A-Gon, Sox are getting it, together

BOSTON -- Despite ending an emotional series with a frustrating 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park, there were some encouraging signs for the Boston Red Sox.

For a moment, try to forget that the Red Sox still haven't gotten above .500 this season. It has been 47 games and so far and that basic stamp of competence has eluded them.

Also, try to forget that Red Sox closer Alfredo Aceves blew the save and surrendered a go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning of Sunday's loss.

Then, if it's at all possible, erase from your recent memory any discussion you've had with fellow Red Sox fans as to why Adrian Gonzalez is still playing right field and when will he begin to carry this team with his bat.

They're all valid concerns to have, but the Red Sox have played well this month and are finally showing some positive steps toward climbing out of the American League East basement.

The Sox had won 10 of 12 games before the Rays came to town Friday, when the clubs engaged in a bench-clearing scrum and the Sox lost 2-1.

Boston enjoyed a walk-off victory Saturday when Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth. Then, on Sunday, the Sox erased a two-run deficit and surged ahead on Gonzalez's three-run homer in the seventh.

Unfortunately, that one-run lead evaporated in the ninth, as Aceves walked Ben Zobrist to lead off the inning before Sean Rodriguez crushed a two-run homer.

Aceves, who has 11 saves in his new role this season, would not talk about his outing after the game, which snapped a streak of nine consecutive conversions.

"His control has been pinpoint, but those pitches were just a little off," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said.

It was Aceves' third blown save in 14 chances this season.

"It's a tough defeat but our bullpen has been doing a great job the last month, so it's one of those things that you can't get too frustrated with that and we need to come out and win three out of four against Detroit," Gonzalez said. "If we keep that mentality we'll put ourselves over .500."

It was the fourth time this season the Red Sox had an opportunity to surpass the .500 mark to no avail.

"I would have liked to have won that one," Valentine said. "We were pretty close, but we let it get away. It was a close series."

But let's focus on the positive signs.

First and foremost, it appears Gonzalez can put his outfield glove away and focus on playing first base again.

Valentine has kept Gonzalez in right field for six of the past eight games, including the past two at Fenway, because of a string of injuries to Red Sox outfielders. But Ryan Sweeney (concussion) and Darnell McDonald (oblique strain) are on the verge of returning. Sweeney could be activated as early as Monday, and McDonald could follow on Tuesday.

Valentine called his recent lineup "pretty unique" and he's been having fun trying to manage in these types of "uncharted waters."

Gonzalez knew that he would play in the outfield during interleague play in National League parks because there's no designated hitter, and the Red Sox need Gonzalez and David Ortiz in the lineup. When asked if he's looking forward to getting back into a more normal routine once the team's everyday outfielders return, Gonzalez said: "Ask the bosses about that. Don't ask me. I don't know where I'm going to be tomorrow. Whatever the team needs."

Whether he's happy with playing the outfield or not, he gets paid to hit the ball, and even though his power numbers aren't where he would like them to be, Gonzalez said he believes his swing is coming around.

He showed proof of that when he crushed an opposite-field, three-run shot to give the Red Sox a 3-2 advantage.

"I was able to, for once, keep my head down and stay through it. I was able to stay behind it," Gonzalez said. "If I have a good game plan and I'm able to execute it with my swing, I should be able to have success."

He put a good swing on a changeup that was down in the zone and was able to muscle it into the Monster seats. It was only his fourth home run of the season and he now has 26 RBIs.

"It was big. It put us ahead," Valentine said. "If he gets on a roll, we can let him carry us for a while, and it would be good to see him do that."

When Gonzalez crossed home plate, he showed more enthusiasm than he normally does. He was clearly pumped up -- not because he put a good swing on the ball, but because of the boost it gave his teammates.

"It's got nothing to do with my swing, it's got to do with we went ahead," Gonzalez explained. "That's the only thing that matters."

The home run made up for his miscue in right field earlier in the game when he missed his cutoff man, allowing a runner to advance and later score.

After Sunday's loss, Gonzalez did not want to talk about his personal accomplishments; he wanted to focus on how well the Red Sox are playing.

"We all knew it would play out," Gonzalez said. "We've been playing good ball lately. We've got to keep it going."

The American League East is the toughest division in the majors, and the standings remain tight with Baltimore still leading the way and Boston in last, trailing by 5.5 games.

"It's frustrating for now but it'll happen," Gonzalez said. "We'll keep playing hard and we're going to get over that hump."