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To their credit, Red Sox turn things around

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  May 30, 2012 12:02 PM

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Maybe I'm old, or soft, or a combination of the two. But today, I feel compelled to give the Red Sox some love.

That was a darned good win last night.

And if these guys keep it up, I may actually start to like to them again.

Whether you feel the same way is entirely up to you, but the Red Sox pulled themselves above .500 for the first time this season Tuesday night with a victory over the Detroit Tigers that was, in a word, resolute. Pitted against all-world righthander Justin Verlander in the wake of yet more bad news regarding one of their better players (Dustin Pedroia), the Red Sox claimed a 6-3 win with a cast of characters that included Daniel Nava, Scott Podsednik, Nick Punto, Rich Hill, Vicente Padilla, Andrew Miller, Scott Atchison and the entire island of misfit toys.

Then again, maybe that's what is making this team so likeable at the moment. No preponderance of overpaid, underachieving veterans. No attitude. No excuses. Just a bunch of no-name retreads who are clinging to their careers behind a manager who was out of the major leagues for 10 years, dead and buried before the Red Sox resuscitated him.

"We're looking at it like we've got good momentum,'' left fielder Nava told reporters after delivering the game's key blow, a two-out, three-run double against the otherworldly Verlander in baseball's version of Bambi meets Godzilla. "We've got things going in the right direction. If you see the scoreboard, in the AL East things are still pretty tight. There's a lot of season left."

Indeed there is.

And if the Red Sox keep this up, as we've said before, there is every chance they will be far better in the final two months than they have been in the first two.

For now, following a September, offseason and spring that made Fenway Park as appealing as a swamp, let's give the Red Sox credit for one thing: they're hanging in there. For that matter, they've already demonstrated more resiliency and fight this year than they did in the final months of last season. On Opening Day, lest we forget, the Sox rallied from a ninth-inning deficit against the same Detroit Tigers only to see their bullpen undermine their lineup's efforts. The entire season this far has since been a succession of uphill climbs, the Red Sox fighting their opponents, themselves, the media and their fan base in attempt to reclaim some level of respectability.

Just look at the last week or so. Entering Tuesday night, counting Opening Day, the Sox were 0-6 this season when playing to get above the .500 mark. On Friday night, after feeling as he were squeezed by the home plate umpire, Jon Lester allowed a grand slam to Tampa Bay outfielder Matt Joyce. Then the Sox engaged in a war of words (and brushbacks) with a Tampa Bay Rays team that Sox manager Bobby Valentine has since described as "cocky." The Sox rallied for a last at-bat win on Saturday, blew a game on Sunday, then rebounded again on Memorial Day. Then they came out last night and defeated Verlander while Valentine held the heretofore disappointing Daniel Bard on a short leash.

The end result? The Sox of today are 25-24 in an American League that looks like a relative mass of mediocrity outside of the state of Texas, a commendable accomplishment given the distractions and issues that have surrounded them for the better part of, fittingly, the last nine months.

After all, the process of making this team endearing again has been a rather laborious process akin to giving birth.

So for a day, at least, let's be fair here. For all of the self-inflicted wounds the Sox have suffered over the last several months, they have endured their share of bad luck, too. Pedroia is only the latest example. Until Ryan Sweeney came off the disabled list, the Sox had both their starting and backup outfield units on the disabled list, from Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Ryan Kalish to Cody Ross, Sweeney, Darnell McDonald and Jason Repko. Kevin Youkilis missed time. Andrew Bailey hasn't pitched. Any team can only take so much, and one can only hope now that the Pedroia injury proves to be nothing overly serious.

Meanwhile, the handsomely-paid Red Sox starters continued to perform like a small-market bunch, putting undue pressure on the middle of the lineup.

Maybe there is a lesson in all of this, particularly following a 2011 season in which the Sox amassed talent more than they truly built a team. The critical performers on the club this year have ranged from Nava and Mike Aviles to Sweeney, Will Middlebrooks, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ross, no to mention a Frankenstein bullpen crew that looks as if it were assembled with various body parts. Know what all those guys have in common? Generally speaking, they're survivors or rookies, people jumping at the chance to play and compete. Add Felix Doubront to the mix and what you have is a group of players intent on proving themselves, something Red Sox players seemingly have not felt for a very long time.

To some degree, the veterans, too, are doing their part. Adrian Gonzalez has moved to right field with nary a whimper, playing right field with more than just respectability. (His baseball instincts are off the charts.) David Ortiz appears to have rededicated himself on many levels, producing both in the batter's box and the clubhouse, where he called the team meeting that seemingly awoke this club after Josh Beckett's cataclysmic meltdown on May 10.

Today, as a result, the Red Sox have a winning record for the first time this year, something for which they deserve some measure of credit. They are hardly out of the woods yet. But maybe, amid all the infighting and whining and snitch-searching, the Red Sox have taken the time to do some soul-searching en route to making the baseball season in Boston interesting again.

Remember what has brought you this point, boys.

Because talent was only a very small part of it.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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