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Closing Time: Red Sox lineup overcomes late meltdown by Clay Buchholz

04.30.12 at 10:34 pm ET
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David Ortiz hit multiple homers in a game against left-handed pitchers for the first time in his career. (AP)

The dust has settled on the first month of the season, and with it, the Red Sox offense has emerged once again as a force.

The Athletics entered the night with a 3.11 ERA, having allowed just 16 homers, second fewest in the American League. But the Red Sox jumped on the A’s and starter Tom Milone for eight runs (seven earned) and three homers in 4 2/3 innings, setting in motion an 11-6 victory. With their fourth double-digit run total in the last seven games, the Sox are now averaging 5.77 runs a game this season, most in the majors.

The team has received a host of contributions from places both unexpected and expected that have offset the absences of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford. That theme continued on Monday, as the offensive damage was done by David Ortiz, Mike Aviles, Darnell McDonald and Marlon Byrd, on a night when the Sox were not only without Ellsbury and Crawford but also Ryan Sweeney (on the bench against a left-handed starter) and Kevin Youkilis (scratched late due to his back).

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR A WHILE AND THEN VERY WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– For a while, it looked like precisely what the Red Sox needed from Clay Buchholz. Though the A’s are hardly a good barometer for a pitcher — they entered the night with 2.91 runs per game, easily the lowest mark in the AL, while the team’s .597 OPS ranked dead last in the majors (worse, even, than NL teams for whom the pitcher must hit) — for six innings, it was still a far better version of Buchholz than the Sox had seen at any point in 2012.

Buchholz was able to get groundballs and swing and misses with his most diverse pitching array of the year, as he seemed comfortable incorporating his fastball, cutter, change and curve. Through six innings, he allowed just one run on four hits, striking out five and walking three.

And then came the seventh inning. Back on the mound with a pitch count in the low-80s, Buchholz saw his night unravel. He allowed five runs on two walks and three hits (a pair of groundball singles and a three-run homer by Josh Reddick, who golfed a curveball into the bullpen) and was unable to get out of the inning, as manager Bobby Valentine lifted the right-hander after Reddick’s homer with two outs.

And so, what could have been a very strong outing was instead relegated to the status of merely adequate. Buchholz got the win and, thanks to the best run support in the majors, he improved to 3-1 while his ERA dropped ever so slightly from 8.87 to 8.69, but the pitcher’s frustration became evident when he shouted a profanity when Valentine came out of the dugout to pull him and sprinted straight from the mound into the clubhouse.

There were meaningful building blocks, most notably the fact Buchholz elicited eight groundballs and, until Reddick lifted a curve off his shoe tops, almost no balls that were driven to the far reaches of the park. Still, Buchholz has now allowed at least five earned runs in each of his five starts this year, and he’s allowed almost as many homers (7) in 29 innings this year as he gave up in 173 2/3 innings in 2010.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

David Ortiz concluded one of the greatest months of his career by doing something he’d never done before. Ortiz took Oakland left-hander Tommy Milone deep twice. It was the first time in his career that he has gone deep twice in a game against left-handers. The two blasts also marked the 36th multi-homer game of Ortiz’s Red Sox career, pushing him ahead of Jim Rice and into second place on the all-time franchise leaderboard in multi-homer games. Next on the franchise multi-homer list? Ted Williams, with 37 such games.

With April in the books, Ortiz is hitting .405 with a 1.184 OPS, including .448 with a 1.346 OPS and three homers against lefties.

Darnell McDonald matched a career-high with three hits (previously done four times), crushing a two-run homer to right-center and a ground-rule double into the Red Sox bullpen in right-center while also adding an infield single. It marked the second straight start in which McDonald produced both a homer and a double, just the second and third times in his career that he has produced multiple extra-base hits in a game.

Mike Aviles is now hitting .291 with an .865 OPS and five homers. He leads all big league shortstops in homers and ranks second in OPS. He also continued to show better-than-expected range around second base, making a couple of plays behind second base in support of Buchholz.

Marlon Byrd went 2-for-4 with a double and a pair of RBI, in the process notching his first extra-base hit of 2012. After going 3-for-43 with the Cubs, Byrd is now 10-for-28 (.357)  in eight games with the Red Sox.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Kelly Shoppach continue to swing and miss with almost alarming frequency. He punched out in each of his first three trips to the plate, and he now has whiffed 10 times (9 swinging) in his last 15 plate appearances.

– Youkilis was scratched for the second time in as many days just prior to the start of the game.

– The Sox had a couple of defensive blunders, with the team botching a first-inning rundown and, in the process, allowing a run to score, and with Nick Punto later dropping a pop-up just in front of home plate.

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