Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bailey, Kottaras get things rolling

There's a school of thought that goes like this: When a new pitcher comes into a game and there are men on base, you take a pitch or two to gauge his stuff -- lest you get burned by a first-pitch breaking ball and bounce into a rally-killing double play.

There's another school of thought that goes like this: When you're 3-for-22 on the season and not getting any kind of regular playing time and you get a first-pitch fastball over the plate, you jump the heck on it.

"To be honest with you, sometimes you sit offspeed -- but in that situation, I said, 'I'm just going to sit fastball,'" said first baseman Jeff Bailey, whose bases-loaded double in the sixth inning broke Thursday's game wide open. "That's a situation where it's going to be one or the other. They're trying to get a bad swing, a double-play ball, something like that, and I guessed right. It was middle-in, and I got the head out -- I didn't crush it, but it was enough."

Bailey was part of a makeshift lineup cobbled together in spite of injuries to Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz -- the latter of whom discovered during batting practice that he couldn't turn his neck to face the pitcher without feeling pain.

Since Tim Wakefield was pitching, George Kottaras was behind the plate -- meaning the Red Sox were only playing four regular starters in the field plus Julio Lugo at designated hitter.

"We were scrambling," manager Terry Francona said.

But after starter Jeremy Sowers pitched five solid innings, the Red Sox started to get things going in the sixth. The first six batters of the inning, in fact, all reached before Sowers could record an out. Jason Bay's double to left scored a run to tie the game at 2, and Rocco Baldelli's single to right-center field plated two more to give the Red Sox a 4-2 lead.

When J.D. Drew walked on a slider outside, Cleveland manager Eric Wedge called upon Masa Kobayashi to face Bailey with the bases loaded and no outs.

It was certainly still a game at that point. If Kobayashi could have gotten Bailey to hit the ball on the ground, he could have wiggled out of the jam with no further damage -- and Bailey had hit into double plays in back-to-back games.

Not Thursday, though.

"I was just looking fastball," Bailey said. "He started it in the middle and it ran in a little bit, and I got my hands through."

The result was a double to left field that scored Baldelli and Mike Lowell to push the Red Sox lead to 6-2 -- and also push Bailey's batting average up above .150 for the first time in almost a week.

"You never want to go under .100," he said with a wry grin.

Two batters later, it was Kottaras' turn. Nick Green had just beaten out an infield hit; Kobayashi failed to cover first base on a slow roller to the right side of the infield, and that loaded things right back up for a catcher who had been having a similarly tough time in limited action.

Heading into Thursday night, Kottaras' batting average was .143; he'd then popped to center and popped to short in his first two at-bats. That's how it sometimes goes, though, when you're a backup catcher who plays once or twice a week.

"It's not easy, but on the days when I'm not playing, I do as much as I can to keep my rhythm going," he said.

Just like Bailey, Kottaras didn't wait around for Kobayashi to get ahead in the count. He got a first-pitch fastball up and away and lifted it into center field for a two-run single.

"You're just trying to be aggressive in the situation and take what you can get," he said.

With that hit, he lifted his batting average back above .150, higher than it's been since April 22. He also knocked in more runs on that play than he had in his first 23 at-bats.

"It's great getting a hit anytime," he said. "I just went up there and tried to simplify what's going on."

Julio Lugo followed Kottaras with an infield hit, and Dustin Pedroia then singled home two more runs before Jason Bay hit a three-run home run over the Red Sox bullpen. This all, of course, came before the Indians had recorded an out.

It made for quite the memorable inning.

"It's always great to put some runs on the board," Kottaras said. "Guys had some great at-bats and hustled some balls out. We just went out there and made things happen."

Said Bailey, "It gets crowded at the helmet rack, I know that. Everybody wants to get up there."

And don't think their contributions got lost in the onslaught.

"On a night when David doesn't play, it's very satisfying getting guys involved -- getting George to stay on a pitch long enough to get it over the infielder's head, and Bails had some real good at-bats," Francona said. "Right in the middle of that big inning, it's great."

Said Baldelli, "It's a good-hitting team over here, and I think everybody knows that. Especially when the bottom of the order is really contributing like they did tonight, good things are going to happen."

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