BOSTON -- A day after standing self-accused of “dumb hitting,” which is the way Mike Napoli described hitting a ball to the deepest part of the ballpark Sunday and winding up with a double instead of a home run, the Red Sox first baseman hit one not quite as far but with better aim Monday.
Napoli launched a double off the Monster with one out in the ninth inning, scoring a hell-bent-for-home Dustin Pedroia from first base in a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston’s second walk-off win in three days.
Pedroia, who had drawn a one-out walk from reliever Joel Peralta, had a great secondary lead and was off with the crack of the bat when Napoli, hitless in his previous three at-bats, lifted a line drive to left-center. Pedroia scored well ahead of the throw, triggering a celebration from a Sox team that swept three straight from the Rays and stands atop the AL East with an 8-4 record.
* Closer kerfuffle: Displaying the patience that is a hallmark of this town’s sporting media, several outlets already have conducted reader and viewer polls on who should close for the Boston Baseball Club Inc.
This after Joel Hanrahan blew a save on two home runs after converting his first three opportunities, then walked a couple of hitters in his next outing, prompting a hook by manager John Farrell.
With Hanrahan tending to a sore right hamstring, Farrell entrusted last call to Bailey, who had been unscored upon in his first five appearances. Bailey did a terrific job after the damage was done Monday, striking out Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce and retiring Ryan Roberts on a pop fly, but at this rate, Tom Gordon will soon be rising to the top in the polls.
* Dempster delivers: If you were paying attention, you noticed we mentioned that Clay Buchholz on Sunday came within six outs of becoming the first Red Sox pitcher to throw multiple no-hitters since the dead ball era, when ballparks were big, scores were small and pitchers roamed the earth like so many fastball-throwing pterodactyls.
Well, don’t look now, but the entire Sox rotation has taken us for a ride on the wayback machine. You had to get up earlier than usual to witness it, but in Monday’s Patriots Day matinee, Ryan Dempster made it eight straight games that a Sox starter has allowed two or fewer runs, and in all 12 games to date they have allowed three or fewer runs.
That has never happened in Sox history. The longest previous such streak came in 1916 during the height of, yes, the dead ball era, when it was unthinkable to throw a baseball out of a game for a mere scuff mark or smudge. Foul balls were returned from the stands and baseballs stayed in play until they were soft as tomatoes. And have you ever tried to hit a tomato 400 feet?
Dempster gave up a bunt single to Matt Joyce in the second, the Rays’ cleanup hitter taking advantage of an overshifted Sox infield. He also gave up a home run over the Monster to Evan Longoria, the Rays’ slugger ending the team’s streak of six straight games without a long ball. That was it.
Less than three weeks before his 36th birthday, Dempster struck out 10 Rays, one fewer than Buchholz the day before but in one less inning, Dempster yielding to Koji Uehara to start the eighth.
It was the 15th time in Dempster’s career that he has K’d 10 or more batters in a career that is in its 16th big-league season.