KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If the Boston Red Sox could draw up a formula for getting a win, it might look a little something like Friday night's game.
The Sox got another solid starting pitching performance, this time from Andrew Miller. They got one of their best offensive performances in two weeks, including a crushed three-run homer from Jared Saltalamacchia. And they got 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief from Alfredo Aceves.
It all added up to a 7-1 win over the Kansas City Royals, and it was Boston's largest margin of victory in nearly three weeks.
“I’ll take a win any way we can,” manager Terry Francona said, “but when you don’t have to go to your bullpen, that’s good.”
The only negative, really, happened in the top of the eighth inning when Jacoby Ellsbury was hit with an 88-mph pitch in his back. Per Francona’s request, he left the game before the bottom of the eighth inning to ice it. Ellsbury said he didn’t know if he’d play Saturday, and Francona said the Red Sox would check on him in the morning.
And yet, on a night when all of this happened, it was two hits to nearly identical spots in the right-center gap that helped shape the game and allow the Red Sox to fully pull away from an opponent.
With a runner on third in the third inning, Alex Gordon lined a ball into the right-center gap. Off the bat, it looked like extra bases, but Ellsbury reached the ball just before the warning track to make a running catch.
“I thought it was a guaranteed double or triple,” Gordon said.
The run still scored on a sacrifice fly, but the catch kept the bases empty. The Royals put just two more runners in scoring position the rest of the game.
“Even though it put us ahead 1-0,” Royals manager Ned Yost said, “he makes that play. And instead of being ahead 1-0 with a runner on second or third, we’ve got the bases empty. That play took a little momentum away from us.”
In the next inning, with a runner on second, Darnell McDonald also hit a line drive into the right-center gap. Off the bat, it looked like an out, but it fell just out of reach of Royals center fielder Melky Cabrera’s glove, giving McDonald a triple and scoring Carl Crawford to tie the game. McDonald then scored on a sacrifice fly from Ellsbury, the man who started the change of fortune in the first place before leaving the game.
McDonald’s hit initiated the scoring after the Sox spoiled two chances with the bases loaded in the first three innings. In only his second major-league game, Ryan Lavarnway ended each bases-loaded opportunity with outs.
But in the fifth inning, Lavarnway picked up his first big-league hit with a single.
“It was a little bit of a relief,” Lavarnway said. “It was a little more elusive than I was hoping it would be, but it’s not going to be my last. I’m pretty happy.”
Saltalamacchia followed Lavarnway’s single two batters later. He provided the game’s kill shot with a 412-foot homer on an 0-2 count that gave the Red Sox a 5-1 lead. It was the Sox’s fifth homer on an 0-2 count this season and Saltalamacchia’s third.
“I can’t say I feel 100 percent comfortable with two strikes,” Saltalamacchia said, “but I feel pretty comfortable because I’m kind of locked in and wanting to make contact.”
That proved to be all Miller needed in his first start since July 31.
Francona said before the game that Miller wouldn’t throw as many pitches as he might if he’d been consistently starting. Miller, though, made the most of his limited pitches. He went 5 1/3 innings on 83 pitches, gave up just three hits and one run, and allowed only three runners to reach scoring position.
“I had to feel my way into it a little bit,” Miller said. “It had been a while. But fortunately we made plays behind me to get the game underway.”
None bigger than Ellsbury’s catch on Gordon’s line drive. Ellsbury, who started in straight-away center field on the play, said that’s about as far as he can go to track down a ball.
“That was a pretty impactful catch,” Red Sox shortstop Mike Aviles said.
Miller cruised after the catch and handed over the game to Aceves, who entered with a 3.20 ERA in 38 games. Aceves allowed only two base runners, both in the ninth inning, and picked up his second save of the year.
“Normally when you bring a guy in that situation,” Francona said, “you don’t figure he’s going to end the game.”
But Aceves did just that and allowed the Red Sox to take the first two games of the four-game series.