BOSTON - It's strange how quickly things can turn around for a team or a player.
The Boston Red Sox, who won just 69 games last season in Bobby Valentine's disastrous one year as manager, are off to a 16-7 start and have been in first place since Opening Day, setting a franchise record for consecutive days in first at the beginning of a season.
On Friday night, win No. 16, a 7-3 victory over the Houston Astros, was fueled by a 4-for-4, two-homer night from backup catcher David Ross, who turned himself around after coming into the game mired in an 0-for-12 slump and hitting .120 (3 for 25) for the season.
"First time ever. I've never been 4 for 4, so I'm pretty excited about that," Ross said after hitting two of his team's four homers and stroking four of the 17 hits in Boston's third straight win and fourth in the last five games.
"It seems like it's been somebody else every night. I'm excited to be a part of this team. A lot of these guys help each other out, a lot of these guys help me out and it's nice to be able to contribute."
David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks also homered in support of Ryan Dempster, who picked up his first win with his new team by allowing two runs and four hits and matching his season high with 10 strikeouts in six innings.
"Ryan did a great job. He always does. He knows how to pitch," Ross said.
Dempster came in a rather hard-luck 0-2 and wanted to contribute to the success of a starting staff that's now 13-4.
"It's always nice to get the first win out of the way, especially the first one with a new team," Dempster said. "Hopefully, you just build off that and work towards another one."
Ross connected for his second and third homers with his new team, Ortiz hit his second mammoth homer in as many nights and Middlebrooks had his sixth of the season as the Red Sox stroked nine extra base hits off Erik Bedard (0-2, 7.98 ERA) and two relievers. They also had a run on four singles off Rhiner Cruz in the eighth.
"I thought we had an excellent approach against Bedard," said Boston manager John Farrell, who was only slightly upset the Red Fox scored seven runs with all of those hits.
The Red Sox have had 14 runs and 28 hits in two nights against the newest member of the American League, a team that is going to lose a lot of games (7-16 so far and losers of seven straight road games).
"It's always tough when your starter does not go deep into the game and you go into your bullpen early. You're behind the eight-ball and behind in the game as well," said Houston manager Bo Porter, whose starters have given him a combined 7 2/3 innings and allowed 12 runs in the series. "At some point, we're going to need these to start going deep into the game."
Four relievers followed Dempster, whose ERA is 3.30. Ross said Dempster had "like a Bugs Bunny splitty tonight. That thing was really working good on some of those guys. It was like some Nintendo stuff going on out there."
Asked what a Bugs Bunny splitty is, Ross said, "It's like a video game one. A real good one. It's like better than the Yosemite Sam one."
Dustin Pedroia had three hits for the Red Sox. Jose Altuve, clearly Houston's best player, hit two sacrifice flies for Houston.
"They're playing good and they're hitting the ball good, so you just got to try to make some good pitches and get some outs," said Bedard, who pitched for the Red Sox in 2011.
Ortiz is hitting .500 (12 for 24) with two homers and six RBI in six games since coming off the disabled list. He has unloaded two homers into the center-field bleachers in as many nights.
Boston pitchers struck out 14, giving the Red Sox 232 Ks for the month, the most a Boston staff has ever had in any month.
NOTES: Boston first baseman Mike Napoli doubled home a run in the third inning, his 17th extra base hit and 12th double, both new Red Sox records for April. Jose Offerman had 16 extra base hits in April 1999 and three players had 11 doubles in the month. Napoli added another double in the seventh. ... Jacoby Ellsbury swiped his 11th base (in 11 tries), breaking his club record for April. He also became the third Soxer with 200 steals, the first of the live-ball era. ... Red Sox field fielder Shane Victorino missed his second straight game and fourth n less than a week with back spasms. Farrell reported improvement but hinted Victorino may well have to sit out the weekend. ... Porter says he's keeping right-hander Philip Humber in the rotation despite back-to-back disastrous starts. ... Altuve has reached base in a career-best 16 straight games. ... Slumping Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew, 5 for 42 this season, got the night off against the lefty starter, with Ciriaco playing short. Farrell said Ciriaco could get another start this weekend and that it would likely be at third. ... Houston rookie Brad Peacock, acquired in the deal that sent Jed Lowrie to Oakland, starts against Boston left-hander Felix Doubront on Saturday night. ... Center fielder Justin Maxwell, who had played in every inning of Houston's first 20 games before fracturing his left hand, won't need surgery and is slated to miss four to six weeks. ... Triple-A left-hander Rudy Owens, a candidate to join the Astros' rotation, will miss four to five months with a stress fracture in his left foot. He will have surgery on Monday. ... Red Sox reliever Joel Hanrahan (hamstring) gave up two hits, including a two-run homer, pitching for triple-A Pawtucket on Friday night.