Moreland stays hot, hits first homer on big day

Moreland stays hot, hits first homer on big day

BOSTON -- Chris Sale's thrilling first victory with the Red Sox wouldn't have happened on Saturday without the firepower provided by Mitch Moreland.

Eleven games into the season, the 6-5 Sox are still trying to find themselves an offensive unit. To that end, they even had a little hitters-only meeting before Saturday's 2-1 victory over the Rays.

But one player who has been raking early in the season is the lone new acquisition to the lineup.

That would be Moreland, who was a triple shy of the cycle, going 3-for-4 with a homer and scoring both of Boston's runs.

It was Moreland who staked Sale to an early lead in this one -- however slight -- by belting a solo shot into the stands in right with nobody out in the second.

The drive had an exit velocity of 113.1 mph, the hardest batted ball Moreland has had in the Statcast™ era. It had a projected distance of 431 feet.

Moreland's solo smash

The shot came on the first pitch after Rays manager Kevin Cash had to unexpectedly go to his bullpen and bring on Erasmo Ramirez after starter Jake Odorizzi came up lame with left hamstring tightness.

"It was a fastball kind of middle-middle," said Moreland. "I don't know, he might not have been loose yet. It was kind of an awkward situation for them right there. I tried to stay ready and go up there and put an aggressive swing on it."

It's a good thing he did, because Ramirez buckled down from there and didn't allow another run in his four innings in relief.

"Without him, we're going to be in a tough spot," Sale said of Moreland. "He's a professional. He's a guy who can go deep at any given time."

The homer was Moreland's first with the Red Sox, but he's been a doubles machine, smoking his ninth two-bagger in 11 games on Saturday.

"Just trying to go up there, keep it simple, get a good pitch," Moreland said. "I've been fortunate to do that some lately. I don't want to think too much into it, but that's pretty much it."

It's been working. Moreland is slashing .333/.417/.619.

His single to center to open the seventh started Saturday's game-winning rally. With the bases loaded and one out, Moreland got a good enough break from third that second baseman Daniel Robertson couldn't go home on Sandy Leon's fielder's-choice grounder.

Leon's RBI groundout

"Go," said Moreland. "It's a ground ball and I'm trying to get home as quick as I can, hoping they don't turn two. It was a good play for us. We got the run across. It was a nice AB by Sandy to put something in play."

The 31-year-old Moreland hit just .233 for the Rangers last season while belting 22 homers. But playing half of his games at Fenway Park has simplified the approach of the left-handed hitter, who is now comfortable going to all fields.

"When you've got that option in left field, it makes it a little easier and you're a little more comfortable in the box," Moreland said of the Green Monster. "It's not something I really focus on. Having it there makes you feel a little more comfortable in the box."

And now that Sale has his first Boston win under his belt, he can feel a little more comfortable the next time he takes the mound.

"The way he's been throwing, it doesn't take a whole lot," said Moreland. "It was nice to put up a couple of runs on the board for him and get him a win after the way he's pitched the last three times out."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.