Look Out October, Sox Have Something to Prove

This shouldn’t really be happening, should it? What the Boston Red Sox are doing right now defies logic, reason, and sane thought. Let’s rewind a bit to February, as the Sox entered Spring Training with the lowest expectations in recent memory.  Coming off of a 93-loss season (the worst since 1965’s 100-loss season), one would forgive even the homers for thinking that this 2013 version would not win many more than that.

Now here we stand, viewing a team that has no Adrian Gonzalez, or Carl Crawford, or any other player that induces the kind of fan fare that puts people in the stands. That’s quite alright though, as this Boston Red Sox team has replaced the detritus with some tough players who just want one thing: to win. If the philosophy employed by the front-office of late has meant fewer pink-hats in the seats, but more wins in the standings, it seems a fair trade.

Low-cost players like Jonny Gomes have come through huge for the Sox this year, delivering the intensity that has been thoroughly lacking in recent years.

Low-cost players like Jonny Gomes have come through huge for the Sox this year, delivering the intensity that has been thoroughly lacking in recent years.

So what’s really gone well for the Sox this season? In a word, it’s been luck. This is a team that banked on Joel Hanrahan to pitch the ninth with Andrew Bailey setting up in the eighth and acting as back-up closer. Then both went down with season-ending injuries. How many teams lose two closers and find a diamond in the rough in the form of a dominant 38-year-old journeyman in Koji Uehara. The run we’ve been witnessing wouldn’t have existed without losing both of your late inning options. One never wishes injury to any player, but the baseball gods have smiled on the Red Sox in this regard.

And how about two games in Yankee Stadium that in the past would have equated to two debilitating losses? Thursday night was a game the Sox would have been buried by in the past. With a 7-2 lead in the late innings, Jake Peavy and the Sox bullpen faltered to allow six runs as momentum swung heavily in favor of a Yankees team that has been hot in the second half to close within striking distance of one of the wildcard spots. And then 2004 happened again to Mariano Rivera, as a two out single by Mike Napoli paved the way for a Quintin Berry stolen base (Dave Roberts, anybody?), and a game-tying single by Stephen Drew.  An inning later, Shane Victorino put them on top to complete the rally and hand the Yankees their toughest loss of the year.

Then comes Saturday, as the Yankees for a second night in a row suffered their worst loss of the year. Leading 8-3, and seemingly in mop-up mode, the never-say-die, bearded wonders did it again in the Bronx. Nine unanswered runs, led by more luck with an opposite-field grand slam by Mike Napoli that barely cleared the wall, and Ichiro Suzuki’s glove. In the end, the Yankees dropped two heart-breakers,  mirroring the 1919-2003 Red Sox playbook of agonizing losses.

How could a team with this mashup of talent be leading the pre-season favorite Tampa Bay Rays by 7 1/2 games. The Rays have better pitching, a charismatic manager, and a lineup that has been somewhat improved over last season, and yet the Sox sit atop the AL East and show no signs of slowing up in the crucial month of September, a month that only two years ago saw the Red Sox go from a 9 1/2 game lead in the wildcard race to one of the biggest collapses in sports history, going 7-20 and losing a playoff berth by one game.

This Red Sox team will not have a 40-homer guy, they won’t feature a 20-game winner, or a batting champion. No sex appeal, no “feeding the monster”, and no more sellouts. What they lack in all those deficits, they more than gain in likability, drive, and intensity. Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, Koji Uehara, and the like have replaced the Josh Becketts of Sox Nation, and they’re thriving under the microscope.

So get ready Sox fans, October is approaching. The air is getting cooler, the pumpkin coffee and beer is flowing like water, and the Boston Red Sox are approaching the month with a ferocity and clutch-ness not seen since Mariano Rivera blew an all-important save in game four of the 2004 ALCS.  Can anyone stop this juggernaut right now? Anyone with any lingering doubts about this team should pay attention to one all important fact. It isn’t the fact that Boston just recently won series’ against the Dodgers, the Orioles, and the dangerous Detroit Tigers. Forget all that, the important thing to note is that Bobby Valentine is not walking through that door. Enjoy the ride, and see you in October.

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