Progress evident as revitalized Sox rock Blue Jays
They were only 14 games into the 2012 season when Bobby Valentine declared the Red Sox had hit “rock bottom’’ after squandering a nine-run lead in a 15-9 loss to the Yankees April 21. The Sox were 4-10 record and in fifth place in the American League East.
It was not a good spot for the team or their new manager.
Even after such a small sample, had the Sox truly bottomed out?
“I believed it,’’ Valentine said Wednesday after the Sox closed out a successful 7-2 homestand with a rousing 10-4 thumping of the Blue Jays before a Fenway Park crowd of 37,744 .
“I wasn’t sure, but I believed it,’’ Valentine said. “Things were going so wrong and we couldn’t catch a break. We had a season full of bad things happen [in that stretch] and I think things turned around.
“Guys believed it, too, and they played hard every night that they came out.’’
While the ship was listing badly after the first month of the season, the righting didn’t seem to come until after mid-May when the Sox found themselves at 12-19 and mired in last place, 7-1/2 games back.
Since May 11, the Sox have won 28 of 44 games, including 17 of 27 at Fenway, where they started 4-11. They have outscored the opposition, 232-165, their starting pitchers have allowed two earned runs or less 24 times during that stretch, while the bullpen, which has emerged as perhaps the best in baseball, compiled a 2.40 ERA, allowing 32 runs over 120 innings.
“It’s been night and day from that point,’’ said Cody Ross, who went 2 for 3 with a double and two runs Wednesday. “We weren’t playing good as a team. Now we’re playing well as a team.
“Our pitchers are pitching outstanding. We’re scoring runs. And we’re playing good defense. It’s definitely fun to come to the park every day.’’
Wednesday, the Sox kept the so good . . . so good . . . so good times rolling by winning their fifth consecutive series and 11th of their last 15.
It helped them improve to a season-best five games above .500 (40-35) and, more important, climb into a third-place tie with the Tampa Rays.
“We’re just playing ball, doing what we can,’’ said David Ortiz, who highlighted the 10-hit attack when he scored Boston’s 10th run on a leadoff homer in the fifth.
Ortiz clobbered his 21st homer of the season (and 399th of his career) by driving an 0-and-1 pitch from Jesse Chavez into the bleachers beyond the Sox bullpen.
Ortiz went 1 for 2 and scored four runs. He led off the eighth with a chance to go for his 400th homer. He wound up striking out.
“I just tried to put a good swing on the ball,’’ he said. “I guess I didn’t get a good pitch to hit.’’
Was No. 400 on his mind?
“Not at all,’’ Ortiz said. “Right now it’s not something I’m really thinking about. I know at some point when I’m not playing, I’ll think about it then. Now my focus is just trying to contribute to this ballclub by continuing my hitting.’’
The Sox put this one away early when they sent 10 men to plate and scored six runs on four hits off Ricky Romero (8-2).
Dustin Pedroia doubled to left to drive in Daniel Nava (walk) to tie the game at 1-1.
Adrian Gonzalez (2 for 5, 3 RBIs) came to the plate with the bases loaded after Ortiz walked and Ross singled to left. Gonzalez put the Sox ahead to stay, 2-1, when he ripped a hard grounder past Edwin Encarnacion at first that was scored a fielder’s choice and an error, with two runs scoring.
Romero didn’t record his first out until he got Will Middlebrooks to ground to third on an RBI fielder’s choice.
Mike Aviles (2 for 4, 2 RBIs) ripped another sharp grounder past third that scored Gonzalez, making it 5-1. Darnell McDonald made it 6-1 when his single to center scored Aviles.
“He wasn’t the same pitcher today,’’ said Valentine. “We recognized that early and took a lot of pitches. Hardly swung at a ball out of the strike zone the first three innings, the first 75 pitches we saw. We made him get the ball over.’’
Jon Lester, meanwhile, went seven innings and allowed four runs on seven hits, including homers to Jose Bautista and Encarnacion.
Lester struck out four batters but allowed no walks. Over his last 20⅔ innings, Lester has allowed two walks while striking out 17.
“I’d rather give up a hit than give up a walk,’’ he said.
Lester turned it over to the bullpen in the eighth. Mark Melancon pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, before he handed it to Clayton Mortensen, who closed it out with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The Sox departed for a seven-game road trip to Seattle and Oakland, the two worst teams in the AL West.
“We’re not content,’’ Ross said. “We don’t like being in the bottom of the pack.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get to the top. We understand that our division is tough and we just have to keep playing like we are and try to get better.
“If we keep playing like this, we’ll find ourselves in a pretty good spot.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.