How do you know the Boston Red Sox' offense really cares? They give 120 percent.
Entering Thursday's game, the Sox had a 121 OPS+. For an individual player, that's no amazing feat; 56 players have an OPS+ of 120 or better this year in baseball.
But that should give you an idea of how impressive a team OPS+ of 120 is. Only one-third of the qualifying players in the game can manage it on an individual level, and here an entire team is averaging that total.
Follows is the list of all the teams to ever finish the season with an OPS+ of 120 or better:
And here is the list of teams to get very close (118 or better):
2003 Red Sox
That's a small group of elite offenses: The 1902 Pirates, 1927-33 Yankees, 1982 Brewers, 1994 Yankees, 1997 Mariners and 2003 Red Sox. Let's have a look at them:
The Boston Red Sox sit atop the American League East at the All-Star break, a welcome but not unfamiliar position: The Sox have been in first place at the break six times since 2003, yet actually finished the season there once.
Here are those seasons, with their first-half record, winning percentage and games ahead, followed by their second-half record and games ahead/behind)
Fully two-thirds of the Red Sox lineup last night hit a home run, tying the club record. The dates and players (PH means they came off the bench, not that the home run necessarily occurred in their pinch-hit at bat):
July 4, 1977 (Lynn 2, Rice, Yastrzemski, Scott 2, Hobson, Carbo PH)
June 20, 1979 (Lynn, Yastrzemski, Watson, Evans, Hobson, Dwyer PH)
Sept. 15, 2008 (Ortiz, Youkilis, Lowell, Bay, Varitek, Ellsbury)
July 7, 2011 (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Ortiz, Reddick, Saltalamacchia)
The all-time record is eight, set by the Cincinnati Reds against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sept. 4, 1999, though two of those came from players coming off the bench. The Yankees in 2007 (July 31) had seven players go yard, six of them in the starting lineup (Damon, Abreu, Matsui 2, Posada, Cano, Cabrera, Duncan PH).
Limiting it only to members of the starting lineup, the record is seven, set by the Athletics on June 27, 1996, and tied by the Rangers May 21, 2005.
Having now had six hitters hit homers in the same game five times, the Sox are second all-time to the Reds, who have done it six times. No team has done it more since the Sox first did it in 1977, however. Likewise, perusing the list, I don't see any teams with three such games in as short a time as the Sox in the past eight years, so I'm assuming no player has been involved in as many such uprisings as Ortiz's three unless they've done it for different teams.
It is extremely rare to have two hitters post a 1.000 OPS in the same season. It hasn't happened since 2006, when the Red Sox (Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz) and the White Sox (Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome) did it.
One of the things I love about baseball is the tie it has to history — its "modern era," the time in which most of the rules we have today were in place and the leagues and teams took shape in ways that are recognizable to current fans is now 110 years old. That's an incredible amount of history for almost every imaginable feat to have occurred, usually multiple times. Yet every year teams and ballplayers do something that either has never been done before or hasn't been done in years.
And the best part is there are sites like Baseball-reference that allow us to find out if what we're seeing is special or not.
So the Boston Red Sox are on a huge roll, the best of any team so far this season. They've won nine straight, scoring at least five runs in each of them. A streak like that — nine games with five or more runs scored — isn't all that uncommon. It happens on average twice a season. But the Sox haven't just scored five runs a game; they have pulverized opponents for 83 runs in those nine games. That's a little more rare.
In fact, if you're a Red Sox fan, you might be thinking you can't remember a stretch like this in which the Sox have been so dominant offensively. And you'd be correct: No Red Sox team has ever had a nine-game run in which they've won every time and scored 83 runs. The closest came in 1950, when the Ted Williams-led squad scored 80 runs over the first nine games of an 11-game streak. So this is unprecedented for the Red Sox, though less so for the game as a whole.
