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Round trip to 7th heaven

Red Sox knocking foes to their knees

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / July 8, 2011

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When crowds this season are getting ready to sing, or settling down after having sung during the seventh-inning stretch, the Red Sox frequently have been stretching a lead.

With three more runs last night in a 10-4 whitewash of the Orioles at Fenway Park, the Sox have scored 78 runs in the seventh inning through 87 games, outscoring opponents, 78-32. It’s their biggest run-producing frame by far - the next best is 59 runs in the third inning.

Is it a coincidence? A quirky stat? A sign that the further along in the game, the more comfortable Sox players are at the plate?

“There may be a reason, I don’t know,’’ said Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who capped last night’s three-run seventh with a solo home run, giving the Sox back-to-back-to-back shots for the first time this season. “Me and Jason [Varitek], we’ve talked about it, our seventh-inning stats are pretty good.’’

Despite hitting six homers last night, the Sox don’t lead the majors in the category (the Yankees hold a commanding edge there). But with 10 more runs, no team has sent more men across the plate this season. Last night’s win, coupled with Tampa Bay’s 5-1 victory over New York, also means the Sox are back in front of the Yankees by a half-game in the AL East.

They can thank a power surge that had Orioles pitchers twirling around like clumsy ballroom dancers. Boston’s six home runs are the most in a game since Sept. 8, 2009, when they slammed six in a 10-0 win over Baltimore. The clouts came from six players, creating a unified sense of purpose, with almost everybody in on the act.

Dustin Pedroia started the slugfest with a towering three-run shot in the third inning that carried the Monster seats and put the Sox ahead, 3-2. Adrian Gonzalez added a solo shot to center in the fifth, Jacoby Ellsbury straddled the Pesky Pole with a two-run shot an inning later, and David Ortiz, Josh Reddick, and Saltalamacchia rudely greeted Orioles reliever Pedro Viola, who faced four batters and gave up three bombs and a walk to J.D. Drew in a brief, head-snapping appearance in the seventh.

About the only thing the Sox weren’t in agreement on was who had the most impressive home run.

“I’d say Papi’s,’’ said Drew, the only Sox starter without a hit. “Reddick hit it good, but Papi hit an absolute laser to center field.’’

Countered Gonzalez: “Pedey’s, just because of the situation, putting us ahead.’’

Ellsbury went with the equal-opportunity approach: “I’ll take them all, I think we had a variety: One Monster ball, two dead center, a few to right. They’re all pretty good swings, you can’t go wrong with any of them.’’

The homers are nice, but an offense that has scored 50 runs in the past eight games (seven wins) seems to be hitting its stride, days before the mandated All-Star break.

“It’s a very good offense, we all talked about it before the season started,’’ said Gonzalez, who added three hits to boost his AL-leading average to .351. “We’re just capable of putting up a lot of runs.’’

Especially in the seventh inning. The Sox spotted the Orioles an out (Kevin Youkilis flying to right), but a pitching change - the lefthanded Viola for the righthanded Jason Berken - before Ortiz came up was the first sign of the floodgates cracking. Ortiz roped a line drive to straightaway center for his 18th home run. Reddick, who was without a hit since Saturday (0 for 10), ended his drought with a towering drive into the seats in right.

“It feels good to be a part of that,’’ Reddick said. “For me to come out and have a good at-bat for myself was really big with my struggles lately.’’

Saltalamacchia also felt like he had been struggling, especially against lefthanders. So when he fell behind 0-and-2 - swinging at breaking balls in the dirt - he was hoping for a fastball. Viola obliged, and Saltalamacchia hammered it into the Monster seats.

“He was able to throw me a heater,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “And I hit it.’’

The Sox didn’t miss much, and what they hit went a long way.

Despite injuries and rotation uncertainty, the Sox sit atop the division, looking more and more like the team most people around here thought they’d be - and that’s no stretch.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com.

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