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Red Sox get boost from bottom of order

BOSTON -- The big bats in the supposedly potent Boston Red Sox lineup have not yet been firing on all cylinders. Or even two cylinders.

But thankfully for the frustrated Sox and their fans, the bottom of the order was able to provide huge contributions Sunday as Boston toppled the Toronto Blue Jays 8-1 at Fenway Park.

Jacoby Ellsbury, the No. 9 hitter, clubbed a long three-run homer inside the right-field foul pole in the second, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the No. 8 hitter, chipped in with three RBIs on a pair of hits.

That was enough support for Jon Lester, who struggled at times with his command but still managed to limit the Jays to one run on six hits in six-plus innings for his first victory of the season.

And don't look now, but the Red Sox are suddenly hot. Well, considering the way this season has begun, they are hot anyway. Sunday's victory gave Boston (4-10) two wins in a row for the first time this year with Monday's Patriots Day morning tilt all that remains of their homestand.

"A win tomorrow and we'd have a winning streak," said first baseman Adrian Gonzalez with a smile. "When you're not winning everyone feels the pressure. But we're starting to relax and let the game come to us."

Solid pitching from Josh Beckett and Lester (1-1, 3.20) in back-to-back starts put the Sox in position to win. On Sunday, Boston jumped ahead early and was able to spread out the lead later.

"It was nice to get out to the lead with Lester on the mound," Ellsbury said.

The Sox' decisive four-run splurge at the expense of Toronto starter Jesse Litsch started with a wind-blown single by Jed Lowrie, a line single by J.D. Drew and Saltalamacchia's seeing-eye single through the right side, tying the game at 1-1.

Then Ellsbury stepped up and crushed a 2-and-0 pitch deep into the seats for a 4-1 Boston advantage.

Ellsbury, the unlikely slugger, now leads the Red Sox in homers, with three, and his RBI total jumped to eight, tying him with Gonzalez and David Ortiz for the team lead.

"It was a fastball," Ellsbury said. "I was sitting on a pitch I could drive and do something with. I'm feeling pretty good right now. It's a long season, a small sample of at-bats. If I stick with my approach, I should be in good shape."

Ellsbury only had the one hit, and his batting average still is nothing to crow about. His 1-for-4 performance lifted his average from .190 to .196. Considering he was able to play in only 18 games last year because of injury, Boston manager Terry Francona can understand if Ellsbury feels a tad impatient to put last season behind him.

"He's a young kid trying to make up for lost time, trying to impact our team," Francona said the other day.

The same can be said for Saltalamacchia in some respects. While he didn't join the Red Sox until last July 31 in a trade from Texas, the 25-year-old catcher played in only 10 games for Boston because of injuries. He was handed the starting catching job this spring and is trying to carry the load offensively and defensively, with inconsistent results. He entered Sunday's game batting only .138.

But he took advantage of a day out of the lineup on Saturday, with Jason Varitek catching Beckett. Saltalamacchia said he worked with batting coach Dave Magadan on a few things.

"I figured some stuff out," Saltalamacchia said. "We tried to slow things down a little bit so I wouldn't be jumping at the ball, trying to crush the ball. I just wanted to stay within myself, which I did in spring training."

Saltalamacchia's first base hit wasn't particularly well struck, but it got the job done, sneaking through the right side. His second hit was a rifle shot pulled down the right-field line for a two-run double that gave the Red Sox some welcome breathing room, making it a 6-1 game in the sixth.

Saltalamacchia's double, his second extra-base hit of the year, came on a 2-and-2 pitch from Litsch.

"In the past I've always felt comfortable with two strikes," Saltalamacchia said. "Maybe it's because I bear down a little more, don't overdo it. I was looking for a ball up to put good wood on it."

He did just that, and the Sox had a five-run cushion en route to the team's second win in a row, no small feat given the way the Red Sox have begun 2011.