Sox put hurting on Rays
Team has plenty in reserve in win
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein made a rare visit to the dugout to grant interviews as his team took batting practice before last night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
With Victor Martinez and Dustin Pedroia joining an overstuffed disabled list, Epstein felt it a good time to address fears that the Sox would be undone by the outbreak of broken bones.
The Sox, he said, had played well enough in recent weeks to withstand the temporary loss of even some key players.
“When we get fully healthy later in the year, we should be a force to be reckoned with,’’ Epstein said. “I really admire the way we’ve played in the face of all these injuries.’’
As far as the American League is concerned, the Red Sox are plenty difficult to deal with as constituted. Jason Varitek and Bill Hall, the replacements for Martinez and Pedroia, drove in two runs each as the Sox beat the Rays, 8-5, before 38,013.
David Ortiz added a long three-run homer and Adrian Beltre four more hits to raise his batting average to .349 as the Sox won their third straight and closed to within a game of the Yankees in the AL East.
The Rays have lost nine of 12 and are two games behind the Sox in third place.
The Sox collected 10 hits and six walks as every player in the starting lineup reached safely at least once in support of John Lackey (9-3), who went seven strong innings.
Hall is 3 for 9 with three RBIs and two runs scored in the three games he has started in place of Pedroia. Varitek helped the Sox improve to 16-6 in the games he has started.
“Tek’s been a good player for a long time,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “Billy, he’s played different positions and he’s also a good player. That’s the whole idea. I think our players expect to win and they play the game that way.’’
Rays starter James Shields was 1-6 with a 7.53 ERA in seven career starts at Fenway. But that one victory came in April and Shields was sharp again last night early.
It didn’t last. The Sox created an opportunity in the fifth inning when Mike Cameron singled and took third on a line double off the wall in left by Marco Scutaro.
Daniel Nava struck out. With first base open and Ortiz at the plate, manager Joe Maddon jogged out to the mound to ask Shields whether he wanted to walk Ortiz.
It seemed like an easy decision. Ortiz was 11 for 29 with two home runs against Shields and the hitter on deck, Kevin Youkilis, was 3 for 30.
“I decided to pitch to Ortiz right there,’’ Maddon said. “Don’t blame anybody but me. You can consider it a wrong decision and it was tonight as it turned out.’’
Shields’s first pitch was a fastball high in the strike zone and Ortiz clubbed it deep into the seats behind the visitors’ bullpen.
“I think they wanted to be careful with me,’’ Ortiz said. “That was probably the plan. But that pitch was up. I knew what I had to do.’’
The blast gave Ortiz 17 home runs and 50 RBIs. He had 11 homers through 78 games last season.
The Sox drove Shields off the mound in the sixth. J.D. Drew walked and took third when Beltre hit a ball off Shields that deflected into right field. Varitek drove in Drew with a single to right.
Dan Wheeler, a Rhode Island native, came out of the bullpen and walked Hall to load the bases before striking out Cameron and Scutaro.
Maddon called in Lance Cormier to face Nava. It paid off as the rookie hit a ground ball to second. But Reid Brignac let the ball roll out of his glove and another run scored. Nava was charitably credited with a hit.
Shields (6-8) allowed five runs over five innings. He is 0-7 with a 7.34 ERA in his last seven starts.
Varitek had a sacrifice fly in the seventh and Hall a two-run homer into the Monster seats as the Sox built their lead to 8-1.
“I’m going to try and make the most of this opportunity,’’ Hall said. “Obviously getting off to a slow start, I don’t know how long it would be before they would question whether I could do it every day. Now that I’m off to a good start, I want to maintain it.’’
If the Sox need immediate help, it’s in the bullpen as getting six outs with a seven-run lead proved problematic. Hideki Okajima continued his season-long decline, giving up two runs in the eighth to force Daniel Bard into the game to get an out. Okajima’s ERA rose to 5.81.
Scott Atchison and Dustin Richardson combined to allow two runs in the ninth, bringing Jonathan Papelbon in to get the final out and his 18th save.
“It got a little closer than we wanted it to,’’ said Francona, who has used Bard 39 times, the most in the AL. “You don’t want to take any chances.’’