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Red Sox Preview: Jed Lowrie Might Not Be the Answer at Shortstop

Those who have tuned in to the extensive spring training coverage NESN has dedicated to the Boston Red Sox over the last few weeks—which, at this point, rivals the treatment of most international disputes—have had the opportunity to observe highly touted shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias in his first extended big league camp.

And it’s hard not to come away impressed.

Iglesias defines the word fluid, making the difficult plays look routine and the routine plays look smoother than Terry Francona’s head. He’s been hyped as a Gold Glove-caliber player and appears ready to live up to every word of the billing.

Meanwhile, the debate in many Red Sox circles this spring has centered on the shortstop position and who should start the season at the post: Marco Scutaro or Jed Lowrie.

Scutaro is the incumbent, having gamely played through injuries all of last year while batting in the leadoff spot for much of the campaign, while Lowrie is the upstart who finally turned in a month-long stretch of impressive play to close the 2010 season after years of injury-riddled silence.

Iglesias needs more seasoning—if only a little of it—before he becomes an everyday Major Leaguer, but it would be wise to pencil him in as the starting shortstop this time next year.

As for the debate regarding the here and now, it seems the prevailing thought is Lowrie will overtake Scutaro by sometime this season, wrestling the job away before we reach the dog days of summer.

And to that I say, not so fast.

Nobody’s stock rose faster in a shorter time last year than Lowrie’s. He put on a torrid September display that included some surprising pop, belting a handful of home runs in a short period of time.

And he’s a switch-hitter who is widely regarded as a more than capable fielder.

So it’s a no-brainer, right?


Let’s remember that before Lowrie put it all together for one month—less than a month, really—he spent almost three seasons trying to find his way consistently onto the field.

He’s spent almost all of his Red Sox career as a member of the walking wounded, with some nagging ailment or another keeping him off the field for extended stretches.

He’s had plenty of chances to stake claim to the shortstop post as a revolving door of transient fill-ins wobbled through and hasn’t come close to doing so.

When he took the field last year, he looked pretty good, but what assurance does anyone have that he can do it on a daily basis for an entire Major League season?

But there’s more to it than just that. He was certainly impressive with the stick during the final stages of the year, but he hasn’t proven he can do that for an entire season either.

Is it possible? Sure. But is it likely?

Be honest with yourself.

It would be great for the Red Sox if the Jed Lowrie we all saw in September was, indeed, the real Jed Lowrie. They are a much better team if he’s healthy and contributing, be it as a utility infielder or the starting shortstop.

But he’s being talked about as if he’s spent six seasons building up a Major League resume. Television and print journalists have all but handed him the keys to the position, and I even heard a discussion at work this week about whether the Sox would choose him over Pedroia at second base if Lowrie turned in the kind of monster year many apparently expect.

But let’s all take a deep breath and soak up some reality here.

Jed Lowrie has plenty of potential and could well turn into a full-time Major Leaguer. But he hasn’t proven anything yet, be it the ability to stay healthy or the ability to produce over the long haul of a Major League season.

Everyone in Red Sox nation is hoping he can become a switch-hitting force in the middle infield before all is said and done.

But expecting it might be a little ambitious.

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Boston’s Two of a Kind? Sox Need Return To Form From Josh Beckett, John Lackey

Given the monstrous improvements the Boston Red Sox have made this winter, it’s funny to look back and consider that the “prize” of the last Hot Stove season in Beantown was none other than John Lackey.

It was something of a puzzling move when it was made, even more so when considering the generally “crap-tastic” season Lackey turned in last summer.

The other big news last winter came when the Sox inked Josh Beckett to a four-year, $68 million extension, an extension – look away if you have a weak stomach – that he’s just beginning now.

This after what can only be characterized as a disastrous season on the mound.

It’s easy to overlook the pair of hurlers given the Cy Young candidacy of Jon Lester and the emerging dominance of Clay Buchholz, but Sox fans would be wise not to lose sight of Beckett and Lackey.

For if the Red Sox are going to take a major step forward this year, one or both of them will have to find a way to resemble their old selves. Or at least dependable, big-league pitchers.

Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are tremendous acquisitions, and the lineup is now an unquestionable strength of the team. The bullpen, too, appears to have been solidified with the additions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, among others.

But take an effective Beckett and Lackey away from the starting rotation and suddenly you have two reliable starters and a bunch of question marks.

That’s what’s known in baseball circles as a big-time problem.

Beckett has had a disturbing habit of alternating between very good and very bad years, and by that math he is due for a standout campaign.

He also battled injuries last season and never rounded into form. There’s certainly evidence that proves how impressive he can be when he’s right, but the Sox are going to need at least a few glimpses of that Josh Beckett in the early going.

Lackey remains an even bigger question. Will he be the pitcher the Sox thought they were getting or will he remain Daisuke’s brother from another mother, an inconsistent hurler who is wildly frustrating to watch on the hill?

The truth of the matter is the Sox are probably deep enough to survive a sub-par season from one of the two.

But they can’t both disappear again like they did last summer. At least one of these guys is going to have to man up and pitch like the kind of guy worth the insane lumps of cash the Sox are shelling out.

Because for all the talk about how much better the Red Sox are, things will implode faster than the Metrodome roof if the team can’t go any deeper than two reliable starters.

And I’m not ready to lean on Daisuke or Tim Wakefield if Beckett and Lackey continue to struggle.

Are you?

Josh Beckett and John Lackey have a proven track record as solid starting pitchers. Beckett has been an ace and filed one of the great postseasons in recent pitching history. The bottom line is that the talent is there.

But the Red Sox will need to see it on the field this summer, or what has been hyped as a fairy tale story could wind up with a depressing ending.

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Boston Red Sox Have Jumped to the Front of AL East Line

It was a curious week for the Boston Red Sox, even if the biggest news to trickle out of Fenway Park was an announcement regarding bullpen walls.

Down south, a division rival appeared content to reassemble the Sox, circa 2004—Tampa’s offer to Mark Bellhorn has yet to be confirmed, by the way—while in New York, the general manager publicly panned the team’s most significant offseason maneuver.

We won’t know if the balance of power in the division has truly shifted until the games are played on the field, but it’s certainly starting to feel like the Red Sox have turned things upside down.

It was only last summer that the Sox were largely considered the third best team of the group including the Yankees and Rays—a distant third in the eyes of many. Yet, consider the following: While the Rays have added Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, Boston went out and plucked Carl Crawford—a double-whammy given his removal from the Tampa lineup—and Adrian Gonzalez.

And then there’s Rafael Soriano, the perfect transition because he not only departed Tampa, but arrived in New York under less than ideal circumstances as well. His arrival may be a boost to a strong Yankee bullpen, but Brian Cashman’s admission that he had nothing to do with the move tells you the state of the Pinstripes, who are making moves just to make moves.

Will Soriano help? Sure. But it’s clear he was picked up because he was one of the bigger names available on the market.

Generally speaking, even in the bizarre world of the Steinbrenners, it’s an unusual signing if the GM has little or no interest in making it.

As the dust settles, take a look at the landscape. The Red Sox have added Crawford and Gonzalez, figure to get a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury back, added Bobby Jenks to the back end of the bullpen and did so without increasing the payroll significantly.

Meanwhile, the Yankees missed on every major free agent target save for one they didn’t even want, are still pleading with a 38-year old pitcher in Andy Pettitte to save a crumbling rotation and can’t seem to agree on personnel moves.

And the Rays lost two of the top four hitters in their lineup—Crawford and Carlos Pena, who went to Chicago—a closer that led the league in saves last year and perhaps the most potent setup man in baseball last year in Joaquin Benoit. They also traded a talented young starter in Matt Garza, all while adding the chalk outlines currently known as Damon and Ramirez.

It’s true that nothing in baseball can be taken for granted, and nobody is implying the cupboard is suddenly bare in either New York or Tampa. The Yankees still have Mark Teixeira, A-Rod, Robinson Cano, etc., and the Rays can still lean on Evan Longoria and one of the best young rotations in the game

But there’s no denying the playing field has shifted. The ho-hum Red Sox have bolstered just about every facet of the team, while their two chief competitors are struggling to stay whole. The Red Sox should probably be the favorites to win the division, but if nothing else they’ve pulled even with the leaders.

