BOSTON -- They're in, they're real, they will be playing deep into October.
Those are sentiments many have been reluctant to utter, the memory of 2011 still too fresh to ignore.
Purge those thoughts, Boston Red Sox fans. The Soggy Bottom Boys have met every challenge, answered every question, spiked every doubt.
They went to Los Angeles and took two out of three from the hottest team on the planet, the Dodgers. They came back home to Boston, knocked the Orioles out of the division race, swept three from the White Sox and have now taken two of three from the Tigers, who had designs on snagging the league's best record but leave town 2˝ games behind the Red Sox.
One night after beating the Tigers in as gripping a pitchers' duel as two contenders can deliver in September, the Sox exploded Wednesday night for eight home runs -- matching the club record set July 4, 1977 -- in a 20-4 thrashing of the Tigers. The 20 runs were a season-high for the Sox, and six more runs than the Tigers had given up in a game in 2013. Detroit, with Jim Leyland turning to some of the bottom-feeders in his bullpen, had never given up eight home runs in a game.
In winning seven of nine on this homestand, the Red Sox outscored their opponents 59-27.
"This is a very focused and driven team and they're showing that," manager John Farrell said. "At times it's been initiated and carried by our rotation; tonight we obviously had a very good offensive breakout. It's a very committed group and one that felt like -- from the first day of spring training on -- felt like they had a chance to do something special, and that might be in the process."
History? David Ortiz doubled in the sixth inning for the 2,000th hit of his career, bookended by two monster home runs, the last serenaded by the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey" and a raucous standing ovation from the crowd of 33,720. Big Papi bounded out of the dugout for an encore of the helmet-waving he did from second base after his double.
What had Bogaerts learned about his subject? "Nothing I really didn't know already," he said. On Wednesday night, Ortiz gave the kid a new jumping-off point.
"The way they play me when I hit," said Ortiz, alluding to the defensive overshifts he regularly faces. "I could have done this five or six years ago."
More history? Mike Napoli hit home run No. 8, following, in order: Stephen Drew (second inning), Jacoby Ellsbury (third), Ortiz (fourth), Will Middlebrooks (sixth), Daniel Nava (sixth), Ryan Lavarnway (seventh), Ortiz again (seventh). Seven different players went deep, most ever for the Sox in a single game.
"Never been on a team that hit eight home runs in a game," Shane Victorino said. "Not even in Little League. It was a fun night, all around."
Timely? One night after beating Tigers ace Max Scherzer with a two-run single, Middlebrooks busted this one open with a grand slam in the sixth inning, his first slam since connecting for his first big league home run on May 6, 2012. Middlebrooks hit the second pitch thrown by Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque, who had inherited a bases-loaded, no-out jam right after starter Rick Porcello had walked in a run to give the Sox and Ryan Dempster a 6-4 lead.
"Will's grand slam gave us a little breathing room," Farrell said, "and we kept going."
Variety? Drew and Ellsbury hit home runs just inside the Pesky Pole. Ortiz's home runs cleared the bullpens. Middlebrooks's slam landed on Lansdowne Street. Lavarnway's home run required an umpires' review after it just cleared the top of the Monster. Nava's gave Sox fans a heart attack, as closer Koji Uehara tried to make a leaping catch of it in the Sox pen. Napoli's went the opposite way.
"I couldn't see that far," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said of Uehara's flirtation with calamity, "but Koji's a good athlete."
Leyland could see only too well.
"That was pretty ugly," the Tigers manager told reporters. "They were hitting them out like ping-pong balls."
Best moment, non-home run: Victorino made a leaping catch on Austin Jackson's fly ball at the right-field foul line, tumbled into the stands, held onto the ball and retrieved a female spectator's cell phone that had fallen.
"It was right there in front of my feet," Victorino said, laughing. "I saw it come flying out because she got all excited. It fell right there. I was like, 'Oh jeez, cell phone."'
Runner-up, best moment, non-HR: Dustin Pedroia, with the score tied at four in the fifth, fouling off seven pitches during an 11-pitch at-bat before hitting a sacrifice fly to score Victorino, who somehow had the presence of mind -- and speed -- to tag and score on a sinking liner gloved by left fielder Andy Dirks.
"There are going to be times where I'm going to get stuck on the other end and am not going to go, or get caught in between," Victorino said. "I've been doubled off second base on a low liner. Tonight, yeah, it looked great and worked out. It was a positive thing. And then to have everything else happen after that, it was fun to watch that escalate into 20 runs."
The Sox have 21 games left. They are 84-57, 27 games over .500 for the first time this season. Their lead over the Rays in the AL East stands at 5˝ games.
Since the wild card was added to postseason play in 1995, only five teams that led their divisions by 5˝ games or more in September failed to win the division: the 2012 Rangers, who made the playoffs as a wild card; the 2009 Tigers, who led by 5˝ games with 19 to play but fell to the Twins (extenuating circumstances being Miguel Cabrera's arrest); the 2007 Mets; the 2006 Tigers, who went to the World Series as a wild card; and the '95 Angels.
The Soggy Bottom Boys won't be joining this list. Book it.
Victorino, for one, didn't want to go quite that far.
"Trust me, I've been seven back with 17 to go and we came back in '07," said Victorino, who played for the Phillies when the Mets suffered one of history's epic collapses and blew the division, the Phillies winning on the final day of the season.
"I never count anything before it hatches. We've done a great job of separating ourselves, but we've still have a long way to go."