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A defining moment for Nava, Sox in 6-3 win over Tigers

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff  May 30, 2012 01:23 AM

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There was no way to predict when Daniel Nava came to the plate in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and two out to face Justin Verlander, the American League's reigning Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player, what would ensue would be an epic "mano-a-mano'' at-bat.

But that's precisely how Sox manager Bobby Valentine described it after Nava provided the defining moment of Tuesday night's 6-3 victory. Nava, batting out of the leadoff position, withstood Verlander's withering 100-mile-per-hour heat, running the count to 3-2, and drove a 100-m.p.h. fastball that sliced down the line to left for a 3-run double that gave the Sox a 4-0 lead over the Tigers.

"It was one of those things you appreciate, but the guys in uniform appreciate more, it was mano-a-mano,’’ Valentine said. "It was a great competition. I’m proud of him and I’m happy he’s on my team.’’

After he admitted Verlander "owned me in that first at-bat" in the first inning in which he grounded out to third, Nava came back to draw a walk in the third before facing Verlander with the bases loaded in the fourth.

"I was just trying to put together a good at-bat,’’ Nava said. "Fortunately, it was a situation where I had guys on base, like I said. I think you want to do more in that situation, you want to hit the home run, but I was just trying to simplify things and trying to shorten my swing.’’

It provided a comfortable working margin for Daniel Bard, who improved his record to 5-5 and lowered his ERA to 4.56 after allowing two runs on five hits, including a pair of solo homers by Jhonny Peralta in the fifth and Prince Fielder in the sixth, before departing after 5-1/3 innings, striking out Delmon Young with his 94th pitch of the night, a 92-m.p.h. fastball

"That was maybe one of the best at-bats I’ve ever seen against probably the best pitcher of our generation,’’ said Bard, who proved every bit Verlander’s equal after he threw four scoreless innings of two-hit ball before giving up Peralta’s solo shot in the fifth.

"He saw 99 right under his chin, and he was late on it, but he hit the 100," Bard said of Nava. "He was definitely locked in and he was the right guy to have up at that moment."

Nava's hit opened the floodgates of a 10-hit deluge against Verlander -- in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by a real deluge in the eighth inning.

After there was rampant speculation about the status of Dustin Pedroia, especially when the second baseman sat out for the first this season with a right thumb injury that was later diagnosed as a torn abductor muscle, the mighty blow Nava struck for the Red Sox enabled his team to finally climb above the .500 mark for the first time this season at 25-24.

"I say this is a tough team,’’ Valentine said. "We did it without Dustin maybe on a day where we thought we were going to lose him for a while, all that stuff swirling around. This is, mentally, a tough team. They love to play and I’m kind of glad we finally broke through that little artificial barrier there."

In other matters:

* David Ortiz went 3-for-4 with 2 runs scored, 2 RBI, a pair of doubles and a solo homer to lead an 11-hit barrage of the Tigers, 10 of which were allowed by Verlander. It marked the second time since Aug. 26, 2006 at Cleveland, where he was tagged for eight earned runs on 10 hits, he had allowed as many hits and earned runs.

"You got to take what he gives you, right? He’s tough," said Ortiz, whose solo homer off Duane Below in the seventh moved him into a tie with Johnny Bench for 55th on MLB's all-time list with 389 career homers. "Verlander might have one of the best arms in the history of the game, no question."

* Daniel Bard (5-5, 4.56 ERA) wasn't ready to depart the game after striking out Delmon Young to get the first out of the sixth inning, this after he gave up a solo shot to Prince Fielder, who crushed a 1-2 changeup and sent it rocketing over the visitors' bullpen.

When Valentine came out of the dugout to summon Rich Hill from the bullpen, Bard had a message for his manager. "I just wanted him to know that I want to be out there, going six, seven innings a start; I'm not satisfied with this 5 1/3 stuff," Bard said. "It's kind of weird, my last two outings, I've been pulled at 5 1/3 after a strikeout with the bases empty with a pitch count that was pretty reasonable.

"I get where he's coming from, typically I have struggled as I get deeper in the game," Bard said. "But I just told him, I made it clear as respectfully as I could, I told him that I'm ready to start finishing those innings. I don't need to be treated like a kid anymore. He said, "All right, I want you to finish those innings.' So I think we're on the same page."

* After recording his first career hit off Verlander with his second-inning single, snapping an 0-for-9 skein against the Tigers' ace, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia fell ill and was removed from the game as a precaution at the start of the seventh inning. Kelly Shoppach entered the game in that frame to catch reliever Andrew Miller.

* With his 1/3 inning of scoreless relief in the sixth, Scott Atchison extended his career-high scoreless streak to 13 games and 17 2/3 innings, the longest such streak by a Red Sox pitcher this season.

* When he entered the game in relief of Miller in the seventh, with two out and Prince Fielder aboard at first base, Vicente Padilla induced Delmon Young to hit a pop fly to second, stranding his 16th out of 16 inherited runners of the season.

* Mike Aviles recorded his 32d RBI of the season on a fielder's choice in the second. He entered the game tops in the AL and tied for the ML lead with 31 RBI as a shortstop. In the last 16 years, the only other Red Sox shortstop who had as many RBI after the first 49 games was Nomar Garciappara, who had 36 in 2003.

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