The real answers will be uncovered soon enough. But it’s difficult to listen to one rival bicker over free agent signings while another inks a pair of corpses to one-year contracts and not feel the Red Sox have jumped to the head of the line.

No wonder the biggest announcement was the non-news about the bullpens. The Red Sox appear to have made their offseason statements already.

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Boston Red Sox: 5 Questions Still Facing the Team

There has been very little to complain about during a monumental offseason for the Boston Red Sox. A team starving for interesting personalities and, more importantly, improved talent went out and landed a coveted slugger in Adrian Gonzalez and perhaps the best positional player on the free agent market in Carl Crawford. They are uniquely positioned for a major bounce-back season.

But no team enters a 162-game slate without a handful of questions. The Red Sox have plugged a handful of holes, but they are far from perfect. And, as the Sox learned last year when the team suffered through a remarkable rash of injuries, it often takes just a little bit of bad luck to derail an otherwise promising campaign.

The Red Sox may well be the favorites in the American League East, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few items to ponder as pitchers and catchers get ready to report in a little more than a month.

Such as…

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Adrian Gonzalez Trade: Ten Reasons It’s the Perfect Play For The Boston Red Sox

What, the Jason Varitek signing didn’t do it for you?

If ever a team needed a blockbuster move to reinvigorate a slumbering fan base and reignite its championship chanced, it was the Boston Red Sox. And if ever a perfect move were available, the Sox found it.

The speculation has lasted longer than a year. It was on and off and on and off again. And now, finally, according to numerous reports it appears to be official.

The Red Sox are acquiring Adrian Gonzalez.

This is the biggest move the Sox have made in years. Forgive me, but J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo don’t do it for me. Mike Cameron is highly likeable, but highly replaceable. And don’t even get me started on Daisuke Matsuzaka.

This is the sort of move that lays the groundwork for another championship. Which, up until a few days ago, nobody was sure was still a priority for everyone in the Fenway Park offices.

With this one move, though, that is no longer a question. And, remarkably, the deal appears to have gone down about as perfectly as you could have asked from a Red Sox perspective.

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Boston Red Sox: Offseason Gives Team a Chance To Reclaim Identity

Tuning in to the World Series as a viewer without a true rooting interest, I was struck at how undeniably likeable both teams were.

Both were remarkable stories. When the Giants were splashing each other with champagne, it was hard not to feel genuinely happy for them.

The Giants were an easy-to-root-for collection of talented role players and standout personalities.

Contrast that with coverage of the Red Sox last week that featured comments from Tom Werner, in response to a supposed lack of interest. The comments essentially claimed the Sox and their staff did a poor job of “portraying” their players as interesting for most of last season.

It’s pretty simple, Tom.

They’re not.

I’ve already written in this very space about how the Sox could use an injection of character. So I won’t go there again, other than to re-iterate that it would be ideal to land either Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth, both tempting hybrids of flat-out ability and personality.

What I do intend to question, though, is where the “ownership team” is looking to take the Red Sox. Somewhere along the path to rejuvenating the franchise, the group turned a dangerous corner, one that threatens to alienate its loyal fanbase.

Fenway Park was in need of serious repair when John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Werner came on board. Now, nearly 10 years later, the park is in the best shape it’s ever been, and appears ready to host baseball games for decades to come.

That work is downright impressive, and should be lauded as such.

But I’m beginning to question the kind of experience being crammed into Friendly Fenway. A group that engaged a rabid fanbase with an unquenchable quest to deliver a winner on the field accomplished that goaland then seemed to switch gears.

Now it’s all about race cars and soccer teams and concerts on the outfield and business ventures. The Sox brass has turned a baseball franchise into a global enterprise, which is good for the bottom line.

But not for the loyal fan.

I liked it better when they just cared about winning baseball games.

That’s not to put all the blame for the past few seasons on ownership. There have been mistakes in the front office, players who failed to deliver andespecially this yearrashes of injuries that would derail even the best-laid plans.

