THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Headed back to .500 on the wings of Angels

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 25, 2011

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — While you were sleeping, the Red Sox vaulted right back into the race in the American League East.

But they were never really out of it, right?

Whatever. The team that started the season 2-10 — the Worst Team In Baseball — went to the West Coast to find its mojo. And while you were in Ambien Place, perhaps dreaming about Andrew Ference’s gloved middle finger or the prospect of Celtics-Heat in the most-hyped conference semifinal in history, the Sons of Tito Francona were winning five straight in Cali, a couple of them well past the midnight hour.

So here we are: It is April 25 and the Sox have played 21 games and they are one game under .500 and 3 1/2 games out of first place. The white noise of the first fortnight is forgiven and almost forgotten. The 2011 Red Sox are not so bad, after all.

“We dug ourselves a hole, now we’re trying to dig out of it,’’ said Francona after John Lackey’s eight shutout innings in yesterday’s 7-0 win over the Angels.

“We weren’t too low when we were 2-10, so we’re not too high now that we’re 10-11,’’ said second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Earl Weaver famously said, “You’re never as good as you look when you win or as bad as you look when you lose,’’ and certainly that applies to the Theo Epstein Creation that was touted as “Best Team Ever’’ before playing a regular-season game. When the sloppy Sox sank to 1-7 after an ugly Saturday afternoon Fenway loss to the Yankees, Theo said he had no intention of issuing a daily referendum on the state of his ballclub.

“There’s a lot of talent here,’’ Epstein said after the embarrassing nationally televised 9-4 whupping. “We’ve got to find a way to get settled in and start to play up to that talent. We need to find a way to pitch better.’’ Pedroia also called out the pitching staff.

The next night was the night everything changed. Josh Beckett put the universe in order, allowing only two hits over eight innings while punching out 10 in a 4-0 victory over the Bronx Bombers. The Sox pitching staff has been in alignment since that night. After giving up 19 homers in the first eight games, the Sox have allowed only five in the last 13 games. In the last nine games, Sox starters are 7-1 with a 0.88 ERA.

“I don’t know if they got together and had a pow-wow or anything like that,’’ said big galoot closer Jonathan Papelbon. “But I think each one of them said, ‘I’m good enough to carry this team’. That’s the way they all feel and they are starting to pitch that way.’’

Lackey joined the party with a masterful eight innings at his old home office in Orange County.

“For sure, there’s definitely a sense that you don’t want to stop the streak,’’ said Lackey. “Everybody on the staff has been throwing the ball pretty good.’’

The Sox are smoking. They have won five in a row and eight of nine. They came to Anaheim and threw ice water on a team that had just won eight of nine. It marked the first four-game Sox sweep in Anaheim in 31 years.

“We look good right now,’’ said Pedroia. “We’re playing good baseball. The pitching is better, the hitting is better, and the defense is better. That’s it. There’s no secret.’’

The Angels are simply horrible against Boston. I’m considering checking with the Chicago History Museum to see if Eddie Cicotte made any statements about the 2011 Angels. The Halos have lost 13 of their last 14 games to the Dust Devils from Boston.

Yesterday’s domination was underscored by the sight of Carl Crawford rounding the bases after his first home run in a Red Sox uniform. Crawford hasn’t been able to do anything in this young season. He was hitting .150 at the time of his homer. He batted in the No. 8 spot Saturday night and admitted that the pressure of Boston was getting to him.

No problem. A homer for Carl. Next thing you know Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be inspiring comparisons with Johnny Bench. How good is Francona going? He can bench a guy hitting .431 (Jed Lowrie) and still crush the Angels.

Now the Bostons move on to Baltimore, where they will be asked to defend the intellect of Young Theo, who was rudely challenged by upstart Orioles manager Buck Showalter. Then they come to Fenway for an 11-game homestand and (whoopee) more games against their Anaheim cousins.

Deep Depth. Your Red Sox. Tomorrow night at Camden Yards the Best Team Ever attempts to get to .500 for the first time since Opening Day in Texas.

“I think it’s reachable,’’ said Pedroia.

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

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