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Red Sox 6, Royals 1

Stitched-up Sox

Together, team earns win that’s unconventional

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / August 22, 2011

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - For a team such as the Red Sox, taking three out of four games from the last-place Kansas City Royals would not seem like a significant accomplishment. Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?

But these were not the same Red Sox who have spent much of the summer in first place. Kevin Youkilis went on the disabled list Thursday with a strained back. David Ortiz hasn’t played in a week because of a sore right foot. Jacoby Ellsbury was hit in the back with a pitch Friday and sat out the weekend.

“I don’t care who you are,’’ backup outfielder Darnell McDonald said, “you lose three All-Stars and that’s a big deal.’’

But the Sox were resilient, stitching together a somewhat unconventional 6-1 victory yesterday to take the series.

Jason Varitek drove in a run with a triple, his first since 2007. McDonald, whose batting average hadn’t been over .182 all season, had three hits, including a home run. Rookie Ryan Lavarnway added two hits, one an RBI double.

Another struggling hitter, Carl Crawford, also homered as the Sox left for Texas with a sense of satisfaction.

“That was a big series for us,’’ Varitek said. “This team needed to play well and we did.’’

Sox starter Jon Lester (13-6) was working on a one-hit shutout going into the seventh inning. Impressive as that sounds, the lefthander was not particularly sharp. He had walked three and was at 100 pitches to that point.

“My stuff at times was good, other times it was a matter of trying to do too much,’’ Lester said. “I didn’t really have that putaway pitch I’ve had in past games.’’

The Sox had taken a 3-0 lead on Varitek’s RBI triple in the fifth and solo home runs by McDonald and Crawford in the sixth and seventh, respectively.

But Lester almost let the lead slip away. Rookie Johnny Giavotella started the seventh with a triple. Another rookie, catcher Salvador Perez, drew a walk before Mike Moustakas pounded an RBI single into right field.

Manager Terry Francona took no chances, turning to Daniel Bard. It was the earliest his setup man had been in a game since April 20.

“Don’t want to give up runs with him sitting out there,’’ Francona said. “He’s our best trying to get out of innings.’’

The Royals wanted Alcides Escobar to bunt. But he fouled off two attempts before striking out on a slider. Bard tamped out the rally easily from there, getting a fly ball and a force at second.

Bard has inherited 29 runners this season and just three have scored. The first batter, he said, is the key to stopping rallies.

“The easiest way to do that is to strike a guy out or get a ground ball,’’ Bard said. “[Escobar] was definitely trying to bunt and he’s probably one of the best bunters in the league. I kind of got lucky that he fouled those balls off. From there, you pitch for the strikeout in that situation. I kind of went from there.’’

Lester, watching from the dugout, marveled at how quickly Bard ended what could have been a big inning.

“That’s big,’’ he said. “It’s nothing unexpected from him. He’s done it since he’s been up here. It’s big to have a guy like that in our bullpen.’’

Said Varitek: “Getting out of that jam was the biggest part of that game.’’

The Sox scored three runs in the eighth to secure the victory. Marco Scutaro, batting leadoff in place of Ellsbury, started the inning with a double. McDonald singled and then Adrian Gonzalez singled to center, scoring Scutaro.

Jed Lowrie added a sacrifice fly and Lavarnway an RBI double to left field. Lowrie played third base for Youkilis while Lavarnway subbed for Ortiz as the designated hitter.

The Sox remain a half-game behind the Yankees, who won at Minnesota. But some pressure was released with yesterday’s victory.

“I think it’s huge, especially considering who we’re about to play,’’ Bard said. “Taking three out of four here maybe lets us take a little bit of a deep breath. Not that we’re going to play less hard in Texas. But the pressure’s not there.

“If we had gone 1-3 here or even 2-2, it would feel like we had some ground to make up. Now we can just go in and play our game.’’

The Rangers are in first place in the American League West. They also swept three games from the Sox at the start of the season, scoring 26 runs.

“We’re going to have something to prove to those guys,’’ Bard said. “It’s fun. Anything that makes it more competitive makes it more fun.’’

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

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