Closing Time: Shane Victorino, Red Sox pummel Wei-Yin Chen en route to victory over Orioles
|08.27.13 at 10:13 pm ET|
The Red Sox’ fortunes against left-handers, it seems, have taken a turn for the better.
As recently as 10 days ago, the team’s mighty struggles against southpaws, even those with less-than-dominant stuff, were a noteworthy concern as the Sox headed into the final six weeks of the regular season. But in their last eight games — five of which have been against lefty starters — that hasn’t been the case. They have hit .341 in those eight games while getting on base at a .400 clip and slugging .652. The Red Sox have emerged victorious in four of the five games against southpaws, the only loss being the Yankees’ come-from-behind win Aug. 18, which featured the Sox getting to CC Sabathia for six runs in 5 1/3 frames.
The most recent game in that stretch came Tuesday night at Fenway Park, when the Red Sox chased left-hander Wei-Yin Chen in the fourth inning of a 13-2 win over the Orioles. The Red Sox hit him around for eight runs on eight hits (two home runs) and three walks in 3 2/3 innings to take the opener of the three-game mid-week series.
“Much has been made about how left-handers have shut us down since the All-Star break, but the last three lefties we’ve run into, we’ve been able to come away with wins,” manager John Farrell said. “Chen is a very good pitcher. Any time you have an ERA in the low 3.00s in this division, he’s been effective against us earlier in the year. We swung the bat very well tonight.”
Beating up Chen the way the Sox did is no small task. The second-year Taiwanese import, who finished fourth in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2012, owned a 3.19 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and .244 opponents’ batting average when he woke up Tuesday. In 16 starts this season, he had only allowed more than three earned runs in a given start twice.
The Sox, however, came out of the gates swinging. After one run in the first and two in the third, courtesy of a Shane Victorino homer, they blew it open with five in the fourth inning.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
– On a night that started with a walk, Victorino launched a pair of home runs over the Green Monster in his 3-for-3, seven-RBI effort, his first multi-homer game since July 2008. The first long ball was the 100th of his career, and the RBI total was a career high. He also scored four runs, becoming the first Red Sox with four runs and seven RBI in a game since Dwight Evans in 1988.
Both homers were shots to left, the first a screamer into the first row and the second higher and longer, almost reaching the Sports Authority sign. He capped his night with a two-run double to right field.
“I don’t know how you can do much better,” Farrell said. ”
On base all five times, seven RBIs, a couple home runs, makes a couple very good plays in right field. … He and Dustin [Pedroia] just set the tone offensively at the top of the order.”
In August, all but three games of which have featured him abandoning his typical switch-hitting, Victorino is hitting .290 with significantly more power — seven doubles and six homers — than normal, making for a .576 slugging percentage. His mark on the season was .424 entering Tuesday.
Victorino, who has battled back issues this season, has ditched switch-hitting for the time being as he also plays through an aggravated left hamstring. He has repeatedly declined to go into detail in recent weeks about how much pain he plays in, but he did say Tuesday he considers himself to be a switch-hitter.
– Felix Doubront worked around a tight strike zone early and a poor third inning en route to his second consecutive strong, and lengthy, outing. He lasted 6 2/3 innings while giving up two runs on four hits and a walk. His seven strikeouts, all of which came on fastballs 92 mph or slower, were his most since the end of May.
It was another step forward for Doubront, who has been a model of consistency in recent months but hit a rough patch in the middle of this one. His last two starts have seen him toss 14 2/3 innings while allowing three runs and punching out 10. He’s also limited each of his last two opponents to one walk, with a yield of 3.0 walks per nine over his last 18 starts — a stretch that has seen him forge a 2.96 ERA.
“When things could’ve maybe become a big inning against us, he found a way to minimize, which he’s done a number of times,” Farrell said. “After that, he settled in very well — much better fastball command throughout the later innings, and our starters have been on a good little run here. … He has a way of staying under control and giving up one or two runs rather than it being a four- or five-run inning.”
Indeed, after the O’s scored their second run in the third inning, Doubront set down 13 of 15 to finish his night.
– Mixed into the win were (more) good signs from a pair of bats that should prove crucial down the stretch: Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks. Pedroia finished 3-for-5 with a trio of line drives and two RBIs, while Middlebrooks settled for a 2-for-4 night.
Pedroia has now hit safely in eight in a row and 12 of his last 13, batting .397 (23-for-58) in that baker’s dozen-worth of games. Although his second-half average entering Tuesday’s contest was .255 with a .317 OBP and .359 slugging mark, Pedroia’s August slash line was .313/.374/.406.
Middlebrooks, meanwhile, continued his late-season major league resurgence with a pair of line drives up the middle, the first on an 0-2 slider and the second on a 3-2 changeup on the lower outside corner. Although Farrell is still regularly batting him toward the bottom of the order, Middlebrooks owns a .367 average and .999 OPS in 15 games since his call-up.
– The big fourth inning was kick-started by a Mike Napoli home run that went well over everything — including Lansdowne Street itself — in left field.
Although it was his only hit of his 1-for-5 night, Napoli’s well-documented struggles, punctuated by a bout of plantar fasciitis that kept him out of action for most of an eight-day stretch, may have come to an end. He is 6-for-14 with three extra-base hits and four RBIs his last three games.
– Jacoby Ellsbury went 3-for-5 and scored three times.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
– Doubront’s third inning was a case study in how quickly a frame can unravel.
After an 0-2 fastball to J.J. Hardy, a pitch that seemingly clipped the outside edge of the strike zone, was called a ball, Hardy single up the middle. Then Danny Valencia sent a broken-bat bloop down the left-field line and Steven Pearce took a curveball to the side to load the bases with no one out.
Brian Roberts worked a walk on five pitches — at least two of which saw Doubront seemingly get squeezed by home plate umpire Wally Bell — to tie the game at one. Manny Machado’s sacrifice fly to right put Baltimore up, 2-1.
Doubront escaped without further damage, but he tossed 28 pitches (15 strikes) in the inning to more than double his pitch count.
– The team’s five-run fourth inning would have been even bigger if not for a baserunning mishap. With men on first and second, Ellsbury lined a single to center, and third base coach Brian Butterfield stopped Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s big turn around third. Stephen Drew, trying to go first to third on the play, didn’t notice and got caught in a rundown between second and third.
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