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Closing Time: Mike Napoli, David Ortiz help power Red Sox past A’s

04.24.13 at 7:46 pm ET
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The Red Sox look like they have the makings of a formidable duo in the middle of the order, a notion that gained further credence on Wednesday afternoon in the Sox’ 6-5 victory over the A’s.

On a day when the Sox suffered through through listless innings to start the game, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli jumpstarted the offense in the bottom of the fourth when Ortiz slammed a double high off the Wall in left-center and Napoli chased him in by lining a double into the gap in left-center. That set in motion a three-run rally to tie the game, and both factored into a second straight three-run eruption (Ortiz with an RBI single, Napoli by getting hit by a pitch to load the bases) in the next frame.

Ortiz is showing signs of being able to produce even as he continues to find his rhythm, having gone 8-for-16 to start the year. Napoli, meanwhile, is emerging as a ferocious presence with whom opponents have little desire to contend (he got walked and hit by a pitch in his 1-for-2 day).

Their relatively new partnership (Ortiz played in his fourth game on Wednesday) suggests a potentially new dynamic for the Red Sox. For most of the year, the team’s success was predicated upon a series of dominating starts. Now, with Napoli torrid and Ortiz off to a strong start, the Sox may have an alternative path to victory available.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

— Ortiz jumpstarted the offense in the bottom of the fifth inning by lining a first-pitch fastball from left-hander Brett Anderson high off the Wall in left-center, hustling into second with his third double of the year. He followed that by bouncing a shift chopper through the sparsely covered left side of the infield for an RBI in the fifth. Ortiz is now 3-for-7 against lefties this year.

Andrew Bailey struck out the side to slam the door in the ninth, mixing a 95 mph fastball with a tremendous cutter.

Stephen Drew, who was 0-for-8 against left-handers this year after striking out in his first at-bat against A’s lefty Brett Anderson, yanked a 2-1 fastball down the first base line and into the right-field corner for a game-tying two-run triple in the bottom of the fifth inning. However, he also fanned three times.

— With a first-inning double to left-center, Dustin Pedroia snapped a streak of nine straight games without an extra-base hit. During the stretch, despite the absence of extra-base knocks, Pedroia remained productive by reaching base at a .375 clip and getting on base in eight of the nine contests. He went 2-for-5 on the day.

Daniel Nava delivered a bases loaded, pinch-hit single against reliever Chris Resop in the bottom of the fifth, to improve to 3-for-18 in his career as a pinch-hitter. The run, which gave the Sox a 6-3 lead at the time, provided the eventual margin of victory.

— The Red Sox bullpen delivered a pair of pivotal outs with the game in the balance. In the top of the sixth, Junichi Tazawa was asked to relieve Jon Lester with the bases loaded and two outs in a 6-3 game. Though he missed his location, Tazawa got a fly ball to center to end the threat, and he’s now stranded all six of his inherited runners this year. Then, after the A’s scored a run in the top of the seventh against Tazawa, Andrew Miller was brought in with a runner on second and two outs in a 6-4 game. The left-hander, who’d struggled throughout this season, punched out the only batter he faced, left-hander Brandon Moss, on a full count slider.

The Sox bullpen as a whole has now allowed just three of the 20 runners they’ve inherited (15 percent) to score.

— For the fifth time this year, the Red Sox knocked out a starter before he’d thrown five full innings. Only the Mets (7), A’s (7) and Tigers (6) have delivered that many early knockouts.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Shane Victorino had to leave the game after the bottom of the sixth inning due to injury, potentially a recurrence of the lower back tightness that impacted his availability during last weekend’s series against the Royals.

— For the first time all year, Jon Lester struggled through an entire outing. He permitted six walks, the second most he’s ever permitted in a game, along with six hits (the most he’s given up this year), three runs (again, a 2013 season-high) and his first homer of the 2013 season. Still, despite his struggles, he still managed to contain his struggles to one inning (a fourth in which he gave up a three-run homer), and the Sox improved to 5-0 in his starts while Lester is now 4-0 for the year.

Will Middlebrooks went 0-for-4 and stranded seven baserunners. Most notably, with the bases loaded, three runs in and no outs in the bottom of the fifth, Middlebrooks swung at a first-pitch fastball on the hands from right-hander Chris Resop, popping it up to shallow left. That, in turn, set the stage for the Sox to permit the A’s to escape the inning when left-hander Jeremy Blevins punched out Drew and David Ross flied to right.

Middlebrooks is now 5-for-54 in his last 14 games.

Koji Uehara allowed a solo homer for the second time in as many outings, this one a blast by Chris Young. However, after permitting the solo blast that trimmed the Sox’ advantage from two runs to one, he recovered to get through the eighth inning without further incident.

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