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Sox's catalyst needs to turn it up
10/14/2004 5:00 PM ET
BOSTON -- Lynn Jones, the Red Sox first base coach, has been a lonely guy in this series. Particularly in the first six innings, when the Sox have one single in 37 at-bats (.027).

Oh, and one walk. And no runs. And, as a result, no wins.

There now, we've identified a problem. But what's the solution in order to get the Red Sox back into the American League pennant hunt? A glimpse at the schedule might offer a clue: the next three games are scheduled at Fenway Park.

Ah, home. Green Monster. Quirky nooks and crannies. The adoring Sox Nation.

And something even better: a .304 team batting average, 6.4 runs per game, a 55-26 record.

That compares to a Red Sox road ledger of .260, 5.3 runs per game, and a 43-38 record.

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"Home's been nice to us," Johnny Damon said.

Nobody should know better than Damon. In the regular season, he hit .330 at Fenway compared to .280 on the road.

"Now we're back here in Boston to sort of recapture what we had right before this series," Damon said. "As soon as the offense gets going, we're going to be just fine."

And the earlier, the better. The Red Sox have waited until the final three innings to score their eight runs, while going 14-for-30 (.467).

Damon, however, has not been a participant in these late-inning bursts. In the two losses to the Yankees, he's hitless in eight at-bats with five strikeouts.

Facts machine
The 2004 Red Sox had a regular-season batting average of .304 at Fenway Park, over 40 points higher than their .260 road mark. Here's how starters fared at home and away.
Player Road Fenway Park
Mark Bellhorn .244, 6 HR, 30 RBI .283, 11 HR, 52 RBI
Orlando Cabrera .319, 5 HR, 17 RBI .266, 1 HR, 14 RBI
Johnny Damon .280, 11 HR, 53 RBI .330, 9 HR, 41 RBI
Kevin Millar .242, 6 HR, 21 RBI .350, 12 HR, 53 RBI
Bill Mueller .225, 3 HR, 21 RBI .344, 9 HR, 36 RBI
Trot Nixon .291, 3 HR, 10 RBI .343, 3 HR, 13 RBI
David Ortiz .274, 24 HR, 75 RBI .325, 17 HR, 64 RBI
Manny Ramirez .301, 20 HR, 58 RBI .315, 23 HR, 72 RBI
Jason Varitek .256, 10 HR, 32 RBI .336, 8 HR, 41 RBI

The leadoff batter is in a funk.

"It's huge. Johnny has been our catalyst all year," manager Terry Francona said.

"When he's on base, he's capable of stealing a base. They have to be aware of that -- it opens a hole for our left-handed hitters. That's why they say offense gets contagious, because it does. When you have runners on base, there are holes to hit balls through, pitchers have to think about guys running. It opens up a lot on your offense. Johnny knows that. That's why we've been so successful this year."

There's a trickle-down effect from Damon, who hit .304, scored 123 runs and drove in 94 this year.

"As much as I figure out in batting practice today, I'm still going to have to figure it out in the game," he said. "I just need to swing at good pitches and, hopefully, they give me some good pitches to swing at. But it definitely starts with me. When I go, it seems like (Mark) Bellhorn goes and when we go, the whole team goes."

And when he doesn't go, the whole team stalls.

Bellhorn, the No. 2 hitter, is 1-for-8 with no RBIs. Manny Ramirez, who bats next, is 2-for-8 with no RBIs. Cleanup man David Ortiz, at least, is 3-for-7 with a two-run triple in the ALCS opener.

In the Division Series sweep of the Angels, Ramirez was 5-for-13 with seven RBIs. Damon scored four runs.

But the Yankees, notably starters Mike Mussina and Jon Lieber and closer Mariano Rivera, have applied the clamps.

"It's not just Manny and David," Jones said. "The key is Johnny getting on base and disrupting the pitchers."

Going against Kevin Brown at Fenway might be different, or so the Red Sox hope.

"We're just a lot more comfortable here," Jones said. "If there's a home-field advantage, this is the place to have it. It's such a unique park."

Francona seconded that notion.

"When you have a place like Fenway, it makes it even better for us. I mean, our left-handed hitters know they can hit that wall. There's a lot of nooks and crannies that we are very comfortable with here," Francona said.

"Even defensively we probably play better here. You see Manny play left field and he knows how to play left field here."

Check out some of the other Fenway averages by the Red Sox: Kevin Millar, .350; Bill Mueller, .344; Trot Nixon, .343; Jason Varitek and Ortiz, .325; Ramirez .315.

In their comfort zone, the Red Sox perhaps will be a bit more patient and not be hitting in a pitcher's count as they did so often in New York.

"They've attacked the strike zone so well, but our philosophy really isn't to take strike one. Our philosophy is to get pitches we can handle and do some damage with that," Francona said.

The Red Sox batted just .224 at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees hit .313.

"We just need the offense to show up and when the offense shows up, we can be very dangerous," Damon said.

And when Damon shows up, they can be extremely dangerous.

"It starts with me," Damon said. "I've done nothing for us. That's the key -- if you stop me, you slow this offense down."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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