McAdam: Sox can finally look beyond .500

McAdam: Sox can finally look beyond .500
May 8, 2014, 10:15 am
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BOSTON - If it was a battle cry, it was meant to be a humorous one.

After the Red Sox had beaten the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday night to make their record 16-17, catcher A.J. Pierzynski exhorted his teammates.

"I said, 'Don't be afraid tomorrow to get to .500,' "' recalled Pierzynski after the Red Sox had won again Wednesday, finally getting to the break-even point.

Previously, the Red Sox had had eight chances to get to .500, and every single time, had lost, tumbling back to two games under.

"It's a number,'' shrugged John Farrell, not wanting to attach too much significance, before noting, "I didn't take it would take until May 7 to [get there]. But we're back to par."

Actually, the Red Sox were "there" a few times before, most recently at 2-2. But that was back on April 4, which seems like a long time ago.

In between, there were a lot of games in which the Red Sox couldn't produce the big hit when necessary, leading to eight one-run losses, the latest of which, on Sunday, seemed to typify the team's first five weeks.

Still, it says everything you need to know about the first fifth of the Red Sox' 2014 season that talk has gone from spring training speculation which centered around their ability to be baseball's first back-to-back champions since 2000 to "when will they get to .500?''

"I don't think anyone was walking around saying, 'We've got to get to .500,' " said Will Middlebrooks, who produced the game-winning single in the bottom of the eighth on Wednesday night. "Nobody's thinking about that. We're just trying to win each day. We're just coming in here and playing hard. That's all we're doing right now.''

A better question might be this: Now that the Red Sox are there, having taken the scenic route, where to do they go now?

After some injuries to start the season, the Sox are now fully healthy, without a single major league player on the disabled list. Shane Victorino, having missed the first three weeks, is back in right. Dustin Pedroia, after survived an injury scare of his own in April, has been locked in as the team's leadoff hitter.

The rotation, which buckled two weeks ago at times and threatened to overwork the bullpen before May 1, has been redeemed, with quality starts the rule rather than the exception.

So, now what?

"To be honest with you,'' said Pierzynski, "you don't look at your record. You look at kind of where you are in the standings and we're right there, tied with everybody. [The division] is kind of a jumbled mess right now, so we haven't buried ourselves, which you can do [in the first month].

"We're still alive. We still have a lot of games to go and if we keep playing the way we've been, everything will work out."

Indeed, the overriding sentiment in the clubhouse, as the team packed for the start of a six-game trip to Texas and Minnesota, was that the .500 mark wasn't something to aim for so much as it was to overcome, like the first hurdle of a long race.

"To tell you the truth,'' said Jonny Gomes, "we're trying to be in first. We're not trying to be .500. If first place meant being three games under .500, I'd be happy. We're just trying to be top in our division. That's the goal. We're not interested in getting to. 500, then getting a game over, then dropping back under.

"We want to be in first.''

If the first 5 1/2 weeks of the season didn't showcase the Red Sox, at least it didn't bury them. They survived some injuries, weathered some rookies getting their feet wet and lived to tell about it.

Having arrived at mediocrity, the Red Sox would prefer not to stay long. There's more to prove than just winning one and losing one the rest of the way.

Getting to that point is nothing to celebrate, even if the goal took a long longer than they expected.