BOSTON -- Besides the usual reasons to show up early at the ballpark -- beat the traffic, find a parking spot for under 50 bucks, shorter beer lines, catch an anthem singer like Irish tenor John McDermott, who did the honors Thursday night -- these Boston Red Sox are giving you the best incentive yet.
Come late, and you run the risk of missing a big inning early -- more so with the Sox than anyone else in the majors. And if they're on the road, you'd better be in front of your TV set from the start, too.
Thursday night, the Sox scored seven runs in the second inning against the Toronto Blue Jays, sending 11 men to the plate. That's the eighth time this season they've scored five runs or more in one of the first three innings, a pace far ahead of every team in the American League, and most in the majors -- two more than the St. Louis CardinalsSt. Louis Cardinals.
Eight times, including an eight-run third against the Tampa Bay Rays in the Trop on May 15, and a seven-run second in Cleveland on April 16. And that's in half a season.
The Sox did so five times in all of 2012. This season's team has done so more times already than any full season since 2005, when the Papi-Manny-Damon Sox did it nine times, the same number as in 2004, when they won a World Series.
In the first three innings combined, the Sox have outscored the opposition, 180-117. The Red Sox lead the league with 180 runs scored in the first three innings, way ahead of the Colorado Rockies, who are second with 153, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Sox are 33-7 in games in which they score first, good for the third-best record behind the Atlanta Braves (30-5) and New York Yankees (30-6), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Sox are 38-5 in games in which they score five or more runs. Tuesday night against the Rockies, they were ahead, 7-1, after three. It was 5-1 after three against the Rockies on Wednesday, and 7-0 against the Jays after three Thursday night.
Have any idea what that means to the Sox starting pitchers? We'll let Jon Lester tell you.
"Obviously, a seven-run lead in the second helps to get their [starter] out and get into their bullpen," Lester said. "That's big, especially in a four-game series.
"And when you have a seven-run lead against these guys, it takes the pressure off to make perfect pitches. You know they're going to be aggressive, so you've got to keep the ball down and in the park, and I was able to do that."
The Sox did it Thursday when David Ortiz and Mike Carp coaxed walks to open the second inning, and the next five batters hit safely. Daniel Nava, single. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, single. Stephen Drew, gift double, courtesy of Jays right-fielder Jose Bautista. Jose Iglesias, infield single, his 15th infield hit this season. Jacoby Ellsbury, single.
Shane Victorino broke the streak by grounding into a double play, but when Dustin Pedroia hit a hanging slider on an 0-and-2 pitch for a two-run home run, Jays starter Chien-Ming Wang, the former Yankee, was done for the night. And to think he'd entered the game having thrown 16 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run.
"The walk has been a big part of our innings where we've scored multiple runs," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "And then we bunch a number of hits together."
Sounds so easy, doesn't it? Tell that to the Yankees, who only twice this season have scored five or more runs in the first three innings.
"We try to [outdo each other] on offense," Victorino said the other night. "We strive to be better than the next guy in a roundabout way to push ourselves. When Jacoby goes out there and gets things going, I want to go and follow the lead. If he doesn't, then hey, I want to take the lead. If I don't do it, Pedroia takes the lead.
"So there's all kinds of things that lead to winning elements and what we're doing right now is grinding every single game, and next thing you know this guy's got 60 pitches after two innings. These are all things that are important: Get their starter out of there, get their bullpen in there."