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Closing Time: Adrian Gonzalez blasts Red Sox past White Sox

07.16.12 at 9:53 pm ET
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The Red Sox had long been looking forward to the return of many of their injured stars, but throughout the first half, the team had suffered just as much from the underperformance of some of its healthy stars as from the absence of others.

That being the case, the Red Sox had one of their most promising signs of the 2012 season on Monday night in their 5-1 victory over the White Sox. Not only did Carl Crawford make an impact in his return — scoring both the Sox’ game-tying first run and also their game-winning second run of the night — but the team received a game-deciding three-run home run in the eighth inning from Adrian Gonzalez. It was a signature blast, in which the first baseman unloaded on a 93 mph fastball from lefty Leyson Septimo and launched it with incredible backspin to left-center, permitting the ball to keep carrying deep into the Monster Seats.

The homer was Gonzalez’s first in 63 at-bats and just his seventh of the year. Yet while Gonzalez has shown only limited power this year, he has been engaged in a steady uptick in performance. He has hits in 20 of his last 21 games, with the only game in which he was held hitless being a contest against the Yankees when he left early due to illness. He was 2-for-4 and drove in four runs on Monday, and in his last 21 games, he’s now hitting .384/.404/.512/.916.

As much as the returns of Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury have the potential to transform the club, little would be of greater significance than a return to form by a player with the track record of one of the top sluggers in baseball.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Aaron Cook continued to excel in his return to the Red Sox rotation, dominating for seven innings in which he allowed just one run on five hits while neither walking nor striking out a batter. His sinker had tremendous life, resulting in 16 of the 21 outs he recorded.

In four starts since coming off the disabled list in late-June, he now has a 3-1 record and 1.67 ERA, despite having just two strikeouts in 27 innings. For the year, he has a 3.34 ERA, the best among any Red Sox as a starter in 2012. He has three straight quality starts, the first time that he’s enjoyed such a run of success since a three-game run from June 20-July 1, 2010. The right-hander has given the Red Sox a much-needed infusion of mid-year depth.

Pedro Ciriaco continued his remarkable start to his Red Sox career, going 3-for-3 (a double and two singles) for his fourth three-hit game in seven starts since getting called up from Triple-A. He’s hitting .481 thus far.

Carl Crawford wasted little time in making an impact at the start of his second Red Sox season, lining a 1-2 single up the middle (a ball that hit both the pitcher’s mound and second base en route to center field), advancing to third on a single and scoring on an Adrian Gonzalez RBI single.

David Ortiz ripped a first-inning single to right-center to extend his season-high hitting streak to 11 games. He has 10 straight games with at least one walk and one hit, a new Red Sox record. However…

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Ortiz appeared to suffer an injury while rounding the bases following Gonzalez’ home run, before it was evident that the blast would reach the seats. Ortiz hobbled around the bases after reaching second, moving at a veritable crawl between third and home.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia continued his offensive funk. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, giving him 16 punchouts in his last seven games, a stretch in which he’s 2-for-26 (.077) with three walks. With 79 strikeouts in the Sox’ first 90 games, he’s on pace to whiff 140 times this year, a number that would shatter the previous Red Sox record for a catcher of 142, set by Jason Varitek in 2004.

Jacoby Ellsbury, in his first game at Fenway Park since he suffered a shoulder subluxation on April 13, went 0-for-4.

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