BY JOE STIGLICH
OAKLAND, Calif. – The Red Sox closed the first half with a bitter taste in their mouth following Sunday’s extra-inning 3-2 loss to the Oakland A’s.
Don’t expect that bitterness to last long.
As the Red Sox dispersed for the four-day All-Star break, they could reflect on a first half that went better than anyone could have imagined. At 58-39, they own the American League’s best record, not to mention a 2 ½ game lead over Tampa Bay for first place in the rugged A.L. East.
Boston manager John Farrell was asked what pleased him most about his team’s first-half showing.
“The overall depth, without question,” Farrell responded. “I think we’re at 42 players (used) and counting. When you consider those additional 17, above the 25 we began the season with, and a number of situations where those guys have contributed, we’ve been able to tap into a very good group of players that have served us well.”
Look no further than Sunday’s effort by right-hander Brandon Workman for proof of that.
Making his first major league start, Workman took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before allowing a game-tying homer to Josh Donaldson that wiped out a 2-0 Boston lead and ended his day.
Farrell had a fully stocked bullpen at his disposal in the event that Workman faltered early. Instead, the rookie delivered 6 1/3 impressive innings against an Oakland team that leads the A.L. West by two games.
The Sox have managed to thrive even as significant injuries have torn at their roster. Closer Joel Hanrahan was lost to a season-ending forearm injury in May. All-Star right-hander Clay Buchholz has missed a month’s worth of games with a neck strain and shortstop Stephen Drew is among the noteworthy position players to miss big chunks of time with injuries.
To this point, Boston has found ways to plug holes. But they have their work cut out entering the second half, and the challenges arrive right out of the gate.
The Sox return from the All-Star break and host the New York Yankees for three games and the Tampa Bay Rays for four, then head to Camden Yards for three games against the Orioles. All three teams are within six games of first place, and all might improve their rosters before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Perhaps that’s why Farrell was hesitant to put too much stock into what his team has accomplished to this point.
“There’s a lot more games to be played,” he cautioned before Sunday’s game. “We’ve got a tough schedule ahead of us. We’re going to get back in our division, which is deep and strong. We’re looking forward to getting off the West Coast, I can tell you that. We look forward to getting back in Fenway Park and playing a lot of games there.”
Things didn’t go as planned Sunday, as Boston let a two-run lead evaporate in the seventh, then lost in the 11th as newly acquired reliever Matt Thornton walked two and then allowed Donaldson’s bloop single for the game-winner.
But that didn’t take away from what the Sox have accomplished to this point, according to veteran outfielder Jonny Gomes. Boston’s 58 wins are the most in franchise history before the All-Star break.
“I think we’re all right,” he said. “The wins and losses speak for themselves, but health is the main thing. We’re a little banged up, we’ll just lick these wounds and get everyone back.”
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia was brief and to-the-point in his summary of the first half.
“It’s great,” he offered without cracking a smile. “We’re in first.”
That’s where they’ll try to remain beginning Friday.