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Closing Time: Red Sox offense erupts late in win over Rays

04.29.14 at 10:50 pm ET
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The Red Sox lineup now features a familiar cast, and with it, some increasingly familiar results.

With Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks now back in the lineup and Jackie Bradley Jr. performing with increasing comfort at the major league level, the Sox increasingly resemble a lineup that runs nine deep and has a chance to wear down opposing pitching staffs.

“It’s hard to get a full read on what our team is going to be when it’s incomplete,” manager John Farrell noted before the game. “Now that we have everyone back at full strength, we’re still getting [Victorino] back up to speed in terms of his timing at the plate, but to me, the overriding thing is the quality of at-bats up and down the lineup.”

That dynamic played out on Tuesday night, when the Sox knocked out Rays starter Erik Bedard after five innings by driving his pitch count up to 104, then exploding for five runs in the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay bullpen. Victorino collected four hits, Bradley had a pair of extra-base hits and Middlebrooks crushed a double, giving the Sox the sort of production that typified their games last year but that had rarely been in evidence in the early stages of 2014. The Red Sox beat the Rays, 7-4, and now have a chance to close out April with a .500 record if they can win on Wednesday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

John Lackey once again showed the ability to shut down an opposing lineup with a pound-the-strike-zone approach. The big right-hander logged eight innings while allowing two runs on six hits with five strikeouts and just one walk. It was his second straight eight-inning effort, and he now has a 39-to-8 strikeout-to-walk rate in his six starts this year.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is showing signs that he is starting to figure out major league pitching. After a Toronto series in which he was 4-for-11 with three extra-base hits, Bradley slammed a pair of doubles — one to left-center against lefty Erik Bedard, one to straightaway center against right-hander Juan Oviedo — to contribute to both Sox rallies. Bradley is now 11-for-26 (.423) with runners in scoring position.

Mike Napoli continued to exhaust opposing pitching staffs and serve as an on-base machine in the middle of the lineup. He went 1-for-3 with a pair of walks, seeing 33 pitches in his five plate appearances, boosting his OBP to .405 for the year.

Shane Victorino offered evidence that his timing is starting to come back as he gets further into his return from the disabled list. The right-hander had his first multi-hit game of the year, assembling four hits (albeit two of the well-placed/weakly hit variety) to match his Red Sox single-game high. He found a hole when dumping a ball through the right side of the infield for a first-inning single, lined a ball off the scoreboard in left field in the third for another single (on which he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double), sliced a double just inside the right field line and into the stands for an RBI ground-rule double in the sixth and finally punched a single to left in the eighth. He also had a sac fly in the fifth, when he fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches en route to a seven-pitch sacrifice fly that gave the Sox their first lead.

Will Middlebrooks slammed an RBI double off the Wall in left-center as part of the Sox’ five-run sixth. Middlebrooks now has five extra-base hits in eight games this year; all other Red Sox third basemen have combined for one extra-base hit in 19 games.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

David Ortiz had his first three-strikeout game of 2014 and just his second in the last three years, going 0-for-4 with the three punchouts.

Xander Bogaerts continued to struggle with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-2 in such opportunities on Tuesday (as part of an 0-for-3 day in which he punched out twice and walked). Most notably, Bogaerts punched out with runners on second and third and one out in the fourth inning. Bogaerts is now 4-for-26 (.154) with runners in scoring position. Bogaerts also sailed a throw in the top of the ninth for an error, his fourth in 25 games this year.

Edward Mujica has yet to show the form that convinced the Sox to sign him as a key part of the march through the late innings. He permitted two runs on two hits and, most notably, a walk in the ninth inning. Mujica now has issued four walks in nine innings this year — one fewer than he permitted in 64 2/3 innings for the Cardinals last year. His ERA in 10.00.

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