KANSAS CITY -- Jacoby Ellsbury entered Saturday night's game against the Royals with a .381 batting average against Jeremy Guthrie and that statistical trend continues to hold up quite well.
Ellsbury held true to form and then some by going 4-for-4 against Guthrie and 4-for-5 overall as the Red Sox held off Kansas City for a 5-3 win at Kauffman Stadium. Ellsbury is up to .435 (20-for-46) against Guthrie and that's Ellsbury's best average against any pitcher when he has had a minimum of 25 at-bats.
Ellsbury can't really pinpoint why he has been so successful against a pitcher who has already won 12 games for the resurgent Royals. But he'll take those gaudy numbers against Guthrie and move on.
"I was looking at my at-bats in the past against him and it's just one of those baseball things that has worked out in my favor," Ellsbury said. Guthrie can take some comfort in knowing that Ellsbury is tough on just about every pitcher these days. With a .305 batting average and 42 steals, he ranks as one of the top offensive forces in the Major Leagues.
Ellsbury had two doubles, two singles, two RBIs, a steal and a sliding catch in a dazzling display that helped Boston snap a two-game slide and positioned the Red Sox to go for a split in the four-game series on Sunday.
"He's in a good place right now and has been for quite awhile," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He's up there with a number of guys in the importance they have with this team. He's a pretty dynamic player."
The Red Sox burst to a 4-0 lead in the fourth with recently recalled Will Middlebrooks contributing a two-run single and Ellsbury adding an RBI double to highlight the offense. But Boston starter Felix Doubront struggled with his command and the Royals came charging hard in the fifth.
Kansas City scored three and had runners at second and third with one out when reliever Brandon Workman wiggled out of trouble and preserved the lead by getting Mike Moustakas on a popup and then fanning Brett Hayes.
Middlebrooks and Ellsbury teamed up again in the sixth for an insurance run as Middlebrooks beat out an infield chopper with two outs and scored on Ellsbury's double to left-center.
Beginning with Workman's escape in the fifth, the Boston bullpen came up huge. Craig Breslow handled the sixth, Junichi Tazawa threw two scoreless innings and Koji Uehara worked a clean ninth for his 12th save.
"You'd like not to go to the bullpen in the fifth or sixth, but you do what the game calls for," Farrell said. "Workman has been thrust into some meaningful roles, whether in the rotation or coming into a tight jam like today and preserving it. This was a very good night from the bullpen."
By going 2-for-4 with two RBIs on the day he was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket, Middlebrooks made an impression on his manager.
"He steps right in and contributes," Farrell said.
The two-run single by Middlebrooks in the fourth was an opposite field poke to right. Not exactly a screaming liner, but an important hit for a variety of reasons.
"I don't care where the ball goes," Farrell said. "If the ball lands on the grass and we score two, I'm sure it allows him to take a deep breath. He's playing hard, he's hustling and it's great to see him contributing."
The Red Sox (71-48) upped their lead over Tampa Bay to three games in the American League East while Kansas City (60-54) was slowed following a 17-4 surge since the All-Star break.
"We had our chances," said Royals designated hitter Billy Butler, who hurt the Red Sox again with a 3-for-5 night at the plate. "We got Doubront's pitch count up, but we couldn't get anything out of it early."
The Red Sox impressed Kansas City with the plate discipline they showed against Guthrie.
"They just weren't swinging at anything out of the zone," Butler said. "[Guthrie] threw a lot of close pitches and they were taking them as though they were way out of the zone. That's a good team over there. They take the ball well and they have a great approach."
Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.