The Red Sox scored 11 runs in back to back games this week, which considering how things have gone this season is pretty impressive. It’s even more impressive when one considers that they achieved the feat with 7 rookies in the lineup on both nights. The Red Sox hadn’t had a starting lineup with seven rookies in it since 1987, per the Elias Sports Bureau. In fact, even in a vacuum, scoring 11 runs in back to back contests is just impressive (okay, one more caveat, they did so against the Rays. And while admittedly, Odorizzi and Hellickson aren’t Archer and Cobb, they are above average big league pitchers).
Pleased and intrigued by this incendiary offensive breakout, I went to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index to see how many times in history a team has scored exactly 11 (somewhat arbitrary and pointless, I know) runs in back to back games, and it has happened 125 times (three of which happened to be back to back to back games). I’m not sure if that is more or less than I expected, but considering this data dates back to 1914, and over 370,000 major league regular season games have been played since 1900, I think it’s fair to say that it’s a relatively rare occurrence. What makes this even more interesting, at least to us as Red Sox fans, is that the Red Sox have had more instances of back to back 11 run games than any other team in history, with 12 (okay, the Yankees have had one more, and their additional occurrence was one of the aforementioned back to back to back games. Ugh).
You may or may not recall that the Red Sox scored 11 runs in back to back games as recently as last year, against Seattle. Somewhat strangely, the last time the Red Sox scored 11 runs in consecutive games before 2013 was in 2004 and 2005, the year the Sox broke the curse and the subsequent hangover season, respectively. Of course, there’s nothing really notable about this, but there is a sort of eerie, attractive symmetry to it.
The 2005 Red Sox went 95-67 and won the AL Wild Card. The opening day starting nine was nearly identical to that of the 2004 starting nine, the only differences being Edgar Renteria at short (instead of Pokey Reese) and Jay Payton in right field (instead of Gabe Kapler). The Red Sox scored 11 runs on both August 7th, in Minnesota against the Twins, and on August 8th, in Fenway against the Rangers. Both victories could be considered minor miracles, although when prime David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are in your lineup, you stand a pretty good chance to win any given ballgame. But take a look at the lineup Terry Francona put together on August 7th:
Tony Graffanino, 2B – 111 OPS+
Edgar Renteria, SS – 89 OPS+
David Ortiz, DH – 158 OPS+
Manny Ramirez, LF – 153 OPS+
Kevin Millar, RF – 98 OPS+
Roberto Petagine, 1B – 109 OPS+
Doug Mirabelli, C – 87 OPS+
Alex Cora, 3B – 83 OPS+
Gabe Kapler, CF – 65 OPS+
All in all, it’s not a terrible lineup, as it features Papi and Manny, as well as players like Tony Graffanino and Roberto Petagine plaing way over their heads, but this is a kind of uninspiring lineup, plus the volatile Tim Wakefield was on the mound and sporting a 4.75 FIP. It’s scary to think where these Red Sox would have been without Papi and Manny (and Johnny Damon, of course). In this game, for example, Papi and Manny supplied nearly half of the WPA+. I think most of us recognize how invaluable they were to the Red Sox of the previous decade, but at the same time, it can be easy to forget that they were legitimate forces of nature.
The game on August 8th featured an improved lineup. Varitek was behind the dish and Johnny Damon was back in center, but on the mound was the mediocre Wade Miller. He finished the 2005 season with a 4.95 ERA and a 92 ERA+. After the top half of the first inning in this game against the Rangers, the Rangers’ win expectancy was at 78%, as they immediately hammered out three runs on three hits. The Sox fought back in the bottom frame of the inning to make it a 4-3 ballgame. The lead would continue to change hands until the bottom of the fifth, when the Sox took a 8-5 lead. The final score was 11-6. There’s nothing necessarily peculiar or unique about this game, but it’s a compelling glimpse into the past. I imagine most of us have grown accustomed to the current state of the game, marked by depleted offense and consistently virtuosic pitching performances, enough so at least that the past feels like a very distant memory. At least it feels that way to me. When considered from afar, this sequence of events seems barely worth a mention, but after witnessing the fruits of the farm system batter two talented pitchers in back to back games, I couldn’t help but be curious about the historical significance of these two games, and the fact that these greenhorns pulled something off that only 11 other Red Sox teams have done, I couldn’t help but feel proud or hopeful. But I suppose, that’s kind of silly.
Patrick R. Mallon