I have to be honest: when I saw last night's lineup, I wasn't particularly optimistic. VMart, Drew and Ellsbury were out, the enigma John Lackey was on the mound, and Matt Garza (6-3, 3.36 ERA against the Red Sox in 14 career games) was set to go for the Rays.
To be frank, I was almost ready to write it off and wait for the Celtics (don't even get me started on THAT mess), which would have been a mistake. Earlier in the season, this team would have thought as I did - a few substitutions in the lineup and a good pitcher going for the opposing team is as good as a loss. Not so anymore: these Red Sox aren't taking anything lying down. The pitching has come alive, just as we were promised, and the bats are catching fire.
Last night's game was all about offense, even though Lackey turned in a quality start. Every Sox starter reached base at least once, led by the 4-for-5 performace of Adrian Beltre, who is absolutely raking. Beltre drove in six runs with two homers and a triple last night, and is batting a team-best .341. The only starters to miss out on the hit parade were Marco Scutaro, Kevin Youkilis, and Jason Varitek, and all three reached base via a walk (two for Youk).
The "fill-ins," Darnell McDonald, Jeremy Hermida, and Jason Varitek, went a combined 4-for-14 with a walk, three RBI, and two runs scored while Drew, Ells, and VMart rested up. Meanwhile, the bullpen continued to pull its weight, allowing one run (by Nelson) in 2 2/3 innings of work. And just like that, the team with MLB's best record was swept away.
As I'm sure you know, the Sox return home tonight to face the Kansas City Royals in a four game set. 2010 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke is far and away the team's best starter, is just 1-5, despite a 3.57 ERA (he has four no-decisions). The Sox will face Brian Bannister tonight (3-3, 4.73 ERA), Kyle Davies Friday (3-3, 4.53 ERA), Greinke Saturday, and Gil Meche Sunday (0-4, 6.66 ERA). I don't want to jinx anything, but I like our chances; this teams seems to be turning things around, and it's a joy to watch.