Is it really September? I can't believe we're already here in the heat of the pennant race. The first few months of the Red Sox season was overshadowed by the Celtics' championship run and it seems as though this team has floated along all season. There have been the ups (Jon Lester's no-hitter and remarkable season as well as the play of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis) and the downs (David Ortiz's injury, Josh Beckett's uneven pitching and the whole Manny situation). Unlike last year, when the Sox were trying to hold off the surging Yankees, the team is attempting to catch the upstart (don't call me Devil) Rays.
I must say, the Rays' August success was extremely impressive. Not only are these young players dealing with their first playoff chase, they were bit with a rather large injury bug at the wrong time. First Troy Percival (the key to their revamped bullpen) goes down. Then, their longest tenured player and star center fielder in Carl Crawford ruptures the tendon in his middle finger. The only thing that could be worse would be losing rookie sensation and their hottest hitter, Evan Longoria, right? A fractured wrist later, the Rays had the look of a team about to meet their inevitable slide. As a baseball fan, I'm ecstatic about a story like this but the Boston blood in me was hoping the Sox would gain ground in their absence (despite injuries to J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Beckett). As we learned in 2006 when the Yankees lost Hideki Matsui and Gary Shefield for the season and the Yankees had barely missed a beat by season's end, this don't always work out that way.
The Sox have crawled to within 3 1/2 games with a little more than three weeks to play and I agree with many fans and writers that this team is peaking at the right time. I'm not going to restate the obvious and tell you we have the likes of Beckett and Lowell returning soon. Beyond their health, I like the way this team has played since Jed Lowrie became the starting short stop. This version of the Sox high-scoring offense relies less on the Earl Weaver philosophy (i.e. the three-run bomb from Ortiz) and has gained its identity as a doubles-hitting, well-rounded squad that gets on base on a regular basis. As my confidence in Manny Delcarmen has waned, hope has grown into a shaky trust that Hideki Okajima will be himself come October (Giambi's blast off him last week notwithstanding. This team is ready to prove its invaluable championship mettle it earned last October.