Sure, Boston had taken four straight from the Angels, but the Los Angeles club was not what it once was in previous years. The real test was on the horizon, a stretch of 19 games and seven series against the best the game had to offer, a span against nothing but winning teams which immediately caused a buzzkill and a round of questioning from hungry reporters.
Said Dustin Pedroia in response to one such inquiry: "We know we haven’t played well and we’re at a point now where we don’t want to let the three teams in front of us get too far away. They’re pretty darn good."
And that was the prevailing thought. If the Sox could just get through the slate with their American League East competition still within sight, then maybe, just maybe, a wild card run could be an option going forward. Surely, if they played as they had to that point, winning very many against the best of the bunch was not an option.
Nineteen games later the questions have nothing to do with whether Boston can keep its head above water, but how long the hottest team in baseball can keep it going.
Consider a few of the numbers. In going 12-7 in the late-May gauntlet, the Red Sox:
Yet, the biggest positive cannot be tied to averages and ratios. The Sox have seemingly bonded through the trying schedule, with smiles and high-fives filling the spaces where once we saw grimaces and silent treatments.
Early in the year there were quiet pockets of the clubhouse with a lot of chairs turned toward lockers and a relatively small degree of chit-chat. Lately, guys like Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre have appeared much looser and no longer confined to small groups of newbies, as was sometimes the case in April.
Finally, the blend of new and old has come together and the Sox are populated by players who are not intimidated by quality opponents and are also not worried about what the guy in the next locker might think.
The finale of the 19-game period offered up one of the finest examples that the Sox once again belong in the discussion of baseball’s best teams. Behind Beltre’s two homers and six RBIs, the Sox routed the once-untouchable Rays 11-3 to pull within 5 1/2 of the AL East leaders. And they did so against a pitcher in Matt Garza who has toyed with Boston in the past.
After chasing Garza amid a 13-hit attack, the Sox had finished a three-game sweep in Tampa by a combined score of 19-4.
"We come down here and play maybe the best team in baseball and we did a really good job," manager Terry Francona said.
Having established itself, Boston will now reap the rewards of its quality run. The Sox return to Fenway Park to host Kansas City and Oakland in what may be the club’s easiest homestand of the season, at least on paper.
Then again, it was roughly three weeks ago when there were 19 games, existing only on paper, that some thought would spell doom for the Red Sox.
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