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Christopher L. Gasper

Can’t ignore the Red Sox anymore

The Red Sox entered July as the only team in the American League with 50 wins.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

The Red Sox entered July as the only team in the American League with 50 wins.

There are no more excuses, no more diversions and no other options. Boston, your first-place baseball team graciously requests the honor of your presence and participation in this season.

There were legitimate reasons to ignore the Red Sox before. But they have been ceded the stage.

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The bereavement period for the Bruins’ Stanley Cup Final run is complete. Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce all have had their whereabouts resolved and Celtic concluding chapters authored. The Patriots don’t report to training camp until July 25. The murder charge against former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez in the death of Odin Lloyd is a terrible and transfixing tragedy that figures to get more disconcerting the more we learn about Hernandez’s secret off-field life.

The Red Sox can’t be in first place in the American League East and in fourth place in interest level in their own market. It’s time to join this playoff-contending baseball team in progress.

If you have tuned out the Sox over the first three months of the season because of disinterest or lingering resentment from the past two seasons, you have missed a good time and a good team.

At 50-34, the Sox have the best record in the American League. They’re one of only two teams in baseball to spend the entire season above .500 — the other is the Atlanta Braves. They have a plus-80 run differential, second only to the St. Louis Cardinals in all of baseball. They’ve won in walkoff fashion seven times, including against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, when they triumphed on an error at first base by a converted catcher, Josh Thole.

It’s one of those games you win when your team has good karma, instead of a toxic dump of a clubhouse. The personality makeover Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington gave the clubhouse in the offseason has taken, and the manager, John Farrell, is a source of stability, instead of a source of insurrection.

The lineup doesn’t have big names outside of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, or big pop. But what it lacks in charisma and Lansdowne Street landings it makes up for in efficiency.

The Sox lead the majors in runs scored (431), OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) at .793, and pitches seen per plate appearance (4.06). Traditionally a team that runs the bases at the pace that ketchup drips out of a new bottle, the Red Sox entered Monday tied for second in the majors in stolen bases.

It’s increasingly difficult to say that what is happening in the Fens is just a fluke, that Daniel Nava, Mike Carp, and Jose Iglesias, who is hitting .409, are all wearing glass cleats and the clock is about to strike midnight.

The poster boy for these revitalized Red Sox is John Derran Lackey. That’s right, I said John Lackey.

Like his team, Lackey was written off, derided and despised. He was unlikable and unwatchable. He missed all of last season because of Tommy John surgery.

Before this year, his last Red Sox start was Sept. 25, 2011 against the Yankees, an outing that was most memorable for his postgame diatribe against the media after he said he received a pregame text message dealing with his divorce.

Slimmed-down and healthy, Lackey will go to the mound Tuesday against the Padres with a 2.99 earned run average. He is 4-1 with a 2.44 ERA in his last eight starts and struck out 12 batters with no walks in his last outing. No Sox starter had done that in 10 years.

Lackey is a baseball born-again.

This team is worthy of your attention and your emotional and financial investment — at least until football season starts in September.

Maybe Boston sports fans believe the team is going to fray and show its holes like a pair of mittens that keep getting caught on a fence. Fenway Fatalists assume Clay Buchholz won’t be able to return from the pain in his neck that has kept him out since June 8 and the team’s closer carousel will keep spinning without an answer. Koji Uehara is the latest to try the role.

Maybe they just find the team a bit hard to identify with. They’re no eccentric savants, long-haired idols, or free-spirited frat boys.

No gimmicks, just gamers.

Whatever it is, the Sox don’t have the buzz befitting a first-place baseball team more than halfway through the season.

Attendance is down 3,816 per game this season through 44 home dates compared with last season’s 69-93 disaster, according to baseball-reference.com. Only five teams in baseball — Minnesota, Texas, the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia, and Miami — have seen a greater decline.

Once kings of the sellout — insert your own joke here — the Sox have had just eight this season in 44 home dates, according to the team. Two of those sellouts have come during this current homestand, a nine-game stretch that the Sox are two-thirds of the way through.

On talk radio Monday most of the discussion was about the public chastisement Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli served up to Tyler Seguin and whether the Celtics could rebuild around Rajon Rondo. The Sox were an afterthought.

You would think after three seasons without playoff baseball and a dreadful campaign last season the prospect of the postseason would have the city salivating. Instead, it seems to have lost its insatiable appetite for all things Red Sox.

It’s hard to blame baseball fans after the distasteful seasons of 2011 and 2012.

But this team deserves a taste of what being a first-place team in a baseball-fixated Boston feels like.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.
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