Over the last two months, Felix Doubront has established a pattern of consistency the Red Sox have come to expect whenever he takes the mound.
“He’s working six and seven innings each time out, low runs,’’ noted manager John Farrell. “And probably the last five or six of those starts, he’s gotten into the rhythm of the game much earlier than maybe the first half of the season or month and a half of the season.’’
Although he took the mound under less than ideal pitching conditions Friday night, with the temperature at an oven-baked Fenway Park near triple digits three hours before game time, Doubront worked in rhythm and paced the Sox to a 4-2 victory over the Yankees before a sellout crowd of 38,130.
Farrell said Doubront’s recent success is a function of repetition and experience.
“He’s certainly gained a lot of confidence over the last couple of months,’’ Farrell said. “He’s trusting his fastball a lot more on the plate and not trying to be so fine. And he’s got a four-pitch mix working that he’s used right out of the gate not only to establish his fastball, but use his other stuff to allow himself some breathing room inside the strike zone.
“He doesn’t have to be so pinpoint by just trying to establish his fastball solely.”
Despite oppressive heat and humidity, Doubront never let the Yankees see him sweat.
The 25-year-old lefthander outdueled his 41-year-old Yankees counterpart, Andy Pettitte, by going 6⅓ innings and allowing just one earned run (two overall) on three hits and three walks while ringing up five strikeouts.
When asked to compare Doubront and Pettitte (7-7, 4.47 ERA), Yankees manager Joe Girardi hesitated, saying they were “different types of pitchers.’’
But Girardi did make one distinction, saying, “Andy didn’t have that kind of changeup when he was that young.’’
Doubront effectively mixed his changeup with three other pitches to improve to 7-3 and lower his ERA to 3.76. He has allowed three or fewer earned runs in each of his last 12 starts, which matched Bill Lee (1973) for the longest such streak by a Sox lefthander in the live-ball era (since 1920).
“I’m just more focused on going deep in the game,’’ Doubront said. “I’m just trying to go deep and help the team win the game, keep the score down, and let my team score more runs.’’
The Sox, who are now 11-6 in Doubront’s starts this season, provided support early when Jacoby Ellsbury belted a leadoff homer to right in the first and Jonny Gomes followed in the second by taking Pettitte deep to the Green Monster seats for a two-run homer that spotted Doubront a 3-0 lead.
Doubront kept the Yankees handcuffed through three innings before the Bombers pushed across an unearned run when Brett Gardner walked, stole second, and then stole third and scored on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s errant throw.
That did little to disrupt Doubront’s rhythm, which he established with a 1-2-3 first inning.
“I just try to stay focused and go ahead and throw the first strike and get a rhythm for the whole game,’’ he said.
Was there any pitch in particular that helped him establish that rhythm?
“Any pitch,’’ Doubront said. “That’s pretty much the attitude. Just be aggressive and confident about all my pitches. I threw all my pitches to get outs. I just have to be more consistent.’’
When Doubront struck out Gardner on a called third strike to end the fifth inning, which stranded catcher Chris Stewart at second, the Yankees center fielder grabbed the bill of his helmet with both hands and emphatically spiked it. Gardner’s reaction resulted in his ejection by plate umpire Mike Everitt.
“He gave us an opportunity to win and kept the game in check and just another solid effort on his part,’’ Farrell said of Doubront, who is 3-1 with a 2.17 ERA in six career starts against the Yankees. He is the first Sox pitcher to open his career with six quality starts against New York since Dutch Leonard (first nine starts, beginning in 1913).
“I knew I had to prepare for the Yankees and those hitters,’’ Doubront said. “They can give you problems, facing those guys and the whole team. The big thing is be a winner. Be more aggressive with them and try to win the game.’’
Doubront did not want to deviate from the pattern of success he had established in the first half.
“You know, keeping this pace, everything is going to get better,’’ he said. “I’m trying my best, I’m playing my best and I’m playing with confidence and the attitude to leave it all on the mound to win the game.’’