Before the game, speculation swirled about the status of manager Bobby Valentine, prompting principal owner John Henry and general manager Ben Cherington to offer votes of confidence.
The Red Sox seemed to tune out the distractions by pumping up the volume — with eight extra-base hits, all doubles – in a 9-2 victory over the Texas Rangers Monday night before a Fenway Park crowd of 37,316.
“I don’t know that the players were so totally involved in all the drama,’’ said Valentine after his club climbed to the .500 mark (55-55) after winning the first game in this three-game set that will wrap up a 10-game homestand.
“But I like when they play well and when they execute well,’’ he said.
The top three hitters in the Sox lineup led a 14-hit barrage as Dustin Pedroia went 3 for 4 with three doubles and while leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford combined to go 5 for 9 with 5 runs, 4 RBIs, and 4 doubles.
“That doesn’t happen too often, but when it does this offense is going to be pretty explosive,’’ said Ellsbury, who went 3 for 5 with 3 runs and an RBI.
“You can see tonight when that does happen, we’re going to score a lot of runs,’’ Ellsbury said. “For us, it’s fun getting on base, running, causing havoc. It puts a lot of pressure on the defense.’’
Adrian Gonzalez, who entered the game leading the majors with a .410 batting average with runners in scoring position, went 3 for 5 with a double and 3 RBIs. “When you have those three guys on base all the time, it means we’re going to score runs,’’ he said.
Righthander Aaron Cook (3-5) was the beneficiary. He allowed one run on six hits and three walks while recording a pair of strikeouts over seven innings.
“I love it when a guy gets a ball and throws it,’’ said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “At the same time, he’s a sinkerball pitcher, it’s easier for him to work fast. There’s not much shaking off. It’s just one pitch.’’
Although he gave up an RBI single to right by David Murphy that gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the second, Cook effectively worked his sinker to retire 11 of the last 13 batters he faced. He did not allow a hit in his last three innings of work. It was a stretch in which Cook got seven ground ball outs, two strikeouts, one fly, and one hard-hit line drive out to second.
“I think any time I have my sinker working, and the guys are playing great defense behind me, that’s a great recipe for success,’’ said Cook, who won for the first time since June 29 and recorded his fifth quality start in nine outings.
“I was just really focused on staying at the bottom of the zone as much as possible tonight,’’ Cook said. “Even when getting guys on, I just pounded the bottom of the zone and let the guys play defense behind me. It’s pretty much my approach every time I take the mound.’’
After stranding two runners in scoring position in the second inning, the Sox took a 2-1 lead in the third when Ellsbury drove a leadoff double to left off rookie Yu Darvish.
Crawford kept the good times rolling by belting an RBI double to right.
Gonzalez then delivered a one-out RBI double to right.
After Cook retired the Rangers in short order in the fourth, picking off Nelson Cruz at second after he doubled to right, the Sox erupted for three runs on three hits in the bottom of the frame. None seemed bigger than Mike Aviles’s hit-and-run single to center that advanced Ryan Kalish to third after he drew a one-out walk.
“As big a play as we had all night was that little hit-and-run by Mike Aviles,’’ Valentine said. “You had to be determined and committed to execute something like that and he did.’’
It opened the floodgates when Ellsbury doubled to left, scoring Kalish to make it 3-1. Crawford’s sacrifice fly to left drove in Aviles before Pedroia followed with an RBI double to left to make it 5-1.
Cook kept the Rangers in check with his pitch-to-contact approach while Darvish wound up departing with two outs in the seventh after he gave up a leadoff double to Pedroia.
“First time I’ve seen Darvish,’’ Ellsbury said. “He has tremendous stuff but I thought our approach was very good tonight. We got in hitter’s counts and we stayed inside a lot of balls and used the wall to our advantage.’’
Gonzalez ripped an RBI single to right off Darvish, scoring Pedroia to make it 6-1.
After striking out Ross and Saltalamacchia, (who fanned the third straight time), Darvish handed it over to Michael Kirkman after walking Will Middlebrooks. Darvish threw a career-high 123 pitches.
Junichi Tazawa entered the game for Cook in the eighth and finished the game. He allowed a leadoff homer to Adrian Beltre in the ninth.
The Sox are .500 again with considerable ground to cover and just 20 home games remaining.
“Definitely, the calendar’s ticking away and so we’ve got to start playing good baseball and get on a roll,’’ Cook said.
“The bats really came to life tonight. If we can continue to go out there and just play the type of baseball that we’re capable of just playing – play fun, play relaxed – I think good things can happen.’’
For the Red Sox and their beleaguered manager.Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.