Fill-in starter Kutter Crawford pitched five shutout innings on Sunday, and he may get more opportunities in the Red Sox rotation with Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock on the injured list. John Froschauer/Associated Press

The Boston Red Sox return to Fenway Park on Tuesday night when they will play their first home game of the month. They are back from their best West Coast trip since 1995, an 8-2 run that has seen them settle into the American League wild-card race.

You’re forgiven if you haven’t noticed how much better the Sox are playing. There were a lot of late-night games. You’ve probably been preoccupied with the Boston Celtics and their run to the NBA Finals.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the Red Sox storylines you’ve been missing while you were sleeping. Or while nightmarish thoughts of Steph Curry kept you awake.

The biggest development out west was Tanner Houck inching toward the closer’s role. Houck got traditional saves on Friday and Sunday in Seattle, pitching the ninth to close out each win against the Mariners. He put two runners on in his first closing opportunity Friday, but got out of the jam to save a 4-3 win. His next outing on Sunday caused no such anxiety. Houck retired the Mariners in order on eight pitches.

Two saves doesn’t make Houck the second coming of Jonathan Papelbon. But Saturday night reminded us how desperately the Sox need someone on the back end of the bullpen. In that game Hansel Robles couldn’t protect a one-run lead and gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth. It was the 14th blown save of the season for the Sox bullpen – the most of any team in baseball.

Despite that, pitching has been the foundation of recent success for the Red Sox. The Boston starters’ 3.55 ERA is fifth best in the American League, and were even better on the trip where they won two 1-0 games in Anaheim and a 2-0 game in Seattle.


Now that rotation will be put to the test. Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock are both on the injured list, and neither is eligible to return until June 24. Kutter Crawford threw five shutout innings on Sunday despite walking four Mariners. Josh Winckowski is in line to pitch Tuesday for Worcester and may get a chance for his second big-league start. Chaim Bloom has made significant strides in building minor league pitching depth. Now that will be put to the test.

At the plate, Rafael Devers is earning every bit of the massive payday coming his way. His opposite-field home run in the eight inning Sunday broke a scoreless tie and gave the Sox their third straight series win. He also made a terrific play in the field and has become a plus fielder at third base. Afterward, he reminded us which part of the game he likes more.

“I like hitting,” Devers told reporters, not waiting for interpreter Carlos Villoria Benítez to translate.

J.D. Martinez hit two homers in the Seattle series, noteworthy for a designated hitter having tremendous success getting on base, but not much luck hitting for power. Before the homers Martinez had gone 92 plate appearances between home runs, his longest stretch with the Sox. Manager Alex Cora and teammates were jokingly calling him “Ichiro.” Martinez vowed to get hot, meaning he would start hitting home runs. Sure enough, he is.

All in all, it was a 10-day stretch that saw the Sox get back above .500 and join the playoff race. Now they need to carry that momentum into Boston, where they have a losing record at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox took advantage of struggling teams out west, and they face more of them at home over this nine-game homestand. The last-place A’s and Tigers open and close the stretch, with the enigmatic Cardinals in between. These are series the Sox need to win to keep this June roll going.

Things will be tougher beginning July Fourth when the Sox begin a two-week stretch with seven games each against the Yankees and Rays.

The fact that those games matter against the Beasts of the East is a testament to what the Red Sox did out west. You may have been asleep, but the Sox delivered a wake-up call to the rest of baseball that they are going to be a factor this season.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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