Sometimes the best way for a pitcher to grow is to deal with adversity.
That's what happened last night to Bronson Arroyo in the sixth inning of the Red Sox' 8-4 victory over Tampa Bay at Fenway Park.
Boston took a 3-1 lead in the fifth, but Tampa Bay came right back. Julio Lugo and Aubrey Huff led off the sixth with singles to right, and Rocco Baldelli slammed a triple down the right-field line to tie the game, 3-3.
No outs, runner on third, and it looked as if the Devil Rays were primed to retake the lead. Ouch.
That's when Arroyo turned the corner. He struck out Tino Martinez, and after walking Jose Cruz, he induced back-to-back fly outs to left field to end the inning and strand Baldelli at third.
"It was important. It was big," said Arroyo. "Any time you get the lead and you go back out there and give back the lead, it hurts morale. With a man on third and no out, it was big to get out of that inning."
In all, Arroyo gave up three runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings for his fifth victory in 13 decisions.
Manager Terry Francona was impressed with Arroyo's ability to bear down with Baldelli on third.
"Right when you score, you want to put up a zero," said Francona. "That didn't happen, but the next-best thing did. We're in trouble and he clutches up and gets out of the inning."
All of the hits Arroyo allowed were by the heart of the Tampa Bay order. He gave up two singles to Jose Lugo, a double and two singles to Aubrey Huff, and a double and triple to Baldelli.
But he stifled nemesis Toby Hall, who ruined a terrific Arroyo performance last Wednesday by clouting a grand slam to beat the Sox. Arroyo struck him out the first time he faced him and then got him to fly out in his next two at-bats.
"He hit a 1-and-2 fastball in out of the park," said Arroyo. "If he can hit a fastball in, in that situation, I'm assuming he can hit it in any situation. I just stayed away from him tonight and tried not to let him hurt us deep to left."
Francona said Arroyo is maturing as a pitcher.
"I thought it was a very difficult loss for him [last week] because he pitched so well," said Francona. "Again, he's back facing the same team and I just think he does so many things not to beat himself, especially against a team like Tampa Bay that runs so much. It's so much a part of their game. You don't see them taking off. They just can't. He's too quick to the plate. It takes away a big part of their offense."
Arroyo said it was satisfying coming back against Tampa Bay right after the loss.
"Pitching against this team back-to-back times, especially the way I had the game in hand last time and gave it up late, it was definitely satisfying to come back," he said.
When he left the game, the Sox led, 8-3 -- the most support Arroyo has received all season. The Sox have scored an average of 4.6 runs for him per start, least on the staff. He has now won three of his last four decisions after dropping six straight from May 27 to June 27.
Arroyo worked out of a jam in the first. After he got Carl Crawford and Lugo to ground out, Huff singled and moved to third on Baldelli's double. But Arroyo got Martinez to pop to Bill Mueller at second to end the threat.
He sailed through the second and third innings, striking out four of the six batters he faced, then gave up one run in the third. Huff started it with a leadoff double, moved to third on Baldelli's grounder, and scored when Cruz skied to deep right.
After a 1-2-3 fifth inning, Arroyo survived the sixth with his gritty performance. But he didn't make it out of the seventh, simply because of a freak play.
Arroyo struck out Geoff Blum to open the inning, and Crawford grounded to second. Then Lugo sliced a squibber down the first-base line in foul territory. The ball spun fair, hit the first-base bag, and squirted between the pitcher's mound and second base. Neither Arroyo nor Mueller could retrieve the ball in time to make a play at first.
With Huff coming to the plate, Francona brought in reliever Mike Myers, who struck out Huff to end the inning. "I understood the situation," said Arroyo. "He definitely wanted to go lefty-lefty matchup. Huff had hit me good already."