The Boston Red Sox Rock

Although I am admittedly the world’s biggest Boston Celtics fan (even though they haven’t won anything of significance in two decades) I have to admit that it wasn’t until the Boston Red Sox’ stirring postseason run in 2004 which culminated in the team’s first World Series title in 86 years, that I have become a semi-faithful follower of the Red Sox and their extraordinarily faithful legion of diehard fans better known as the “Red Sox Nation.”

At any rate, I don’t profess to be the biggest Red Sox fan, or even, overall baseball fan, around and have admittedly had several on-again, off-again love affairs with numerous baseball clubs throughout my three decades of baseball observing.

However, I must admit that, barring my occasional overall lack of interest in Major League Baseball, the Red Sox have managed to capture my attention – and faithful rooting – longer than nearly any other team besides the “Bash Brother” led Oakland A’s of the late 80s. Of course it helps when the team the Red Sox gets the most pleasure out of beating is the globally loved – and loathed – New York Yankees – a team I despise as much as any Red Sox lifer.

Even the equally stunning – and underdog uplifting – World Series victory by the Chicago White Sox last season – doesn’t seem to have stemmed the tide of fanatical Sox fans that live and die with the team’s every move.

Now that the 2006 season is firmly underway with nearly seven weeks having passed since opening day, it’s time for a review and sneak peek at the remainder of the 2006 season that the Red Sox hope will lead them back to the pinnacle of postseason success.

If April showers bring May flowers, then the Red Sox offense, which was lethargic by their lofty standards, throughout the month of April, appears as if it could possibly begin heating up along with the soon-to-be-increasing summer temperatures – and that could be bad news, not only for the Yankees, who are mired in their own injury-induced state of mediocrity right now, but the entire American League and the Red Sox’ eastern division foes in particular.

The Red Sox (18-12) have scored at least six runs in each game this month and were tied for the division lead even though they were collectively batting just .256 as a team and scored three or fewer runs in 10 of their first 25 games this season. After batting just .226 last month, with runners in scoring position, the Sox are batting .367 in RBI situations since the start of May.

One area Boston has already overachieved in is bases on balls. The team has walked 166 times in its 35 games this season, a whopping average of nearly 5 per game, which, coincidentally, is tied with their hated rivals, the New York Yankees for the major league lead.

One of the more impressive statistics that Boston is putting up right now, but may not get much attention, is the fact that five of the team’s nine regulars (Manny Ramirez, Mark Loretta, Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon and Mike Lowell) have walked at least as many times as they’ve struck out. If that number holds up, it would match the total number of Red Sox regulars who accomplished the feat in the previous six seasons combined – helping Boston to a .366 on-base percentage, which is third best in the majors.

Incredibly, the Red Sox, one of baseball’s best long-ball hitting teams, have not gotten off to a particularly good start as far as home runs are concerned. At the time of this column, the team was ranked 13th in the majors with just 35 homers in their first 35 games. However, as even casual baseball observers know, the Red Sox are capable of putting together homers in bunches, led by two of the game’s most prolific home run hitters, David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Manny “I want to be traded” Ramirez.

I also like the fact that the Sox added two excellent players in former Florida Marlins, Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, not to mention the underrated, Wily Mo Pena, who looks like he may finally be ready to fulfill some of the potential that has been so apparent in the up-until-now, free-swinging, undisciplined outfielder. Although outfielder Coco Crisp has been injured for the majority of the season, I think that acquisition will also pay off for the Sox at some point in the long run as well.
Pitching-wise, the Sox look like they are in decent shape as well. Staff ace, Curt Schilling looks like he may be regaining the form that led the Sox to the title in ’04 and closer, Jonathan Papplebon has been nothing short of spectacular. If the Sox can get more consistency from a talented Josh Beckett and sometimes, uninspiring, Matt Clement, not to mention some better middle relief pitching, then Boston could certainly make another strong postseason run this fall.

One thing is for sure. The Red Sox are no longer haunted by the “Curse of the Bambino” and are now viewed as one of the best franchises to play for in the entire major leagues. Whether or not they win to another World Series championship this year, the Red Sox are no longer the lovable losers of Major League Baseball – and maybe that is their greatest accomplishment since that infamous trade way back in 1920. I know the Red Sox faithful feel that way – and I for one – couldn’t agree more.

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