THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Sox feel things are leveling out

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 30, 2010

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BALTIMORE — As the Red Sox walked off the field at Rogers Centre in Toronto Wednesday night, they were essentially back where they had started. They had gotten off to a start more worthy of some of the lesser lights of the league, not a team expecting to be among those competing for a postseason berth. They had been shifted to the depths of their division, saved from the cellar only by the ineptitude of the Orioles.

But after that win, they were back — or at least at .500. Perhaps they are moving on, having settled into the grind of the season. This is a team that has been forced to play without two starting outfielders, with underperforming starting pitchers, and with disgruntled veterans. And yet the Sox have made it to 11-11, with good signs popping up in recent days.

So, really, has it been a matter of survival?

“I think that’s probably a good word,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “We’re trying. Not everything has gone right, that’s for sure. We’ve continued to play. That has helped us through some difficulties.

“Hopefully now we use this as a steppingstone. Hopefully we take this and go from there.’’

With a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays, the Sox have now won seven of their last nine games, and have improved to 6-3 on the road, an Achilles’ heel in recent seasons. There are signs of a return to expectations, especially in the starting pitching, which aced its way to two wins against the Blue Jays after a 13-12 opener.

“I think it was good for us to get out of Boston, kind of clear our heads a little bit, get on the road here and win that first game of the series,’’ Jonathan Papelbon said. “That was a battle back and forth. I think that first game kind of set the tone, and we were able to come back and win two close games. It gave us a little momentum.’’

It was in those final two games in Toronto, with Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester on the mound, that as Dustin Pedroia put it, “We run-prevented the [heck] of them.

“We didn’t play very well the first few games [of the season], but it seems like now we’re finding ways to win. That’s what a good team does.

“Some guys’ numbers aren’t where they want to be, but we’re finding ways to win. We’ve got to continue to do that, because in the end, numbers will be there. We get guys back on track, we should win a lot of games.’’

That, at least, is the hope. As always, the goal is to make the postseason, then play well at the right time. This, of course, has become increasingly difficult in a division with three of the best teams in baseball — that is, if you count the Sox, which is hard to do at the moment.

As for the slow start — the stops and starts and hideous performances — there are lessons to be learned from them. The Rays went 9-14 in April of last season, and never fully returned to the division race.

“Sometimes a slow start can also be a benefit,’’ J.D. Drew said. “You kind of get everybody refocused and regrouped and try to get back on track. Sometimes you look back on things, trials that you dealt with, and it’s for the better good sometimes.’’

“We don’t want to get in that situation where we’re playing catch-up the whole year,’’ Pedroia said. “That’s good, but we’ve got to continue to win. We don’t want to just be a .500 team.’’

For most of the year, they haven’t been. There have been lapses in the rotation and the bullpen, issues with offense and defense.

The ugly numbers include a 4.66 team ERA, with four starters above 4.70: Lester at 4.71, John Lackey at 5.09, Tim Wakefield at 5.40, and Josh Beckett at 7.22.

They have veterans adjusting to new spots, some better than others. While it is clear that Wakefield, Mike Lowell, and David Ortiz are not happy about losing responsibility and playing time, there have been shots of adrenaline from Jason Varitek and Darnell McDonald.

And, at the very least, they seem to believe in themselves.

“This team has too much talent not to play better eventually,’’ said McDonald, who has been able to judge the Sox from up close and from afar. “I saw these guys every day in spring training and I knew what they could do.

“I think they got some tough games out of their system early. We expect to win every time we go on the field, I get that sense.’’

Peter Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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