If not for the ability of their bats to break out in a major way, the Red Sox would be looking at a pretty disappointing day at Fenway Park on Monday, where their starting pitching failed them again in a doubleheader against the Orioles.
After Kyle Weiland was knocked around a bit in a 6-5 loss in the opener, John Lackey was chased after just 4 1/3 innings in the nightcap, giving up eight runs on 11 hits. Those two kept alive a harrowing trend for the staff — 13 of Boston's 19 starts this month have lasted five innings or less.
However, manager Terry Francona said after the matinee, during which the Sox had 12 hits and several loud outs, that he was happy the team got to play again in just a couple of hours. He wasn't referring to excitement over seeing another non-quality start, but more so because he sensed his offense was about to break out.
It did so in a major way, covering up some of those issues on the mound.
"And we kind of needed it," Francona said. "Any time you get to the bullpen probably before you want to, there's always that chance [things can go poorly]. We stayed after them and got some big hits. Conor Jackson, the grand slam, and just a lot of good at-bats. We had good at-bats the first game. Just kept going in the second game."
Jackson's grand slam, his first home run in nearly two months and first extra-base hit with the Red Sox, actually proved to be the last four runs of the game. Much of the damage had already been done by a team that tied season highs in both hits and runs, and strung together six straight hits at one point for the first time all year.
"To put up that many runs on a long day like this says a lot about our team and we got a lot of contributions from a lot of different guys," said Jacoby Ellsbury, who was 3-for-6 with an inside-the-park homer, the team's first in over four years, in the seven-run seventh. "Yeah, it's a nice win. We control our destiny at this point, so we know if we play baseball like we can we'll be in good shape."
When Lackey left the game, the Sox were perilously close to not controlling their own destiny. He had squandered half of an early six-run lead (11-5 to 11-8) and if the comeback was ever completed by the Orioles, Boston would have been tied in the loss column with the Tampa Bay Rays. There would still be a one-game lead overall, but the Rays would technically have just as much control of their own destiny at that point.
Credit Scott Atchison for cleaning up a mess in the fifth and another one early in the sixth. That allowed the Sox to maintain their lead during some ugly middle innings, and then the bats made it a non-issue in the seventh.
It all began when Ellsbury crushed a shot to center that caromed off the side of the Boston bullpen and rolled away from center fielder Matt Angle. Like a water bug, Ellsbury scooted to third in a heartbeat and then saw third base coach Tim Bogar giving him the sign. He crossed home standing up, igniting the offense, which would score six more times in the inning.
Jackson's blast over the Green Monster was the capper and caused an outpouring of jubilation from the dugout. It was a scene that's been all-too-rare in recent days, but could just serve as the catalyst for the slumping Sox.
"It was great. I said today, earlier I think, we just need to have fun," Jackson said. "We're stressing out a little bit too much. We need to go out, we need to play baseball and just have fun, go back to how it was when we were 12 years old, and that’s gonna get us back on track."
Certainly, some better starting pitching will help. But on those occasions when the offense clicks on all cylinders, even that can become a moot point.
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