BOSTON — Feel free to use your moniker of choice.
Core Four. Fantastic Four. Four Horsemen. Whatever.
The simple fact is this: The four players remaining from Boston’s 2007 World Series team have played a major role in the Red Sox opening up a 2-0 series lead over the Rays in the ALDS.
Jon Lester dazzled for 7 1/3 innings in Friday’s Game 1 victory, further solidifying his status as Boston’s go-to workhorse in the rotation. David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury kept the Red Sox’ good times rolling Saturday by leading another relentless offensive attack against Rays ace David Price.
Ortiz drilled two homers, Ellsbury finished with three hits and Pedroia drove in three runs as the Red Sox defeated the Rays 7-4 in Game 2.
“I think the beauty of our team is that they look at each night as an individual challenge, and how are we going to attack a given pitcher,” John Farrell said following the win. “We knew we had our hands full against David [Price] coming in here tonight, but they’ll look for opportunities. I thought we did a great job of running the bases with some balls off the walls again. And that all goes into the mindset that’s currently here.”
There’s no denying that last offseason’s surplus of moves helped send the Red Sox in the right direction. But there’s something to be said for the club’s foundation continuing to drive the truck during Boston’s incredible turnaround. Ortiz, in particular, remains a powerful force within the Red Sox’ potent offense.
“When he gets two home runs, things are going to resolve around him,” Farrell said of Ortiz. “Can’t say enough about him. He’s probably surpassed our expectation of number of games played. He’s been so productive, which has been consistent with his entire career.
“It was always a matter of health. And the work he’s done to maintain the health. He’s the main cog in our lineup. And to build around him, leading up to him and guys that follow him in the lineup — we’re capable of scoring runs in a couple of ways, but when you can score it in one swing of the bat, as he’s done many times over, he’s a huge threat for us.”
Ellsbury, Pedroia and Ortiz set the tempo early in Game 2. All three players chipped in as the Red Sox jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
Ellsbury led off the game with a single, and subsequently wreaked havoc on the bases. He took off for second base with Shane Victorino batting, and Jose Molina’s throw ended up in center field, allowing Ellsbury to take third base.
Pedroia plated Ellsbury with a sacrifice fly. The All-Star second baseman anticipated that Price would try to work the outside corner, and he managed to hit a fly ball deep enough to right-center field to drive in Boston’s first run.
Ortiz tossed a cherry on top with a solo homer into the Red Sox’ bullpen.
“I know from my at‑bats, Ells changed the game,” Pedroia said. “The double I hit [in the fifth inning], I got in a 2‑0 count because he was throwing balls away in case Ells was going to run to try to throw him out. And I got a 2‑0 pitch to hit, hit it and drove him in. Early in the game, he’s on third, less than two outs and then David has the big home run. We had to swing the bat against them, and guys grinded out at‑bats. It was nice.”
The Red Sox’ production was consistent throughout the contest, and the Rays were never able to overcome it. Boston’s offensive effort culminated with Ortiz knocking Price from the game with his second homer — a majestic moon shot right over Pesky’s Pole to open up the bottom of the eighth.
The series now shifts back to Tampa Bay, where the Rays will need to win two games to force a Game 5 in Boston. The Red Sox are obviously in an excellent position, but the veteran-laden bunch has learned through experience that nothing good can come from getting complacent. Thus, the Red Sox intend to keep their foot on the gas.
“It’s not over,” Ortiz said. “We’ve got to keep on fighting. We know we’re playing against a good ball club. They always find a way to win games, and you can’t take anything for granted.”
We shouldn’t take the Red Sox’ remaining quartet for granted, either. Boston appears to be in cruise control, and four proven champions are behind the wheel.