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BOS@TEX: Harrison strikes out eight over seven frames

ARLINGTON -- Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison wants to be an All-Star. Manager Ron Washington treated him like one on Sunday afternoon at the Ballpark in Arlington.

Harrison, in turn, upheld his manager's faith by coming through like an All-Star in the most pivotal moment of the Rangers' 5-1 victory over the Red Sox. Harrison, in danger of having his whole afternoon go to waste, struck out Jacoby Ellsbury with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh, and the Rangers went on to complete a three-game sweep of the Red Sox before 46,326 fans.

"This was as good as it gets," Ian Kinsler said after both he and Nelson Cruz each hit their third home run in three games. "We played well for three in a row and Harry pitched an unbelievable game."

The Rangers hit four home runs off Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz, including one each by Kinsler and Cruz. They are the first pair of teammates in Major League history to hit home runs in each of the first three games of the season. Eleven home runs by the Rangers in the first three-game series of the season is also a first.

This is also the sixth time the Rangers have opened the season by sweeping a series of three games or more and the first since taking three from the Indians in 2009. Prior to that, the last time the Rangers swept the season-opening series was a three-game affair against the Red Sox in 1996. That was also the last time the Red Sox were ever swept to start a season.

But for all the neat things that happened on Sunday afternoon, the day really belonged to Harrison, the 25-year-old left-hander who has been in and out of the Rangers' rotation for the past three years. He came to Spring Training talking about his increased emphasis on his mental approach and toughness, and Washington put that to the test on Sunday.

"This was a big confidence-booster," Harrison said. "Coming into the game, even with the type of lineup they have, I knew if I could hit my spots and mix my pitches, I could keep them under control."

Harrison and catcher Mike Napoli, behind the plate for the first time this season, did exactly that. Harrison threw 108 pitches and said he shook off Napoli just once all afternoon.

"You know what, he had good stuff," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Fastball ranging from probably 90 to 95 [mph], so there's some differential there, and the off-speed made him really, really good. And then to the right-handed hitters, he was busting them in hard, opening up the rest of the plate. He was pretty impressive."

Through six innings, Harrison had a three-hit shutout -- all singles -- with seven strikeouts and no walks. The Rangers had a 3-0 lead with nine outs to go before he ran into his first real trouble of the afternoon.

Kevin Youkilis drew a leadoff walk and David Ortiz bounced a single through the right side. Jed Lowrie forced Ortiz with a grounder to third baseman Adrian Beltre, and Carl Crawford brought the shutout to an end with a single to center. With right-hander Mark Lowe and left-hander Darren Oliver warming in the bullpen, Harrison got Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a flyout to right.

That kept runners on first and second. But Harrison moved them up with a wild pitch and then walked Darnell McDonald to load the bases, missing just low with a full-count fastball that had Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux howling from the dugout.

Washington also stayed in the dugout. Harrison was at 102 pitches and Oliver was ready for a lefty vs. lefty matchup against Ellsbury. But Washington stayed with Harrison, much as he did with Cliff Lee last summer in similar difficult situations.

"That was Harry's game," Washington said. "I felt the ball was still coming out of his hand well. It was a big-time moment, but that was his moment. We're in the process of letting these young guys grow up, and he grew up."

Napoli, who homered in the fifth, said he wasn't surprised Washington stayed with Harrison.

"I'm glad he did," Napoli said. "He had good stuff today and his composure [was good]. It was his game."

Harrison got ahead 1-and-2 in the count. Ellsbury fouled off two pitches and then went down swinging on the cut fastball to end the inning.

"I knew there was a chance that [Washington] could take me out," Harrison said. "But if I was able to stay in the game, I just wanted to make my pitches. It was awesome that he let me battle though it."

Oliver took over in the eighth and Neftali Feliz finished off the ninth to complete the sweep. At that point, the Rangers had a 5-1 lead and Feliz was again beyond the save opportunity range. But he still was able to close out a terrific weekend for the Rangers and a possible toughness-testing seminal performance by Harrison.

"That was huge," said outfielder David Murphy, who hit one of the Rangers' four home runs. "All the guys in this clubhouse have watched Harry the past few years and know what he's capable of doing. He has had some injuries and ups and downs, but that's what he's capable of doing. He can put up some big numbers if he stays that way all year."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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