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Red Sox 6, Orioles 4

Winning combination has Red Sox locked in

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 19, 2009
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When the Red Sox' starting rotation begins to outpitch the bullpen, the team will be on its way toward becoming an elite playoff contender. Until then, the Sox will gladly accept a four-hit, four-RBI performance by the red-hot Kevin Youkilis and three more scoreless innings by the bullpen, which resulted in a 6-4 win over Baltimore before 37,559 at Fenway Park last night and a ticket out of the American League East cellar.

With Daisuke Matsuzaka on the disabled list and Jon Lester still not his steady self, the Sox were hoping Josh Beckett could provide a start similar to the complete game Tim Wakefield threw last Wednesday in Oakland. But Beckett (four runs, three earned) wasn't up to his usual standards, thus pressing the bullpen into significant action again.

No worries. After one frame apiece from Hideki Okajima, Takashi Saito, and Jonathan Papelbon, the bullpen has allowed just one run over its last 19 2/3 innings.

"The bullpen is doing an unbelievable job," said Beckett. "I certainly think that all of those guys that pitched tonight, because you leave nine outs for them to get against a tough lineup, they certainly deserve a big part of this win."

Beckett was touched for four runs in the fifth inning, but he rebounded with a strong sixth. By then his pitch count had risen to 105, due in part to four walks, so he gave way to Okajima, who struck out two in a dominant seventh.

"We haven't overused anybody and we're still able to get zeros," manager Terry Francona. "I think it shows if you don't overuse them we should have a bullpen that's pretty strong."

Youkilis, unquestionably Boston's best player so far, doubled, stroked a three-run homer, and had an RBI single in his first three at-bats. He fell one base short of the cycle when he doubled in the eighth. He is hitting .467 with 5 doubles, 3 homers, 9 RBIs, and 11 runs this season.

Youkilis said he suffered from a headache after getting hit in the helmet by a fastball from Orioles reliever Danys Baez Friday night.

"Yeah, it didn't feel good," said Youkilis. "I felt it in my jaw a little bit. My headache went away with a little bit of Advil."

Youkilis scored Boston's first run, in the second inning, on Jason Varitek's two-out double to right off Orioles starter Adam Eaton, who was facing Boston for the first time in his 10-year career.

"He's swinging as good as anyone in the league," said Francona about Youkilis. "He's using the whole field and hitting with authority."

Youkilis's homer into the Monster seats in the third inning came on a 2-2 pitch following consecutive one-out hits by Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, who had been called out on strikes in his first at-bat to make him 1 for his last 15. But Ortiz seemed to heed the advice of Hall of Famer Jim Rice Friday, when he told the lefthanded slugger to stop overswinging. Ortiz stroked a single to left in the third and also went with the pitch in the fourth for a single to right.

"He'll be fine," said Rice. "Sometimes you're trying too hard and overswinging."

After Youkilis's homer, Jason Bay walked and stole second to set up Mike Lowell's RBI single to the Wall. It was Lowell's first hit in 12 career at-bats against Eaton.

The Sox scored their sixth run in the fourth, ignited by Jacoby Ellsbury beating out a routine ground ball to shortstop. With two out, Ortiz singled to right to send Ellsbury to third, and Youkilis rammed a single up the middle.

The Orioles threatened early but couldn't capitalize against Beckett, who seemed to rise to the occasion with the runners on base. Twice in the first three innings Beckett put two runners on and each time he kept Baltimore off the board.

That changed rapidly in the fifth.

A nice bunt toward third base by No. 9 hitter Cesar Izturis sparked the four-run rally. The damage came on a bases-loaded walk to Nick Markakis and a two-run double by Aubrey Huff, on which a third run scored when shortstop Nick Green botched the cutoff.

Papelbon created a little drama in the ninth, allowing a single to Brian Roberts with one out, and then hitting hit Adam Jones in the back of the shoulder with a 94-mile-per-hour fastball. But Papelbon bore down and got the tough Markakis, whom Francona called a "major force" after the game, to fly to right and Huff to pop to short.

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