BOSTON -- If you're looking to take a family trip to the mid-Atlantic next month, may I suggest June 16 in Baltimore?
I've consulted the spirits of the Ouija board and interpreted the swirls of the crystal ball, and in those divinations have determined the day the Red Sox will reclaim first place.
We felt cautious optimism as the Sox turned a corner in late April, but now they're in full rampage mode. On Friday night, they opened a homestand against the Mariners with an overpowering 14-1 victory that featured three home runs among 15 hits and provided yet another reminder that the 2018 World Series champions have not, in fact, left the building.
The victory boosted the Sox over .500 for the first time since 2018, and even with a couple of injuries hamstringing their starting rotation, it feels like they're only just getting started. They pulled within four games of Tampa Bay, which not only lost to the Yankees, but saw right-handed revelation Tyler Glasnow depart with forearm soreness. Tampa Bay and New York (a half game out of first) shouldn't get too comfortable, because that lead is going to disintegrate like a polar ice cap over the next month.
Remember how hard it was to score runs or create separation in April? Those Red Sox are gone. Remember how the rotation gave them no chance for about three weeks? Those Red Sox are gone, too. Remember the somber clubhouse and nervous urgency as the losses mounted?
Gone, gone, gone. All gone.
That the victory came at the expense of the Mariners felt even more poetic, because Seattle opened the season by taking three of four from the defending champs, who left the Emerald City feeling about as good as a tossed salmon thudding to the pavement in Pike Place Market.
The no-name Mariners opened 13-2 before dropping to 20-21 on Friday. The star-laden Red Sox, meanwhile, started 3-9 and now sit at 20-19. Those two ships aren't simply passing in the night -- one is capsizing in the other's wake.
"We didn't play well, so we needed to get back to .500," said manager Alex Cora. "We did it without playing our best baseball, I think. We still can do better. Now the goal is to get to five over .500, and so on and so on. That's how you do it. You can't start looking at 10 or 20. It's by stages. We'll try to get to five over .500 as soon as possible and then go from there."
Cora is right that the Red Sox aren't all the way back. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Steve Pearce haven't started hitting. The offense seems to come in waves. Injuries to David Price and Nathan Eovaldi have thinned the rotation. The bullpen remains a work in progress.
Still, the Red Sox are taking care of business the old-fashioned way via the blunt object. Mitch Moreland, Rafael Devers, and Andrew Benintendi homered to start the onslaught. The Red Sox kept pouring on runs into the late innings, with even Bradley and Pearce contributing doubles.
"It seemed like we had something going in every inning," Moreland said. "Everybody did their part."
It's not just the offense, though. Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez continued a quiet run of dominance, tossing seven shutout innings and striking out five. After posting a 12.38 ERA in his first two starts, Rodriguez is at 2.78 since, and he's doing it in tantalizing fashion, by missing bats in the strike zone.
This is more like it. No one expected the Red Sox to win 108 games again, but 95-100 felt reasonable. They're suddenly that kind of team again, especially with ace Chris Sale coming off a 14-strikeout gem, Rodriguez realizing his considerable talent, and David Price pointing towards a return soon.
"We know who we are, we know how we play, and we're going to be better than this," Rodriguez guaranteed.
The Red Sox gave the rest of baseball a head start. It was the sporting thing to do. But now that they're approaching a dead sprint, the gap is closing and first place feels inevitable.
Baltimore. June 16. Book it.
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