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Closing Time: Jarrod Saltalamacchia punctuates best season in grand style to lead Red Sox past Yankees

09.13.13 at 10:17 pm ET
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Jarrod Saltalamacchia launched a grand slam to lead the Sox to an 8-4 win. (AP)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia launched a grand slam to lead the Sox to an 8-4 win. (AP)

The issue for Jarrod Saltalamacchia had never been talent. The questions about his status in baseball related to his consistency, both offensively and defensively.

The 28-year-old had shown flashes of brilliance both behind the plate and with a bat in his hands, but the stretches throughout his career often proved fleeting — he would excel for perhaps a month, perhaps three, but there was a deep slump on the other side. More specifically, in both 2011 and again in 2012, Saltalamacchia had seen his numbers nosedive down the stretch, hitting a combined .171 over the last two Septembers.

On Friday, Saltalamacchia punctuated what has been his best season as an everyday catcher with a tremendous night, going 2-for-3 with a double, a walk and, most significantly, the grand slam that unlocked a 4-4 tie and propelled the Red Sox to an 8-4 win — the team’s 90th of the year — that dropped their magic number to seven. It was Saltalamacchia’s 13th homer of the year and his second in as many days, a suggestion that the rest he was afforded to let his lower back stiffness subside achieved the desired impact.

Saltalamacchia is now hitting .263 with a .334 OBP and .454 slugging percentage, all marks that suggest that he’s a top 10 offensive catcher in all of baseball — and one who has now learned to be consistent over the course of a full year, having now produced an OPS of .750 or better in every month of the year. That offensive performance, coupled with the fact that he’s emerged as a respected leader of the pitching staff, suggest that he is coming into his own in all aspects of the game.

Other members of the Red Sox are more heralded, of course, but Saltalamacchia’s overall value to the team with the best record in the American League has been far-reaching, a notion that was underscored in grand fashion on Friday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– Shortstop Stephen Drew collected a pair of doubles, including a two-run shot to the opposite field in the first inning to give the Sox their early advantage. Since July 27, he’s hitting .292/.369/.513 with seven homers and 20 extra-base hits in 42 games.

David Ortiz appears to have his opposite-field approach locked back in, as he went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles to left while getting hit by a pitch and walking.

Dustin Pedroia continued his early success in the leadoff role for the Sox. He now has a four-game hitting streak atop the order after going 2-for-5 on Friday. He’s 6-for-18 with a walk atop the order during that stretch.

– Naturally, John Lackey was saddled with a no-decision on a night when he pitched well. The right-hander exited with a 4-2 lead in the seventh, only to see his bullpen permit both runners he left on base to score. Still, Lackey continued to offer a steady supply of innings, with Friday marking the 17th time in 27 starts that he’s recorded at least one out in the seventh inning.

Koji Uehara blitzed through a perfect ninth, extending his streak of consecutive batters retired to 37.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– For the second straight matchup between the Red Sox and Yankees, the Sox had starter Hiroki Kuroda on the ropes early but could not deliver a knockout blow. After they plated four runs and forced the Yankees right-hander to log 33 pitches in the first inning, and then loaded the bases with one out in the second, the team seemed ready to blow out the Yankees in the contest’s initial frames. However, Mike Carp struck out and Daniel Nava lined out to end that threat, and Kuroda then settled to retire 14 of 16, pitching into the seventh inning and permitting the Yankees to whittle their deficit from 4-0 to a tie game before Saltalamacchia’s blast untied it.

Craig Breslow suffered a rare lapse in his strike-throwing ability. He fell behind each of the first two hitters he faced by 3-0 counts, first to Curtis Granderson (eventually working his way back to a strikeout) and then Alex Rodriguez (whom he walked) before giving up the game-tying double on a 2-1 pitch to Robinson Cano.

Jackie Bradley Jr. added to his offensive struggles in his return to the big leagues, going 0-for-4 with strikeout and a pair of groundouts. He’s now 1-for-11 in his last four games.

Will Middlebrooks, after going 0-for-9 in the series against the Rays, continued his skid with an 0-for-4 night that included a strikeout.

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