LOS ANGELES -- On a weekend when Josh Beckett told reporters that Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Clayton Kershaw may be the best pitcher ever and the Dodgers were playing so well that folks around here were booking World Series reservations in October the same way they would a table at Nobu, the Boston Red Sox offered a giant reality check.
Not so fast, Angelenos. Just because Carl Crawford, for one, wanted to beat the Red Sox "bad" doesn't mean the Sox sign off on the script. The latest Hollywood success story wasn't about to knock the Soggy Bottom Boys off course. The bearded ones came, saw and conquered, swatting the Dodgers 8-1 Sunday night in the rubber game of their three-game set to become the first team since mid-June to take a series from Ice Cube's favorite baseball team (Mr. Cube was in the stands Sunday). And they did it without David Ortiz, who sat out the two weekend games against Dodgers left-handers.
The Red Sox hit three home runs, including a ninth-inning, 437-foot monster mash by Mike Napoli that was as impressive as anything Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig has hit in these parts, to back the complete-game, three-hitter recorded by Jake Peavy.
"This bunch is a veteran bunch," Peavy said. "We know what we have here. I knew the day I walked into this clubhouse what we have here. "Every guy, man for man, knows we're capable of playing with anyone on any given day. We've just got to be prepared, then lay it on the line."
The Dodgers had not lost any of their previous 18 series (14-0-4) before dropping the last two games here to the Red Sox. Boston now returns home a game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East, the same lead it held when it commenced a stretch of 19 games that included 16 on the road and a three-game pitstop against the New York Yankees last weekend at home.
This was being billed as a possible World Series preview, a premise that got no traction in the Red Sox's clubhouse.
"I think one thing our team does a good job of is not getting bogged down with or overwhelmed by the big picture," reliever Craig Breslow said, "but just taking games day to day. Going on the West Coast trip, especially coming here, we all know what the Dodgers have done since June.
"But it seems like those just aren't the kinds of things that get to guys here. It doesn't change the objective, doesn't change the game plan to go out there and execute what we set out to do. When you do, you find yourself in position to win games. That's what we did in these six games."
Napoli, in his second game back after taking a cortisone shot in his left foot to treat plantar fasciitis, also doubled home the first run off left-hander Chris Capuano in the first. Jacoby Ellsbury beat out an infield hit, stole his 47th base and scored on Dustin Pedroia's sacrifice fly to make it 2-0 in the third. Rookie Xander Bogaerts, making his second big league start, doubled home the third run, before Jarrod Saltalamacchia broke it open with a two-run homer in the sixth and Shane Victorino homered in the seventh.
The Sox also played peerless defense, Ellsbury making a sliding catch in center, Victorino cutting off a ball for extra bases in the gap then running down Juan Uribe's deep drive in the same inning, and Dustin Pedroia making a glove flip on Nick Punto's bid for a bunt hit.
"They have a great ballclub," Saltalamacchia said, "but we believe we have a great ballclub too."
The schedule now breaks in the Sox's favor, at least on paper. They return home to face the Baltimore Orioles Tuesday night in the first game of a nine-game homestand. Of the next 25 games on their schedule, 18 are at home, where the Sox are 40-23, before they finish the season with two games in Colorado and three in Baltimore.
But it's hard to imagine a more satisfying trip than the last leg of this stretch, and not just because San Francisco and Los Angeles offer the traveler a greater variety of attractions than, say, Houston, Kansas City and Toronto, which comprised the first leg. In winning four of six from the Dodgers and Giants, Red Sox starting pitchers allowed six earned runs in six games.
And what does it say to beat the Dodgers, who had been 18-3 in August until the Sox pulled into town?
"That we're a good club," manager John Farrell said. "I don't think I will ever say we can't do anything as a team, the way it's responded to challenges along the way. But our starters set the tone the entire trip."
Gonzalez's home run came one year to the day after he was traded from Boston along with Crawford, Beckett and Punto. Crawford was instrumental in Friday night's Dodgers win, singling twice and stealing two bases, and Gonzalez had a two-run double in Saturday's loss in addition to Sunday's home run, which came in the fourth with the Sox ahead 3-0. But it was not enough to keep the Sox from frustrating Crawford's avowed intention to extract revenge.
With Clay Buchholz taking his first tangible step toward returning with a rehab start Sunday, albeit a shaky one (38 pitches to record two outs), the Sox starting pitching appears primed to make a strong finishing kick, with Peavy, Lackey, Jon Lester and Felix Doubront all apparently in top form.
"Our starting pitching has kind of been the lifeblood of this team," Breslow said. "Wherever they lead, we follow. This road trip been a snapshot. We're in every game when these guys pitch the way they're capable of pitching, and it's been a different guy every night.
"We feel, 1 through 5, that every guy gives us a chance to win, especially down the stretch."