What a perfecta: A pitcher who spent his winter battling skin cancer and a hitter who devoted his offseason to fighting a two-year assignment with Japan’s Chunichi Dragons.
Together, the former cancer patient, Derek Lowe, and the anti-Chunichi, Kevin Millar, joined forces last night with the Hit Machine, Nomar Garciaparra, to lead the Red Sox in a good old-fashioned whupping of the lowly Detroit Tigers, 10-1, before 33,848 on an evening of balmy bliss at Fenway Park.
Garciaparra chipped in by going 5 for 5 and scoring three runs just three days after he matched a club record by going 6 for 6 against the Phillies.
“It’s fun to be part of these kinds of games,” said Garciaparra, who also made a couple of dazzling defensive plays. “I like these.”
While Lowe smothered the anemic Detroit lineup, surrendering a lone run on seven hits and a pair of walks over eight innings to improve to 8-3, Millar powered the Sox by going 4 for 5 with a double and matching his career high by knocking in five runs.
“I tell you what, it’s been a big blessing putting on this jersey every night,” Millar said. “This is what it’s all about. This is why I wanted to stay here and play for the Sox.”
All in all, it was a moveable feast for the Sox, as they devoured Detroit pitching to make their recent slump look like a stale appetizer. Every Sox starter reached base as they had 17 hits and seven walks. The 10 runs were their most since a 13-1 rout of the Cardinals June 11 at Fenway, where the Sox have rolled to a 24-11 record, second best in the American League.
Better yet, the Sox caught the Blue Jays to share second place in the AL East, two games behind the Yankees.
“Games like this, all they do is build everybody’s confidence,” Lowe said. “Hopefully, we can go out there [today] and win another game.”
Facing a Detroit starter, Nate Cornejo, who has struck out only 15 batters in 86 innings this season (the worst ratio among AL starters), the Sox were primed to make contact, and they did like crazy. They doubled, it seemed, almost at will, banging out six two-base hits to increase their season total to 201, tops in the majors.
Johnny Damon? He doubled to drive in two runs and extend his hitting streak to 13 games.
Bill Mueller? He interrupted his .188 funk over the last 17 games with a run-scoring double.
Manny Ramirez? He doubled in going 2 for 4, scoring three runs.
David Ortiz? A double, sacrifice fly, and two runs.
Jason Varitek? He doubled, knocked in a run, and scored one.
No need to recount the 11 singles. By the time Hector Almonte inherited the nine-run lead in the ninth, the Tigers were toast.
“It was a good game to watch, a good clean game,” manager Grady Little said. “And it was something we needed.”
Garciaparra set the table all night as he boosted his average this month to .430 and his average in the Fens this year to .417. Yes, he feels more comfortable than he did last year when he was still recovering from surgery on his right wrist in 2001. But, no, don’t ask him about his growing portfolio of statistical achievements. Let him enjoy the moment.
“When you see a team hitting like we were hitting, and you see Derek Lowe going out there and getting his team back in the dugout so they can keep swinging, it kind of snowballs,” he said. “That’s why we were able to put the runs up we did and come out with a good win.”
The Tigers should have struck against Lowe when they had an early chance, before he found his groove. Lowe, who walked only 48 batters in 219 2/3 innings last year, already has walked 37 in 96 2/3 innings this year. And he gave the Tigers an opportunity in the first when ex-Sox farmhand Warren Morris walked and Bobby Higginson reached on an infield single.
But Lowe stomped on the seeds of the rally by fanning Detroit’s most dangerous hitter, Dmitri Young. He cruised from there, allowing only two harmless singles until the seventh, when the Tigers pushed across a run.
“Derek Lowe is throwing the ball awesome,” Millar said. “This guy’s got his sinker back. When he’s got a ball moving like that, he’s getting ground balls. He gave us eight great innings and that’s what set the tone.”
While Lowe cruised, the Sox pecked away at Tiger pitching, starting with Cornejo (six runs on 10 hits and three walks) and continuing with another former Boston farmhand, Wilfredo Ledezma (two runs on two hits and three walks).
The Sox capped it by tagging Franklyn German for two more runs in the eighth.
“We know we can hit,” Little said. “We hit a little dry spell there, but these guys can hit from top to bottom, and we are proud of that.”