The first inning of a game played on June 24 illustrates the grinding offensive approach of the Boston Red Sox, the Blue Jays' opponent for a three-game series starting Tuesday night.
While both teams went three up, three down, the patient Sox forced veteran Josh Johnson to throw 17 pitches, while the aggressive Jays induced only 10 out of right-hander Allen Webster, making his fourth major-league start. Boiled down to a pair of at-bats in the 2-holes, Jose Bautista swung at the first pitch and flew out, while Shane Victorino made Johnson throw eight pitched before striking out.
And so it went. Johnson was done after 3 1/3 innings and 90 pitches. Webster would endure six innings, throwing only 10 more pitches (100 in total). Blue Jays manager John Gibbons had to call on his bullpen five times in the game, lost 7-5.
Red Sox games are baseball’s version of sand pouring through an hourglass. That one lasted a fairly typical 3 hours 22 minutes, only six minutes longer than their 3:16 average. That’s 20 minutes longer than the Blue Jays’ average of 2:56.
Patience pays off. On offence, the Red Sox lead the major leagues in runs, runs batted in, doubles, extra-base hits, total bases, walks and times on base. They rank second in hits, on-base percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
“There’s a reason why they’ve got 70 wins,” Kansas City Royals ace James Shields told reporters after a 4-3 victory over the Red Sox last Sunday. “They work the count. You’ve got to attack them and get ahead.”
Plate discipline – patience – is ingrained in Boston’s hitting culture, just as entrepreneurship is part of Google’s corporate modus operandi, diligent service a trademark of the Marriott hotel chain, secrecy core to Apple Inc.’s operation. It was part of the mentality when Terry Francona managed the team to two World Series titles. On-base percentage slipped during Bobby Valentine’s one-year reign of error (.315) in 2012, but it has been restored (.346) in John Farrell’s custody of the franchise.
“They have drafted a lot of college players who excel at that,” Oakland Athletics infielder Jed Lowrie said. A sixth-year player picked by Boston in the first round of the 2005 draft out of Stanford University, Lowrie spent his first four seasons with the Red Sox (2008-11). He owns a .353 on-base percentage with the A’s.
“The guys they acquire [from outside the organization], they are disciplined at the plate, too. It’s an organizational philosophy. When I was there, no one was up there trying to walk. Everyone was trying to get a good pitch to hit, and if you don’t get a good pitch, you take a walk.”
The efficient hitting has combined with strong starting pitching for consistency this season; Boston is the only team in the majors without a four-game losing skid, and one of two teams, along with the Atlanta Braves, to have maintained a win-loss record above .500 all season.
In that same game in June, Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes came to bat for the first time in five games and delivered a go-ahead pinch-hit single. “It’s clearly a mindset,” Farrell said after. “Pitchers are going to be careful to him and he doesn’t chase. Seemingly, he gets himself in a good hitter’s count.”
He might express the similar thoughts about many in the Red Sox lineup. Three Red Sox batters rank in the top 10 in the American League in on-base percentage and of those, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz hit in the 3-4 holes.
Ortiz ranks third in the AL with a .406 OBP; he reached base safely in 23 consecutive games before going 0-for-4 last Sunday, the second-longest streak in the majors. Pedroia ranks fourth in the AL for walks and eighth for on-base percentage. Left fielder Daniel Nava is 10th with a .370 OBP, some 90 points over his regular average.
Jacoby Ellsbury leads all major-league leadoff hitters with 142 hits – for a .362 OBP – and he compounds the danger with an ability to run the bases, leading the majors with 42 steals, the 91.9-per-cent success rate ranking third in the majors. Since May 26, he’s batted .346.
Shortstop Stephen Drew, the No. 7 hitter last Sunday, has drawn nine walks during a 10-game hit streak and reached base safely in 27 of the past 30 games.
“When you have a whole team of players like that, you wear pitchers down,” Lowrie said. “You see a lot of pitches, the pitchers start to make mistakes, and consequently you see guys on base a lot.”
Into the roasting pan comes Blue Jays pitcher Todd Redmond. The 28-year-old right-hander will be facing the Red Sox for the first time Tuesday, in his 10th major-league start.
“I take pride in being able to pound the strike zone early,” he said Monday. “I’m a strike-thrower and I take pride in not walking people. Them grinding me down is kind of irrelevant because I’m going to throw strikes, they’re going to put the ball in play, and if I make the pitches [correctly], they are going to get themselves out.”
These are words to live by, and die by, when it comes to facing the Red Sox.