Destiny in own hands, Red Sox see opportunity

Destiny in own hands, Red Sox see opportunity

Destiny in own hands, Red Sox see opportunity
BOSTON -- With eight games left in their season, the Red Sox have entered a tense period of time that could well define who they are.

When September started, nobody within the Boston clubhouse or the ravenous Nation of fans who follow the Sox thought it could ever come to this. Remember, back in that less-stressful time, Boston led the Yankees by a half-game in the American League East and the Rays by nine in the Wild Card standings.

The prevailing logic at the time was that the Sox were all but guaranteed a postseason berth.

Then came the chaos that has put their once-secure postseason footing on perilous ground. They enter Tuesday's game against the Orioles with a two-game lead -- one in the loss column -- over Tampa Bay for the Wild Card.

So manager Terry Francona's team will spend these eight games not simply trying to officially punch a ticket to October, but also trying to avoid the indignity that has claimed other victims in stretch runs past.

The 1964 Phillies, '69 Cubs, '78 Red Sox, '87 Blue Jays, '95 Angels, 2007 Mets and '09 Tigers are just a few of the teams that never got to taste the postseason after it appeared to be a mere formality.

These Red Sox would rather join a different group, which includes squads such as the 2000 Yankees and Tigers and Cardinals of '06. Those were teams that stumbled badly in September, yet regained their footing and went on to do big things in October.

"Knowing the guys down in the clubhouse like I do, we'll meet this challenge and it will make us stronger," said Francona.

Of late, it's difficult to find much of anything that has gone right for the Sox. They are 5-14 this month and have struggled most of all from the mound. The starters posted a 6.87 ERA in those 19 games, going fewer than five innings eight times. Injuries have played a role. Clay Buchholz -- hoping to return at some point -- hasn't pitched since June 15. Erik Bedard, who has had left knee and lat woes, will return Tuesday for his first start in nearly three weeks. Josh Beckett, the team's most consistent starter, missed a turn with a sprained right ankle.

But the offense, playing mostly without Kevin Youkilis (sports hernia injury), has also been less than stellar. Perhaps Monday night's 18-9 walloping of the Orioles is a sign that the Sox are ready to start hitting with consistency again.

Dissecting the numbers, however, seems to be a pointless exercise to the players in the clubhouse. They just want to see the team become a well-functioning unit again.

"We need to pitch better, we need to hit better, we need to play better 'D,'" said Dustin Pedroia. "We need to do everything better. When you're losing, you point fingers at everybody. We just have to go out there and play hard and play winning baseball. If we do that, there's not a team in the world that can beat us, so we've got to play better."

The Red Sox have proven this season that they have the ability to go from a very shaky baseball team to a dominant one.

This is the same team that started the season 0-6 and 2-10, setting off panic alerts all over New England. Then, from April 16-Aug. 21, the Sox went 80-41.

"We're in a bad stretch at a bad time, kind of like at the beginning of the year," said Beckett. "Everybody wrote us off, saying 'Nobody's ever bounced back from that type of start,' but we have. We've got a lot of guys in here that have persevered through a lot of things, especially this year. The one thing that's not lacking is effort. We get a lot of effort from everybody. We get a few guys healthy, and we'll see what happens."

Who's to say another dramatic resurgence can't come next?

If nothing else, the Red Sox will now have a postseason-type urgency to all of their remaining games, perhaps creating an edge that could help them in October.

"They're all big wins now," Beckett said. "We've put ourselves in a position where all the wins are going to be big from here on out, even when we're playing people that we're not actually in the race with."

In several of Boston's recent postseason runs, Francona spent this part of the year in maintenance mode, trying to get his team in the best possible shape for the second season.

There will be no such luxury this time around.

"Every game counts. Every run counts. Every run we can hold, every run we can score, from the beginning of the season to the end, counts," said Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "Now we've got to go out there and do it."

The alternative -- at least to the players -- is unthinkable.

"We're not quitting," Pedroia said. "We've got the lead, so we've got to go out there and play better. That's basically it. I'm not hanging my head. I'm going out there and playing hard. So is everybody else, so that's it."

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.