The defending World Series champions, coming through a tumultuous week that included dealing Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers, were hoping for a positive weekend against the struggling Oakland A's to tell the world all was right in The Nation.
They got just that. They swept the A's, as their starting pitching gave up all of four runs, the bullpen one, in three games, with starter Daisuke Matsuzaka helping to complete a sweep in Sunday's 5-2 victory.
"It's good for this team," Sox captain Jason Varitek said. "This is our team, and the people in here are what we have to go on and continue to compete."
Tampa Bay swept Detroit, meaning even one Sox loss would have dropped Boston to four games out in the American League East. But it didn't happen -- and the Manny-less Sox, now armed with an impressive Jason Bay in left field, are hitting the road feeling good about themselves. They are 3-0 since the trade.
"One of the things that we talked about was not looking back or looking forward and just attacking what's at hand," said manager Terry Francona. "We did that very well."
Before Sunday's game, Francona said Matsuzaka is "like every pitcher" in that the Japanese import has to "pound the strike zone" in order to be successful. Matsuzaka did just that on Sunday, striking out eight to raise his record to 12-2 -- and rebounding from a shaky start against the Angels in his previous outing.
"He wasn't as bad as his line last time," said Varitek, his catcher. "He ran into a steamroller and didn't get away in his last start.
"He's better his last four, five starts than he was his first eight, nine, when he didn't have a loss."
The right-hander threw 105 pitches (68 for strikes) in his six innings, allowing just four hits -- including a two-run homer to Daric Barton -- to defeat the A's for the second time in three starts this year.
He allowed a leadoff triple to Carlos Gonzalez in the second inning, but then used two strikeouts and a fly ball to escape -- a sign of how tough he was on the afternoon. He was probably coming out after six innings, but a 37-minute rain delay removed any doubts. He was done -- and Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Jonathan Papelpon (save No. 31) finished it off.
"Again, we did it with pitching," Varitek said. "That's got to be our key. It started with Dice-K working out of a jam after we scored a run, and he did a phenomenal job of pitching out of that. He made some great pitches with the guy at third with no outs. After he did that, we settled in and got a few more across. Then the three guys did the job at the end.
"We need to continue with all five of our starters getting on that roll, so we can get to the bullpen and not have them do stuff out of roles that put them in the best situations."
Said Francona: "Daisuke came out and threw his fastball, stayed in his delivery, and the ball came out of his hand real well. On top of that his slider had real good depth to it. He looked like he was pitching with confidence."
Talking about the entire team, Francona said, "We played with energy. It was a good day."
Energy? David Ortiz stole his first base since last September. How's that for energy?
Rookie Jed Lowrie's two-run triple -- a ball misjudged by center fielder Gonzalez -- highlighted a three-run fourth inning that gave Matsuzaka and the bullpen all the necessary offense, as the Sox rebounded from losing five of six to the Yankees and Angels with three consecutive wins against the A's, who have lost six straight.
In the first, Kevin Youkilis (10-game hitting streak) singled home Dustin Pedroia, who had led off with a double, before losing pitcher Dallas Braden (2-2) could get an out. Lowrie tripled home two runs and scored on Coco Crisp's sacrifice fly in the fourth. Another sac fly by Crisp delivered an unearned run in the sixth.
Bay went 2-for-4 with two runs scored, finishing his first weekend with the team 4-for-11 with a homer, three RBIs and six runs scored. He also picked up an outfield assist Sunday, throwing out Mark Ellis, who was trying for a double in the first inning.
"He's going to have quality at-bats and play good defense, and he can run a little bit, too," said Varitek. "He's going to be one of the parts of the puzzle."
Mike Shalin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less