By the seventh inning of Sunday’s game against the Royals at Fenway Park, the announced crowd of 37,188 was standing and cheering on Pedro Ciriaco with the bases loaded and two outs.
Red Sox fans seem to know that this 2012 team is going nowhere and is just playing out the string, but they seem to like the new, gritty, superstar-less edition that defeated Kansas City Sunday, 8-6, even though, as usual, it wasn’t easy.
Ciriaco, a central figure in this new group, beat out an infield hit in the seventh to give the Red Sox a 7-4 lead. In the fifth, he had homered to pull the Sox within a run. All in all, Ciriaco had three hits, two RBIs, and scored two runs.
Seven of Ciriaco’s 16 RBIs have come in the seventh inning or later. In his last 24 games he’s hitting .384, and now Ciriaco, a career minor leaguer who couldn’t even make the Pirates when they were bad, is someone who has manager Bobby Valentine and the brass thinking about carving out a place for him on the 2013 team.
Sunday he played third base and he made a throwing error in the third inning, but Ciriaco has brought energy.
“I’m just trying to go out there and have fun,” Ciriaco said. “I’m just swinging the bat, trying to make things happen. I hope I’ve been able to open some eyes. I just love to play the game.”
The infield hit he beat out was key; his hustle is off the charts. Dustin Pedroia, who gets down the first base line pretty quickly, said Ciriaco “is the fastest down the first base line I think I’ve ever seen. He’s done a great job for this team and he continues to learn and apply it on the field. He’s fun to watch.”
So in this dismal season, the Red Sox may have found a jewel.
“Just really proud of the guys,” Valentine said. “They are tired, no doubt, but we got big hit after big hit. Ciriaco beating out an infield hit and hitting one over the fence. Ells [Jacoby Ellsbury] with a two-out RBI and Mikey [Aviles, two hits] swinging the bat well again. They’re all contributing. They all want to be part of a good offensive team. Dustin’s home run [eighth inning] was real big. Good to see James Loney get his first RBI [fifth inning]. That was big to tie the game with two outs.”
The Sox, who produced 20 hits in a 10-9 12-inning loss to the Royals Saturday night, rebounded with 14 hits and took advantage of two errors by Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar to score two key runs.
After the returning Felix Doubront started and went five innings, allowing four runs, the bullpen had to hold on for dear life as newcomer Pedro Beato worked two strong innings before leaving in the eighth with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Acting manager Tim Bogar, who replaced Valentine after he was ejected in the fifth inning for arguing a close play involving Pedroia, called for lefty Craig Breslow. He allowed two runs to score, one on a sacrifice fly by Eric Hosmer and another on a Tony Abreu single to make it 7-6. But Breslow, who went to 3 and 1 on Lorenzo Cain, came back to strike him out to end the inning and keep the Sox up by a run.
Pedroia’s homer in the eighth made it a two-run lead for closer-of-the-day Mark Melancon, who got the save. Melancon closed because Alfredo Aceves is serving his suspension for conduct detrimental to the team and because Andrew Bailey had been used a lot recently.
“I haven’t been in that situation since the first or second game of the season,” Melancon said. “It was awesome. Really exciting. I loved being in that situation. It’s been an adjustment for me. We had a lot of good guys in the bullpen and Ace [Aceves] has done a fantastic job, and Bailey as well.”
Melancon saved 20 games for the last-place Astros in 2011 and was traded to Boston in the Jed Lowrie deal in the offseason. He got off to a rocky start, was optioned back to the minors for several weeks, and never has been a big part of this bullpen.
“I can’t even explain that feeling,” Melancon said of closing.“It’s so much fun. It shouldn’t be different and in reality it’s another inning, but because of the emphasis that’s out there on it, it is a different feeling. That being said, you have to get three outs.”
The Sox’ lineup continued to produce despite losing Adrian Gonzalez, who was the featured player in a nine-player deal with the Dodgers that was officially announced Saturday. The Sox also played without David Ortiz for the second straight game. Ortiz is experiencing more soreness in his right Achilles’ heel and is contemplating shutting it down for the season.
But the Sox Sunday did just fine with their no-name, dirt-dog lineup.
First baseman Loney, acquired from the Dodgers, had a big hit in his debut with that single up the middle in the fifth that tied the score at 4.
The Sox broke that 4-4 deadlock with an unearned run in the sixth. Designated hitter Mauro Gomez reached on an error by Escobar. An Aviles single to left knocked Royals starter Will Smith out of the game. After two outs, Ellsbury reached on a liner off the glove of Hosmer at first base that scored Gomez.
The Sox had bounced out to a 2-0 lead after two innings. In the first, after a Ciriaco leadoff single and a one-out double by Pedroia, Cody Ross singled to left to score the first run.
In the second, Aviles doubled in Gomez (walk).
Doubront couldn’t hold the lead, as has been a trait of Sox pitchers of late. He got into two-out difficulty in the fourth, allowing singles to Giavotella and Hosmer, before Saturday night’s hero, Abreu, singled in Kansas City’s first run.
Doubront couldn’t stop the bleeding there. Cain stepped up and stroked a three-run homer, a liner into the Monster seats to give the Royals a 4-2 lead.
The Sox tied it in the fifth, scoring two runs against Smith on Ciriaco’s line-drive homer to left and Loney’s single.Nick Cafardo can be reached at Cafardo@Globe.com or on Twitter @nickcafardo