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Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Rays, rain stand between Sox and .500

By Gordon Edes



BOSTON -- This was never a part of the conversation in 2013, when the Red Sox won their first two games of the season in New York and sprinted to an 18-8 record in April, the best record in the majors. There wasn’t a single day in 2013 in which the Red Sox did not have a winning record.

This season, the Sox have been within a game of reaching .500 six times since they were 2-3, and have lost the next game all six times. They’re at 13-14, and after beating the Tampa Bay Rays 7-4 on Tuesday night, they will have another crack at .500 on Thursday afternoon against the Rays, after rain postponed Wednesday's game and set up a day-night doubleheader Thursday.

"We’re a confident group," said Mike Napoli, who in April 2013 drove in 27 runs in 26 games and has had another productive month this season, driving in a team-high 15 runs while posting a .305/.405/.526/.937 slash line, team-leading numbers in every category among Sox regulars.

"We know we can play good baseball. We go out there and play hard and play the game the right way and keep moving forward. We don’t get down on ourselves; we go out there and try to play hard."

The Rays, meanwhile, have lost six of their past seven games, and at 11-16 are assured the worst record since Joe Maddon became manager in 2006. The Rays’ rotation has been ravaged by injuries to their starting rotation -- Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson -- and with Erik Bedard leaving after five innings Tuesday in a 1-all tie, it was the 11th time in the past 15 games that a Rays starter hasn’t made it past five innings.

The Sox, who forced 102 pitches out of Bedard in his five innings, jumped on the Rays bullpen in a five-run sixth, breaking the game open.

"It makes me recall the infamous words and the sage advice of Winston Churchill: 'When going through hell, just keep on going,'" Maddon said afterwards. "That's what we're going to keep doing."

Napoli, typically, was key to Boston’s wearing down of Bedard. In his five plate appearances, he saw 33 pitches, including a seven-pitch at-bat against Bedard in the first (groundout) and a six-pitch walk in the fourth.

Napoli led the majors in pitches seen per plate appearance last season at 4.59. He is currently second in the majors to Cleveland's Carlos Santana, 4.69 to 4.68.

"That’s the goal," Napoli said of grinding down the opposition starter. "I really don’t go up there and say 'I’m going to try to see eight pitches.' It just kind of happens that way. I try to swing at strikes; if they’re going to nibble at the corners then I’m going to take and try to get in a hitter’s count and get on base any way I can."

As a team last season, the Sox were second in the league to the Twins in pitches per plate appearance, 4.02 to 4.01. The Sox rank second to the Twins again this season (4.17 to 4.11), despite adding free-swinging A.J. Pierzynski to the lineup, as well as rookies Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.

"We’re all working together like that and grinding out at-bats and getting on base," Napoli said of a team that has scored at least seven runs in three of its past four games. "Getting hits with guys in scoring position, that’s who we are. It’s a little taste of what we like to do but we have to stay consistent with it and keep it going."

In Thursday's makeup game at 1:05 p.m., Red Sox right-hander Jake Peavy will face Rays lefty Cesar Ramos. In the 7:10 p.m. nightcap, Sox lefty Felix Doubront, who has been knocked out in the third inning in two of his past four starts, including last week’s 14-5 loss to the Yankees, is scheduled to face Rays right-hander Chris Archer, who was dominating against right-handed batters last season (with a .176 batting average) but has been pounded by right-handed hitters so far this season (.391/.429/.543).