Varitek Beats Indians with his Arm AND his Bat

Jason Varitek watches his two-run home run clear the wall in the seventh inning of Tuesday's game in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Jason Varitek had gone 116 at-bats without a home run before Tuesday night’s game in Cleveland, a stretch that spanned nearly an entire calendar year. He was due.

Varitek’s two-run home run in the seventh proved the difference-maker, and the Boston Red Sox got another sterling performance from Josh Beckett, beating the Indians, 4-2. Combined with the Tampa Bay Rays loss, the Red Sox now sit in second place in the AL East.

Red Sox Win with Small-ball and “Big-ball”

Indians starter Fausto Carmona cruised through many of his eight-plus innings of work, retiring the Red Sox 1-2-3 five times. He struck out seven and induced 13 ground outs. So when the Red Sox put runners on base, they had to take advantage any way they could. That meant small-ball and manufactured runs, and the Red Sox executed it to perfection.

Down 1-0 in the top of third, Carmona hit Carl Crawford in the back to lead off the inning, and Crawford promptly stole second base. Recent call-up Drew Sutton – giving Dustin Pedroia a night off after a minor leg injury the night before – moved Crawford to third with a ground out, and Jacoby Ellsbury walked.

Jed Lowrie then lofted a 1-1 pitch to the warning track in center field. At that distance, Crawford just needed to jog home to tie the game 1-1. Ellsbury then stole Boston’s second bag of the inning, and Adrian Gonzalez cleaned out an inside fastball to right for the RBI double. 2-1, Boston.

The Red Sox tried to manufacture another run in the seventh, with J.D. Drew grounding to second to advance David Ortiz, who had led off the inning with his second double of the night. Up came Varitek, and Carmona left his first pitch over the plate. Varitek didn’t need to manufacture anything, crushing the pitch down the right foul line and off the pole for the 4-1 Red Sox lead.

Beckett Shuts Down Indians

Beckett continued his bounce-back season (he always pitches better for the Red Sox in odd-numbered years) by going 6.2 innings, striking out six while allowing five hits and three walks. He also hit one batter, a rare miss on a night in which Beckett once again had control of all of his pitches. His fastball painted the corners or blew hitters away. His curveball finished exactly where he wanted. His breaking ball fell out from beneath.

Although Beckett enjoyed one only 1-2-3 inning and allowed three lead-off base-runners, he never lost his composure, always coming back with the out necessary to prevent the Indians from putting up a crooked number.

Beckett only allowed two base-runners in an inning twice. In the second, the first two Indians reached on a hit-by-pitch and a walk, only to have Beckett come back with two straight strikeouts. Center fielder Ezequiel Carrera then took a 2-2 pitch up the middle for the 1-0 Cleveland lead, but Ellsbury made a strong throw to third to cut down second baseman Orlando Cabrera and end the inning.

In the seventh, Beckett allowed a two-out walk and an infield single, but reliever Rich Hill struck out third baseman Jack Hannahan looking to end the threat. Hill pitched a scoreless eighth, and Jonathan Papelbon closed out the ninth for his ninth save, despite allowing a one-out solo home run to designated hitter Travis Buck.

With the win, Beckett improved to 4-1. It was only Beckett’s second decision since an April 16 win against the Toronto Blue Jays. Beckett’s ERA is now a ridiculous 1.69.

Defense Backs Beckett Up

Ellsbury’s second-inning assist was not his lone strong defensive play Tuesday night, nor was it the team’s. In both the third and fourth, Varitek threw out a Cleveland base-runner trying to steal second.

In the fifth, Ellsbury sprinted to the gap in right-center to track a fly ball from Carrera. First baseman Matt LaPorta grossly underestimated Ellsbury’s speed and, figuring Ellsbury wouldn’t catch it, rounded second and headed for third. When Ellsbury did catch it, LaPorta didn’t even try to get back to first before Ellsbury doubled him up.

In the ninth, it was Drew’s turn to sprint, heading into foul ground to put Cabrera away for the second out.

After a bullpen meltdown last night cost the Red Sox, the bullpen backed its starter tonight and gave Boston its first win over the Indians this season. Boston will have a chance to win a series against the best team in the MLB tomorrow, and possibly finally take over first place in the division.

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