But just as important over this stretch is what the veterans of the team — both the heart and the talent — do to set the tone for the future.
In that regard, the big night that Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia posted in Tuesday night's 4-3 walk-off win over the Yankees was more than just a good stack of the box score. It also showed that many Red Sox players still have a passion for the future — a future that has to start now.
The performances were especially important considering they came against the Yankees. While many can argue that this series holds no real importance considering what has happened to both teams this season, it is a benchmark for this Boston team. With a definitive series, the Red Sox can show they are not the team they were the last time the two teams met, that they are building toward the future, and that they still have a say against the Yankees.
First, the Red Sox are fighting for the legacy of what their 2012 season will be. While most people will remember this year for its innocuous start and horrible stumbles along the way, a burst at the end from the players of the future can get everyone talking about something else going into the offseason. And a Yankees slide would do the same.
Just a few weeks ago, the Yankees were rampaging through Major League Baseball, running toward an easy American League East title and playing like frontrunners for a World Series title. The Red Sox, while faltering, were still within sniffing distance of a .500 record and the playoffs, with the hard math sure to fall away in the presence of the newly rekindled bats of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Pedroia and Ellsbury.
That Red Sox plan has now been abandoned, with a 1-8 road trip and some truly awful baseball in its place. But that isn't a bad thing — rather than trying to fight through with a roster that couldn't promise great results, Boston has cleared the way for a new approach. The definitive story of 2012 — that the Red Sox were a hopeless mess that couldn't make use of their talent and get along enough to win — could be replaced by a version that has Pedroia (on fire throughout the last few weeks) and his teammates showing that Boston still has enough of a foundation to build on for contention in the near future. The carpet has been pulled out from under the team. The Red Sox were on the ground. Now they can get up and make a move.
In the same way, the Yankees have shown that they may not be as strong as they appeared throughout much of summer. Relying heavily on home runs and a pitching staff that pulled great results out of nowhere at times, they were due to level off. Now they'll spend the final weeks proving who they really were — a great team that rode through the low points of the season, or a team that cracks when it is pushed. The Red Sox are happy to do the pushing and put another notch in their own belts as this season wraps up.
Finally, this seemingly meaningless series is vital because it's Red Sox-Yankees. No, really. How many years did New York push its way around the division and demand respect? The Red Sox have done nothing to be considered half of the American League East's two-headed monster this season. This is still the Yankees' division. And, with Josh Beckett (Yankee-killer from the mound) and Crawford (a symbolic high-priced free agent grab) gone now, the Sox also lack some of their usual thorns in the Yankees' side.
That's where the likes of Pedroia, Ellsbury and Pedro Ciriaco come in. As most of Red Sox Nation looks ahead hopefully to a less traumatic final month of the season, Pedroia continues to be the guts of this team, and Ciriaco has done all he needs to this season to be the new Yankee-killer.
Boston's 4-3 win Tuesday night marked a change in the way the Red Sox take down the Yankees. Long gone are the days of Johnny Damon and Jason Varitek. Gone, too, are the times of Beckett as the Yankee-killer from the mound, and for Gonzalez and Crawford being the team's hope to counteract the Yankees' high-spending ways. Instead, Ciriaco (2-for-3, two runs), Ellsbury (4-for-5, two RBIs) and Pedroia (3-for-4, two RBI, home run) led the fight.
Minor leaguers will get their tryouts, and the team's brass will be planning for the future. But when it comes to definitive statements about how this Boston team wants to be remembered this year — and in the pantheon of Red Sox-Yankees competition, both in a series and in the American League East — some fine work has already been done.