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Holt leads Sox to 7th straight

The Sports Xchange

June 01. 2014 8:30PM
Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Tampa Bays Rays on Sunday at Fenway Park. Lester went seven innings, allowing four hits and no runs, striking out 12. (USA TODAY Sports)

BOSTON — It took 10 games to make it look like the Boston Red Sox season was heading straight down the drain.

It has taken the last seven to prove that wrong.

The defending champs, on the verge of disaster just a week ago, won their seventh straight on Sunday. They rode Jon Lester’s pitching and four doubles by rookie infielder Brock Holt to a 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Very good starting pitching,” said Boston manager John Farrell. “In a couple of cases we’ve been able to have a big inning to come from behind. Our bullpen has been very consistent and outstanding to give us those opportunities late.”

Added Farrell: “As we came back in that Memorial Day game in Atlanta, that five-run fifth inning has been somewhat the jump start to all this and we’ve played with a lot more confidence.”

The Red Sox have done all of this with important lineup parts Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino and two starting pitchers on the disabled list. The starters followed Clay Buchholz’s bad start on Memorial Day with six straight strong outings, two of them resulting in the first two shutouts of the season. The only run the bullpen has allowed came on an inside-the-park homer on Saturday night after center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. was conked on the nose as the ball came off the wall.

In other words, everything is working.

On a normal day, Lester would have been the story as he evened his record at 6-6 with seven shutouts innings. He struck out 12 and allowed only four hits. But on this day, the story was first baseman Holt.

That’s right, first baseman Holt. With Mike Carp diagnosed with a broken foot, Holt played the position for the first time on any level. He dropped a low throw in the eighth inning but had the four doubles, a walk, two RBIs, a stolen base and a run scored.

After going 6-for-9 the last two games, Holt is hitting .337 — and Farrell has made it clear he wants this rookie on the field. Look for him at first base tonight when the recently re-signed Stephen Drew returns at shortstop and rookie Xander Bogaerts slides over to third base.

Two of Holt’s four hits were shaky — a wind-blown two-run double aided by Sean Rodriguez looking lost in the corner and the other clanging off Rodriguez’s glove. Holt is the sixth Red Sox hitter with four doubles in a game since 1914.

“It was a fun day any time you can go out and do something like that,” Holt said. “I had a little luck today as well but all in all it was a good day.”

Not for the Rays, who put right fielder Wil Myers on the disabled list — the third Ray this week to hit the DL — before the game.

Tampa Bay, which has lost six straight, has scored five runs in the last four games.

“It’s kind of been like that the whole season,” said manager Joe Maddon. “We’ll have a couple really good offensive days, then it kind of goes away. I’ll credit their pitching. Their pitching was very good once again. But we have to figure out how to break through.”

The Red Sox, who have allowed six runs in the last five games, are only the third team in major league history to follow a double-digit losing streak with a seven-game winning run. No team has ever won eight in a row in that situation.

Outfielder/first baseman Alex Hassan and infielder Garin Cecchini, making their major league debuts, both had their first big-league hits for Boston. Cecchini entered the game after second baseman Dustin Pedroia was ejected by home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn after the third inning.

Cecchini, who, according to Farrell was at Fenway Park and dressed by 7 a.m., had an RBI double in the seventh inning and started a nifty 5-3 double play in the eighth. He was optioned back to Pawtucket after the game.

Hassan singled and scored in a three-run fourth inning. He also had a walk.

Veteran left-hander Erik Bedard, who once pitched for the Red Sox, fell to 2-4 with the loss.

The six straight Rays losses, all on the road, came after a four-game winning streak. Tampa scored three runs in three games in Boston in falling to 23-34.NOTES: Tampa Bay OF Jerry Sands was selected to the 40-man roster and was Sunday’s DH, hitting cleanup. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. ... SS Yunel Escobar was in the original Tampa lineup but was a late scratch for the straight game with a tight quad. He pinch hit late and stayed in the game. ... RHP John Lackey starts for the Red Sox tonight in Cleveland in the opener of a nine-game road trip.

Red Sox/MLB