"I wouldn't call it locked in," said Beltre. "I felt good, I felt OK. I just got a good pitch to hit, and I was able to put a good swing on it and not miss it. I wouldn't call it a groove, but I'm feeling OK."
Well, if Beltre isn't locked in and not in a groove, his team certainly is.
For the Red Sox, it was the culmination of a thoroughly-satisfying 5-1 road trip -- the club's best six-game journey since May 2007. This one was particularly impressive, considering the opponents were Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.
Not only that, but Boston finished a 13-game stretch against the Tigers, Yankees, Twins, Phillies and Rays -- five strong postseason contenders -- with a 9-4 mark.
What does that say about the Red Sox?
"I think we know we're good," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "We just have to sustain it over 162 games. We started out real slow and everyone kind of panicked, but we have confidence that we're going to win a lot of games, and hopefully the way we've been playing continues for a long time."
By stifling the American League East-leading Rays the past three nights, the Sox have slimmed their deficit in the AL East to 5 1/2 games.
"I wouldn't call it a statement, but we're trying to beat everybody -- it's not just Tampa Bay," said Beltre. "Fortunately, they're the team that's in front of us, but we're trying to play everyone like this."
They've regained their swagger, these Red Sox, backed by a season-high winning streak of five games and a 16-7 record since May 3, the best in the AL over that span.
"We wanted to play well and kind of let everyone know that we're not going anywhere," said Pedroia. "We have a really talented team and we just have to put it all together."
Each night during the stretch, a new hero seems to emerge. One night it is Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching a near no-hitter. The next day, it is Tim Wakefield returning to the rotation with eight shutout innings. Wednesday, it was almost all Beltre all the time. The six RBIs equaled a career high which Beltre last accomplished in 2000 at Coors Field against the Rockies. He finished just a double shy of the cycle.
"I guess I'm going to start with Beltre and probably end with Beltre," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He's hitting balls all over the field. He's swinging with aggression and he's barreling it up. He's hitting it to right, he's hitting it to center, he's hitting it to left. It's fun to watch. Fortunately, we had men on base when he did it."
Aside from Beltre's heroics, the Sox also got a two-run shot from the red-hot David Ortiz and a rebound effort by John Lackey. All in all, Boston avenged the four-game sweep that Tampa Bay handed it at Fenway from April 16-18.
"It was huge," Beltre said. "We remembered that they did the same thing to us at our home -- they swept us at home. We played pretty good, especially our pitching staff that kept us in the game and gave us the opportunity to win those three games."
While Tropicana Field had been a house of horrors for the Sox at times in recent years, this marked their first road sweep of three games or more at Tampa Bay since 2002.
"Yeah, we haven't played like that here in I don't even know how long," Pedroia said. "It was nice to come in here and play the way we did. It's kind of weird, because they beat our butts at Fenway. We played real well here, so hopefully we can keep it going."
Lackey hadn't pitched well in his past three starts, but got the job done in this one, allowing two runs over 6 1/3 innings. Despite walking four and allowing eight hits, Lackey minimized the damage, running his record to 5-3.
"Yeah, I was able to make some big pitches to get out of some tough situations," Lackey said. "The offense gave me a little wiggle room to work out of those kind of things. We swung the bats great tonight. Honestly, that's probably the best I've thrown the ball. I made a lot of big pitches in some tough spots against a pretty good team."
Boston starters gave up a total of just three runs in the series, and just seven over the past six games.
"They have lock-down starters," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "Like I said, they're not going away. They're going to keep getting better. I know that. We all know that. So none of that was a surprise regarding how well they pitched."
Though Matt Garza has been brilliant on numerous occasions against the Red Sox, that was not the case in this one. Boston struck first, and it was Beltre getting things rolling with a towering solo shot to left to make it 1-0 in the top of the second. The Rays rallied in the second, getting a single by Hank Blalock and a walk from Carlos Pena to put runners on first and second with no outs. Reid Brignac tied the game on a fielder's-choice grounder.
But on a night Garza didn't have command or overpowering stuff, Boston took back all the momentum and more in the top of the third. Again it was Beltre, who unloaded for a three-run homer to left to make it 4-1.
"Dude, I mean, that was pretty sick," said Lackey. "He had a nice night, for sure. You're always happy about that kind of stuff, when good stuff happens to good guys. That's awesome."
Brignac made it a two-run deficit with an RBI single to left against Lackey in the third.
Again, Garza couldn't hold the Red Sox down. This time, it was Ortiz who came up with the big hit, a two-run missile to right that made it 6-2. For Ortiz, it was his ninth homer of the month and 10th of the season.
"He hits the ball to left field tonight, he hits the ball out of the ballpark," Francona said. "He feels good about himself. He's playing with confidence. I think all the things I said back in early April are starting to come true, and that's because he's a good hitter."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less