Hits are few, but Ellsbury HR suffices

BOSTON -- You get just three hits as a team, you pretty much can plan on losing. The Sox have had three or fewer hits 152 times in the last 31 seasons, dating back to 1980, and in those 152 games they had won exactly nine times entering Tuesday afternoon's game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

But evidently Jacoby Ellsbury didn't get the memo.

Boston's newest power source launched a three-run home run off Tampa Bay ace James Shields over the visitors’ bullpen in right field, accounting for all of Boston's runs in a 3-1 win over the Rays. Ellsbury now has 21 home runs and 77 RBIs on the season, both career highs.

Shields allowed just three hits in pitching his ninth complete game of the season, but still took the loss against Red Sox lefty Jon Lester and relievers Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, who held the Rays to three hits, too.

Ellsbury entered the game with just a .226 (7-for-31) career average against the Rays’ strikeout leader but connected on a hanging changeup from Shields to put Boston ahead, 3-1, in the third.

“I was just looking for a pitch I could drive,” Ellsbury said. “He gave me a first-pitch curveball that I swung through, then he threw another one that was just off [the plate], then he left a changeup knees-down out over the plate. I did a pretty good job just keeping my hands back and staying through it.”

Ellsbury’s 21 home runs are the most ever in a season by a Red Sox player with 30 or more steals. He has more home runs in 2011 than in his first four major-league seasons combined.

"It's been unbelievable, fun to watch,” said Lester, who made the most of Ellsbury’s offense with a 7-inning, 8-strikeout performance in which he allowed just one earned run on three hits. “We've seen him mature into a really good hitter, a really good player. He had a chip on his shoulder when he came to spring training because of what happened last year [with his injury problems]. That's good for us. He has helped us out a lot, picked up the slack and he has been doing it all season. It's been fun to watch.”