Red Sox rounding into form
Successful homestand could be jumping-off point for move up division
BOSTON -- There have been many low points for the Boston Red Sox during the 2012 season.
The present is not one of them.
The club has dealt with injuries, a managerial transition, trades, plenty of roster moves and inconsistent play at usually friendly Fenway Park. A sense of frustration became a daily aura around these parts.
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It was so bad on April 21 that new manager Bobby Valentine called it "rock bottom" after the Red Sox surrendered a nine-run lead and ultimately lost 15-9 to the New York Yankees at Fenway.
Since then, however, the Red Sox have scratched and clawed their way out of the AL East basement, and with Wednesday's 10-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston is a season-best five games above .500.
The Red Sox have won nine of their last 11 games and finished their nine-game homestand with a 7-2 record, including five come-from-behind wins. The club stands in third place in the division, tied with the Tampa Bay Rays. Since May 10, the team is 28-16, a .636 winning percentage.
Even with that dreaded defeat against the Yankees nearly two months ago, Valentine and the Red Sox players felt they were too good of a team, despite all the pitfalls, to remain in last place. If they could stay afloat until the All-Star break, the Red Sox believed they would have a chance to do some serious damage in the second half of the season.
Well, that time is approaching and with a 40-35 record, and with the likes of Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Bailey all on the verge of returning in the next month, the Red Sox do have a chance.
"I believed it," Valentine said after Wednesday's victory. "I wasn't sure of it, but I believed it. Things were going so wrong and we couldn't catch a break and we had a season's full of bad things happening and then things turned around because the guys believed it too and they've played hard every night they came out."
If the Red Sox can continue to play solid baseball, this recent homestand could serve as a starting point for a climb through the AL East. Prior to this homestand, Boston had lost five of six at Fenway. The club's inability to win at home consistently had the players shaking their heads.
This time it was different.
Despite the off-field distractions of the trade that sent Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox and the five-day hospital stay for pitcher Clay Buchholz due to gastrointestinal bleeding, the Red Sox were dialed in on the field.
"We played great ball," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "We've got to go to the West Coast and keep it going. We pitched great. We played good defense and we're swinging the bats really good, so we've got to keep it going."
When asked if he believed this team would turn things around in the wake of the ugly loss to the Yankees, Pedroia said he isn't surprised by the recent success.
"That was a long time ago, but we've been playing a ton better since that game," Pedroia said. "That was definitely a low point in the season. We've bounced back from that and we've played good ball."
On Wednesday, the Red Sox gave plenty of run support to Jon Lester, who earned the win and improved to 5-5. The southpaw worked seven solid innings and allowed four runs on seven hits with no walks and four strikeouts.
"I thought he was very good," Valentine said. "He did exactly what we needed to win a ballgame. His 100 pitches were all quality. He got to the middle of the plate on a couple of pitches where he [knew] he had a big lead and gave up some home runs, but you've got to like what you saw today."
It was a completely different scenario from his previous start, when he allowed only three runs in seven innings of work against the Atlanta Braves on June 22, but suffered the loss because Boston's bat were silent.
Lester was completely frustrated after that game and made his displeasure known.
He was smiling after Wednesday's win.
Toronto gained a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but Boston scorched Blue Jays ace Ricky Romero for six runs (five earned) in the home half of the inning. Lester handled the rest.
"It took some pressure off me, especially after they came out there in the first and put one on the board," Lester said. "It's big to have your offense go out there and do that for you. You can't ask for more from those guys. They put in good at-bats today and swung the bat good."
The overall output was welcome, but the continued success of Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez is needed, and the two are starting to heat up.
Gonzalez went 2-for-5 with three RBIs and has hit safely in his last eight games, batting at a .364 clip with two doubles, a home run and seven RBIs in that span. Pedroia only went 1-for-5 on Wednesday, including a RBI double, but he's hitting .305 in his last nine games and is in the midst of a five-game hitting streak.
"He and Dustin seem like they've got a little thing going," Valentine said. "They're both up to .270 and climbing. Adrian is as aggressive as he was before, but he's been a little more selective and he's hitting the ball hard now."
After Wednesday's game, the Red Sox left for a seven-game road trip through Seattle and Oakland before coming home to host the Yankees in a four-game set before the All-Star break.
It's no doubt been an emotional wave for the Red Sox this season and it'll probably continue -- that's just the way it is in Boston. The trick, however, will be to see how the Red Sox react to all of it.
"It's 162 games and you've got to ride the wave," Pedroia said.