As Adrian Beltre crossed home plate following his grand slam, one could have been excused for forgetting that the Sox offense had taken a blow earlier in the day, when it was announced that Kevin Youkilis would not be returning to the lineup this year.
But even without their cleanup hitter, there’s no denying that the Sox have power. They have Beltre, who has added more offense than even general manager Theo Epstein could have expected. And Beltre, along with David Ortiz, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Drew, will have to pick up the slack.
“We’ve got to battle back,” Ortiz said before the game. “We’ve got to keep on fighting. It’s not over yet.
“You can’t hang it up. Of course, you want to have Youk in the lineup doing his thing, helping us out the way he normally does. But if you can’t, you’ve got to try to compete and whatever happens, happens.
“Definitely, we’re going to try to fight back and put ourselves in a situation where we can be playing ball in October.”
The Sox started that process last night, beating the Indians, 6-2, in front of 38,102 at Fenway Park, behind the impressive pitching of their most enigmatic starter, Daisuke Matsuzaka.
After a split against the lowly Indians, the Sox begin a four-game series in New York tonight, trailing the Yankees by six games.
That could be attributed, in large part, to one swing by Beltre, in one of the few situations in which he hadn’t been successful this season. Prior to that at-bat, Beltre had been just 2 for 20 with the bases loaded, with five RBIs. He nearly doubled that total last night.
“I knew I’ve been horrible with the bases loaded this year,” Beltre said. “I think the main thing was I was too patient before. I wasn’t aggressive enough, and I’m an aggressive hitter. Last two times with the bases loaded I’ve been more aggressive, and today was the result.
“That’s baseball. Then sometimes when you know you’re doing bad, it gets in your head, and you don’t have confidence when you get to that position.”
It appears that won’t be the case anymore.
But now, without “probably the best hitter on the team,” as Beltre called Youkilis, the Sox third baseman will be relied on even more. He’s comfortable with that, though he won’t be happy if it means more teammates waiting for him at home plate to rub his head (which he doesn’t like) in front of a packed house.
“He’s meant a lot,” Bill Hall said of Beltre. “I don’t think you can put into words what he means to this team right now. With the production he’s had and the defense he’s played, he’s pretty much a godsend.”
He’s not alone in those sentiments.
“This is a special year for him,” Mike Lowell said. “When he gets his pitch, he’s crushing it. When he doesn’t, it seems like it still falls in for a hit. It’s a lot of hard work. He works real hard, we saw that even in spring training.
“I’ve seen him for a long time. I never really thought he was going to do poorly here, but I think he’s doing exceptionally well.”
Those words could also have been used to describe Matsuzaka’s performance last night, as he pitched into the seventh inning for the first time since June 7, allowing only a home run by Shin-Soo Choo in the first.
The righthander is 3-0 in his last five starts, during which the team has gone 4-1. During that period, Matsuzaka has a 2.48 ERA.
“He held his velocity,” manager Terry Francona said. “There were some pitches with his two-seamer that really had some depth to it. He pitched with confidence.”
The Sox trailed, 1-0, after three, having not reached base against Josh Tomlin. The Indians starter got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out to begin the fourth, but his fortune didn’t last. Marco Scutaro singled to left field. And after Ortiz flied out, Tomlin walked Martinez and Drew.
That brought up Beltre, who blasted the second pitch over the Monster for the eighth grand slam of his career and first since 2006, to put the Sox up, 4-1. He also extended his hitting streak to 11 games, during which time he’s batting .356.
“Huge,” Francona said. “It was a pretty quiet night. [Tomlin] was changing speeds, cutting the fastball, keeping us off-balance. It was quiet. But we worked a couple walks, and Beltre took another good swing, and obviously changed the whole complexion of the game.”
And led to a Sox win, as the team begins what Hall called “the telling part of the season,” heading to New York for the start of a 10-game trip that continues to Toronto and Texas.
“We had some games that we probably should have won on this homestand, but for the most part played pretty good baseball,” Hall said. “Leaving here with a winning homestand [4-3], and probably going on the most important road trip of the season, the most important 10 games of the season, obviously with the competition we’re playing and the magnitude of some of the games, it’s going to be important for us.
“It’s obviously a big win for us today. Hopefully it will give us some momentum going into tomorrow facing the Yankees, and cutting into that lead.”