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Closing Time: Red Sox relievers rebound behind Alfredo Aceves as Sox beat Rays, 2-1

06.12.13 at 10:33 pm ET
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Alfredo Aceves took an unusual path to a victory on Wednesday. (AP)

Alfredo Aceves took an unusual path to a victory on Wednesday. (AP)

Two nights earlier, the Red Sox’ bullpen had nearly proved the team’s undoing. While the team recovered to eventually claim a 14-inning, 10-8 victory, Andrew Bailey‘s blown save ravaged the team’s bullpen in a fashion that required a reconfiguration of the roster.

On Wednesday night, there was redemption. In support of an outstanding — if Jekyll-and-Hyde — spot start by call-up Alfredo Aceves, the bullpen delivered the goods in the last three innings, navigating a one-run tightrope en route to a 2-1 win over the Rays in the rubber match of the three-game set.

Junichi Tazawa offered the first line of defense, delivering a dominant 1-2-3 seventh inning that featured two punchouts. Craig Breslow — whose reliable strike-throwing ability may have allowed him to displace Andrew Miller as the team’s go-to left-hander in the late innings — followed by striking out the first two batters he faced in the eighth before yielding a two-out double.

On came Koji Uehara, who authored the game’s pivotal sequence — a three-pitch strikeout of Evan Longoria on three straight splitters (the first two called, the third in the dirt) to strand the game-tying run at second. Bailey came on to record his seventh save in nine attempts in the ninth. Though he had to work around a leadoff single and a stolen base, this time, Bailey shut the door, punching out two in a scoreless ninth.

With the win, the Sox improved to an AL-best 20-12 (.625) on the road while increasing their AL East lead to 2 1/2 games, pending New York’s contest.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– The only reason why Alfredo Aceves was in the big leagues on Wednesday was dire necessity. Yet the right-hander continued to make his case as an invaluable form of rotation depth by delivering an outstanding, six-inning effort to earn the victory.

Aceves authored a tale of two outings. Through two innings plus the first batter he faced in the third, he faced 10 Rays hitters, walking four of them — and throwing just 12 of 33 pitches (36 percent) of pitches for strikes — but refusing to permit a hit, allowing him to strand all of them. From that point forward, he did not walks any of the final 14 men he faced, and threw a mind-boggling 38 of 51 pitches (75 percent) for strikes. Though he gave up four hits, including a solo homer to Evan Longoria, Aceves delivered everything for which the Sox could have hoped, logging six innings and giving up just the one run on four hits and four walks while striking out three.

The right-hander gave the Sox his second straight quality spot start; he’s allowed one run in six innings in each of his last two big league options, performances that underscore why the Sox kept him on the 40-man roster. He is proving imperturbable while shutting between the majors and minors.

“That’s the way we live. Some days you play one day and then next day, you play in different places, that’s the way we live,” Aceves said.

Daniel Nava added another memorable moment to his outstanding season, launching a two-run homer to break a scoreless tie in the top of the third inning, his ninth of the year. It was his only hit in four at-bats, but nonetheless further cemented his standing as one of the most productive outfielders in the AL this year. Nava is hitting .299 (third in the AL in average) with a .394 OBP (first among AL outfielders), .479 slugging mark (ninth in the AL) and .873 OPS (4th).

Jacoby Ellsbury continued his tremendous stretch, going 1-for-3 with a pair of walks. He now has an 11-game hitting streak in which he’s hitting .440/.500/640. Ellsbury also swiped two more bases, and is now up to 29 steals in 31 attempts. He’s currently on pace to match his career best of 70 steals in a season.

Mike Carp, starting in left field with Shane Victorino getting a day off, continued to delivery tremendous offense in a part-time role, going 2-for-4. In his last 10 games, Carp is hitting .441/.474/.794.

– The Red Sox once again proved capable of working deep counts and knocking out a starter regardless of the quality of his stuff. Even though Chris Archer punched out seven Red Sox, the team drove up his pitch count, collected four walks and knocked him out after just four innings. It marked the 18th time this year that the Sox have knocked out an opposing starter in fewer than five innings.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Mike Napoli went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts while getting hit by a pitch. He now has 93 strikeouts through 67 Red Sox games, putting him on pace to whiff 225 times this year — which would beat the single-season record of 223 set by Mark Reynolds in 2009.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia went 0-for-4, snapping his eight-game hitting streak.

Rob Bradford contributed to this report from St. Petersburg.

Read More: alfredo aceves, Andrew Bailey, Craig Breslow, daniel nava
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