Daniel Bard would make his longest appearance in years as he continues to get his arm stretched out for starting duty. Throwing just shy of 50 pitches, Bard managed to avoid giving up any runs despite some bouts of inconsistency. After striking out Desmond Jennings on three pitches and inducing a ground out to start the game, for instance, he would throw five straight balls and find himself locked in a lengthy battle with Ben Zobrist.
Bard would win that battle, however, and after allowing a pair of one-out baserunners in the second, settled down for the rest of the night. The strikeouts weren't there after Jennings, but Bard earned a good deal of weak contact working away in the zone, and flashed a few good changeups along the way.
Bard was not alone in his control issues either, with Tampa Bay starter Wade Davis being the night's most egregious offender. Loading the bases on a single and two walks in the first, Davis still could not find the zone against Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and allowed a free run to the Sox with another ball four.
While his defense would save him from any further damage that inning with a double play, it would let him down in the next. With men on second and third and two outs, Jose Iglesias made good contact knocking a fly ball to center field, but not far enough away from B.J. Upton--or so it seemed. But as the center fielder casually tracked the fly and stuck his glove out to make what seemed a routine grab, the ball simply sailed past him. Both runs would score on the error, giving the Sox a 3-0 lead.
The Sox would add a fourth run in the third off a pair of doubles from Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis before Bard turned the ball over Alfredo Aceves, who followed Bard's lead with three scoreless innings of his own as the Rays managed to put some air under the ball, but not enough to escape the Red Sox' outfielders. Matt Albers and Junichi Tazawa would successfully bridge the next pair of innings despite three walks and a hit between them while Will Middlebrooks and Josh Kroeger each hit doubles in the eighth to give the Red Sox another run.
Things would finally get hairy for the Sox in the top of the ninth, as Clay Mortensen struggled to record outs, loading the bases with just one gone. But a timely pair of pop-ups would end the Rays' final threat, leaving the Red Sox with a 5-0 win in Fort Myers.
A combined six shutout innings from the two converting relievers, and at least when he left the game Daniel Bard still had both arms solidly attached to his body.
Spring it may be, but it's always nice to see the middle-of-the-order bats of Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez combining to score a run.
And while we're on the subject of bats producing, Darnell McDonald is doing his best to convince Bobby Valentine he's worth keeping around for another year with his .485 batting average.
The control was just off for the pitchers tonight. Yes, they shut the Rays out, but they allowed six walks along the way, with Aceves the only one free of free passes.
B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria may have buried the "effort" hatchet by this point, but Upton really isn't helping himself when he makes an error while looking that nonchalant in center.
Either Jose Iglesias thinks he's fast enough to steal home in the majors, or Jacoby Ellsbury missed a squeeze sign. Either way, somebody made a mistake to end the third.