10/02/2003 9:01 PM ET
Sox hitters in need of breakout
Hoping return to Fenway does the trick
OAKLAND -- The most productive lineup in the Major Leagues this season has one more chance to do what it does extremely well, or the postseason ends much sooner than anyone living in Red Sox Nation imagined.
Luckily for the Red Sox hitters, home is where they are hitting machines.
A team that led the AL in runs scored during the season limped home Thursday night, dragging a composite .228 batting average and a one-run-in-their-last-13-innings albatross around their necks.
"We have our backs up against the wall, but the stats point out that we are a much better hitting team at home than on the road," catcher Jason Varitek said after Thursday afternoon's 5-1 loss to the Athletics, moving the AL Wild Card team one loss away from being eliminated in the best-of-five Division Series.
"I think it will be a huge difference for us, getting back to the friendly confines of Fenway in front of our home crowd."
Boston's hitters are overdue.
Since second baseman Todd Walker's two-run home run in the seventh inning, which gave the Red Sox a 4-3 lead, the not-so-hot-Sox have scored one run in 14 innings. And this is a team known to have a better chance of scoring 14 runs in one inning than the other way around.
The first three hitters in the lineup, Johnny Damon (.333), Nomar Garciaparra (.375) and Walker (.444) are holding their own against a solid Athletics pitching staff. However, Manny Ramirez (.125), David Ortiz (.000), AL batting champion Bill Mueller (.222) and Kevin Millar (.200) are scuffling like the dickens.
And this from a team that led the Major Leagues in batting average (.289), runs (961), hits (1,667), doubles (371), extra-base hits (649), total bases (2,832), sacrifice flies (64), slugging percentage (.491) and on-base percentage (.360).
Get the picture? These guys can hit, but they're not hitting right now.
By Jim Street / MLB.com
To figure out why they managed just one run and six hits in Game 2, start at the end of the alphabet and work forward.
"Z" stands for Zito, as in Barry.
"Zito pitched a great game for them," losing pitcher Tim Wakefield said. "To hold our offense to one run is pretty impressive."
Damon didn't buy the theory that the Red Sox were down in the dumps after losing Game 1 in such dramatic and discouraging fashion -- a two-out, bases-loaded bunt single.
"We were ready to come out and win," he said. "We weren't tired, and we weren't demoralized by what happened (in Game 1). We came to play, but Zito had something up his sleeve."
The Red Sox had only seven baserunners against Zito, none off right-handed reliever Chad Bradford and one off closer Keith Foulke.
Ask anyone inside the visiting clubhouse Thursday and they told you that they are still alive. Maybe not by much, but still ticking.
The hits will come, they promise.
"We ran into a buzz saw today in Zito," Mueller said, "but this team can do some damage and I think we will do some damage at home. There will be a lot of electricity and the fans will be behind us.
"We just need to go out and pound the baseball. That's what we do."
And they do it extremely well at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox had the second-best record (53-28) at home this season and the difference in home-road hitting is staggering. They batted .316 at home and .263 on the road, scored more than 100 runs more at home than on the road and the discrepancy was so great that some opposing teams complained that the Sox were stealing signs from a TV monitor stationed in the right-center field bullpen.
The TV set will be turned off during the playoffs, by the way.
"We have enough confidence in ourselves that we know this is not over with," Varitek said. "We're going back to where we know we can score runs."
One hit at a time, one game at a time.
"There have been a lot of 'biggest' games for us, even in Spring Training," Damon said. "You can say that from here on out every game is the biggest game of the year for us."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League baseball or its clubs.
"We have enough confidence in ourselves that we know this is not
over with. We're going back to where we know we can score runs."
-- Jason Varitek