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Closing Time: Red Sox unleash the hounds, crush Rays and Matt Moore to take 1-0 ALDS lead

10.04.13 at 6:42 pm ET
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The Red Sox looked like they would once again be overmatched by left-hander Matt Moore. The Rays starter dominated through three no-hit innings, continuing a pattern that stretched back to the regular season. Indeed, to that point, the current members of the Red Sox organization owned a dismal .134 average (13-for-97) in their careers against Moore, and it looked very much as if the Sox were once again going to get taken out of their approach by an above-average left-handed starter.

But with the Sox trailing, 2-0, on the strength of a pair of Rays solo homers against Jon Lester, Boston exploded for a five-run, 10-batter fourth inning, aided by the appearance of a pair of familiar Sox traits (the ability to run up pitch counts and run the bases well) and an unfamiliar demonstration by the Rays (a number of defensive lapses). After Dustin Pedroia broke up Moore’s no-hitter with a leadoff single up the middle, David Ortiz drove a ball to deep right that proved pivotal. Rays right fielder Wil Myers appeared to be camped under the fly ball close to the Red Sox’ bullpen fence, but as it descended, he sprinted forward, with the ball bouncing safely off the warning track for a ground rule double.

The Sox soon capitalized, with Jonny Gomes slamming a one-out, two-run double off the left field Wall, then scoring on a two-out infield single by Stephen Drew in which Moore first failed to beat Drew to first (on a grounder to first base) and then was caught unaware as Gomes made his mad dash from second. Will Middlebrooks then doubled to left, with Drew scoring only because left fielder Sean Rodriguez badly misplayed the ball off the Wall. A passed ball on a Jacoby Ellsbury strikeout extended the inning, with Shane Victorino capping the scoring by punching a single to right.

The rout was on. The Sox once again batted around and plated three more runs in the fifth inning, and Lester cruised from the fourth inning on, retiring 11 straight from the fourth through seventh innings to give the Sox a 12-2 victory and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five ALDS. The top-to-bottom contribution proved historic: All nine Red Sox starters had at least one hit and scored at least one run, just the third time in postseason history that such a thing has happened. (The other two came when the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals accomplished the feat and the 1936 Yankees did the same, both in the World Series.)

Game 2 is slated for Saturday at 5:37 p.m.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

— Lester looked overpowering out of the gate, striking out the first four hitters he faced while showing a 95-97 mph fastball. However, it appeared that the initial surge of adrenaline may have caught up with him, as his stuff flattened starting in the second inning, after a 2-2 changeup to Sean Rodriguez (which looked like it should have been a called strike three) was called a ball. His full-count fastball down the gut was pounded out to left-center by Rodriguez, and Lester then gave up a solo homer to Ben Zobrist in the fourth (the first time in 12 starts that he’d permitted multiple homers in a start).

But from there, Lester gathered himself and proved dominating. He retired the next 11 Rays on the strength of a four-pitch arsenal that he could seemingly mix for strikes at will, using his fastball, cutter, changeup and curve to attack the strike zone and keep the Rays on their heels. Not only did he mow through the Rays’ offense, but he also kept Tampa Bay’s pitchers reeling by getting his lineup back on the field quickly for the fifth after its five-run rally in the fourth.

The left-hander ended up permitting just the two runs on three hits while working 7 2/3 innings in which he walked three and struck out seven. In the process, he added to what is a fairly dominant postseason resume.

In seven career playoff starts, Lester now has a 2.35 ERA — the fifth lowest mark in Sox history by a starter with at least 30 innings, trailing only Babe Ruth (0.87), Ernie Shore (1.82), Bill Dinneen (2.06) and Bruce Hurst (2.29).

— The Sox lineup followed a familiar pattern in elevating Moore’s pitch count and knocking him out of the game. After he needed 53 pitches over three no-hit innings, Moore needed 53 pitches to record his next four outs, ultimately getting knocked out of the game after 4 1/3 innings in which he permitted eight runs (seven earned) on eight hits. The Sox finished second in the majors this year with 41 games in which they knocked out the starter before he’d completed five innings; they were 38-3 in those games.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia went 2-for-4 with a two-run double, an RBI single and a walk, a particularly noteworthy performance given that both his double and walk came against the left-handed Moore. The performance will reinforce further the notion that he’s made meaningful gains as a right-handed hitter, adding to the view of the switch-hitter as a frontline catcher at a time when he’s preparing for his first crack at free agency. Saltalamacchia hit just .218 but with a solid .309 OBP while batting right-handed during the regular season.

— The Sox proved both aggressive and smart on the bases, a development highlighted by Gomes’ run scored from second base on the infield single to first but further demonstrated with a pair of successful stolen base attempts (one by Jacoby Ellsbury, another by Shane Victorino), David Ortiz scoring from first on Gomes’ one-out double off the Wall, Drew reading Rodriguez’s misplay of a double off the Wall to score from first on Middlebrooks’ double and Napoli sliding around a tag attempt at second base to stretch a single into a double, even though he’d been beaten by the throw.

— Victorino led the Sox with three hits, going 3-for-4 and getting hit by a pitch.

— Ellsbury’s steal and 2-for-5 game further reinforce the notion that his recovery from a non-displaced navicular fracture was successful.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

— Ummmm… Ortiz at one point fouled a ball off his right foot that required a visit from the trainer, but he stayed in the game. Aside from that, nada.

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