Ciriaco (2-for-3) followed David Ortiz' (1-for-2, 2 IBBS) lead, after Papi blasted a tape-measure home run in the first, as the rookie infielder lined a two-run single up the middle in the second and gave the Sox just enough to keep the Rays at bay.
Franklin Morales (2-2, 3.16 ERA) threw a solid five innings, allowing just two hits and striking out five in another strong performance as a starter. While Scott Atchison and Andrew Miller couldn't get things done in relief, Matt Albers was a stud once again and struck out three in 1 1/3 innings of work.
Vicente Padilla and Alfredo Aceves came on to shut things down in the eight and ninth, allowing for a threat in the eighth but using their power pitches to close out this one with a 3-1 win to kick off the second half of the season.
Mid 9th Inning, Red Sox 3-1:Mike Aviles' leadoff double went for naught on the inning, as both Ciriaco and Ellsbury were unable to convert.
Pinch-hitter Cody Ross took Nava's place in the lineup, but he too turned up empty with a popout to left field to end the threat.
Ellsbury struck out for the second time on the night, finishing the game 1-for-5 and still not completely settled in at the dish.
Alfredo Aceves will enter to see if he can toss some sauce — get it, Alfredo… Sauce — on the Rays hopes of a comeback and close things out for the Sox.
End 8th Inning, Red Sox 3-1: Wow. What a play from Ryan Sweeney. He deserves an Espy for that defensive effort.
After a leadoff double from Ben Zobrist — his second on the night — B.J. Upton beamed a liner into right field and Sweeney came on hard to snare it before hitting the ground. Then a quick popup and throw cut Zobrist down at third base.
The play was something to be admired, but Nick Punto's leg definitely got the brunt of the play as he caught one of Zobrist's spikes right into the shin. Yikes!
Padilla then closed it out with a strikeout of Rodriguez, keeping the Sox 3-1 lead in tact heading to the ninth.
Mid 8th Inning, Red Sox 3-1: Kyle Farnsworth, who was the Rays anticipated closer heading into the season, had a qucik 1-2-3 inning in the eighth.
The Sox went down in order, as Middlebrooks ground out — now 0-for-4 — and struck out both Salty and Sweeney.
The Sox send Padilla to the mound to try and keep the 3-1 lead in tact.
End 7th Inning, Red Sox 3-1: Albers strikes again!
The hefty right-hander pulled out some high heat in the bottom of the seventh, striking out Lobaton and Johnson before inducing Pena into an inning-ending lineout.
Albers has been a strong option out of the Sox bullpen this season, improving on a medioce campaing last year. He has firmly settled into the seventh inning role since Franklin Morales turned to the rotation, and he could even be confidently moved to the eighth if Padilla were ever found to struggle consistently.
Either way, Albers has asserted himself as a viable option in the pen and it wouldn't be surprising to see Valentine rely on him more in the second half.
Mid 7th Inning, Red Sox 3-1: The Boston bats came back alive in the seventh, powered by another Ciriaco single — he's now 3-for-3 on the night/
But after a Jacoby Ellsbury single and an intentional walk to Ortiz — the second of the night — Mauro Gomez grounded into a double playe to keep the elad at 3-0.
That's twice now that the Rays pitchers have given Ortiz a free base to get to Gomez, and twice they have found success with the move. Adrian Gonzalez may be on the bench with some flu-like symptoms, but the insertion of Cody Ross could always help to solidify and protect Papi in the No. 4 hole. Just a little food for though there Bobby!
Bottom 6th Inning, Red Sox 3-1: The Tampa Bay bats took advantage of Morales absence on the mound, shelling reliever Scott Atchison in the sixth. But Matt Albers wasn't having any of the Tampa two step.
A Mike Aviles throwing error cost the Sox, as basrunner Ben Zobrist was brought around to score on a rocket double to left field off the bat of Sean Rodriguez.
But Matt Albers, the third Boston pitcher to appear in the inning, came out to strikeout Desmond Jennings and end the threat heading into the seventh.
Morales threw five scoreless, and Atchison completed 2/3 inning and accounted for the unearned run before Andrew Miller came on. Miller was also unable to complete the task, and was replaced by Matt Albers.
Mid 6th Inning, Red Sox 3-0: A one-out single from Salty had the Red Sox looking like they'd be taking advantage of an overworked Hellickson.
But the young pitcher breezed through Sweeney and Aviles to get out of the inning, and likely the game after 110 pitches, having allowed just the three runs.
It looks like J.P. Howell will be the guy toeing the rubber in the seventh inning for Tampa, which could mean additional runs for the Sox.
