The Red Sox were in a big slump. Series losses to the Royals, Blue Jays, and Yankees, often in frustrating fashion, had put them in a bad place heading into what are typically the most dreaded part of any season: a trip to the West Coast.
After producing one of their best all-around performances of the season Sunday night, however, the Sox are headed home with a 4-2 record out west, and a series win over the hottest, arguably the best team in baseball. No doubt about it, the Red Sox made a much-needed statement.
Unlike so many of their other (positive) performances of late, the Red Sox' offense was consistent rather than explosive against Chris Capuano and the Dodgers bullpen. While they threatened fireworks in the first when Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli hit doubles around a Dustin Pedroia single to score an early run, Will Middlebrooks hit a hard ground ball to third after an intentional walk to Jonny Gomes, leading to an inning-ending double play.
It was a start that was reminiscent of nothing so much as the last offensive performance behind Jake Peavy. Then, too, the Sox managed to put four men on base while scoring just the one run. After that, they had scored just once more against the Giants, leading to a depressing 3-2 loss. Sunday, however, there was no off switch. Some small ball gave the Red Sox their second run in the third, with Jacoby Ellsbury beating out a lackadaisical throw from Hanley Ramirez at first, stealing second, moving to third on a bunt from Victorino, and then scoring when Pedroia put the ball in the air.
The fourth would prove just as productive, though for rather more exciting reasons. After Will Middlebrooks singled up the middle, Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a rocket straight at Juan Uribe, who snared it to keep the inning under control, bringing Xander Bogaerts to the plate with one on and two down. The second hit of the young shortstop's career would not be too different from the first, with a fastball on the outside corner quickly being taken the other way. This time, though, it found more of the gap, and with Skip Schumaker bobbling the ball in right-center, Middlebrooks was able to make it all the way home from first, giving Bogaerts his first career RBI to boot.
To that point, Peavy had been all but perfect, with a 10-pitch walk from A.J. Ellis the only negative result to that point. Dustin Pedroia would help to keep him hitless by charging a Nick Punto bunt and making a remarkably smooth flip to first to start the bottom of the fourth, but the second baseman could do nothing when Adrian Gonzalez hit an 0-2 mistake pitch a mile to center, ending the no-hitter and the shutout in one fell swoop.
For a very short while, it seemed like momentum might be shifting. Te Red Sox went 1-2-3 in the fifth, and the Dodgers put the leadoff man on to start the bottom of the inning. It felt like the biggest inning of the game had arrived. Peavy didn't exactly dominate the next two batters, but Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino made good plays to get him his pair of outs, and when Andre Ethier took the plate for Capuano, Peavy dropped the hammer--albeit with a nice moving fastball rather than a curve--getting Ethier to swing wildly for strike three.
With the mini-scare behind them, the Red Sox went to work putting the game away. A Jarrod Saltalamacchia fly ball to left carried all the way past the wall to add a pair of runs in the top of the sixth, and Shane Victorino made it two homers for the Red Sox in the seventh, once again managing to find the distance righty-on-righty against Chris Withrow. While that combined with Peavy's excellence made it pretty obvious the game was in hand, Mike Napoli decided to add a towering two-run shot to left field for good measure in the ninth.
All told, this is one of the better nights we've seen from the Sox in a while. They hit a pitcher they were supposed to hit. Xander Bogaerts went two-for-four with a pair of nice line drive hits and another rocket to first that Adrian Gonzalez made a diving grab on to rob him of extra bases*. Jake Peavy was absolutely exceptional on the mound, doing everything the Sox could have asked for when they first acquired him, and the defense contributed plenty of nice plays behind him to round out the effort.
Let's not get carried away here. The Red Sox are still just a game up in the division, and there's lots of work to do. But they were in a bad place not long ago at all, and this series win against one of the best teams the game has to offer has to be a big boost for everyone involved. Now the Orioles are coming to town. It's time to bring that momentum home and put it to use.
*Yes, how Xander does is a decent part of whether a game was successful or not, and you know it!
Read more Red Sox:
- What to do with Stephen Drew, Will Middlebrooks, and Xander Bogaerts in 2014?
- Jacoby Ellsbury's resurgence
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- Will Middlebrooks making the most of his second chance with Red Sox
- Jon Lester's 2013 has been better than you think