There was something different about the Red Sox Monday night.
They wore red undershirts.
This has been in line with this team's approach thus far throughout the 2009 season, seeing a problem and fixing it. In this case the Sox hadn't done well on the road -- and the new all-blue attire away from Fenway had some players grumbling -- so a little color was added. Problem solved.
The Red Sox won their third road game of the season, beating Cleveland, 3-1, at Progressive Field, while sprucing up their previously drab garb in the process.
But suddenly the search for improvement has become increasingly more difficult. When you've won 11 straight, while enjoying another rock-solid outing from starter TIm Wakefield, and game-changing, ninth-inning home run from Jason Bay, change isn't really a priority.
After a 2-6 start the results were first to be altered, and then came the uniform problem. So now what? Well, David Ortiz still hasn't hit a home run.
Until we wait for the next shoe to drop, or the Sox to match the 12-game win streak of 2006, let's look at five things we learned Monday night ...
TIM WAKEFIELD IS THE SOX' ACE (RIGHT NOW)
Wakefield woke up Tuesday morning with the second-lowest opponents batting average against in all of baseball (.154), and the ninth-lowest ERA in the majors (1.86).
Against the Indians Monday night he weaved his way in and out of trouble more times than any of his previous two starts. In his seven innings he allowed just one hit -- a Victor Martinez first-inning single -- but did walk four while throwing 112 pitches and surviving two George Kottaras passed balls and a wild pitch.
No matter. It was still above and beyond.
The sense of satisfaction this time around must have equaled any of the last three starts, which have now encompassed 23 innings in which Wakefield has surrendered just three runs on 10 hits for a 1.17 ERA and .123 batting average against.
The last time he pitched on this Progressive Field mound was Oct. 16, 2007 when he tossed one of the gutsiest performances of his career in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. Barely able to lift his pitching arm over his head due to a SLAP tear in his labrum, Wakefield managed to get through four scoreless innings against the Indians before succumbing to a seven-run fifth.
This time the zeroes kept on coming.
And the best part about it for Wakefield, is that despite having now thrown a team-high 424 pitches he still feels spry. Oh, and he is still hovering around the plate, this time throwing first-pitch strikes to 15 of his 27 batters.
"I feel phenomenal," Wakefield told MLB.com after the game. "I'm throwing a lot of strikes."
BAY IS GEARING UP FOR A PAYDAY
Jason Bay turned around a 99 mph fastball from Cleveland closer Kerry Wood on an 0-1 count, with two runners on in the ninth inning. The result was a game-winning three-run homer into the center field bleachers.
And nobody was surprised.
Forget the fact that just days before he had accomplished a similar feat, tying the game with the Yankees with a ninth-inning homer off Mariano Rivera. What Bay has accomplished thus far when it counts the most has been fairly amazing.
In close and late situations Bay has six hits in nine at-bats with four home runs and four walks. That's a .667 batting average, .769 on-base percentage and 2.000 slugging percentage.
From the seventh inning and on, he is hitting .500 (10 for 20) with nine walks. And with runners in scoring position Bay has notched a .381 batting average, and a .500 clip (5 for 10) in that situation with two outs.
Then there are the walks.
For just the fifth time this season Bay didn't draw a free pass, yet he is still leads the majors with 20 walks, and is second in all of baseball (only behind teammate Kevin Youkilis) with a .506 on-base percentage.
Evidently, Bay isn't waiting around for the market for premier outfield bats to adjust itself. He's taking that into his own hands.
IT HAS BEEN QUITE A RUN
It's hard to remember the last time the Red Sox won 11 in a row. That was during the less-than-spectacular 2006 season when the Sox ran off 12 straight from June 16-29.
During that stretch David Ortiz hit five homers and then-second baseman Mark Loretta caught fire, hitting .451 throughout the run. On the mound, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester had three wins apiece, while Wakefield turned in a comparatively modest 12 innings, winning one game while allowing four runs.
This streak the stats have been flying even faster and more furious.
Besides Wakefield, there have been plenty of other standouts. After his three hits Monday night, Bay has compiled a .361 batting average, .510 on-base percentage and .694 slugging percentage, while notching three homers, 12 runs and 11 walks. He has also seen a gaudy 4.18 pitches per at-bat.
And while Cleveland starter Cliff Lee (8 innings, 0 runs) stymied the Sox bats Monday night, the offensive contributors during the win streak have been found up and down the lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury (.327 batting average, 10 runs, 6 stolen bases), Dustin Pedroia (.349 batting average, .442 OBP, 9 runs), David Ortiz (.277, 8 RBI), Youklilis (13 runs, 5 intentional walks), and Mike Lowell (.425 batting average, 3 HRs, 16 RBI) have all helped carry the offense.
From the time the stretch started with Wakefield's complete game in Oakland, April 15, the Red Sox have led the majors in batting average (.314), on-base percentage (.406), .slugging percentage (.558), and runs (83).
As for the Sox' pitching, the Red Sox have surrendered the fewest home runs of any team during the streak (5), the fewest extra-base hits, while managing the second-lowest ERA (3.00).
And while the defense hasn't stood out in terms of statistics (they have the fifth-worst fielding percentage in the 11 games), the Sox outfielders have done their job, tracking down the second-most fly balls allowed in the majors over the win streak.
A GOOD DAY FOR PAPELBON?
On the surface, Monday night's ninth inning was one of Jonathan Papelbon's most uneasy of the season.
He allowed back to back singles from Shin-Soo Choo and Ryan Garko to lead off the inning, and gave up just his second run of the season thanks to Mark DeRosa's RBI single.
But within the outing Papelbon might have found something -- his 'other' pitch.
There has been some concern that hitters are sitting on Papelbon's fastball, which reached 96 mph against the Indians. The results this time around wouldn't suggest otherwise, with all three of the hits coming on heaters.
But, after beginning the inning with four straight fastballs, and a trip to the mound by pitching coach John Farrell, Papelbon started mixing in his slider with some success. The most noteworthy moment came when he got Kelly Shoppach to wave at the breaking pitch for the second out of the inning.
The slider had also been the first pitch out of the gate after the Farrell visit, setting up a called third strike on Jhonny Peralta two tosses later.
As for the rest of the Red Sox' bullpen -- which in this case was made up of Manny Delcarmen's one scoreless inning -- it once again lent itself to optimism. In 12 innings Delcarmen still hasn't allowed an unearned run.
After a somewhat shaky start, the Red Sox bullpen has the best ERA (2.48) in all of the major leagues.
LOWELL'S LEGS STILL WORK
Much has been made of Lowell's running, or, more specifically, how his surgically-repaired right hip has affected his running.
Monday night he sent somewhat of a message -- Lowell notched a triple.
True, a faster runner might have contended for an inside-the-park homer when Indians' center fielder Grady Sizemore let the ball get behind him after missing Lowell's sinking line-drive. Nonetheless, many believed a triple would be out of the question for the Sox' third baseman this season.
Not the case.
"You give it a thought, but that thought passes in three seconds when I saw it didn't get there," Lowell told the Boston Herald after the game. "You go through a lot of emotions there. When I first hit it and see Grady flying in, you say, 'Please don't catch it, please don't catch it, please don't catch it.' Then it gets by him and you say, 'Oh, let's see how far we can go.' But once I hit second, I basically knew I'd be standing on third with no shot at home. So it wasn't like I just missed it."
Lowell's legs have been good enough this season, as his earning of the American League Player of the Week, Monday, would suggest. Also supporting the premise that running hasn't been too much of a hinderance is the fact he is tied with Youkilis for the most doubles on the team.