But ownership gets at least a slice of the blame pie. There’s no way it’s a coincidence the team has won zero championships and threatened for the same amount during the span that the owners started spending more time on “other ventures.”

Most recently, that included a protracted and public battle to purchase an international soccer team.

Which helps the Red Sox how?

The owners of the Red Sox are businessmen. I get it.

And they are certainly allowed to have other irons in the fire.

But the Red Soxand by that I mean the players on the fieldused to be first in line. And if Henry and Co. want to return to World Series glory, they’ll have to become a priority again.

So if the ownership group can find time between kicking a soccer ball and calculating how many laps one can get on a set of tires, it would be nice to consult with Theo Epstein on ways to improve the product that takes the field they’ve so fervently beautified.

The 2003 and 2004 teams, very much like the Giants this year, were fun, entertaining and successful. And so was the ballpark experience.

But it’s hard to attend a game now as a long-term fan and not feel like you’re at a carnival instead of a baseball game.

Atmosphere is everything.

That starts with the players on the field and in the clubhouse, and extends to seats that line the ballpark. This ownership group used to have a firm handle on that.

It would be good to see it again.

Because you know what’s really good for business?

World Series trophies.

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2010 MLB Offseason: Boston Red Sox Need to Find Right Blend Of Skill and Swagger

As the Major League Baseball playoffs turn the page from divisional to championship series, and the Yankees and Phillies celebrate convincing sweeps—utterly boring, yawn-inducing sweeps—those on the outside looking in like the Boston Red Sox are already formulating the plan for next year.

To that end, today ran a slideshow of 15 potential free agent targets the Red Sox may chase this winter, some enticing – Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford – and some silly fantasy – Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera.

The same site also featured a Sunday story that details the possibility of moving Daisuke Matsuzaka. The overwhelming sensation taken away from the day’s baseball reading is this: The Boston Red Sox could look remarkably different next year.

And that may not be a bad thing.

The possibility of a major overhaul is very real. And it may be entirely necessary, to rejuvenate the squad on the field and recapture the heart of a formerly rabid Red Sox Nation.

I don’t put a lot of stock in the sellout streak, or any other management-massaged stats. Nor do I attribute the loss in ratings this year to anything but a struggling team that was, at times, downright boring.

But I do believe there is often a correlation between personality and performance. More often the teams that win are also compelling to watch. You can have the chicken-or-egg argument until your blue in the face about which gives birth to which, but the simple fact is most successful squads have a blend of both.

And the Red Sox have been sorely lacking in the personality department for years, the trade of Manny Ramirez having essentially completed a boring-oscopy that began in 2005. In fact, many look at the 2007 campaign as simply an extension of the success born in 2004, when in reality it was the beginning of the end of an interesting roster in Boston.

J.D. Drew is perhaps the most boring human being alive. Watching Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch is about as exciting as a dentist appointment. It sometimes seems the team operates like a board meeting at ING.

Theo Epstein deserves a lot of credit for assembling the champs in ’04 and ’07, though he also deserves some blame for methodically shaving all semblance of character from the locker room. Epstein often comes off as dull and boring during interviews, and in that case it’s hard to argue with those who say he built the team in his image.

Even the Yankees have figured out that personality matters. Last year’s World Champs featured their share of white-bread boringness indeed, from Jeter to Rivera to Andy Pettitte and so on. But they also added the likes of Nick Swisher and C.C. Sabathia, the former of whom received a lot of credit for loosening up the clubhouse.

And therein lies the perfect model. The roster doesn’t need to be made up entirely of loose personalities, though sprinkling the occasional one into the mix is a formula for success.

ESPN ran a 30-for-30 documentary last week on the 2004 Red Sox, and there was Kevin Millar, telling everyone on the eve of Game 4 in the ALCS not to let the Red Sox win that night because it may spark a historic comeback. He was loose, calm and entertaining, even on the brink of an embarrassing sweep. And he proved prescient.

And his character was infectious. That sort of attitude permeated that locker room, which rallied together and ended 86 years of cursed living.

