Saturday night's walk-off win was a highlight of the series for the Sox.
It’s rare that losing two out of three games to a division rival can actually yield more positives than negatives.
Although the Sox still sit below .500, the team is playing significantly better. Since the April 21 shellacking at the hands of the Yankees, Sox pitchers have taken over two full runs off of the team ERA (down from 6.68 to 4.62). The offense continues to be one of the game’s most productive, averaging 5.2 runs per game (third in MLB).
The team has likewise begun to show some fire on the field, as the bench-clearing incident from Friday night’s game can attest. Although no punches were thrown in this typically ridiculous baseball “fight,” it showed that these players who have sometimes been accused of not caring will defend their teammates if necessary.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia also broke a rather ignominious streak for the Sox over the weekend. His walk-off two-run home run on Saturday was the first pinch-hit bomb hit by a member of the Sox since the immortal Wes Chamberlain went deep against the Orioles in May of 1995.
Although the series both began and ended in tough defeats, the Sox put forth an excellent effort in all three games. While this isn’t something you typically salute a professional team for, with this group it is a major accomplishment.
They may still be sitting at 23-24 and in last place in the AL East, but the Sox have laid the foundation for a successful rest of the 2012 season. Here are five key things we learned about them during this series:
Until this weekend, the Sox had looked like a group that was largely disengaged from what was occurring on the field.
That all changed Friday.
After Dustin Pedroia was hit by a pitch earlier in the game, Franklin Morales took it upon himself to drill notorious Fenway-hater Luke Scott in a move driven by, as Bobby Valentine put it before Saturday’s game, “ghosts of Fenway past.”
The ensuing benches clearing incident—it can’t be called a “brawl” if there are no punches thrown and there’s just a lot of shirt grabbing—showed an enthusiasm out of the Sox previously unseen this season.
It was nice to see that no matter what is said about these guys as individuals, they still rush to defend their teammates. The camaraderie this type of incident can build will help the Sox going forward this season.
While fans will likely remember Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s walk-off home run Saturday night as the signature comeback of the series, the Sox battled valiantly in all three games, something they had not done much of this year.
After falling behind 7-1 on Friday night, it would have been easy for the team to just pack it in and get ready for Saturday. However, they scrapped together runs in the fifth and sixth innings to make a game of it. Although they ultimately fell short, their work Friday set the stage for Saltalamacchia’s heroics on Saturday.
Sunday they got another late-inning, go-ahead home run, this time from Adrian Gonzalez. Despite dropping another heartbreaker, the Sox have shown that their bats can bring them back into games when their pitching falters, something they’ll need to do to get back into the division race.
It would have been really easy for Adrian Gonzalez to kick up a stink about being put in right field. He is the team’s highest-paid player and a Gold Glover at first to boot; why should he have to move to the outfield to make room for some rookie?
To his credit, Gonzalez hasn’t complained one bit.
Having started six of his last nine games in right field, he appears to be the everyday option there so long as Will Middlebrooks continues to hit. This plan is just fine with Gonzalez, who was actually the one to offer to make the move when the Sox activated Kevin Youkilis from the DL.
It says a lot about Gonzalez’s character that he’s willing to set his ego aside to do what’s best for the team. His actions set a fine example of self-sacrifice that the rest of the team should follow.
Despite not factoring into the decision in Sunday’s loss, Clay Buchholz has looked a lot more like the pitcher Sox fans remember from 2010. His two earned runs allowed over 7.0 innings marked his best start of the season by far.
The Rays are missing some of their bigger bats, but they are still an offensively strong team. Buchholz had good command of all his pitches, especially his changeup, a pitch he has struggled to control all season and which greatly contributed to his 7.84 ERA entering the contest.
The Sox need Buchholz to turn it around. Question marks surround much of this rotation, and they’ll need the right-hander to be a steady force in their rotation for the rest of the season if they want to be successful.
Sunday was a good start.
If this is how Josh Beckett pitches after he plays 18 holes, many Sox fans would be happy to cover his greens fees.
In the 21.2 innings Beckett has thrown since the golf incident, he has allowed just three earned runs (a 1.25 ERA), walked four against 19 strikeouts and lowered his season ERA to 4.15. In fact, if his two disastrous starts are discounted, Beckett has an ERA of 2.19 for the season.
Although it might be difficult for fans to digest given their difficult relationship with the irascible Texan, Beckett is the ace of this Sox staff. He has the best numbers of any Sox starter, and his likewise been the most consistent.
If he continues to pitch this way, Beckett will soon make the golf outing a thing of the past.