|With the crowd on its feet, the cap comes off Jon Lester’s head after his stellar effort. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)|
Lester, Sox offense overpower Orioles
The Red Sox hitters were all over the bases, not just reaching and staying until they were finally left to jog back to the dugout or out to the field.
They were all over the bases and scoring, coming home with runs as the offense mounted a major fight for the first time since the team returned from the All-Star break to find its offense nonexistent.
The Orioles, generally, have proven a willing foil for the Sox’ foibles this season - excepting, of course, that comeback in Baltimore - and have done so again this weekend.
With a late two-run homer from the Sox’ newest bat, Adam LaRoche, the Sox managed their greatest offensive output since the break.
With Jon Lester adding 7 1/3 innings of two-run, nine-strikeout ball, the Sox took the second game of the series, 7-2, last night.
And With the Yankees ending their eight-game winning streak earlier in the day, the win brought the Sox to within 1 1/2 games of their rivals.
“Our pitching’s been doing good, so we need to do some damage,’’ said David Ortiz, whose three-run, first-inning homer took the pressure to be perfect away from Lester. “That’s the only way, producing. We need to produce for our pitching. That’s the only way you’re going to win games. We’re dealing with New York playing good now. So we’ve got to bring it.’’
Lester (9-7) was welcomed back to the dugout with one down in the eighth after Nolan Reimold’s double, the eighth hit he allowed. The standing ovation was so loud, so immediate, that Lester tipped his cap to the 38,063 at Fenway after he passed the first base line and made his way toward his teammates.
But it took the offense to get him there. On a night in which Lester could have been the victim of its futility, as he had in his prior start, he came through for them. And, finally, they came through for him.
As Francona said of Lester, “I thought everything was good.’’
That could also have gone for the offense.
Over the course of their recent six-game road trip, the Sox were stymied again and again, their futility notable in their lack of big hits, two-out hits, hits of any sort. That might just be changing.
“I think it’s one of the difference-makers,’’ Jason Bay said of two-out runs. “I mean every team in the big leagues is going to score runs. But the two outs - there’s a reason why the box score has two-out RBIs. That’s one of those things that - like I said, any team’s going to score - but those are the ones usually that can either break a team’s back or put you in a better spot.
“It’s nothing groundbreaking, but I think if you watch over the course of the game, the two-out RBIs are the ones that either really help you or really kill you.’’
Last night? They helped. The first five runs scored by Boston came with two down, beginning with Ortiz’s three-run homer.
With Dustin Pedroia’s walk sandwiched between outs by Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew, it seemed that the Sox would yet again give up a baserunner without making the opposition pay.
But Bay singled to left and Ortiz stepped to the plate. The designated hitter bashed a 1-and-0 offering from Jeremy Guthrie out to center field, the ball landing in the bleachers high above Adam Jones.
One more run came in the second when Ellsbury hit the first of his two consecutive doubles, this one driving in Jason Varitek (double). And yet another run came in the fourth when Nick Green bunted his way on base, followed by the second Ellsbury double.
“Big,’’ Francona said, of the Sox’ ability to answer the Orioles’ two fourth-inning runs with one of their own. “We’re up 4-0 and Lester’s really pitching well. Then he makes a mistake to [Matt] Wieters 0-2 and they get two back. Then you’re in a situation where somebody makes a mistake, you’ve had one of those nights where you don’t want to have. But answering back is really important. It’s huge, almost like a slam dunk in basketball.’’
It was clear, though, with an offense that was able to score runs, that the Sox could put together a modest winning streak.
Yes, two games is hardly anything to get excited over. But it’s a lot better than the five-game losing streak on which they entered this series.
“I think it’s a situation where you’ve got a lot of guys scuffling and everyone’s trying to hit a five-run homer, you want so bad to get runs in,’’ Bay said. “It’s one of those things where it’s contagious once it gets going. You can kind of relax a little bit, and then it’s not of the utmost importance that you get a hit every since time. Because if you go up there with that pressure, it makes hitting at the big league level even tougher.’’
That’s the way it has seemed for the past week. Not last night, finally.
“I think we had better at-bats,’’ Francona said. “I think we also played with a little more confidence. I mean we went back to last night where kind of jokingly said winning’s better than losing. But it helps. Every team goes through periods where things aren’t going very well, and you try too hard. We were certainly an example of that. Now, saying that, hopefully there’s carryover to tomorrow. That would be great.’’