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Sox in 1st after Kimbrel dashes Halos' hopes

Closer escapes bases-loaded jam, notches first four-out save of '18
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- An early onslaught of power seemed to be setting up the Red Sox for yet another rout of the Angels. Instead it created what proved to be a necessary cushion.

Ultimately, Craig Kimbrel prevented the bullpen from springing another leak, as the power righty notched his first four-out save of the season to give the Sox a 9-6 win on Wednesday night at Fenway Park.

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BOSTON -- An early onslaught of power seemed to be setting up the Red Sox for yet another rout of the Angels. Instead it created what proved to be a necessary cushion.

Ultimately, Craig Kimbrel prevented the bullpen from springing another leak, as the power righty notched his first four-out save of the season to give the Sox a 9-6 win on Wednesday night at Fenway Park.

View Full Game Coverage

The victory moved manager Alex Cora's team back into sole possession of first place in the American League East, with a 54-27 record at the midway point of the season.

Video: LAA@BOS: Cora on Kimbrel's 4-out save, 1st half recap

"It's been great. It's a great start," said Cora. "It's not early anymore. We're proud of the way the guys are playing. All around, I'm very proud of them. They're doing an outstanding job. They're showing up every day. They prepare. ... My hat's off to them. They've been amazing."

A trifecta of home runs in the bottom of the second from Eduardo Nunez (solo shot), Sandy Leon (two-run blast) and J.D. Martinez (three-run rocket, MLB-leading 25th) gave Boston a 6-0 lead.

"You know obviously when you get up 6-0 like that right away, it's a challenge at that point not to go into autopilot," Martinez said. "You want to continue to push the gas and keep pressing and keep attacking and stuff like that, because they have a really good offense over there, and just like that they came back in the game."

Video: LAA@BOS: Martinez's 25th homer caps 3-HR 2nd

The Angels started their climb back when Boston starter Rick Porcello gave up a solo homer to Ian Kinsler in the fifth and a three-run homer to Martin Maldonado in the sixth, and the lead was suddenly down to two runs.

The Sox went to Joe Kelly in the seventh, and that didn't go well. After singles by Justin Upton and Albert Pujols put runners at the corners with one out, Kelly had a chance to start a double play when Luis Valbuena hit a crisp grounder back to the mound. Kelly went for what would have been an easy out at second, but his throw sailed into center field, and a run scored on the error. Andrelton Simmons followed by ripping an RBI double to tie the game at 6.

Video: LAA@BOS: Upton scores after ball sails past second

Rafael Devers (RBI double) and Leon (RBI single off the Monster) put the momentum back on Boston's side with timely two-out hits in the bottom of the seventh.

"This is a team where I feel like there's not really much panic," Martinez said. "Everyone's like, 'All right, let's go, we've got to get it back,' and Devers came up with a big hit there."

Video: LAA@BOS: Devers lines go-ahead RBI double to center

And when the Angels threatened to come back again, Cora erased the possibility by calling on Kimbrel with two on and two outs. Though Kimbrel walked Pujols to load the bases, he thrilled the Fenway Park crowd by striking out Valbuena with 97.9-mph heat.

"We made the decision that he was going to get four outs if the situation was there. He did a good job, made some quality pitches on Pujols, got Valbuena, then obviously shut it down," said Cora. "Today was a total team effort."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
J.D. sets club record: With his blast in the second, Martinez set the club record for home runs through the end of June. Ted Williams (1950), Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco (1996), and Manny Ramirez (2001) all hit 24 through June 30. Martinez is the seventh Red Sox player to hit 25-plus homers in the team's first 81 games, and the first since David Ortiz (27 at the midpoint of 2006).

"I mean, that's an honor. Yeah, that's definitely an honor," said Martinez. "Those are great players, so to be mentioned alongside them is awesome. But you guys know how I am. I'm on to the next one. Who do we got tomorrow, really?"

Video: LAA@BOS: Martinez plates 3 with MLB-best 25th homer

SOUND SMART
This is just the fourth time in Red Sox history that they've won as many as 54 of their first 81 games. The last time it happened was in 1978 (56-25). In 1912 and '46, Boston also went 56-25.

The Red Sox have outscored the Angels, 45-10, in the first five games against them this season, and have won all five. In doing so, they have a .363 average and 18 homers.

HE SAID IT
"Chemistry is great here. We have a really good team. Everyone pulls for each other. Everyone is constantly trying to learn. I think it's a team that every day just wants to grow and wants to get better, and that's rare. You don't see that very often, so it's exciting." -- Martinez, evaluating his team near the midway point

Video: J.D. sets Boston franchise record for HRs before July

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Nunez chopped a grounder to third to start the bottom of the fifth and looked like he was going to be safe when the throw by Valbuena pulled Pujols off the bag. Nunez delicately managed to stay in the baseline and seemed to avoid the tag, but he was called out. The Red Sox challenged the call, but the replay official could not definitively determine if Pujols was able to slap the tag, and the out call stood.

"I don't know what happened there," said Cora. "Every angle we saw, he was safe."

Video: LAA@BOS: Valbuena nabs Nunez, call stands in 5th

UP NEXT
With Steven Wright going back on the disabled list earlier this week with inflammation in his left knee, lefty Brian Johnson will come out of the bullpen to make his second start of the season on Thursday. Johnson also started on April 2 at Miami and got the win, holding the Marlins to six hits and a run over six innings. This will be his eighth career start. The Angels counter with righty Jaime Barria. First pitch of the season-series finale between the Red Sox and Angels is set for 7:10 p.m. ET.

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

Boston Red Sox, Sandy Leon, J.D. Martinez, Eduardo Nunez