BOSTON -- The current Red Sox campaign may one day draw comparisons to the 1967 “Impossible Dream” team that shockingly won the American League pennant, but as of now it’s a stretch. The ’67 crew ended years of frustration at Fenway and survived an intense race with several teams, while this year’s unit is running away with the division and the organization has had just one losing season since 1997.
However, the 2013 Red Sox have now surpassed those impossible dreamers in one regard. With their 90th win of the season Friday, an 8-4 triumph in the first of three games against the New York Yankees, Boston has produced a 21-win turnaround from last year’s dismal 69-93 campaign. The 1967 turnaround was “only” 20 games, from 72 to 92.
That’s just one of the many remarkable aspects of the Sox’s continued success, which now has their magic number to clinch the American League East crown at seven games (pending the result of Tampa Bay’s game with Minnesota later Friday).
Here is some of what we saw along the way Friday night:
Too Salty: The Sox lost all of a 4-0 lead before getting all four runs back on one swing as Jarrod Saltalamacchia hammered a grand slam with one out in the seventh to provide the decisive blow. It was Saltalamacchia’s third career slam and his ninth home run in 59 games at home. And if you’re keeping score at home, it is the second tiebreaking grand slam in the past three games for Boston.
Home again, home again, jiggity jig: Manager John Farrell spoke before the game about how his players “thrive” on the energy at Fenway Park and how it can be a pick-me-up after returning from a long road trip. That certainly seemed to be the case during a four-run first inning that saw the Red Sox wear out Hiroki Kuroda with some trademark at-bats.
At that point in time, Boston had produced an awesome 24 runs in its past eight innings at home. Overall, the Sox have won 14 of their past 19 at Fenway, where they own the American League’s best home mark.
Eat U-heart out: There was no save involved, but Koji Uehara retired all three men he faced in the ninth to extend his streak of consecutive outs to 37, ending it on a three-pitch strikeout of Curtis Granderson. That stat pretty much speaks for itself.
Pedroia’s performance: The Red Sox second baseman had another busy game in his fourth straight in the leadoff role. He had a base hit to begin the four-run first inning, becoming the 20th Boston player to reach 1,200 hits with the team, and ripped another in the second to become the 20th to reach 1,201.
In the fourth, Pedroia had just his fifth error of the season on a hard one-hopper that hit off his glove, spoiling a potential inning-ending double play and giving the Yankees a little life. True to form, Pedroia ended up saving a run and finishing the inning with a great diving stop of an Ichiro Suzuki grounder.
Pedroia was threatening to set the all-time Red Sox mark for fielding percentage by a second baseman, a record set by Mark Loretta in 2006. Pedroia entered the night just a shade behind Loretta and with a nice errorless stretch in the final two weeks would have easily surpassed him. Not that anyone is holding their breath on Pedroia’s pursuit, but it may be out the window now.
The cryin’ Hawaiian: After getting plunked on the right elbow in the bottom of the second inning, Shane Victorino had been hit by a pitch 11 times in just 91 plate appearances while batting right-handed against a right-handed pitcher. Victorino received a brief visit from Farrell and a trainer while slowly walking to first base but remained in the game.
While Victorino is the one getting beat up, it is a wonder how frustrating it is to opponents who throw pitches an inch off the plate and see Victorino reach base. The one that caught him in the second was practically a strike, but after catching a leaning Victorino on the elbow it put two men on with one out for David Ortiz, a scenario no pitcher wants.
Victorino also made a sensational running catch on a ball in the gap in the sixth and walked gingerly back to his position, adding some sort of ache or pain to a litany of minor physical issues for him this year. That play is a great representation of Victorino’s season: a remarkable defensive play made in the clutch by a guy who has the appearance that he might crumble to pieces if caught in a light breeze.
Now why doesn’t Ortiz do that?!?! That must’ve been the cry in the top of the first inning from some of those who feel that Ortiz should drop more bunts down the third-base line whenever opposing teams shift heavily to the right against him. Those on both sides of that debate had just witnessed Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano drop a bunt double (yes, double) down the line, racing for two bases as the ball rolled fair past the bag and almost to the wall jutting out in shallow left field.
Eleven pitches into a Yankees-Red Sox contest, and we already had our “You don’t see that every night” moment.
Missed opportunities: The Sox had Kuroda on the ropes early. There was the four-run first that seemed to set the tone and then they loaded the bases with one out in the second before squandering that chance.
Saltalamacchia then doubled to start the third and moved to third with one out. Kuroda fanned Will Middlebrooks and got Jackie Bradley Jr. to pop to center. That was early in a stretch that saw Kuroda retire 13 of 14 hitters before a leadoff hit in the seventh began Boston’s four-run rally.
Before Saltalamacchia’s blast it looked as if the blown chances early might haunt the Sox.