Friday, May 23, 2008

Red Sox Win Slugfest at Fenway

J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell provided the muscle with a grand slam apiece, as the Red Sox defeated the Royals, 11-8, in front of 37,613 at Fenway Park on Thursday afternoon, sweeping the four-game set.
The win sends the Sox to the West Coast unbeaten on the seven-game homestand, with baseball's best home record at 21-5, and keeps Daisuke Matsuzaka perfect on the season.
"We just want to win," Sox manager Terry Francona said of the 7-0 homestand. "I think we've used just about everybody on our roster, which is always good.
"Everybody feels like they're doing something to help us, and they are. We used every pitcher. I think that's part of the reason why we do win. You show up on a day game after a night game, and we have a bench that guys can play here. Or, we can go in for defense. Or, if somebody's nicked up, another guy can play.
"Yeah, I do think that's part of the reason we have success."
Matsuzaka improved to 8-0 with a 2.40 ERA for the season, despite struggling with his command, an issue that has plagued him intermittently this season. In 5 2/3 innings Thursday, he threw 118 pitches, 67 for strikes. He gave up six hits and six walks, and was charged with two passed balls, to go along with seven strikeouts. Two of the six batters he walked accounted for two of the three runs he allowed.
"He threw 21 first-pitch strikes [to 29 batters] and then there [were] a lot of baserunners," Francona said. "As a staff, I don't think we had a clean inning. We scored some runs and then we put some runners on. We threw some fastballs over the middle of the plate."
Although he gave up just two walks in his previous outing, Saturday against the Brewers, he's had outings of eight (May 5 at Detroit) and six (April 13 against the Yankees) free passes this season.
"If his stuff's good and he's getting some misses, sometimes when you're wild in the strike zone, that can happen," Francona said. "Guys are cheating to get the pitches, and they're off the plate and they swing.
"He's got other pitches, it's not just fastball. He's got the breaking ball and changeup. So, that could explain that. He's pitched himself into some predicaments where he had to make real good pitches. Fortunately, for the most part he did."
"I think there was a tendency to be a little bit explosive, be a little bit too perfect with some pitches," pitching coach John Farrell said of Matsuzaka's performance. "But, when it got to hitters' counts, he didn't give in. He didn't just throw a fastball down the plate that might've cost him an extra base or two. He's OK walking a guy because he thinks he can get the next batter."
Matsuzaka, however, was not happy with his performance Thursday.
"It wasn't very good," he said through his interpreter. "It hasn't been for a while now. There are a lot of reasons. It is not really something I prefer to discuss out in the open, but rather something I need to digest within myself."
While he may not have been at his best, it was good enough to get the 'W."
"He wasn't in command of all his pitches. He ran deep counts and got his pitch count up," said Royals manager Trey Hillman. "But he's still pretty good, even when he's not commanding the zone."
With a day game Thursday after a night game Wednesday, Kevin Cash took over behind the plate, in place of Jason Varitek, who got a day of rest.
Matsuzaka said that the pair briefly went over signals and pitches before the game, but he realized afterwards that maybe they hadn't discussed it enough.
Cash said that while there were no communication problems, the battery had to get in sync a couple of times.
"Just in the fourth or fifth inning, he kind of changed a little bit and started working more changeups," Cash said. "It kind of took me a little bit to get on the same page. That's why I went out there a couple times and talked to him.
"I asked him after the inning, and he just said the lefties that had seen him he wanted to work it in, because the first three innings he hadn't thrown it at all -- so, just to give them a different look, which was very good, real good."
Although the Royals took an early lead, 1-0, in the first inning, it would be their only lead of the series. With two outs in the top of the first, Matsuzaka walked Alex Gordon, who went to second on a wild pitch, and scored on Jose Guillen's single to right, giving the Royals the edge.
But the Sox answered back in a loud way in the second. After Manny Ramirez, Lowell and Kevin Youkilis opened the frame with consecutive singles, Drew went the opposite way to deposit a Brian Bannister fastball into the Green Monster seats above left field.
"In that situation [with no outs], you can get away with a lot," said Drew. "I was able to square one up and hit it over the green wall. Best-case scenario, I think."
It was Drew's fourth career grand slam. His last slam for the Sox came Oct. 20, 2007, in the American League Championship Series against the Indians.
The Sox added a run in the third when Lowell, who reached on a ground-rule double down the right-field line, scored on Youkilis' single to center, putting the Sox up, 5-1.
In the fifth inning, the Royals cut the deficit to 5-3 as Matsuzaka walked leadoff batter Gordon, who took second on a wild pitch and scored on Jose Guillen's double to left-center. After Mark Teahen's groundout, Guillen then scored on a sharp liner down the left-field line off the bat of Miguel Olivo, who had matched a career high with five RBIs. Matsuzaka struck out the final two batters of the inning, Ross Gload on a slider and Alberto Callaspo on a changeup.
In the sixth, with Jimmy Gobble pitching for KC, the Sox sent nine batters to the plate, with six scoring. Drew opened the inning with a single, advanced on a Cash single and scored on Julio Lugo's sacrifice fly to right. Jacoby Ellsbury's walk was followed by Dustin Pedroia's double to left, scoring Drew. After David Ortiz popped out, Gobble intentionally walked Manny Ramirez, loading the bases for Lowell, who put Gobble's second pitch into the Monster seats and the Sox up, 11-3.
"I never take it personal," Lowell said of Ramirez's being walked to get to him. "I think what I try to do there is utilize the moment because you don't want your desire to take away from your approach. ... I would say a grand slam is a pretty nice exclamation point."
For Lowell, it was his seventh career slam, and first since May 19, 2007, against the Braves.
The two slams in a game match a Major League record, done 71 times previously going back to 1876, and the 39th time an American League team has accomplished the feat.
The Sox lead all Major League clubs with 10 two-slam games, the last time when Bill Mueller did it from each side of the plate, July 29, 2003, in Texas, which was the first time any Major League player had ever done so.
The last time two different Sox players hit a grand slam in a game was May 2, 1995, when John Valentin and Mo Vaughn cleared the bases at Yankee Stadium. The last time it happened at Fenway, Tony Armas and Bill Buckner teamed up for the feat, on Aug. 7, 1984, in the first game of a doubleheader with the Tigers.
With Craig Hansen in for the Sox in the seventh, the Royals scratched back two more runs, as Guillen led off with a home run to left and Teahen walked and scored on Olivo's double.
But the Royals were not done, scoring three more in the eighth off David Aardsma, as Olivo hit a three-run homer to left, scoring Gordon and Guillen, who had singled, cutting the Sox lead to 11-8.
Jonathan Papelbon entered in the ninth, getting two outs before allowing singles to David DeJesus and Billy Butler to bring Gordon to the plate as the tying run. But a 97-mph fastball got Gordon to loft a fly ball to left, where it settled harmlessly into Ellsbury's glove, securing the win and the perfect homestand.

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