|Mark Kotsay’s single to right provided a pair of insurance runs as the Red Sox averted a three-game sweep by the Mariners. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
Sox OK on the whole
A full effort helps them avoid sweep by Mariners
The Red Sox had needed to win the final game of a series to avoid a sweep three times this season, and all three times they had won. None of those victories included a point as dire as yesterday’s seventh inning. The Sox were eight outs away from being swept. Their offense had not produced a run without a homer in the past 15 innings. They faced one of baseball’s toughest bullpens.
Under those circumstances, the Red Sox felt comfortable. Jason Bay said he has never played on a team like this one, which thinks it’s going to win until the moment it doesn’t. David Ortiz singled home the tying run on a 3-0 fastball, Jacoby Ellsbury walked to produce the winner, and the Sox scored five runs total in the seventh, taking an 8-4 victory before 37,691 at Fenway Park.
Precisely halfway through the season, the Red Sox find themselves in first place, just by one game because the Yankees won again yesterday. Their talent is undeniable; no team could match the six All-Stars they placed on the American League squad. But their standing also owes, in part, to their resilience.
“We don’t care how many times you beat us,’’ said starter Jon Lester, who allowed one earned run in 6 2/3 innings. “We’re going to go out and we’re going to fight you until the ninth inning and hopefully come out on top. The majority of the time, we do. It’s nice to know we’re not going to tuck our tail between our legs.’’
The Red Sox smacked three home runs against Seattle starter Brandon Morrow, but the blasts by Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz, and Ellsbury all came with the bases empty. Trailing by a run after 6 1/2 innings, the Sox broke into the Mariners bullpen. “Which isn’t necessarily a good thing,’’ Bay said. “They’ve got some thunder down there.’’
Miguel Batista, rifling fastballs as fast as 95 miles per hour, walked J.D. Drew with one out. Pedroia followed with a single, his third hit of the day. When Kevin Youkilis flied out, the Sox nearly had squandered another scoring chance.
Up came Ortiz, and he was feeling good. His ninth home run of the season, in the first inning, was launched to right field on a line, the kind of homer Ortiz couldn’t approach early this year.
Batista started him with three balls, but what did he care? “I’ve always got the green light,’’ Ortiz said. Batista threw him a fastball over the middle. Ortiz turned on it and sent it through the shift into right, scoring Drew.
“Nice to see David where he feels good enough that he wants to commit like that,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “When he feels good enough to do that, we’re glad.’’
Mark Lowe replaced Batista and walked Bay on four pitches. Ellsbury watched from the on-deck circle, and he knew the situation fit for heroics - bases loaded, two outs, tie score - demanded prudence.
“That’s the biggest thing,’’ Ellsbury said. “You want to be patient.’’
And so the most exciting player on the Red Sox won the game by doing nothing. Ellsbury watched five pitches, including the 98-m.p.h. ball four, and forced Pedroia home with the winner. Mark Kotsay provided cushion with a two-run single, and Ellsbury scampered home on a passed ball for the final margin.
The rally held up because Lester stifled the Mariners for the majority of the afternoon, most of the damage inflicted on him after an error by Pedroia allowed a bloop, three-run triple by Ronny Cedeno in the fourth. He struck out nine and scattered eight hits.
Lester, not by choice, keeps track of how many pitches he has thrown when he starts at Fenway. “Every time you turn around, it’s in big, white letters out in center field,’’ he said. So Lester knew his pitch count was creeping into rare territory in the seventh inning.
The final batter he faced was Ken Griffey, his idol growing up in Tacoma, Wash. The at-bat began with Lester having thrown 113 pitches. Griffey fought for a nine-pitch walk. Lester pounded his mitt while Francona trudged out to remove him, an accomplishment lost in his momentary frustration: Lester had fired 122 pitches, the most he ever had thrown, regular season or playoffs, aside from the 130 he used to no-hit the Royals last May.
“I felt fine,’’ Lester said. “Like I did the first pitch, I guess. You don’t want to get to that point and all of a sudden your stuff falls off.’’
The competitive part of Lester wanted to pitch with Griffey at first and give himself a chance at the win. The sensible part of Lester agreed with Francona. “I don’t need an extra out right now,’’ Lester said. “We might need an extra out in October.’’
Justin Masterson got the final out in the seventh and Lester watched the comeback, the Sox averting their first winless series since last August. The Sox are now halfway to October, in part, because they won’t let that happen.
“That’s something where, a lot of other teams, they preach and talk about it,’’ Bay said. “Expecting to win and what have you. It’s one of those things, you can’t really quantify it. It’s not a certain guy. It’s kind of the character of the team. Rather than just roll over and say, ‘OK, we’ll try to get Oakland.’ ’’
Or, to put it another way, “We have too good of players to quit,’’ Pedroia said.