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Red Sox show some Will power

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  June 22, 2012 12:52 AM

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AP Photo/Charles Krupa

The Red Sox post the lineup card on the brick wall outside the clubhouse, usually around 3 p.m. for a night game.

There could be an audience to see what it says on Friday.

Will Middlebrooks, the 23-year-old rookie from Texas, is proving he belongs in the lineup every day. Any doubts were erased on Thursday night when he drove in four runs to boost the Sox to a 6-5 victory against the Miami Marlins.

Middlebrooks tied the game with a two-run homer to center off Edward Mujica, crushing a fastball several rows up in the bleachers.

Then the Sox got creative. Another young player who changes the look of the team, Ryan Kalish, singled. Bobby Valentine called for a hit-and-run and Mike Aviles grounded to the right side.

Kalish, in a daring play, rounded second and slid into third, just beating the tag. Daniel Nava drove him in with a single to left. The sweaty crowd at Fenway saw one of the best games of the season.

It was pretty cool, Middlebrooks said. That was a fun night.

That's five straight wins for the Sox and victories in seven of their last eight games. At 36-33, they're three games over .500 for the second time this season.

You can thank Middlebrooks for a good chunk of that. He is 6 of 8 with two doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs in his last four games. Middlebrooks is hitting .316 on the season with a .903 OPS and has driven in 31 runs in 38 games.

It's about consistency, really, said Middlebrooks, who unflappably handled some histrionic postgame questions. They teach it in the minor leagues. But to get here and see these guys, it shows me what it really is. I'm just trying to be more like them.

The production has come despite occasional games on the bench to accommodate playing time for Kevin Youkilis.

Middlebrooks was initially called up to fill in while Youkilis was on the disabled list. Finding room in the lineup for two third basemen has become a daily challenge for Valentine. Middlebrooks has been the odd man out, starting only seven of the last 12 games.

It seems like hes doing just fine like this. Hes keeping sharp. Hes watching, hes learning and when hes in there it doesnt look like hes missing a beat, obviously, Valentine said.

But Valentine also acknowledged that Middlebrooks has earned the right to play more by playing so well.

I think thats a fact of the game that we play, the manager said.

Youkilis is hitting .225 in 41 games with a .670 OPS and 13 RBIs. The Red Sox have increased their efforts to trade him in recent days according to baseball sources and are willing to absorb much of the $6.89 million remaining on his contract to make a deal happen.

There also is a defensive component. Middlebrooks hasn't shown it consistently in the majors yet, but he is an excellent third baseman. The play he made in the seventh inning, backhanding a short-hop groundball and throwing out the speedy Jose Reyes, was evidence of that.

At some point, Will is going to be an everyday player, Aviles said. I dont know when that will be. But hes showing he can do it. Hes playing like hes been here for years and years. Thats not a skill a lot of young players possess. It shows you what kind of player and person he is.

Middlebrooks is the first Red Sox rookie to hit a tying or go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later in a game since Shea Hillenbrand in 2001.

A few notes:

Dustin Pedroia, who didn't play Wednesday after jarring his sore right thumb, was back in the lineup and went 0 for 5.

The Marlins, who got a pre-game pep talk from owner Jeffrey Loria, have lost four straight and 13 of 15. The Sox are 5-1 against the Marlins, outscoring them, 41-22. Good pep-talk.

Scott Atchison, who threw two scoreless innings to get the win, has a 1.17 ERA on the season, 0.68 in his last 21 appearances.

The Red Sox are 24-15 since Nava was called up on May 10. He has hit .340 with a .974 OPS. Nava is 13 of 36 (.361) in nine games as a leadoff hitter.

Pedroia, David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez were 1 for 12, but the Sox scored six runs. There's a lot of agenda-driven criticism of Valentine in Boston. But the Sox are +40 in run differential (third in the AL) and two games out in the wild card. Given all the injuries and fringy players forced into action, that's actually fairly impressive.

Braves-Sox tomorrow. Come back for more. We'll be here.

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