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First half shows us there’s reason to believe in the Red Sox

David Ortiz smashed a two-run homer in the first inning, giving him 22 on the season.MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

What a day. The Red Sox vaulted into the All-Star break with a Hakuna Matata, “Everything is Awesome,” feel-good first-half finale better than any Tom Werner sitcom pilot ever scripted.

On the final Sunday before the Sox sent six guys (OK, five, since Craig Kimbrel is hurt) to the Midsummer Classic, the locals got eight stellar innings from $217 million ace David Price and thrashed the moribund Tampa Bay Rays, 4-0, on Sunday. The victory keeps Boston in a second-place tie with the Blue Jays, two games off the pace as Baseball America shuts down for a four-day siesta interrupted only by the annual All-Star showcase Tuesday in San Diego.


After finishing in last place three times in four seasons, the Red Sox at this hour are a wild-card playoff entry and pretty well-positioned for a strong second half. Perhaps most important, in the Academy Award words of Sally Field, you like them. You really like them.

This is no small claim, nor is it owed to the dreaded conflict of interest the Globe assumed on the day that John Henry bought New England’s largest news outlet. The Sox in the first half of 2016 have successfully reenlisted the support of a Nation that had been beaten down by hubris, blunder, and abject lack of achievement. In July 2016, the Red Sox are hot again. They are interesting. They have a chance. They are giving you a reason to believe.

By any measure, it is a thrill ride. The 2016 Sox are not a slam-dunk playoff entity like the Patriots of the AFC Least. The Sox are a talented, high-payroll bunch with a nice blend of established stars and wild young talents. They are also rife with flaws and sometimes mirror the awful pitching staffs that plagued Olde Fenway in the futile 1960s.


Sox manager John Farrell works at the top of this fragile pyramid. In the last year he has battled cancer and has heard multiple reports of his professional shortcomings and demise (“I’m tellin’ ya Tony, it’s time to fire the manager”). There were multiple calls for his handsome head when the Sox came home from a 2-4 road trip through Texas and Tampa, but the Sox recovered with a 7-2 homestand, and six wins in seven games to enter the break in playoff position.

Farrell was asked about all of this after Price’s eight-inning domination (four hits, one walk, 10 strikeouts, no runs) of the pathetic Rays.

“We had this strong homestand going into the break,’’ acknowledged the manager.

What about the nonstop notion that he is a man waiting to be fired?

“I don’t pay a lot of attention to it,’’ said Farrell. “It’s a potential distraction and our areas of improvement are obvious to all of us and we’re trying to get that right.’’

Price was typically thoughtful and calm. The high-paid lefthander goes into the break with a 9-6 record and a swollen 4.34 ERA, but he leads the league in strikeouts and Sunday marked the first time in his Red Sox tenure that he blanked the other team.

“I never lost confidence in my ability,’’ said the veteran southpaw. “It always feels good to put up zeros at this level . . . We had a good homestand. We’ve been playing very well for about two weeks.’’


It needs to be noted that David Ortiz hit a two-run homer Sunday and is batting .332 with 22 homers and 72 RBIs at the All-Star break. These are cartoon-like numbers for a 40-year-old slugger. He has 34 doubles through 87 games. Since 1931, only four players have hit 60 doubles in a season. Ortiz at this hour is the best hitter in major league baseball. He is doing things at his age that no man has ever done. His OPS is 1.100. He is a better hitter now than he was 10 years ago, 20 years ago. He is having the greatest farewell tour in the history of the sport. So enjoy it while it lasts. The only slugger better than Ortiz at this age was Barry Bonds.

Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and knuckleballer Steven Wright will be joining Ortiz at the All-Star Game. This is like the golden days of the 1970s Red Sox when the locals would send six or seven players to the Midsummer Classic.

The Sox are fun. We are coming up on the middle of the summer and the Sox are in the mix. They resume the journey Friday night in New York. We will miss them over the next four days as we contemplate the possible highs and lows of the second half of the 2016 baseball season.

Most important, the Red Sox are relevant again. We are enjoying the thrill ride of a real baseball summer. They are delivering on the promises of winter and spring. That is all we ask.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.