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Byrd soars; Red Sox creep up on Rays

Byrd soars; Red Sox creep up on Rays

ARLINGTON -- With one game left before a much-anticipated series with the Rays, the Red Sox made a statement.

The Red Sox bounced back from Saturday's loss -- their second in their last eight games -- in impressive fashion with a 7-2 victory Sunday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

With a Tampa Bay loss Sunday, Boston moved within 1 1/2 games of the Rays in the American League East.

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"We're just trying to play good baseball," Dustin Pedroia said. "That's what we've been trying to do for a while now. We've been trying to get back in the race, and it's been a long time, so hopefully we can keep playing well against them."

Sunday was an example of the Red Sox executing in all facets of the game.

Paul Byrd was nearly unhittable. His defense smothered almost everything put in play. There wasn't an easy out in the Red Sox's lineup. And, to put an exclamation point on the afternoon, both David Ortiz and Jason Bay broke out of their respective home run droughts.

"This is how we win games," Jason Varitek said. "We pitch well and the offense steps up and provides runs. Our team is built on pitching."

The day after Boston's four-game winning streak came to an end, Byrd extended his personal winning streak to four. Since losing in his Red Sox debut, Byrd has reeled off victories in every start.

Byrd tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings Sunday, allowing only seven baserunners and striking out four, to lower his ERA in his last four starts to 3.51.

Byrd surrendered just three hits, but got into trouble early on by issuing free passes. If he couldn't get himself out of a jam, though, his defense picked him up.

"I feel like a broken record when I talk about our defense, but it's true, they played great behind me today," Byrd said.

After the Red Sox scored a pair of runs in the top of the second, the Rangers began to counter with a one-out single from Marlon Byrd. Hank Blalock came up next and shot a grounder between first and second base.

The ball looked like it might skip past Pedroia, who was in position to field it, into right field. Pedroia adjusted to the ball at the last second, though, stabbed the ball, gathered himself and started an inning-ending double play.

"That's a bad infield," Pedroia said. "That place is like a parking lot out there. It just kicked up on me."

In the third, Byrd backed himself into a corner by giving up a leadoff single, hitting one batter and walking another. But, with two outs and the bases loaded, he struck out Michael Young swinging to escape the jam.

"Any time you stay away from them scoring with their lineup, with their ability to score with one swing, it's big," manager Terry Francona said. "The game goes much differently when your pitcher keeps putting up zeros."

After giving up another leadoff single in the fourth, Byrd started the second Red Sox double play of the game to shorten the inning.

"When I turned that double play with [shortstop Alex] Cora, I kind of threw a changeup and hung him out to dry, but he made the play," Byrd said.

Byrd faced the minimum in every inning but the third and seventh and retired 10 of the last 12 batters he faced.

"I kept the ball down a little bit better today," Byrd said. "This ballpark is a hard one for me to pitch in the way the wind carries the ball and I'm a fly ball pitcher. But today I was able to mix my pitches well and keep them down in the zone."

When Francona took Byrd out in the seventh, Byrd was greeted by cheers on his walk to the Red Sox dugout. A crowd of 28,664 showed up to Rangers Ballpark Sunday and a majority of them were wearing the same colors Byrd was.

"I love the fans we have in Boston," Byrd said. "I don't think I've ever been cheered like that coming out of a game on the road. I didn't know if I should tip my cap or not because I didn't want the Rangers to get mad at me."

By shutting the Rangers out into the seventh, Byrd provided his offense ample time to stockpile runs and that's just what it did.

Every starter in the Red Sox lineup recorded at least one hit and Coco Crisp reached base in all four of his plate appearances, coming around to score twice.

Crisp scored his first run on Ortiz' first home run in what seemed like ages.

Ortiz entered Sunday homerless in his last 19 games, which matched his career long since joining the Red Sox, and he hadn't homered on the road since May 31. That changed with his two-out home run in the fifth inning off Brandon McCarthy.

"That was a nice swing," Francona said. "That came off the bat good."

Bay homered for the first time in 13 games two innings later to cap off the Red Sox's offense for the day. He was one of three Red Sox to collect two hits in the game.

With the Rangers out of the way and their sixth straight series victory in the books, the Red Sox can finally turn their attention to the Rays, who come to Fenway Park for a three-game series starting Monday.

If they can keep playing like they did on Sunday, the Red Sox like their chances.

"We're just trying to keep playing good baseball and if we do that, we'll be in the playoffs," Pedroia said.

Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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