ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Red Sox hitters should be careful not to go into a slump this season. Somebody might smack them in the side with a bat.
A few bruised ribs somehow helped Will Middlebrooks get back on track at the plate. His three-run double in the top of the ninth inning Thursday night gave the Red Sox a 4-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Sox have won two straight for the first time since May 1-2. Middlebrooks was hitting .192 when he collided with teammate David Ross and slammed into a wall at Fenway Park May 7 while chasing a foul ball. He missed the next game but is 8 of 27 since with eight extra-base hits and five RBIs in seven games.
Middlebrooks said the pain forced him to cut down on his swing and that has allowed him to make better contact.
Alex Cobb and two relievers had held the Sox to three hits through eight innings. Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney came on for the ninth and walked Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz on 10 pitches to start the inning before striking out Mike Napoli with a changeup.
Rodney walked Daniel Nava to load the bases, bringing pitching coach Jim Hickey out to the mound. Rodney bounced back and struck out Stephen Drew on three pitches, all of them changeups.
Middlebrooks was next and Rodney went back to his fastball to get ahead, 1 and 2. When he tried another changeup, Middlebrooks lined it into the gap in left field and three runs scored.
It was the third blown save in 10 attempts for Rodney (1-2). Many in the crowd of 16,055 were rooting for the Red Sox and their cheers were louder than the boos for Rodney.
Junichi Tazawa (3-2) went two innings for the win. He worked around two singles in the ninth inning by getting James Loney to ground to shortstop.
The Sox had been 0-12 when trailing after eight innings this season. After losing three series in a row, they took two of three from the Rays. The Sox are 5-1 against the Rays this season, outscoring them, 26-13.
The Sox improved to 11-7 on the road. Their nine-game trip continues Friday night in Minnesota.
Red Sox starter Felix Doubront had a wildly inconsistent five innings. On the positive end, he allowed two runs on just three hits and struck out seven. But he also walked a career-high six and threw 105 pitches, 54 for strikes.
Doubront left the bases loaded in the first inning when he struck out Loney looking at a fastball.
Ryan Roberts, the No. 9 hitter, homered in the second inning when Doubront left a fastball over the middle of the plate.
The Rays stranded two more runners in the third inning and two more in the fifth.
After Doubront walked Loney on four pitches to start the sixth inning, manager John Farrell pulled him.
Clayton Mortensen got a force at second base before walking Jose Lobaton.
After a passed ball charged to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Mortensen walked Roberts on a 3-and-2 slider that was high.
With the bases loaded and the infield in, Desmond Jennings broke his bat but was able to get the ball past shortstop Drew. The lead grew to 3-1 when Luke Scott singled to right field off lefthander Andrew Miller.
Miller struck out Ben Zobrist and got Evan Longoria to ground to third. Middlebrooks stepped on the bag to finally end the inning.
Cobb retired the first 10 Red Sox in order on 41 pitches. Shane Victorino, who had been 0 for 10 in the series, doubled down the line in right field to finally get the Sox going in the fourth inning.
Victorino moved to third when Pedroia grounded out and scored on a single to right field by Ortiz.
Ortiz was stranded when Napoli struck out.
Middlebrooks drew his first walk since May 2 with two outs in the fifth. Saltalamacchia grounded to first to end the inning.
Pedroia extended his hit streak to eight games with a two-out single in the sixth inning. Ortiz had a chance but grounded to third.
Napoli drew a walk to start the seventh inning for the Sox. With one out, lefthander Jake McGee replaced Cobb. He threw a wild pitch that advanced Napoli to second before getting Drew to pop up and Middlebrooks to ground out to end the inning.
Farrell hit Drew seventh for the first time since April 15, hoping to take advantage of his recent hot streak.
Cobb allowed one run on three hits over 6⅓ innings. He walked two and struck out six.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.