August. For the Red Sox it will define their 2010 season. And if August is the deciding factor between the playoffs and an early tee time, they have to hope that what happened at Fenway Park on the last day of July has a lingering effect.
“That was a busy day, a long day, and it ended up being a good one,” Sox manager Terry Francona said after a dramatic 5-4 walk-off win over the Detroit Tigers that came hours after the non-waiver trade deadline came and went.
Boston?s ninth-inning rally not only provided the team with a much-needed win, but it helped overshadow some earlier frustrations over a lackluster effort on the market.
Sure enough, even general manager Theo Epstein used the terms “disappointed” and “frustrated” when talking about the club?s relatively quiet afternoon on the trade front. They shipped right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez to San Francisco for a minor league reliever and picked up Texas Rangers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia for a pair of prospects.
Yet, Epstein insisted that what the club had in-house — which includes the soon-to-return Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia and a pair of quality arms at the Triple-A level that will factor into the bullpen going forward — has the potential to string together enough wins in August to get a bit closer in the playoff push.
“I want to be clear that we still think that we have the ability to make the postseason,” Epstein said. “We have to get really hot, but as we get healthier we start to see the team on the field that can get hot.”
Saturday?s result cannot hurt.
The Sox trailed 4-0 entering the seventh Saturday. A second straight loss to the Tigers would send them into August at least seven games in the loss column out of a playoff spot and having to face Detroit ace Justin Verlander, both of which present significant challenges.
As has been the theme all season, a newbie provided the spark. Ryan Kalish, who arrived at the park minutes before first pitch to take the spot of the disappointing Jeremy Hermida, singled in one run and scored another to cut the lead in half.
Then, the never-say-die attitude which has been imperative for Boston amid the torrent of injuries sparked things in the ninth.
Darnell McDonald led off with an infield hit that saw him sliding headfirst into the bag. After a fly out, Jed Lowrie ripped a pinch-hit double off the Green Monster to put runners on second and third. Kevin Youkilis was intentionally walked, setting the stage for David Ortiz?s three-run double, his 18th career walk-off hit.
After deflecting praise onto Youkilis for racing all the way around from third with the winning run, Ortiz echoed the organizational stance. Get healthy, reload, and win games in August.
“I keep on saying our team will be fine, it?s just injuries,” said Ortiz, who has seven RBIs in the ninth inning over the first two games of the series. “You have a guy like Pedroia hurting, going on the DL. Martinez just got back. Tek. J.D. It hurts, these are the guys that you count on for the season.”
That?s four wins in five games for the Sox. While it?s not nearly enough to track down New York and Tampa Bay as of yet, it could be the seed which grows into an August to remember. And if that hot stretch ever comes, Epstein insisted he will do whatever he can to put the team over the top and make up for the missed opportunities at the trade deadline.
“Now that we?re getting healthier and getting our team back on the field there?s a sense in that clubhouse and in our front office that we are going to do in August what we didn?t do in April and that?s run off a bunch of wins,” he said. “That?s what it?s gonna take to make up this ground.”
“We still have a feeling it has a good chance of happening and that?s why we?ll be aggressive looking for help in August.”
There is no denying that the Red Sox will need some help in August, whether it comes in the form of some slumps by the teams ahead of them, the successful returns of Pedroia and Ellsbury or a waiver-wire trade.
If momentum means anything, then the last day of July has already provided an assist.