There was no warning.
For five innings, the Red Sox lineup produced as one might have expected. The leadoff hitter (Jacoby Ellsbury) was out. So were the third (David Ortiz) and fourth (Kevin Youkilis) hitters.
The Sox had touched Indians starter Jeremy Sowers for a run in the first inning, but could do nothing thereafter. Through five innings, Boston had one run on four hits, and when Tim Wakefield walked off the mound at the end of his sixth inning, he was trailing, 2-1, and staring at the likelihood of a hard-luck loss.
Then came the eruption. The Red Sox produced an unstoppable deluge of hits and runs. A Julio Lugo single through the hole and into left-field started it. Then came a walk to Dustin Pedroia. And a game-tying double by Jason Bay. And an intentional walk to Mike Lowell.
The game was still tied, and Rocco Baldelli – in his first game back from a brief D.L. stint – looked like he might give away the momentum. He fell behind 0-2, took a ball, then fouled off a couple tough pitches from Sowers before lining a two-run single to right-center that gave the Sox a 4-2 lead and set the wheels of history in motion.
The Sox watched with a mixture of disbelief and giddiness. The hits kept coming. The outs did not.
“It gets kind of crowded at the helmet rack, I know that. Everyone wants to get up there,” chuckled Jeff Bailey, starting at first in place of Youkilis. “Obviously it’s impressive, but you don’t know about records or anything like that. It’s pretty sweet, especially with the makeshift squad out there.”
On the bench, Wakefield was talking with teammates about a night when he had witnessed history. On June 27, 2003, the Red Sox scored 10 runs in the first inning before recording their first out. Now, he was witnessing an even bigger outburst.
The first 12 Sox reached base, as the lineup collected nine hits – six singles, two doubles, one three-run homer – and three walks while producing a dozen runs before a single out was recorded. The outburst led to a 13-3 Red Sox victory over Cleveland.
“It was crazy,” Wakefield said. “It was pretty amazing to score 12 runs without even recording an out.”
The 12 runs scored before the first out was recorded tied a modern major-league record. It had been accomplished once before, by the Brooklyn Dodgers against the Philadelphia Phillies in the eighth inning on May 24, 1953. (No sign of the box score for that game, but amazingly, Carl Erskine did get a save in the Dodgers’ 16-2 win.)
The Sox broke the previous American League mark of 11 runs before the first out of an inning, set by the Tigers on June 17, 1925.
The inning was the story of the game, and so it only makes sense that a 12-run sixth inning would provide five lessons from Thursday’s game.
1) JASON BAY IS THE STRONGEST SOX RIGHT-HANDED POWER-HITTER SINCE…
It was hard not to reflect on the irony.
On the day when Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for violating MLB’s substance abuse policy, the man for was brought in last summer as his replacement launched a ball in Manny-esque fashion.
Jason Bay is not usually known for his opposite field power. But on Thursday, with the Sox having pushed nine runs across in the sixth inning, Bay put the icing on the historic inning. Indians reliever Matt Herges threw a sinking 88 mph fastball down and away. Bay went with the pitch and destroyed it.
His homer sailed over the fence in right-field, clanged off the dugout roof of the Red Sox bullpen and bounced into the bleachers.
“Jason Bay’s got a lot of power. He really does,” said Mike Lowell. “It’s not easy to hit a ball out of this park that way. He can do it, and it just adds to how formidable a hitter he is.”
Adding to the degree of difficulty on the shot was the fact that the weather was cool and overcast between passing showers.
“He’s the guy that on the cold day here can hit the ball out of the ballpark and we’ve seen him do it a couple of times,” said Francona. “He really is strong. When he stays through the ball, that’s why you see some of those homeruns.”
Interestingly, Bay said that he was caught off guard when Herges started his delivery. The right-hander tried to accelerate his delivery and “quick-pitch” Bay, yet the Sox’ No. 3 hitter for a day was capable of not only reacting but of absolutely hammering a ball that he had no business driving.
Bay has now homered three times in his last four games and eight times this year. His four runs batted in were the most of a year that has seen him put up incredible numbers (.316 average, .476 OBP, .653 slugging). Obviously, he is feeling good at the plate.