That would first involved Morales and Co. getting Boston safely through the bottom of the sixth though.
End 5th Inning, Red Sox 3-0: Morales escaped another jam in the fifth inning, showing a unique ability to avoid the nigthmare scenario on Friday.
A Jose Lobaton double had the Rays on the verge on scoring their first run of the night, but Morales locked in and struck out back-to-back batters in closing out his fifth inning of scoreless ball.
With 95 pitches at this point, Morales may be done for the evening and if so would have done a tremendous job of keeping the Sox in his effort.
Mid 5th Inning, Red Sox 3-0: Ellsbury still hasn't found his groove through three plate appearances, grounding into a double play after Ciriaco led things off with a high-bouncing single.
Ells looks to be aggressive at the plate, which is a good sign considering his time away. But there's clearly some timing issues that he'll need to fix as he gets more reps at the dish.
Meanwhile, Hellickson wasn't taking another chance with Big Papi at the plate, choosing to intentionally walk Papi in favor of the far more inexperienced Gomez. The decision paid off, too, as Gomez grounded into an inning-ending fielder's choice.
End 4th Inning, Red Sox 3-0: A bases loaded nightmare, that's what Franklin Morales got himself into in the bottom of the fourth.
After cruising through the first 3 2/3 inning, Morales seemed to hiccup a bit in the fourth. A pair of quick flyouts had the starter looking like he'd move right on through another inning smoothly.
Three walks and a balk had the bases full and Luke Scott at the dish, but Morales went up in the strike zone to get Scott swinging and head back to the dugout with the 3-0 lead in tact.
That inning took Morales 33 pitches to finish, but sitting at 81 it's still likey that Morales can make it through six and give the Sox bullpen some cushion. Another rally by the bats would certainly help.
Mid 4th Inning, Red Sox 3-0: Hellickson continues to unload and is on a roll now, sitting down the past eight Red Sox.
Boston got to Hellickson before he settled in, which appears to be just what Morales needed to find his own comfort zone.
Hellickson only threw 12 pitches in the fourth, though, and Boston needs to force him to throw more pitches so they can get into the Tampa bullpen early and get the stud second-year starter off the mound.
End 3rd Inning, Red Sox 3-0:Morales continues to deal on the mound, and he's beginning to look more like the guy who started three nearly flawless outings over the past few weeks and less like the guy that gave up six runs over 3 1/3 last weekend.
The Rays went down 1-2-3 once againe and Morales is rolling smooth, having thrown just 48 pitches for the Sox through three innings.
He seems to be pretty efficient with his pitches and is keeping his heater away from the Rays, which in turn is keeping Tampa off the bases and likely off the board.
8:15 p.m.: Ryan Westmoreland, one of the Red Sox most promising young prospects, successfully underwent another surgery for a complication of a cavernous malformation in his brain, according to the Red Sox.
Westmoreland had already endured also underwent brain surgery in 2010, after a growth in his brain was discovered.
Ryan is comfortably resting in the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ and is hoping to regain his strength after the surgery.
For everyone here at NESN, we wish Ryan a very quick and smooth recovery and to see him back on the baseball field soon enough.
Mid 3rd Inning, Red Sox 3-0: Hellickson ignored a widl — quite literally — second inning and focused his attention on sitting down Red Sox.
The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year accomplished his goal in the third, too. Hellickson had David Ortiz, who homered in the first, go down on a deep flyout to left and followed that with a pair of strikeouts to Mauro Gomez and Will Middlebrooks.
Hellickson has seemed to settle in, but he could be in for a quick night as he's already thrown 61 pitches through three inning. And early bullpen call could be just what the Sox need to pile it on, here.
End 2nd Inning, Red Sox 3-0: Morales threw on cruise control in the second inning, sitting down a pair by way of the K, before handling Luke Scott as well.
The Red Sox starter has had great control on each of his four pitches on the night, throwing his fastball around 96 mph and getting solid movement on his breaking ball. If he continued pitching this way, Morales will surely keep the Sox lead in tact for the win.
There's still a ways to go in this one, but the Sox definitely look energized by the start of the second half.
Mid 2nd Inning, Red Sox 3-0: There's a new Pedro in town, and he's taking advantage of pitchers much like Martinez used to do to opposing hitters.
Ciriaco smacked a hard-hit groundball up the middle, singling to center field and scored two runs to put the Sox on top 3-0. Salty and Sweeney both came around, after both walked to leadoff the inning.
Ellsbury didn't have quite the same success, whiffing on a changeup as his timing still looks to be off.
Hellickson also didn't appear to have his best command in the inning, giving off a similar look to how Daniel Bard appeared in his final days at the big league level. Hellickson walked two and hit Aviles with a pitch, but was able to battle back after the Ciriaco single to get out of the jam.
End 1st Inning, Red Sox 1-0: Franklin Morales shook off a strange start to the first inning and escaped unscathed.
After a pair of quick outs, Morales allowed a well-hit double to left field and Ben Zobrist was securely in scoring position with two outs. Then Mauro Gomez' broken first baseman's mitt allowed B.J. Upton to reach base and Zobrist headed to third.
But Upton's steal attempt was swallowed by a Saltalamacchia throw and the Rays center fielder was out after running out of the basepaths.
An unusual series of events, but I supposed it's not about the method but moreso the result.
Mid 1st Inning, Red Sox 1-0: David Ortiz blasts the Red Sox in the right direction to kickoff the second half — literally, blasts off.
After seeing four straight pitches away, Ortiz crushed a fastball inside 430-plus feet deep into the right field bleachers for his 23rd home run of the year. And a bat flip to boot, Papi looked awfully pumped about that homer. Keep an eye out for a potential payback pitch the next time up from Hellickson.
Jacoby Ellsbury, meanwhile, may need some reps before he gets his timing down, especially against elite pitchers lik Tampa's Jeremy Hellickson.
Ells hit a sharp liner to left fiel, but Desmond Jennings snared it on fairly routine play. He definitely showed the same aggressive approach that saw Ellsbury named the runner-up in the AL MVP voting in 2011.
7:05 p.m.: Let's get this thing going and see what Ellsbury's got in his return to the diamond. Play ball, folks.
6:52 p.m.: Daniel Bard's transition into the starting rotation didn't exactly work out as the Red Sox had hoped. But the flame-throwing right-hander may be returning to his old form during his time in Pawtucket.
NESN.com MLB writer Didier Morais caught up with Bard's manager at Triple-A Pawtucket, Arnie Beyeler, who was very optimistic about the reliever's chances.
6:30 p.m.: The Red Sox are already off to a tough start to the second half.
All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has been scratched from Boston's lineup in their first game back to action. Gonzalez, who was pulled from Boston's game on Sunday against the Yankees with flu-like symptoms, will sit once again on Friday to get some added rest before returning to the field, according to Bobby Valentine.
Triple-A callup Mauro Gomez, who started all three games of the weekend series, will get the start at first base and hit in the cleanup hole for the Sox.
5:55 p.m.: In light if Ellsbury's return to the Red Sox, there are some other players on the mend and looking to get back to Fenway soon.
Carl Crawford, who has yet to suit up for the Sox this season, was back on the field in Pawtucket on Thursday night. Crawford went 2-for-3 and scored a run in the PawSox loss, but after the game he chatted about his desire to get back to Boston.
NESN.com MLB writer Didier Morais also wrote about Crawford's imminent return, explaining that the four-time All-Star could be risking a whole lot by rushing his return.
5:15 p.m.: It's been 79 games since Jacoby Ellsbury last suited up for the Red Sox, but his return to the Boston lineup should have a big impact on the offenses inconsistent first half.
Ellsbury will leadoff and start in center field for the Sox, as Boston enters Tampa Bay to take on the AL East rival Rays.
Check out the full lineups for both sides, below.
Red Sox (43-43)
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Daniel Nava, LF
David Ortiz, DH
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Will Middlebrooks, 3B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Ryan Sweeney, RF
Mike Aviles, SS
Pedro Ciriaco, 2B
Franklin Morales, LHP (1-2, 3.50)
Elliot Johnson, SS
Carlos Pena, 1B
Ben Zobrist, RF
B.J. Upton, CF
Jason Keppinger, 2B
Sean Rodriguez, 2B
Luke Scott, DH
Desmond Jennings, LF
Jose Lobaton, C
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP (4-5, 3.41)
8 a.m.: The Red Sox first half ended just as it began, with an even record and still without some of it's key members.
Luckily for manager Bobby Valentine and the Boston offense, Jacoby Ellsbury is back with the club and ready to make an immediate impact both at the plate and in the field. Ellsbury, who finished the 2011 season as the runner-up in the MVP race, is hoping to come out with guns blazing once more.
While Ells prepares to settle in at the plate, Franklin Morales will take the hill for Boston in search of an improved outing after a woeful performance against the Yankees on Saturday. Morales will be squaring off against a loaded Tampa Bay lineup, as Boston faces the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson.
NESN will have all your Red Sox coverage, starting at 6 p.m. with Red Sox pregame. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m.