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Opportunities bring knocks

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / August 23, 2009

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A.J. Burnett stomped around the right side of the Fenway Park infield, his palms toward the sky, and yelled at himself. What had happened? Fifteen days before, Burnett had silenced the Red Sox. Yesterday, the Sox battered balls all over the stadium until Burnett couldn’t take it anymore.

Relentless and suddenly potent, the Red Sox continued their offensive breakout with a 14-run barrage in their afternoon romp over the Yankees. The Sox have scored 49 runs in their past five games, an avalanche from a team that once had an allergy to offense.

Think back to two weeks ago, in New York. The Red Sox endured 31 consecutive scoreless innings at the hands of the Yankees. They managed five total runs in consecutive losses at Texas at the end of last week. But in a matter of days, they transformed into a team that can make an ace pitcher lose his mind on national television.

“We hit a point where, one though nine, nobody was getting hits,’’ catcher Jason Varitek said. “I don’t think that was the true face of this team. I don’t think our offense is as bad as it was two weeks ago. I think our identity is starting to solidify.’’

One through nine, of course, has changed. The Red Sox, fully healthy for the first time since Victor Martinez arrived, can choose to compete with a lineup in which J.D. Drew bats eighth because there is nowhere else to put him. In one batting order last week, Josh Reddick hit second, Nick Green eighth, and Chris Woodward ninth.

Their lineup now presents no opportunities for a pitcher to catch his breath. Each time Burnett or a Yankees reliever neared an escape hatch, the Sox slammed it shut. The Sox scored 13 runs with two outs, delivering an abundance of the clutch hits that eluded them earlier this season.

“When you’re getting hits with two outs, that’s demoralizing for the other team’s pitcher,’’ said second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who went 3 for 4 with two doubles and four runs. “He’s almost out of the inning, but he gives up three or four runs.’’

In the first inning, Burnett induced a popup from Kevin Youkilis for the second out, giving him a chance to escape a first-and-third jam. Burnett had just retired the player with the second-highest on-base percentage in the American League. Up came David Ortiz, whose 20 home runs since May 20 were tied with Mark Teixeira for most in the AL during that span. On deck stood Jason Bay, who had seven home runs in his last 51 at-bats.

Ortiz ripped a double off the Green Monster, and two runs scored as the ball trickled back toward the infield. Bay drove in Ortiz with a single to center. The Sox had scored three runs in short order.

In the fifth, Burnett got two quick outs on the heels of two scoreless innings. The Yankees trailed, 7-0, and a comeback was not yet a total fantasy. But Ortiz lined a homer into the first row of Monster seats, and Burnett threw his conniption to the side of the mound. Two doubles, by Bay and Drew, and the Red Sox had locked up the game.

“Those are kind of backbreaking,’’ Bay said. “You’re one pitch away whatever side of the ball you’re on. Defensively, you can get out of the inning. Offensively, you’re one pitch away from breaking away. That’s a huge measure of the way things are going. They all mean the same, but for some reason those two-out ones are bigger.’’

The Sox scored five more runs off the Yankees’ bullpen, the list of offensive stars growing. Youkilis was the biggest, going 3 for 5 with two home runs and six RBIs. The Sox hit four home runs, their eighth consecutive game with at least two, a team record.

“I don’t think our offense is an issue,’’ Pedroia said. “You hit ruts throughout the year, but over the course of 162 games, it all evens out.’’

Adam Kilgore can be reached at akilgore@globe.com.

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