Things are looking up in Red Sox Nation. You don’t believe me? Looking back, the beginning of May did not start out promising. There were embarrassing losses to Oakland and Baltimore. There was Josh Beckett’s real or imagined injury that kept him off the mound but did not impact his golf game. Beckett’s two-inning fiasco that followed “Golfgate” felt like his way of giving the finger to reporters, fans, and his own teammates. Aaron Cook’s deeply gashed knee that derailed his comeback after only two innings. The Orioles sweep of a three-game series at Fenway that included the 17 inning heartbreaking loss that forced backup outfielder, Darnell McDonald, to take the mound and pitch for the second time in his professional career. The frustrating “Take Me Out to the Balk Games” where several Red Sox pitchers were called on for balks. The curious case of the disappearance of Adrian Gonzalez’ power stroke continued. On May 6, Gonzo went 0-for-8 on the same day that Albert Pujols got his first homerun for the Angels. It’s been an odd year. Former Red Sox, Josh Reddick, has hit more homeruns for the Oakland A’s than Gonzo and Pujols combined. The saddest news of all was the day we heard that the beautiful and warm voice of Carl Beane, the Fenway announcer, would be forever silenced.
Around the middle of the month, we noticed a few positive signs. We learned that David Ortiz held a team meeting after Beckett’s meltdown game and that things grew “heated”. Thereafter, the starting pitchers noticeably improved. The Will Middlebrooks era began in earnest when he came up from Pawtucket to step in for the ailing Youkilis. Middlebrooks (or as Bobby V. has been known to call him, “Willowbrooks”) made a name for himself by hitting two homeruns in one game and then continued to hit consistently. Clay Buchholz showed signs of getting his groove back. Felix Doubront has been an outstanding addition to the pitching staff.
Then there was Tim Wakefield Day and the beautiful tribute to the Red Sox retired knuckleballer.
The Sox visited the Phillies and we saw old friend, Jonathan Papelbon sweep in for the save in the first game of the series. Instead of a rousing rendition of “Shipping Up to Boston”, Pap took the mound to “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. A bit of a letdown, I would say. The Sox then took the series from the struggling Phillies.
Saltalamacchia (a.k.a. “Saltalamaggio”) showed his toughness and leadership after a ball wiped out half his ear. The next day, twelve stitches later, he knelt behind the plate and began what appears to be an All-Star season for him. Cody Ross, former Giants World Series MVP, who has been a spark in the lineup, hit a ball off his own foot – Dustin Pedroia style – and sadly ended up on the DL with a fractured foot. With Youkilis back from the DL creating excess infielders, Gonzo keeps turning up in right field and is actually holding his own. Big Papi played a mean first base for a couple of games and has shown power and a new ability to hit to the opposite field and against lefties. Who said Papi was done? Near the end of May, the Sox even beat up on the Philly’s Cliff Lee, 5-1. Our old friend Beckett was dominant that day; and shortstop, Mike Aviles, hit a lead-off homerun for the second game in a row. Throughout the month, Doubront pitched well but got no offensive help; Bard pitched poorly but got a ton of offensive help. A fight broke out between the Red Sox and Rays – but oddly appeared to be mainly a problem between the coaching staff on both sides. Salty hit a pinch-hit walk-off grand slam. “Everyday Alfredo Aceves” appeared to be a closer idiot savant. You have to give the guy credit for his durability, and his willingness to take the ball. He is a work in progress with a huge up-side.
Memorial Day! The Sox were officially on a roll and beat up on the struggling Tigers. (Prince Fielder = not so scary.) The original Dirt Dog, Trot Nixon, returned to Fenway to throw out the first pitch and the boys did not embarrass themselves in front of him. At one point, there were seven – count ‘em’ seven – outfielders on the DL in May. But still, the worst that could happen was Pedroia getting hurt. Of course, Murphy’s Law prevailed and Pedey ended up with a torn adductor muscle in his thumb. By the end of the month, it was all hands on deck. Every day, a new unsung hero emerged. This team that was built on high-priced free agents – Gonzo and Crawford, to name two – and homegrown talent with huge expectations – Ellsbury, Youkilis, Pedroia, Lester – started winning on the backs of the likes of Ryan Sweeney, Scott Atchison, Mike Aviles, Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales, Vincente Padilla, young Will Middlebrooks, and don’t forget the one and only Legend of Daniel Nava (no longer a one-hit wonder). Yes, the pitching staff picked it up a little bit but the patchwork bullpen is what really has kept the ship from sinking.
The Sox ended May in last place in the American League East, one game over .500; but the spread between first to last place in the division is inconsequential. Somehow, someway, this formerly “unlikable” team (as has been said on the radio over and over) is….well….likeable. And, by the way, they are winning. There is nothing like winning to create team chemistry. We look at the smiles on the faces in the dugout and, what’s not to like?
As June begins, the skies open up, the belated spring rain is falling, and the Red Sox appear to be coming together. Welcome back, boys. Better late than never.