ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Too often this season, there's been little to get excited about watching the Red Sox.
Nights like Friday night, however, can offer some hope.
Buoyed by a grand slam from Mookie Betts and backed by a solid start from Anthony Ranaudo, Friday's 8-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays was reason to feel at least a little bit better about the future of the Red Sox.
Betts became the youngest Red Sox since Tony Conigliaro in 1965 to hit a grand slam when he cleared the bases with a shot to left in the second inning.
It was his third homer for Boston and 14th overall this year between Portland, Pawtucket and the big leagues.
"He generates quite a bit of bat speed,'' said John Farrell, "so it's not so much the size that's the predictor of power. In the short period of time in his pro career, I think the last two years, he's led the organization
in extra-base hits and slugging percentage. It's a little surprising when you see his stature, but when you boil it down to the bat speed, it's very good.''
Betts made his major league debut at the end of June when he was just 21. But Friday's night grand slam, he admitted a little sheepishly, was the biggest highlight to date.
"Probably No. 1,'' he said. "I can't tell you the last time I hit a grand slam, going back to high school. I don't know that I hit one in high school either, so just to hit one is pretty enjoyable.''
The power display may surprise others, but it doesn't surprise him.
"I kind of knew I had the ability to do it,'' he said. "I don't think anybody else believed in me, but I believed in myself to do it. It was just a matter of learning what pitches to swing at and grooving my swing to where when I get those pitches, be able to do something with (them).''
With Betts keying the five-run second and an error by Rays starter Chris Archer in the first inning helping the Sox to three runs, Ranuado had himself an 8-0 lead by the time he took the mound in the bottom of the second.
"Absolutely, the offense did a great job today,'' said Ranaudo, 3-0, "and swung the bats really well. When you have an eight-run lead in the second inning it definitely makes...I don't want to say easier, but you're able to be a little more comfortable and be a little more aggressive.''
"Of the three starts he's made for us,'' said Farrell of Ranaudo, "this was probably the best overall mix of three pitches that he's had. There was a little more use of the changeup tonight.
In each of his three starts, Ranaudo had gone six innings and provided a quality start each time out. But regardless of the pitching line, he can see the improvements he's been able to make with each successive outing.
"I don't know if the numbers (reflect) that,'' he said, "but as far as the way I feel, the way I've thrown the ball and my confidence -- that's the biggest thing for me. Understanding the hitters, understanding the strike zone is all part of making adjustments to the league and the hitters. I've definitely made some strides internally.''
For the first two starts, Ranaudo was returned to Pawtucket immediately after, but Ranuado was able to focus while he was here.
"He's done a very good job battling the temporary status of things,'' said Farrell. "We're hopeful -- and it's likely -- that he remains with us as we go forward. His mound presence and his poise continue to shine through in the three outings he's made for us.''
"I don't know what the plans are,'' said Ranaudo. "I'm taking every day as it is. If I'm here, that's great, it's an opportunity to learn a little bit more and be a part of the team.''
And, with Betts, a part of its future.
"I'm still getting more comfortable each and every day,'' said Betts. "Every day I run out there, I feel like it's a good thing so I can feel comfortable next year.''