BOSTON -- Three thoughts as the Red Sox say goodbye to one American League East opponent and hello to another:
- Mike Napoli wasn't the only one to get a boost from Sunday's thrilling 8-7 11-inning walkoff win over the Yankees.
Matt Thornton also may have turned things around for himself.
The first two appearances in a Red Sox uniform hadn't gone well for Thornton. A day after joining the Red Sox in Oakland, he was the losing pitcher in an outing against the A's, the day before the All-Star break, guilty of two walks which helped set up Oakland's win.
His second outing, on Saturday, wasn't much better, as Thornton gave up hits to two straight lefties, allowing two inherited runners to score.
But on Sunday, it was more like the Red Sox had imagined when they acquired him from the White Sox. Thornton retired the 3-4-5 hitters in the New York lineup -- Robinson Cano, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay -- and he did so with a fastball that was 95-96 mph.
"That was my goal -- to have a three-up, three-down inning," said Thornton, adding, "that's always my goal."
He fanned Cano and Overbay, a good sign for the Sox, who, while not expecting Thronton to repalce Andrew Miller, would at least like to be able to trust him as their lefty specialist.
"I'm going to learn as I go," Thornton said. "I haven't seen these guys a whole lot, so I'm going to do things and maybe get beat by them, but I'm going to make adjustments on a day-to-day basis."
- While scouting and discussing various trade options to bolster their injury-sapped bullpen, the Red Sox are also attempting to evaluate on the run.
Rather than give up some of their best prospects for the uncertainty of a mid-season bullpen acquisition (Take a bow, Eric Gagne), the Sox want to see what they can get from some of their own.
As such, Drake Britton is being used in relief for the first time in his pro career. On Saturday, he made his major league debut against the Yankees and turned in a scoreless inning.
On Sunday night, pitching in back-to-back games for the first time, Britton got out of a first-and-third one-out jam in the bottom of the 10th when he got Lyle Overbay to hit into an inning-ending double play.
"It was awesome to be able to go out there and not be as nervous as the first time," Britton said. "It was also my first time going back-to-back, a tight-pressure game situation. I loved it, and it was fun. I'm just happy the guys behind us were making plays. And then Nap with the homer to win it, it was an awesome win."
"To his credit," said John Farrell, "his first two major league appearances are in some pretty tight spots, some high leverage situations and he's handled them well."
Two innings don't form a complete scouting report, but at the very least, Britton has shown poise and strike-throwing ability.
It's unclear how much the Sox can learn from watching between now and, say, two days before the deadline, when they have to determine how aggressive they're going to be with trades.
But the more they see of Britton and others, the more data they have to review what's on hand and they might need to obtain.
"We know the guys pretty well," said Cherington of the team's young pitchers being used in relief. "Some of the guys have pitched in that role a little bit, some haven't. You watch and see how they do and how they react -- are they throwing strikes, maintaining their composure, doing the things they're capable of doing? That's what you look for. It's a transition for anyone when they get to the big leagues, but we have a number of guys we believe in, but this creates opportunity and maybe their time comes a little sooner than we thought."
- The Tampa Bay Rays arrive for the start of a four-game set as the hottest team in baseball, having won 17-of-19.
That's impressive at any time, but it comes with a bit of a caveat: The Rays have built that record against the dregs of the American League.
Dating back to before the All-Star Game, the Rays last three opponents were the Houston Astros (two series, seven games), the Chicago white Sox (three games) and the Minnesota Twins (three games).
It just so happens that those three teams have the three worst records in the American League.
And the Rays kicked off the post-All-Star break with a three-game series against Toronto, the last-place club in the A.L. East and the only team in the division with a losing record.
That said, the Rays are pitching better. They've gotten David Price back from the disabled list and expect that Alex Cobb will be back next month. The bullpen, which featured a slumping Fernando Rodney earlier, has settled down of late.
To date, the Red Sox have won nine of 12 games between the two, including five of the six games played in Boston earlier this season.
"I want to believe that we're playing a better brand of baseball than earlier in the season," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, "and we're back close to what we're normally accustomed to doing on a nightly basis. I want to believe we should match up better this time through."
As cushy as the schedule has been for the Rays, it's about to get considerably more challenging.
After their four-game set here, the Rays head to New York for a three-game series and then return home where they play two good N.L. West clubs (Arizona and Los Angeles) seven times in the span of 10 days.