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Red Sox 4, Orioles 0

Power lifting

Ellsbury's two homers boost Sox past Orioles

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 21, 2011

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BALTIMORE - Jacoby Ellsbury hit five home runs in high school and 16 during his three seasons at Oregon State. His first three seasons in the minor leagues produced 10 more.

Several of those home runs, he readily admits, were the product of speed, not power. Ellsbury would drive a ball into the gap and race around the bases. The Red Sox hoped Ellsbury would grow into a hitter with good power but he had not previously shown it.

“I’ve never really tried to hit home runs,’’ Ellsbury said. “That’s never been my game.’’

So what explains his metamorphosis this season? Ellsbury hit two more home runs yesterday, no-doubt shots to right field that helped the Sox to a 4-0 victory against the Baltimore Orioles.

“He kind of put us on his shoulders today,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “He’s had a way of doing that from time to time. He took some really good swings.’’

That’s 15 home runs for Ellsbury, six more than he has hit previously in a full season in the majors and more than any of his teammates other than David Ortiz or Adrian Gonzalez.

Ellsbury has hit more home runs than high-profile sluggers Alex Rodriguez, Jayson Werth, and Adam Dunn.

“No reason,’’ Ellsbury said. “Just staying balanced, keeping my weight back and driving the ball. It’s being ready to hit and keeping my hands back. It’s pretty simple. I haven’t really changed anything.’’

Ellsbury didn’t hit a home run last year, his season limited to 18 games because of fractured ribs. He has not gotten any stronger since, either.

“Not really,’’ he said. “I was just trying to come back from last year. I didn’t really have time to work on that aspect.’’

Francona believes the home runs are more a product of Ellsbury becoming a more disciplined hitter, not necessarily a stronger one.

“It’s knowing the strike zone and knowing the league. He’s probably turning into a better hitter,’’ the manager said. “Confident.’’

Facing the wretched Orioles always helps. Ellsbury has a 29-game hit streak against them dating to 2009. It’s the longest streak against the Orioles since the team moved to Baltimore in 1954.

Ellsbury is a career .371 hitter against the Orioles with seven of his 35 home runs coming against them. He has hit .411 at Camden Yards.

“We shouldn’t feel like he’s picking on us,’’ Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s having a great year, and he seems to be even better against us.’’

Outside of Ellsbury’s home runs, it was a modest day for the powerful Red Sox offense against Jake Arrieta (9-7) and three relievers.

Jason Varitek’s slow grounder to second base scored Josh Reddick from third base in the fourth inning. Carl Crawford walked with the bases loaded in the eighth inning.

Andrew Miller allowed only two hits (both singles) over 5 2/3 innings and walked a career-high six. Not since Matt Clement in 2005 have the Red Sox had a pitcher walk six without giving up a run.

Miller nearly didn’t survive the second inning, walking Mark Reynolds, Nolan Reimold, and Robert Andino in a row on 17 pitches. Miller also fell behind Craig Tatum, but got him to hit a changeup to second. That started an inning-ending double play.

“You’ve got to find it real quick in a moment like that,’’ Miller said.

Miller walked just two more over his final 3 2/3 innings, although with the bases empty in the fifth he threw a pitch to Tatum that was 5 feet off the plate and hit the backstop on the fly.

Tatum then singled, breaking up a no-hitter.

Francona described Miller’s control like waves breaking on a beach. It was good, went away, and then came back.

“He locked it back in and actually threw a lot of strikes,’’ Francona said. “He didn’t give up a lot of solid contact and hit his spots pretty well.’’

Miller is 4-1 with a 4.65 earned run average in six starts. The Sox have won five of those games. So while the control issues continue to be vexing, Miller remains a viable option in the rotation. That his fastball touched 95 miles per hour yesterday was a sign of what he is capable of.

“Obviously, I’d like to pitch deeper. Shoot, I’d like to pitch nine innings every time out,’’ Miller said. “But I think ultimately what really counts is if you get a win at the end of the day.’’

The Red Sox bullpen was perfect. Matt Albers, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon locked the game away as the Sox finished their trip 4-2. They have won 10 of their last 12 games.

Bard set a franchise record with his 21st consecutive scoreless appearance. He also has not allowed a run in 22 2/3 innings going back to May 23. That’s the longest streak for a Red Sox pitcher since Bob Stanley threw 27 consecutive scoreless innings from July 27-Aug. 31, 1980.

“You try not to think about it, but at the same time it’s in the back of your head,’’ Bard said. “I know I’m going to give up a run eventually. Hopefully it doesn’t cost us a game. If I give the lead to Pap, I feel like that’s my job.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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