ARLINGTON, Texas — As first-inning scoring strikes went, the Red Sox’ three-run first Sunday struck A.J. Pierzynski as strange.
The Sox couldn’t have asked for the table to be set much more neatly.
Dustin Pedroia led off with a double to left-center. Shane Victorino dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move him over.
Then, Rangers manager Ron Washington threw in an odd wrinkle.
There was only one out. David Ortiz was coming to the plate. Granted, Ortiz had torched the Rangers for a homer and a double the night before, but with Robbie Ross on the mound, the Rangers had the lefty-lefty matchup.
Washington, figuring it best not to tempt fate, decided to intentionally walk Ortiz.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a guy walked with a guy on third and one out in the first inning,” Mike Napoli said. “But they decided that was the right strategy.”
Napoli immediately made Washington regret it with an RBI double to right.
But after Jonny Gomes popped to second, Pierzynski came to the plate with runners on second and third and a chance to do more damage.
Pierzynski had a good handle on Ross’s arsenal from his time in Texas a year ago.
“I know Robbie obviously from playing here last year,” he said. “He’s got a good little slider, good cutter, and I was just looking for something out over the plate. Just to get a ball on the plate. His ball moves so much that you’ve got to get him on the plate and take it from there.”
Ross tried to get Pierzynski to chase a few sliders down and away, but Pierzynski wouldn’t bite. He waited until Ross left a slider out over the plate and shot it to right field for a two-run single.
“Luckily it was up and I was able to get it to the outfield,” Pierzynski said.
With the early runs, the Red Sox were able to cruise to a 5-2 win, taking two of three from the Rangers and winning a season series against Texas for the first time since 2008.
When the Sox have hung runs on the board lately, Pierzynski’s generally been in on the action.
In his past 14 games, Pierzynski is hitting .320 and his overall average has jumped from .235 to .277. He’s driven in 10 runs and scored seven.
“He’s come up with men on in key spots,” manager John Farrell said. “He’s a confident hitter, one with a long track record, and he’s been in the middle of a number of scoring opportunities.
“With guys on base, they know he’s going to be aggressive, but I don’t think he’s expanding particularly up above the strike zone as much. He’s come up big.”
Aside from a few conversations with hitting coach Greg Colbrunn, Pierzynski said his approach at the plate hasn’t changed much. His aggressiveness is the same, but he’s made a concerted effort not to chase after pitches. When he’s gotten pitches he likes, he’s put solid swings on them.
“Just trying to get a good pitch,” Pierzynski said. “That’s kind of my whole thing. If I get a good pitch I usually put a good swing on it. When I get in trouble is when I expand and get out of the strike zone.”
Early runs had been hard to come by for the Red Sox until recently. And when they fall behind, they’ve had a hard time recovering, going 5-15 when opponents score first. But when they jump ahead, they’ve generally stayed there, going 14-3 when they strike first.
For Pierzynski, the biggest benefit of coming up with a key hit early was giving starter John Lackey a cushion and seeing him settle into a seven-inning, two-run, nine-strikeout performance.
“It gives him confidence,” Pierzynski said. “It helps him relax. It helps him kind of settle in. And we know the Rangers can score runs, especially in this park. So it puts pressure on the other team.
“It puts pressure on them to say, ‘Hey man, we can’t give up any more runs because we don’t know if we’re going to be able to score that many.’ Especially the way Lack’s been pitching. It was nice to do that early and we added just enough runs to keep it where it was.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.