As July rolled into August, the Red Sox came out of their funk a bit, with 5 wins in 8 constests against contending teams. The Blue Jays had won 29 of 39 to move past Boston into second in the AL East. Backed by strong hitting, however, the Sox swept two in Toronto. The first was a come-from-behind 11-9 decision in which the Townies overcame a 7-3 deficit. The Sox jumped out to a 3-0 advantage, but the home squad responded with 5 in the second and 2 more in the fourth off Bret Saberhagen. But Boston bats exploded for 6 in the fifth, as they sent 11 batters to the plate against David Wells and a young Roy Hallyday. The visitors slammed 18 hits, including 7 doubles. Hard-hitting Nomar Garciaparra was 3 for 6 with 2 rbi’s, Darren Lewis 3 for 5 with 3, and newly-acquired DH Butch Huskey also had 3 safeties. Tim Wakefield picked up his 13th save.
Pat Rapp gave his best performance of the year the next night, going 8 innings and permitting 2 hits and one walk in an 8-0 rout, with all the runs on homers. Huskey continued to shine, with a grand slam in the fourth and a solo job in the ninth. John Valentin then capped the scoring with a three-run shot. The pair of wins put the Sox second, a half game ahead of Toronto.
As the Sox came home to face the Yankees, there was good and bad news. The good was that Pedro Martinez was returning to the rotation, the bad that Tom Gordon, injured most of the year, would probably require Tommy John surgery and miss a full season.. The first game was ugly, as the Bombers teed off on Mark Portugal and two relievers in a 13-3 drubbing. New York jumped out 9-2 after three, with Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter opening the contest with homers. Every Yank starter hit safely, as Knoblauch was 5 for 6 with three ribbies, Jose Posada 3 for 5 with 3, and Scott Brosius 3 for 5 with 2.
Boston rebounded, however, with a pair of close victories, 6-5 and 5-4. The visitors led 5-2 at one point in the first contest, but the Sox rallied with single runs in the fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth. Valentin’s run-scoring double in the seventh tied it, and Jose Offerman, returning from a short benching, tripled to open the ninth. With the Yanks outfield in, Valentin dropped one into the left field corner for a walkoff victory. Roger Clemens, in his first return to Fenway as a Yankee, labored through 5-plus innings, allowing 4 hits and 4 runs and fanning just 2. Sox starter Brian Rose was also hit hard, but relievers Rheal Cormier and Derek Lowe settled things down, with Lowe picking up the victory.
The rubber match was also close, with Boston overcoming an early 2-0 advantage with singles in the third and fourth (Brian Daubach homer).Troy O’Leary then parked a three-run blast in the sixth off Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez for a 5-2 lead. Wakefield, in relief of Saberhagen, allowed a pair in the eighth but hung on for the save.
The Indians, sporting the best record in baseball at 64-41, then came into Fenway and took a pair of close ones before the Sox rebounded with a 7-2 victory. We will go into detail about those contests next week, but Sox hitting, especially by youngsters like Daubach and Trot Nixon, was helping keep them close in the wild card race.
As of August 4, Boston stood at 58-49, trailing the Jays by 1 1/2. Nomar was on one of his patented hot streaks, hitting at a .473 clip since July 21,including 3 doubles, 3 homers, and 10 rbi’s. His .368 average was leading the AL. The Townies had a .278 team average, led by Garciaparra, Daubach (.312) and O’Leary (.285). Huskey was also supplying some big hits.O’Leary led the homer parade with 20, followed by Nomar with 18. Pitching-wise, Martinez and Saberhagen both excelled with a combined 22-7 record and under-3 ERA, a standout mark in a season where hitting predominated in both leagues.