Closer Jonathan Papelbon was not available after pitching the first two games of the series, leaving Hideki Okajima to lock down the 15th win in 20 games for the streaking Sox (34-15). And though he made it adventurous by giving up a run on two hits in the bottom of the ninth and having to stare down Sammy Sosa as the potential winning run, Okajima converted his third save opportunity by inducing a routine fly to center to end the game.
But Okajima was only one of several heroes for a Red Sox team that played without ailing designated hitter David Ortiz (sore hamstrings) on Sunday.
Starter Julian Tavarez pitched five shutout innings before tiring in the sixth. Right-hander Joel Pineiro turned in a stalwart middle-relief effort. Center fielder Coco Crisp made a potentially game-saving catch in the seventh, robbing the Rangers of two runs. J.D. Drew showed signs of ending his slump with a game-tying single in the eighth. And rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia climaxed a 12-pitch at-bat against Texas closer Eric Gagne with an important solo home run leading off the ninth.
"It seems like every day, somebody [different] does something to help us win," Pineiro said.
Add it all up, and for the third game in a row the Sox took an early lead, teased the Rangers by coughing it up, then roared back to win. Just 49 games into the season, the Sox already have 17 comeback wins and a ridiculous 11 1/2-game lead over their closest pursuers in the American League East, the Baltimore Orioles.
Tavarez pitched a one-hit shutout for five innings, and looked destined to make Jason Varitek's three-run homer in the fourth off Rangers starter Kameron Loe stand up.
Tavarez was having such fun against the team with the American League's worst record, he even fielded a fourth-inning comebacker from Frank Catalanotto and bowled the ball to incredulous first baseman Kevin Youkilis for the second out of the inning.
"I just have fun out there, this is what I do," Tavarez explained. "I didn't even think about it. I just had a play and rolled the ball to first base. I just like to play the game relaxed, you know? Some things like that, I just do it."
Francona chastised Tavarez for a "bad thought process" and said the pitcher's attempt at frivolity was "hard to understand." But the Rangers (18-32) seemed to understand they were being shown up, and they responded angrily with a four-run sixth that knocked Tavarez out of the game.
Kenny Lofton started the inning with a walk, Michael Young singled him to second and Mark Teixeira tied the game with a three-run blast off Tavarez that landed in the second deck of the home run porch above right field. The estimated 453-foot homer was certified as the fourth-longest in the history of the Rangers' 14-year-old ballpark.
A disconsolate Tavarez got a groundout from Sosa, who remains stuck on 598 career home runs, then gave up consecutive singles to Catalanotto, Marlon Byrd and Ian Kinsler. The latter's gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead.
"One pitch changed the whole game," said Tavarez, who shook off Varitek's call for a changeup and instead hung a slider to Teixeira. "But the teamm worked really good today after I dropped the game."
It started with Pineiro, who took over for J.C. Romero with two on and one out in the seventh. The right-hande, who brought a 5.89 ERA to the mound, stifled Texas with 1 2/3 scoreless and hitless innings, striking out three.
Pineiro (1-0) gave up one hard-hit ball, a line drive by Catalanotto that curled toward right-center with two out in the seventh and two baserunners already moving. But Crisp literally flew out of center field, making a fully extended diving catch to end the inning and preserve hope for the sweep.
"He picked me up, he picked everybody up," Pineiro said. "When I first looked back, there was nobody even close to it. That was a great catch and the key to our momentum."
Crisp declined to speak about the catch, other than to mumble that he felt he broke in the wrong direction at first. But Francona said, "It was a great catch, at a time when the game was on the line. His confidence in center field is huge, as it should be."
Buoyed by the defensive gem, the Sox roared out for the eighth against the Rangers' Japanese relief star, Akinori Otsuka.
Youkilis, who earlier had extended his hitting streak to 19 games, opened the inning with a single. Drew, who earlier had ended a hitless streak of 17 at-bats, drove in Youkilis with a one-out double that tied the game at 4. Mike Lowell then singled to left to score Drew, pinning Otsuka (1-1) with a loss to go with his second blown save.
Pedroia's ninth-inning leadoff homer to left against Gagne appeared to be an insurance run, putting the Sox ahead, 6-4. But Boston had to cash in the policy when Okajima gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth, allowing a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Victor Diaz and an RBI single by Teixeira with two out.
Sosa came to the plate as the potential winning run, but he flew out to shallow center to end the game and give the Sox their sweep.