Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The Red Sox played at Camden Yards Monday for the first time since Sept. 28 of last season.
That was the night the Sox felt The Curse of the Andino -- Robert Andino's two-run walk-off hit that sent Boston out of the playoffs and into an offseason tailspin.
Now, for the first time this season, the Red Sox are showing signs of pulling out of that downward spiral. After Monday's win, they have won 9 of 11, and showing signs they are coming together as a team.
Earlier this month, the Sox held a players-only meeting about their early-season struggles.
The message was clear: if the players didn't start playing with reckless abandon, the season was going to get away from them.
Message received. In winning 2 of 3 in Philadelphia, the Sox played with the urgency that was lacking during their 7-20 September collapse.
Ryan Sweeney suffered concussion-like symptoms when he went face first into the warning track Saturday night, making a tremendous catch that saved two runs and probably the game.
Adrian Gonzalez -- playing in the outfield for the first time this season so David Ortiz could play first and stay in the lineup despite the lack of a DH in a National League park -- made a nice sliding catch, too.
With Sweeney out on Sunday, and Cody Ross out with a broken bone in his left foot, Gonzalez and Ortiz were back in their uncustomary defensive positions on Sunday. Probably not what Manager Bobby Valentine planned, but certainly what the team needed.
Valentine has been managing with increased urgency as well.
Last week in Tampa Bay he brought in four pitchers to face four hitters.
On Sunday in Philadelphia he brought in Alfredo Aceves for the second-straight day despite the 5-1 lead and lack of a save situation. Aceves nailed it down with a 1-2-3 ninth, killing any thoughts of a late-game comeback.
To be sure, these are all good signs. Yet the Red Sox still began the week in last place, still trying to overcome the mistakes of the first five weeks of the season.
And they were looking to prove something against the Orioles, a team in first place this late in the season for the first time since 1997.
That was the last year Baltimore won a division title, and this early start has Baltimore fans thinking about a return to the postseason.
The Orioles have the best record in the AL, and had won seven of their last eight against Boston before losing Monday night's game 8-6.
There was a time when the O's were fodder for the likes of the Sox and Yankees.
The two AL East giants would routinely win 12 or more games against Baltimore.
Those days are gone, and a look at the seemingly upside-down standings is proof. Boston and New York are battling to stay out of the cellar while the O's have been doing their best against the Rays.
This is one of the most important weeks of the early season for Boston.
Beginning Monday night, they were playing a stretch of six straight games vs. the first-place Orioles and second-place Rays.
Winning each of the two series would give them a winning record for the first time this season.
Losing both would put them in an even deeper hole.
Success and momentum have been fragile commodities for the Sox this season. They began the week with a little of both.
If they can sustain this run, the team will be in much better shape on Memorial Day than we would've thought possible just a few weeks ago.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.