David Ortiz and hot-hitting Pedro Ciriaco helped set what Boston hopes will be a good tone for the rest of the season.
Ortiz homered, Ciriaco had three hits and drove in two runs, and the Red Sox got a strong pitching performance from Franklin Morales and five relievers in Friday night's 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
"It's nice," said right-hander Matt Albers, who struck out three of the four batters he faced. "That first game out of the break, against our division rival."
Morales (2-2) allowed two hits over five scoreless innings to win for the second time since the left-hander was moved into the starting rotation last month. He walked three and struck out five before being replaced by Scott Atchison, who yielded an unearned run in the sixth.
"It was nine innings of really good pitching," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "Franklin Morales gave us five really strong innings. Put up the zeros."
Ortiz hit a solo homer off Jeremy Hellickson (4-6) in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to a season-best eight games.
Ciriaco has started four games since his promotion from the minor leagues last week and is 10 for 12 with six RBIs over the past three, including a two-run single that made it 3-0 in the second inning.
"He blooped a couple more in there, made a good bunt, stole a base," Valentine said. He's playing a very high caliber baseball."
The infielder's success may be catching some off guard, but not Ortiz.
"He showed everybody what he could do in spring training," the All-Star slugger said. "Having him here and doing what he's doing, I'm not surprised."
The fourth-place Red Sox lost six of seven games entering the All-Star break. But with the win before a crowd of 29,089 at Tropicana Field, they pulled within one game of the third-place Rays in the AL East standings.
Ortiz is hitting .440 (11 for 25) with 10 walks during his hitting streak. The Rays walked him intentionally twice, once to load the bases before Mauro Gomez grounded into an inning-ending double play in the seventh.
Sean Rodriguez drove in Tampa Bay's run with a sixth-inning double off Atchison. The hit scored Ben Zobrist, who reached on shortstop Mike Aviles' two-base throwing error.
The Rays went 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position. And, one of those hits was a sixth-inning infield single that didn't drive in a run.
Hellickson, the 2011 AL rookie of the year, has dropped six consecutive decisions following a 4-0 start. The right-hander allowed three runs and five hits over six innings.
Rays manager Joe Maddon felt his young pitcher performed well enough to win. The 25-year-old gave up the homer to Ortiz on a poor 3-1 pitch, and Ciriaco drove in Boston's other runs with a bases-loaded grounder that Hellickson was surprised made it through to center field.
"He pitched well. We just didn't score enough runs to make him look good. ... When you only score one run, your mistakes are glaring," Maddon said.
Alfredo Aceves pitched a perfect ninth for Boston, earning his 20th save in 24 opportunities. Jacoby Ellsbury, activated from the disabled list before the game, went 1 for 5 in his first action since hurting his right shoulder on April 13 while trying to break up a double play.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who left Boston's final game before the break because of illness, remained out of the lineup. His replacement, Gomez, went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and was charged with a first-inning error when a throw from third baseman Will Middlebrooks appeared to tear through the webbing of Gomez's glove.
Gomez changed gloves, and Morales escaped a jam with runners at first and third when Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton was caught trying to steal second.
The Red Sox starter also worked through tight spots in the fourth and fifth without allowing a run. He walked three straight batters to load the bases with two outs in the fourth, then struck out Luke Scott. Jose Lobaton doubled for Tampa Bay's second hit with one out in the fifth but was stranded there when Morales fanned Elliot Johnson and Carlos Pena.
The Rays wasted another good opportunity after Zobrist doubled leading off the eighth against Vicente Padilla. B.J. Upton hit a sinking liner that Ryan Sweeney went to his knee to catch in right field, and Zobrist ran his team out of a potential big inning when he was thrown out after tagging up and trying to advance to third.
Sweeney threw to cutoff man Aviles, who turned and made a perfect relay to third baseman Nick Punto.
"Ryan Sweeney's play has to be the play of the game," Valentine said. "With Mike's throw and Nick's tag, that's a game saver right there."
NOTES: The Rays batted .232 as a team before the All-Star break, lowest in team history. They are one of eight teams all-time that have hit as low as that while also reaching the break with a winning record. ... Boston 2B Dustin Pedroia (right thumb) is taking batting practice. ... Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz, Saturday's scheduled start, will be making his first appearance since being sidelined by a stomach illness on June 20. ... Clemson 3B Richie Shaffer, the 25th pick of last month's amateur draft, agreed to a contract with the Rays for a signing bonus of $1.71 million. ... Boston RHP Andrew Bailey (right thumb surgery) has started throwing off a mound. ... Valentine said LF Carl Crawford (left wrist surgery, groin strain), currently playing at Triple-A Pawtucket, is getting closer to rejoining the team.
This program aired on July 14, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.