In Search of Identity, Red Sox Continue to Grind Through Season

In Search of Identity, Red Sox Continue to Grind Through Season Nobody knows how long Daniel Nava will be with the Red Sox. The situation in the outfield is far too fluid to make such predictions.

But if the inspiring Nava comes and goes like countless call-ups have before him, his impact on the Sox may go far beyond the dramatic splash he made Saturday afternoon. When the 27-year-old finished a home run trot for the ages, he returned to a dugout teeming with enthusiasm.

The hope, on the Boston side of things, is that the moment was the culmination of a club that had been trying to find itself. There was butt-slapping, head-rubbing (just not with Adrian Beltre), curtain calls and more smiles than recess on the last day of school. All this for a team that has seen its fair share of quiet clubhouses this year.

"Our dugout was as alive as it was in a long time," manager Terry Francona said.

The blast also provided all the runs necessary for the Sox to improve to 26-13 since May 2.

"That’s the way teams, I think, come together," Francona added. "We had a ton of personality, had the young kid do something special, the bullpen did more than it was supposed to and everybody had a bunch of energy."

Sure, Francona’s team has been winning for some time now, but the constant injuries, roster moves and positional changes kept it from gaining an identity. A host of newcomers who came during the offseason were consistently met with other newcomers riding the Pawtucket shuttle back and forth. In addition to definitive DL stints there has been a host of those nagging bumps and bruises which prevent several regulars from ever getting back to 100 percent, or even near it.

The daily question as to who was hitting behind whom and who would relieve a starter if he struggled early kept a degree of uncertainty hanging over the squad, even amid a stretch of winning baseball.

Francona, for one, seems to welcome the adjustment period, if only for what it can mean down the road. In a playing career filled with bang-ups and promising seasons cut short by injury, he has gained a healthy respect for players such as those he currently manages, guys who can weather the storm.

"It’s a grind. They get beat up," the skipper said. “Because I was there and wasn’t able to do that I have more respect than other people. It’s not easy to do, especially in a place like this. I think in terms of us getting our personality it’s been great."

The question remains — what exactly is that personality? The Sox have already bucked the preseason prediction that their offense would be mediocre, while the defense and pitching would reign supreme.

Entering Tuesday, they ranked first in the majors in hits, doubles, RBIs and slugging percentage, and were second in runs scored.

Yet, their 4.36 team ERA puts them in the lower half of the American League, their 246 walks issues more than all but one AL team. After some early hiccups, the club’s defensive efficiency has been solid, but not other-worldly.

No, this has morphed into a unit far different than past Sox teams filled with either zany characters with an undying love for one another or animosity that sent them all home alone (25 guys, 25 cabs, remember?). It is a group of veterans with a healthy respect for one another and a growing confidence that it will all work out in the end.

If and when it does, they can thank a temporary fill-in and his swing into history.

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