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Dan Shaughnessy

Things are falling into place

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / September 17, 2009

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It feels like 2004. It feels like 2007.

It feels like the Red Sox are going to the World Series.

Sorry. I know some of you think this puts some kind of whammy on the locals. I know you think I can “Gowdy’’ the whole season with a single statement.

But I also know you’re thinking the same thing.

The sometimes-stumbling, chock-full-of-questions Red Sox have become the Steamroller Sox at exactly the optimum moment. We are halfway through September and the Red Sox are coming into peak form. Like the apple crop of ’09, they are ripe, full-bodied, and luscious. Just like they were in ’04 and ’07.

“I know what you mean,’’ captain Jason Varitek said before last night’s pulsating (two runs in the bottom of the ninth), 9-8 walkoff win over the Angels. “We’ve become a better team overall than we had earlier in the year. We’ve got experience and youth. Our offense and defense are more stabilized.

“Sometimes you’re playing good before you start winning - you lose, 2-1, or 3-2, or in extra innings. Then all of a sudden you start getting results.’’

They got results last night. The Sox were down, 3-0, in the sixth. They were down, 7-5, in the seventh. They were down, 8-7, in the ninth with two outs and nobody on. But guys kept plugging. They dug in with two strikes. Jed Lowrie got his first hit since Aug. 5. They fouled off two-strike pitches. They got help from the umpires (Nick Green should have been rung up on ball four). They won it when Alex Gonzalez dumped a single into left. It was ridiculous.

David Ortiz, another veteran of ’04 and ’07, said it best after Tuesday night’s win over the Angels: “Boy, I tell you, man, having Daisuke [Matsuzaka] back and throwing the ball the way he did is huge for us.

“I was thinking about going to the playoffs right now. When you play good in September, it gets you in a good mood for October. We are right there. We’ve got Texas behind us. The best we’ve played, that’s what’s going to get us into the playoffs.’’

He’s right. Texas is in the rearview mirror. The Rangers have done what they always do, only later. They have faded. Texas lost again last night. The Rangers are 6 1/2 games behind Boston. The Rangers are gone.

The Red Sox have won seven in a row. They have won 10 in a row at Fenway. They have won 13 of 14, and 24 of 31 in Boston since July 10. They own the best home record in baseball - 52-21. Fenway Park has morphed into Death Valley in Clemson, S.C., or Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke. Nobody wants to come to Fenway and try to beat the Red Sox. If you are sitting in the third base dugout, you are probably losing the game when you hear “Sweet Caroline’’ before the Sox hit in the eighth.

Anybody remember Curly of the Three Stooges winning every boxing match with the help of “Pop Goes the Weasel’’? That’s the effect Fenway Park has on the Red Sox.

Sox home games have become performance art. The outcome is rarely in doubt. It’s all about style points. How are they going to win this time?

It has all come into place for the Olde Towne Team. While the Sox’ owner shows signs of becoming unhinged (now blogging instead of tweeting, John Henry is bashing media members who somehow concluded that Big Papi may have used banned substances), his ball club is speeding downhill, erasing every obstacle in its path.

The typical suspense regarding postseason prospects has been lifted. The Sox are in the playoffs. The Sox have only five more losses than the Yankees, while the Rangers have seven more losses than Boston. Some folks are still talking about winning the division.

Making things even easier is the succession of tomato cans on the horizon. It’s the Bum of the Day Club. Boston has 18 games remaining, but only four against teams that are still trying to win. Those four games would be tonight against the Angels and next weekend’s three-game set with the Yankees. All of Boston’s other games are against teams that have quit: Orioles, Royals, Blue Jays, and Indians.

Bud Selig should be embarrassed. It’s been a boffo season for tanking. The Indians got the message when management dumped Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez at the trading deadline. The Rays (swept here last weekend) waited to quit until Scott Kazmir was sent packing. The Blue Jays (losers of six straight to the Sox in August) had rolled over by the time the Sox got to Rogers Centre in August. An unretired Paul Byrd pitched six shutout innings against the Jays in his first start after throwing batting practice to 13-and-under hitters.

The Orioles, meanwhile, are an annual disgrace. The Red Sox are 13-2 against their Baltimore cousins this year. The Sox hit five home runs in the first three innings of a 10-0 win over the Orioles last week. The Sox were laughing at the O’s. Think there will be much resistance in Camden Yards this weekend?

Beating the Angels is different. The Angels are a playoff team. And the Sox just beat them two straight. At home. Of course.

It’s working out beautifully for the Red Sox. In the wake of Dice-K’s return, Terry Francona’s got four strong starters. The back end of the Boston bullpen - deployed perfectly Tuesday night - is the best in baseball. The lineup is good enough to have a guy like J.D. Drew hitting eighth some nights. Gonzalez has tightened the infield defense - just as Orlando Cabrera did in (there it is again) 2004. And now he’s getting game-winning hits to end four-hour marathons.

The Red Sox are a rocket sled on rails. They are going to the World Series.

Yankees?

We’ll think about them next week.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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