Middlebrooks rallies Sox past Rodney, Rays

May, 17, 2013
5/17/13
12:45
AM ET


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Fernando Rodney celebrates a save, and Tampa Bay victory, by pretending to launch an arrow into the heavens.

But how do you simulate being hoist by your own petard, which was Shakespeare's fancy way of describing a 16th-century criminal accidentally harming himself instead of his potential victims. Because that's precisely what Rodney did in the ninth inning Thursday night, when he walked the bases loaded with a two-run lead, then gave up a bases-clearing, two-out double to Will Middlebrooks.

[+] EnlargeWill Middlebrooks
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaWill Middlebrooks connects on a three-run, go-ahead double off Rays closer Fernando Rodney.
Middlebrooks took a 100 mph fastball from Rodney with an 0-and-2 count for ball one, then ripped a 1-and-2 changeup into the left-center field gap, the ball rolling to the wall as three runs scored.

"Normally he buries that pitch and he left it up," said Middlebrooks, who doubled and homered in Wednesday night's 9-2 win and with every game is putting some distance between himself and the most horrific slump of his brief career.

Rodney never made it out of the inning, the imaginary archer carried off on his shield in a 4-3 Red Sox win that gave the Sox the rubber game in this three-game set with the Rays, after they lost the previous three series against the Rangers, Twins and Jays.

This was the first time the Sox have won a game when trailing after eight innings. They were 0-12 until Thursday night.

"Yes, I think it can have some carry-over," manager John Farrell said. "We've come through a pretty tough 10-day stretch, but I think what's most important the last couple of nights is [we used] the approach that we've used for the majority of the season. There was no give-up, no letdown. We took some close pitches, we load the bases via the walks, and yeah, down to the last strike ... "

Temporary closer Junichi Tazawa made it interesting by giving up nearly 800 feet in two fly balls that Shane Victorino ran down for outs in the eighth, then giving up a leadoff single to Luke Scott in the ninth. Ben Zobrist lined out to short and Tazawa struck out Evan Longoria on three pitches, but Yunel Escobar punched a two-strike pitch through the left side for a single, pinch runner Sam Fuld stopping at second.

That brought up James Loney, the erstwhile Sox first baseman who began the night as the American League's leading hitter and the majors' No. 1 line-drive producer. Loney fell behind 0-and-2, then grounded to shortstop Stephen Drew in an overshifted alignment for the final out.

The Sox won despite managing just four hits off five Tampa Bay pitchers.

Victorino came out of the game in the ninth after apparently being shaken up, either on his two catches or a failed attempt at a fly ball that fell foul.

Saying that Felix Doubront made a compelling case to keep his spot in the Red Sox's rotation is like saying your contractor did a heckuva job on your new house because the roof didn't cave in -- yet.

Walking six batters and leaving after issuing walk No. 6 to start the sixth inning was hardly the improvement the Sox had hoped to see in Doubront, whose regular return in the rotation was skipped the last time around to give a spot start to Allen Webster. The kid got lit up, but so did Doubront in relief (11 hits and 6 runs in 5 1/3 innings), and eight days later, the Sox were looking for signs Doubront was calibrated for better things.

[+] EnlargeFelix Doubront
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaFelix Doubront allowed two runs and three hits in five-plus innings, striking out seven but walking six.
Well, he gave up only three hits and struck out seven, but the Sox left-hander had men on base in every inning but the fourth, gave up a home run to Ryan Roberts, the No. 9 batter in the Tampa Bay order, and was at 104 pitches after walking James Loney to open the sixth.

The score was tied at the time, but didn't stay that way. Clayton Mortensen retired the first batter he faced on a force play, then walked catcher Jose Lobaton after being ahead in the count 0-and-2. Mortensen crossed up catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia with a pitch that resulted in a passed ball, the runners moving up, then walked Roberts to load the bases.

Desmond Jennings then hit a wedge shot past the diving Drew, the shortstop drawn in halfway, and Luke Scott greeted left-handed reliever Andrew Miller with a base hit that made it 3-1.

But maybe everything is relative. Both Farrell and Doubront said they saw progress.

"Much improved," Farrell insisted. "The work that he and Juan (Nieves, the pitching coach) have been doing between outings seemed to pay off. He was on the plate with his stuff, all three pitches. I thought he had better conviction to all the stuff he threw tonight. He pitched with a little sense of urgency tonight, which was good to see."

The Sox scored in the fourth on a double by Victorino and single by David Ortiz. They had just one other hit, a single by Dustin Pedroia in the sixth, off starter Alex Cobb. They put the tying runs on base in the ninth against Rodney, who opened the inning by walking Pedroia and Ortiz. Rodney struck out Mike Napoli, but then walked Daniel Nava on a full count to load the bases.

Rodney, following a visit by pitching coach Jim Hickey, struck out Drew on three pitches, Drew waving at a changeup for the third strike, leaving it up to Middlebrooks to tilt the evening back in Boston's favor.

"One pitch," said Rodney, less Robin Hood than Robin Punked. "Maybe the only pitch I threw bad and they hit it."

The Sox now head to Minnesota for the second stop on this three-city trip.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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