The consistent Red Sox keep proving they can beat up the bad teams, as they did in their weekend sweep of the White Sox in a series in which they once again avoided the top pitcher on a team’s staff (Chris Sale for Chicago).
But now the big boys come to town for three games starting Monday.
The Detroit Tigers, who very well could be the Red Sox’ playoff foe for the American League pennant, took three out of four against the Red Sox June 20-23. The Red Sox have a chance to atone for that and show they can compete against the team with the toughest pitching, which also features the best player in baseball, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, and old friend Jose Iglesias, who has improved their defense at shortstop since taking over for Jhonny Peralta, who is serving a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.
“This is the last quarter of the season and you want to make sure you win some games,” said David Ortiz, who knocked in three runs in a 7-6 win over the White Sox before a sellout crowd at Fenway Park Sunday afternoon. “We’re in it. We’re going to try to keep playing well.”
“That’s a team [Detroit] that’s going back and forth with us and hopefully with this series we’ll pull something better out of it,” said Ortiz, who is now two hits shy of 2,000 for his career.
The Red Sox’ lead is starting to grow in the American League East (it’s now 5½ games) as Tampa Bay fades and Baltimore and New York knock each other off. After the series against Detroit, Boston has four games at New York and three at Tampa Bay. So the next 11 games are very important, as they’ll either vault the Red Sox into a runaway or make the race closer.
The Red Sox very well could finish with the best record in the league and then have to face the winner of the wild-card game, which for the moment would be a rematch of the weekend series between the A’s and Rays. The Red Sox likely will battle the Tigers for that honor.
“We know we’re going to get good pitching thrown at us and one of the best offenses in the game,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Any time you have to face Cabrera, [Prince] Fielder, and the big guys in that order, it’ll be important for us to contain the guys ahead of them and do what we can to keep them off base, and hopefully our starters can pitch the way they have.”
(Cabrera has been held out of recent games because of an abdominal injury.)
Red Sox pitchers had gone 11 starts without giving up more than three runs before Sunday, when Felix Doubront allowed four runs on seven hits and a walk over 3⅔ innings, matching his shortest outing of the season. But the Red Sox got good relief work from eventual winner Brandon Workman, Franklin Morales, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, and finally Koji Uehara, who earned his 16th save with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Doubront, who allowed four runs in the fourth inning, said, “I was missing my spots. I lost confidence in my breaking ball. I don’t want to remember it.”
The game seemed to turn on a call in the bottom of the fourth by third base umpire Paul Nauert, who ruled that third baseman Conor Gillaspie didn’t catch Dustin Pedroia’s line drive, a play on which Gillaspie dived for the bag thinking he could double up Jacoby Ellsbury. Gillaspie then threw wildly to first, with Pedroia safe and Ellsbury scoring. Ortiz followed with a single that scored Pedroia.
Replays showed Gillaspie did catch the liner but then dropped the ball as he dived to tag Ellsbury, who was off the bag. Ellsbury was indeed safe, but there likely should have been an out recorded on the play. White Sox manager Robin Ventura argued that in vain and was ejected.
“[Nauert] felt he didn’t control it all the way and I felt that he did and he was going for the second out,’’ Ventura said. “Obviously we didn’t agree.’’
Ortiz’s single gave Boston a 7-4 lead from which the White Sox couldn’t recover.
The Red Sox scored four runs in the second inning, with Ellsbury (single) and Ortiz (double) each knocking in a pair with big hits.
“I went up there with one thing in mind,” Ortiz said about his double, off Andre Rienzo. “I know that in a situation like that, there’s two things that you can do, you can throw a strike or run away, you know what I’m saying? He threw me a strike on the first pitch and I was ready for it and I hit it.”
Ortiz has reached in eight of his last 11 plate appearances after going through an 0-for-23 slump.
The game, which lasted 3:39 after a 19-minute rain delay at the start, saw the White Sox labor for 168 pitches (the Red Sox threw 178), counter to their philosophy of pounding the strike zone and playing right into Boston’s strategy of grinding out at-bats. The White Sox not only did not attack Boston hitters, they played a bad defensive series.
“I wouldn’t say it intimidates them, but it wears them out because every time they’ve got to go seven pitches against one hitter that gets you tired and pretty much everyone was just trying to get a pitch to hit,” Ortiz said.
Uehara improved his scoreless string to 21 appearances and 24 innings. He’s retired 18 straight batters.
“We’ve seen the consistency from start to finish,” Farrell said about Uehara. “He has saved our tail end all year long. It’s very calming from our perspective. We hope that run continues. Not only has he been efficient, he’s in complete control, whether it’s an inning or an inning and a third. It’s a calming inning.”
And he’s doing it with 90-mile-per-hour velocity.
“When you look at the radar gun, it’s just a measurement,” Farrell said. “There hasn’t been increase or decrease in velocity, but maybe improved consistency of command, and that goes to the few number of pitches that he throws. Kind of marvel at what he’s doing over a stretch of time.”
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said the key with Uehara is his split-fingered fastball because, “he can just spot it anywhere he wants and then he’s able to elevate the fastball and get it by hitters. He’s fun to catch because he sets up hitters so well.”
The Red Sox are playing the schedule. Beating the teams they should beat.
Here come the Tigers (and by the way, the Sox avoid Justin Verlander, although they do have to face Max Scherzer in the three-game set).
What a statement the Red Sox could make early this week.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.