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Tall task for Rox rookie in Game 2

Jimenez must contain a blazing-hot Red Sox lineup

Posted: Thursday October 25, 2007 12:30PM; Updated: Thursday October 25, 2007 2:26PM
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Ubaldo Jimenez
Ubaldo Jimenez has a 1.59 ERA in two postseason starts this month.
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BOSTON -- David Ortiz, the sore-kneed but still scary designated hitter, has explained about a dozen times this postseason the secret to Boston's devastating lineup. It is, Ortiz says in so many words, all about the little guys getting on and the big guys knocking them in. Of course, just about everybody is a little guy to the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Big Papi -- even Kevin Youkilis, who's 6-1, 220.

Still, Ortiz's point is straightforward enough, one that even the most casual of baseball fans can understand. When the hitters at the top of the lineup get on base, the Red Sox rock. And right now they're bringing down the house.

On Wednesday night, in Game 1 of the World Series, the Sox banged out 17 hits in a record-setting 13-1 win over the Rockies. It was the third straight game, including the last two games of the American League Championship Series against the Indians, in which the Sox have scored at least 10 runs. In those three games they've outscored their opponents 36-5.

This latest offensive show began early -- rookie Dustin Pedroia hit the second pitch of the game, from Colorado ace Jeff Francis, off the top of the Green Monster in left field for a home run -- and lasted late. The Rockies didn't get through a 1-2-3 inning until reliever LaTroy Hawkins, the sixth Colorado reliever of the night, finally did the job in Boston's last at-bat.

In between, the Sox forced Francis out of the game after only four innings and an exhausting 103 pitches, pounded out eight doubles, scored 11 runs with two outs, worked eight walks (including three in a row with the bases loaded and two outs in a seven-run fifth) and struck out only six times -- which isn't bad in almost 50 plate appearances.

"Everybody's swinging the bats good," says Jacoby Ellsbury, the rookie center fielder who happened to be the only Boston regular without a hit. "And it's perfect timing, too."

Getting to Francis, the stone-faced left-hander and clearly the team's best pitcher, sends a chilling message to the Rockies, who had won 10 straight, and 21 of 22. In Game 2 on Thursday night, Colorado will start hard-throwing right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to try and slow down the Sox. It's going to take every pitch and every trick the rookie has to beat back Boston.

Jimenez, who faces the battle-tested Curt Schilling, has looked good, mostly, in two postseason starts, boasting a 1.59 ERA. But Jimenez has walked eight batters and given up eight hits in 11 1/3 postseason innings. He threw 94 pitches in just five innings in his last start, against the Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series. Pitching like that against these Sox -- nibbling at the corners, falling behind in counts, having to throw strikes when the hitters know they're coming -- will earn him a quick hook and a couple of runs added to his ERA.

But that's how these Sox operate. They are a generally patient group that excels in working counts. Boston led the AL in walks this season and was second to the Yankees in on-base percentage.

Not everyone in the lineup fits into the patient, work-a-walk mindset. Leadoff hitter Pedroia walked only 47 times this year. But he doesn't strike out much, and he hits for a high average, making him plenty dangerous. He had a .380 on-base percentage. He hasn't been quite that good in the postseason -- .346 -- but he has had some huge hits (including Wednesday's leadoff homer and a two-run homer in Game 7 of the ALCS), and he has scored 11 runs in 11 postseason games.

Youkilis, the goateed first baseman who hits out of the No. 2 spot most of the time, is a kind of poster child for what the Red Sox like their hitters to be. He was sixth in the AL this year in pitches seen per plate appearance, at a smidgen over 4.2. He walked 105 times and struck out only 77. He had a .390 on-base percentage. With two hits against the Rockies in Game 1 he is batting .422 (19 for 45) this October. He has a .491 OBP and a whopping 1.313 OPS. (He has four homers, four doubles and a triple.)

"I think this team just goes up to bat, has a great approach and is going to be aggressive but also be patient at the same time," Youkilis says. "We're just going to work the counts and get on base as much as we can."

When the Sox hit the ball, most of them hit it smartly, too. Ortiz, the big left-handed slugger who bats third, has regularly outfoxed the defensive shift that many teams employ against him by punching the ball to the opposite field. He did that in the first inning on Wednesday, poking a single to left to drive in a run, and again in the second, sizzling a shot through the gap between left and center that rolled to the wall for a run-scoring double. Ortiz is hitting .417 this October, with a .549 OBP and three home runs.

Then there's the cleanup hitter, the incomparable Manny Ramirez, who seemingly puts the ball wherever he wants to. He's hitting .441 this postseason (15 for 34). He has also walked a team-high 15 times in 11 games. He has a .600 on-base percentage and, with four homers this October, sports a 1.453 OPS.

Those top four hitters in the lineup -- Pedroia, Youkilis, Ortiz and Ramirez -- have scored 52 of Boston's 83 runs this postseason, or about 63 percent. It is all about the little guys (Pedroia and Youkilis) getting on for the big guys (Big Papi and Manny).

"We're a good offense," Pedroia says simply. The Rockies can vouch for that.