Monday, June 18, 2007

Sox Sweep Giants

The situation was delicate. Seventh inning, three-run lead, bases loaded and, though Barry Bonds had already been dispatched on a four-pitch unintentional (but careful) walk, Bengie Molina was at the plate.

Not quite the same as Bonds, who had already lofted home run No. 748 into the record books, but a hitter near .300 on the season nevertheless. And he would be facing righthanded reliever Joel Piñeiro, the $4 million man whose effectiveness in tight situations has not been often tested in his first season in Boston.

Molina's numbers, 5 for 28 (.179) with one home run, against Piñeiro clearly played a role in manager Terry Francona's decision to bring in the reliever after Javier Lopez had issued four not-so-close balls in an effort to make Bonds swing at junk or not at all. But so did the unavailability of Brendan Donnelly, likely the first choice in that situation, who had before the game been put on the 15-day disabled list.

Still, the statistics were in the Sox' favor.

"Inevitably it comes down to the pitcher making the pitch," said Doug Mirabelli after the Sox had dispatched the Giants, 9-5, yesterday at Fenway Park. "They know that. It's a huge situation, we really need a pitch out of you right now. You can't just come in here and throw a meaty fastball or a hanging breaking ball here. We really need you to concentrate on getting a ball down and away."

The strategy paid off with an inning-ending double-play roller to shortstop, finishing all serious threats for the afternoon in front of 36,137 Father's Day fans, and giving the Red Sox a sweep before heading out on a nine-game trip.

"It was a key situation, so it felt good," said Piñeiro, who added a 1-2-3 eighth before giving up a single to lead off the ninth that brought on Hideki Okajima. "I knew I had to come in there and do the right job. I know I've got the stuff. It's just a matter of going out there and putting it together on a consistent basis."

After a stretch in which the Red Sox scored two or fewer runs in eight of 11 games, the offense finally broke out. Seven of the nine starters got a hit, including five hits in the pivotal five-run third inning.

"The ballpark played small today," Francona said. "You could see it. The ball is going to fly. You don't know how many runs is enough. We kept at it. They'd score, but we'd come back and score.

"You don't really ever feel safe."

But nine runs helped. And so did J.D. Drew.

After going 0 for 5 in his first chance in the leadoff spot, he has gone 5 for 11 atop the order in the next three games. Yesterday, the rest of the lineup followed suit. Drew started the third with a walk, followed by a bunt single by Dustin Pedroia and a ground-rule double by David Ortiz. After Manny Ramírez was thrown out on a grounder bobbled by second baseman Ray Durham, Kevin Youkilis singled home Ortiz and Mike Lowell doubled off the Wall to score Youkilis. After Wily Mo Peña lined out to left, Mirabelli singled in Lowell, giving five players (Ortiz, Ramírez, Youkilis, Lowell, and Mirabelli) RBIs in the inning.

Balance? Absolutely.

The Sox added another run in the next inning for an 8-3 lead, pushing Giants starter Matt Morris -- coming off two consecutive complete games -- out of the game after four innings. Ramírez added his second solo shot in as many games in the seventh inning off Jonathan Sanchez.

Tim Wakefield (7-7) earned the win, giving up five runs on eight hits and two home runs over 5 2/3 innings.

But for baseball historians, the drama had already taken place by the time Wakefield left the mound.

With the Sox holding an 8-3 lead, Bonds's solo home run to lead off the sixth inning against the knuckleballer was little more than another step on his controversial path to breaking Hank Aaron's record. He homered into the bullpen in right field, just beyond the glove of Drew, a home run that didn't look close to going out as it popped up off the bat.

"I didn't move right at first," Drew said. "I thought it was a high fly ball, and the way the wind was blowing, I was under it about 10 different times at some point. I just couldn't go any further with it."

And it landed in the bullpen, followed predictably by a chorus of boos.

So the names to know yesterday were Barry Bonds and Joel Pineiro. Could have called that one, right?

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