As Jackie Bradley Jr. stepped to the plate with one out in the fifth inning Tuesday, a thought startled him.
“I was the first one to get out, so I was like, ‘Don’t be the second one to get out, too,’ ” Bradley said of stepping to the plate after eight straight Red Sox had reached base in what eventually proved an eight-run inning that keyed a 10-4 win over the Cardinals.
“I feel like everybody was going up there and having a great approach. Kind of passing the torch.”
The torch flickered steadily rather than emitting a roaring fire, but it burned the Cardinals nonetheless. For St. Louis starter Mike Leake, it must have seemed like being swarmed by midges following Bradley’s leadoff fly out to left:
■ Eduardo Nunez single (102 m.p.h. exit velocity)
■ Mookie Betts single (83 exit velocity)
■ Andrew Benintendi hit by pitch above the knee (ouch)
■ Hanley Ramirez two-run double (111 exit velocity)
■ Rafael Devers intentional walk (the first of his career; there will be more)
■ Xander Bogaerts one-run single (109 exit velocity)
■ Mitch Moreland one-run single (87 exit velocity)
■ Sandy Leon two-run double (98 exit velocity)
■ Jackie Bradley Jr. one-run single (96 exit velocity)
■ Eduardo Nunez one-run single (103 exit velocity)
That’s a lot of hard contact wrapped around a little bit of luck leading to a lot of runs — without any home runs.
That last component — without any homers — has become a fascinating part of who the Red Sox are becoming. Even as they’ve seen an uptick in round-trippers and hard contact in August, the Sox are still last in the American League in homers. Yet they are putting crooked numbers on the board, as with Tuesday’s dramatic display.
“I think that shows our identity,” said Betts. “We understand that it doesn’t take home runs. We can beat people with a whole bunch of singles and doubles.
“Sometimes that’s worse [for a pitcher] than one three-run homer. You make the guy throw more pitches. It’s constant pressure. Having guys on base every inning is extra pressure.
“With a homer, he can kind of reset. The constant guys in scoring position — single here, single here, single there — I think that’s worse.”
Tuesday marked the third time this year the Sox have scored 10 or more runs in a game without a homer, tied for most in the big leagues. They have scored at least five runs without a homer 15 times, four more than any other team.
Caveat: Those numbers reflect in part the fact that the Sox have had 45 games this year in which they haven’t hit a homer — third-most in the big leagues. But whereas a team like the Yankees is almost entirely reliant on homers (they’re 3-22 when they don’t clear the fences), the Red Sox (21-24 when not homering, a .467 winning percentage) and Astros (11-12, .478) have distinguished themselves as the two teams that remain competitive even when not hitting homers.
It was just a couple of weeks ago that the other side of the contact coin came into view — that the balls in play found gloves rather than grass, and the Red Sox lineup looked woeful. Lineups built around contact rather than power are vulnerable to hot and cold stretches — ditto lineups built around power but not contact. (Again: See Yankees, New York.)
Ultimately, the measure of the Red Sox lineup will come in October, likely against sluggers like Cleveland’s Edwin Encarnacion or Houston’s waves of high-contact power hitters. But Red Sox newcomer Addison Reed has first-hand exposure to the idea that a team without much power can emerge as a postseason force.
In 2015, Reed and the Mets lost the World Series to a Royals team that had one of the lowest home run totals in the majors. Kansas City hit just two homers in the World Series, yet took the championship in five games.
“I don’t like the statement that home runs win championships,” said Reed. “I think a solid offense, whether it’s hitting the ball out of the park or getting some base hits, it doesn’t matter. Getting runs is the ultimate goal.
“Scrappy teams like [Kansas City] are always tough to face. You can throw a good 0-and-2 pitch. A home run hitter who’s swinging for the fences will swing over it. Guys just trying to flip one over to the outfield will put a nice little swing on it and get solid contact a lot of the time.”
That Royals team isn’t alone. Of the seven World Series winners since 2010, two finished in the bottom 10 in the majors in regular-season homers; five finished outside the top 10. Each of the last six World Series winners has had a higher runs-per-game rank than homer rank, suggesting an ability to manufacture runs rather than a reliance on a single big swing.
Meanwhile, each of the last seven champions finished in the top half of the big leagues in run prevention, with five of those clubs finishing in the top 10.
From that vantage point, the Red Sox — who now rank eighth in runs per game while having held opponents to the fourth-lowest average of runs per game — appear to have some notable similarities to recent World Series winners.
It would be a mistake to expect this offensive surge to continue indefinitely. Still, the fact that the Sox have had the best offense in the majors (6.15 runs per game) since the July 31 trade deadline suggests that they are a team capable of championship-caliber bursts.
|2017||Red Sox||4.8 (8)||124 (26)||4.0 (4)|
|2016||Cubs||5.0 (3)||199 (13)||3.4 (1)|
|2015||Royals||4.5 (7)||139 (24)||4.0 (9)|
|2014||Giants||4.1 (12)||132 (17)||3.8 (9)|
|2013||Red Sox||5.3 (1)||178 (6)||4.1 (13)|
|2012||Giants||4.4 (12)||103 (30)||4.0 (8)|
|2011||Cardinals||4.7 (5)||162 (13)||4.3 (15)|
|2010||Giants||4.3 (17)||162 (T-10)||3.6 (2)|
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.