BOSTON -- Bring him off the bench some days. Start him other days. At the moment, it doesn't seem to matter. Once Will Middlebrooks gets a chance, he generally does something to help the Red Sox win.
In Thursday's 6-5 victory over the Marlins, the Red Sox were fortunate enough to have Middlebrooks up in a key spot.
And the rookie came up with the biggest hit of the night, a game-tying two-run shot to center in the eighth that brought the Fenway Park faithful to their feet.
With the Sox getting healthier of late, Middlebrooks hasn't been a fixture in the lineup like he was earlier in the season, but he's obviously staying sharp enough.
"It seems like he's doing just fine like this," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He's keeping sharp. He's watching, he's learning and when he's in there, he doesn't look like he's missing a beat, obviously."
Middlebrooks' heroics came a day after he came off the bench and ripped a two-run homer.
"I knew that was going to be my role, so try to accept it and play hard when my name is called," Middlebrooks said. "Nothing different than if I was playing, because at any point in the game I could go in, so I've just got to be ready."
In his first 38 Major League games, Middlebrooks is hitting .316 with eight homers and 31 RBIs.
Middlebrooks was 3-for-4 on the night, driving in four runs.
Once Middlebrooks delivered, the Red Sox kept the momentum going in the eighth. Ryan Kalish followed with a single to right. On a hit-and-run, Mike Aviles hit a tapper to first. As the Marlins took the easy out at first, Kalish never stopped running and made it to third.
Without question, the Red Sox have been getting some energy amid their recent stretch in which they've won three series in a row, winning seven of their last nine games.
"As young guys, that's all you want to do. You want to light a fire, and I think so far we're doing that," Kalish said.
One of the players who has been doing a lot of the sparking is Daniel Nava, and he followed Kalish's aggressive play by drilling an RBI single up the middle against reliever Edward Mujica to put Boston ahead for good.
Nava, who wasn't even on the 40-man roster for Spring Training or the beginning of the regular season, is hitting .340 in 35 games.
"I'm not amazed -- I'm inspired by it," Kalish said. "It's pretty unbelievable. I've played with Nava. He's an unbelievable hitter. He's been that ever since he started playing. He went through a rough year. I think his persistence is what inspires me. He didn't even get invited to big league camp this year. I'm happy to be playing beside him."
This was the first time the Red Sox have swept a series of three games or longer at home since July 22-24, 2011.
Valentine's crew is 36-33, and 5 1/2 games back in the American League East.
The Red Sox had to battle back in this one. Daisuke Matsuzaka (5 1/3 innings, four hits, four runs, four strikeouts) put his team in a 3-0 hole in the first, throwing 33 pitches.
"I knew it was going to be hot from yesterday," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Jeff Cutler. "The opposition is playing under the same conditions, so that's no excuse. I just wanted to fight though the first inning and get some momentum going in my pitching, but I was sweating a lot the first inning. The heat definitely affected that. Going out the second inning, I felt a lot more refreshed and settled down, so looking back, the first inning was really something regretful."
Marlins right-hander Carlos Zambrano made that lead stand early, firing three shutout innings.
Matsuzaka, as he has a habit of doing, settled down nicely, shutting down the Marlins from the second through fifth. In his three starts since returning from Tommy John surgery, Dice-K is still trying to find some consistency.
"It's been a problem for my previous starts too," said Matsuzaka, who is 0-2 with a 6.06 ERA. "Getting through the early innings has been giving me trouble. Going into today's game, I did make a few adjustments, but it obviously didn't work. So going into my next start, I need to make more drastic changes in order get through those innings and place my team in a better position to win."
Boston started clawing its way back in the fourth.
Cody Ross got grazed by a pitch to open the inning, at least according to home-plate umpire Mike DiMuro. Zambrano did not agree.
"He acted like it hit him and the umpire made the decision and there's nothing I can do about it," said Zambrano. "He's a good actor."
Zambrano left no doubt with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, drilling him in the shoulder area. Middlebrooks lined an RBI single into right, putting the Red Sox on the board. Aviles lifted a sacrifice fly to center and the deficit was just 3-2.
In the fifth, Middlebrooks came through again, this time blooping one into right to score Adrian Gonzalez with the tying run.
But much to the chagrin of Matsuzaka, he couldn't keep it tied. Giancarlo Stanton belted Matsuzaka's curveball over the Monster to give Florida a 4-3 lead in the sixth.
Matsuzaka was hunched over in disbelief for several seconds after Stanton's homer.
"I let up a few runs in the first inning, but the game still goes on, so I needed to reset myself mentally going into the second inning, which I was able to do until the Stanton home run," Matsuzaka said. "What happened there was I got ahead and was looking for a strikeout, but he ended up hitting it for a home run so I was really disappointed about that, especially since I had been pitching so well since the second inning and just wanted to finish that sixth inning and place ourselves in a good position."
He then exited, as Valentine went to lefty Andrew Miller. Dobbs singled to left off Miller and Infante clubbed a double off the Monster in left-center, making it 5-3.
However, the Red Sox didn't go away, as Middlebrooks made them pay again.
And once Boston went on top, the bullpen -- led by winning pitcher Scott Atchison (two innings, one hit, no runs) and closer Alfredo Aceves (18th save) -- took it home.