BOSTON — Jarrod Saltalamacchia was on deck and had a great view of Mike Napoli’s game-winning double on Monday.
“It was awesome; he’s a strong man to be able to hit a ball, one hand, being out in front like that and be able to hit it off the top of the wall,” the Boston Red Sox catcher said after Napoli chased Dustin Pedroia home from first with the hit. “It’s huge, a guy with that much power. It’s a threat. It’s nice to have that in our lineup.”
It gave Boston a 3-2 Patriots’ Day win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.
The winning hit, which came some 30 minutes before at least one person in the press box at Fenway Park heard the bomb blasts at the nearby Boston Marathon, was Napoli’s third career walk-off and first since 2009. It came after the anemic Rays tied it in the top of the inning and completed a rain-shortened three-game sweep.
It also raised the Red Sox’s early record to 8-4 with all 12 games played against the AL East.
“You look at the games in our division, in many ways, they count as two,” said first-year Boston manager John Farrell. “To get out of the gate with the way we’ve played, particularly with the way we’ve played defense and pitched, it’s very encouraging.”
The next step for the Red Sox, who won only 69 games last season, is in Cleveland for a three game series starting Tuesday against former manager Terry Francona, now the Indians’ skipper.
Ryan Dempster gave the Red Sox their latest quality start, yielding one run on two hits and striking out 10 in seven innings. For the young season, the Boston starters have a 1.99 ERA and Monday marked the eighth straight start allowing two earned runs or less.
It was also, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the first time two straight Boston starters have allowed two or less hits and struck out 10 or more. Clay Buchholz did it Sunday, when he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning.
Pedroia walked with one out in the ninth before Napoli, just after a delay caused by a foul ball breaking the mask of catcher Jose Molina, hit a 2-2 pitch from loser Joel Peralta (0-1), gave Boston its second walk-off win of the series.
The hit came after Andrew Bailey (1-0) failed to hold a 2-1 lead for Dempster in the top of the inning.
Bailey, closing with the thus-far-ineffective Joel Hanrahan resting a tight right hamstring, couldn’t get the save. Desmond Jennings singled to open the ninth, stole second and scored on Ben Zobrist’s single.
Zobrist took second on the throw home and was there with no one out, but Bailey struck out both Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce and got Ryan Roberts to pop out.
“Hats off to Bails,” said Dempster. “I’ve been there before, closing, and when you blow the lead it’s just as important to keep it tied.”
Dempster, who signed a two-year, $26.5 million free agent deal during the offseason, yielded a solo homer to Longoria and got a break on a close call on Longoria at first base in the sixth, but failed to get his first win with the Red Sox.
With all personnel on both teams wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day, Saltalamacchia hit his second homer of the season in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie against Jeremy Hellickson, who allowed just three hits and struck out nine in seven innings. He deserved a better fate.
The Rays (4-8) have scored 35 runs in 12 games, six in the last five. They struck out 32 times and had 13 hits in the series. They almost tied a club record of seven games without a homer until Longoria connected.
“The bottom line is, whenever you’re not scoring, everything else becomes magnified or exaggerated,” said Tampa manager Joe Maddon. “We’re just not swinging bats well right now. We’ve just got to remain positive and confident.”
Longoria hit his first homer of the year in the fourth inning and came out on the short end of what appeared to be a bad call by first baseman Angel Hernandez on what would have been a game-tying hit in the sixth.
With one out, Kelly Johnson walked and stole second. He took third on a wild pitch and Zobrist also walked. Longoria then hit a grounder up the middle. Stephen Drew stabbed it with a dive and threw to first. Longoria, who was called out, slammed his helmet to the ground. Replays showed he was probably safe. He was not ejected from the game.
Maddon argued, saying later, “I just wanted to point out I thought he was safe.”
For the Red Sox, who also scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s first-inning single and a groundout, this marked the first series sweep since last June 19-21 and the first over Tampa Bay since last May 24-26.
Notes: The Red Sox are 68-50 on Patriots’ Day. … Batters are 1-for-17 against Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara this season. … With both entire teams wearing Robinson’s No. 42 Monday, they will do it again Tuesday night. The Red Sox will have road uniforms in the opener at Cleveland, while the Rays visit Baltimore (both the Indians and Orioles were off Monday). … Felix Doubront, rained out of his Friday night start against Tampa Bay before working a simulated game Saturday morning, faces Ubaldo Jimenez Tuesday night. … Roberto Hernandez, the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona, will pitch against Baltimore’s Jake Arrieta Tuesday. … Red Sox rookie Jackie Bradley Jr., who figures to go to the minors when DH David Ortiz returns from his rehab, is Boston’s only African-American player. “Without him this wouldn’t be possible,” he said of Robinson. “He’s a very special guy. His will and determination is what keeps us playing this game at such a high intensity.” Bradley is in an 0-for-20 slump and is down to an .097 batting average.