Commentary

Fenway's faithful awaken

Sox offer surprise summer romance amid cold-blooded drama of Boston sports

Updated: June 29, 2013, 2:19 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- At the tail end of a week unlike any in Boston sports, where the disappointment over a failed championship quest on ice and the regret over the breakup of a revered basketball team was trumped by the revulsion over a football player accused of murder, there were worse places to be than Fenway Park on a beautiful summer's night.

And a crowd of 36,383 that was loud, involved, and committed was rewarded by another spirited effort by the most surprising team in town, one that absolutely no one -- not John W. Henry, Bill James, Ben Cherington, John Farrell, Pedey, Mazz, Mutt, Felgie, Dan-o, Dino, or anyone in the employ of a certain news-gathering entity in Bristol, Conn. -- expected to have the best record in the American League at the halfway point of the 2013 season.

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Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesJonny Gomes gets a fist bump after his go-ahead single in the seventh inning.

And the Sox began the second half in a custom much like the first, jumping to a big lead -- 5-0 after four -- giving it back when Andrew Bailey gave up yet another home run, then responding to the entreaties of the home crowd with a two-run rally in the seventh, Jonny Gomes breaking a 5-all tie with a bases-loaded single, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia drawing a walk to force home the final run in a 7-5 win.

"I'm willing to take one off the neck for the team," said Gomes, who instead settled for a base hit off the glove of Blue Jays third baseman Maicer Izturis.

Two straights win over the Blue Jays, who had come to town winners of 15 of their past 19 games and bidding to narrow the gap from top to bottom in the AL East, put the Red Sox at 16 games over .500 (49-33), a high-water mark better than any since the last day of the 2011 season, when they finished 90-72 and out of the money.

At their current pace, the Sox would win 97 games, surely enough to win them a place in an October tournament they have missed in each of the past three seasons. And a fan base that has been cautious to imagine that scenario is beginning to shed its inhibitions.

The fans were on their feet, unprompted, when Gomes, pinch hitting for Daniel Nava, shot a ball just past Izturis for an RBI single off Jays reliever Brett Cecil to give the Sox a 6-5 lead. Nava has hardly been a slouch with the bases loaded this season, going 4-for-9. Farrell, however, liked Gomes' history against the Jays' left-hander -- 4-for-7, with a double and a home run.

"Felt like it was a perfect spot for him to make an appearance and he came through," Farrell said.

It was a spot that Gomes imagined since about, oh, 2 in the afternoon, he estimated, knowing that he'd be coming off the bench at some point. The one thing he didn't want to do, he said, was to hit into a double play in that situation, so he viewed it with some alarm when he didn't elevate the ball as much as he would have liked.

"Just kind of a line drive," he said. "It scared me for a second, but once it got through, it was all right."

The old yard shook again when Saltalamacchia drew a bases-loaded walk off the fifth Toronto pitcher, Darren Oliver, for another run.

And they were vertical again in the ninth, when 38-year-old Koji Uehara made it three saves in three days, striking out two in another 1-2-3 ninth.

"We responded once again," Farrell said. "Just a well-played game all around."

The Sox are now 31-8 in games in which they have knocked out the opposing starter in five innings or fewer. They've done so seven times in their past 11 games and 14 times in 26 games this month. Friday night, it was Josh Johnson invited to leave early, the Sox tagging him for five runs on eight hits and two walks, the number of Boston baserunners matching the number of outs (10) Johnson was able to register.

That put Sox rookie Allen Webster in line for his first major league win in his fourth start, but the Jays strung together three hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly to score three times in the fifth, and a single, stolen base and sacrifice fly made it 5-4 in the sixth.

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Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesAllen Webster pitched six solid innings, giving up four runs on six hits and two walks with two K's.

Farrell dismissed Webster for Bailey, his first appearance since Sunday, when he was lifted after giving up singles to the only two batters he faced that day in Detroit. This time, Bailey seemed at the top of his game, striking out Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista to start the seventh, but then was taken over the center-field fence by Edwin Encarnacion, the fourth home run he has allowed in a span of five appearances and 13 batters. Bailey has given up seven home runs in 23 1/3 innings this season, which is one more than he gave up in his two All-Star seasons in Oakland combined.

Only two big league pitchers -- Kameron Loe, who started the season with the Mariners and is now with the Cubs, and Robert Carson of the Mets have given up more home runs while pitching 25 or fewer innings this season. Loe has given up nine, Carson eight, but neither was envisioned as the closer for his team the way Bailey was.

"I've still got to be aggressive, man, still got to throw strikes to get people out," Bailey said. "Right now when they're hitting me, they're hitting me hard."

The irrepressible Uehara, however, has stepped into the void, as colorful in his own head-slapping, high-fiving way as Jonathan Papelbon and his death stare. In each of his three saves, he has whiffed two batters, and has yet to allow a hit or walk. Three saves in three nights? Koji fever.

"What he did the last three nights is just fantastic," Bailey said. "It's definitely fun to watch. It's like a video game to him. It's pretty interesting, it's awesome."

The Sox have won the first four games of this nine-game homestand. The Jays, meanwhile, fell back below .500 (39-40) and are 8 1/2 games behind again in the AL East after an 11-game winning streak had drawn them to within five just a few days earlier.

The idea is not to forget the events of this week, as if that would even be possible. The Bruins were a gift, the Celtics now a cherished memory, the football player only at the beginning of what promises to be a long and sordid and disgusting story, with consequences we have not yet begun to grasp fully.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are there for the embracing, a summer romance in the making, one with no guarantees of a happy ending but looking for a few hearts willing to commit to that possibility. There have been few times where that has seemed a more inviting offer.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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