Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Red Sox just keep grinding

"The biggest thing to do is just to keep grinding."
-- Red Sox manager Terry Francona before Monday's game

Dustin Pedroia came to the plate with Jacoby Ellsbury on first base -- soon to be on second base -- during the first inning of Friday's game against the Yankees. Pedroia worked a four-pitch walk, perfectly happy to get on base in front of Victor Martinez and Kevin Youkilis.

It was only because Martinez grounded into a double play and, after a Youkilis walk, David Ortiz grounded out to second base that the inning became the first of the 31 consecutive innings in which the Red Sox did not score a run.

Pedroia came to the plate again with Ellsbury on second base during the first inning of Monday's game against the Tigers. Edwin Jackson didn't give him a chance to work his walk, though. A missed bunt attempt -- anything to get the runner over, right? -- and a tough fastball in on the hands put the second baseman in an 0-2 hole.

"Once I get two strikes me, I'm not just trying to hit the ball to right field to get Ells over," Pedroia said. "I'm trying to just put a good at-bat together."

Pedroia set about doing what he does so well -- he laid off a fastball high and a slider in the dirt and a fastball off the plate away to run the count to 3-2. He then fouled off a full-count slider at the knees to force Jackson to throw one more pitch.

The next pitch Jackson threw actually wasn't that bad of a pitch. He threw a 93-mile-an-hour fastball down and in and didn't really give Pedroia a chance to get his arms extended. But the reigning American League MVP seemed to sense a fastball was coming and was out in front of it, taking a big swing and depositing it in the Green Monster seats for a two-run home run.

Just like that, the Red Sox had scored as many runs as they'd scored on Friday, Saturday and Sunday combined.

But Pedroia wasn't the only one to get a big hit, and he wasn't the only one to grind out an at-bat. Nine of the first 12 hitters of the game saw at least four pitches, and the only ones who didn't saw their at-bats end with hits. Eight straight batters in the first inning worked the count -- except J.D. Drew, who singled up the middle on the first pitch -- and eight straight batters either hit the ball hard or drew a walk.

The second inning was much the same story. Nick Green worked his way back from a 1-2 count, refusing to chase a couple of pitches down and out of the strike zone, and jumped on a fastball up and over the middle and launched it over the Green Monster. Even though Pedroia and Martinez both struck out, they both did so after lengthy battles that only served to drive Jackson's pitch count up.

By the end of the fourth inning, Jackson was done.

"We had long at-bats, and that's huge," Pedroia said. "To get their starter out of the game after four innings, especially playing them four times, that's pretty good."

The result -- the Red Sox survived a late rally to earn a 6-5 win -- in some ways served as a validation for the grind-it-out approach the Red Sox took with them to New York. They just hadn't gotten anything for their efforts. The Red Sox already ranked third in the major leagues in pitches seen per plate appearance (3.92), well above the league average of 3.83, and they actually maintained that approach pretty well in New York in the face of a total lack of results:

Thursday: 4.11 pitches per at-bat
Friday: 4.63
Saturday: 4.13
Sunday: 4.21

As a team, overall, the Red Sox saw 4.24 pitches per at-bat against the Yankees over the weekend -- a pretty impressive feat the way the home team's hurlers were pounding the strike zone.

"Those guys, they're pounding the strike zone, and they didn't walk a lot of guys," said left fielder Jason Bay, who watched most of the series from the bench with an injured hamstring. "It's about throwing quality strikes. I don't care if it's Single-A or the big leagues: ... If they're putting it where they want it, it's going to be hard to put a good swing on it."

Next up: Detroit rookie Rick Porcello, who threw 84 pitches but didn't get out of the fifth inning (4.0 pitches per at-bat) when he faced the Red Sox in early June.

Just keep grinding. Just keep grinding.

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