Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine is trying to build a winning culture in the clubhouse and on the field. And part of that must include being a very good team at Fenway Park.
Slowly, but surely, that’s beginning to happen.
In the last two games, the Red Sox, 15-5 winners over the Miami Marlins Wednesday night, have felt right at home. They have played with confidence and conviction. The long ball has returned as part of a relentless offense.
The newest ingredient - hustle - has found its way into the culture.
So if you think Valentine’s messages and methods aren’t getting through, think again.
The Red Sox used pure hustle to beat out three infield hits that extended or contributed to big innings.
The Sox, who moved past the Blue Jays into fourth place in the AL East, are starting to put things together. They have chipped away at the Yankees, moving within six games of the division leaders.
Lately the debate has been if the Sox should be sellers or buyers at the trading deadline. It’s clear now they aren’t out of any race for a postseason berth.
After one more game with Miami, the Red Sox open a three-game series vs. the Braves, who won’t be starting their best pitchers (Jair Jurrjens, Randall Delgado, and Mike Minor). It allows the Sox a chance to put together a winning stretch before they depart to the West Coast for games in Seattle and Oakland.
David Ortiz’s grand slam, Mike Aviles’s three-run homer, Will Middlebrook’s late two-run blast, Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s solo shot, Cody Ross’s three-run double, and Daniel Nava’s four hits highlighted Boston’s 16-hit attack.
“It looks like we’re starting to put it all together at home,’’ said Ross. “We came off a good road trip and we wanted to keep things up at home. Everyone wants to feel like they can play their best at home and we just had all facets of the game come together.’’
Saltalamacchia said he never felt as if the Sox were not going to be a good home team.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with not feeling comfortable at home. I think we are. It’s just that we weren’t playing good baseball anywhere earlier this season and now we’re coming together,’’ Saltalamacchia said.
Although lefthander Felix Doubront didn’t have his best performance, he improved to 8-3, holding off the Marlins through six innings before giving way to Clayton Mortensen and Mark Melancon.
The Sox overcame a 2-0 deficit on a night when it was 96 degrees when the first pitch was thrown. Then they proceeded to pummel the Marlins silly.
Aviles’s two-out shot in the second inning started the explosion.
Saltalamacchia, who took early hitting, saw the extra effort pay off as he singled to right field with two outs and advanced to second base on Kevin Youkilis’s infield single.
Aviles pounced on the first pitch by Ricky Nolasco and homered into the Monster seats, his ninth of the season. He leads all shortstops with 40 RBIs.
The Sox tacked on three more in the third when Nava and Ryan Kalish singled to start the inning. After Adrian Gonzalez advanced the runners, Ortiz was walked intentionally, setting the stage for Ross’s wall double.
“I think the hustle we showed on the basepaths really helped us create the runs we scored,’’ Valentine said. “David scored all the way from first. Aviles beat out an infield hit. Kalish beat out an infield hit. Salty ran hard to second on one play. They all added up.
“The weather warmed up, guys felt loose. Mike’s first home run giving us three runs was huge. David’s grand slam. Salty’s was the furthest and Middlebrooks was impressive.’’
Already holding a 1-0 lead, the Marlins doubled it in the second. Logan Morrison, who has sabotaged Sox pitching, including a five-RBI night Tuesday, homered. Justin Ruggiano followed with a triple to the triangle and scored on a two-out single by Gaby Sanchez.
But the Sox, who love hitting against Nolasco (12 runs in 9 1/3 innings over two starts), kept the heat coming.
In the fourth inning, they rallied again. Aviles beat out an infield single to shortstop.
“I was so mad about my swing, I punished myself by running as hard as I could down the line,’’ Aviles said.
After one out, Nava singled, sending Aviles to third. He scored on Kalish’s infield single.
Gonzalez reloaded the bases with a sharp single to right and Ortiz cleared them with a vicious line drive into the seats in right. Ortiz’s 18th homer of the season (and 396th of his career) was his 11th career grand slam.
“Two pitches, two fastballs, I hit the second one. I’m not getting a lot of pitches to hit, so when I get one I’ve got to do something with it,’’ Ortiz said.
Two outs later, Saltalamacchia followed with a solo shot, his 13th, to boost Boston’s lead to 12-4. Saltalamacchia has nine homers and 24 RBIs in his last 30 games.
Ortiz came up with the bases loaded and all you could think was “double-granny?’’ in the fifth, but thoughts of a second grand slam faded quickly when Chris Hatcher threw a wild pitch and Nick Punto scored from third.
Yes, the Sox are starting to grow comfortable at home.
What’s clear is they must re-establish dominance of their home turf. After Wednesday night’s win, they are 16-19 at Fenway, 12-8 in their last 20.
It must again be a place where the opposition is uncomfortable.
Wednesday night, the Marlins felt that way.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.