Nobody is suggesting Theo try to rebuild the current squad in the mold of that championship group. It was a truly once-in-a-lifetime squad. And nobody is encouraging the Sox to sign flamboyant players with few tangible skills.

But would it hurt to add a Carl Crawford, an electrifying player who just happens to be entering his prime? Or Adam Dunn, a fun-loving slugger in the mold of David Ortiz, circa 2004? Or anyone else with an equal mix of skills and swagger.

Personally, the Red Sox offense begins with the signing of Victor Martinez as priority No. 1 (it should also be noted that Martinez is one of the few Sox with an infectious energy). But assuming that goal is accomplished, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to spice things up a little bit if possible.

It would certainly help rekindle interested from the average fan, which we all know is something the Sox brass is concerned with, perhaps obsessed with.

But that’s secondary to the diehards. What Red Sox fans truly want is a winner, and the last time we had one, it featured an impressive cocktail of competency and charisma.

It’s time to go out and find both again.

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Red Sox: Adrian Beltre a Risk, But a Risk Worth Taking

Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz reached the 100-RBI plateau on the same night this week, creating a fitting link between two players who figure to be critical pieces in the most significant Red Sox off-season in recent memory.

Ortiz is likely to return, with the Red Sox picking up his option for next year, no matter how much the veteran slugger pushes for a multi-year contract. But Beltre remains something of a mystery, and the decision is anything but an easy one.

Beltre has certainly given the Red Sox everything they hoped for this season and more. He has spent the entire season hitting better than .300. He hit 20-plus homers and topped 100 RBI.

He played through pain. He was embraced in the clubhouse and beloved by his manager. Despite an early flurry of errors, he provided his usual steady and impressive defense.

And yet any possible hesitation to ink him to an expensive, long-term deal is understandable.

Because he’s had a season like this once before.

Beltre, of course, famously belted 48 homers in a contract year with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004, massaging that outburst into a lucrative pact with the Seattle Mariners that was followed by four years of uneven and injury-marred play.

There were indeed extenuating circumstances, most notably the ballpark he played in, which is about as forgiving to hitters as a cement wall is to outfielders. But there’s still something that makes me wary about a player whose only breakout seasons have come when a free agency feeding frenzy loomed on the horizon.

See Drew, J.D.

Beltre has never hit more than 26 homers in any season other than this year and 2004. Those also happen to be the only seasons in which he produced a batting average better than .300—or better than .290, for that matter—and those campaigns remain the only two in which he’s reached 100 RBI.

Cause for concern, no?

Those are the facts. This is my opinion: I think Beltre is still worth a contract, at the right price.

If someone swoops in and offers him $18 million a season, the Sox should let him walk without a second thought. They still have options—move Youkilis to third and sign a stop-gap first baseman or keep Youk at first and find a fill-in at third for a year—that are viable enough so as not to have to pay a silly ransom just to hang on to Beltre.

But if he is willing to return for three years or so at somewhere in the neighborhood of a modest raise, I’d sign him in a heartbeat.

And here’s why.

First of all, the Sox need him. They already have a dearth of pop in the lineup, and losing Beltre would be another step back. Second of all, I think he can closely replicate at least a portion of his numbers if he returns to Boston.

Beltre appears to thrive in the pressure-cooker that is the Boston media market, and also has—as any solid-swinging right-hander does—the right stroke for Fenway Park.

Do I expect Beltre to reproduce a .320-30-100 type of season?

No. But there’s no reason to expect less than a .280-25-85, which I would certainly take when you factor in his superb defense.

Beltre may never be the slugger he was for one season in 2004, but there’s reason to believe he won’t be the guy who hit eight homers in 2009, either. He figures to be a productive, reliable gamer at the plate with a gold glove on one arm and a rifle on the other in the field.

That’s something I’d be willing to pay market value for over the next several seasons.

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No Rays of Hope: Red Sox Inch Closer To Throwing Up White Flag

The Tampa Bay Rays roll into Boston this afternoon. So does Lars Anderson.

Somewhere in the juxtaposition between the two is the uncomfortable limbo in which the Boston Red Sox currently find themselves.

