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Red Sox 2, Rays 1: Buchholz and Betts stymie Rays, keep Sox rolling

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Where David Price and Benintendi got the job done in the series opener, it was Clay Buchholz and Mookie Betts keeping the Rays in check Tuesday night.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It was a bit of deja vu for the Red Sox Tuesday. Another strong pitching performance, another game-changing defensive play in the outfield, and another win over the Rays in Tampa Bay securing another night spent in first place.

For his second straight start, Clay Buchholz proved a pleasant surprise on the mound. There was a decent amount of fear to be found in his outing; the Rays would manage leadoff baserunners in five of the seven innings Buchholz would pitch in. But Boston’s homegrown erratic righty would be awfully stingy after letting those men reach. Flashing the occasional unreasonable curveball, and getting a helpful pickoff throw from Sandy Leon in the fourth, Buchholz made his way into the middle innings without letting the Rays put anything more than a few hits on the board.

Chris Archer was not quite as fortunate. He, too, had escaped leadoff trouble in the first, but could not do so again in the third. Andrew Benintendi would get the Sox going in that inning, playing that odd “second leadoff” role at the bottom of the lineup, turning things over with a single to center. Benintendi was able to move to second on a ground out from Dustin Pedroia, then scored the opening run of the game when David Ortiz squeezed a ground ball perfectly through the one gap on the right side of the shifted infield. Ortiz wouldn’t only come up big with the bat in that inning, either, but also, strangely, his legs. With Mookie Betts bouncing a ground ball over Brad Miller at first, Ortiz decided he had enough in the tank to go all the way to third. Steve Souza thought he could punish him for taking that gamble, but instead made a terrible throw that ended up in Boston’s dugout and let Ortiz come home to make it 2-0.

Other than that, though, the Red Sox just didn’t do what they’d done in their previous starts against Archer. They did manage to build his pitch count awfully high, limiting him to just five innings before the Rays were once again forced to make an early call to their bullpen. But It was hardly the offensive performance the Sox were hoping to give Buchholz.

Thankfully, Buchholz didn’t much need it. He would stumble only once in the fifth, as the Rays finally managed to plate one of those leadoff baserunners on a double from Kevin Kiermaier into right field. But with the Rays now within one, Buchholz struck out Evan Longoria to strand Kiermaier at second, got a double play in the sixth to erase danger there, and finished his night with his ninth strikeout of the game to start the seventh before giving wayto Robbie Ross Jr.

We’ve established, by this point, that it was not the best night for a Boston lineup, even if they did manage to chase Chris Archer after just five innings. But for eight of the nine guys in that order, there’s a lot more to the game than just hitting. On Monday night, it was Andrew Benintendi turning in the huge defensive play, saving a home run that would have cut the Red Sox’ lead to just the one run. Tonight, in the eighth, it was Mookie Betts making the big play in the outfield. With Brad Ziegler tryin to hold the one-run lead and get the ball into the hands of Craig Kimbrel, Kevin Kiermaier slapped a ground ball fair past Hanley Ramirez to bounce around in foul territory. As Betts charged in, Kiermaier tried to stretch his two-base hit into three. Betts came up firing, and produced a strong throw to Travis Shaw on a single clean hop, taking out Kiermaier and eliminating the threat before Ziegler even had a chance to pitch around it.

(For all that, Benintendi still got the honors of being the subject of the outfield photo dance tonight with two hits in three at bats.)

And that was about as dramatic as it got for Boston’s bullpen tonight. Craig Kimbrel did hit Logan Morrison in the foot in the ninth, but it came only after he struck out the first two batters he faced. An easy fly ball to left off the bat of Steven Souza sealed the deal, leaving the Red Sox with their 10th win in 12 games. With the Blue Jays and Orioles having won their respective games, the Sox only manage to hold (partial) serve. But at the moment, tied with the Jays for first, that’s enough.