This year, no team had scored more than 73 runs in a nine-game stretch until the Sox pulverized Toronto for 14 in yesterday's game. In all of 2010, no team scored more than 73 runs in nine games, and no team went 9-0 while scoring more than 60 runs. 2009? The Red Sox went 9-0 and led the league in runs scored over any nine-game period during the streak ... and scored 76. Not since 2008 has any team scored more than 83 runs in nine games. The Phillies that year scored 85 but went 7-2.
So when was the last time a team went 9-0 and scored more than 80 runs in that span? It appears to be the 2004 Astros, who scored 84 runs over the first nine games of their 12-game winning streak that vaulted them from the basement to the playoffs in half a season. Before them, you have to go back to the 2000 Oakland Athletics, who scored an impressive 95 runs in nine games, including a 21-3 thrashing of Kansas City.
Another great streak in recent history fell short: the 2002 A's, who won an astounding 20 straight games, scored 82 runs during a nine-game span in the middle of that streak. (Note: I ran the search for teams scoring at least five runs a game and then, just to be sure, dropped the criteria to four per game, with the same results.)
So since the turn of the 21st century, the Red Sox are the third team to score this many runs while winning nine in a row — and the first Boston team ever to do it. And that's why we love baseball. Because every day, every week, is the opportunity to see something we might not have seen before.
Ok, so the Red Sox have beaten the Yankees in eight of nine games this year, including a second series sweep in the Bronx for the first time since the Boston ace was Smoky Joe Wood, but we're not here to gloat.
Well, maybe just a little bit:
Ok, got that out of the way. Now let's discuss the strange lede to New York Times beat writer Ben Shpigel's game story this morning. Maybe it was the lateness of the hour or the unthinkable sweep he had just witnessed, but Shpigel breaks out some strange interpretation of history here:
Babe Ruth was a 17-year-old pitching prodigy at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. The Red Sox had yet to win a World Series, and the Yankees did not exist. They were still called the Highlanders, playing not in the Bronx but in Manhattan, at Hilltop Park and the Polo Grounds.
Derek Jeter greeted Curtis Granderson after Granderson's homer in the Yankees' rain-delayed game.
The Red Sox won all 10 games in New York during that 1912 season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. But over the last 99 years of their rivalry, they had yet to win as many as six in a row.
This is certainly strange because, as most baseball fans and writers should know, the Red Sox won the World Series in 1903. And the Yankees did, in fact, exist, even if they were known by a different name. Shpigel seems to be laboring under the mistaken belief that a franchise does not exist until it is known by its present name. Not only is that glaringly incorrect, it's ludicrous. It would mean the Cincinnati Reds, generally recognized as baseball's oldest continuously operated franchise, did not exist from 1954-59 when the team joined the ranks of those bending before the insanity of anti-communist paranoia by changing its name to the Redlegs.
Apparently, early morning historical inaccuracy is contagious: Peter Abraham in his game story said this was the first time the Sox had swept two three-game series from the Yankees in New York since 1913, but this isn't correct either, as the Sox went 2-0, 1-0-1, 2-0 and 2-2 in four separate series, the first three presumably truncated by rain.
All the historical head-to-head matchups are available at Baseball-Reference. I know it was late, but it doesn't take long to double-check this kind of stuff.
Peter Abraham had a great post about the shared history of Derek Jeter and Tim Wakefield a couple of days ago.
They first met on July 15, 1996 at Fenway Park. Jeter, batting leadoff, doubled the first time he faced Wakefield. But Wakefield stuck around for five innings and got the win in an 8-6 Red Sox victory. Every other player who got in that game has retired.
The Red Sox lineup Jeff Frye 2B John Valentin SS Mo Vaughn 1B Jose Canseco DH Tim Naehring 3B Reggie Jefferson LF Mike Stanley C Troy O'Leary RF Lee Tinsley CF Tim Wakefield RHP
The Yankees lineup Derek Jeter SS Bernie Williams CF Paul O'Neill RF Darryl Strawberry DH Tino Martinez 1B Mariano Duncan 2B Jim Leyritz C Gerald Williams LF Andy Fox 3B Ramiro Mendoza RHP
[Then-]Yankees manager Joe Girardi pinch hit in that game.
