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It was something David Ortiz had experienced over 300 times before the season even began. It was something Josh Reddick had experienced once. Yet Wednesday night at Fenway, the Red Sox superstar and the Red Sox call-up experienced the same thing: the joy of the home run. Ortiz and Reddick each homered to right, and the Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles, 6-1.
Ortiz struck first for the Red Sox. Down 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Ryan Kalish led off with a single. One out later, Victor Martinez followed suit. Then it was Ortiz’s turn at the plate. He took a 1-0 offering from Orioles starter Kevin Millwood, who had not allowed a hit before the fourth inning, and deposited it into the bullpen in right field. Just like that, the Red Sox were up 3-1, and they never looked back.
Reddick’s opportunity came one inning later, and he didn’t even wait to see a pitch. Reddick took the first pitch Millwood threw him and gave it to the fans in the right-field bleachers. Just like Ortiz’s homer, it came on a pitch that Millwood left over the heart of the plate.
The Red Sox tacked on two additional runs in the sixth. J.D. Drew led off the inning with a single to center field, Martinez singled to left three pitches later. With the count full, Ortiz then singled to right, scoring Drew and sending Martinez to third. Adrian Beltre then drove in Martinez, pushing the Red Sox lead to 6-1.
Red Sox starter John Lackey, meanwhile, gave the Red Sox a textbook “quality start.” After retiring the first 10 Orioles he faced, Lackey gave up a one-out single to Nick Markakis. Five pitches later, Ty Wigginton plunked a 3-1 pitch off the Green Monster, allowing the speedy Markakis to score. However, that was the last run Lackey allowed. Over his final three innings of work, Lackey allowed just three hits while striking out two, inducing a double-play and fielding a ground ball hit right at him.
Lackey pitched seven innings of one-run ball, striking out four and walking none. He picked up the victory, moving to 13-11, while Millwood picked up the loss, falling to 3-16. He leads the American League in losses.
The hero of Wednesday’s game was clearly Ortiz. He hit a three-run home run and drove in a fourth run with a sixth-inning single. He now has 31 home runs on the season and 96 RBIs. He could easily go over 100 before the season is finished, a feat which he has not accomplished since 2007. He has clearly proven this season that he can still hit with exceptional power. All that remains is to decide whether to pay him $12.5 million to see if he can do it again next year. With so many power hitters potentially leaving this off-season (Martinez and Beltre, namely), it seems that the Red Sox have a very easy decision to make.
Kalish and Martinez also had two-hit games. Martinez scored two runs and reached on a walk. Kalish scored once, on his solo home run.
Lackey gave an excellent performance tonight, snapping a four-game losing streak in the process. Had his previous four starts, in which he pitched 24.2 innings and gave up 15 earned runs, gone a little differently, we’d probably be guardedly calling his first season with the Red Sox a success. As it is, he will likely finish with a .500 record, or close to it. Lackey certainly did not live up to the $18.7 million he was paid this season. $1.4 million is too much to pay per victory. But he will start next season with a better understanding of what it’s like to pitch in Boston. And if Martinez is brought back, he will have a catcher who will have had a year to learn his pitching preferences and strengths. His 2011 season will be better than his 2010 season.
The two bullpen pitchers the Red Sox used Wednesday were Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. Bard pitched a perfect eighth inning, striking out two. In a season marked by bullpen deficiencies, he has been an absolute rock. Whether he is moved to the closer’s role or remains a set-up man, the thought that he might actually be BETTER next year- he is just about to finish only his second career in the majors, after all- should fill Red Sox fans with excitement and glee. Papelbon would’ve had the exact same line, but Martinez dropped a foul ball that would’ve been the third out, which led to a single. So what did Papelbon do? He struck out the last batter, striking out the side. A day after a meltdown, Papelbon showed that he still has that unique mentality of being able to immediately forget the last outing and focus on the inning at hand. Perhaps he has pitched his last as a Red Sox member. If so, this was a great way to go out.
The best way to describe the Fenway Faithful tonight would be “interested.” When Boston scored runs, people cheered, but not too loudly. When Baltimore struck first, Boston grumbled, but the loud, desperate booing so common to Lansdowne Street was nowhere to be found. When Papelbon faced his final batter, people stood, but not everybody. And when music came on, people sang, but only with measured voices. Boston has long since realized and accepted that the Red Sox season will end October 3. There won’t be any playoffs this year. The thrill of October baseball will be someone else’s to enjoy and experience (and if the standings hold, several fan bases will be experiencing it for the first time in quite awhile). So there’s no point in obsessing over the team. That energy is better directed towards other teams: the Patriots are playing, the Bruins will begin in just over two weeks, the Celtics will start just two weeks after that. And then, before anyone knows it, the 2011 Red Sox will begin. The records will be wiped clean, and the thrill of the game will be back. The crowd’s heart may not have been in the game Wednesday night. But on April 8, 2011, the Red Sox will play their home opener against no less than the New York Yankees (who might very well be defending World Series champions). And it will all start again, as strong as ever.