikes. Now he’s starting to get some down-and-in to those righties with some action. That was a pretty explosive breaking ball.’’
Francona cited “the depth and the tight spin’’ of the breaking ball. “It’s almost an attack pitch now, not a get-over-for-a-strike,’’ he said.
The way Lester was slinging his fastball and that nasty curve, it appeared that the first-inning run might be all he needed. Matt Wieters was the first Oriole to reach second base, in the fifth, and Baltimore didn’t get that far again until the ninth.
So it goes for the Sox rotation, the starters posting a 0.69 ERA over the last four games. And Francona’s lineup switch proved brilliant.
Drew said he didn’t do anything different in batting practice. In fact, he didn’t realize he was batting first until after BP.
“I honestly didn’t know I was leading off until my batting practice round finished up,’’ Drew said. “DeMarlo [Hale] said, ‘Hey, you swung the bat like a leadoff hitter in BP.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ ’’
That was when he found out. Not that the late notice mattered. The Drew-Pedroia combination got the Sox on the board early and gave Lester a suitable cushion.
“Especially with our pitching staff, if we get those guys some runs, we’re a tough team to beat,’’ Pedroia said. “Those guys, they’re going to give you six, seven innings every time. That worked for us tonight. We get them some runs, and Jon Lester just dealt.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.