It was a night of returns.
The return of Kevin Youkilis to Fenway Park with his new (White) Sox; he stroked three hits and refused to escalate the Youk-Bobby V wars before or after the game. The fans treated him well with those affectionate “Youuuuk” chants, but they got the best of both worlds by paying tribute and also watching Youkilis’s team lose, 5-1, before the largest Fenway crowd of the season, 38,334.
Carl Crawford’s return was more important for Boston. Crawford played for the first time in 90 games after a series of injuries, and he reached twice with a single and a walk and scored twice.
“It was just so exciting to be back out there,” said Crawford, who handled one fly ball in left. “I just wanted to do something to help our team win. It’s been a long time.”
It was also the return to power of Adrian Gonzalez. He struck for a three-run homer in the eighth inning that broke a 1-1 deadlock, which had been fueled by very good pitching performances by the Red Sox’ Aaron Cook and Chicago’s Dylan Axelrod. Neither was around for the decision, but Cook allowed just five hits in seven innings and one unearned run (on a Gonzalez throwing error).
But even in prosperity there was concern, as David Ortiz will have an MRI Tuesday to determine if there’s any damage to his right Achilles’ tendon, which he injured while rounding second base while accelerating and then stopping awkwardly on Gonzalez’s homer.
That’s an example of this snake-bitten season, as Red Sox have already put 21 players on the disabled list.
“We’re not going to lose him for long,” manager Bobby Valentine said of Ortiz. “We’ve been going through this all year. We’re prepared for it.”
The Red Sox, fresh off winning two out of three against Tampa Bay, fought the White Sox for seven innings before Gonzalez unloaded on a 2-and-1 count from lefty Leyson Septimo.
Valentine had put out a lineup with four lefthanded hitters at the top vs. Axelrod. But in the eighth, with Axelrod gone after 6⅔ fine innings, manager Robin Ventura kept in Septimo, who had retired Jacoby Ellsbury for the final out of the seventh.
A lefty pitcher facing the 2-3-4 lefthanded hitters in the Sox order didn’t seem to bother the Sox hitters.
Crawford and Ortiz both walked before Gonzalez unloaded for his seven homer. With four RBIs on the night, it gave him 50 for the season.
“When you can hit lefties, it really doesn’t matter,” said Gonzalez. “Our guys can hit lefties.”
Valentine said of the Gonzalez homer, “Well, it was big. It really inspired us to victory, that’s for sure. We were dull there for a while. He got the first RBI in the first inning [on the third of three straight singles by Crawford, Ortiz, and Gonzalez]. He showed a lot of patience and delivered.”
Gonzalez said he was looking for a fastball. He put his typical inside-out swing on it. The long ball had been largely missing from his game this season.
“I’m not concerned about home runs,” Gonzalez said. “I’m concerned with getting a single right here.”
Valentine had hoped to get a win for Cook “because he deserved it. He cramped up a little there after the seventh inning and did a heck of a job. Got his ground balls, got his quick outs. Their guy matched him pitch for pitch, kept us off stride with that breaking ball, throwing away to our righthanders and away to our lefthanders. I was glad to see him leave.”
Valentine said he enjoyed watching Cook because of his efficiency.
“That’s what he does,” he said. “When you have that sinker, you pitch to contact. He’s not going to walk anyone. Very few guys are going to get on with a free pass. He’s going to pound that zone with the pitch that moves down to try to get them to hit the top of the ball. You saw in the seventh they hit the bottom of the ball a couple of times, and that’s a sign. But he had a really good sinker tonight.”
Valentine also commented on the spark provided by Crawford.
“He gets a base hit, scores a run [in the first], has a real patient at-bat in the eighth inning. You know he wants to do something special right there and he does,” Valentine said.
The Sox added one more run for good measure in the eighth when Mike Aviles singled in Cody Ross. Vicente Padilla pitched an impressive eighth and Alfredo Aceves worked the ninth to preserve the win.
After Youkilis singled in the first inning, he scored on Gonzalez’s throwing error. The Sox tied it in their half.
Other than a two-out Pedro Ciriaco double down the right-field line in the second and a two-out double off the left-center-field wall by Ross in the sixth, Axelrod, 26, who entered the game 1-2 with a 6.16 ERA (and 0-2 with a 7.11 ERA as a starter), cruised. He went through the Sox lineup easily in the third, fourth, and fifth, striking out the side in the fourth. Ross, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Will Middlebrooks each struck out twice in their first two at-bats.
With Cook’s outing, the Red Sox are four games into their six-man rotation experiment. They would like to stay in it as long as possible, but one problem is that it takes one bullpen spot away and adds it to the rotation. One benefit is that starters can be used on their days to throw out of the bullpen for an inning or two in a game. The Sox are trying to manage the innings of Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales and don’t mind giving Cook, who has experienced shoulder problems in the past, more time to recuperate between starts.
Cook certainly looked sharp again. Of the four White Sox hits through five innings, three were by Youkilis with a single and two doubles, but only his first-inning single was damaging.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.