Jeff Bailey was late to the Terry Francona 50th birthday party, but once he arrived the reserved first baseman certainly made his presence felt.
"I didn't find out until the fifth inning of the first game. I was taking some swings in the cage and Don mentioned it on TV so I quietly shook his hand and said happy birthday," Bailey said. "It's a good birthday, two wins in one day."
The Red Sox as a team did present Francona with those pair of victories -- a doubleheader sweep over Minnesota thanks to wins of 10-1 and 7-3, Wednesday at Fenway Park. But Bailey supplied perhaps the biggest bow, justifying the manager's decision to start the recently-recalled infielder in Game 2 by pounding a Francisco Liriano change-up over the left-field wall for a three-run homer, kicking off the game's scoring.
Considering the last time Francona and Bailey had crossed paths, in the manager's office at City of Palms Park where the 30-year-old had to be told he was starting the 2009 season in the minor leagues, it was a uniquely appreciated gift.
Chances are that few sharing the April 22 birthday -- whether Peter Frampton, Jack Nicholson, or Glen Campbell -- were afforded such an offering.
"It was a good feeling," Francona said. "I was actually thinking about that and I told Bails yesterday when I saw him, I said, 'This is a lot more fun this way than the other way.' I'm sure for him. But he contributed right away, that's why he's here. We told him that in spring. I'm sure they're not listening at the time because they're thinking about some emotions, and not good ones. We told him we had confidence in him, just the timing wasn't right and today it was and he helped us."
The timing has swung dramatically in the favor of Bailey in recent days, so much so that the player who beat him out for the spot on the Opening Day roster, Chris Carter, was packing his bags for Pawtucket while Bailey reveled in his momentous night.
But, while Bailey's heroics were welcome from Francona's standpoint, the team's delivery was the ultimate payoff. It is now seven wins in a row, the longest active streak in the majors and the first time a Red Sox team has won at least seven straight at any point in a season after starting the year 2-6 or worse since 1928.
And, judging by the words of the players who brought the skipper his two wins, it was a day well-deserved by the birthday boy.
"The best thing about playing for him, for me anyway, is just coming to the ballpark, seeing my name in the lineup and just going," said Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay. "Managers don't get enough credit and take way too much blame here. For him it's easy. You know where you stand, good or bad, he's going to stick with you. Every manager says he has an open-door policy, but intent and execution are two different things. He does a very good job of letting you know where you stand."
And there was one more subtle perk on Francona's big day -- the chance to reunite with a player the manager deems as one of the most important in his Boston tenure, Dave Roberts.
"I was happy to do it," said Francona of catching the first pitch from Roberts, the owner of the biggest stolen base in Red Sox history. "He's probably the reason I'm still here. If he's out (in Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series), I'd probably be somewhere else. I owe it to him. It was actually a pretty good reminder that I've been pretty fortunate. Good players make you look like you know what you're doing and I realize that. I'm grateful to a lot of good players and Davey's one of them. it was a pleasure."
Besides Francona's momentous celebration of his birth, here were five more things we learned Wednesday ...
FOR NOW, WAKEFIELD IS THE SOX ACE
Tim Wakefield said he had no idea that his ERA during day games (3.57) was more than a run better than night contests (4.62). There was no sigh of relief when Tuesday night's game was postponed to Wednesday afternoon.
Wakefield is on a roll and he knows it. He just wants to pitch.
After pitching seven innings in which he allowed just a single run against the Twins, Wakefield has now gone 16 frames in which he has allowed just three runs, walking just three. And sure, it's also noteworthy that he became the oldest pitcher since Charlie Hough (1992) to throw back-to-back complete games.
But what is truly important is that, no matter the fact Wakefield is 42 years and 263 days old, he is pitching well, giving the Red Sox innings, and throwing mostly strikes. It also reminds most of what he is capable of, a reality that was put on display for a 10-start stretch last season.
From May 28 until July 10 Wakefield threw the sixth-most innings of any pitcher in the majors, compiling a 2.43 ERA. He was the best Red Sox pitcher over that time, and, for the last week, has taken up that mantle once again.
PENNY WASN'T BAD EITHER
It wasn't awe-inspiring, and didn't transpire without a fair share of laser-beam line-drives, but Brad Penny's third outing as a member of the Red Sox was a step in the right direction.
Unlike his last two outings, in which he lit up the radar gun to the tune of 96 mph, Penny's peak velocity was 93 mph. But transferring the three mph into improved command might have been the difference between this six-inning, three-run win and the three-inning, eight-run debacle last week against the Orioles.
Penny's history suggests that he should be good at this time of year, having the fourth-best April winning percentage with at least 25 decisions in the month since 1954. But after surrendering 18 runs in his first two Fenway Park starts, certainty wasn't on the pitcher's side.
