Red-hot Red Sox roll over Rays
Papi, Youkilis homers help Buchholz notch sixth victory
ST. PETERSBURG -- In subtle fashion, the Red Sox have come together as a team in recent days, blending the offense, pitching and defense together in ways that seemed impossible during a futile stretch earlier in the season. Boston's improvement might have been unnoticeable to some because there was no dent in the standings.
On Monday night, the Red Sox finally were in the position where they could do something about it and they did, putting forth an impressive 6-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, the team that has led the American League East for the last month.
There is still a significant hill to climb, as the fourth-place Sox (25-21) trail the Rays by 7 1/2 games. But they have two more games left in this showdown at Tropicana Field to get a little closer.
"We're going to get better," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "It's a long season. Of course, everyone was trying to play well from the beginning, but things weren't happening. Everyone kept on working and [kept] on trying their best and that's how you win games. We're looking good. We have to keep it that way."
Looking nothing like the team that was humiliated and swept by the Rays in four straight at Fenway from April 16-19, Boston got a strong pitching performance by Clay Buchholz (six innings, six hits, one run, eight strikeouts), who has now won eight straight starts on the road, and home runs by Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis.
"We're pitching real good," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who snapped an 0-for-19 drought with three hits. "We're getting great starting pitching. When we do that, all we have to do is put a couple of runs up for them and those guys can take over. If we can keep getting performances like that, we're going to be just fine."
It was the sixth win in the last seven games by the Red Sox during a stretch in which they have only played quality opponents (the Yankees, Twins, Phillies and Rays). Since April 26, the Sox are 17-10. They have a 14-7 mark since May 3.
"We're playing some really good teams and finding some ways to win," said Pedroia. "That's a good sign because earlier in the year, we got swept against the Rays at home, we really weren't playing very well. We had some games we could have won and let it slip away. Hopefully we can find ways to win."
Of late, starting pitching has been the biggest key. The Rays looked like they had Buchholz on the ropes in the first, loading the bases with one out. But the righty made just the pitch he needed to escape such a predicament, getting John Jaso on a double-play grounder to Marco Scutaro, who stepped on the bag and fired to first to end the inning.
"I was up a little bit and threw a couple of pitches down in the zone and got a couple of ground balls," said Buchholz, who is 6-3 with a 3.07 ERA. "Those guys that were on base, they can do some damage on the bases. I got fortunate with a couple of balls up in the zone they didn't square up. I made a couple of good pitches and was able to get out of the inning."
Buoyed by not giving up any runs, the Red Sox wasted no time getting one, as Ortiz continued his recent power surge by unloading for a homer down the line in right to lead off the second. It was No. 9 on the season for Ortiz, and his eighth this month.
Ortiz's homer was a missile -- the only question is if it would stay fair. It was what Pedroia would refer to as a laser.
"Definition of it -- it really was," Pedroia said. "He swung the bat great. That ball was out of here in a hurry. Hopefully he keeps it going."
Rays starter Wade Davis had a command meltdown in the third, as the Red Sox worked him for 40 pitches and scored three times to open up a 4-0 lead. All the runs scored with two outs, starting with a bases-loaded walk by J.D. Drew. Adrian Beltre and Jeremy Hermida followed with RBI singles.
"Davis, we made him work hard, he had a 40-pitch inning," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We took advantage of making him command. We got into their bullpen. Tried to score and spread it out a little bit. It's a good way to play."
The one down note of the inning for the Sox was Victor Martinez being forced out of the game with what wound up being a contusion of his left big toe. Martinez suffered the injury when Jason Bartlett hit a foul ball off of him in the bottom of the second. After Martinez drew ball four in the third, he limped the whole way to first, and was replaced by Jason Varitek.
Martinez won't start on Tuesday, but the Red Sox are confident the injury won't keep him out long.
Meanwhile, the hits kept coming for Boston. Youkilis, who has been torrid at the plate in May, unloaded for a two-run homer to left in the fourth to make it 6-0. The Rays got on the board in the bottom of the fourth when Carlos Pena roped a solo homer to right against Buchholz.
Aside from that, the Red Sox cruised. Hideki Okajima worked two shutout frames out of the 'pen and Daniel Bard finished it with a scoreless ninth.
"Every game for us is big," Martinez said. "Obviously it's a long season and we just want to get things started and we've been playing pretty good baseball lately and we came in here and played good baseball. We'll come back tomorrow and keep playing our game."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.