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Sox sweep as J.D. hits 18th HR to tie MLB lead

May 30, 2018

BOSTON -- J.D. Martinez's May mash party is coming to an end, but only because the calendar flips on Friday. The slugger doesn't look like he is going to cool off any time soon.Martinez came up in just the right spot for the Red Sox on Wednesday afternoon at Fenway

BOSTON -- J.D. Martinez's May mash party is coming to an end, but only because the calendar flips on Friday. The slugger doesn't look like he is going to cool off any time soon.
Martinez came up in just the right spot for the Red Sox on Wednesday afternoon at Fenway Park, unloading for a two-run shot that soared over everything in left field in the bottom of the sixth to snap a tie and lead the Red Sox to a 6-4 victory over the Blue Jays to complete a three-game sweep.
It was Martinez's 13th homer of May, the most by a Red Sox player in one month since David Ortiz belted 14 in July 2006. The last Boston player to hit 13 or more in May was Hall of Famer Jim Rice, who hit 13 in 1978.

"J.D., what he's doing now, what he's done this month is pretty awesome," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "I keep going back to what he does before games -- preparation, looking for certain pitches, tendencies. Working his craft, working his swing. It's fun to see what he's doing."
With 18 homers, Martinez is tied with the Angels' Michael Trout and the Nationals' Bryce Harper for the MLB lead. The power surge of late has included nine homers in the past 16 games and 13 in the past 26.
A torrid stretch like this isn't completely unfamiliar for Martinez, who smashed 16 homers last September for the D-backs. How does this compare?

"I don't know," Martinez said. "I really haven't even thought about it. I just kind of play every game, just take it day by day, really."
The timing of Martinez's latest rocket could not have been better. Teoscar Hernandez had just tied the game for Toronto with a two-run homer against Eduardo Rodriguez in the top of the sixth.
"Fastball up," said Martinez. "Just put a good swing on it. Obviously, it was big for us, because Eddie just gave up two to them. Just to be able to answer back was a good statement for us."

The Red Sox improved their MLB-best record to 39-17, heading into a four-game showdown in Houston against the defending World Series champion Astros that starts Thursday night. That series opener will give Martinez one last chance to tack on to his impressive stats for the month.
"I don't even know what day it is, honestly," said Martinez. "All I know is we're going to Houston right now, so that's all I'm really thinking about."

The two insurance runs the Sox scored in the bottom of the eighth -- on Eduardo Nunez's double and Brock Holt's single -- to boost the lead to 6-2 turned out to be important. The Jays rallied for two in the top of the ninth, but Craig Kimbrel worked his way out of it for his 18th save.
Other than the misfire to Hernandez, Rodriguez was tremendous. He went 6 2/3 innings, allowing three hits and two runs while walking one and striking out seven. All things considered -- results, efficiency, command -- this was Rodriguez's best start of the season. Of the 100 pitches Rodriguez threw, 70 were for strikes.

"Outstanding," said Cora. "A lot of swings and misses with the fastball. Not too many foul balls today, which was good. He had a good changeup, cutter, sinker. He was great."
Rodriguez (6-1, 3.88 ERA) was perfect through 4 1/3 innings and had faced the minimum of 17 batters with two outs in the sixth when he walked No. 9 hitter Gio Urshela. That proved costly, as Hernandez stepped up next and smashed his 2-0 changeup for a game-tying, two-run homer over the Green Monster.
That was just a temporary nuisance for the Red Sox. Martinez immediately took away the sting when he got all of a 2-0 sinker from Jays starter Sam Gaviglio and clocked it with an exit velocity of 111.7 mph and a projected distance of 434 feet.

"Special," outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. of Martinez. "Special player, special batter, special person, special teammate. He's been able to do it all for us this year."
Nunez ends HR drought: With Rodriguez and the Red Sox clinging to an early 1-0 lead, Nunez opened up some breathing room when he lined Gaviglio's 0-1 sinker for a solo shot that just cleared the Green Monster. Nunez had gone 87 at-bats without a home run. The super-utility man has been performing better of late after a slow start, going 8-for-23 (.348) in his past five games to raise his average to .249.

"For like two-and-a-half weeks, he's been coming in early, working with [hitting coach] Tim [Hyers] and trying to get his rhythm, and actually trying to find barrel against a fastball," said Cora. "He feels he hasn't been able to catch up with it throughout the season, and now you see him driving the ball to left-center.
"Do we know he's going to swing? Of course. I think he's got no walks in 120 at-bats, but that's nothing new for him. He's been swinging his whole career. It's just a matter of the pitches he knows he can handle -- do not miss it, and lately he's been putting good swings on fastballs and hitting the ball the other way, too."
WIth a 39-17 record, the Red Sox have matched the starts of the 2017 Astros and '16 Cubs. Both those teams won the World Series. The only other teams since '00 to have at least that many wins in the first 56 games are the '01 Mariners and '02 Red Sox.

"Now we have Houston. We understand who we're facing, who is pitching. We know all that. We'll see what happens. It should be fun." -- Cora, on the matchup with the Astros, who have Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Charlie Morton lined up to pitch the final three games of the series against Boston's top three of Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello
The Red Sox had a rally going in the bottom of the third when a couple of overturned calls short-circuited their progress. Just after Boston had broken the scoreless tie on Bradley's RBI single, Andrew Benintendi belted a single and then stole second. It turns out he didn't steal second. The Jays challenged the call, and Benintendi was ruled out.

Just moments later, Bradley went home when a pitch by Gaviglio went to the backstop. Bradley went in with a head-first dive and was ruled safe on a close play. The Jays again were rewarded by a challenge, and the run was taken off the board.

The Red Sox head to Houston for a four-game showdown with the Astros in a matchup of two of the top teams in the American League. On their way to a World Series championship, Houston beat Boston in four games in the Division Series last October. Red Sox manager Alex Cora and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson, who were both coaches with the Astros last season, will get their World Series rings prior to the game. Lefty Thomas Pomeranz will start for the Red Sox, facing Lance McCullers First pitch is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. ET. Boston heads into the series riding a 9-2 hot streak.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.