July 15, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks (64) hits a single in the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
And the Red Sox have one important post-Break series in the bag.
James Shields vs. Josh Beckett has the makings of a pitchers' duel on most days, given the former's typical dominance and the latter's record of holding the Rays to the bare minimum. Surprisingly, however, despite the Sox not necessarily being at their offensive best and the Rays being, well, what it is, today was more about the offense than anything else.
For the Red Sox, it was a sustained assault, more or less. They threatened big things in the first before a baserunning blunder by David Ortiz held them to just the one, then added two more in the second on a Mike Aviles shot, and three in the fifth as Daniel Nava went long and Will Middlebrooks came through with the bases loaded.
They still had some wasted opportunities between that early mistake from Ortiz, runners stranded after reaching the corners without an out in the fourth, and only adding one extra run in the sixth despite loading the bases with one out. But more importantly the individual components are almost all starting to come around. Will Middlebrooks and Jacoby Ellsbury each had three hits, while Daniel Nava and Mike Aviles added homers. Pedro Ciriaco is (predictably) fading, but once Dustin Pedroia gets back in here it'll be a really good looking lineup.
Josh Beckett had a rough start, but it's worth noting that, with a properly called check swing to Zobrist, he could well have escaped both the first inning and the game without surrendering a single run. It's in that shaky area of baseball "what ifs," and the defense certainly helped him some along the way, but he did settle down once he found his off-speed stuff and salvaged a decent outing from what could have been disaster.
The Red Sox are now 2-1 on the second half of the season, and 1.5 back of Baltimore in the wild card race. They'll need to come through against the White Sox and the returning Kevin Youkilis, however, as that's one of the series that offers some opportunity for insurance against the likes of the Rangers and Yankees.