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Closing Time: Jacoby Ellsbury’s return, Will Middlebrooks’ big night fuel Red Sox offense

09.26.13 at 12:24 am ET
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On the night of Jacoby Ellsbury‘s return, the Red Sox offense erupted.

Ellsbury played only three innings defensively and came up to bat three times, going 1-for-2 with a single and a walk. The plan was to give Ellsbury a few plate appearances in order to ease him back into game action after missing 16 games with a broken navicular bone in his right foot. It seemed like Ellsbury, who wore a protective guard on his right shoe while batting, had no trouble running the bases, scoring twice (though once was on a home run) without any signs of limping or favoring a foot.

Though the Red Sox weren’t struggling to score runs with Ellsbury out of the lineup (they went 10-6 while Ellsbury was shut down, and Dustin Pedroia hit .327/.365/.469 in 11 games out of the leadoff spot), their lineup is a more balanced and productive one when Ellsbury is in it. The Sox demonstrated how well the lineup functions when Ellsbury is back at the top of it in the first inning of Wednesday’s contest, when Ellsbury battled through a seven-pitch at-bat and lined a single to right. A bunt hit and force out later, David Ortiz crushed a two-run double. Ortiz has now driven in Ellsbury 14 times, while Dustin Pedroia has driven in Ellsbury more than he’s brought in any other player, sending the leadoff hitter home a total of 32 times.

Playing center field, Ellsbury didn’t get the chance to record any outs, with the one ball that came his way sailing over his head and bouncing out by the 415 mark in center (Ellsbury was playing shallow). But just the fact that Ellsbury was back in his usual spot allowed the rest of the outfield to fall into place. Shane Victorino, who has been outstanding in right field but somewhat shaky in center, made a nice catch on a hard-hit line drive to end the third inning. Daniel Nava moved back over to left field, where he’s spent the majority of the season.

With a 15-5 win (the most runs scored by any team at Coors Field this season) against the Rockies and an A’s loss earlier in the day, the Red Sox put a little space between themselves and Oakland in the race for the top seed in the American League. The Sox are now up two games on the A’s, improving to 96-63 while Oakland falls to 94-65. Both teams have three games left to play.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX:

Will Middlebrooks had himself a night at the plate, driving in seven runs, setting a new career-high single game total for the third baseman. All of Middlebrooks’ RBIs came by way of home runs, with a three-run shot in the fifth and a grand slam, the third of his career, in the eighth. Middlebrooks surpassed his 2012 home run total with the first shot of the night, and now has 17 on the season.

Middlebrooks had cooled off recently, going 5-for-41 in between home runs (his last, prior to tonight, was the game-tying long ball off of Mariano Rivera back on Sept. 8) and driving in just one run while striking out 14 times. But manager John Farrell has been sticking with Middlebrooks in the lineup, with Middlebrooks getting starts in 17 of 19 games this month, and appearing in all but one game.

— Another member of the Red Sox’ walking wounded, Victorino came through with a big home run in the fourth, his 14th long ball of the season, which brought his RBI total to 61 on the year. It’s been evident that Victorino is battling through some nagging injuries, but he’s still been very productive, hitting .327 with 10 RBIs in his last 14 games.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia extended his hit streak to nine games with an impressive night, going 4-for-5 with three RBIs and a double. The catcher matched a career-high wiht the four hits, something he’d done once earlier this year and two prior times in his career. Over the course of his hit streak, Saltalamacchia is hitting .424 (14-for-33) with three home runs, four doubles, and 10 RBIs. His 39 doubles are tied for the most by a catcher in Red Sox history.

— Playing first base for the second game in a row in the National League park, Ortiz gave the Red Sox an early lead with a two-run double in the first. Ortiz has now driven in at least 100 runs for the seventh time in his career, and the first time since 2010. He finished the night 1-for-3 with a walk.

Franklin Morales showed off his unbelievable pick-off move in the seventh inning, picking Michael Cuddyer off first base before he even threw a pitch.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

— The thin air of Coors Field has not been kind to Red Sox pitching. After John Lackey gave up four runs (including three home runs) on Tuesday, Jake Peavy struggled to quiet the Rockies’ offense, giving up five runs on eight hits in six innings. In a rather fitting turn of events, Todd Helton, who was playing his final game at Coors Field and was honored in a pregame ceremony, had Peavy’s number, going 2-for-2 with a home run, double, walk and three RBIs. Peavy did help himself out with the bat, however, clubbing a double and coming around to score.

Peavy has had some troublesome control problems in his past few starts, although he seemed to get back on track in his last outing in which he struck out eight while walking only one. But the command issues were back on Wednesday night, when the righty walked four (he’s walked four or more only three other times this season) and struck out five.

— Pedroia was the only starter without a hit, going 0-for-5 while stranding three runners. It was only the fourth time this season Pedroia’s gone hitless in five at-bats. The second baseman is working his way through a short slump, with just one hit in his last 14 at-bats.

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