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Red Sox 9, Royals 2

Sox steer out of skid

They turn things around vs. Royals

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 24, 2009

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It had been shaping up as a terrible trip to the Midwest, a lost midweek series in Kansas City, as the Red Sox dropped their first two games to a Royals team playing far better than its record.

They gave away a game Monday, put themselves in a hole Tuesday, and had just one hit through the first four innings last night. But that changed, and changed in a hurry, as the Sox moved one step closer to a postseason berth with a 9-2 victory at Kauffman Stadium.

As the Sox go over possibilities, hedging their bets for a trip to the playoffs, they still must finalize one last thing: actually clinching that spot. And with their win last night, the Sox shaved another game off their magic number, bringing it to five.

Though he gave up 12 hits, Josh Beckett survived for the win, which was punctuated by a three-run, ninth-inning homer by David Ortiz.

But in truth, Beckett did more than survive, lauding himself (in his unique way) for one of his better starts recently.

“They hit a lot of ground balls, some of them at guys, some of them not at guys,’’ Beckett said. “Played good defense, and I would say we got some timely hits.’’

It was a concise description of a game in which the numbers didn’t look all that great for the righthander, but the results were there. Despite their 12 hits off Beckett, 10 of which were singles, the Royals scored just two runs off him in six innings. They threatened in the first, second, and third, but didn’t cross the plate until the fourth, when both their runs came home.

The hits didn’t stop, but they were contained, with Beckett getting his 16th win.

“I definitely think I threw the ball better today than I have in a while,’’ Beckett said. “I think if you look at it, they had eight ground ball-hits. It means I’m keeping the ball down. I feel like I had a good sinker.’’

It looked at first that the numbers really did tell the story. Beckett entered with an 0-2 record and 11.25 ERA with anyone other than Jason Varitek catching him. And by the fourth inning, Beckett had given up two runs on 10 hits, one shy of his season high, which came against Philadelphia - with George Kottaras behind the plate.

The Sox wanted to prepare themselves, to cover their bases, as manager Terry Francona said before the game.

They wanted Beckett to prove that he and Victor Martinez had chemistry, that they could work together in a postseason game. And though it wasn’t always easy, and wasn’t always pretty, Beckett did just that, even though he set a season high for hits allowed with two outs in the sixth inning.

“Actually, pretty good, beginning and end,’’ Francona said of Beckett’s outing. “I thought in the middle he had a little streak there where he got a little hard and flat. He had a stretch there where the ball flattened out, they got a bunch of hits.

“He just went though that little period there where everything was kind of hard and it was flat, and he made a couple mistakes, they hit it pretty hard. But once he got into a rhythm and a flow, it was good. I thought his fastball had good life. He didn’t try to overthrow, just went through that stretch there where they got a bunch of hits.’’

Even as the Royals were improving their batting averages, they weren’t making good on all those hits. Through the first four innings, Kansas City had already left eight men on base, and had David DeJesus thrown out trying to steal.

Beckett was managing his work enough to keep the Royals in check, enough to give the Sox a chance, though they were slow to get to Kansas City starter Luke Hochevar.

The Sox entered the fifth inning with just one hit to their credit, but turned that around quickly, scoring six runs. One out into the inning, J.D. Drew singled just above the glove of a leaping Yuniesky Betancourt. Alex Gonzalez followed with a single to right field.

Then came Jacoby Ellsbury. The center fielder blasted a ball that rolled toward the wall in left-center. Drew scored. Gonzalez scored. The game was tied, as Ellsbury pulled into third base with a triple, aided by Betancourt’s pause with the ball in short left field with Ellsbury between bases.

The Sox added to their run total quickly, with Dustin Pedroia (15 games) and Martinez (22 games) extending hitting streaks back to back. After Kevin Youkilis walked, Jason Bay dumped a single into left-center, scoring two more runs. Another came home on an Ortiz single, and the Sox were ahead, 6-2.

It stopped there, however, as Mike Lowell grounded into a double play - making him responsible for all three outs in the inning.

Ortiz blasted a pitch into the fountains in right field to add three runs in the ninth, and to push his home run total to 25, an astounding number given how he began the season.

But the game was won in the fifth, as the Sox barraged Hochevar, making up for Beckett’s slight lapse, and making him a winner.

“His velocity dropped on the board a little bit and the ball was flat and it was up,’’ Francona said of Hochevar. “We squared up some balls, we had a couple - [Gonzalez] hits a ball to right that finds some grass. Then we just kept going first to third, we ran the bases real well. [Ellsbury] had not only a good swing but some heads-up base running.

“That was basically the game, there was one big, good inning for us.’’

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