Healthy start to 2d half
Sox pounce on Rays with strong bullpen
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Alfredo Aceves, given his preference, would be starting for the Red Sox. That was his goal in spring training and nothing has changed.
But when asked if he enjoyed being the closer, the normally taciturn Aceves cracked a smile after the Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 3-1, Friday night.
“No complaints. It feels real good when we win a game like this,” Aceves said. “The bullpen, my brothers, we had a good night. There’s a lot to be proud of.”
Aceves was one of five relievers to whom Bobby Valentine turned. They held the Rays to one unearned run on four hits over the final four innings to secure a victory for Franklin Morales. Aceves retired the Rays in order in the ninth for his 20th save in 24 chances.
“It feels like we’re all important. We all get a chance to help the team win,” Aceves said. “Sometimes, when you’re a reliever, you might only get in games when the team is losing. But Bobby, he uses everybody all the time in any situation. That’s good because it gives you confidence.”
Morales went five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out five. His fastball touched 97 miles per hour, the lefthander saying later he felt some extra energy coming out of the All-Star break.
But Morales also walked three in the fourth inning and was at 95 pitches after five innings. Rather than risk creating a situation from which his relievers would have to escape, Valentine went to Scott Atchison to start the sixth.
Ben Zobrist reached on a throwing error by shortstop Mike Aviles. Atchison then got B.J. Upton on a ball hit sharply back to the mound before striking out Jeff Keppinger.
Sean Rodriguez gave the Rays a run with a double to left field. Facing Andrew Miller, pinch hitter Brooks Conrad hit a ball into the shortstop hole that Aviles stopped.
The play may have saved a run. Matt Albers then came in and struck out Desmond Jennings.
Albers stayed in and retired the Rays in order in the seventh inning. He struck out three of the four batters he faced.
“Matt Albers was fantastic. That’s four outstanding outs,” Valentine said.
Albers has allowed 26 hits over 35 ⅓ innings. Righthanders are hitting .200 against him.
“[Valentine] has tried to put us in positions to be successful,” Albers said. “If me or Atch can face a righthanded hitter, that’s going to benefit us. Miller can get anybody out, but he’s going to be more effective against lefties.”
Vicente Padilla started the eighth inning and allowed a double by Zobrist. Upton followed with a sinking liner to right field. Ryan Sweeney, consistently excellent in the outfield, made a diving catch.
Zobrist tagged and headed for third. Sweeney popped up, hit Aviles, and his relay to Nick Punto got Zobrist easily. The Rays did not threaten again.
“It was nine innings of really good pitching,” Valentine said.
Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson (4-6) allowed three runs in six innings in his fourth start against the Sox this season.
With two outs and the bases empty in the first inning, David Ortiz was at the plate with rookie Mauro Gomez on deck. Gomez was a late addition to the lineup when Adrian Gonzalez was scratched because of a stiff back.
Hellickson fell behind Ortiz, 3 and 1. But instead of pitching carefully to the gregarious designated hitter, he left a cut fastball over the plate. Ortiz hit a majestic home run into the right field bleachers, his 23d of the season.
“The home run shouldn’t have happened,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Ortiz gets the 3-1 counts and Jeremy comes back and just throws him a cookie and he knows he wasn’t supposed to do that.”
The lead grew to 3-0 in the second inning as the Red Sox took advantage of Hellickson’s control problems.
With one out, the righthander walked Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Sweeney before hitting Aviles in the foot with a fastball. Pedro Ciriaco then grounded a single up the middle that scored two runs.
That gave Ciriaco six RBIs in four games since he was called up from Triple A Pawtucket. Ciriaco finished 3 for 3 with a sacrifice and stolen base.
He is 10 for 16 in four games and has at least three hits and one steal in three consecutive games. Johnny Damon was the last major leaguer to do that, in 2000 with Kansas City. Ciriaco is the first Red Sox player to do it.
“I am happy to do a little bit to help the team,” Ciriaco said. “Any time I get a chance to wear that uniform is another opportunity for me.”
The Red Sox, who lost eight of 11 games before the All-Star break, are back over .500 at 44-43.
“It’s a good game to start up again,” Aceves said. “We know we have to start winning some games. Tonight, we had a good combination.”