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Closing Time: Red Sox rally past Blue Jays

06.26.12 at 10:13 pm ET
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The Red Sox have rarely been blown out, but despite some spirited late-innings rallies, the team has rarely completely a come-from-behind victory in the latter stages of the game. The team has endured a dearth of on-field drama of the positive variety.

For that reason, Tuesday night’s 5-1 victory over the Blue Jays represented one of the most satisfying of the season for a club that is trying to fight its way into contention. On a night when the Red Sox were shut down completely by the Blue Jays, the team rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh, all with two outs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia tied the game with a solo homer to left-center, and pinch-hitter Ryan Kalish followed with a double to right. Pinch-hitter Daniel Nava was then plunked and Mike Aviles worked a walk to load the bases for Dustin Pedroia, the former MVP who has insisted for some time that his hits were ready to come in bunches.

In this instance, Pedroia stayed with a sinker from reliever David Pauley and grounded it back up the middle for a two-run single that not only completed a comeback but that also gave the team’s iconic contributor his most significant moment in nearly two months. The energy in the ballpark and dugout was palpable, on a night when the Sox improved to 5-23 in games when they trailed after six innings.

The team has now won eight of 10, edging one game ahead of the Blue Jays while continuing a hard charge at the Rays for third place.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– During the offseason, the Red Sox hoped that Daisuke Matsuzaka might be able to contribute at some point in 2012. To date, even though he remains winless in four starts in his return from Tommy John surgery, he has been everything for which the Sox could have hoped, and probably more.

After all, the idea that he would be able to return to start within a year of his surgery represented an unlikely enough case. The idea that he would be able to pitch well upon his return seemed even more difficult to trust.

But he’s pitched respectably in each of his four starts, and was considerably better than that on Tuesday night. He allowed one run on six hits in 5 2/3 innings, striking out five while walking just one. He featured 91-93 mph velocity on his fastball, and both his slider and changeup were swing-and-miss offerings on a night when eight of his 100 pitches resulted in whiffs.

On the season, he has now punched out 20 and walked six in 22 innings this year, good for 8.2 strikeouts and just 2.5 walks per nine innings, with the walks per nine representing the best mark of his career. While he has a 4.91 ERA, that represents in some respects a product of bad luck. After all, he has a 1.14 WHIP that is easily the best of his career.

Not only did Matsuzaka continue to achieve good strikeout-to-walk numbers, but he also picked off a batter for the first time in his career. On a night when the Sox were shut down completely through six innings, Matsuzaka kept his team within a single swing of trying the game at all times in what had to be considered a successful return to play against American League competition. He took a no-decision from the game, yet he was a central contributor to the win.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia continues to translate his immense raw power into games. The 27-year-old blasted his 14th homer, this one clearing the Green Monster in left-center, to put him on pace for 31 homers on the year. That would shatter the previous club record for homers in a season by a catcher. Carlton Fisk hit 26 twice, once in 1973 and again in 1977, while Jason Varitek hit 25 in 2003.

– One night after he clubbed two homers, David Ortiz banged a couple of high fly balls off the Wall down the left-field line. With 20 homers and 23 doubles, he is on pace to go deep 44 times with 50 doubles. There are just 11 seasons in baseball history of 40+ homers and at least 50 doubles, and none by a player who was older than 29 years old.

Adrian Gonzalez went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, extending his hitting streak to seven games. During that stretch, he is hitting .357 with a .419 OBP and .484 slugging percentage.

Mike Aviles had subtle but significant contributions. In the top of the sixth, he made a pair of tremendous defensive plays, first scrambling after a sharp Yunel Escobar liner down the third base line that caromed off the angled wall; by pouncing on the ball quickly, Aviles limited Escobar to a single, thus preserving a force play and keeping runners at the corners with two outs. That proved significant when, on the next play, he fielded a slow grounder into the hole and fired to second for the force, keeping at least one run off the board and positioning the Sox to take the lead.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– Though Will Middlebrooks contributed a sac fly, he was 0-for-3 and committed a throwing error, his second miscue in as many nights and his seventh error of the year.

– In his first Red Sox start, Brent Lillibridge went 0-for-2 and stranded a pair of runners.

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