10/28/07 3:45 AM ET
Rookies give Sox energy at the top
In Youkilis' absence, Ellsbury sets strong tone with Pedroia
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
It sounds almost like fitting pieces into a puzzle that is the Red Sox's offense, except that everything seems to somehow fit. Before Saturday's Game 3 of the World Series, the question for Boston was how much the club would miss Youkilis' impact on offense. As it turned out, the answer was what Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia added to the lineup in a 10-5 win.
The two Red Sox rookies play with a completely different style from almost every other player in Boston's lineup. They're young and homegrown in a clubhouse otherwise filled largely with veterans. Their speed and well-placed hitting contrasts with the raw power behind them in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.
Yet on a night when the Red Sox went homerless for the second consecutive game, their National League-style top of the order wreaked havoc on the NL champion Rockies on their home turf. And the mighty sluggers behind them gave them their due.
"They carried the team," Ramirez said. "You have to give those guys credit."
For Pedroia to do that was less of a surprise, since he has been with the club the entire year. Until Ellsbury's ascension on Saturday, Pedroia had been batting leadoff, so he was used to table-setting. Ellsbury was the newbie, the late-season callup who has been riding a wave of confidence.
Stylistically, however, they were two of the same kind, and the kind of weapons that Red Sox manager Terry Francona wanted to start off at the top. Together, they marked just the third pair of rookies ever to start in the top two spots of a World Series lineup.
"Well, they were on base the whole night," Francona said. "They did exactly what you would hope your [Nos.] 1-2 hitters would do. They're on base like that, and then you've got to face the middle of our order. It created a lot of opportunities."
It not only created those opportunities, but converted them.
Back-to-back infield singles put Rockies starter Josh Fogg in a jam right from the get-go. Fogg escaped it impressively by retiring Ortiz, Ramirez and Mike Lowell in order. He couldn't possibly have liked his chances to do that again the next time they came up.
Thanks to Ellsbury and Pedroia, it was a similar predicament. Ellsbury lined the first pitch of the third inning past third baseman Garrett Atkins and down the left-field line for a leadoff double. Pedroia tried to move him over, but his bunt attempt was placed so well between home plate and the pitcher's mound that he had an infield single instead of a sacrifice.
An Ortiz double, Ramirez intentional walk and Lowell single later, the Red Sox had a 3-0 lead.
"They're setting the table as well as you could ever want," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "They put us in some very difficult positions when you get into the middle of the lineup, then you've got to pick which guy you want out there. You want to go with Big Papi or Manny or Lowell? That's not easy duty for anyone."
It wasn't any easier when they came up again -- in the same inning. Once Matt Holliday threw out Ramirez at the plate for the second out, the Rockies essentially walked Julio Lugo to take their chances with pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. His single not only brought in another run, it reset the order back to the top.
Back came Ellsbury, this time working out of an 0-2 count to hit a line drive into shallow left-center field. Cory Sullivan made a diving attempt but couldn't snare it, and Ellsbury dashed into second with an RBI double.
Only Matt Williams with the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks had doubled twice in the same inning of a World Series game. Ellsbury is about the least likely to match that.
"Ells, he's just stepping in here," Game 4 starter Jon Lester said. "Anything he gives you is gravy. He's done a great job. He's got so many weapons he can use, and that helps him out."
Colorado's bullpen entered and retired 13 of Boston's next 14 batters, allowing the Rockies to get back into the game. Once they crept to within a run, however, the Sox's rare rookies came through again, this time with runners on instead of leading off.
A one-out walk from Lugo and single from Coco Crisp put two on for Ellsbury against sidearming lefty Brian Fuentes. With Crisp already in the game and the Red Sox focusing on defense in the outfield, Ellsbury was staying in and digging in. He answered with a lofted poke down the right-field line that fell just beyond the reach of a sliding Brad Hawpe, yet barely inside the foul line as Lugo came home.
If there was any need for another sign that this was Ellsbury's night, there it was.
"With my first three at-bats [against right-handers], I was staying inside and going the other way," Ellsbury said. "I figured they would be coming in in that situation. Fortunately, I got out in front of the ball, and it fell down the right-field line. But with the angle and how the ball was coming down, I knew it would be close."
One pitch later, Pedroia doubled him in, as well as Crisp. Just like that, the one-run lead had become four.
"That's how we've won all year. We've won with different contributors," catcher Jason Varitek said. "The big fellas are going to win their fair share of games for us, but Dustin has been such a huge part of this team all year long, and now Ellsbury brings a pretty exciting element to his game."
The two dynamic rookies not only set the table, but they cleared it. And they left the Rockies with a mess to clean up.
"They've been doing a fantastic job at the top of the order," Hurdle said. "We've got to find a way to slow them down."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.