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Closing Time: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox offense power way to win in Philly

05.19.12 at 10:29 pm ET
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Carl Crawford hasn’t played yet this season. Jacoby Ellsbury was lost in the season’s earliest days. Longtime lineup staple Kevin Youkilis has been out for three weeks. Cody Ross, second on the team in homers and RBI, was unavailable on Saturday.

No matter. Even with their lineup ravaged by injuries, the Red Sox offense continued to perform at a level as impactful as any in the game in a 7-5 victory in Philadelphia. When Mike Aviles launched a leadoff homer in the top of the first inning, it was a harbinger of a Red Sox show of strength, as the team slammed four homers and delivered six extra-base hits.

Even with their lineup decimated, the team leads all of baseball (by a lot) with 166 extra-base hits. The team’s average of 5.4 runs per game ranks second in the AL (to Texas, which has plated 5.6 runs a contest) and third in the majors. Through roughly one-quarter of the season, the lineup is elite. That has positioned the Sox to enjoy success so long as the pitching staff can prove adequate, which was roughly the formula that the team followed for its 7-5 win in Philadelphia on Saturday night.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–When catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia left Friday’s game due to a laceration of his ear, it seemed fair to wonder whether he might land on the disabled list. The idea that he might be able to catch on Saturday, less than 24 hours after a foul ball caught him on the ear, seemed far-fetched.

Yet catch he did, and Saltalamacchia was not merely a warm body behind the plate — he was a force. The catcher went 3-for-4 while smashing a solo homer (his sixth) to right-center while batting left-handed and later scorching a double to the wall in left-center while batting right-handed.

When making contact this year, Saltalamacchia is once again pulverizing the baseball, hitting .283/.308/.566/.873. His six homers are tied for fifth-most among major league catchers. His .873 OPS is the best among all American League backstops.

Meanwhile, Saltalamacchia also showed no ill effects of his shot off the side of the head behind the plate. He was nimble in pouncing on numerous pitches in the dirt. In short, he appeared in command of the game, on a day when it seemed fair to doubt that he would be able to play in the contest at all.

— Third baseman Will Middlebrooks entered Saturday in a slump, hitting .179/.220/.282/.502 with one homer and two walks over 41 plate appearances spanning his previous 10 games. But on Saturday night, he busted out with a 2-for-3 night in which he pounded a Joe Blanton fastball out to right-center (his fifth homer of the year) after singling to left earlier in the game. Middlebrooks also snapped a string of seven straight games with a strikeout (indeed, he had whiffed 13 times in his prior seven contests).

— The Red Sox decided to put David Ortiz at first base and Adrian Gonzalez in right. The team was rewarded for having Ortiz in the lineup when the DH went 2-for-4 while smashing his team-leading ninth homer of the year, a two-run blast in the fifth. With roughly one-quarter of the season (40 of 162 games) now complete, Ortiz is hitting .344 with a 1.035 OPS (along with a .412 OBP and .623 slugging mark). Both marks represent career-bests through the 40-game mark, ahead of the .306/1.023 line (with a .424 OBP and .599 OBP) that he had in 2007.

— When Mike Aviles led off Saturday’s game with a homer — the first time in his career that he’d led off a game with a homer — it continued a remarkable trend by Red Sox leadoff hitters in interleague play. Gary Marbry dropped this golden nugget: The Red Sox now have homered in their first plate appearance of the game in six of their last 52 interleague games. The homer was the seventh of the year for Aviles, second most among major league shortstops.

Aviles and Dustin Pedroia also converted a pair of double plays, continuing a season in which both have turned in tremendous up-the-middle defense.

Ryan Sweeney and, far more surprisingly, Adrian Gonzalez both turned in excellent defensive plays in the outfield. Sweeney made a spectacular diving catch on a ball hit near the edge of the warning track with two on and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, preventing at least two runs from scoring. Earlier in the game, Gonzalez made a sliding catch of a foul ball down the right field line.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

—  Though Gonzalez proved solid in right field, he was the lone position player in the Red Sox lineup who failed to collect a hit. With his 0-for-4 night, Gonzalez has now been hitless in four of his last five contests.

— Starter Jon Lester could not back up his dominant outing against the Mariners (a complete game, one-run effort) on Monday. Instead, he spent most of his final four innings pitching in and out of jams, eventually exiting the game having allowed four runs on eight hits (matching a season high) while striking out three and walking one. Already this year, Lester has four starts in which he’s struck out three or fewer — matching his total from 2011, and one more than his combined total from 2009-10.

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