“Usually, you start the season, you’re struggling. You’re searching for that mythical whatever it is that’s going to get you going, that magical swing or step or some type of information that someone has that will unlock it for you,” said Bay. “But starting off well takes it away. You go up not worrying about it.
“Just like I said when I got here last year, it doesn’t matter who you are, everybody downplays the start and rightfully so, but getting off to the right start in everything definitely helps to ease a little tension, helps you relax a little bit,” he continued. “I don’t expect to have a .500 on-base percentage for the entire year, but I’m trying to ride it out as long as I can.”
2) THE RED SOX CAN STILL UNLOAD THE BASES
No team in baseball had done so little with so much.
The Red Sox entered last night with more bases-loaded plate appearances (55) than any other team in the American League, nine more than any other club. Yet they had been among the least productive teams in those situations.
The Sox had scored 34 runs as a result of a bases-loaded situation, or 0.6 per plate appearance. That was roughly 25 percent worse than the A.L. norm of 0.8 runs per bases-loaded plate appearance.
Among the 14 American League teams, the Sox were among the worst in baseball. Their average (.244, 12th), OBP (.273, 12th), slugging (.378, 12th) and OPS (.651, 13th) with the bags packed all ranked near the bottom of the junior circuit.
In the sixth inning, they made up for their previous failures. They collected four hits in as many bases-loaded at-bats, scoring a total of eight runs on their bases-loaded opportunities.
Rocco Baldelli drove a 1-2 pitch for a two-run single to right-center. Jeff Bailey ripped a two-run double to left. George Kottaras lined a fastball up-and-away to center for a two-run single. Dustin Pedroia laced a two-run single to left-center.
Suddenly, in the span of an inning, the team had improved its bases-loaded production dramatically. The Sox are now hitting .306 with a .322 OBP, .449 slugging mark and .771 OPS.
3) JULIO LUGO STILL HAS SOMETHING IN THE TANK
Since returning from the disabled list, Julio Lugo had done little to inspire confidence. He had gone 4-for-15, with all four of his hits singles. Manager Terry Francona had said on a couple of occasions that the shortstop did not appear to be moving as well as he eventually would.
As a result, the Sox left Lugo out of the starting lineup from Monday through Wednesday. Yesterday, the team thought it saw signs of the benefits of that time for the shortstop (starting at D.H. on Thursday) to rest and strengthen.
He led off the historic sixth with a single to left, and also became the 10th straight man to reach in the inning when he had a check-swing infield single to third. On that second hit, he showed that he can still move fairly well down the first-base line.
“He looks like he has spent time working hard,” said Francona. “He looks stronger and it’s early, but he is taking some pretty aggressive swings.”
That was true even outside of the ridiculous sixth inning. Lugo, who batted leadoff with Ellsbury out, started the game by lining a ball off the base of the Wall in left-center. The ricochet went by centerfielder Ben Francisco, and Lugo motored into third.
“I heard someone yell, ‘Run, Forrest!’” said Francona. “That’s probably good for him. I don’t think he’s going to do any complaining about running the bases.”
“It’s getting better day by day,” Lugo said of his surgically repaired right knee. “I can run right now.”
There was plenty of novelty to prove it. Lugo had his first triple in 12 games (dating to Aug. 28, 2007), ending his longest drought without a three bagger. He had his first three-hit game since he collected four hits against the Rangers last April 21. He scored three runs for the first time since April 27, 2007.
And, for good measure, Thursday marked the first time he had been a D.H. since Sept. 10, 2007.
4) THE RED SOX’ SPRING TRAINING LINEUP CAN STILL PRODUCE ENOUGH TO WIN…BUT THE SOX WON’T COMPLAIN WHEN THE TOP HALF OF THE LINEUP WANTS TO RETURN
Naturally, the Red Sox had to go through a litany of injury status reports before and after Thursday’s game.
–Jacoby Ellsbury (hamstring tightness) was out of the starting lineup for the second straight day, but he was available to play. The Sox hope to have him back in the lineup on Friday.
–First baseman Kevin Youkilis (left side) was not available on Thursday, and he is expected to be out on Friday as well. The team is opting for a conservative approach for fear that he could worsen his "left side" injury while swinging, and so the first baseman will likely miss his fourth straight game.
--David Ortiz said that he woke up on Thursday with a stiff neck, and that the condition worsened during batting practice.
