Commentary

The lessons of June

Amid early-season setbacks and changes, the Sox are finding new ways to win

Updated: June 14, 2010, 11:17 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- It would seem like a 5-3 interleague loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on a Sunday afternoon in June at Fenway Park would soon be forgotten by the Boston Red Sox.

But given the fact that the Red Sox still won this three-game set and now have won or split 14 of their past 17 series, this weekend was important for the club as it continues to close in on the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees in the American League East. While it is significant that the Red Sox took two of three from the Phillies, it's how they did it that makes it even more important for Boston.

Hermida It takes more than the original 25 guys on the Opening Day roster to get to the playoffs and get to where you want to go, so you're going to need different guys to contribute during the year. You can't sit back and rely on two or three guys to carry you the whole way. The fact that we've been able to do that is huge for us.

-- Red Sox outfielder Jeremy Hermida

Even though the Sox have faced more than their share of adversity through injuries to key players, roster moves and the changing of the guard in regard to veteran players, Boston has remained in the hunt. "It's a sign of a complete team. A good team," injured Red Sox outfielder Jeremy Hermida said. "It takes more than the original 25 guys on the Opening Day roster to get to the playoffs and get to where you want to go, so you're going to need different guys to contribute during the year. You can't sit back and rely on two or three guys to carry you the whole way. The fact that we've been able to do that is huge for us."

Consider the following:

  • Outfielders Hermida and Jacoby Ellsbury and pitchers Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka are all on the disabled list.
  • Outfielder Mike Cameron is playing with an abdominal tear.
  • First baseman Kevin Youkilis, who said after Sunday's game that he'll be back in the lineup Tuesday, suffered back spasms last week and was hit on the elbow with a pitch Saturday.
  • Second baseman Dustin Pedroia is playing with a sore right knee.

The Red Sox are not whining about their situation. They're winning. When needed -- and there have been plenty of times -- the organization has dipped into the development system for reinforcements, with positive results.

Case in point: The team called up outfielder Daniel Nava from Triple-A Pawtucket and he made history in his major league debut Saturday, hitting a grand slam on the first pitch of his first at-bat to help Boston to a 10-2 victory over the Phillies.

"[Saturday] ended up being a really good day," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Our dugout was as loud as it's been in a long time.

"I think every year has its challenges," Francona added. "It seems like it's more important now because it is now. You sort of forget the challenges of last year or the year before because they're gone and you move on. [Saturday] was a challenge, but it was a great day. That's the way teams, I think, come together. We had a ton of personality. Everybody's got a bunch of energy."

There have been some exciting moments for the Red Sox in 2010 and some not so good ones as well. Still, they are finding ways to win, and any time another player gets the job done, it only makes the team bond more.

"What Daniel did [Saturday] is a big lift for the team," Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald said. "It picks us up and gets us going. What we've been going through with injuries and everything, it really brought us together on the field."

Nava was back in the starting lineup Sunday in left field, and provided another two hits and an RBI. After the loss, McDonald was thinking about what Nava had accomplished the day earlier. "I would have walked off the field and retired," he said jokingly. "Grand opening. Grand slam. Grand close."

Saturday's heroic performance by Nava wasn't an isolated occurrence.

McDonald also was called up from the minors earlier in the season and has helped the Red Sox offensively. In his first game after being activated, he provided a game-tying, two-run homer and a walk-off single April 20 against Texas. "We've pretty much battled every game -- win or lose," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, we are a family here. Guys are picking each other up, and it's really fun to be a part of. We're going out and playing with a lot of energy. Guys are playing hard and guys are enthusiastic in the dugout. It's definitely something you can feel." There's definitely a different feel in the clubhouse this season.

Veterans like Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell have had their roles dramatically change on the field.

The veteran knuckleballer has been shipped back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, and clearly is not happy with the situation. Varitek is the backup catcher for the first time in his Red Sox career, but the captain has not complained about it. Lowell has made it known he wants out because he wants to play every day.

On the field, however, they all produce when called upon.

"I think we have good players," Francona said. "All the things that got talked about in spring training, having too many pitchers, too many players. Who's going to be happy? Who's going to be mad? I think Theo [Epstein] probably explains it better than anybody when he says, 'We don't know if things are going to happen, but if they do, we better be prepared.'" Despite the adversity, so far 2010 has been, well, entertaining to say the least. Lineups change on a daily basis. Players are being shipped in and out, but the Red Sox are 37-28.

"We may have to piece it together sometimes," Francona said. "When you get beat up and you play well, that's when you start to see some personality in your team. When you get beat up and you're losing, that's another thing. That happened in '06, and that wasn't a lot of fun."

A team can have all the personality in the world and still stink up the joint. As Francona always likes to point out, a club is only as good as its record.

Currently the Rays and Yankees are tied for first in the AL East with the Sox four games back. There's still plenty of baseball to be played (97 games to be exact), and come the end of September and beginning of October, if the Red Sox want to earn a postseason berth, they'll need more heroic performances like those they have received so far.

"Our record is what it is and it'll be what it is later, so how we get there, whether with 25 guys who love each other or 25 guys who hate each other, I hope our record is good," Francona said.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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