Unlike past two years, Sox bringing it in September

Unlike past two years, Sox bringing it in September
September 12, 2013, 1:15 pm
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Like milers who sense the end of the race is approaching, the Red Sox appear to be applying the finishing kick to the 2013 season.
     
They've won the first two games of what was supposed to be a showdown series with the Tampa Bay Rays, but instead has devolved into a coronation for the Red Sox, who are soaring at the precise time that the Rays are descending.
     
But what's unclear is this: are the Red Sox running toward something, or away from something else?
     
Put another way: are they sprinting to the finish line or (italics please) away (end italics) from their past.
     
Already this September, the Red Sox have won eight games, with 15 games still play in the regular season. Those eight victories represent one more than they earned in either of the previous two Septembers.
     
In their infamous collapse in 2011, the Sox went into the month with the best record in the American League. When the month ended, the Sox had somehow dropped to third place in their own division, having gone 7-20 in the final month.
     
The slip in the standings was only the beginning. In the days and weeks to come, the Sox would fire manager Terry Francona and details of their seeming indifference down the stretch would be made public, in embarrassing detail. The Red Sox weren't just losing; they were acting as if all the losing didn't matter.
     
A year ago, the Sox were 7-19 in September. Their mammoth trade with the Dodgers, completed in the final week of August, had left them with a decimated roster which, on some nights, was not major league quality.
     
Predictable results followed, one loss piled up on another. Worse, the team was miserable under the lead of Bobby Valentine, who distanced himself from members of his coaching staff.
     
This September could not be more different.
     
The Red Sox' 7-3 victory in 10 innings Wednesday night was, in many ways, a microcosm of the season: the Sox did some damage with the middle of their order, got an outing from a starter that, at minimum, gave them a chance to win, survived a rocky bullpen inning or two, and picked up a final at-bat comeback win from an unlikely source.
     
The win made the Sox 8-2 in September, having won seven of their last eight, 10 of their last 12, 14 of their last 17 and 16 of their last 21.
     
Consider that, as recently as Aug. 24, in the middle of the team's interleague road swing through San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Sox were actually percentage points behind Tampa Bay in the standings.
     
Now, less than three weeks later, the Sox have gone 14-3 since and have turned their slight deficit into a growing 9 1/2 game cushion in the division. In 2 1/2 weeks, they went from being in the wild card chase to nearing a clinch of their first division title since 2007.
     
"It's been fun," said Dustin Pedroia of the ride. "It seems like it's someone new, each night, stepping up and finding a way for us to win a game."
     
Boston has now won its last seven straight series, and five of those have come against teams with winning records, many of which will reach the post-season: Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Tampa Bay.
     
Talk about peaking at the right time.
     
"That's the plan," said Pedroia, "to get toward the end and play our best baseball. You see it year in, and year out -- the team that wins a World Series is playing the best at the end. So we're going to continue to keep trying to play the game the right way and find ways to win."
     
In the meantime, the Sox in no way resemble the Red Sox who sank like stones in September two years ago, or were thoroughly outclassed a year ago, a fitting end to the team's worst season in almost 50 years.
     
Instead of finding ways to lose, these Red Sox find ways to win. Twenty-two times -- including Wednesday night -- thew Sox have won in their final at-bat. In 15 tries, these Sox are 10-5 in extra innings.
     
No, this isn't last year, or the year before that.
     
"I think the biggest thing is," said John Farrell, "there's a large group of players in (that clubhouse) that weren't part of the last two years. Whatever might be left over from those two years is certainly not talked about. The holdover players lived it. But there's such fresh blood here that that's not even on the mind of many guys in our uniform."