David Ortiz was on first base in the fifth inning Thursday night when Mike Carp drove a single into center field.
Ortiz, running hard with two outs, hit second base and headed for third. The crowd at Fenway Park cheered like they were watching the 100-meter final at the Olympics.
As for the Red Sox dugout, “Everyone was screaming and yelling,” starting pitcher Clay Buchholz said after a 7-2 victory against the Houston Astros.
Going first to third on a two-out single is routine for most players. But not for a 37-year-old, 230-pound designated hitter who started the season on the disabled list recovering from a strained right Achilles’ tendon.
“We need David and seeing him play like that had everybody smiling,” Buchholz said. “It’s huge for our team.”
Ortiz was 3 for 4 with his first home run of the year, two runs batted in, and three runs in support of Buchholz. He is 11 of 20 with four extra-base hits and five RBIs in five games since being activated.
“It’s remarkable the timing that he’s displayed, particularly after the layoff that he’s had,” manager John Farrell said. “Even guys in the dugout are kind of marveling at what he’s been able to do. Not only contact, but driving the baseball.”
Ortiz didn’t play any games in spring training. His only preparation was six games and 18 at-bats with Triple A Pawtucket.
“I’ve been working to stay short and quick to the ball. Not try to do too much,” Ortiz said. “I always tell you guys, I’m old enough to know what it takes to be what I want to be.”
Ortiz’s home run was a booming shot to straightaway center field in the third inning off Houston starter Philip Humber. The ball landed several rows back, an impressive poke on an April night. Usually you don’t see that kind of carry at Fenway until the summer months.
“Crushed it,” said Ortiz, who has a 17-game hitting streak dating to last July.
But the best aspect of the game for Ortiz was how well he moved on the bases. In addition to his journey in the fifth inning, he scored from second on a single in the first.
If the 15-7 Red Sox are to contend into the heart of the season, a healthy Ortiz is a necessity. Thursday was the first time he ran without any apparent hesitation.
“It feels good. Those are the kind of tests that I’ve got to go through and get used to,” Ortiz said. “Once I do that, I get more comfortable and my mind realizes that I have to continue doing things like that.”
Buchholz (5-0) allowed two runs on six hits over 7⅔ innings for the win. He walked two and struck out 10. Buchholz is the first pitcher in the majors to get to five victories.
“Things are going right right now,” Buchholz said. “When a ball’s hit, even a hard ball, it seems like it’s right at somebody. That doesn’t happen like that all the time, so you have to savor it while it is.”
Buchholz has pitched at least seven innings in each of his five starts and has yet to allow more than two earned runs in a game. The last major leaguer to do that in the first five starts of a season was Livan Hernandez in 2002.
How unusual is Buchholz’s 1.19 earned run average after five starts? The last Red Sox pitcher to go lower was Roger Clemens, who was at 0.66 after five starts in 1991. The Rocket went on to win the Cy Young Award that season.
The return of Farrell as manager has clearly made a difference. In the two years Farrell was away managing Toronto, Buchholz struggled early in the season. He had an 8.69 ERA after five starts last season, 5.33 after five starts in 2011.
“Past couple of years I’ve been a slow starter,” he said. “It feels good to get out there and following up spring training with a little bit of confidence and not feeling like there’s anything that I have to fix.”
Buchholz and Jon Lester are 9-0 with a 1.69 earned run average. The Sox have won all 10 games they have started. Led by their top two starters, the Red Sox have been in first place for 26 consecutive days. That is a team record to start a season.
The low-budget Astros, new members of the American League, are at Fenway this week for the first time since 2003. Before the game, several of their young players were on the field early snapping photographs of the Green Monster like they were eager tourists fresh off the plane.
The fun ended when the Sox scored four runs in the first inning.
Daniel Nava, batting second in place of the injured Shane Victorino, walked and took second on a passed ball. Dustin Pedroia followed with an RBI single.
After Pedroia stole second base, Ortiz drove him in with a single to right field. When the throw from Rick Ankiel sailed over the catcher’s head, Ortiz jogged to second base.
Mike Napoli struck out. But Ortiz was able to score when Mike Carp doubled to right. Carp then scored on a single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Humber allowed seven runs on 10 hits over 4⅔ innings. The righthander threw a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners last April 21 while a member of the Chicago White Sox. He is 4-10 with a 7.52 ERA since.
Humber is 0-5 this season with an ERA that has climbed to 7.99. Humber, believe it or not, is Houston’s No. 3 starter.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.