Fenway Park a sight for sore eyes

Red Sox thrilled to be home

BOSTON -- They touched down at Logan Airport in the wee hours of Thursday morning, likely weary but undoubtedly excited.

The Red Sox are finally home, and they are staying for a while. That opening three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays? It was more like a pit stop.

For after spending seven weeks at Spring Training -- based in Fort Myers, Fla. -- the Sox came home for all of three games before hitting the West Coast for six.

They didn't even have time to add more dents to the Green Monster before heading for Anaheim and then Oakland.

So after a 3-6 start, which has included injuries, heartbreaking defeats and spotty offense, the 2009 Red Sox are looking forward to settling into a routine that includes something aside from keeping their suitcases handy.

"We haven't been home very much," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Hopefully we'll take advantage of it. It's going to be nice to go home. It seems like, out of the last two and a half months, we've been gone all but three days, so hopefully we can take advantage of it."

It will be a nine-game homestand for the Red Sox, who have been a dominant team at Fenway since 2003. First up is a four-game set with the Orioles, which begins Friday night and will be capped by the annual Patriots' Day game Monday at 11 a.m. ET, coinciding with the running of the Boston Marathon. Then, the Twins come in for two games.

After another off-day next Thursday, their most heated rivalry will be renewed, as the Yankees make their first trip to Fenway for a three-game series.

By then, the Red Sox hope to be in a groove. Their first stretch of games was anything but that, as they lost two out of three in each of their first three series.

But perhaps Tim Wakefield's near no-hitter -- he came five outs away -- on Wednesday at Oakland represented a shift in momentum for the Red Sox.

"These West Coast trips are good at the beginning of the season, but when you're coming right out of Spring Training, they kind of make you feel confused. It will be good to get home."
-- David Ortiz

"I hope so," said Wakefield. "We didn't play too well on this road trip, and hopefully this outing will get some momentum going when we get home."

Aside from trying to win games, Boston is trying to get healthy. Shortstop Julio Lugo, who underwent right knee surgery in March, is nearing a rehab assignment at Triple-A Pawtucket. Never has Lugo been needed more, now that Jed Lowrie is out for three to four weeks with a left wrist sprain.

Just as the Red Sox feared all along, Daisuke Matsuzaka came back from the World Baseball Classic looking far from a vintage Dice-K, and now he's on the disabled list with a mild right shoulder strain.

Perhaps Justin Masterson -- the kid who seems to pitch well no matter what role he is used in -- will take over that spot in the rotation.

"We're a little banged up," Francona said. "It hasn't been the [most enjoyable] trip we've ever been on. Going home with a win is better than going home with a loss. We'll kind of regroup a little bit and get our house in order and see if we can't play a little better baseball."

Just settling into a routine might be of some help.

"These West Coast trips are good at the beginning of the season, but when you're coming right out of Spring Training, they kind of make you feel confused," designated hitter David Ortiz said. "It will be good to get home."

Perhaps the familiarity of Fenway will help Big Papi get his groove back. The left-handed masher is off to a slow start, hitting .176 with no homers and three RBIs.

The other star Boston hitter yet to get in any kind of rhythm is Dustin Pedroia, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player. Pedroia is hitting .179 and hasn't driven in a run since his solo homer in his first at-bat of the season.

Before departing Oakland, Pedroia did see some of his teammates break out in an 8-2 victory over the Athletics. Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew both went deep in that one.

"It's huge," Pedroia said. "A lot of guys swung the bat well and hit the ball hard and didn't get rewarded the first few games. It will come. We'll be alright."

It was almost as if Francona was being prophetic when, a day before the season started, he talked about how early-season baseball was a little uncomfortable because of the way things tended to get magnified. Then, several Boston hitters got off to slow starts and the team struggled to win games.

There will be ruts throughout the course of the year. Every team has them. But there is always more scrutiny when it happens right out of the gate.

"We don't like to see 2-6 going into [Wednesday's] game," said Lowell. "I think sometimes the numbers stare you in the face and that's where you almost have to try to tune it out and say this is just a 15-, 18-, 20-at-bat stretch where there's going to be a lot of them during the season. I don't think we can expect to be defined by 20 at-bats. If we're going to write it off after seven games, we're in trouble. I think it wears on some guys mentally more than others."

But it's likely something that will be easily cured by a few lazy fly balls off the Monster.

"I think we're all looking forward to having a nice long homestand," said Lowell.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.