BOSTON -- This is why the Red Sox wanted David Ortiz back.
"Big Papi is locked in right now," Rays catcher Chris Gimenez said. "Papi's locked in. We might as well walk him every time."
The Red Sox's designated hitter and mainstay has nine hits in the past three games against the Rays at Fenway Park, including the go-ahead double Sunday afternoon in a 6-4 victory. Boston (4-5) can sweep the four-game set and reach .500 with a win Monday on Patriots' Day, and either way, the first third of a nine-game homestand appears to have set the Sox back on course.
Ortiz, batting .444, hit safely in seven consecutive plate appearances from Saturday to Sunday -- the third time he's had a stretch like that in his career. All three of his hits Sunday came against Rays southpaw Matt Moore, who's about as far from a soft-tossing lefty as you'll find, and the last was a line-drive double off the center-field wall that gave Boston a 5-4 lead with one out in the sixth. Kevin Youkilis, who walked one batter earlier, scored from first base.
"David -- right from the first day of spring -- came in great shape and wanted to take a leadership role, and the best way to lead is to come up in a big spot and produce," manager Bobby Valentine said. "And he's done that."
There was a time, just two years ago, that Ortiz had turned to mush against lefties, to the tune of a .222 average in 2010. Last year, that clip jumped to .329; better than he did against right-handers, in fact. He's teeing up southpaws just as well now.
"There are going to be tough lefties that are going to get you out," Ortiz said. "There's going to be lefties that don't give you pitches to hit. The other day we were facing [Toronto's] Ricky Romero, and it was tough. He didn't really leave a pitch over the plate you could drive. Everything was either out, in, up or down. There wasn't anything that you could really drive. They're going to pitch you tough, but whenever you get a chance to hit a ball over the plate, you have to. You're not going to see it much."
The Red Sox's bullpen is still far from settled, but it looked sharp while closing out Sunday's victory. Vicente Padilla earned the win with 1 2/3 innings of one-hit ball, and Franklin Morales pitched a scoreless eighth ahead of Alfredo Aceves' 1-2-3 ninth inning.
The help was everywhere offensively for Boston starter Felix Doubront, who went five-plus innings and let up Tampa Bay's four runs. Mike Aviles and Cody Ross both homered for the second straight day for Boston -- Ross in two straight plate appearances.
"It's gratifying to see guys, after the tough trip, to come in against the caliber of pitching that we're facing here against the Rays," said hitting coach Dave Magadan, whose offense has plated 31 runs this series compared to the Rays' 11. "Our bats have been great. We've forced them in the strike zone, and when we do get a good pitch to hit, we're putting it in play hard."
Ross got things started in the second with a three-run shot, again over the Green Monster, just as his swing was tailor made for. That opened the scoring.
"I was watching some baseball show a few days ago and they were already saying he sucks," said Ortiz, who's protected by Ross. "So [chew] on that."
Kelly Shoppach's RBI double in the fourth made it 4-0, padding the Sox needed ahead of the Rays' rally.
Carlos Pena's double was just out of the reach of a diving Jason Repko in center field and plated two runs for Tampa Bay in the fifth. Evan Longoria followed one batter later with a ground-rule double that Ross misplayed in right field and saw go over his head, cutting the lead to 4-3.
The ball Repko couldn't get was one Jacoby Ellsbury would likely have had, Valentine said, but the positive takeaway was that the Sox's offense carries on fine without their injured center fielder.
"You know the story would be that Jacoby would have caught the first ball that was hit in right-center," Valentine said. "Rep didn't, so I'm glad that's not the story. That he didn't make a good catch and that we can score runs without [Ellsbury is the story] -- and hopefully we'll score more runs when he gets back."
Tampa Bay's Luke Scott, who drove in four runs Saturday and is doing everything he can to endear himself to Boston fans, tied the game with a solo shot to start the sixth. That was all for Doubront, who struck out seven and walked one, but he was still less than efficient, throwing 96 pitches, 60 for strikes.
"This is my second outing," Doubront said. "I'm gaining confidence in every outing, and I'm learning from that. The next outing is going to be different. Everybody knows. That's a big thing about being a starter."