The Bruins are deservedly celebrating their first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years. The Celtics are busy licking their wounds and contemplating another run for championship #18. The Patriots are on hold. While you were busy rooting for Boston’s other teams and gathering for a Bruins duck boat parade, you may have missed a few things. In case you need to catch up, here’s a primer for the 2011 Red Sox:
#1: The Sox are in first place. The American League East is lining up just as it should be: Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles. All is right with the world. The Sox survived a horrendous and worrisome start and finally hit the .500 mark before the end of May. While Bruins talk was filling up the airwaves, the Sox quietly went about their business. Is there any looking back? The Sox accomplished their show of power despite a surprisingly slumping and apparently injured Dustin Pedroia, a lost and confused Carl Crawford, and both Lackey and Dice-K on the disabled list. While we know Pedroia will soon resume the Laser Show (Relax!), Crawford hit the 15-day disabled list and remains a giant question mark.
Super Jed: After an impressive display of power, Jed Lowrie became the everyday shortstop. Then Jed’s shoulder took the brunt of a collision with Crawford. Jed landed on the D.L. giving Marco Scutaro another chance to reclaim job.
Gone, Gone, Gonzo: Adrian Gonzalez is everything and more than he was cracked up to be. The man is built for baseball. His intelligence shines through and his demeanor under the pressures of Boston is extraordinary. Sox fans are going to love this guy for a long, long time.
Pass the Salt: Saltalamacchia is becoming the catcher that they hoped for. Watching Salty launch balls into the monster seats or off the wall is increasingly becoming a habit. More importantly, he seems to be hitting his stride as a leader with the pitching staff. And who wouldn’t be thrilled with a “backup catcher” like Jason Varitek? His leadership, knowledge and work ethic is priceless.
Papi’s Pop: Big Papi is having a big spring! This is the David Ortiz of old. Whether or not it has anything to do with a contract year, I don’t care. I only know what a great feeling it is when I see Papi sauntering up to the plate.
Meep Meep: Jacoby Ellsbury is proving his worth this year and then some. Jacoby is proving to be a superb leadoff hitter showing off a bit of pop in his bat, a speed demon on the base paths and an extraordinary outfielder. Re-installed in centerfield where he belongs, Jacoby is making a statement that he should never have been moved out of that position last year. He has been everything we knew he was before Adrian Beltre smashed his knee into Jacoby’s ribs in 2010. Why did anyone ever doubt him?
YOOOOUUUUUK: Kevin Youkilis has gotten off to a curious start. Moments of glory are mixed with ugly strikeouts. He is back to his early days when he was known as the “Greek God of Walks”. The move from first base to third has to have some effect on his performance this year. He’s a bit beaten up but working through it. Always a hard worker and lunchbox-type guy, Youk will eventually work it all out. It often does not look pretty, but Youk gets the job done.
JD Being JD: Admit it. You can always count on J.D. Drew in right field. If a ball is catchable, he will catch it. At the plate, well, that’s another story. Still, there is always hope when J.D. steps up to the plate because you know he has it in him. History proves that. With Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald platooning in the outfield, all we can do is hold our collective breath and wait for Kalish or Reddick to come up from Pawtucket. There will be times that we will miss J.D. in right field. Mark my words.
Pitch This: Bad-ass Beckett is back. Together with Varitek, his binky behind the plate, Beckett has the ability to lead the Sox right into the World Series. Opening day ace, Jon Lester, looked good in April (not usually his best month), improved in May, but has looked a bit shaky at times. On the other hand, his 9-2 record is the best in the league. No complaints there. John Lackey seems to have come out of his D.L. stint stronger, calmer and more reliable. Clay Buchholz has had shaky moments apparently due to a back problem he has been battling. If healthy, Clay is for real. Count on Clay. Dice-K continued flummoxing fans and coaching staff alike. His outings ranged from maddening to brilliant and finally ended on the surgeon’s table. Tommy John surgery will likely end the Dice-K days in Boston and allow him to save face. Sayonara, Dice. Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves have been steady contributors, stepping into the rotation for Lackey and Dice-K and doing a terrific job. The bullpen, led by a more consistent Jonathan Papelbon and a mostly lights-out Daniel Bard, have had their ups and downs. The biggest disappointment has been in the loss of local native, Rich Hill, to Tommy John surgery. The rest of the pen seems to be in flux but they are holding their own.
Did I mention the Sox swept the Yankees? Twice.
There is a lot of baseball yet to be played. I know we have not yet reached the All-Star break. But the Red Sox are becoming the team they were supposed to be. Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the ride. Dream of duck boats on the streets of Boston in the fall. Why not? It’s the only game in town.