The Boston Red Sox have lost Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett, Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew to injury this season. Drew has been in and out of the lineup throughout his career, so his absence can be taken with a grain of salt. But the injuries that currently hamper the other four stars should leave Boston helpless.

In missing all of this production and using the relatively unknown as replacements, they should be fighting to stay in the race. But, backed by some fantastic situational hitting and a savvy manager, Boston’s victory over the Tampa Bay Rays puts them just one game behind the vaunted New York Yankees in the American League East.

John Lackey pitched seven sparkling innings and the bullpen staved off a late Rays rally. Given his struggles this season, Lackey’s performance is definitely surprising and uplifting. But what caught my eye even more was the continued offensive production.

Boston is lacking their speed in Ellsbury, their heart and soul in Pedroia, and a steady power bat in Martinez. They are starting the likes of former Independent-Leaguer Daniel Nava and Brewers castoff Bill Hall. David Ortiz, who can hit a wall at any moment, Mike Cameron, a perennial .250 hitter, and Jason Varitek, who struggled to hit above the Mendoza Line last year, round out the lineup.

These five players have done some great things for the Red Sox this season, and combined with the consistencies of Adrian I-like-to-hit-with-one-knee-on-the-ground Beltre and Kevin Youkilis, the offense is one of the best in the majors. Their talents were on display in their battle with Tampa.

With one out in the fifth, Cameron singled and Marco Scutaro doubled him to third. Nava proceeded to strike out. Two outs, and a better chance to make an out than not, Boston managed to come through. Ortiz socked his 16th homer of the season, clubbing a first-pitch fastball from James Shields into the right-field seats for a three-run homer and a three-run lead.

A third out was recoredd, sending the game to the top of the sixth, but after Lackey pitched a scoreless top of the frame, the bats were back at it in the bottom.

A 2-2 curveball glanced off Drew’s right foot, starting a rally that put the Rays in a deep hole. Beltre lined a single to right field for his third hit of the evening, increased his batting average to .347, then Varitek duplicated his success, hitting a singe to plate Drew and knock Shields out of the game.

Hall watched four of the first five pitches thrown by reliever Dan Wheeler miss, then after Scutaro and Cameron struck out, Nava came through in the clutch, rifling a RBI-single to give Boston a five-run advantage.

The seventh was more of the same. Hitters were patient. Everyone was seeing the ball well tonight, and when that happens, they are tough to fool. Drew worked a walk, then the floodgates opened once more.

It is clear teams are good when they can capitalize on a majority of the opponent’s mistakes. They did that in this game and have done so in many, many others over the past few weeks. With the way they are going, receiving outings as they did from Lackey is a bonus.

Beltre doubled for his fourth hit and 101st of the season in the seventh, then Hall knocked him in with a long-ball over the Green Monster in left-center field. With that, the margin was seven, and though the bullpen allowed two runs each in the eighth and ninth, a win was well in Boston’s hands.

And with that win, the team improves to 47-31. A team that started the season by losing nine of their first 13 games. A team that has now won 28 of their past 39.

They were a game and a half behind the Yankees with the victory. Would the Seattle Mariners help them close the gap even further by beating the Evil Empire? Cliff Lee, their ace and one of the most sought-after and best pitchers in the majors, was on the mound, so they had a great chance to.

Lee came into the game having thrown two straight complete games. The last Mariner to throw three straight was Randy Johnson in 1999.

Throwing complete games used to be expected. Pitchers tossed 300-plus innings and threw 25 complete games over the course of a season with regularity. The pitchers haven’t changed. If given the chance, anyone could duplicate the seasons put together by generations past. But they aren’t allowed to. That’s why Lee’s bid for three straight is such a big deal. It’s sad, really.

Well, he did complete the feat. New York right hander Phil Hughes was tagged, continuing his rough month, allowing seven runs on ten hits while not even completing six innings. Lee, on the other hand, was stingy, silencing the Yankees bats until a two-run meaningless rally in the ninth inflated his statistics.

Still, nine innings, allowing three earned runs on eight hits while striking out two is nothing to scoff at. And when it is against the Yankees in Yankees Stadium it’s that much more fulfilling.

A Red Sox win and a Yankees loss puts Boston only a game back. On May 20 they were eight and a half games back. That was way too early to worry, and their recent tear may not translate to prolonged success.

But, with the way they have played in spite of the injury bug, I find it difficult to believe they will falter. If utility players and journeymen keep rising to the occasion, the Red Sox should be fighting to the finish with their bitter rival.

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