The Redemption Tour comes home Monday afternoon and the “Please Don’t Hate Us” Red Sox are in sole possession of first place for the first time since Sept. 1, 2011.
It’s a good day to feel good about the Sox again. They have delivered on their promises to play hard and be more likable. They’ve vetted clubhouse poisons and assembled a unit of worthy veterans and wide-eyed kids. They are managed by a true professional, and ownership hasn’t insulted the fan base in several months. They have new-millennium gold dust twins Jose Iglesias (.529 average) and Jackie Bradley Jr., and sophomore Will Middlebrooks, who hit three home runs in Sunday’s 13-0 rout of the division-favorite Blue Jays.
“Make no mistake,’’ Sox CEO Larry Lucchino wrote to fans in a spring training welcome letter (Lucchino specializes in letters to fans), “with a 69-win season in our rearview mirror, the challenge to beat back the skeptics and re-assert ourselves is an invigorating one for all of us.’’
The 2013 Sox have blasted from the starter’s gate with four wins in six games in New York and Toronto. They hit a whopping six homers in the Rogers Centre Sunday and at 2:05 p.m. Monday play the Baltimore Orioles in the 113th franchise home opener.
It doesn’t take much to rekindle the passion of New England baseball fans. Red Sox Nation wants players who hustle and appear hungry; players who pull for one another and don’t complain about travel, snitches, or scoring decisions. After all the snow and cold of the wicked winter of 2012-13, most New England baseball fans are thrilled just to think about being warm outside again.
The Sox haven’t been home since Bobby Valentine’s 2012 wretches slinked out of town under the cover of darkness late last September (that was the night Bobby V said, “I think I would have kept the beer in the clubhouse. I could have used it after a few of these games”). Bobby’s trainwreck Townies staggered to the worst Boston baseball season in 47 years (69-93, 26 games out of first place), which triggered the overdue overhaul.
Positioning themselves as “scrappy underdogs” (another Lucchino beauty), the $154 million payroll Red Sox launched their 2013 campaign with an 8-2 victory in Yankee Stadium one week ago. After starts of 0-6 (2011) and 1-5 (2012), the Sox come home with a 4-2 record, winning their first two series for the first time since 2006 — when everybody loved the Red Sox and the “new” owners.
The local landscape is very different now.
Mindful of an angry fan base, the Sox spent the winter/spring apologizing to fans and asking forgiveness in the form of two-for-one hot dogs and reduced beer prices in April. They issued offseason slogans of “What’s Broken Can Be Fixed’’ and “162 Chances to Restore The Faith.’’ New manager John (Wayne) Farrell was summoned to clean up the Valentine mess and told fans, “It’s a whole new ballgame,’’ in a NESN spot that paints the 2013 team as “workmanlike” and “professional.’’
“We’re here to win,’’ Middlebrooks said in another ball club PSA. “Really, to be the team we know we are.’’
Lucchino has acknowledged that the bogus sellout streak (it’ll reach 794 today) will be mercifully retired this month, probably Wednesday. This is more welcome truth from the top.
Don’t look for too many bells and whistles at the ancient yard Monday. April at Fenway in 2013 is a time for understatement and Dr. Charles Steinberg will dial it down for the annual lidlifter. There’ll be a flyover and you’ll see the giant American flag on the Green Monster, but Monday’s kickoff will be long on charity/tradition and short on star power.
This season marks the 60th anniversary of the Red Sox’ affiliation with the Jimmy Fund, and the ball club’s unique relationship with the popular children’s cancer charity will be the focus of the home opener. The Jimmy Fund Chorus will perform the national anthem, and patients — paired with Sox ballplayers from the last six decades — will emerge from behind the giant flag covering the Monster.
The Red Sox are in first place. They are grinding out at-bats and reaching base with more regularity than any team in the American League. They hit six homers Sunday and have yet to make an error. They have made good on the winter pledges and they come home with heads high and infinite promise.
“We had a tremendous spring training,’’ Farrell said after Sunday’s rout. “To go through New York and Toronto is a good start. We’re going to give effort and energy every time we walk on the field. We’re going to play with an intensity that should work in our favor. We’re looking forward to going home and getting before our home crowd. Hopefully, these six games will energize the fans even more than they normally would be.’’
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.