Red Sox 3, Angels 1

Sox looking sharp as Ortiz connects

HR propels them past Angels again

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 6, 2010

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When asked before last night’s game about his decision to start David Ortiz, Red Sox manager Terry Francona talked about wanting to put his players in the best possible spot. Given, for example, a struggling designated hitter, the plan was to put him in against righthanders, against pitchers he has historically hit, in spots where he can come through.

“Trying to put players in a position where they can succeed and trying to put our team in a position where they can succeed,’’ Francona said. “Sometimes that’s why I get here early. Just all trying to do the best we can.’’

They did just that, continuing to settle the nerves of fans across New England. With three straight wins at Fenway Park against the Angels, the Sox have returned to playing their brand of baseball and have steadied their faithful — with excellent outings from starters, with home runs, and with stellar defense.

Add that to Francona’s decision to stay with Ortiz, and the Sox eked out just enough offense to get past the two hits and one run of their opponents last night, as former Angel John Lackey smothered his old club over seven innings in a 3-1 win in front of 37,601.

Four innings into the game, Francona’s patience had paid off, as Ortiz provided the decisive run with a solo homer. That’s not to say all of Ortiz’s problems are gone. They just weren’t in evidence last night.

“It was good for him and for his confidence,’’ said Adrian Beltre, who attached an insurance run with a homer in the eighth. “He’s a guy under the microscope and he wants to do well. He wants to be here and he wants to help our team.

“When he doesn’t perform the way he knows he can, it’s tough. Those days wear you out. But a day like this, when he hits a couple of balls to the opposite field and hits a homer, it’s good for him. We all know that he can hit.

“There’s a funk in his head right now and too much stuff going on. But if you let him play, he’s going to get you numbers because he’s been doing it for a long time here.’’

Ortiz began with a single up the middle in the second inning, then took Joel Pineiro deep in the fourth. Ortiz had entered the game with a robust .391 average against Pineiro (9 for 23) with two homers and 11 RBIs.

And Ortiz’s contribution were needed, as the Sox went just 2 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base. They got their first run on a J.D. Drew walk, Ortiz single, and Beltre RBI single in the second.

There was some bad luck, too. The Sox lined into double plays in the second and third, the former coming within a hair’s breadth of a triple play as Beltre just slid into first ahead of the throw. But, still, they had enough against Lackey’s old teammates.

“It was different facing the jersey, I guess,’’ Lackey said. “There’s not a whole lot of guys in that lineup, really, that I played with for an extended period of time. It was definitely a little bit different. But we needed to win a game, that’s the bottom line.’’

In doing that, he survived a messy second inning — single, walk, hit batter to load the bases with two outs — and worked a solid seven innings, throwing just 102 pitches, after having been 41 deep by the end of that second.

Lackey allowed just one run on two hits, one of them a solo home run by Brandon Wood in the fifth. After that, Lackey got seven consecutive outs — six of them on ground balls. In fact, Lackey got 13 of his 21 outs on ground balls, and four more on strikeouts.

“Probably my best fastball command that I’ve had this season,’’ said Lackey, who said he started by throwing primarily fastballs and added pitches as he got deeper in the game. “That was encouraging.’’

“He just looked so relaxed on the mound, and when he throws the ball he gets on you,’’ Victor Martinez said. “I can tell you, as a hitter, facing Lackey, that would make him so tough. He looks like he doesn’t even try. When he throws the ball, you’ve got to be ready to hit it.’’

The Angels weren’t.

It was a trend that has continued over the last week. Over their last eight games, the Sox’ starting pitchers have a 5-1 record with a 2.82 ERA, with 42 strikeouts and 17 walks over 54 1/3 innings. In other words, they have been what they were expected to be.

“We’ve just got to be who we are, not try to do too much, just go out and execute pitches,’’ Lackey said.

The Sox haven’t lost since they had their team meeting upon returning to Boston, after a lost weekend in Baltimore. Asked how much of an effect that had on the team, Lackey said, “I think they can help. I think it’s sometimes good just for things to at least be acknowledged out loud. Sometimes the words aren’t as important as the act.’’

Now, the Sox have returned to .500, are on the verge of sweeping the Angels, and look significantly more like the team they were supposed to be. Reminded that the Sox had evened their record at 14-14, last night’s starter didn’t seem all that impressed.

“We need to be a lot higher than .500,’’ Lackey said. “This is a starting point. We need to keep moving.’’

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