If the Red Sox were baseball doctors they'd prescribe a tried-and-true remedy for all teams in a malaise: Play the Cincinnati Reds.
In sweeping the Reds, and outscoring them, 23-4, in three games, including last night's 6-1 win on a chilly night before 35,265 at Fenway Park, the Sox won their fourth straight, coinciding with four strong efforts by the starting rotation.
Last night's gem came courtesy of Bronson Arroyo, who desperately needed to get back on the winning side of the slate after going 40 days between victories. Losing that ''sluggish" feeling he said he had for almost a month, Arroyo lasted seven innings and allowed six hits and one run. He rediscovered the biting breaking ball he's been able to throw for strikes, and used a new pattern of pitching when he was behind in the count to foil Reds batters all night.
''I knew once I threw my first couple of pitches that I had better stuff than I had in my last three starts," Arroyo said.
Sox starters have a 1.55 ERA over the last four games. The Sox are off today, then start a three-game weekend series against the Pittsburgh Pirates tomorrow with Wade Miller attempting to join Arroyo, Tim Wakefield, Matt Clement, and David Wells in the win column this week.
''Hope it continues," said Sox manager Terry Francona. ''That's how you start to play good baseball. That's what we talked about every night. When you get good starting pitching, when we're not playing catch-up, whatever offense we get looks good and we add on."
Arroyo and the Sox led, 1-0, through four innings before erupting for four runs in the fifth to break it open.
David Ortíz went 2 for 4 with three RBIs and a pair of doubles. Bill Mueller added a big two-run single to cap the fifth inning.
But even bigger was Arroyo, who has often been cast as the pitcher most likely to go to the bullpen if and when Curt Schilling returns to the starting rotation around the All-Star break. Arroyo was making a good case for demotion until last night, when he pitched reminiscent of his early-season starts.
''Starting pitching is doing the job," said Ortíz. ''When our pitchers throw like that, with our hitting, we can really get going."
Mueller's two-out single to right-center in the fifth on a 3-and-1 count gave the Sox a 5-0 lead in an inning that seemed to take the life out of the Reds. Mueller has had a tremendous revival, hitting safely in seven straight games.
''I'm just happy to be able to contribute right now," said Mueller, who is hitting .278 after going 1 for 4. ''I had to fight off some things all night and I finally got a good at-bat with a good swing."
Until that point, Arroyo and Reds starter Aaron Harang had engaged in a decent pitchers' duel. Harang had allowed a run in the third when Edgar Renteria and Ortíz hit back-to-back doubles with two outs. Harang also allowed a leadoff double to Millar in the fourth, but he wiggled out of the jam unscathed.
In the fifth, Harang, whose pitch count was getting high as a result of the Sox' patience at the plate, started the inning by allowing the first four batters to reach. Johnny Damon singled to right-center and Renteria singled in front right fielder Wily Mo Peña. Ortíz then lined a double deep to left-center, driving in the second and third Boston runs.
Manny Ramírez then singled, and advanced to second on a poor cutoff throw by Ken Griffey, who couldn't come up with the catch on a diving attempt in center. The Sox loaded the bases with two outs before Mueller's hit.
Ramírez knocked in the sixth Sox run in the sixth inning with a single to right field, his 51st RBI, scoring Damon, who had reached on a grounder bobbled by third baseman Luis López.
Arroyo hadn't won since May 5 in Detroit. Since then, he had four no-decisions and three losses.
Arroyo felt that through video, hitters were able to determine when he threw his curveball. That pattern seemed to be broken last night.
''Playing a National League team like that for the only time, you don't know how much video they've studied on you and if they notice some of the patterns. But I tried to throw some fastballs behind on the count just to switch things up at times," he said. And he also felt fine physically. ''It was the first time I felt good throwing since after Toronto [a 6-1 loss May 25]," Arroyo said. ''A lot of times I can tell when I am warming up in the bullpen. I knew I had good stuff tonight."
Arroyo struck out four straight batters -- Griffey to end the first and then the side in the second -- to set the tone.
Arroyo, who won his first game at Fenway since Aug. 26, tired in the seventh, but the Sox were well in command. The Sox used Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke for the second straight night in the eighth and ninth innings.
Asked whether good pitching is contagious, Francona said, ''I think everything in baseball is contagious."