BOSTON -- There was a light moment in the Red Sox clubhouse prior to the game Sunday, when the musical selections began to venture into an odd genre for a group of guys trying to get up for a game. It was what one might play as the background to a candlelight dinner.
After a few laughs, Jarrod Saltalamacchia ventured to the station on which such selections are made and began to make some changes. “Whoomp! (There It Is)” was the first tone-changing choice, and a steady stream of similar old-school beats followed, adding life to a crew that needed it after a doubleheader the day before.
“Easy Like Sunday Morning” by Lionel Richie became “Push It” by Salt ‘N Pepa, and the place was hopping. Salty had done his job.
That theme would continue in a 10-5 dismantling of the Los Angeles Angels that saw Saltalamacchia continue to set the tone. He crushed a solo shot in the sixth and added a three-run blast in the seventh, both of which were struck to dead center, to record his fourth career multihomer game. Manager John Farrell said Saltalamacchia is seeing the fruits of his labor, which has involved a commitment to try to stay up the middle.
“There’s going to be some swing-and-miss in there at times, but with the approach he’s locked in with right now, you’re looking at a guy in the 6-, 7-hole with that kind of power threat,” Farrell said. “I think it kind of speaks to what our lineup has and the ability to put up runs quickly.”
Before Saltalamacchia’s first homer, the Sox were nursing a 5-3 lead. When he was done one inning later it was 10-3. Those runs came quickly, as have the impressive numbers.
Since May 6, Saltalamacchia is 28-for-88 (.318) with five home runs in 26 games. He has hit in each of the past seven games he has started, batting .367 (11-for-30) with a powerful eight extra-base hits (three homers, five doubles). The surge has boosted his slugging percentage to .515. Saltalamacchia’s previous high in that category was .454 in 2012.
Although he is looking more and more like the player many projected when he was taken in the first round 10 years ago, Saltalamacchia insists he is just sticking with the basics.
“My approach has always stayed the same,” he said. “At times, I can try and feel pull-happy and try and pull the ball but, you know, like I said, today I wanted to use the wall to my advantage and get a pitch up and try and hit it off the wall, and I was able to hit to the other wall.”
Prior to his month-long run at the plate, Saltalamacchia was hitting .221 with the usual strikeouts piling up at an even greater rate than usual. The K's are to be expected with his hard, long swing, but when the hits aren’t coming as well, they are amplified and Saltalamacchia can come under question, as was the case during his early struggles in 2013.
For reasons that probably relate more to the fact that he has so many heavy-hitting teammates, his resurgence had not gained much attention until Sunday. That barely matters as long as it’s noticed by those who matter the most.
“What he’s done from the left side of the plate -- we picked our spots with [David] Ross with lefties -- but I think a lot of guys, or a few other guys, are getting some of the notoriety offensively because of what they’re doing, but he, in some ways, is quietly going along and putting up a strong year,” Farrell said. “Average is better, power’s still there, he continues to, I think, improve with his overall handling of our staff. And I think more quietly than I think some of the others have garnered. He’s doing a very good job.”
Saltalamacchia is hitting .317 against right-handers and .330 at home, with almost all of his power coming in those scenarios. The staff ERA is nearly a run lower with him behind the plate than it was last season. That’s a product of the improvement of the pitching corps as a whole, but it should be noted. And the affable Saltalamacchia fits this clubhouse like a glove.
“This is a great clubhouse; great group of guys,” he said. “We have fun every day. It starts with the top and works its way down. Everybody knows their role, everybody knows what approach to take, which makes things easier. You’ve got a good group of veterans; you’ve got a good group of young guys, so it’s a lot of fun, especially being in first place. But we know we’ve got to focus on tomorrow.”
And better music selection. For that, Saltalamacchia’s on the case.