When Albert Pujols’s first-inning fly ball shot so high and deep that it seemed like it would bring one of the few clouds in the Fenway skyline down with it, Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster barely gave it a passing glance.
He had given up other home runs this season. Twelve to be exact, tied for the ninth-highest total in baseball.
But, like most of the homers he’s allowed, the moonball Pujols sent into the Red Sox bullpen came with no one on base.
“Things like the solo homers,” Dempster said, “when you’re up a bunch of runs, they don’t hurt you.”
But when Dempster dotted Pujols in the ribs with a 1-and-0 fastball in the third inning, it hurt him as much as it hurt Pujols.
On Dempster’s list of pitching don’ts, allowing free passage ranks higher than homers.
Surveying the situation Sunday, with the Sox down a run early and Mark Trumbo lurking on deck, the last thing Dempster wanted was a base runner.
“I’m not trying to put extra runners on base right there,” Dempster said. “It’s just one of those things where hit batters are part of the game.”
Leaving the batter’s box, Pujols shot Dempster a long, stone-faced stare.
But Dempster never saw it. He was already thinking about the next pitch.
“Did he stare?” Dempster said. “I didn’t know that.”
Dempster threw a wild pitch and walked Trumbo to load the bases, but got out of trouble. Then the Sox hung up four runs in the bottom of the third, giving Dempster some rare run support.
Dempster allowed three runs on six hits over six innings and struck out six while watching the Sox lineup get its licks on Angels starter Joe Blanton in a 10-5 win.
Dempster (4-6) received 18 runs of support in his first eight starts, and in half of his first 12 outings the Sox trailed when he left the mound.
The last two time Dempster’s been on the hill, the Sox have piled up 24 runs.
“That’s the way the game goes,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “You go out there and pitch great and give up one, two runs, but you lose, 2-0, 1-0. You go out there and give up a couple homers or a couple runs and all of a sudden you’re winning, 10-3.
“But he’s been great for us all year. There were a couple of outings where he lost his control a little bit but that’s a credit to him. He found it. He came back, worked on it, and he’s pitching great.”
The biggest lifts came from David Ortiz (2 for 4 with a homer) and Saltalamacchia (2 for 4, two home runs, four RBIs).
Ortiz’s three-run blast in the third allowed Dempster to pitch freely. It was Ortiz’s 13th homer of the season, third in the past four games, and second in less than 24 hours.
Dempster gave up a solo shot to Alberto Callaspo in the fourth and an RBI single to Trumbo in the fifth, but Saltalamacchia and Mike Carp hit back-to-back homers in the sixth to keep the Sox in command.
“Any time a starter gets a cushion to go out and pitch with, they don’t feel like every pitch is make or break,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “Their back isn’t against the wall so it gives them a little more breathing room. Not that they would coast or take anything for granted, but you’re able to go out and pitch with a little more relaxation and typically that’s when a pitcher’s best stuff is going to come out.”
Five strikeouts from 2,000 for his career when he took the mound, Dempster used his trusty weapons — his slider and his splitter — to fan six. He reached the milestone in the sixth inning when Callaspo waved at a 1-and-2 splitter, joining Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins as the only Canadians to reach the plateau.
“Speaks volumes for the longevity and productivity,” Farrell said.
Having lived several lives as a pitcher — in both leagues, as both a starter and a reliever — Dempster found the milestone significant.
But only for a moment.
“That’s probably the biggest thing, just longevity,” Dempster said. “To be able to be around long enough and hang on long enough to be able to do something like that. I’m sure when I’m all done playing that I’ll look back and maybe enjoy it a little bit more, but it is cool. I never play the game for stats, I play to win. But you look back and think, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of strikeouts.’ ”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.