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The Royals Choke and the Sox Regain Momentum

By Brian Chase and Yong-Yi Zhu

SPORTS EDITOR AND COLUMNIST

The Red Sox had a series of games against the Kansas City Royals over the weekend which turned out to be much closer and more entertaining than anyone might have thought, given that KC came into the series in last place in the American League Central, and the Red Sox led the AL East.

Friday: Sox come back to beat the Royals

In Friday’s game, in fact, the Royals seemed to Have the Red Sox well in hand. Jeremy Affeldt, the Royals pitcher, went seven innings into the game allowing only two Red Sox runs, both in the third. And the top of the Royals order tagged Sox pitcher Wakefield for 4 runs in the 5th. Together with two unearned runs earlier in the game, the Royals took a comfortable 6-2 lead into the eighth inning.

Then it all fell apart for the Royals, though. Affeldt, showing obvious signs of exhaustion, let two more runs score in the eighth before he was yanked for reliever Jason Grimsley. That set up the following scenario: ninth inning, Royals lead 6-4, the top of the order batting for both teams, and Red Sox closer Mike Timlin and Royals closer Mike MacDougal coming in.

Timlin did his job, and retired the first three Royals batters 1-2-3. When MacDougal came up, however, he wasn’t nearly as effective. He walked Johnny Damon, and the let Mark Bellhorn, of all people, homer to right field and tie the game 6-6. As if that wasn’t enough, he walked Manny Ramirez with only one out (the one out was David Ortiz, who had a horrible night, striking out at least three times.)

At this point, MacDougal was mercifully yanked, but the Red Sox weren’t finished yet. The next pitcher, Scott Sullivan, faced Jason Varitek, who Sox Manager Terry Francona pinch hit for Gabe Kapler. On the very first pitch from Sullivan, Varitk popped a double down the right field base line. Ramirez, who had moved to second on a loose pitch from MacDougal, made it to home without even sliding, and the Sox had pulled off the miraculous comeback, winning 7-6. The Royals had blown a game yet again.

It it encouraging for the Red Sox this season to see themselves in a position where their bullpen held up and won the game over another team’s. Timlin’s efforts looked a far cry from the travesties of the bullpen-by-committee that the Sox tried last year.

Saturday: Sox earn solid win over Royals

On Saturday, the arms of Curt Schilling and the legs of Pokey Reese helped to spark the Boston Red Sox to their second win against the Kansas City Royals this time by the score of 9-1.

The game Saturday between the Sox and the Royals looked like it would come down to the final innings, as the night before. The Sox were only leading by one run coming into the sixth. But that would quickly change, as a huge sixth inning by the Red Sox broke open the game and netted Curt Schilling his fourth win of the season and Jimmy Gobble his first loss. David McCarty also added a two-run home run in the eighth.

The Sox batted around in the bottom of the sixth, earning themselves five runs and a six-run lead. The inning was highlighted by Pokey Reese’s second home run of the game, a shot over the Green Monster in left field. This was by far the easier of Reese’s two home runs on the day. In the previous inning, Reese hit a ball sharply into right field, bouncing towards the stands. Juan Gonzalez, the Royals’ right fielder, charged the ball, only to have it slip by and hop deeper into right field.

By the time Gonzalez had fielded the ball, Reese had already rounded third base and was coming home. He slid just past the tag of catcher Benito Santiago. This was Reese’s first inside-the-park home run and the first two home run game of his career.

Asked afterwards if he was now considered one of the bigger Sox hitters because of Saturday’s performance, Reese responded, “No, I’m not a power hitter by no means. I leave that to Millar and Ortiz and Manny and those guys.”

Despite his two home runs, Pokey stated, “I hate day games. But I just got up and came here.” And when asked about any routines he will employ in the future, he simply responded that “I just got an energy bar and a Gatorade and I just went out and played.”

Pokey Reese is known for his defense, but Saturday he flashed a bit of his offensive skills while replacing the injured Nomar Garciaparra. Nomar, who was at batting practice, said that he is with the team just to be back on the field with his teammates. He wants to let them know that things are progressing well as he works out for 4 hours a day in the gym. Nomar says that he will return to the lineup when he can carry out routine tasks without causing further injury.

On the pitching side of the ball, Sox starter Schilling was spectacular. Curt kept the Sox in the game early and pitched all nine innings for his first complete game of the season.

Varitek, who was catcher for the Red Sox, said that Schilling was “in the zone with all of his pitches.” Varitek also said that Schilling’s performance was “his best altogether outing,” and his brilliance “came at the right time” as he “kept [the Red Sox] in it long enough to win the game for us.”

It was a surprise to see Schilling trot out to finish the game in the ninth, as he threw a total of 120 pitches, 85 of which were strikes. But then, at that point, the game was 9-1.

Schilling said he simply wanted to eat up enough innings. After the sixth, he was counting the number of outs he needed to get through the entire game, and he said that he merely “worked backwards from nine.” He also mentioned that the weather was kind to him, as it was cool enough outside to allow him to stay strong throughout the entire game.

The Sox hope to continue their offensive dominance this week against the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays.