Thursday, May 23, 2013
BOSTON - They are, by every measurement, a .500 team. In 2012, that means you're still alive in the AL wild-card race.
As frustrating as the Red Sox have been this summer, trying to figure out where they fit into the bigger picture has been even more maddening. Nine days ago they were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays, and limped off to Texas as fans talked about "blowing up" the roster. Losing three of the first four games on the trip didn't help.
By the end of Friday night's 10-3 loss at Yankee Stadium, there was a clear feeling that this team could not compete with the top clubs in baseball. With record crowds watching the first Patriots practices in Foxborough, there seemed to be no question that fans were moving on.
Then the Sox won the final two games in the Bronx, winning each in their final at-bat. It was an unexpected sign of life, and it came with just 40 hours remaining before the nonwaiver trade deadline.
Suddenly, blowing it up might not be the call. The Sox took the field four games out of a wild-card spot Monday with more than two months remaining. They were still alive. Just like a half dozen other AL teams.
Or were they? There were only four teams with worse records than Boston when the week began.
The Sox woke up Monday with a .500 record since the All-Star break, matching the .500 record they had going into it. Every time we thought they had turned a corner (like after they won 5 of 7 after the break) they fell back to the middle ground. Every time we thought they were done, they got up off the mat and staggered back.
The Sox showed a spark late Sunday night in New York. They may have even displayed a little team unity. Will Middlebrooks was hit by a David Robertson pitch, only umpire Brian O'Nora (hit by the same pitch after it bounced off Middlebrooks' hand) didn't see it that way. He said it hit his bat.
Manager Bobby Valentine stormed out of the dugout, argued, and was ejected for the third time this year. Nothing unusual there, just a manager sticking up for his team.
Except he wasn't the only person ejected. Josh Beckett, rumored to be on the trading block, continued arguing from the dugout. He was also tossed and got to watch the end of the game with Valentine in the clubhouse.
Middlebrooks' at-bat continued. He shook off the bad call (and the pain) and singled to left field. That continued the winning rally. Pedro Ciriaco delivered the winning run in his final at-bat for the second straight night. He's 11 for 22 with six RBI in five games against the Yankees this season. Another unexpected contributor helping to keep this team afloat.
What are the 2012 Red Sox floating toward? Who knows? The new one-game playoff is still within reach, like the elusive acorn that continually taunts the character Scrat in the Ice Age movies.
Or, they could be floating toward continued mediocrity. Winning a few, losing a few, and never getting too far away from .500.
With the trade deadline at 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Sox are in the unusual position of fielding calls as buyers and sellers. They could add, subtract, or do the old "addition by subtraction."
All of this happening at the start of the longest homestand of the season, a homestand that will end on the eve of the Patriots' first preseason game. By then, fans will know if this team is "in it to win it" as Valentine likes to say.
Another 10 days of .500 baseball won't do much to win them over.
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.