MINNEAPOLIS -- One night after he delivered arguably the biggest hit of the season for the Red Sox, Will Middlebrooks keyed another Boston victory on Friday by doing something he'd only done once as a professional.
With Boston's game vs. Minnesota tied in the 10th inning, the first two batters reached base, putting Middlebrooks in an unfamiliar spot. He's used to driving in runs -- like the three he drove in on Thursday when the Sox were down to their last strike and he doubled off Rays closer Fernando Rodney.
On Friday, however, Middlebrooks was asked to bunt, and he dropped down a beauty that put the Red Sox in position for Jonny Gomes' go-ahead sacrifice fly in an eventual 3-2 win.
You have to go back five years, when a 19-year-old Middlebrooks was playing for Lowell in the Class A New York-Penn League, to find the only time Middlebrooks had laid down a sacrifice bunt. That's one bunt in 2,152 professional plate appearances.
On Friday, Middlebrooks handled the task with ease, dropping a 1-0 pitch from Josh Roenicke softly down the first-base line. Roenicke's only play was to first base, both runners advanced, and after an intentional walk to Stephen Drew filled the bases, Dustin Pedroia scampered home on Gomes' fly ball to left-center field and the Sox had their third consecutive win.
"The situation called for it," manager John Farrell said. "When you get the first two guys on with a base hit and a walk and you're sitting there with a first-and-second, nobody-out situation, even though you've got a middle-of-the-order type of guy, we had to do what we could to move the runners up 90 feet."
Even though he's not accustomed to bunting, Middlebrooks was already thinking about dropping one down no matter what Farrell wanted.
"Honestly, in my own mind, if they hadn't given me the bunt [sign] there on the second pitch, I might have just done it, just to get the guys over," Middlebrooks said. "It was a perfect situation for it. I haven't really been bunting, so they don't know if I'm a good bunter or not. It's not something that's come up. So I can understand why they wouldn't have given it to me, and have me foul off a couple of bunts and waste an at-bat. I'm glad they had the confidence in me."
Middlebrooks finished the night 0-for-4, but with three multihit games in the last week, he's got his average back up over .200 and hopes it's the start of a big turnaround.
"It's getting better," Middlebrooks said. "It's been a tough month, but I'm getting consistent with my approach at the plate and getting some pitches to hit, so we'll see where we go from here."
No longer starting, Miller thriving in bullpen
MINNEAPOLIS -- He was the sixth overall pick of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. He was once the centerpiece of a trade for Miguel Cabrera. Now he's filling one of the more anonymous roles on a baseball roster as a middle reliever/setup man, but Andrew Miller and the Red Sox wouldn't have it any other way.
Miller, who scuffled through five difficult seasons with the Tigers and Marlins, came to Boston in 2011 and tried to resurrect his career in the Red Sox's rotation. After posting a 5.55 ERA in 12 starts, Miller was moved to the bullpen, and that's where -- very quietly -- he seems to have found himself a home.
Last year, Miller went 3-2 with a 3.35 ERA in 53 relief appearances. This year, his numbers (0-1, 4.15) are a bit skewed by one bad outing, when he gave up three runs in one-third of an inning against Toronto, but after allowing runs in three of his first seven appearances, he's held opponents scoreless in 11 of his last 12 outings.
The southpaw also has the full confidence of manager John Farrell. In the last two games -- both Red Sox victories -- he's thrown 2 1/3 shutout innings, and he retired all five batters he faced Friday night against the Twins. After the game, no matter what question was asked, Farrell kept finding a way to bring it back to Miller's performance.
"Andrew Miller, what he did last night down in [St. Petersburg] and again tonight -- after the first three or four outings of the season, he's really started to turn the corner," Farrell said on Friday. "The dependability, the strike-throwing is there, the breaking ball has been much more consistent to give him something to get right-handers off his fastball."
In describing his season, Miller could well have been summarizing his career to this point, laying out a philosophy that has served him well since he left the University of North Carolina as one of the hottest prospects in the country.
"I've had some ups and downs, just like always," Miller said on Saturday. "You want to ride the highs as long as you can and eliminate the lows, but I feel like I'm settling in pretty good and am ready to compete and help us win however I can.
"I think the only time we really get noticed is when we blow a game, so it's a little different," Miller said of life as a relief pitcher. "But it's a lot of fun to be on a team like this where we win a lot and you can contribute on any given night."
Miller was also able to laugh about narrowly avoiding being injured by a foul ball in the dugout on Friday. Teammate Jarrod Saltalamacchia lined a ball that ricocheted off a padded wall and struck Miller in the forehead.
"I think it just caught me off guard more than anything," he said with a chuckle. "I'm going to have to start wearing a helmet in the dugout."
Following awkward slide, Drew held out of lineup
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Red Sox were playing short handed again on Saturday night, only this time they're down two starters.
Shane Victorino missed his second consecutive game against the Twins with lower back pain and Stephen Drew was added to the injured list with a bad back of his own. Drew slid awkwardly at second base after hitting an eighth-inning double on Friday night. The shortstop stayed in the game, but he experienced soreness overnight and couldn't get loose enough to play on Saturday.
"Stephen came in and got a lot of treatment," manager John Farrell said before Saturday's game. "He took some swings in the cage and felt OK, but really felt more mid-back soreness when he would twist and almost arch his back on a throw."
Farrell termed Drew's day off as "precautionary" and said that Drew and Victorino "both need a day." Victorino missed a week with back spasms at the end of April and said Friday that he's going to take it slow to avoid a similar absence from the lineup.
"Shane feels better than he did last night, but still, there's probably too much risk running him out there today when another day just might get him over the hump somewhat," Farrell said. "He's a hard guy to keep out of the lineup, because he wants to get in every day."
Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.