Sox's rally puts dent in Rays' playoff aspirations

Sox's rally puts dent in Rays' playoff aspirations

Sox's rally puts dent in Rays' playoff aspirations
ST. PETERSBURG -- For weeks, both energy and results seemed to be missing in action for the Red Sox, but those elements have returned of late and were on full display throughout Tuesday night's 7-5 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.

While improving to 4-1 on its seven-game road trip, Boston was aggressive on the bases, timely at the plate and solid enough on the mound.

"Yeah, we're starting to come together, which is nice," said Ryan Lavarnway, who provided a big two-run double in the seventh. "Hopefully we can keep it going."

The Sox's resurgence has come at a bad time for the reeling Rays, who saw their postseason hopes damaged. Tampa Bay slipped to six games back in the American League East while falling six games off the pace for the second AL Wild Card spot. Manager Joe Maddon's team has lost nine of its past 12 games, making last September's epic comeback feel like a distant memory.

Lefty Felix Doubront earned the win for the Sox, his first since July 18. Over six innings, Doubront gave up three runs but just one hit, walking five and striking out five.

"I'm really happy for him," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He's been trying for that one a long time. I thought [Jarrod Saltalamacchia] and he got together after that third inning and really started mixing his pitches up."

Considering his stuff was electric for much of the night, it was surprising to see the way Doubront labored in the third. After opening the inning with a strikeout, he walked three consecutive batters to load the bases. Ben Zobrist drilled a two-run single up the middle to break a scoreless tie, and Evan Longoria gave the Rays a 3-0 lead with a sacrifice fly to center.

"I thought there were a couple of calls he got upset with on the walks and three runs later, he was on the verge of coming out of the game, and he busted through that door again and he got his 11th win," Valentine said.

Doubront has turned in two solid starts in a row after a prolonged slump.

"I just want to finish strong," Doubront said. "I think for now I'm getting back my confidence. Today, there was just one tough inning and I handled that and came back doing the best I can, and gave the guys an opportunity to score and win the game. That was pretty important for me."

It's important for the Red Sox as well, considering Doubront could be an important part of their future. There was talk earlier this month that the Red Sox were going to shut Doubront down, considering he had topped his professional high in innings pitched.

But Doubront pleaded with the team to let him keep pitching, and now there is some payoff.

"I don't know if his arm was tired or what, but the last two starts he has really been locked in," said Saltalamacchia. "I think he's been more focused on keeping the ball down in the zone, attacking the zone and his control and command is back. I don't know if it's a tired arm. He has four quality pitches and throws 96 [mph] -- not a lot of lefties can do that."

The Red Sox started the climb back in the fourth. Cody Ross led off with a double to right and James Loney roped an RBI single, slicing the deficit to two runs.

Jose Iglesias (walk) and Pedro Ciriaco (single) served as table-setters to open the fifth, and Jacoby Ellsbury took advantage, roping an RBI single to right. Dustin Pedroia followed with a shallow flyout to right, and the speedy Ciriaco came roaring home to tie the game.

Ciriaco's speed again helped the Red Sox in the sixth. With runners at second and third with two outs, Ciriaco hit a slow hopper to third. Knowing full well who was running, Sean Rodriguez rushed the throw, and it one-hopped past first baseman Jeff Keppinger.

"He runs well, but that's a play that still needs to be made," said Maddon. "He does run well, there's no question, but I've seen Sean make that play often, so that's unfortunate."

Meanwhile, Valentine continues to enjoy the lift Ciriaco is giving his team.

"I thought that was a hit actually," said Valentine. "He's a little bit of a difference-maker. He plays hard, gets the bat on the ball."

Boston would have scored two runs on the play, but the errant throw deflected off of first-base coach Alex Ochoa, giving Keppinger enough time to cut down Scott Podsednik at the plate.

But the Red Sox tacked on in the seventh, thanks to a two-out rally that Ross started with a walk. The biggest surprise of the inning was that Ross stole second, just his second theft of the season. Loney followed with a walk. Up stepped Saltalamacchia, and he went the other way nicely, lacing an RBI single into left to score Ross. Lavarnway then walloped a two-run double into the gap in right-center, opening up a 7-3 lead for Boston.

The hit was a big one for Lavarnway, who is hitting .170 since his call-up.

"I was just trying to stay to the big part of the field, hit a line drive, get a pitch to hit," Lavarnway said. "I've been doing a lot of work with [hitting coach Dave Magadan] in the cage. I started to get tired and my swing got long, so we shortened it back up. I was feeling good."

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.