Red Sox flex muscles for Schilling

Red Sox flex muscles for Schilling

ST. PETERSBURG -- David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, the two monster mashers in the middle of the Boston batting order, are both capable of carrying the Red Sox on their backs -- or is it their bats? -- on a given night. When the sluggers are wielding hot bats in unison, there's not much an opponent can do but duck for cover.

With the Red Sox in dire need of a win after seeing the Yankees shrink their American League East lead to a nearly invisible margin of a half-game on Monday, Boston's sluggers made it possible by burying the Devil Rays in the early innings of Tuesday's game.

It added up to a 15-2 victory on a night the Yankees held serve with a win in the Bronx. So if the Red Sox weren't able to open up additional breathing room against their rivals, they at least showed emphatic signs of breaking out of a rare offensive slump that had plagued them in recent days.

Ortiz (4-for-5, four runs) further enhanced his candidacy for the AL MVP, smashing two homers (Nos. 45 and 46) and driving in four runs to make him just the second Sox slugger in the last half-century to produce 140 RBIs in a season. Ramirez (4-for-4) backed that bashing with some of his own, belting a pair of homers, scoring four times and driving in three.

"I think the correct phrase would be 'pick your poison'. That's a good combination," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "That's part of the reason we're successful."

And if the 3-4 combo wasn't enough for the Devil Rays to handle, the Nos. 5 and 6 hitters -- Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek -- both broke out of slumps in a big way, each chipping in with four hits of their own. The four Boston batters getting four hits tied an American League record. Nixon fell just a double shy of the cycle.

"Spreading it out is always good," Francona said. "We got to get some guys out of there. We scored some runs last night, but I thought we swung the bats real well tonight. We got a guy like Hanley Ramirez in a game. We were able to get Edgar [Renteria] out, Billy Mueller out. We got 'Tek out. Those things all help."

Right-hander Curt Schilling, even with all that support, displayed the focus of a man who was leading by a run. For the second time in his last three starts, Schilling was solid, holding the Devil Rays to six hits and two runs over seven innings while striking out seven and improving to 7-8.

And, for the first time in his two seasons with the Red Sox, Schilling was unavailable for comment after a start.

Francona and Varitek both noted how Schilling's side session with pitching coach Dave Wallace on Saturday at Fenway Park might have played an important role in what transpired in this one.

"He said about the fourth inning that all of a sudden it clicked with his fastball," Francona said.

Just as Schilling stepped up two starts ago in the Bronx in a critical game, he did so again this time.

"I don't know if you can step up," said Varitek. "You have to stay within and execute what you can do. I think that's the most important thing, doing what you can do. He found something in his side sessions that allowed him what he wants to do. I think he felt very good about it. At least he should."

But the story was clearly the offense, which put on a batting practice-type clinic.

Designated slugger
Red Sox at Devil Rays, Sept. 20
By going deep twice on Tuesday, David Ortiz is tied for second in club history for the most homers in season.
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Ortiz also increased his Major League-leading RBI total to 140. He now has 176 homers in his career.

Ortiz put things in motion in to the top of the first against Rays starter Seth McClung, belting a two-run shot to right. Ramirez followed by mashing a towering solo shot to center to make it 3-0 before Schilling even threw a pitch.

Yet again, Ortiz set the tone for his teammates.

"Early, he hits a home run, which is great. On the road, scoring first is so essential," said Francona.

Amazingly, it was the first time Ortiz and Ramirez have hit back-to-back shots all year, despite the fact they've hit next to each other in the lineup for the entire season.

Two innings later, Ortiz took another mighty cut, pummeling a majestic shot toward one of the catwalks in right field.

"That second ball he hit, actually [John] Olerud had one of the better lines, he said, 'They need to put out a public address [announcement] to tell those children out there to be careful,'" Francona said. "That ball, that was a gorgeous swing from a very strong man."

Even the Devil Rays couldn't helped but be awed by the flight of Ortiz's two-run rocket.

"That ball that David Ortiz hit -- I think it would have landed in Tampa," said Rays shortstop Julio Lugo.

With the pair of homers, Ortiz added to his expanding legacy. He is now tied with Jim Rice for the second-highest single-season home run total in Red Sox history. With four more, Ortiz will tie the team record set by Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx in 1938.

For Ortiz, the numbers just keep adding up to spots in the Red Sox record book. His 87 home runs over the last two years are the most any Boston player has hit in back-to-back years, topping the 86 by Hall of Famer Foxx in 1937-38. His 27 homers on the road broke Ted Williams' team mark of 25, set in 1957.

"David is just special," said Varitek. "He's a special hitter. He's fun to watch."

The massive amount of Red Sox fans assembled at Tropicana Field hollered "MVP" during Ortiz's final few at-bats.

The Red Sox are no longer surprised by anything he does.

"He's that good," said Francona. "I think, with confidence, and a lot of hard work and preparation, this guy has just become better and better. There's times when we need him to be that good and he's answered almost every time. It's fun to watch, I'll say that. What he does now almost doesn't surprise you."

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.