BOSTON — In roughly 24 hours, the Red Sox went from a two-run deficit in the ninth inning to winners of two straight games, one of them 19 innings, another a slopfest in a muddied Fenway Park.
Identity has been its own muddied matter for the 2017 Sox. Who are they in the wake of David Ortiz's departure? Who are they without steps forward from the youths? The answers didn’t make themselves readily apparent.
Wednesday night’s 6-1 win over the Blue Jays and the 24 hours preceding are emblematic of what the Sox have become. Strictly in how they look on the field, anyway. We’re not talking about the underbelly of airplane confrontations, or more recently, fancy dugout timepieces.
On Wednesday, you had the continuation of Doug Fister’s wildly unexpected turnaround. There was aggressive base running and, after six hours of play the night before, a feeling of one of the most overused words in sport — resiliency.
“It was special, that’s for sure,” said Jackie Bradley Jr., who homered Wednesday and had a huge throw home Tuesday night. “Being able to mentally tough out that long game and to come back, I feel like we had some momentum coming into today. Just try not to think about the weather and just go out and compete and perform your best.”
Whether you want to believe in the value of the Sox’ style of play in a playoff setting — whether you think the Sox stack up with the rest of the best in the American League — they’re separate matters. And definitely questionable.
But the threads that have kept the Sox atop the division were front and center Wednesday as well as the night previous. By now, Fister should be an easy character to embrace for fans.
“Grinder who won’t give in and keeps his head up through difficult times to come out on top through work and adjustments,” one scout said Wednesday.
It's an obvious characterization, yet, it's not one the 2017 Red Sox were expected to be built on. This team was to be about stars, and it has been — but not nearly to the extent presumed. A Cy Young winner and an All-Star closer were supposed to have a lot more All-Stars around them.
Sweet-swinging Eduardo Nunez on Wednesday went 2-for-3 with a walk and stole a pair of bags. Twenty-year-old like Rafael Devers, whose return to the lineup brought a pair of hits including an RBI, is hitting .365 at Fenway.
Perhaps calling the Sox underdogs was never the most accurate description. But there are certainly key individuals who qualify, and even more who come across as scrapers. Grinders. Call them what you want, the semantics can be a drag. What we mean is, these are guys who are not supposed to be all that good, for whatever reason. They’re over the hill. Or they’re outperforming they’re past. Or they’re too young. And yet, here they are.
Mitch Moreland, a Gold Glove first baseman, is outperforming the designated hitter at the plate for goodness’ sake.
Fister’s mechanical changes have been discussed before. He was helped by a move on the rubber to the first base side. His strikeouts have picked up significantly, with nine Wednesday night, aided by increased depth on all his pitches.
But for a 33-year-old, what may be most remarkable is the willingness to evolve — and from there, the ability to implement changes so rapidly.
As Fister tells it, there was no hesitation when the Sox recommended trying new things, new things designed to make him look like the Fister of old.
“Changing teams, it’s like going to a new school,” Fister said. “These guys have made it easy. This transition has been very, very easy. We’ve got a great clubhouse. Knowing some of the staff, I knew Carl [Willis], and obviously I’ve seen [Brian] Bannister and Dana working from afar. Knowing their background, knowing what they do and what their forte is, it came easy to say, ‘Just let me know what I need to do. You guys have done your homework on me.’ Obviously I was struggling and needed the adjustment. And it’s definitely welcomed.”
If the playoffs started in five days, Fister would be in the playoff rotation, without a doubt. There’s still a while to go. But he’s as representative of the success of the 2017 Sox as anyone.