Gonzalez Homers in Ninth, Red Sox Win Series in Tampa Bay

Adrian Gonzalez follows the flight of his ninth-inning home run off Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth during Thursday's game in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays played two pitchers’ duels for the first two games of their series, each winning one. A third pitchers’ duel was not in the cards Thursday night, with neither starting pitcher making it to the sixth. Luckily, Boston’s bullpen was slightly better.

The Red Sox got a ninth-inning insurance home run from Adrian Gonzalez, and Jonathan Papelbon pitched around a lead-off double and subsequent infield single to earn his 13th save of the season, beating the Rays 4-2 to win the series.

Papelbon Struggles, then Bears Down

The Red Sox entered the bottom of the ninth up 4-2 after Gonzalez knocked a 3-1 inside fastball from Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth just over the right-field fence. It was Gonzalez’s second hit of the night (he also doubled in the first), and the first home run given up by Farnsworth all season.

On came Papelbon in relief of Daniel Bard, who had retired all four batters he faced. Papelbon gave up a lead-off double to first baseman Casey Kotchman, who had already hit a solo home run off Alfredo Aceves in the bottom of the sixth to make it 3-2 Boston. After center fielder B.J. Upton beat out an infield single to get on base for the third time, Joe Maddon pinch-hit Elliot Johnson to try and bunt the runners to second and third. Johnson’s bunt-attempt popped up into foul territory, and Kevin Youkilis sprinted and then dove to catch it for the out.

Papelbon regained his bearings after that, striking out the last two batters to finish the game and secure the win.

Red Sox Score Three in First Two Innings

The Red Sox went up 1-0 in the top of the first when David Ortiz drew a bases-loaded walk off Rays starter David Price to score Dustin Pedroia, who had also walked in the inning. Price exited the inning without giving up any more runs by striking out Jed Lowrie, after which Lowrie left with a shoulder injury and was replaced by Marco Scutaro, and getting Carl Crawford (1-10 in his first trip to Tropicana Field with the Red Sox) to ground out to second.

In the second inning, the Red Sox went back to scoring through hits. Jarrod Saltalamacchia doubled off the base of the right-field wall, and Darnell McDonald – hitting lead-off and playing center field – singled him in two pitches later. Upton fielded McDonald’s single up the middle, but he missed the cutoff man throwing the ball back in, allowing McDonald to get to second base. The miss came back to haunt the Rays, as Pedroia then doubled down the right field line to make it 3-0 Red Sox.

Buchholz Knocked Out with Lower Back Stiffness

Long at-bats early in the game knocked out Price after just five innings, having given up three earned runs on five hits, five walks (two to Ortiz), five strikeouts and a hit batter. He retired the Red Sox 1-2-3 once.

The same could not be said for Clay Buchholz, who gave up just one earned run – a second-inning RBI single to left fielder Sam Fuld – on two hits, three walks and five strikeouts. At 81 pitches, Buchholz looked capable of pitching through the sixth, possibly the seventh. But his lingering back stiffness became unmanageable, and Aceves replaced him for the sixth. Aceves pitched 1.2 innings, giving up two hits including the solo home run.

Buchholz pitched with control and command until he was pulled. He threw 13 of 20 first-pitch strikes and was given 14 called strikes. The Rays put just 12 pitches in play, with seven resulting in ground outs. His performance still earned him his sixth win, lowering his ERA to 3.48. Price took his sixth loss, raising his ERA to 3.61.

The Red Sox head back to Fenway in high spirits, having won all three series during their road trip, including two sweeps. They have the best record in the AL and the best road record in the majors. Next up for Boston is inter-league play, in which the Red Sox usually dominate.

The only concern for the Red Sox is the long-term health of Buchholz. Teams need three good pitchers to win in the postseason, and Buchholz is absolutely that third pitcher for Boston. The Red Sox must manage Buchholz’s injury very carefully. If reducing Buchholz’s innings now means more innings in October, the Red Sox will gladly suffer the extra pressure on the bullpen.

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