What a difference a month makes.
Red Sox teammates David Ortiz and Jon Lester both ended April facing a pile of questions. For Ortiz, there was curiosity about whether his career was done after his second straight miserable start to the season. He was hitting .143/.238/.286/.524 with just one homer and 4 RBI, and many were speculating that either his replacement in the lineup by Mike Lowell or his release could be around the corner. Lester, similarly, had gone 0-2 with a 7.44 ERA in his first three starts before enjoying some rebound in his last starts of April, but still, his 1-2 record and 4.71 ERA didn’t scream dominance.
But now, with the Sox having concluded their May slate of games, both players are worlds removed from any April uncertainties. In six starts, culminating in his seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball in Sunday’s 8-1 win over the Royals, Lester went 5-0 with a 1.84 ERA to secure his place as the ace of the Sox staff. His season ERA now stands at 2.97.
And Ortiz put an exclamation mark on his month by crushing a two-run homer to straightaway center as part of a day when he went 1-for-1 with two walks, a sac fly and three runs batted in. Ortiz nearly doubled his batting average and OPS over the month, finishing May with a season average that now stands at .272 with a .929 OPS.
The rediscovery of a pair of stalwarts helped to propel the Sox to an 18-11 month that resolved much of the panic surrounding the club.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
–David Ortiz concluded his biggest month-long power display since the 2006 season (which he finished with a franchise record 54 homers). Ortiz hit .362 with 10 homers and a 1.211 OPS in May, achieving his highest average and OPS since Sept. 2007, and his highest single-month homer total since Aug. 2006.
In that context, of particular note were the two walks that the Royals issued to the designated hitter. Given that he has been pulverizing the ball, it has been surprising that opposing pitchers have not shied from the slugger. Sunday may have marked a turning point, since it was Ortiz’ first multi-walk game of the season.
–Jon Lester continued to make life miserable for the Royals. He now has a 1.22 career ERA in five starts against Kansas City — a team against him he has thrown a no-hitter and against whom he has thrown eight innings of one-hit ball. The only concern for the pitcher is that he has been struggling with his control a bit in his last two starts, having walked four members of the notoriously impatient Royals lineup on Sunday after having issued five walks in his previous start against Tampa Bay. Still, Lester prevented those free passes from proving costly, as he held the Royals hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.
–Marco Scutaro enjoyed his most productive day at the plate in more than three weeks. The shortstop, who entered Sunday hitting .225/.324/.258/.582 over a 22-game span, pulled a pair of doubles in his first two at-bats against Royals starter Bruce Chen, and later added a single. It was Scutaro’s second game with three hits and second with multiple extra-base hits this year (both accomplished previously on May 4).
–Mike Cameron had a pair of doubles, including a two-out, two-run to left-center for his first runs batted in of the year. Cameron is now 6-for-17 (.353) since returning from his abdominal strain.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
–Kevin Youkilis, after sitting out of Saturday’s game, went 0-for-4 and saw his streak of reaching base in 27 straight games come to an end.
–J.D. Drew went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, and now has 48 punchouts in 49 games. His OPS for the year has now fallen to .783.