Now, streaky Sox taking advantage of mistakes

Now, streaky Sox taking advantage of mistakes
May 30, 2014, 12:00 pm
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BOSTON - A week ago, the Red Sox were the ones losing games like the one at Fenway Park Thursday night.

It was the Red Sox, in the throes of a 10-game losing streak, who were throwing balls into center field in the bottom of the 15th inning. It was the Red Sox losing -- not winning -- games in the bottom of the ninth.

Not anymore. The Sox' 4-3 walk-off win over Atlanta, completeing a four-game sweep of the interleague series, was an exercise in confidence-building.

In the first 52 games of the season, the Sox had won just two games when trailing after seven innings, and in the last week and a half, they were baseball's version of Murphy's Law: what could go wrong, would.

You name it, and the Red Sox found a way to fumble a game away. They lost when a player mysteriously failed to slide into second base on a sacrifice-bunt attempt. They lost because of bad starting pitching, bad relief pitching...bad everything.

But starting with a win on Memorial Day, the Red Sox have gotten themselves on a modest roll, and the momentum that's been built daily is almost palpable.

Instead of expecting to lose, the Red Sox are finding ways to win.

"Confidence is going to ebb and flow,'' said John Farrell after the Sox had used two ninth-inning walks, an infield single by Xander Bogaerts and an error to overtake the Braves and closer Craig Kimbrel. "We're in a pretty good place right now.''

What was most surprising about the win was that it was accomplished with a makeshift lineup. David Ortiz was scratched from the lineup to manage a lingering calf muscle, meaning that the Sox took the field without three regulars in the lineup: Ortiz, Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli, the team's third, fourth and sixth hitters when healthy.

Add in nagging injuries to Mike Carp (foot) and Ryan Lavarnway (a fill-in at first base who came out of the game in the fifth with a left wrist injury) and the Sox were limited in their late-inning depth.

And sure, the Braves all but gift-wrapped this one. The Brothers Upton each committed errors in the eighth inning, leading to two runs (one unearned). Kimbrel didn't help himself or his team by issuing two walks to open the bottom of the ninth, the first of which was to No. 9 hitter Jackie Bradley.

But the Sox took advantage of the Braves' largesse, something they were seemingly incapable of doing only last weekend.

"It just seemed like our weakest link of the day would get exposed,''said Jonny Gomes, reflecting back on the 10-game skid that began in Minnesota, carried over to the last homestand and continued, in excruciating fashion, at Tampa Bay. "Whether it was a bullpen guy who was tired or a defensive guy not familiar with the position he's playing or a young guy at the plate with the tying run at third. Those things happened over and over and over.

"Once we got we got some [breaks], then we rolled with it. But even by the eighth, ninth, 10th, no one was hanging their head by any means. We would come in [the clubhouse] knowing we ran out of every ground ball, we broke up [double plays] when we had the opportunity. There wasn't one example of a lack of hustle to first base. There wasn't one mental mistake. We were just getting beat.''

Over and over again.

That didn't make the streak any easier to accept. But at least the Red Sox could look themselves in the mirror. Nobody questioned their will or their commitment.

Mistakes got made, sure. But on Monday, it began to turn. A seventh-inning rally blossomed when Braves reliever Ian Thomas failed to cover first and the Red Sox pounced.

Since then, it's as if the Sox have rinsed the losing streak from their system.

The comeback Thursday night -- trailing by two with six outs to go and Kimbrel looming in the bullpen -- was the kind they made regularly in 2013, and never mind that they had a short bench.

"This was a big win for us tonight,'' concluded Farrell. Indeed, it was hard to view it any differently.