BOSTON -- Johnny Cueto wasn't at his best on Friday night at Fenway Park, but rookie Henry Owens sure was. Backed by eight strong innings from the lefty, the Red Sox rolled to a 7-2 victory over the Royals.
Meanwhile, the recently-rejuvenated Boston bats hammered Cueto for a career-high 13 hits and seven runs (six earned) over six innings. In the span of a week, the Red Sox have had big offensive performances against Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber and Cueto.
"We beat [the Rays' Chris] Archer [on June 28], we beat King Felix, we beat Cueto. I just think this team is capable of doing special things in any special moment," said interim Red Sox manager Torey Lovullo. "It doesn't matter who's on the mound. Tonight we rose to the occasion."
Owens allowed four hits and two runs (one earned) while walking one and striking out four. The Red Sox have had four strong starting pitching performances in a row to win four straight, tying their longest winning streak of the season.
Alcides Escobar drilled a solo homer off Owens in the sixth for one of the rare highlights of the night for the Royals, who are 2-10 against the Red Sox since the start of 2014.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Sandoval brings it with glove:Pablo Sandoval has struggled on defense in his first season in Boston, but Friday was different. The third baseman made a pair of terrific plays.The first was in the fourth, when he made a lightning-quick release to start a 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Kendrys Morales. In the seventh, Sandoval made a brilliant backhand stab on a grounder down the line by Morales and fired to first for the out.
"Great agility. Great movements," said Lovullo. "Great first step. Engaged defensively and locked in defensively. I've been saying it for a couple of days. When you can get locked in offensively, but you can also get locked in defensively. His feet are on the ground when the ball is crossing the plate and he is able to pick up what's happening quickly."
Forgot their Gold Gloves: The Royals, a team that boasts three Gold Glovers -- injured left fielder Alex Gordon, first baseman Eric Hosmer and catcher Salvador Perez -- and a team that might get two more this year with center fielder Lorenzo Cain and Escobar, had perhaps their roughest day in the field in recent memory. Officially, the Royals committed two errors, but they botched numerous other plays that continued to fuel Red Sox scoring opportunities.
"No aspect of our game was tremendously good tonight," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Just a forgettable night." More >
Swihart getting locked in: Swihart was so immersed in learning all it takes to be a good catcher in the Major Leagues that he had to make his offense secondary. Of late, he is showing why he was so well-regarded as a hitter coming through the farm system. Swihart is hitting .344 in his last 25 games.
"Doesn't matter, left or right-handed, we know that he's an offensive catcher, but I think he put that aside for a little while," said Lovullo. "He put that in his back pocket and said, 'I'm here first and foremost to learn the idea of how to run a big league baseball game from behind home plate and work with his pitchers and be there for them first.'
"We're seeing everything come together for him very, very well. He's a great student of the game. He pays attention. We feel like it's a sign of really good things to come." More >
Wait, that wasn't first pitch: Escobar did something he hasn't done all season: He hit a home run that didn't come on the first pitch of the game. Escobar whacked a drive to deep left center and over the Green Monster in the sixth inning. Escobar's previous two homers this season both came on the game's first pitch -- against Detroit at Comerica Park and against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
"I do," said Lovullo when asked if he thought his team could still make it to the postseason.
Lovullo was then asked why he felt that way, considering the Red Sox are 7 1/2 games back in the American League Wild Card hunt and would have to climb over nine teams with 40 games left.
"Because we're not eliminated and I believe in these guys," Lovullo said. "And I know what happens in our dugout and I know the quality of players we have and performers we have. And I feel anything is impossible with this group."
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Red Sox utilityman Rutledge is 5-for-6 against Cueto in his career, making Lovullo look good for putting him in the lineup.
"Three-for-three going in. I saw that number. It's a very small sample size," Lovullo said. "You get over 10 at-bats, you're starting to see that habit. But I don't want take away from the three hits he did have."
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Right-hander Yordano Ventura (7-7, 4.82 ERA) takes the hill in game three of the series. Ventura is coming off a no-decision, though he pitched seven strong innings Sunday night against the Angels, giving up two runs and five hits while striking out seven.
Red Sox: Righty Matt Barnes makes his second start on Saturday after giving up six hits and six runs over five innings last time out against the Indians. In that one, Barnes walked three and struck out seven.