- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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TORONTO -- Even though the Red Sox are officially past the midway point of the 2010 schedule with a 51-37 record, the unofficial first half of the season ended with a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre on Sunday.
Now that the All-Star break is here, the Red Sox players couldn't wait to pack their bags and head their separate ways for the next three days. J.D. Drew said it best as he quickly made his way out of the clubhouse.
"As soon as the last ball was caught, my All-Star break began," he said. "See you all on Thursday."
It's amazing that after the first 88 games of the 162-game schedule the Red Sox are still in contention in the AL East behind the Yankees and Rays, given the fact Boston hasn't had a regular lineup all season.
The first month of the season was awful for the Sox and they didn't have a winning record (15-14) until May 6. The club has dealt with a plethora of injuries to players, including Jacoby Ellsbury (ribs), Mike Cameron (hernia), Josh Beckett (back), Clay Buchholz (hamstring), Dustin Pedroia (foot), Manny Delcarmen (back/forearm), Victor Martinez (thumb), Jeremy Hermida (ribs), Jason Varitek (foot) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (neck).
The Red Sox have had to rely on players like Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, Bill Hall, Josh Reddick, Kevin Cash, Felix Doubront, Eric Patterson, Gustavo Molina, Scott Atchison and Joe Nelson (now playing in Seattle's organization) to help keep them above water.
"I love this team. The [players] are easy to like," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "The first month of the season was really difficult for a lot of reasons, but we got through it. Now, it's not perfect, and I recognize that, but the level of intensity, and trying to do the right thing, is off the charts. It's a challenge, but it's one we're all enjoying."
The Red Sox find themselves poised to have a strong second half with many players on the verge of returning from the DL, including Beckett, Buchholz, Delcarmen, Martinez and Ellsbury.
"In spring training we want guys to know how we expect the game to be played and then we let them go play," said Francona. "With the amount of new guys we had, I don't know if everybody was quite as clear on things, and that's my fault.
"We've been together with these guys and they know what we're supposed to do, and once the season starts, we go do it. I think there was some uncertainty for a while. It took everybody a little while to find a comfort level to go out there and play."
The Red Sox were 8½ games out on May 23 and things appeared bleak, but they continued to battle and erased that deficit to get within a half-game on June 21. After a tough spell, though, the Sox are 5 games back headed into the break.
"We've gotten huge contributions from all over the map," Francona said. "Different guys have played a big part."
This is Francona's seventh season as manager. He's won a pair of World Series titles during his tenure and has become a perennial winner. This season, however, he's faced his biggest challenge to date and has done his best managerial job, too.
"It's been up and down, but we try not to be that way," explained Francona. "We want to be level and consistently up. The first month was hard on everybody, myself included. We had moving parts and people in different roles and we weren't playing very well and it took a while."
He added: "I like this team. A lot of them aren't playing, but the guys who are playing, they're trying to do the right thing all the time. I've got no beef with anyone. We're trying to play the game right and that's a good quality."
Most if not all Red Sox players sat in the dugout at Rogers Centre on Sunday morning and discussed their plans for the break. All were in agreement that this hiatus is much needed.
The Red Sox will have an optional workout at Fenway Park on Wednesday, but Francona said it's not a test to see who shows up because he wants the players to take a mental break from the game.
There are certain players, especially pitchers, who need to go to the ballpark Wednesday to work out.
"We want guys to get away because it's good for them," Francona said.
When the regular season resumes against the Texas Rangers on Thursday at Fenway Park, the Red Sox will be ready to prove they can continue to be a force in the AL East and they're not going away anytime soon.
That's their hope, anyway.
"Our record is what we'll be ultimately judged on, so I don't want to get too carried away with the Cub Scout [expletive], but I do like the way our guys are trying and that's important," said Francona.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.