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Why is Red Sox attendance lagging?

Those who showed up at Fenway Park on Wednesday night had a ball.

jim davis/globe staff

Those who showed up at Fenway Park on Wednesday night had a ball.

Where are you, Red Sox fans?

Wednesday’s night’s attendance was 31,962. Not chopped liver, but really, what’s going on here? The Red Sox are involved in a tight race. Every game is like the playoffs. They’re playing American League East rival Baltimore, which prevented them from making the playoffs in 2011.

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After last year’s 69 wins, this should be a joy to watch. The Red Sox have been one of the most consistent teams in baseball from Opening Day. No ups and downs like most of the teams they’re competing against. Steady, exciting. Thirty come-from-behind wins, including 4-3 over the Orioles Wednesday night, when the Sox scored three runs in the seventh and eighth to erase a two-run deficit.

Red Sox chief operating officer Sam Kennedy is anticipating another crowd in the 32,000 range Thursday night. What gives? The team had to advertise $20 seats the last two games. This from an organization that had a long sellout streak with some teams that weren’t this good.

The Red Sox have had 20 sellouts all season. They’ve recovered somewhat attendance-wise from early in the season, and now are down about 2,900 fans per game from last year. There are 17 teams (out of 30) whose attendance has dropped from 2012, including the Yankees, who are down 3,677 fans per game.

But in Boston?

“I’m just a guy on the outside looking in,” said Shane Victorino. “I know that they didn’t have a good year here last year, so maybe people are slowly coming back to us. We haven’t won anything yet. Maybe it will take the whole year to win them all back. I know what it’s like. I was in Philadelphia and we just packed it every night. The fans here are great and the ballpark always looks full to me. It’s loud, the fans are behind you. That’s all you can ask for.”

“We had a great crowd [Tuesday night], over 36,000, because it was the first game back from a road trip and big group sales,” Kennedy said.

We understand that in some areas, kids went back to school this week. But that never stopped the sellouts before when things were good. Something is keeping some fans away.

These are the best of times for this team.

After Wednesday’s win against the Orioles, who had dominated the Red Sox earlier this season and at Fenway, the Sox have flipped the confidence factor in their favor. They have won four straight games, including the last two of the Dodgers series in Los Angeles. They also have won four straight games over the Orioles, a team that was supposed to have their number.

The Sox are holding a slim lead over the Rays in the division. They control their destiny with head-to-head play against Baltimore, New York, and Tampa Bay, and also three more games against Central-leading Detroit.

They have their ace, Clay Buchholz, slowly returning from a neck/shoulder strain, and a staff of veteran starters who are battle-tested, including the playoffs.

The Red Sox have allowed only 14 runs over their last eight games, giving up three or fewer in each. Sox starters have a 1.64 ERA in those eight games. While we thought it might be imperative that Buchholz return to the level that had him 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA, there’s not as much pressure on him to return to that form given the way the remainder of the rotation is pitching.

But anything they get from Buchholz, who will make his second rehab start Friday in Pawtucket, and then a third in the minors on Wednesday, will be a bonus.

In addition, they have a lights-out closer in Koji Uehara who throws strikes, gets ahead of virtually every hitter he faces. He can match up against any of the contending teams’ closers. He’s thrown 21 consecutive scoreless innings, and earned his career-high 14th save on Wednesday. Only seven of the last 70 batters he’s faced have reached base safely.

They have guys such as Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes who can come off the bench and get big hits. Carp’s game-winner on Wednesday, the 20th time the Red Sox have won on their last at-bat this season, was a blooper that was just was out of the reach of Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, who has the biggest wingspan in baseball.

We are seeing the making of a very good major league catcher in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who doubled and then scored on Carp’s hit. Saltalamacchia has 35 doubles, just missing a home run to the opposite field by about a foot. Among Sox catchers, only Carlton Fisk with 39 in 1978 and Jason Varitek with 39 in 1999 have had more doubles in a season. And the way Saltalamacchia is going, he’ll shatter that mark easily.

“Salty is having one heck of a year,” manager John Farrell said.

And not only with the bat.

He’s directed a staff that trusts him. The Red Sox acquired David Ross in the offseason, indicating at the time that Ross would play more than a normal backup. Ross, of course, has been injured a lot and hasn’t been that guy. But he wouldn’t have been anyway because Saltalamacchia has grown by leaps and bounds from last season, and has hit safely in 12 of the last 13 games at .347 with seven doubles, a home run, and nine RBIs.

Yes, there will be about 5,000 empty seats at Fenway again on Thursday night.

Late August, tight race, playoff-atmosphere baseball. Don’t get it.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.
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