ATLANTA -- Julian Tavarez may not look like the type to send flowers, chocolates, or balloons, but he couldn't have delivered a better pick-me-up than the one he sent to Curt Schilling, presumably watching on television back in Boston.
And the get-well card Tavarez composed last night -- seven shutout innings of three-hit ball -- had plenty of other signatures affixed to it, as the Sox blasted five home runs in an 11-0 rout of the Atlanta Braves.
Tavarez has not lost a decision since May 11. The Sox are 8-5 when he pitches, just a tick behind the 9-5 record they have when celebrity pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who draws Cooperstown-bound Greg Maddux tomorrow night in San Diego, is on the mound. "He's given us quality starts," said catcher Jason Varitek. "You don't expect shutouts out of him, but he keeps giving us a chance to win a game."
The Braves sent out a pitcher with a name like a big-band leader of the '30s, Buddy Carlyle, and the Sox played swing all night. J.D. Drew hit the first high note with a leadoff home run, and Coco Crisp, David Ortiz, Manny Ramírez, and Eric Hinske all followed, the Sox jumping to a 7-0 lead after two innings.
"We scored early, took some good swings, and then Julian did what he was supposed to," manager Terry Francona said.
With Schilling recovering from a cortisone shot in his right shoulder and about to go on the disabled list with tendinitis, the Red Sox won the rubber game of this three-game set. The Braves are 3-9 over the last three years against the Sox after going 22-11 in the first seven years of this so-called "natural" rivalry. The teams drew sellout crowds all three games, including last night's gathering of 49,585, to Turner Field, where loyalties were divided but definitely tilted north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
"Where do they all come from?" Braves manager Bobby Cox wondered earlier in the series about the Sox fans who jitterbugged their way down Peachtree Street all week. "Do they all come down from Boston?"
The Sox tied a season high for home runs before heading to San Diego, where spacious Petco Park and the Padres' stingy pitching staff may make long-ball sightings rare this weekend. But with a 10-5 record, the Sox are assured of a winning record in interleague play, which ends after the three games with the Padres, who lead the National League West.
They also boarded their flight to the Coast with a double-digit lead again over the Yankees, losers for the second straight night in Colorado. Their 10-game spread in the American League East is their largest since they were up by 10 1/2 June 9.
When the Sox weren't hitting home runs, they were pounding extra-base hits, with five doubles also part of their 15-hit attack, two by Dustin Pedroia.
The old ballpark in town, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, was known as the Launching Pad in the '80s for the way balls flew over the fence in the thick Georgia humidity. Perhaps even a spray hitter like Francona profited from playing here in his heyday?
"Are you kidding me?" Francona said, evidently presuming that someone would check and discover that in 46 at-bats in the old yard, now a parking lot, he did not go deep once.
"The old park was a good place to hit. But you know what's amazing? When this place first opened, people were saying how big it was, how spacious? Now, I don't know, the ball was carrying. People said this would be a lot fairer ballpark than the old park. But the ball was carrying."
After Drew led off with his sixth home run of the season, Pedroia and Ramírez doubled to make it 2-0. Carlyle struck out Kevin Youkilis, but after issuing an intentional walk to Jason Varitek, he was taken deep by Crisp, whose high drive landed in the right-field seats for his fourth home run of the season, third in three games here.
Drew doubled with one out in the second, then scored ahead of Ortiz's moon shot to right, the first baseman's 13th homer of the season and second in two nights, to make it 7-0.
"I'm hitting what I get, and that's all it is," Ortiz said.
Carlyle, a 29-year-old righthander who has been with seven big league organizations and also pitched in Japan (Hanshin Tigers), looked every bit the part of dazed journeyman when he was finally lifted after loading the bases in the fourth, Cox calling for an intentional walk to Ortiz even though he was trailing by seven.
Oscar Villareal whiffed Varitek to end that threat, but Ramírez hit reliever Peter Moylan's first pitch for a home run to start the seventh, and Hinske, who had replaced Ortiz at first in the bottom of the seventh, connected off Rafael Soriano for a two-run home run in the eighth, the Sox already having scored one run in the inning when Wily Mo Peña singled and Pedroia doubled him home.
Tavarez set down the first 10 Braves. With the help of two double plays, he faced the minimum 18 batters through six innings. He allowed the Braves, who were playing without slumping star Andruw Jones (0 for 17 against the Sox, 0 for his last 18, and .202 overall), just three singles: Willie Harris in the fourth, Chipper Jones in the fifth, and Edgar Renteria in the seventh.
Joel Piñeiro gave up two singles to start the eighth but retired the next three batters. Mike Timlin finished off the Braves in the ninth.
Drew departed after two innings with what was described as tightness in his right quadriceps, but no one on the Sox had a less fulfilling night than Julio Lugo, who could not have had a crueler 0 for 5. He lined out his first four times. On his fifth at-bat, he dropped a soft liner into right field for an apparent hit, but Varitek, who had held up at second to see if the ball would be caught, was forced at third.
"I had a couple of elements," said Varitek, who said he felt "extremely" bad about the play. "The ball carried well, it looked like it was carrying to him [right fielder Jeff Francoeur], and it dropped in front of him. I didn't have much gas left in the tank, but I ran as hard as I could. Of all people that day, I don't want to do that to Loogie."
Francona spoke with Schilling earlier in the day, but did a double take when someone asked if Schilling had called, e-mailed, or otherwise reached out and touched someone during the game.
"I don't get e-mails in the dugout," he said. "Even Schill has no direct communication to the dugout."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.