Monday, July 28, 2008

Lester in command as Sox avoid sweep by thumping Yankees

Sanity, or what passes for it these days in Fenway Park, was restored last night on Yawkey Way.

related survey

Should the Red Sox trade Manny Ramirez?
Yes. His antics have crossed the line from funny to detrimental. If they're not going to pick up his option after the season (the team has not stated anything one way or the other), the Sox should at least get something in return.
No. You just can't replace that kind of a hitter. There's no trade out there that will give equal value in return, and the Sox need Manny's bat for a playoff push.

Manny Ramírez said before the game he wouldn't block a trade, then showed why the Red Sox will grin and bear him, doubling twice and hitting an RBI single in a 9-2 win over the Yankees that marked a revival of offense from the top to bottom of the order. The Sox avoided a three-game sweep, ended the Yankees' eight-game winning streak, and drew to within a game of the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East.

"He swung the bat great," manager Terry Francona said of Ramírez. "That's what we need, that shouldn't be a surprise. That part of it, that's why we want him out there."

It began, as it has so often in the last couple of months, with Dustin Pedroia, who from the leadoff spot singled to touch off a three-run Sox first, hit a sacrifice fly in the second, and doubled ahead of David Ortiz's fourth-inning home run, Big Papi finally putting a big bang in his return with his 14th home run to make it 7-0 after four innings.

The Sox had not scored in consecutive innings in their last nine games. They went 3, 1, 1, 2 in the first four innings last night after waiting out a 52-minute (no)rain delay, which gave Jon Lester plenty of breathing room to beat the Yankees for the second time in 24 days. This didn't look as effortless as the complete-game shutout he threw in Yankee Stadium - New York had nine hits in seven innings against Lester, and appeared to have him on the ropes in the fifth when they had two runs in and the bases loaded with no outs.

But Lester was equal to the challenge. Alex Rodriguez lined to third, Xavier Nady flied to shallow center, and Robinson Cano, the AL's hottest hitter since the All-Star break, tapped back to the mound. Lester walked just one and struck out eight in running his record to 9-3; Manny Delcarmen and Mike Timlin finished up.

"You just pitch your game, you can't worry about we lost two in a row, you can't worry about all the other distractions, you just go out and pitch," Lester said. "You hope you get some runs early.

"It was definitely a team effort. Guys swung the bats really well. It seemed like a different atmosphere in the dugout tonight. Guys were laughing, having fun, then going to the plate and putting together good at-bats."

Every player in the Sox lineup reached base - J.D. Drew didn't have a hit but walked twice - and Jacoby Ellsbury, dropped to the No. 9 spot, breathed life into a dormant bottom of the order with a double and two singles, as the Sox did a number on a familiar punching bag, Sidney Ponson. The Aruban righthander came in with a story line - and won-loss record (6-1) - that suggested that the Texas Rangers had made a mistake in releasing him earlier this season for the kind of off-field conduct that had made him a marked man with Baltimore, one of his previous employers.

But the Sox found him to be the same soft touch he has always been against them, racking up 10 hits and seven runs in four innings of a loss that dropped Ponson's record against Boston to 3-12 with a 6.92 ERA.

"Yeah, we're not too happy," said Yankee designated hitter Johnny Damon. "We knew we had a chance to tie them up in our division, gain a game on Tampa Bay, and we didn't quite do it. They were definitely better than us tonight. We came out ready to win this game, but unfortunately the first inning didn't work out the way we wanted to and a couple innings after that."

It won't show up in the box score, but Kevin Youkilis may have supplied the most energy with his aggressive play. Youkilis twice challenged the arms of outfielders successfully. He hustled from first to third on Ortiz's first-inning single, just beating a strong throw from right fielder Bobby Abreu.

"He went hard, he knew where the ball was, it was a good throw but that certainly helps set up the inning," Francona said. "It changes a lot of the dynamics of the inning."

In the sixth, after Ortiz's sacrifice fly had scored Ellsbury with Boston's eighth run of the night, Youkilis was still playing as if it was a one-run game, steaming home from second on base hit by Ramírez just ahead of a throw by left fielder Xavier Nady.

"That's how he plays," Francona said. "That's not lost on us. He gets down the line every single time."

Ellsbury, who has speed that Youkilis can only dream of, noticed.

"The big thing is, he makes good decisions on the bases," Ellsbury said. "You can have all the speed in the world and it means nothing if you don't make good decisions. Youks sees the situation, analyzes it very quickly, and makes a good decision."

Ramírez hit the ball hard in all five of his plate appearances. He doubled home Youkilis in the first, then ran through DeMarlo Hale's stop sign to score on Mike Lowell's two-run single. He doubled and scored on Jason Varitek's double in the third, flied to the triangle in center after Ortiz homered into the right-field seats, singled in a run in the sixth, and lined to right in the eighth.

The bottom three hitters in the Sox order - Varitek, Alex Cora, and Ellsbury -combined to go 6 for 12 with two doubles, two runs scored, and an RBI.

"Have good at-bats, it's going to happen, the hits are going to come," said Ellsbury, who had been hitting .212 in his last 32 games. "Eventually you're going to reap the benefits.

"Tonight the crowd was great from pitch 1, when Jon struck out Damon. The atmosphere of the crowd was different tonight, and maybe we fed off that."

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