Varitek helps fill offensive void
August, 21, 2011
By Austin Meek | ESPNBoston.com
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Of all the unlikely sparks for the Red Sox offense, a Jason Varitek triple might draw the longest odds.
But there was Boston's veteran catcher, chugging around second base after splitting two outfielders with a drive into the right-center-field gap. The triple, Varitek's first since 2007, broke a scoreless tie in Boston's 6-1 victory Sunday at Kansas City, prompting some postgame commemoration in the Red Sox clubhouse.
"A Varitek triple," center fielder Darnell McDonald said. "We've got to take a picture of that."
The Red Sox can't count on a Varitek triple every day -- or every year, for that matter -- but it's the kind of spark Boston could use with several of its big bats on the shelf.
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerAfter Sunday's win, Darnell McDonald salutes Jason Varitek, whose triple helped spark the Sox. McDonald contributed three hits, including a homer.
Injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis have forced the Red Sox to become resourceful, but they still managed to take three of four games against the Royals and stay within a half-game of the Yankees in the American League East.
"It's nice to know that when those guys are out, you have other guys to fill in and do a good job," pitcher Jon Lester said.
Lester gave Boston a strong start, limiting the Royals to one run and three hits in six innings for his 13th win. His command wavered at times, with four walks padding his pitch count, but the Royals didn't record a hit until the fourth inning and didn't mount a serious threat until the seventh.
"He put up a lot of zeroes," manager Terry Francona said.
Equally important were three innings of scoreless relief from Daniel Bard and Dan Wheeler, especially after Boston's bullpen imploded during an eight-run inning the night before.
The Red Sox called on Bard after Lester worked into a seventh-inning jam. Royals rookie Johnny Giavotella opened the inning with a triple, followed by a walk to Salvador Perez and an RBI single from Mike Moustakas that trimmed Boston's lead to 3-1.
Bard entered the game and struck out shortstop Alcides Escobar, who was trying to advance the runners with a bunt. He then got Alex Gordon on a liner to center and induced a ground ball from Melky Cabrera to end the inning.
"My job is to maintain the lead," said Bard, who lowered his ERA to 2.10 with two perfect innings. "The easiest way to do that is to strike a guy out and get a ground ball.
"I knew [Escobar] was going to be trying to bunt. He's probably one of the best bunters in the league. I got lucky with him fouling those two balls off. From there, you're pitching for the strikeout in that situation."
Boston's bats needed time to get rolling against Royals rookie Danny Duffy (3-8), who allowed two runs in six innings.
Varitek's triple broke a scoreless tie in the fifth, scoring Jed Lowrie with two outs.
"I told him speed never takes a day off," Francona said, asked about Varitek's rare triple. "At that point in the game, they're holding us down pretty well. I know the score ends up being spread out a little bit, but at that time, that's a huge hit."
Varitek didn't hesitate after peeking over his shoulder and seeing Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur racing toward the ball.
"It's much easier for me to score from third than it is from second," Varitek said. "So if I have the chance ..."
McDonald, subbing in center for Ellsbury, took an 0-2 pitch from Duffy over the fence to put Boston on top 2-0 in the sixth, one of three hits for McDonald on the day.
Ed Zurga/Getty ImagesTerry Francona is all smiles as Carl Crawford reaches the dugout after his seventh-inning home run.
"They'd been throwing a lot of fastballs with two strikes," McDonald said. "I was looking for it, and I was able to put a good swing on it.
"It's no secret -- the more at-bats you get, the easier it is to get your timing. The biggest focus for me is trying to swing at good pitches and put quality swings on the baseball."
Carl Crawford pushed the lead to 3-0 with his eighth home run of the season, a 416-foot blast off All-Star reliever Aaron Crow in the seventh.
With several big bats sidelined, the Red Sox would welcome a hot stretch from Crawford, who entered Sunday's game batting .251.
"That ball went a long way," Francona said. "He got his foot down on time. When he does that, it seems like everything slows down. The bat head gets where it's supposed to. That was gorgeous."
The Red Sox headed from Kansas City to Texas, where they play the first of four games Monday night. Given their makeshift lineup, they were happy to leave with a series victory.
"Taking three out of four here maybe lets us take a deep breath," Bard said. "If we had gone 1-3 here or even 2-2, we'd probably feel like we had some ground to make up heading into [the Texas series]. Now we can just go in and play our game."