BOSTON — Now they can get back to baseball.

The Red Sox had Monday off, a much needed day of rest. They returned from the West Coast after going 4-2 against the Giants and Dodgers.

They survived a weekend surrounded by hype as they faced former teammates Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford for the first time since the mega-trade that sent $264 million in salary to the West Coast.

The trade of a year ago wasn’t just a salary dump. It was the start of a culture change. Disgruntled veterans like Gonzalez, Crawford and Josh Beckett were replaced by high-energy types like Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster.

Those players instilled a new love of the game in the Sox clubhouse. That passion remains strong, even as the Sox enter their final month of the season.

It had better. While the grind of a travel-laden stretch is coming to an end, there is real work ahead for Boston. The Red Sox went 9-10 over the last 19 games, 16 of them on the road. Now they play 18 of their final 30 games at friendly Fenway.

Trouble is, they play 22 of those games against the teams trying to catch them in the AL East. OK, 19 actually. The three against the Blue Jays don’t count.

It’s the others that should concern you as a Sox fan. Boston has nine games remaining against Baltimore, seven against the Yankees, and three against Tampa Bay. There are plenty of off-days along the way, and the Sox will need to be well-rested to come out of this on top.

The schedule makers clearly had fun with the Red Sox schedule this year.

They started the season facing the Yankees, were in Los Angeles for the first anniversary of the blockbuster deal with the Dodgers, and finish with three at Camden Yards. That’s where the collapse of 2011 was consummated.

Can they survive this schedule?

That will depend in large part on how Clay Buchholz navigates his rehab trip through the minor leagues. There is no way the Sox can get where they want to be without their ace at the top of the rotation.

With Buchholz, the Sox could be a great team in October. Without him, they’re just another very good team hoping for a lucky postseason break or two. There are a lot of other teams in that group.

It’s interesting that Manager John Farrell moved Dempster to Friday for the first game against the White Sox. That would put his third start on Sept. 10, which is the projected date of Buchholz’s return.

It’s easy to imagine Dempster moving to the bullpen, backing up Buchholz for his first start since returning. Dempster has pitched out of the bullpen before, and would be an easy choice as the man to take out of the rotation for the return of the ace.

For now, the Red Sox need everyone contributing until Buchholz returns. And for a little home cooking to help them continue what has been a remarkable season so far.


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.


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