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 floundering Tampa Bay Rays.
“Very good starting pitching, 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,” Boston manager John Farrell said after his team sent the last-place Rays to their sixth straight loss.
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 Monday night 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 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 Hasson 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.
On Saturday night, Rubby De La Rosa struck out eight in seven scoreless innings and Brock Holt hit his first career home run as the Red Sox beat the Rays 7-1.
Jackie Bradley Jr. added a solo homer and Jonathan Herrera went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored for the Red Sox.
Kevin Kiermaier delivered an inside-the-park homer in the eighth for Tampa Bay’s lone run.
The Red Sox got on the board in the third, when Herrera singled and Holt sent a 3-2 fastball into Boston’s bullpen in right-center field. They added a run in the third on Mike Carp’s sacrifice fly and chased Jake Odorizzi with two in the fourth as Herrera plated Grady Sizemore with a safety squeeze and came around to score on A.J. Pierzynski’s single to center.
Bradley made it 7-0 in the fifth, when he came up with Sizemore on base and belted a 3-1 sinker from Cesar Ramos out to right-center for his first shot of the season. Bradley made a strong effort on Kiermaier’s drive to left-center in the eighth, leaping at the wall and just missing the ball as it glanced off the wall, hit the center fielder in the face and trickled away to allow the Rays’ right fielder to race around the bases.