Not even two weeks ago, the Red Sox were just trying to drag themselves to the end of a difficult month. They came straight out of the All-Star break and ran into a grueling stretch of extra-inning games, with a doubleheader mixed in for good measure.
After going 2-4 on a road trip through Anaheim and Seattle, they had fallen out of first place for the first time in more than a month. The offense was struggling to push runs across. The dust-up between David Price and Dennis Eckersley piled more on their plate.
Going 13-14 for the month felt like surviving an endurance test.
“July?” Xander Bogaerts joked. “I don’t remember that month.”
The Sox couldn’t wait to flip the calendar.
Since July 31, they’ve strung together six straight wins, riding strong starting pitching, a bullpen that won’t budge, new additions that have sparked the lineup, and a surprising power surge.
While they were pushing through July, they had to remind themselves that they’d eventually come out on the other side.
“It’s a long season,” said Jackie Bradley Jr. “That’s why we preached from Day 1, no need to panic. As long as we trust what we have, know that we’re pretty decent ballplayers, it’s a game of streaks and we definitely want to ride the right one for the longest.”
In some ways, going 16 innings with the Yankees July 15, coming back and playing a doubleheader the next day, and going 15 innings with the Blue Jays two days later — all while acclimating new players — was galvanizing, according to manager John Farrell.
“To me, the effect of the Yankees series and then the second game against Toronto, those hours and innings on the field had some effect,” Farrell said. “Then you go to the West Coast right after that.
“So what our guys’ bodies went through for roughly a 10-day period is uncommon. We went into the Angels series having played 40 more innings coming out of the All-Star break than the Angels had. So at some point that had to be factored in.
“We adjusted the early work, you try to rotate guys through as best as possible. We’re not complaining of the schedule. We’re not complaining of the number of innings. But that’s part of the reality of what we experienced.
“Does it bring people together? I think there was a time when by virtue of needing to get guys off their feet, other guys were pressed into roles that maybe were not ordinary.
“So those types of challenges, provided we embrace them and respond favorably to them, yes, they are rallying points, which I think was the case.
“I think more than anything, we’ve become accustomed to it or comfortable with it. And I say that because of the way we’ve executed late in ballgames when there’s no margin for error.
“But come extra innings, it’s no big deal as far as what you feel and hear in the dugout.”
This winning streak ties their longest of the season. As they set out on a five-game road trip that will have them face off with their two biggest threats in the AL East — the third-place Rays for two games starting Tuesday and the second-place Yankees for a three-game set starting Friday — there’s a sense of perspective. The Sox have been in first place for all but 13 of the past 50 days.
Despite all the extra innings (they’ve won a major league-high 10 games in extras), the Sox have found ways to stay atop the division.
“You mentally get stronger from it,” Bradley said. “You build. Thirteen extra-inning games and we’ve won the majority of them.
“It almost gets to the point where as long as we keep putting ourselves in a position to at least win ballgames, then if we tie it and we happen to go extras, we feel very confident that we’ll be able to finish the job.’
While the Sox have flashed power that’s been missing much of the season (17 homers over the past 11 games) and the lineup as a whole has heated up (.302 average, 11 homers, and a .547 slugging percentage over the past seven games), the consistency of a starting rotation that boasts the best ERA in the league and the dependability of a bullpen with the best ERA in the majors have allowed the Sox to pull out so many wins on those long nights.
“I don’t know if it’s ever good to play 16 innings, unless you get the win,” said Chris Young. “So that’s great.
“You’d rather get it done in nine innings, but I think that speaks to the depth of our pitching staff that we’re able to go a 14-inning game, a 16-inning game, and then a doubleheader, etc., etc., and still have enough firepower to go out there and still get the job done. So that speaks magnitudes to the pitching staff really.”
The Sox will be tested by a Rays lineup that’s going deep at an uncharacteristic clip (160 homers, third in the AL) and a Yankees team that loaded up at the trading deadline.
“We’re in the division, so there are always going to be tough games,” Farrell said. “Regardless of the recent streaks either team has been on, we know we’re going to go up against a team in Tampa that is very different in terms of the way they’ve driven the baseball this year — the home runs they’ve hit.
“So we’ve got to be spot-on with our ability to execute pitches from the mound. So this will be five highly competitive games when we get out of here and get back on the road.”
But as they head into what will likely be a heated division race, they know they have weathered a challenging stretch and carved out an identity along the way.
“We just needed to get back to winning,” Bradley said. “That’s pretty much what it all boils down to. When you win, great things happen.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.