From the first day of spring training, John Farrell spoke to the Red Sox about trust and the need to support each other. A big part of fixing a franchise gone awry was establishing an atmosphere where the players felt the manager was on their side.
That’s why David Ortiz, mired in one of the worst slumps of his career, was in the lineup against the White Sox on Friday night and batting cleanup as usual, even against a lefthanded starter.
Farrell didn’t blink. And neither did Ortiz in the fourth inning.
Ortiz’s two-run single proved to be the decisive hit as the Red Sox beat the White Sox, 4-3, before a crowd of 36,063 at Fenway Park, moving the Red Sox 3½ games ahead of the Rays, who lost the A’s in Oakland, 4-3.
The single by Ortiz ended an 0-for-23 skid and gave the Red Sox enough of a lead for Ryan Dempster and three relievers to hold.
“Don’t worry about me,” Ortiz said. “It’s time to worry about me when I go to the plate with no bat.”
That Farrell stayed with Ortiz was no surprise. He has showed faith in players with far less status during the course of the season. Invariably, he has been rewarded, too.
“What else can he do? Just because I struggled for a week, he’s not going to sit me down or something like that,” said Ortiz, who also drew two walks. “He should have that faith. I’ve been in this for a long time.”
The Sox have won five of their last six games and are 3-1 on a homestand that has five games remaining. At 80-56, they have the best record in the American League.
Ortiz was 0 for 4 and left three runners on base in Thursday’s 3-2 loss against Baltimore. Farrell said almost immediately after the game that his designated hitter would be back in the lineup. The best thing for Ortiz was more chances.
“David Ortiz, his career speaks for itself,” Farrell said. “He’s a cornerstone of our lineup with him sitting in the middle of it. Because he goes through a couple of weeks where things weren’t working out, that’s the first time all year that he’s had any prolonged dry spell. Totally confident he’d work himself out of it.”
Shane Victorino, who was 2 for 4 with a walk, an RBI and two more runs, said Farrell has earned the trust of his players.
“We all go through these kind of ruts, it happens,” Victorino said. “You want your manager to leave you out there. You want to be able to swing out of it.”
Victorino is 21 of his last 48 with 10 extra-base hits, 14 RBIs, and 14 runs. He leads the Sox with 22 RBIs this month.
Ortiz’s big hit came off Hector Santiago with two outs in the fourth inning. The groundball to right field was his first hit since Aug. 18 and the 1,994th of his career.
The Sox were held to six hits but generated enough offense for Dempster (7-9) to win after an 11-day absence from the rotation.
Dempster pitched into the seventh inning in his first start since hitting controversial Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez with a pitch. Major League Baseball suspended Dempster for five games.
The Red Sox then pushed the veteran righthander back a few days to give him some extra rest — and the opportunity to face the low-wattage White Sox, the team with the second-worst record in the AL.
Dempster was charged with three runs on five hits over 6⅓ innings. He walked three and struck out five. For a pitcher who had a 6.81 ERA in his previous seven starts, it was a significant improvement.
“When you’re not playing and you’re not injured, it’s not a fun thing,” Dempster said. “I was glad I was able to get out there and just pitch a little bit better and give us a chance to win a ball game.’’
Dempster was able to spot his fastball down and away to righthanded hitters, a location that helps set up his secondary pitches.
“That’s for a guy like me who doesn’t throw really hard. I can’t have a lot of misses over the plate,” Dempster said. “I worked on the side to really repeat that as much as possible and make that a consistent pitch.”
Dempster is pitching for his job at this point. That he was slotted into the rotation on the same day Clay Buchholz made an injury rehabilitation start for Triple A Pawtucket was no coincidence.
Once Buchholz is ready, likely after one more start in the minors, he could shift into the rotation seamlessly.
With the Red Sox up, 4-1, in the seventh inning, Avisail Garcia homered to center field. Dayan Viciedo then singled off the wall in left with one out, prompting Farrell to call in Junichi Tazawa for Dempster.
Tazawa got an out but Alejandro De Aza tripled into the right-field corner and the lead was down to 4-3.
Tazawa, Franklin Morales and Koji Uehara each got an out in the eighth inning as Farrell used a well-rested bullpen to manage the one-run lead.
Uehara got his second four-out save of the season (No. 15 overall), setting down the side in order in the ninth.
Uehara has not allowed a run since July 6, a stretch of 23 innings. That’s the best streak of his career and the second-longest active streak in the majors. Opposing hitters are 6 for 73 in those 20 games.
The Sox have allowed only 20 runs in their last 10 games, their starters posting a 2.11 ERA.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.