Saturday, March 8, 2014
BOSTON - They are 91-59 with a dozen games to go.
We're not only talking about a bunch of wins for the Boston Red Sox, we're talking about 32 games above .500.
More than 30 games above average. Know the last time Boston finished a season at that milestone?
It was the last game of the 2004 regular season. The Red Sox finished 98-64, hopped on the momentum and won a world championship.
But 2004 followed 2003, a year when Boston came within one game of reaching the World Series.
This 2013 excellence follows 2012, when the Red Sox went 69-93 and missed the postseason by 24 games.
Of course, no one saw this worst-to-first turnaround happening. No one outside the Red Sox clubhouse, at least.
When Mike Napoli was asked if he expected this team to compile the best record in the majors, he didn't blink. The veteran first baseman with one of the more celebrated beards on this club, did not hesitate with his answer.
"Yeah," he said. "In spring training, I saw the group of guys we had."
As the Red Sox have taken off this year, attendance has slipped. The two-fold belief was that inflated ticket prices finally caught up with the Red Sox, and fans weren't convinced this team would contend.
It was as if fans were waiting for a collapse, an after-effect from not only 2012 but the disaster of September 2011. The Red Sox were 31 games above .500 on Aug. 31, 2011, in case you needed reminding.
When various players began slumping this year, maybe you figured it was a matter of time before the losses began to mount. Napoli, from July 31 to Aug. 30, hit .180.
"It's part of baseball," Napoli said. "I've been through it before. Just have to keep grinding. Keep working hard. I found something and I feel comfortable."
You can almost hear the mantra of that 2004 team, which had its stumbles but continually said "turn the page."
Napoli turned the page and has batted .431 since. His 87 RBI are second on the team to David Ortiz's 92.
"I've been through a slump. I've gotten out of a slump," Napoli said with a shrug. "We have a lot of veterans on this team. We've been through a lot of stuff.
"Be patient. Usually, things turn around."
Jon Lester remembers his first full year, 2008, when he "was wide-eyed and tried not to screw anything up."
Now Lester knows the ups and downs. So when he posted a 7.62 ERA in June and stumbled into the All-Star break with two more losses in early July, Lester followed the Napoli plan -- keep working.
"I knew going through what I went through in the middle of the year, it was just a matter of time. Just keep grinding and things will take care of themselves," Lester said.
"We can evaluate a lot of things from a couple of months ago. Ball being up in the zone was another. Cutter not sharp. We can sit here and rattle a bunch of things."
Lester has turned it around. Since the All-Star break, he's 6-2. In four of his last six starts, he's allowed one run or none.
Lester should have two more starts before Oct. 4, when he's expected to take the mound for Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
Will Lester's workload lessen before then? Farrell wanted nothing to do with that question.
"We need to take care of first things first," he said. "If the opportunity is there to pull guys back, we'll take advantage of that, but not until we get there."
Not looking ahead. And not looking back.
"I'm not thinking about two months ago," Lester said. "I think about today. Take today as a positive. Move on to five days. Hopefully by then we got this magic number down to nothing and we can celebrate."
Yes, the Red Sox have emphatically turned the page from last season.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: