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Dan Shaughnessy

Sky-high after this victory

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / July 29, 2010

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — I’m in. I believe. I just saw Marco Scutaro hit a grand slam to complete a three-game Red Sox sweep of the Angels. The Sox look like they are ready for a big stretch run.

The Sox just played 10 games in 10 days in three cities. They won six, lost four, and ordered room service 214 times. They looked dead in Seattle, and now they are coming home with bounce in their step and real hopes for August and September.

The injured Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Victor Martinez returned to the active roster while the Sox were away. Someday we’ll see Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the lineup again. There’s nothing crazy about the notion that this team can make up 4 1/2 games on Tampa Bay over the final two months of the season.

Is there a better starting rotation in baseball? At this hour the Sox have Beckett, Buchholz, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka (hey, he’s 7-3, with a 4.09 ERA, not bad for your No. 5 guy) all cranking.

Beckett won his second game of the season yesterday with seven innings of nice work against the suddenly moribund Angels. Think about that: It’s July 29, Josh Beckett has two wins, and the Sox are only 5 games away from a playoff spot.

Throwing 112 pitches, Beckett looked like a man on a mission in Boston’s 7-3 win. The big Texan has a lot of pride and it hasn’t been easy watching from the sidelines after signing his big contract extension at the start of the season. This is a good thing for Red Sox fans.

“He continues to build arm strength,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “It’s very encouraging.’’

Offense? For all the winter worries about scoring runs, the Sox are second in the league in runs and homers. They hit four jacks yesterday, including Scutaro’s bases-loaded blast that cracked open a 3-3 game in the eighth inning. They have had more doubles than Don Draper and the boys at Sterling-Cooper.

“It’s all about the pitching,’’ said Kevin Youkilis, who homered in the seventh. “If we keep pitching well, we’ve got a chance. We’ll score enough runs. It was nice to finish here with a sweep against a good team. It’s going to be a wild ride, hopefully.’’

There was hope and speculation that this trip would define the Red Sox’ 2010 season. We figured when the trip was over we could either count them out or fire up the bandwagon for another journey to the playoffs.

Unfortunately, with 102 games played, we still have no definition. It could be a bridge year or they could be ready for takeoff.

It’s got to be a difficult time for general manager Theo Epstein and the minions. The trading deadline is Saturday afternoon and some days the Sox look like they should be sellers. Now they look like they should be buyers and Theo’s going to have to get some bullpen help if this team is going anywhere.

“Every year we think we have an obligation to aggressively pursue anything that will make the team better,’’ said Sox CEO Larry Lucchino. “We believe we are in the hunt now and will honor the obligation we have to players, fans, and ourselves to go out and make the team better.’’

This much is certain: Every time it looks like the Red Sox are done, they do something to give you hope. I came to Los Angeles to bury them, but now my glass is half-full.

“This was big,’’ Bill Hall (homer, great catch in the eighth) said when asked about the sweep. “Hopefully we can maintain this and keep it rolling.’’

The Sox have made the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons. The only year they missed was in 2006 when a lot of guys got hurt and Manny Ramirez quit in September and the Yankees came to Boston and swept a five-game series. There have been a lot of moments when 2010 felt like 2006, but now it feels a little bit more like 2004 when they played .500 ball for two months, then shredded the field in August and September.

These guys aren’t going to overtake the Yankees during this regular season, but they have a good shot at catching the Rays. And maybe next weekend they’ll show us what they’re made of when they play four games in the House that George Built.

Meanwhile, the Tigers are in town this weekend. You get to see Lester match up against the gracious Armando Galarraga tomorrow night and you’re not much of a baseball fan if you’re not already salivating at the thought of Buchholz and Justin Verlander in Sunday’s Fenway matinee.

Sox television ratings are down and the Krafts no doubt felt they’d finally have the stage to themselves with Patriots two-a-days at Gillette Stadium, but the Red Sox established in Orange County this week that the Boston baseball summer is not over yet.

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

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