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Closing Time: Red Sox take down Justin Verlander, Tigers to break through .500 barrier

05.29.12 at 11:04 pm ET
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A compelling case can be made that, under the circumstances and given the degree of difficulty, the Red Sox‘ 6-3 win over the Tigers on Tuesday was their best of the year.

The specter of Dustin Pedroia‘s absence loomed over the team entering the game. The task of facing Tigers ace of aces Justin Verlander — while featuring a starter in Daniel Bard who has been inconsistent — added to the daunting task in front of the Sox.

Yet they overcame what seemed like imposing odds, giving Verlander his biggest beating of the season en route to a 25-24 record. Bard was as good as he’s been in a month; the lineup received outstanding top-to-bottom contributions; and the bullpen delivered 11 outs to seal the victory. On a day when the Sox had every excuse to be flat, they delivered the proverbial character win to push past the .500 mark for the first time this year, improving to 25-24.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

— Bard showed his best pitch mix in at least a month. He summoned strikeouts when he needed them — most notably, punching out Miguel Cabrera on a nasty slider with two on and two out in the fifth, at a time when the Tigers slugger represented the tying run — and looked both assertive and confident on a night when he regularly hit 95 mph with his fastball, got swings and misses on his slider and effectively unbalanced Detroit with his changeup.

Just as he did in his previous start in Baltimore (after which Bard said he didn’t feel like himself on the mound), he allowed two runs on five hits in 5 1/3 innings. But Bard flipped his walks and strikeouts totals from that game, punching out four and walking two, on a night when he featured legitimate swing-and-miss stuff as a starter. It was the first time since May 2 that he walked fewer than four, and the first time since April 27 that he punched out more than three. In other words, it was Bard’s most impressive outing in a month, and offered a reminder that while there are inconsistencies in the experiment of his move from the bullpen to the rotation, there is upside as well.

With the win, Bard improved to 5-5 with a 4.62 ERA.

David Ortiz had a monster game. He went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles off of Verlander and a solo homer off left-handed reliever Duane Below, Ortiz’s fifth homer of the year against a left-hander. On the season, Ortiz is hitting .314 with a .966 OPS against lefties and .322 with a .997 OPS against righties. It was the first time this season that Ortiz has had three extra-base hits, and just the second time (along with a contest last July 26 against Kansas City in which he had three doubles) since the 2008 season that he has pulled the trick.

Daniel Nava fought off a 100 mph fastball from Verlander on a full count for a bases-loaded, two-out double down the left-field that plated three runs and allowed the Sox to take a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth. That, in turn, allowed the Sox to play the game with a comfortable lead.

— The Red Sox played outstanding defense behind Bard. Ryan Sweeney made a pair of tremendous catches in right, one a sliding grab to pull a ball off the turf and the other to track down a rocket off the bat of Miguel Cabrera in deep right — with runners on second and third and two outs — to prevent at least two runs from scoring, Scott Podsednik made an excellent running catch in left-center and Mike Aviles seemed to be perfectly positioned all night in gathering one grounder after another at short.

— Podsednik continued to make a surprising impact, going 2-for-4 with a double and scoring a run. He is now 7-for-15 (.467) with a 1.200 OPS.

— The Sox became the first team since Sept. 2010 to collect as many as 10 hits off of Verlander, while also becoming the first team this year to score five earned runs against him.

Vicente Padilla entered with a runner on base and two outs in the seventh and promptly induced an inning-ending flare to second. He has now inherited 16 runners this year and has stranded all of them.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the game in the top of the seventh due to illness.

Ryan Sweeney, despite his excellent defensive work, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. It was the first time he’s struck out three times as a member of the Red Sox, and just the sixth time in his career.

Andrew Miller gave up multiple hits for the first time this season, allowing a double to Miguel Cabrera and a single by left-hander Prince Fielder before being lifted with two outs. After making eight scoreless appearances to start the year, he’s permitted runs in two of his last three outings.

Read More: Daniel Bard, daniel nava, David Ortiz,
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