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Red Sox 7, Royals 1

Cleanup crew

Gonzalez’s three hits leads tidy win

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / August 20, 2011

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - For the first time since he joined the Red Sox, Adrian Gonzalez took the field clean shaven last night, his mustache and goatee having been trimmed away.

But the first baseman insisted it had nothing to do with his recent struggles at the plate. It was only a coincidence that he was hitless in his previous 14 at-bats and had two RBIs this month.

“I have zero superstitions,’’ Gonzalez said.

Perhaps. But the new look certainly worked well last night. Gonzalez had three hits and drove in a run to help the Sox to a 7-1 victory against the Royals.

Gonzalez had two doubles and a single to raise his batting average to .346, still the highest in baseball despite his recent woes. The RBI gave him 93 on the season.

“Just got some good pitches to hit,’’ said Gonzalez, who maintains the calm demeanor of a surgeon in good times or bad. “It doesn’t change what’s going to happen tomorrow. All that matters is that we won.’’

Gonzalez is still searching for power, having hit one home run in his last 168 plate appearances. But he’s more conscious of getting his swing back in rhythm than seeing a ball clear the fence.

“The numbers are what they are. I don’t feel great at the plate,’’ Gonzalez said. “I’m just working through it. . . . It’s just timing. Hitting is always timing. You lose your timing for whatever reason and you try to get it back.

Gonzalez missed a game last month with a sore neck and manager Terry Francona has since suggested the injury has lingered and hampered Gonzalez’s ability to drive the ball.

Gonzalez denied that, saying he feels fine. What the injury may have done, he admitted, was lead to bad habits. He tried to correct those by arriving at Kauffman Stadium early in the day for optional batting practice.

“I’m trying to get a little more out of my swing and trying to drive the ball to left field again,’’ Gonzalez said. “I’m out in front a little bit and hitting the ball on the ground to the right side. I’m just trying to find a happy medium.’’

With Kevin Youkilis on the disabled list and David Ortiz out indefinitely with a sore right foot, the Sox need Gonzalez to spur their offense. It was there last night as three Kansas City pitchers were rocked for 13 hits, six for extra bases.

Darnell McDonald had an RBI triple and scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s sacrifice fly in the fourth inning off Jeff Francis (4-14). Jarrod Saltalamacchia, another slumping hitter, belted a low changeup for a three-run homer in the fifth inning.

“It felt good,’’ said Saltalamacchia, who had gone 13 at-bats without a hit. “I’ve been swinging the bat, I thought, pretty well and balls weren’t falling in. It felt good to put it out there.’’

The homer cleared the Kansas City bullpen and landed on a ramp that leads to the Royals Hall of Fame.

“That’s one way of getting in there,’’ Saltalamacchia said.

Gonzalez added a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning. Another run scored on an error. Jed Lowrie had three hits, two coming after Dustin Pedroia was intentionally walked ahead of him.

The offense helped Andrew Miller (5-1) cruise into the sixth inning before Alfredo Aceves finished up for his second save. The duo held the Royals to four hits, one after the fourth inning.

It also was a memorable night for rookie Ryan Lavarnway. The 24-year-old, who is filling for Ortiz as the DH, left the bases loaded in the first and third innings but came back up in the fifth and grounded a single into right field for his first hit.

He later scored on Saltalamacchia’s homer.

“It was a little bit of a relief,’’ Lavarnway said. “It was a little more elusive than I was hoping it would be. But it’s not going to be my last. I’m pretty happy.’’

Lavarnway was called up Thursday, too late in the day for his family and friends to get to the game. But his parents, sister, and two friends from Yale made it for last night’s game.

After Lavarnway’s hit, Gonzalez pretended to throw the ball into the stands when it was rolled back to the Red Sox dugout. But the rookie had it after the game. He said it would find a place on his parents’ mantel in California.

Tim Wakefield was the man in charge of inscribing all the details on the horsehide.

After dealing with injuries, frustrating games, and hectic travel for a week, the Sox enjoyed themselves.

Gonzalez even smiled a bit when asked if his facial hair was a thing of the past after a productive night at the plate.

“No,’’ he said. “It’ll be back in a couple of days.’’

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

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