This could have been the week the Red Sox made their move. Had they stayed a game or two closer to Tampa, a sweep this week would have turned the pennant race heat up to white-hot levels.

This could have been the week the Red Sox waved the white flag. Had their recent struggles resulted in something like a 10-game deficit in the Wild Card, it would be time to officially pull the plug. Rest the regulars, call up half of the minor leagues, and spend the next four weeks learning what you have for the future.

Instead it’s a little of both.

If the loyal fandom is being honest with itself, the Red Sox are out of the hunt. Mathematics say otherwise, and a magical sweep of the Rays would perhaps rekindle some flicker of hope, but it would take a monumental surge—and an equally monumental collapse on the part of the Rays or Yankees—for this season to extend into mid-October.

And yet, it’s too soon to completely lie down, at least from a management perspective. What would it say to the people who purchase some of the most expensive tickets in baseball if they rolled out the Triple-A All-Stars to start a three-game set with the team directly in front of them in the standings?

It would certainly be a way to end the consecutive sell-out streak in a hurry.

So, at least from a public relations standpoint, the Sox have to try this week. They have to play most of the normal lineup, and shuffle the pitching rotation as they have to get Clay Buchholz involved. It has to at least look like a valiant effort.

And then there’s Anderson. He’s up in part because Mike Lowell is ailing and the rosters have expanded, but he’s also up so the Sox can take a peek at what he’s got against Big League pitching. It’s an experiment, one teams don’t often set in motion unless the pennant race cat is long since out of the bag.

In reality, Anderson’s appearance is much more telling than Tampa’s. Expect things to change dramatically after this three-game set, as more new faces tote their luggage from Pawtucket and more familiar faces begin enjoying some rest.

Because even though the Red Sox will play this series as if it had serious playoff implications, reality tells us otherwise. And Anderson’s arrival tells us the same.

The Sox will give it the old college try, if for no other reason than to satiate an always-rabid fan base. But come Thursday, it becomes Spring Training In Autumn.

Anderson is simply reporting to camp a few days earlier than others.

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One Down: Red Sox Start Critical Series at Tampa With Huge Victory

Tony Massarotti said on 98.5 The Sports Hub this afternoon that the odds were stacked mightily against the Red Sox heading into Friday night’s critical series opener at Tampa Bay.

The Sox were sending Jon Lester to the hill against a team that has pounded left-handed pitching, and the Sox were rolling out a lineup against David Price—who has been death on lefties himself—without their two best right-handed hitters in Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

He also said a win under such circumstances would go a long way toward changing his mind about the playoff chase. Massarotti had all but left the Red Sox for dead, but said a victory Friday night would convince him a postseason appearance may be possible.

I laughed the statement off myself. And then I watched the game.

And couldn’t help but feel the same way.

Friday’s victory is the kind of win that inspires confidence. It’s the kind of win the Red Sox were built for, at the time of year where such a win carries exponentially more value.

The formula was followed to perfection, Jon Lester handed the ball to Daniel Bard, who handed it to Jonathan Papelbon, and all three looked as dominant as expected. The offense didn’t go bananas, but it did enough, most notably getting a pair of homers from Victor Martinez. It was just the way Red Sox management drew it up in April.

Of course, it’s the kind of win that means nothing if the Sox go out the next two nights and get their lunch handed to them. But, at least for the time being, there’s reason to be optimistic. The pitchers who prove vital this time of year appear to be firing on all cylinders. Perhaps most importantly Papelbon, who has been shaky at best at times this season.

And the win closed the gap in the Wild Card to 4.5 games. It’s dangerous to get so far ahead of oneself to imagine wins in both of the remaining games of the series, but should such fortune strike the Red Sox the deficit would be down to 2.5 games with plenty of season left.

The simple fact of the matter is even a split of the next two leaves the Sox in solid position, especially given that they have three more with Tampa at Fenway in another 10 days or so. The bottom line is if there is a comeback, it has to start somewhere. And Friday is as good a place as any.

It’s too early to put any champagne on ice just yet. But there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic following a critical win on Friday night. Reason that may not have been there as recently as five hours ago.

Tony Mazz wasn’t lying.

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