After an unconvincing but successful week against New York and Detroit -- two teams a combined 58 games below .500 -- the Red Sox raised their recent surge to a new level of believability last night with a doubleheader sweep of the California Angels.
It was still twilight and fans were scattered around Fenway Park when the Sox trounced righthander Bert Blyleven en route to an 8-4 victory in the first game. It was raining steadily and the team had counted its 2 millionth fan of the season when the second game was called with the Sox leading, 13-5, in the bottom of the eighth.
The sweep gave the Sox (67-65) their ninth consecutive victory, extending the longest winning streak of the season. The team made up more ground in one night than it did in the previous week and pulled within four games of the Orioles, the slimmest deficit since Aug. 14.
“You guys have been writing about how bad the Tigers are,” catcher Rick Cerone said. “I guess we messed up your stories.”
If the last week begged for credentials, the Sox found some in Blyleven (14-3), who had won 10 consecutive decisions going back to May 20, a streak that included six no-decisions. Blyleven, who gave up seven runs in three innings, had given up no more than five earned runs this season; the Sox scored that many in the first inning, which included a two-out, three-run homer by Dwight Evans.
Boston broke open the second game with a nine-run fourth, the team’s largest inning in two years. The Sox had 30 hits -- 14 in the first game, 16 in the second.
Neither Red Sox starter, Mike Smithson nor Eric Hetzel, lasted long enough to earn the victory. In fact, Boston starters have failed to pitch five innings in five of the nine victories, but an effective bullpen and the team’s most potent offense of the season is currently propelling the streak.
In the second, every starter except Wade Boggs had at least one RBI. Boggs nevertheless had two hits in the fourth inning of Game 2 and six hits on the night.
“We’ve got to beat everybody we play,” said Smithson. “Hopefully it’s not too late.”
Smithson was pulled after 2 2/3 innings, a move he felt was premature, but Dennis Lamp replaced him and pitched four more shutout innings.
“Lamp’s been unbelievable; I can’t remember the last time he had a bad outing,” manager Joe Morgan said between games. The righthander has allowed just four earned runs in his last 35 innings and has prevented the last 12 runners he has inherited from scoring.
It seemed like the mid-’60s as the Sox started hammering at Blyleven: There were scattered patches of fans but mostly empty seats, and the park was relatively quiet. That made it all the more incongruous as Boston marched to a five-run first against the righthander.
Boggs led off with a double off the left-center-field wall. Marty Barrett then hit a single to right on Blyleven’s first pitch to him, and Ellis Burks drove in his 20th run of the month with a ground ball that forced Barrett at second.
Blyleven had walked no more than three batters in any game this season, but he walked Mike Greenwell, putting runners on first and second. When torrid Nick Esasky struck out, it seemed like a huge break for the Angels, but Danny Heep followed with an inside-out, off-field double to left, scoring Burks from second.
“I just got behind in the count a lot,” Blyleven said. “I fell behind to Boggs and that started it off. Then after the strikeout I thought I might get out of it with only two runs, but . . .”
Evans’ home run brought back memories of last year, when almost every one of his big hits down the stretch was a homer. He did not seem to get all of this one; it sounded dull as it left his bat and Evans, who usually knows it when it’s gone, took off. But it carried into the net nonetheless. It was his first homer at Fenway since July 31 against Baltimore.
Blyleven was obviously laboring. He retired the side in order in the second -- on 24 pitches. In the third, Greenwell hit a one-out single that almost hopped over Claudell Washington’s head, and Esasky followed with a ground-rule double down the left-field line (a fan tipped the ball).
Heep drove in one run with a ground ball to second. Evans then absolutely crushed Blyleven’s first pitch about halfway up the Wall; he ended up with a single but scored the run, giving the Sox a 7-3 lead. Angels manager Doug Rader started the fourth with righthander Rich Monteleone; the Sox scored one off him on a Boggs double off the Wall. Left fielder Chili Davis had trouble playing the carom, then overthrew the cutoff man.
Smithson did not seem entirely thrilled when he left the mound in the third. He had given up six hits, and he might have been out of the inning had Jody Reed been able to field Brian Downing’s hard grounder toward the hole.
However, it is easy to sense he was vulnerable. Before the error, Downing hit a foul ball that probably slammed off The Cask at the corner of Lansdowne Street and Brookline Avenue. In the second, the Angels put runners on first and second with one out on Davis’ chopping single up the middle and Downing’s double down the left-field line.
Davis scored on a ground ball and Downing scored on Jack Howell’s single. By the time Wally Joyner drove in Washington with a one-out double in the third, the Angels seemed very much back in the game. The double had come after Smithson just missed in an attempt to pick off Washington at second.
Lamp came in and retired Lance Parrish on a fly ball to center. He did not give up consecutive hits. He was lifted after allowing a one-out single to Devon White in the seventh. The inning could have been damaging. However, White inexplicably tried to stretch the hit into a double, and Burks, with little effort, threw him out out at second.
The Red Sox led, 12-2, in the fifth inning of the second game on the strength of a nine-run fourth, their biggest inning of the season. Boggs had two hits in the inning, Evans scored twice, and during one stretch, nine consecutive batters reached base.
Burks had a two-run single, as did Heep. Reed (single), Esasky (bases- loaded walk), Luis Rivera (single) and Rick Cerone (ground ball) drove in runs. The other run scored in Willie Fraser’s wild pitch to Heep.
The inning blew open what had been a 3-2 game. Down, 1-0, in the first, the Sox scored three in the bottom half, two on a double by Greenwell.
Old friend Tony Armas came back in the top of the fifth to crack a three- run homer, and it stood 12-5.