Wednesday night Penny sprinkled around some that April optimism.
The righty threw 89 pitches, preserved the 5-0 lead he was handed after three innings, and survived some well-hit balls that center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury caught up to. It was what it was, and what it was was a step in the right direction for Penny.
"Tonight was OK," he said. "You get a big lead like that, they hit some balls hard. I'm going to go right at them, try not to walk them. We won the game.
"Yeah, they hit some balls hard. A couple of them were splitties that didn't do anything. Velocity-wise, I threw them about five miles per hour slower than my fastball, not doing anything over the middle of the plate."
It was Penny's game that allowed for the only appearance by the Red Sox bullpen, which once again distinguished itself. The trio of Ramon Ramirez, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon combined for three innings of scoreless relief.
The Red Sox' s bullpen has now allowed just one run in it's last 17 2/3 innings, and two over the last 28 1/3 frames beginning April 14. It has a 0.64 ERA over that span, with Ramirez still not having allowed a run in any of his seven outings.
ORTIZ IS IN A GOOD MOOD
While hardly any Red Sox players could be found in their clubhouse in between Game 1 and Game 2, one, David Ortiz, did the talking for the whole lot.
The Red Sox slugger, fresh off of his two-hit performance in Game 1 (in which he narrowly missed hitting his first home run of the season), held court for the media, touching on everything from his blessing for Kevin Youkilis to be on the All-Star ballot instead of himself to the upcoming series against the Yankees.
(For instance, on Joba Chamberlain's history of throwing at Youkilis, Ortiz said: "He looked good this spring. As good as he is, the next step for him will be to earn respect from everyone in the league. When things like that (beanballs) happen, people get the wrong idea.")
The most important topic, however, was Ortiz starting to hit again.
"Yeah, I’m swinging good, things just aren’t there for me right now even though they look alright," said Ortiz, who went on to notch his third opposite field hit of the day in Game 2, a wall-ball double off a 92 mph Francisco Liriano fastball. "I had one at-bat when I popped it up to third, I went to the video to look to see what I did wrong and everything was perfectly fine. But you know, that’s how it goes in the game, even when you're perfect you still miss your pitch, and I don’t want to get it in my head. That whole hitting my first homer thing I don’t want to let it get in my head."
Of Ortiz's nine Fenway Park hits this season, only one has been hit to the right side of the field. He also already has three doubles off the left field wall after totaling 13 last season.
There were, of course, the diatribes that didn't involve his own accomplishments. On Mike Lowell's recent hot streak he said: "Killing it man, killing! That's what we get paid for, killing!" (A better No. 7 hitter in baseball?) "I know man, no (expletive). We should move him to third. I think he's just got him back there just to fool people."
(Lowell, it should be noted, was afforded his first day off of the season, in Game 2, after hitting his third home run of the season, boosting his average to .315, and collecting three more RBI for a team-leading 16 on the year.)
And then there was the question of who he would want to play with.
"Ted Williams," Ortiz said. "I would like to see if he can hit that red seat again." (The Sox DH isn't a believer in anybody being capable of hitting a ball 502 feet into Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21 like the Red Sox claim Williams did in 1946.)
SOME ARE GETTING ENVIOUS OF GREEN
Nick Green hit 21 home runs in the minor leagues back in 2007. Nobody seemed to take that into account when analyzing the punch brought to the table each time Green steps to the plate as a Red Sox. Yet after Wednesday that fun fact might be making an appearance here or there thanks to a Game 1 home run the shortstop lists as one of the Top 5 longest in his career. (He states that one hit in Bradenton this spring training was his furthest. His memory on the subject might be incomplete.)
After going 4 for 8 in the doubleheader, Green's average rose to .313. For the Earth Day motif surrounding Fenway -- which included green-trimmed uniforms and green hats in Game 2 -- it seemed only fitting. But there was one fly in the ointment for Green by the time Wednesday had come and gone: He also made three errors.
In fairness to Green, who now has five errors, shortstop is far from his natural position. He will most likely morph into more of a utilityman once Julio Lugo returns. (Lugo went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and a walk with Pawtucket Wednesday and will likely rejoin the team in Cleveland next week.)
While Green made his ninth start at shortstop, the most starts at any position for the infielder in his major league career, he had played 23 big league games at shortstop entering this season, compared to the 191 he spent at second base.
THE YANKEES ARE COMING
Mark Teixeira is coming. Joba Chamberlain will be facing off with Kevin Youkilis once again. And the Yankees are ... well ... the Yankees.
Said David Ortiz: "We’ll be alright. This one is an easy one. They’re missing A-Rod." Joking or not, no words are ignored when it comes to a Red Sox series against the Yankees.