Dustin Pedroia‘s opposite-field power surprised almost everyone, including Boston manager Terry Francona.
The 5-foot-9 Pedroia hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer to right field in the eighth inning and the Red Sox beat Tampa Bay 3-1 on Sunday in the opener of a day-night doubleheader, sending the Rays to their 10th straight loss.
Asked if he thought Pedroia could clear the fence in Fenway Park’s deep right field, Francona quickly said: “No.”
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“You look up and they’re shading right field way in, so off the bat it looks like we’re going to get the run,” the manager said. “It just kept going. You saw his reaction. I don’t think he knew he could do it, either.”
Victor Martinez added an RBI single for Boston and blocked the plate on a tag play that prevented Tampa Bay from taking the lead. The Red Sox, who lead the AL wild-card race, won for the 10th time in 14 games.
Tampa Bay is on its longest losing streak since dropping 11 straight in 2007.
“Pedroia hitting a home run to right field is the last thing you expected,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Pinch-hitter David Ortiz opened the eighth with a double off the base of the right-field wall against Matt Garza (7-10). Jacoby Ellsbury sacrificed and Pedroia drove a 2-0 pitch into the Rays‘ bullpen for his 13th homer.
“They’ve been pitching me away a lot lately with high fastballs,” said Pedroia, the reigning AL MVP who hit 17 homers last season. “I just got a pitch out there and drove it. I was kind of joking with (David) that he hit the wall.”
Hideki Okajima (6-0) pitched a perfect eighth for the win after Boston got seven strong innings from Clay Buchholz. Jonathan Papelbon got three outs for his 36th save in 39 chances.
“That little guy’s got some pop,” Buchholz said about Pedroia. “He’s unbelievable to watch when he’s firing on all cylinders. That’s why he was the MVP last year, because he can play the field and he can hit, and that’s just flat-out hit.”
The game was a makeup of Friday night’s rainout.
Boston moved ahead 1-0 on Martinez’s sixth-inning RBI single. Pedroia doubled high off the Green Monster with one out and scored on Martinez’s line drive to right that extended his hitting streak to 14 games.
Tampa Bay tied it in the seventh on Jason Bartlett‘s run-scoring infield single after Gregg Zaun and Gabe Gross singled and advanced on a groundout. Second baseman Pedroia fielded Bartlett’s hit behind the bag and threw wide to first, but Casey Kotchman came off the bag, fired home and cut down Gross as Martinez blocked the plate, forcing a wide slide.
Buchholz held the Rays to five singles, walking three and striking out five. In his last three starts at Fenway, he’s given up just two runs and 10 hits in 22 1-3 innings.
Garza gave up three runs, nine hits, struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter in 7 1-3 innings. He is 0-3 in his last nine starts.
“He pitched really well,” Maddon said. “He was very good again this afternoon. It’s difficult to win when you score only one run.”
The Rays‘ weak offensive showing was nothing new for Garza. Entering the game, Tampa Bay had averaged an AL-worst 3.75 runs per nine innings in his starts.
“Pedroia’s the one that surprised me,” Garza said. “He really doesn’t have much power going the other way, so you tip your cap.”
Tampa Bay, one time a threat in the wild-card chase, started its free-fall by losing two of three at home against the Red Sox earlier this month.
Buchholz held the Rays hitless until Ben Zobrist‘s two-out single in the fourth.
Unlike the past two days, when the teams endured nearly 5 1/2 hours of rain delays that wiped out Friday’s game and shortened Saturday’s, there were partly sunny skies for the mostly short-sleeved crowd to enjoy.
Red Sox RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, on the disabled list since June 21 with a mild shoulder strain, turned 29. He is expected to start Tuesday against the Angels. … Rays CF B.J. Upton missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle. … Tampa Bay DH Pat Burrell is in a 1-for-18 slump.