With Ellsbury, Middlebrooks, lineup nearly whole

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With Ellsbury, Middlebrooks, lineup nearly whole

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Since the start of the second half, the Red Sox have allowed themselves to dream of a lineup featuring a full complement of players.
Until Carl Crawford makes his season debut Monday, that won't happen.
But the Sox got closer to the goal Sunday with the return of Will Middlebrooks -- who had missed the final seven games of the first half with a hamstring pull -- and Jacoby Ellsbury, who missed most of the first 10 weeks with a subluxed shoulder.
Ellsbury picked up where he left off Saturday night -- when he smashed a run-scoring single and doubled -- and collected three hits in Sunday's 7-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Back in his customary leadoff spot, Ellsbury doubled in the second, singled and scored in the sixth and singled in the eighth, giving the Sox the kind of leadoff presence they've been missing in his absence.
"Ells is one of the best players in the game,'' said Bobby Valentine. "It looks like his rhythm is pretty good right now. He's taking those pitches down, hitting pitches up. It looks like he's in mid-season form.''
Indeed, it is midseason, with Ellsbury having been sidelined since the home opener, when he suffered a subluxation of the right shoulder. After a lengthy DL stint and time on a minor league rehab assignment, he's back and contributing.
Middlebrooks, meanwhile, missed the final seven games of the first half with a hamstring strain, only to return Friday, when the second half commenced.
He had a two-run homer Saturday, a reminder of his potential to impact the lineup, and Sunday, collected three hits in his first three plate appearances.
With the Sox trailing in the second, Middlebrooks singled to lead off a two-run second. In the fourth, he doubled and was stranded at second. Finally, he singled to score Adrian Gonzalez and Cody Ross in the fifth, completing his return to the lineup in this series.
"I feel comfortable,'' said Middlebrooks. "The last couple of days, I put together some good at-bats and started to get back in the groove. The first game back was tough then Saturday I had some good at-bats. I felt better Saturday.''
Having missed the final two series of the first half, Middlebrooks felt somewhat helpless after the Sox went 1-6 in the final seven games before the break.
Coming back and having an impact has been satisfying.
"Absolutely,'' he said. "We need to get some momentum going in the second half and I want to be able to get a couple of hits.''
Middlebrooks saw opposing teams start to throw more off-speed pitches against him and he was ready for them this weekend.
"I just had to make some adjustments,'' said Middlebrooks. "I'm sticking with my approach the entire at-bat and not just a few pitches.''

Yankees beat Blue Jays, Red Sox have chance to clinch AL East on Tuesday

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Yankees beat Blue Jays, Red Sox have chance to clinch AL East on Tuesday

For tonight, the Boston Red Sox can say "thank you" to the New York Yankees.

Despite the Toronto Blue Jays loading the bases with no out in the ninth, the Yankees hold on to beat the Blue Jays, 7-5. The result moves the Red Sox' magic number in the AL East to just one game. 

David Price will take the mound for the Red Sox on Tuesday night against those very Yankees with a chance to clinch the division. 

They can also clinch the AL East with a Toronto loss to the Baltimore Orioles. 

Dee Gordon homers leading off as Marlins mourn Jose Fernandez

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Dee Gordon homers leading off as Marlins mourn Jose Fernandez

MIAMI - Dee Gordon hit an emotional homer in Miami's first at-bat following the death of Marlins ace Jose Fernandez in a boating accident.

Leading off the first inning Monday night against the New York Mets, Gordon pulled a 2-0 pitch from Bartolo Colon over the wall in right for his first homer of the season.

Gordon circled the bases slowly and was crying when he reached home plate. He tapped his chest and waved toward the sky, and then sobbed as teammates hugged him in the dugout.

Gordon took the first pitch batting right-handed, in tribute to the right-handed Fernandez. Gordon then switched to his normal left side.

Fernandez died Sunday morning, prompting the Marlins to cancel their game that day against Atlanta.