By Sean McAdam
BOSTON -- Baseball. Go figure.
The same team which couldn't buy a big hit against the Cleveland Indians for three days found a way to score nine runs against the New York Yankees Friday.
The same team which saw its bullpen implode in successive games at Progressive Field Wednesday and Thursday got four scoreless innings of relief from its relievers Friday against a much tougher New York lineup.
And the same team which became the butt of jokes in its first two series of the season more closely resembled a powerhouse, bashing out a season-high dozen hits in the start of its third.
This was more like it for the Red Sox, who were in the midst of digging themselves an early-season hole before completely reversing course and overpowering the Yankees 9-6 in their home opener.
This was what they had had in mind with all the spending, all the upgrading done in the off-season.
"We did some good things today,'' pronounced Dustin Pedroia after the Sox finally had a win to call their own. "It was fun, man.''
Fun? Where had that been for the first week, a period during which they spun their tires and splattered themselves with early-season mud. Until Thursday's back-breaking 1-0 loss to the Indians, most of the losses hadn't been close.
The Sox were outhit, outpitched, and outplayed. And they knew it.
Friday, it was time to play the way they should. They had endured the taunts in Cleveland, the embarrassment of endless statistical precedents ("No team has ever lost its first six games and still...") and the uneasiness that filled them as they headed for home.
Partly out of desperation and partly as a premptive strike, they had appealed to their fans to get behind them instead of piling on. Player after player issued the same call-to-arms to the loyalists: We need you. Now.
The strategy worked like a charm. Disarmed, the fans welcomed the Sox onto the field as they might have had the team returned undefeated instead of winless.
Before they even took the field, the players listened to general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona in the clubhouse. In a brief address that lasted only a few minutes, Epstein and Francona delivered words of encouragement.
The players were reminded of the talent that existed in the room and that six games didn't make a season. They were told that they were better than they had showed and assured that, working together, they could pull out of the first-week nosedive.
"It was refreshing,'' said Mike Cameron. "I think as players, sometimes, we need reminding how challenging it is to be real good. They kind of reminded us that we're a good team and it didn't come to an end in the last six games. We just needed to work a little harder, try to relax and go out and play ball. The talent will show here and we know the victories will come.
"The timing was good because we made it difficult on ourselves in Texas and Cleveland. But at the same time, the first six games didn't represent who we are and the first six games didn't represent the season. We just had a bad start.''
A bad start in Boston means more than a bad start in, say, Kansas City. The danger came in the players feeling overwhelmed by all the questions, all the historical references, all the negativity.
So the Sox went out and shed the bad baseball like a warm coat on a spring day. The hitters hit, the relievers slotted in nicely and the fans roared.
That the return to normalcy came against the Yankees only made it sweeter.
It wasn't perfect of course. You know the old saying about momentum being your starting pitcher? Not Friday, with John Lackey handing the Yanks a 2-0 lead in the first, then spitting back a 6-3 cushion after the Sox had scored five times in the bottom of the second.
But it all worked out. No more references to losing streaks in 1945, no more admonishments about how no team that began a season this poorly ever did this or did that.
"It was good for us,'' said Pedroia. "We needed it.
One win. Just one.
But it seemed like a lot more Friday, about as far from the feeling they had leaving Cleveland 24 hours earlier.