Commentary

Red Sox are gaining ground

With the help of struggling foes in AL East, Boston showing signs of turnaround

Updated: June 30, 2014, 4:04 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

So, someone said to Dustin Pedroia as he hustled to catch the team bus out of Yankee Stadium on Sunday night, did you hear how the Giants just lost a 9½-game lead to the Dodgers in only three weeks?

"You don't have to tell me,'' Pedroia said. "I know. You know. We had an 11½-game lead in 2011 in the last month, and what happened? We were barbecuing.

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"I don't forget anything. I remember the first hit I got in Little League. A rocket. I remember it was loud.''

Buoyed by winning the last two games of their three-game set against the Yankees, which helped to salvage what threatened to be a disastrous 10-game trip, the Red Sox returned home Monday night to face The Sons of Theo Epstein with renewed optimism about making noise in the AL East.

Despite going just 4-6 on the trip to Oakland, Seattle and New York, the Sox picked up a half-game on the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who they trail by six games, only five in the loss column.

The Jays have won just four of their past 13 games and are 13-17 in their past 30 games. Of all the teams in the division, only the Orioles (16-14) have a winning record in that span. Plenty of teams are still ahead of the Sox in the wild-card race at the season's midpoint, but outside of the AL West, where the Athletics, Angels and Mariners have winning records in the past 30, the Royals (18-12) are the only team in the league above .500 in that span.

Even for a team still six games under .500, there's a sense that one hot streak puts them back in contention. GM Ben Cherington said in New York he thought the deficit was one the Sox could manage, and his players are of like mind.

"We were 4-6 on the trip, right, and lost three one-run games,'' Pedroia said. "We were one pitch away in each of those games from winning it. You know how it is. It can turn just like that.''

It remains to be seen if that turning point might have come this weekend for the Sox. First, the "what an idiot" home run by Mike Napoli that beat Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka in the ninth inning Saturday night. Then came the offensive revival Sunday night that dovetailed with the arrival of rookie Mookie Betts, which may have been just a happy coincidence but was a welcome sight all the same.

The Sox had 20 baserunners Sunday night, collecting a dozen hits and eight walks in the same game for the first time all season, and eight of them scored. David Ortiz, who had swung at a 3-and-0 pitch and grounded into a double play in his first at-bat, crushed a three-run home run in his next to give John Lackey a rare cushion.

Pedroia Are [the hits] coming? You've been around long enough. What do you think? You know. They're coming.

-- Dustin Pedroia

Pedroia singled in each of his first three at-bats Sunday after singling in each of his last three at-bats Saturday night and wound up posting a .359/.409/.462 slash line on the trip, an indication that he may be about to go off. Are the hits coming?

"Are they coming?'' said Pedroia, eyes radiating heat. "You've been around long enough. What do you think? You know. They're coming.

"I've got pressure every day, man. We're trying to win games. That's all we care about. If I go 0-for-4 and we win and you crush me, I don't care. We've got to win games. I don't really care about me.''

Everyone in the Sox's lineup Sunday night, including Betts (single and walk), reached base, a rare outburst for a team that had scored three runs or fewer in 12 of its previous 14 games.

"That's what we need to do, put pressure on the other team,'' Napoli said. "That's how we play baseball. That's how we draw it up. It doesn't always happen, but that's what we strive for.

"No one's giving up in here. There's no panic. One good streak. Stay the course.''

Ortiz had three home runs on the trip and drove in nine of the 29 runs the Sox scored on the trip. He's on a pace to hit 38 home runs this season, which would be his most since the 54 he hit in 2006.

Ortiz was delighted to share the offensive load Sunday.

"If you have two guys hitting out of nine,'' Ortiz said, "then the opposition is like, 'Let's focus on those two guys and make life miserable for them.' That last kid I faced [Jose Ramirez], he couldn't throw a strike to save his life. And all of a sudden he's painting and throwing 97.

"I'm coming with another last name next year. I'll be 'Jackson' next year.''

[+] EnlargePedroia
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDustin Pedroia heated up on the recently completed road trip, hitting .359 over the 10-game span.

The Sox have not been able to sustain offensive production all season, which is why Betts, with barely a year and a half of professional experience, was called up Sunday. A.J. Pierzynski, who threw up his arms again in mock celebration Sunday when he dropped in a single, Xander Bogaerts and Stephen Drew combined to go 8-for-95 (.084) on the trip. Bogaerts is six for his past 66 and the Sox are hard at work trying to correct what manager John Farrell said were clear flaws in his mechanics.

But Drew broke an 0-for-29 streak and also drove in a run Sunday for only the second time this season, and if he doesn't hit, Farrell said the Sox may use Brock Holt at shortstop. Bradley, whose superb defense came into play again Sunday night when he threw out Carlos Beltran at the plate, also showed modest improvement at the plate on the trip, going 8-for-33 (.242).

Farrell and Cherington both cautioned against looking to Betts as a "savior." Lackey, meanwhile, counselled that the key to the Sox's offense remains the same as it has for the past eight seasons: Ortiz and Pedroia.

"If you're going to be good, your good guys have got to be good,'' Lackey said. "To get where you want to be, those guys have to drive the bus, for sure. You can put whatever parts you want around those guys -- you need the parts to do well, too -- but they're kind of the engine that runs this thing.

"They'll be just fine. Nobody in this clubhouse is worried about those guys. They put up numbers year after year, and when you've done that so many years in a row, the numbers usually end up where they're supposed to be.''

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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