By Sean McAdam
BOSTON -- They're still hitting just .248 as a team. Tuesday night's lineup featured three players hitting .204 or below. Their struggles hitting with men in scoring position (.225) have yet to be cured.
But somehow, someway, the Red Sox have managed to beat three straight aces -- reigning Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez Sunday; previously undefeated Jered Weaver Monday; and Dan Haren Tuesday.
At the time, each of the three starters began with the best ERA in the American League. And each time, the Red Sox figured out a way to win.
"I think we're playing crisp baseball," offered Terry Francona by way of explanation after the Sox beat Haren and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 7-3, Tuesday night. "We've faced some good pitchers. You go into these games knowing you're probably not going to knock them around. They're some of the best pitchers in baseball. And they're hot."
Indeed, the Sox did not bash any of the trio. Hernandez allowed just two runs over seven innings. Weaver was charged with three over six innings. Haren gave up four in seven-plus innings.
But each time, the Red Sox used the same successful formula: they drove up pitch counts, did more damage against the bullpen, and tellingly, got terrific outings from their own starters.
In fact, over the three games, Red Sox starters compiled an ERA of 1.86, compared to 3.15 for Hernandez, Weaver and Haren.
"When you beat guys like that," said Red Sox infielder Jed Lowrie, "you've beat some of the best in the game."
Finally, more than a month into the season, the Red Sox are showing the same approach that has made them one of the best offensive teams in the game the last few years: patient, selective, and grinding.
"They're great pitchers," said Adrian Gonzalez, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games and smacked his first homer at Fenway, ending a drought of 96 at-bats, "so you just go out up there looking for good at-bats."
The Sox couldn't get much of anything done in the early innings against Haren, whom they beat in Anaheim two weeks ago, handing him his first loss of the season. Through the first four innings, their only hit was a single by Carl Crawford with one out in the third.
Crawford then stole second, but neither Jarrod Saltalamacchia nor Jacoby Ellsbury could deliver him.
In the sixth, however, with Haren's pitch count climbing, the Sox scratched out two runs for their first lead of the night. Ellsbury led with a double into the right-field corner.
Haren then fanned Dustin Pedroia, but three straight singles followed from Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Lowrie.
In the seventh, another single from Crawford -- two hits for the third straight game -- and well-timed double off The Wall by Saltalamacchia stretched the Red Sox lead to 3-1. Gonzalez's leadoff homer to start the eighth chased Haren.
Offensively, there's still plenty of room for improvement. While others have heated up, Pedroia has continued to cool, dropping to .255. J.D. Drew has been virtually non-existent from the start, with a .231 batting average and just five RBI.
But there are good signs, too. Ellsbury appears comfortable again in the leadoff spot, having hit safely in each of the 11 games since he was returned to the top of the batting order. And Crawford is up to .194, having lifted his batting average some 40 points in the last three games.
Mostly, however, there's the satisfaction that they have figured out ways to score enough -- sometimes just enough -- to beat front-line starters.
"It's a great sign," said Gonzalez. "It's something we can definitely move forward from."