Red Sox 12, Rays 4

Sox cruise again

Beckett benefits from hit parade

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 4, 2008

There's no greater balancing act than sweeping a rival that's already swept you.

This afternoon - weather permitting - the Red Sox have the opportunity to return the slap in the face Tampa Bay served them last weekend when the Rays took a three-game series.

They could add double insult to the Rays if they can beat comebacking Scott Kazmir, who will be making his first start of the season, after they squashed James Shields last night in a 12-4 win before 37,700.

The Rays' talented righthander had thrown a two-hit shutout against the Sox last weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"I don't think we changed our approach," said Sox shortstop Julio Lugo. "I just think it was the second time around and some of the pitches he made to get us out the last time we were maybe a little more prepared for.

"We just had some good at-bats against him. There's no game plan or explanation. It just happens."

The Sox, who buzzed Shields for 10 hits and seven runs over 3 2/3 innings, had been looking forward to this homestand, feeling it was a time and place for them to jump-start their offense.

They have.

After a couple of tight walkoff wins against Toronto, they have pummeled Rays pitching to the tune of 19 runs and 28 hits the last two games.

As a result of the offensive outburst, the Sox are leading the American League with a .285 batting average.

Seven Sox batters drove in runs last night, led by Jason Varitek (three), David Ortiz, Manny Ramírez, and J.D. Drew (two each).

Dustin Pedroia stroked three of the Sox' 15 hits for the second straight game to raise his average to .316.

The Sox hit seven doubles - and Varitek was thrown out at second in the eighth trying to stretch a hit that had already brought home two more runs.

Josh Beckett was the beneficiary of the run support. The Sox ace (3-2) withstood some early bumps, then smoothed out through the seventh.

In the eighth, Akinori Iwamura went the other way with a 2-and-0 pitch for a solo homer just over the Green Monster, cutting the margin to 9-4.

Beckett completed the eighth, ending the night having thrown 100 pitches. He struck out five, walked one, and allowed seven hits (including two homers).

Beckett, whose ERA rose to 4.19, gave way to David Aardsma, who mopped up with 28 pitches in the ninth.

Beckett was aided not only by the offense, but a gem of a defensive play by Ramírez in left field, as he threw out Carlos Peña at the plate to end the fourth inning.

Nathan Haynes had hit a liner to Ramírez and Peña was sent from third. Ramírez's throw was dead on and Varitek blocked the plate and applied the tag.

At the time the Sox only led, 5-3, and the game certainly could have turned had Peña scored.

"I think he's had an uncanny ability to be unbelievably accurate," Sox manager Terry Francona said of Ramírez.

"He has the ability to sometimes not move his feet - not that he didn't there - but look left, throw right, and the ball ends up where it's supposed to be.

"It's a pretty good play all the way around at a big juncture in the game."

A bundled-up sellout crowd continued to feel the radiant heat of the Sox' offense, which produced seven runs and 13 hits (including five for extra bases) in Friday's 7-3 win.

The Sox had gone through a stretch of five games during which they hit .153 with only four runs.

Ramírez, who is hitting .361 over his last 20 games, stroked a two-run single up the middle, scoring Pedroia and Ortiz, after the DH doubled in Jacoby Ellsbury in the first inning. They were Ramírez's 21st and 22d RBIs and a significant hit for Ramírez, who had only one prior hit in 12 at-bats against the hard-throwing Shields and hadn't knocked in a run in 11 consecutive games.

Beckett, who struck out 13 Rays in his loss to Shields last Sunday at Tropicana Field, saw his 3-0 first-inning lead quickly dissipate in the second. Gabe Gross followed catcher Dioner Navarro's single with a two-out homer to right.

The Sox, however, scored single runs in the second and third.

In the second, Pedroia laced his second of three hits, a single to right scoring Ellsbury. In the third, Lugo doubled to right-center, knocking in Drew.

In the fourth, Ortiz foiled the shift with a double down the left-field line, as Pedroia, who had ripped his third consecutive hit (a double to left-center), scored the sixth Boston run.

Shields was done after he walked Kevin Youkilis with two outs in the fourth, but the scoring didn't end with J.P. Howell on the hill. The lefthanded reliever hit Varitek on the left shin, forcing in the seventh Sox run.

The Sox, who poured it on during garbage time, sported a lineup that would likely be the one they had in mind when they opened the season. It had Ellsbury leading off, Pedroia second, Ortiz third, Ramírez fourth, Mike Lowell fifth, Youkilis sixth, Drew seventh, Varitek eighth, and Lugo ninth. Drew returned following a three-game hiatus due to a strained left quad muscle, which made the "preferred lineup" possible.

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