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Closing Time: Offense keeps clicking as Red Sox roll past Rays

04.15.12 at 4:50 pm ET
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David Ortiz has done many great things in his career, but rarely had he enjoyed a run of plate appearances like the one he enjoyed this weekend. After grounding out in his first at-bat on Saturday, Ortiz collected four consecutive hits (single, home run, single, double) and then followed that up with hits in each of his first three at-bats (double, single, double) against Rays starter Matt Moore — arguably the top left-handed pitching prospect in the game, and someone whose stuff inspires opposing managers to sit lefties.

In the span of seven at-bats, Ortiz elevated his average from an already impressive .321 to an eye-popping .457. His third hit was perhaps his most significant, as he obliterated a first-pitch 94 mph fastball high off the center field wall (just to the right of the intersection with the Green Monster) to drive in Kevin Youkilis from first. That rocket untied what had been a 4-4 game and positioned the Sox to claim their third straight win — this one by a 6-4 count — over the Rays.

The upside? The Sox have now moved out of sole possession of last place, as they are tied with Tampa, and just one game out of first place. And in three games against a Rays pitching staff that enjoys a reputation as perhaps the best in the AL, the Sox have unloaded for 31 runs.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

— Ortiz is making his case that last year’s tremendous performance against left-handers was no fluke. He is now 6-for-13 (.462) this year against southpaws with a .500 OBP and a .615 slugging mark. Ortiz’s streak of hits in seven straight at-bats, according to Elias, was tied for the second longest in his career, behind an eight at-bat streak in 2000 and a seven at-bat streak in 2007.

Mike Aviles delivered on both sides of the ball, blasting a solo homer to center (his second longball in two days) for an insurance run in the seventh inning and making an excellent defensive play to prevent another run. With two outs in the top of the fourth inning, he ranged far to his left, dove and gloved a Sean Rodriguez hit up the middle. Recognizing that he had no play at first, Aviles jumped up and threw behind Jeff Keppinger, who had made the turn at third. Keppinger was cut down in a rundown for the inning’s final out.

Vicente Padilla continued to show signs that he can emerge as an important reliever capable of delivering multiple innings for the Sox. He inherited a first-and-second, one-out situation with the game tied in the sixth, and promptly retired the next two hitters (strikeout against Desmond Jennings, fly out by Carlos Pena) and then worked through a scoreless seventh inning to line up the final two innings for Franklin Morales and Alfredo Aceves. It was Padilla’s first appearance since he tossed four shutout innings of relief the previous Sunday.

WHAT WENT MOSTLY RIGHT BUT ALSO A BIT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Felix Doubront had dominant stuff through the first four innings, in which he allowed no runs and four hits while striking out five. In the fifth, however, with an assist from some poor Red Sox outfield defense, he allowed three runs on four hits before allowing a game-tying solo home run to Luke Scott to start the sixth inning, a blast that finished his day.

There was a lot to like about Doubront’s outing. His fastball was 93-95 mph, and he was able to employ it effectively at times to both right- and left-handed hitters. He got swings and misses on his curveball and changeup en route to a career-high seven strikeouts. (It is worth noting that in his two starts this year, Doubront now has 13 punchouts in 10 innings.)

However, despite allowing just one walk, Doubront had to work hard to record his outs, requiring 96 pitches to last five-plus innings. He also recorded just one of his outs via groundball, and the Rays had four doubles and a homer against him. Ultimately, what looked like it was on track to be a very good day for the left-hander resulted in a no-decision and another long day of work for the Red Sox bullpen.

Cody Ross hit a mammoth home run over everything in left field for the second time in two days, showcasing a swing that many consider perfect for Fenway Park. However, he took a poor route and misplayed an Evan Longoria warning track flyball into a run-scoring double in the fifth. He also had some misadventures on the bases after walking in the fourth, nearly getting thrown out at third on Kelly Shoppach‘s double to left and then, after the ball glanced off of him, getting cut down at the plate when he made an aggressive and perhaps ill-advised decision to try to score.

That said, Ross delivered a lot of what the Red Sox hoped for when they acquired him, reaching base in all three of his plate appearances against Moore (the homer and two walks). He has driven in seven with two homers over his last two games.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Dustin Pedroia saw his streak of eight straight games reaching base came to an end, going 0-for-4.

Darnell McDonald went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, and is now hitting just .111 (2-for-18) this year. He does, however, have five walks, so his OBP is a more respectable .304.

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