Red Sox neat Rays, 7-4, take 2-0 series lead

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Red Sox neat Rays, 7-4, take 2-0 series lead

BOSTON -- Unfortunately for him, Joe Maddon was prophetic before the game.

"You don't want to mess with good bullpens," the Rays manager said before his team went out to face the Red Sox in Game 2 of the ALDS, "and they have an outstanding bullpen."

Tampa Bay had clawed back from a 5-1 deficit and closed the gap to 6-4 with one out in the sixth inning when Sox manager John Farrell turned to that bullpen. Eleven outs, one hit -- and two sterling double plays -- later, Maddon's fear had come true.

That bullpen, backed by an 11-hit attack that was powered by two home runs from David Ortiz, pitched 3 2/3 shutout innings and delivered the Sox to a 7-4 victory Saturday night and a commanding 2-0 lead in the ALDS. It was Ortiz's first-ever postseason multi-homer game, and he was joined in the hit parade by Jacoby Ellsbury (3-for-4, 3 runs scored), Dustin Pedroia (1-for-3, 2 RBI), and, in fact, every member of the Sox batting order except Mike Napoli . . . who contributed in his own way by walking twice.

"Tonight," said manager John Farrell, "is one example of the relentlessness of this team. They look at each night as an individual challenge."

Game summary

The challenge on this night: David Price, who has been all been unhittable at Fenway Park.

"Facing good pitching like that, we [needed] to execute," said Ortiz.

"We knew it was going to be tough," said Pedroia. "We needed A-plus stuff, and we brought it."

Right from the start, they brought it. They broke on top, 2-0, in the first on a sacrifice fly by Pedroia and Ortiz's first home run. After the Rays cut it to 2-1 on Delmon Young's sacrifice fly in the second, the Sox tacked on two more in the third on back-to-back doubles by David Ross (traditional, off the wall) and Ellsbury (unique, a soft pop that landed just past third baseman Evan Longoria and rolled into short left field), followed by a Shane Victorino single and a fielder's-choice grounder by Pedroia.

Stephen Drew had that rarest of rarities -- a triple to left field at Fenway Park -- in the fourth on a ball that hit the wall and caromed past left fielder David DeJesus, driving in Jonny Gomes and making it 5-1.

But John Lackey, efficient through the first four innings, began to unravel in the fifth. He was touched for a two-run double by James Loney that narrowed the lead to 5-3; then, after Pedroia had gotten him a run back with an RBI double in the bottom of the fifth, Tampa Bay made it 6-4 in the sixth when Desmond Jennings singled, went to second on an infield grounder, and scored on Yunel Escobar's single to right.

That was enough for Farrell, who called on Craig Breslow. The veteran lefty got the final two outs of the inning on six pitches, and held the Rays scoreless in the seventh thanks to an acrobatic Dustin Pedroia-to-Stephen Drew-to-Mike Napoli double play to end the inning. Junichi Tazawa was the beneficiary of another Pedroia-to-Drew-to-Napoli twin killing in the eighth, as he was able to complete the bridge to Koji Uehara in the ninth.

Uehara came on and retired the side in order -- striking out the first two batters on six pitches -- to complete the victory.

"I don't know if we can continue to find words to describe him," said Farrell of his closer, who hasn't allowed an earned run since July 1. "He thrives on moments like tonight."

"He's an exciting player," added Ross. "He gets me excited and puts a smile on my face when I see him. It's a pleasure to catch him."

Before Uehara arrived, he had been given a bit of a cushion by an eighth-inning homer from Ortiz, who's 3-for-8 with a double and two homers in the first two games of the series.

"When he's cooking, he's very difficult," said Maddon.

As are the Sox.

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Despite still being owed more than $42 million after this year, Pablo Sandoval's days with the Red Sox appear numbered. So, it's no surprise that landing a third baseman at the trade deadline is a priority.

That's among the "major upgrades" the Sox are seeking by the July 31 deadline, MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand reports.

With Sandoval now on his second disabled list stint of the season - this time with an ear infection - after turning into what Feinsand calls "a horror tale for the Red Sox," and with fill-ins Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero holding down third, it's apparent that the position is a glaring need.

"Sandoval is basically a non-entity at this point," a source told Feinsand. "They need to make a move there."

Feinsand mentions the usual suspects - Mike Moustakas of the Royals and Todd Frazier of the White Sox - as possibilities. Also, he wonders if former MVP Josh Donaldson could be pried away from the Blue Jays (if "Dave Dombrowski knocks their socks off") with an offer and if Toronto is still sputtering at the deadline?

Those other upgrades? "Boston is also looking for pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen," Feinsand writes. Again, no surprise there.

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.

The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.

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At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.

“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”

To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest. 

Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day. 

But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.

Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list. 

Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.

Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings. 

Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.

How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?

Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.

The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure. 

Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.

A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.

Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it.