BOSTON -- Coming off a long, lifeless, unsuccessful road trip, the Boston Red Sox seemed to be at a crossroads, at least in the eyes of an eager fan base wondering in which direction the organization was going with the current unit.
In reality, with nearly 100 games to go in what will remain a muddled playoff race until the end, there really wasn’t anywhere to go but to the ballpark, and to try to get better. It helps when that ballpark is Fenway, which has catered to so many great Red Sox teams over the years. The current edition had been one of the exceptions, opening their defense of the World Series title going 10-17 at Fenway, but it appears as if the Sox have finally turned Fenway into an advantage again.
Boston has won seven straight at home after a 10-3 victory over Cleveland on Friday that ranked as the best offensive output of the year. With John Lackey laying out another quality start and the bats producing 11 hits (six for extra bases), a club that has appeared extremely tight at times this year finally had the look of a bunch of kids just having fun.
“I’ll take that anytime,” Lackey said of the run support. “Yeah, it was a great night. Played great defense, guys swung the bats well. Fun night.”
A party is always best when it is well-attended and all attendees are having fun. For the second straight night at Fenway, everyone got involved for the Sox. A day after Dustin Pedroia was one of two Boston starters without a hit, David Ortiz was the only one to go hitless Friday. That means that a lot of lesser names are doing big things, and that’s exactly what manager John Farrell said is key to a turnaround.
“A lot of good at-bats, particularly from the bottom half of the lineup,” Farrell said. “Been a while since we’ve had a number of doubles with a couple of men on. I thought very good at-bats. ... We’re always going to be a group that strives for continuity in the lineup. We’ve been able to ride some of the peaks and valleys here. There’s a number of guys that are relaxed in the box right now.
“When there’s contributions up and down the lineup, then certain guys don’t feel like they have to get something done if they’re at the plate with runners in scoring position. To know, to trust one another up and down the lineup, that’s what makes us tick best.”
Consider the fact that Xander Bogaerts, Pedroia, Ortiz and Mike Napoli -- the heart of Boston’s order -- drew a combined seven walks Friday night while the other five starters had none. That is a strong indication that the opponents were targeting those lesser names, hoping to continue to exploit the soft underbelly of the Red Sox lineup.
Well, that soft underbelly combined to go 7-for-21 with two doubles, a triple and four RBIs, a quality complement to Bogaerts (a slump-busting solo homer in the eighth), Pedroia (two-run double), Ortiz (three walks) and Napoli (two-run double). Daniel Nava had an RBI double Friday and is 5-for-8 in the series. Jackie Bradley Jr. is 3-for-7 with two walks in the set. Brock Holt has three hits, including a two-run double. Jonathan Herrera has three hits, including a triple.
“It was fun. It was fun to see everyone kind of contribute,” said A.J. Pierzynski, one of those Red Sox players who feasts on opposing pitchers in Fenway Park (career .327 hitter). “Everyone had a hit [except Ortiz] and had something to do with us scoring a bunch of runs. Look up and we scored 10, that’s a good night for an offense. We had a bunch of hits, a lot of really good at-bats. We had big hits, which was good.”
Even Nava credited his teammates with helping him continue to break out. Simply being around others who are feeling comfortable at the plate has made him feel the same, he said.
The batting order looks very little like the one Farrell had in mind when he laid things out in March, but the recent run of success at home has exhibited one quality that goes beyond the names on the lineup card.
“I think the thing that stands out the most is we answered every time they scored,” Farrell said. “That’s two nights in a row and that’s a very encouraging sign.”
Indeed it is for a team that has struggled to provide an answer to opponents’ rallies, facing loads of early deficits that created tight play and a slim margin for error. The Sox answered the Indians’ two-run rally in the sixth inning Thursday with a two-spot of their own to help seal the 5-3 win.
Cleveland took a 2-0 lead in the second inning Friday, only to see Pierzynski and Bradley key a three-run rally in the bottom half. When the Indians plated another in the third to create a 3-3 tie, Boston answered once more with two runs to take the lead for good.
Earlier in the home winning streak they had a 4-3 victory over Atlanta that featured a two-run rally in the eighth in response to a Braves run, and then a walk-off rally in the ninth. There was also the wild 3-2 win in extra innings against Tampa Bay the following night, when the Sox had a reply to one Rays rally before tying it in the seventh and winning in the 10th.
In between came the 2-7 road trip that had the club, and its fans, searching for answers and prompting general manager Ben Cherington to comment on the state of the squad. His idea, which essentially was to stay the course, was not entirely popular. The Sox seemed lifeless and in need of a jolt.
Perhaps all they needed was a return home, and a re-commitment to the relentless, top-to-bottom attack that has been the hallmark of so many good Red Sox teams, especially at Fenway Park.