It's a remarkable history. It seems quite likely, in fact, that no Yankee player has faced a Red Sox player as often as Wakefield and Jeter have — 130 times now, including the postseason. It requires one of the teams to have a hitter and the other to have a pitcher whose careers overlap for 15 years or more. That's incredibly rare.
Wakefield's gotten the better of the matchups lately. Last night's fifth-inning double was the first hit Jeter recorded against Wakefield in 13 plate appearances, with one walk, dating back to the beginning of 2009.
Adrian Gonzalez is red hot right now, and yesterday he became just the 15th Red Sox player to homer in four straight games.
Hitting home runs in four consecutive games is a fairly rare feat — just 25 times has a Red Sox player done it since 1919. If Gonzalez goes deep tonight, he'll join a five-way tie for the Sox record, shared by Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Dick Stuart, George Scott and Jose Canseco.
Foxx homered in at least four straight games three times, as did Carl Yastrzemski. Jim Rice did it twice, and so did Canseco. Otherwise, the list of players to accomplish the feat is a history of the franchise's most feared (or most notorious) sluggers: Foxx, Williams, Jackie Jensen, Stuart, Yaz, Scott, Rice, Mo Vaughn, Carl Everett, Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Bay and now Gonzalez. Only David Ortiz (who had 11 three-game homer streaks) seems to have missed the fun.
Over the four games, Gonzalez has put up a .389/.400/1.278 line. His 1.678 OPS is on the low side among his peers. He has "just" seven hits over the four games, although six went for extra bases, and one walk.
The king of home run streaks — both in quality and duration — was Ted Williams, who homered in four or more consecutive games five times. When he hit home runs in five straight games in 1957, Williams walked seven times, meaning he hit his five home runs in just 11 official at bats, putting up a five-game line of .727/.833/2.364. He only made three outs in the five games.
Williams almost had another string of four straight home run games in September of 1957, but even so, it was a remarkable string:
On Sept. 17, Williams came in as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and hit a solo home run against Kansas City to tie the game.
On Sept. 18, he again came in as an eighth-inning pinch hitter and walked.
On Sept. 20, he pinch hit against the Yankees in the ninth and bashed another homer.
The next day, he started the game and came to the plate four times, walking three times and hitting a second-inning grand slam.
And, finally, on Sept. 22, he again came to the plate four times, walking twice, homering in the fourth and singling in the sixth.
His line for the five games: an incredible 1.000/1.000/3.400, that single in the sixth inning of the fifth game his only blemish.
But Williams wasn't done. He walked three times, was hit by a pitch and hit a single on Sept. 23, went 1 for 3 with a home run and a walk on Sept. 24 and went 2 for 3 with two walks on Sept. 25. All told, from Sept. 17-25, Williams had 25 plate appearances and reached base in 22 of them. With only 12 official at bats, he recorded nine hits, including five home runs. His line for the week was .750/.880/2.000.
St. Louis Cardinals, 6 (Lohse 2, Garcia 2, Carpenter 1, Westbrook 1)
Oakland Athletics, 6 (Gonzalez 2, Anderson 1, McCarthy 1, Ross 1, Cahill 1)
Red Sox teams with at least eight such starts in their first 35 games since 1919:
2002 (Pedro 2, Lowe 2, Darren Oliver 2, John Burkett 1, Frank Castillo 1).
The Padres had 11 such starts through 35 games last year, second all-time only to the 1968 Indians, who had 12. The Royals had eight such starts at this point in 2009, as did the 2003 Expos, the '02 Sox and the 2001 Braves.
Not that it means anything. Of all those teams, only the '01 Braves went to the playoffs, losing in the NLCS to the eventual World Champion Diamondbacks (who had some good pitching of their own). And of the six teams represented on the top of the 2011 list, only the Cardinals and Phillies are in first place.