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MINNEAPOLIS -- Among the many things to admire about this team, there is this: The Boston Red Sox travel well.
We're not talking five-star hotels, stretch limos and dining only at Michelin-approved restaurants, although David Ortiz was overheard Monday night arranging a ride from the ballpark with "Big Pimp Daddy," the affectionate name he gave to his driver du jour. "Gotta make the [expletive] feel good,'' he said with a smile.
|Despite not getting to their hotel until 5 a.m., the Red Sox ended the night smiling thanks in large part to David Ortiz.|
And traveling secretary Jack McCormick is good at his job, so the Sox's creature comforts are all met whenever the team leaves Boston.
But we're not talking style points here. We're talking winning. And ever since the Red Sox opened the season in shocking fashion -- losing all six games on their first trip of the season, to Texas and Cleveland, then making it seven road losses in a row after being pounded, 5-0, in Oakland on April 19 -- they have been winning at an absurd rate when playing outside of Fenway.
After coming back from a four-run deficit here Monday night behind Ortiz's four hits, including a tie-breaking single in the ninth to help beat the Minnesota Twins, 8-6, the Sox are now a major-league best 34-21 on the road, a .618 winning percentage.
That record, however, defies belief when you look at it after the first seven losses: 34-14, a .708 winning percentage. That's not far off from the best road record of the 162-game era, the .728 (59-22) posted by the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who were still so giddy two years after escaping the tomb-like Kingdome they kicked the stuffing out of whomever they were playing, wherever they were playing.
If ever a night on the road was ripe for a letdown, this was it: The Sox were coming off an exhausting, grinding series against the New York Yankees, the Sunday night game not ending until 12:25 Monday. Buses to Logan Airport, a nearly three-hour flight from Boston, and only then did they fall into their beds in their Minneapolis hotel at about 5 a.m. for a few hours of fitful sleep.
And then, five innings into a game that started an hour early to accommodate ESPN, they were looking at a 5-1 hole in front of sellout crowd of 40,080 hungry for a hometown win, the Twins having lost four in a row and seven of their past eight to fall out of contention in the AL Central.
Roll over, set the alarms for the next morning, and hope for a better outcome the next night?
That's not how these Sox roll. The Sox scored four in the sixth to tie it, an inning that began with a triple by the rejuvenated Carl Crawford and included back-to-back home runs by Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia off a sore-armed Scott Baker that together traversed 858 feet of Target Field real estate (Ortiz 438, Salty 420).
"This game's crazy,'' Ortiz said, "but one thing we know as baseball players is that when you don't have all your energy out there sometimes those are the best games you have because you're not trying to do too much. Sometimes it's works, sometimes it doesn't. I guess it worked today.''
Ortiz had been struggling on the team's recent wanderings. In his past 17 games on the road, which included the disruptive nine-game tour of three National League parks, Ortiz had managed just two hits in his past 45 at-bats, an .044 clip. He doubled that Monday night, and also left his mark with his base running, when he doubled and later thundered home from third on an infield grounder, Twins catcher Joe Mauer dropping the ball when he tried to catch and tag at the same time.
Someone asked Ortiz if he thought Mauer heard footsteps. Footsteps? How about an oncoming train?
"He heard the big elephant coming,'' Ortiz said with a laugh. "He was shaking when I was coming in.
"It's hard to catch the ball and expect the runner at the same time,'' Ortiz said. "I can't imagine.''
That run gave the Sox a 6-5 lead, and Tim Wakefield was six outs away from his 200th win. Wakefield probably had more energy than the rest of his teammates, having flown in the night before. But by then, he was out of the game, Terry Francona entrusting the lead to Alfredo Aceves.
Aceves couldn't hold it. A leadoff double and a two-out single by Jason Kubel, and the score was tied again.
Jacoby Ellsbury led off the ninth with a single, but Crawford struck out, Ellsbury was picked off, and the Sox were in jeopardy of playing deep into the night again. But Adrian Gonzalez lined a single, and Dustin Pedroia kept fighting off pitches from Joe Nathan until he hit a squibber that became an infield hit.
"He threw me some filthy pitches,'' said Pedroia, who was batting cleanup for Kevin Youkilis, who was given the night off. "I was just trying my hardest to get David up there. Right on right, it's tough against him [Nathan], so it was a lucky hit, we'll take it. I was just fighting him.
"[First-base umpire] Tim McClelland was messing with me and told me it was a foul ball. I almost had a heart attack. I've got to go up there again? Then he smiled and told me to stay there.''
Tired? Did someone say tired?
"We're tired," Pedroia said. "I'm tired. But that's part of our job, man. We've got to come out and play."
And play they did. Seventeen hits, including three more by Marco Scutaro, who had seven in a row until grounding out to short in his last at-bat. Another runner thrown out trying to steal by Saltalamacchia. Then, the sweet promise of slumber, as Ortiz's lumber produced a line-drive single that made it 7-6, and Saltalamacchia dumped a broken-bat double for another run.
"That just proves what kind of team we are, to me,'' Saltalamacchia said. "Getting in at 5 in the morning, being down by four runs early, and coming out there and still swinging and putting runs on the board and coming out with the victory."
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.