04/23/08 12:40 AM ET
Red Sox have 'bury good opener
Center fielder blasts two homers, scores winning run vs. Halos
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Without ace Josh Beckett (flu and stiff neck) and catcher Jason Varitek (severe flu), Ellsbury took center stage in Tuesday night's 7-6 victory over the Angels.
Already having belted two solo homers by the time he stepped to the plate with one out in the eighth in a tie game, Ellsbury dropped down a bunt single. His presence on first base forced three pickoff throws from Angels reliever Scot Shields.
While Shields successfully prevented Ellsbury from stealing second, the purpose was defeated when Dustin Pedroia roped a double (his third of the night) into the left-field corner. Ellsbury? He roared all the way around from first to put the Sox in front for good.
"Jacoby started it," said Pedroia, who went 4-for-5 on the night. "That bunt was awesome. He's very exciting to watch. Sometimes, you sit back and just see his speed. It takes over a game. I hit that ball just hard enough to get it by [Chone] Figgins at third, and he scored easily. His speed definitely took over the game and both his home runs were nice, too."
The dynamic performance by Ellsbury brought back memories of a fairly recent Boston center fielder -- a guy who now makes his living in the Bronx.
"A little [Johnny] Damon-esque," Sox manager Terry Francona said of Ellsbury. "He has the ability, with two strikes, to throw that emergency hack on you and stay alive. He also has shown the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. He can change the game with his legs."
When Ellsbury first stepped to the plate in the eighth, he wasn't thinking bunt. But after taking the first pitch for a strike, Ellsbury noticed first baseman Casey Kotchman take a few steps back. Ellsbury then pushed a bunt past Shields, and the Angels never had a chance.
Then he went to work on distracting Shields. And with Pedroia's hard grounder rolling all the way down the line, Ellsbury went into his 270-foot sprint.
"I was thinking 'score' right as I took off," said Ellsbury. "I ran to second like I was going to score the whole way, and I saw [third-base coach] DeMarlo [Hale] wave me in, and I knew I'd be scoring from there. It feels great to help this team win and to do whatever you can to win. That's what we're here for, is to win ballgames and it's been fun so far."
The Red Sox have been winning a lot. This conquest gave them six in a row and 10 of their past 11.
It isn't just that the Red Sox are winning. A lot of it is the way they are wining. Ten of their first 15 wins have been comeback jobs. The Sox trailed this one, 5-1, before turning the tables.
"We swung the bats good. We don't quit," said Pedroia. "I know they had a lead. We just tried to put good at-bats together and fight our way back in the game."
With David Pauley called up from the Minors before the game and thrusted into Beckett's spot in the rotation, the Sox got a quick jolt when Ellsbury belted a solo homer into the Angels' bullpen to lead off the bottom of the first against starter Jered Weaver.
"The first home run off Weaver, I got 0-2 pretty quick and I was battling," said Ellsbury, "and he left a changeup up in the zone, and fortunately, I hit it hard enough to drive it out of the ballpark."
Pauley -- who will be optioned back to Triple-A Pawtucket on Wednesday -- retired the first six batters he faced, but then got into some serious trouble in the third. After a leadoff double by Maicer Izturis, Jeff Mathis lined an RBI single to right. With the bases loaded and two outs, Garret Anderson nailed a two-run single to center.
Back came the Angels again in the fourth, as Mathis unloaded for a two-run homer over the Green Monster to make it 5-1.
"Nothing really changed throughout the game," Pauley said. "I just left a couple of pitches up instead of hitting my spots like I was the first two innings. I left a couple of pitches up and they hurt me."
Despite the early adversity, the Red Sox stayed at it. They got one back in the bottom of the fourth on Julio Lugo's RBI single to right.
That momentum carried into the fifth inning, as Pedroia led off with a double and David Ortiz stung an RBI single up the middle. Manny Ramirez nearly belted homer No. 497 down the line in right field, but Vladimir Guerrero robbed him by reaching over the short wall and making a brilliant catch.
Unfortunately for the Angels, there was no way to scale the 37-foot high Monster when Kevin Youkilis unloaded for a two-run shot to left to tie the game.
"I was just trying to go up there and have a good at-bat," said Youkilis. "I have the same approach every time, and I was just going up there trying to hit the ball and stay through the ball well, and I didn't really think about it."
Ellsbury again displayed his power in the sixth, roping a two-out solo shot into the box seats in straightaway right against Angels reliever Darren O'Day to give the Sox the lead back at 6-5.
"It was a slider middle in," said Ellsbury. "I was looking just to be aggressive in the zone. He left it a little too in and I squared it up."
Julian Tavarez, who did a nice job keeping the Angels down after Pauley's exit, surrendered back-to-back singles to lead off the seventh. Hideki Okajima then came on and retired the Angels' 3-4-5 combo of Guerrero, Anderson and Torii Hunter, the latter of whom struck out to the delight of the roaring Fenway Park crowd.
Things didn't go as well for Okajima in the eighth, as Casey Kotchman belted a game-tying solo shot to right field.
But after Ellsbury and Pedroia put the Sox back up for good, closer Jonathan Papelbon finished off the Angels by overpowering them for his eighth save in the ninth inning.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.