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Ron Washington must be shaking his head. A night after the Red Sox defeated the American League West leading Rangers handily, Boston again came out swinging the bats in a 13-2 win. Highlighted by a strong performance by Josh Beckett, who earned his 11th win of the season in his home state of Texas, a big first inning, and home runs by Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez, the easy win and a Yankees extra innings loss gave Boston a 1.0 game lead in the tight AL East.
The Red Sox came out swinging in Texas against southpaw Matt Harrison on Wednesday night. Boston scored four times in the first inning to get things started, with singles from Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez to put two runners on for Dustin Pedroia, who drove in Ellsbury on a sharp ground ball to left field. Then, in his return to the Sox lineup, David Ortiz lined an RBI single of his own to right field, scoring Gonzalez and giving Boston an early 2-0 lead. The struggling Carl Crawford capped off the inning with a two-run double pulled down the right field line, scoring both runners because of a miscue by catcher Mike Napoli, who dropped what appeared to be an easy out at the plate. The four runs gave Josh Beckett a great lead to work with as he took to the hill on a windy night in Arlington.
Despite walks to both Josh Hamilton and Michael Young with two outs, Beckett kept the Rangers off the board in the first inning to get the Sox offense back out on the field against the struggling Harrison. After a single and stolen base by Ellsbury, Gonzalez walked with two outs to set up Pedroia with runners on for the second time in as many innings. And again Pedroia delivered with another RBI single to left, scoring Ellsbury and increasing the lead to 5-0 early. Harrison continued to struggle against the relatively healthy Boston lineup, throwing nearly 50 pitches in just two innings.
The two pitchers swapped scoreless innings with Beckett making quick work of the bottom of the Rangers order in the second, and Harrison following suit despite giving up hard hit balls to all three batters, including a ball up the middle which he stabbed to retire Crawford. Beckett continued his dominate start to the game by retiring the Rangers in order in the third, still not allowing a hit a third of the way through.
In the fourth, the poor Texas defense started things off, and cost the Rangers another run. Darnell McDonald led off the inning with a ground ball to shortstop, but a relatively slow approach to the ball by Elvis Andrus allowed McDonald to beat the throw at first. After a ground out by Ellsbury which allowed McDonald to advance to second, the Boston right fielder came around to score on an RBI double by Marco Scutaro to left-center field, giving the Sox a 6-0 lead entering the bottom half of the inning.
After two quick outs, Beckett surrendered a solo home run to Napoli on the eighth pitch of a long battle. It was the second home run for Napoli of the series on pitches that seemed good from Boston starters, with the first from Erik Bedard in his good start against Texas on Monday. This pitch from Beckett was up and out of the zone, but Napoli turned on it and drove it into the left field seats, giving the Rangers their first run of the game. Beckett came back to punch out Mitch Moreland to end the inning, although his pitch count had skyrocketed to 76 after just four innings.
Again the Red Sox offense came back out against Harrison, this time in the form of small ball to an extent. Ortiz started things off with a double to right just out of the reach of the diving David Murphy. Ortiz then moved to third on a bunt single attempt by Jed Lowrie, who was given a sacrifice on the play, setting up a sacrifice fly by Crawford to regain the six run lead, making it 7-1 Sox.
The Rangers offense attempted to answer in the fifth and finally do real damage to the Sox ace. Murphy led things off with a sharp line drive single to center field, followed by another single from Endy Chavez. Beckett rebounded by getting Omar Quintanilla to pop out to third before Ian Kinsler lined a ball right back up the middle…and into the glove of Beckett. The ball was hit so hard it was unlikely Beckett was trying to catch it so much as he was simply defending his face from being struck by the ball. Another line drive out got him out of the jam, maintaining the large Sox lead heading for the sixth.
Matt Harrison departed after five innings of work, allowing seven earned runs on Sox 11 hits and a walk. And the Texas bullpen wasn’t much more effective. After a leadoff single by McDonald off of sidearm throwing Yoshinori Tateyama, Ellsbury connected for his 23rd home run of the season, a high deep drive to right field down the line, giving Boston a commanding 9-1 lead. It was also the third time Ellsbury crossed home plate in just four at bats, making his significant presence felt at the top of the Boston lineup after missing several games.
His presence was also felt in center field, as Ellsbury aided Beckett through the sixth inning with a great running catch to rob Napoli of another extra base hit. In the bottom half of the inning, Carl Crawford drove a pitch from Darren O’Day deep to center field, over the fence for his ninth home run of the year. The blast gave the Red Sox a 10-run lead to work with, and is perhaps the first true sign that change is coming for Crawford as we head towards the end of the season.
Beckett departed after six innings because of a high pitch count and the 11-1 lead being plenty for the Red Sox bullpen to handle. Beckett allowed just the one run on the solo home run to Napoli in the fourth, while striking out four and walking only the two batters in the first inning. Franklin Morales was the first one out of the pen, getting a quick 1-2-3 inning in the 7th. Adrian Gonzalez then drove a ball down the line in right, just bending foul with home run distance in the eighth off of O’Day, but then straightened his swing and sent a monstrous two-run bomb to right field, his 21st of the season, punctuating the blowout as the Red Sox had scored in five consecutive innings to lead 13-1 as Matt Albers came on for the eighth.
Albers had been struggling as of late to say the least, and Terry Francona looked for an opportunity to let Albers settle down with a large lead. Despite allowing a run on an RBI single by Napoli, Albers managed to get through the inning with the game heading for the ninth inning, the Sox leading 13-2. That score held as an inning of work from closer Jonathan Papelbon closed out the emphatic victory, as Boston propelled into sole possession of first place. The win also certainly wiped away some of the shine of the Texas Rangers, who looked a lot more like a dangerous potential postseason team in their win on Monday. The Red Sox have since scored 24 runs in two games against the Texas pitching staff, who will aim to split the series with Boston on Thursday when they send Alexi Ogando to the hill against Andrew Miller, who can guide the Red Sox to an impressive series win.