Red Sox return to Bronx on upswing
Boston ended last trip to New York on six-game slide
KANSAS CITY -- As the Red Sox get ready to return to the Bronx on Friday night for the start of a three-game showdown with their rivals, it's important to remember what type of shape they were in when last they left Yankee Stadium.
It was late on a Sunday night, and the Sox had just been handed the humiliation of being swept in four games. The last loss couldn't have been more crushing. Victor Martinez had belted a two-run homer to put his team in the lead, only to have Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira jolt Daniel Bard with back-to-back homers that seemed to make the new Stadium's walls shake.
What did the Red Sox -- mired in a six-game losing streak at the time -- think upon their escape from New York on Aug. 9?
"We felt we really had to turn things around," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "If not, maybe our postseason hopes were in jeopardy. Yeah, it was not a good feeling. We were all looking forward to coming home and starting a homestand in front of our crowd and just the comforts of home. I think we were relieved to get out of there, because it was definitely not one of our better points of the season."
But that very next day, the Red Sox kicked off their best point of the season. From Aug. 10 to the present, the Red Sox are 29-13, reeling off the best record in the Major Leagues over that span.
"Last time we were there, they were on a roll and they still are," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We were having a tough time. We went like four days without scoring a run. We had different roster moves every day. We were just trying to piece it together and get through it. We had a chance to win the one night, and we lost when Bard gave up the home runs. At that point, we were just trying to win a game and just not get overwhelmed. We didn't do a good enough job. But we rebounded when we left and started playing better."
And here the Red Sox are now, in complete command of the American League Wild Card standings, and in position to clinch a postseason berth as early as this weekend. Boston's magic number is three. New York clinched its ticket to October earlier this week, and will likely win the AL East, which the club currently leads by five games over Boston.
"When we got there last time, we had just lost two at Tampa Bay," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "We weren't reeling just yet. They pretty much beat us down that entire series. We played them at our place and they still beat us [two out of three], but we were playing a lot better. We weren't really struggling anymore. They just beat us. It's nice to go in there now feeling better than we did last time were there, that's for sure."
The teams just might be on another collision course, one that could lead to their first AL Championship Series matchup since 2004.
The Yankees have the best record in baseball at 97-56, while the Red Sox (91-61) are third best behind the Bombers and the Dodgers.
For the first month after the All-Star break, the Sox were battling injuries and offensive inconsistency.
"We couldn't keep playing that way or swinging the bats that way," said Lowell. "The unfortunate thing was I thought we had pretty good pitching. We got good pitching in that series. When you go up against a tough team like the Yankees and your pitchers do well, you feel like you need to reward them."
In truth, the Red Sox have improved in every area since their last trip to New York. Martinez's bat has changed the entire complexion of the offense since being acquired from Cleveland. J.D. Drew and David Ortiz have found their strokes. Jacoby Ellsbury has emerged into the dynamic leadoff man his team needed.
Two other in-season acquisitions by general manager Theo Epstein have made a difference. Alex Gonzalez has solidified the team with his defense at shortstop. Lefty Billy Wagner has given Francona yet another option to go to in the late innings.
Not only do the Red Sox have a front three of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, but Daisuke Matsuzaka -- who starts Saturday against New York -- has looked rejuvenated since coming back from the disabled list.
"I think the postseason is where we all want to be, and that's where you want to do well," said Lowell. "I think we have a chance to be a real special team if we get there."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.