Sox flex muscles against Blue Jays

Sox flex muscles against Blue Jays
April 6, 2013, 12:15 am
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Will Middlebrooks is enjoying life with the Red Sox once again.

(AP Photo)

TORONTO - In their first two wins of the season, the Red Sox' offense was the very definition of efficient, consistently coming up with big hits in big spots -- especially with two outs.     

On Friday, a night that seemed to have the feel of a late-season pennant-race game, the Red Sox were anything but productive with their scoring opportunities.     

They left an astounding 15 baserunners on, and were a woeful 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position.     

But the longball, which had been absent for the first three games of the season, helped bail them out in a 6-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. Mike Napoli, who had looked out of synch at the plate during the three-game set in New York, drilled an opposite-field homer to right with Dustin Pedroia on base in the fifth.     

And later, with the Sox clinging to a one-run lead in the ninth, Will Middlebrooks -- another slow starter -- hammered a solo homer to left.     

After 31 innings without a single home run, the Sox belted two in the span of five innings.     

"I think most important is the way Will and Mike are starting to swing the bat,'' said John Farrell, the subject of intense booing and the target of some thrown objects from the stands. "We got some production out of those two guys, where they've kind of gotten off to some inconsistencies here in the first three or four ballgames.    

"But if we can keep getting ourselves in those positions, with that number of guys on base, we'll take it. We were able to cash in on some of those in a high-percentage [way] in New York, but still, I like our approach. It's very consistent up and down the order.''     

For a while, it appeared as thought squandered scoring chances would spell a loss for the Red Sox.     

They had a first-and-second chance with nobody out in the first and didn't score. In the second, they pushed a run across, but had the bases loaded and one out before an inning-ending double play. And in the fourth, after Toronto second baseman Emilio Bonifacio gift-wrapped a run with two errors on consecutive batters, they wasted a first-and-second opportunity and came away with no more.     

Napoli, though, helped stretch the lead from 2-1 to 4-1 when he cranked one out to right off Josh Johnson in the fifth.     

"It always feels good to hit a homer,'' said Napoli, who started the night hitting just .143 and no RBI. "But I haven't been feeling too good at the plate. My timing's been off at the plate, but I've been working every day with it, feeling better and better with every at-bat.''    

It didn't help that Napoli, accustomed to playing in warm-weather locales like Anaheim, California and Arlington, Texas, endured temperates in the low 40s in two of his first three games.     

That Napoli went the other way on the homer was a positive sign.     

"That's good for me,'' he said. "My front side has been leaking and I'm just trying to stay square and use more of the middle of the field [instead] of pulling out. That's a good sign for me. I'm still not there yet, but I'm going to work on it every day and go from there.''     

In between the Napoli blast and the one from Middlebrooks, however, there was more futility for the Sox.     

From the sixth inning through the eighth, they stranded five more baserunners, including four in scoring position. The most wasteful chance came in the seventh, when a walk to Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a double by Middlebrooks gave the team baserunners at second and third, only to remain there when the Sox failed to put the ball in play over the next three at-bats. Lefty reliever Brett Cecil fanned Shane Victorino, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Pedro Ciriaco in succession.    

But a rare -- on this night, anyway -- productive out (Napoli's groundout) and Middlebrooks' homer accounted for the margin of victory and salvaged a night on which the Sox seem destined to have their inability to hit in the clutch haunt them.