"David's neck got a little stiff during B.P. and then after B.P. it kept getting stiffer," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "He was trying to figure out how he was going to look at the pitcher and it wasn't happening."
Nonetheless, by the end of the game, Ortiz said that he was feeling better, and he and Francona both anticipate that he is likely to return to the lineup on Friday.
"I think David will be okay," said Francona. "I'm hopeful he can play."
As a result of all of the injuries, the Sox lineup looked like something concocted for a spring training road game. In place of Ellsbury, Ortiz and Youkilis, the lineup featured Julio Lugo at designated hitter, Jeff Bailey at first and Rocco Baldelli in center. Moreover, with Tim Wakefield on the hill, it was George Kottaras, rather than Jason Varitek, who was starting at catcher.
“We were scrambling a little bit,” said Francona. “On a night when David doesn’t play, it’s very satisfying getting guys involved.”
After the game, all corners of the Sox clubhouse were thrilled with the top-to-bottom contributions embodied in the historic 12-run sixth.
But, of course, there are no illusions that such production in the absence of such key contributors as Ellsbury, Ortiz and Youkilis is sustainable. After all, outside of the one inning, the Sox managed just one run and four baserunners.
Here are the rest of the Sox’ daily dose of medical updates:
–Baldelli (left hamstring strain) was activated from the disabled list, and started in center in place of Ellsbury. He delivered a pivotal at-bat in the rally, delivering a bases-loaded, two-run single when the game was tied.
To clear a roster spot for Baldelli, the Sox optioned Jonathan Van Every back to Triple-A Pawtucket. (Van Every was fine after an uncomfortable encounter with the base of the centerfield wall on Wednesday.) Baldelli, who also made a spectacular diving catch, said that he feels in excellent shape, and that there are no remaining restrictions on his baseball activity.
–Starter Daisuke Matsuzaka will pitch in Columbus on Sunday and stay with Triple-A Pawtucket rather than travel with the major-league team to the West Coast. Matsuzaka will most likely make a third rehab start with Pawtucket before a decision is made about whether to activate him from the D.L.
–Mark Kotsay, whose return from back surgery has been delayed by a sore calf, will be watched by the Sox medical staff on Friday as he tries to engage in baseball activities for the first time since suffering the injury. He anticipates that if all goes well, he should be activated in 1-2 weeks.
5) GOOD THINGS ARE HAPPENING TO TIM WAKEFIELD
Starter Tim Wakefield had already thrown 101 pitches when he left the field following the top of the sixth inning. He knew that his night was probably done, and so did his teammates. The knuckleballer had once again pitched well, allowing just two runs over six innings for his fifth quality start of the year (tied for the most in the American League with Roy Halladay and Zack Greinke).
Yet with the Sox training, 2-1, Wakefield was on the hook for the loss. His teammates considered that possibility an injustice, and rallied around the pitcher. And so, the 12-run outburst in the bottom of the sixth – in front of the entry of the bullpen – made the starter a winner, and improved his record this year to 4-1 with a 2.92 ERA.
“The big thing was that we did it while Wake was the pitcher of record,” Bay said fo the 12-run rally. “He pitched well and he deserved to get a win, so it was nice to do it when he was still in there.”
Good fortune appears to be on Wakefield’s side at the start of this season. Typically a victim of a lack of run support in recent years, he is instead enjoying an extraordinary run of offensive support. The Sox have scored eight or more runs in four of his starts this year.
The mix of Wakefield’s excellence on the mound (opponents are hitting just .186 with one homer off of him this year) and the Sox producing plenty of offense behind him has yielded on of the best runs of the pitcher’s Red Sox career. In his last five starts, Wakefield and his team are both undefeated, the pitcher having gone 4-0 with a 2.65 ERA.
Only three times in his Red Sox career has Wakefield been the starter with his team winning more than five straight games. This is his best five-game run as a starter since he went 4-0 with a 1.42 ERA in Sept. 2002. And with his offense backing him with an average of 8.2 runs a game this year, he is being rewarded for his fine work.
"I was very fortunate that we scored some runs today," said Wakefield. "I feel very confident, getting deep into the games. That’s my job here as the fourth or fifth starter. It’s what Tito and Theo and John want me to do is to give the club innings and have a lot of decisions and I’ve been able to do that so far."