Rally caps Red Sox’ first half
When the Red Sox stumbled out of the box, losing their first six games and 10 of their first 12, manager Terry Francona said he never lost sight of the fact it was too early to write off his ball club.
After all, the clubhouse was teeming with way too much talent for the Sox not to climb out of their hole.
Still, there was no way Francona could have envisioned how far the Sox would come from their ignominious start.
There was no way he could have predicted the Sox would be 20 games above .500 (55-35), with a one-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East at the All-Star break. In addition, his club is leading the league in almost every major offensive category - batting average, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, RBIs, slugging percentage, on-base percentage. Also, six of his players are heading to the All-Star Game on the heels of six straight wins and 10 in their last 11 games.
“It was a very difficult start, there’s no getting around that,’’ Francona said after the Red Sox capped a four-game sweep of the Orioles with an 8-6 victory yesterday before a Fenway Park crowd of 37,688 on a resplendent afternoon.
“I think we needed to regroup and all the things we talked about, paying attention to detail, be patient enough to believe in ourselves, because it’s not easy,’’ Francona said. “We were taking some pretty good shots, and we probably deserved them. But there were some things that were being written or said that I don’t think I believed.
“I think we went out and proved that we can be a good team. We’re not done yet. Not even close. But we’re playing better baseball.’’
The finale lived up to the rest of this wild-and-woolly series, in which the Sox outhit (47-28) and outscored (32-13) the Birds by convincing margins. But it was more of a microcosm of the first half of this season in which the Sox were forced to overcome adversity and rally for a victory.
The team got huge contributions from reliever Alfredo Aceves (4-1), who picked up the win after rookie starter Kyle Weiland was ejected in the fifth inning, and solo homers by Marco Scutaro and Dustin Pedroia and a two-run shot by Kevin Youkilis in a four-run rally in the second that erased a 6-2 deficit.
There were eight ejections in the series, four in a bench-clearing brawl sparked by David Ortiz’s altercation with Kevin Gregg Friday night and four yesterday after plate umpire Marty Foster issued warnings to both clubs after Orioles reliever Jeremy Guthrie hit Youkilis in the fourth.
Weiland, 24, had his major league debut cut short when he and Francona were ejected in the fifth after Weiland’s changeup caught designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero on the right hand.
“Unfortunately, I fell behind a lot of hitters, especially at this level you see guys do that and they’re going to have a real good chance of putting balls into play - hard,’’ said Weiland, who spotted the Orioles a 6-2 lead in the second after he allowed six runs on seven hits, including a two-run homer by Derrek Lee.
“That’s what happened in the second inning,’’ Weiland said. “I fell behind a lot and they capitalized on it. I’m sure everybody was sitting on the fastball and Lee was sitting on a fastball in and that’s a pitch you tip your hat to him. That’s a pitch I thought was in off the plate, sinker’s my best pitch, and he hit it.’’
The Sox got the go-ahead run in the fourth when Ortiz drew a bases-loaded walk that scored Pedroia, who had doubled to left.
Reliever Michael Gonzalez targeted Ortiz with two out in the sixth and got ejected for throwing behind Ortiz’s back. Orioles manager Buck Showalter was also tossed.
Asked if Gonzalez intentionally threw at his designated hitter, Francona replied, “It makes you think. It was 3 feet behind him. That’s where somebody gets hurt. That’s the point where somebody can really get hurt when you do something like that.’’
Ortiz, however, remained composed and let Foster handle the matter.
“When those things happen, you just got to keep your cool,’’ Ortiz said. “And I just did today.’’
Jacoby Ellsbury drove in an insurance run in the seventh with a single to right, which plated J.D. Drew, who had singled.
Daniel Bard threw a scoreless eighth and handed it over to closer Jonathan Papelbon, who got Nick Markakis to flail at three straight 96-mile-per-hour fastballs to pick up his 20th save.
It capped a topsy-turvy game, series, and first half for the Red Sox.
“It’s nice to be where we are considering where we started,’’ said general manager Theo Epstein. “It’s a testament to a lot of hard work from the players and coaching staff.
“We haven’t really proven anything yet, although hopefully we’ve answered some questions about how we bounce back from adversity.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.