The 2013 Red Sox season was a story of triumph over tragedy. It culminated in the World Series trophy being placed at the Boston Marathon finish line, at the very spot where the city was rocked by bombings some six months earlier.
Boston connected with that Red Sox team like few before. It was a resilient Band of Bearded Brothers who made comebacks and dramatic walk-off wins a common occurrence.
Twenty games into the 2014 season, we are still watching the identity of this Red Sox team emerge. In the past week, for the first time, we are seeing some similarities.
On Sunday night, the Red Sox paid tribute to the victims of last year’s attack. A night that began with tears ended with tears of joy as the team rallied from a 5-0 deficit for its first walk-off win of the season. It was the first since Game 2 of last year’s American League Championship Series. Last year the Red Sox led the American League with 11 walk-off wins.
The Sox took the field Monday morning with four wins in five games, their best run of the season to date. The stretch began with a grind-it-out, 14-inning win in Chicago.
These haven’t all been the prettiest wins you’ll see this baseball season. The 14-inning win came when the White Sox resorted to putting a utility infielder on the mound as the eighth pitcher of the night. On Sunday the Sox took advantage of three Orioles errors to put six runs on the board over the final four innings.
In each case the Sox were able to win games by getting to opponents’ bullpens. We saw it last Thursday when the Sox were no-hit by Chris Sale for five innings but scored two runs after he was gone to secure the win. Again on Monday, Boston rallied from deficits of 6-0 and 7-4 before finally losing to the Orioles, 7-6.
“We’ve had the same consistent approach,” said Manager John Farrell, “and we’ve been able to use that to our advantage. It’s not exactly like last October, when it seemed we were getting no-hit every night but were still able to outlast some quality starters. We’ve been putting up more consistent at-bats, tougher at-bats, to drive that pitch count up.”
Getting a starter’s pitch count up helps, but you’ve still got to get the job done against relievers.
While Red Sox bats have been able to feast on other teams’ relievers, the Boston bullpen has been in lockdown mode since the start of the season. Entering Monday’s game Sox relievers had the lowest ERA in the AL, and had given up just four earned runs in the last 29 innings.
Most importantly the Sox were 5-0 when they took a lead into the eighth inning.
It hasn’t been an easy start for the defending champs. Clay Buchholz hasn’t won a game yet and has an ERA of 7.71 after Monday’s brutal start, when he allowed six runs in the third inning. John Lackey and Felix Doubront have ERAs of 5.25 and 5.48, respectively.
The offense has sputtered. The Sox began the week hitting just .234 as a team — the third-lowest batting average in baseball. They’ve also scored the third-fewest runs in the AL, a far cry from the 2013 team that led the major leagues in runs.
The first 20 games of a season is a small sample, and you can’t make a fully formed opinion about this team yet.
Shane Victorino hasn’t played a game this season and Will Middlebrooks has been on the disabled list since April 6. Both are playing minor-league rehab games and could be back by the end of the week.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.