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Monday, July 18, 2011
Starting to get that feeling about Sox

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- With the game scoreless in the top of the 16th, Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona stood in the visitors dugout at Tropicana Field in the early-morning hours on Monday and knew the right player was stepping into the batter's box.

The manager's gut feeling was proved correct, as Dustin Pedroia slapped an opposite-field, two-out single to drive in Josh Reddick with the game's lone run en route to Boston's 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays after 5 hours, 44 minutes of baseball.

Red Sox
Josh Beckett turned from ace into cheerleader after throwing eight scoreless innings against the Rays on Sunday night.

"By that time, it's not just physical. It's mentally draining, and he's probably the one guy you know who will figure out a way," Francona said.

The game officially ended at 1:54 a.m., but the day was far from over for the Red Sox. Actually, it was just beginning.

After the Red Sox took two of three games from the Rays over the weekend, Boston traveled to Baltimore and will face the Orioles in a three-game set starting Monday night.

Although Francona singled out Pedroia as the "one guy" who could produce in that type of situation, the Red Sox have been mentally tough no matter the situation.

Boston's grit and focus will be tested again in this upcoming series.

Orioles pitcher Kevin Gregg recently called the Red Sox "whiners" and said "they think they're better than everyone else," but the Sox, as you might expect, disagree with that designation.

"We ain't like that. That's wrong," Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said. "We try to play the game right, man. That's all I can say about that. I don't think there's one guy on this ballclub crying and b-------. If that happens, we let them know."

No doubt there will be a lot of attention on this series, because the clubs were involved in a beanball fest during their last meeting July 8-10 at Fenway Park.

The two main culprits from that last series were Ortiz and Gregg. Each player received a four-game suspension for his involvement in a pair of bench-clearing brawls on July 8, and both appealed with Major League Baseball. It's possible the league's decision could come Monday morning, meaning both players would miss the upcoming series between the teams.

Either way, Ortiz doesn't believe there will be any carryover.

"Hopefully not," he said. "MLB is paying attention to all the stuff. I'm not a pitcher, so I'm not the one throwing the balls. Hopefully they're smart and put that stuff away and play the game the way it's supposed to be."

Besides the recent altercations, suspension and fines, there's a much bigger obstacle for the Red Sox to focus on: the battle of attrition.

The 162-game schedule is long and arduous. Teams that can survive the adversity on a consistent basis usually play baseball in October. The Red Sox will be one of those teams.

"When you see toughness out of the nine guys on the field or toughness out of the bullpen or off the bench, that gets the opposition thinking," Ortiz said. "I'm sure that's the mentality that everybody who plays the game is supposed to have."

Situations are always changing the way this game is played, and the Red Sox have seen their share of challenges this season.

"That's when toughness comes out," Ortiz said. "Everybody on this team is prepared to play. There are two feelings you can have when you come to the ballpark: knowing that you're either going to get your ass whupped and you can't beat anybody. The other one is when you know your chances of winning a baseball game are really good. That's what separates winners from losers."

Case in point: When the Red Sox left the bases loaded twice late in the game on Sunday, Francona still felt this was a road game that they would win against a very good divisional opponent. In fact, once Reddick stood in scoring position, Francona quickly had closer Jonathan Papelbon warming in the bullpen.

The Sox scored. Papelbon then recorded his 21st save of the season, and Boston had its victory.

"Never losing a game ever enters our mind," Ortiz said. "When we lose a game, it feels weird. When the season started and we were 2-10, we were confused because the team we have is too good to be in that situation."

In Gregg's recent tirade, the pitcher also criticized the Red Sox for their "$180 million payroll," suggesting the team could buy any player it wants.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein assembled quite a roster during the offseason with the signing of free-agent outfielder Carl Crawford and the acquisition of slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez via trade. Both players were signed to long-term deals worth close to a combined $300 million.

So does Gregg have a point? Ortiz doesn't think so.

"Don't get me wrong; [Gonzalez] was really good [in San Diego], but coming to a team that is better than the team he was on is forcing him to hit .350 right now," Ortiz said. "He's not on a team that all the attention just goes to him. He's now on a team that has a lot of superstars just like him."

Gonzalez and Crawford -- who returns from the disabled list Monday night -- were superstars for other teams, but they fit in Boston because this club's chemistry, which is starting to look similar to that of the World Series teams of 2004 and 2007.

"The years that we won we had teams packed with superstars," Ortiz said. "We had good chemistry, and everybody was getting along. Everybody was on the same page, and when we had tough times we all knew how to deal with it, so the good times stay longer."

What about the 2011 version of the Red Sox?

"We've got that going on right now," Ortiz said. "There are a lot of guys who know how to carry a team in here. That's something that you learn once you get here. I feel proud of myself when I can carry this team for a week, a month or the whole year. I love when I'm able to do it because when I do that, my teammates see that and they try to do the same thing, which is a good thing. That's what wins baseball games."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.