Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 15, Cubs 5

BOSTON -- Cubs fans flocked here in great numbers Friday night, blue caps, blue windbreakers and blue-and-white jerseys popping up like wildflowers throughout the Fens. This was a pilgrimage made in baseball heaven, those raised in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field pursuing their heroes for the first time since 1918 to Fenway Park, a place its current owners have haughtily proclaimed America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.

The debate over the relative merits of these ancient edifices will continue until one of them is eventually abandoned, or the end of the world, whichever comes first (and in case radio preacher Harold Camping goofed, first pitch Saturday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m.).

There can be little disagreement, however, over which of these storied franchises looks more like a big-league team built to contend in October, while the other appears destined to continue the longest 0-fer in baseball history.

The Red Sox scored early and often to crush the Chicago Cubs, 15-5, before a crowd of 37,140 that included Crane Kenney, the president of the Cubs, who was positioned perfectly in the Monster seats to field Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s home run after it caromed off the Volvo sign in left-center field.

That was one of the few clean plays made by the Cubs Friday night. The people Kenney pays to pitch, catch and throw the ball did not distinguish themselves in their ability to perform those basic tasks, making four errors. Starting pitcher Doug Davis gave up 7 runs in the first 3 2/3 innings. Three Cubs relievers gave up another 8 runs in the last 4 1/3.

Catcher Koyie Hill committed a passed ball and made a throwing error on a double steal, and that was just within the first three batters. Shortstop Starlin Castro threw two balls away. Left-fielder Alfonso Soriano waved at a line drive as he charged past it. Right-fielder Reed Johnson muffed a basket catch (that one was scored a hit).

The Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series since 1908 (and that includes the 1918 Series they lost in six games to the Sox and a left-handed pitcher named Ruth), appear destined to another “wait till next year” summer, settling into fifth place in the National League Central.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, clearly have bigger ideas. They banged out a season-high 19 hits to win their seventh game in a row, and first in four games this week in Fenway that wasn’t decided by a single run.

Manager Terry Francona says the replicate uniforms the teams are scheduled to wear Saturday night make him look like Max Patkin, one of baseball’s most famous clowns.

But Friday night’s game was the first laugher the Sox have had during their current winning streak, which began with a three-game sweep last weekend in Yankee Stadium and has pulled them to within a half-game of first-place Tampa Bay in the AL East. A team that began the season 2-10 is 22-10 since.

When Carl Crawford singled in the eighth, driving home two runs, that gave every player in the Sox lineup at least one hit except for Mike Cameron, who walked twice.

Adrian Gonzalez had four hits and four RBIs and has now driven in a major-league-leading 41 RBIs in the team’s first 44 games. That puts him on a pace for 151 RBIs, which would rank as fourth most in club history.

Kevin Youkilis had three hits and three RBIs, and smacked his eighth home run. The first two hitters in the Sox order, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, combined to be on base six times and score five times.

David Ortiz had two doubles, Jed Lowrie two singles, and Saltalamacchia had his best offensive night of the season, reaching base four times on his second home run, a single and two walks.

The only discordant note struck by the Sox was the pitching of starter Jon Lester, who gave up a career-high 12 hits in six innings, allowing 5 runs. That didn’t keep him from winning his sixth straight decision, although his last three starts comprise a mini-slump (24 H, 14 ER in 17 1/3 IP, an ERA of 7.27).

But by pitching the last three innings, even though he entered with a 10-5 lead, Scott Atchison was credited with his first major-league save.