If the Red Sox offense feels like a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma sometimes, that’s because it is.
No team’s scored more runs than the Sox, no team’s cranked out more hits, and no team’s better with runners in scoring position. Yet only two teams leave more runners on base, only three teams are worse with the bases loaded.
But when it clicks — as it has essentially all season — it does so on all cylinders.
A night after leaving 11 runners stranded and going 4 for 15 with runners in scoring position, the Sox hammered out double-digit hits for the 67th time this season, Dustin Pedroia was knocking on the door of some hitting history, and the Sox took a fire extinguisher to the Kansas City Royals’ red-hot starter Danny Duffy on the way to an 8-3 win that snapped a three-game losing streak.
With all the scoring opportunities the Sox create — they lead the AL in at-bats with runners in scoring position and the majors in at-bats with the bases loaded — Sox manager John Farrell wasn’t concerned about his team not cashing in.
“We’ve got very good hitters,” Farrell said. “Up and down the lineup, they’re good hitters so they’re going to create opportunities. The bases-loaded situation, to me it’s an outlier in some sense. Yeah, the numbers say what they are. We know that. There may be some times when guys are trying to maybe do a little too much at times. But still, there’s a lot of confidence in this group. We’re going to go up against good pitching. We’ve got the ability to handle those types of pitchers.”
Coming in, the matchup had the look of a pitcher’s duel between two of baseball’s best lefties in Duffy and David Price.
Duffy was as hot as anyone in baseball. He was riding a 10-game winning streak and he hadn’t given up more than two runs in any of his past five starts. But the Sox always had given him trouble. He’d made five starts against them in his career with an 0-3 record and a 5.61 ERA to show for it.
Things didn’t go much better for him this time around.
He was roughed up for seven runs on nine hits (both season highs) and knocked out of the game after five innings, his shortest start since June.
Meanwhile, David Price held the Royals to two runs on five hits in six innings, striking out seven to pick up his fourth straight win and up his record to 13-8.
The assault on Duffy started from the top down with Pedroia going 4 for 5 with two RBIs. Xander Bogaerts went 2 for 4 with a two-run homer and an RBI double. Hanley Ramirez went 2 for 4, hitting his 17th homer of the season.
Duffy found himself in trouble from the start.
Pedroia stroked a leadoff single to center to start the game. The next at-bat, it seemed like he’d overpower Bogaerts with his fastball after firing one in at 96 miles per hour that Bogaerts had to foul off. But when he dialed it up to 97 with the count full, it stayed in the middle of the plate and Bogaerts launched it into the Monster seats for his 16th homer of the season.
“That’s about as easy and as smooth a swing as Xander’s going to take and the power speaks for itself,” Farrell said.
The Royals got the runs back in the second, when Salvador Perez tagged Price for a solo homer (the 22d Price has allowed this season) and Alcides Escobar ripped an RBI double to the gap in left-center to tie it at 2, but Price kept them quiet the rest of the night while the Sox piled up runs.
Trying to work his way out of a slump, Jackie Bradley Jr. came through with an RBI ground-rule double over the short fence in right in the second inning. An at-bat later, Pedroia followed up by shooting a line drive down the left-field line that scored Bradley and gave the Sox a 4-2 lead.
Pedroia struck again in the fourth with a two-out RBI single.
In the fifth, Betts and Ramirez blew the game open with back-to-homers — almost to the exact same spot in the second row of the seats tucked in the corner of the Monster. The blast gave Betts 29 homers for the season and five homers in just 16 career games against the Royals.
The Sox added Duffy to a long list of elite pitchers they’ve manhandled this season, including Zack Greinke (nine runs), Dallas Keuchel (eight), Marcus Stroman (seven), and Jose Quintana (six).
“The one thing that stands out is I think we’ve been able to handle velocity very well,” Farrell said. “Big-time arms — we’ve got good bat speed in our lineup — we’re able to handle that. We get pitches on the plate — whether it’s Pedey, Mookie [Betts], Bogey, David [Oritz] obviously — we’ve got some guys that can handle velocity. That’s as good a power lefthander as we’re going to face anywhere in Duffy. He’s having a great year, but we were able to capitalize on some mistakes in the zone tonight.”
They went 4 for 9 with runners in scoring position and stranded just five runners. The win kept them a game behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East.
“I feel like earlier in the year, we were constantly hitting in those situations and now, the last couple of games, we haven’t,” Betts said. “Baseball’s definitely a game of ups and downs — we’re just on a down. We still have plenty of time to go and we can always turn that around real quick.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.