Sports column by Andy Kirkaldy: No matter what’s next, Red Sox have done plenty

I will readily admit to being grumpy when Jose Lobaton’s home run sailed over the fence in Tampa Bay’s miserable excuse for a baseball park on Monday night.
It would have been great to see the Boston Red Sox sweep the Rays and get plenty of rest before the American League Championship Series, or ALCS (an abbreviation that sounds uncomfortably like a disease).
But it wasn’t meant to be, and I just clicked off the TV before Lobaton lumbered all the way around the bases, and I went to bed.
Still, unlike some past years after Sox losses, it wasn’t that hard to get to sleep. Considering my wife still remembers the look on my face when the ball went between Buckner’s legs in 1986 (we talked about that moment last week; my fairer half said she thought I was going to vomit), the ability to reach dreamland after a painful Sox loss represented real progress.
It’s just going to be hard to be too upset with however things turn out this year.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see the Sox run the table and win their third World Series of the millennium, a feat that would make them the first Major League team to do so.
But this year has already been exceptional, and the team has been both likeable and admirable.
The admirable started right after the Boston Marathon, when the team in a low-key and by all appearances sincere manner reached out and honored victims of and responders to the tragedy. And it continued right through the ceremony before the opening of the current series against the Rays, an event even the New York Daily News said was well handled and sensitive. In between, a Sox jersey with the B Strong logo and Boston’s 617 area code has traveled everywhere with the team all season and hangs in the dugout during every game.
The likeable? Where do you start? The team has grown ridiculous beards in solidarity with one another, and they tug on the growth of teammates who hit homers. Their celebrations are universal and genuine. They support one another after setbacks.
After the character questions of 2011 and 2012, management considered integrity and personality in its offseason signings, bringing in players like Jonny Gomes, Koji Uehara and Shane Victorino who are not only productive, but also help create a more positive, enjoyable atmosphere.
The new manager, John Farrell, and his coaches work together and communicate well with each other and the players. Farrell commands respect with his pitchers, who have for the most part exceeded expectations.
The Sox won a dozen games in walk-off fashion, some dramatically.
To cite a few: They were down by five runs entering the ninth at Seattle in August and won. In July, Gomes hit a pinch-hit homer in the ninth as the Sox beat the Padres, 2-1. In June, Gomes drilled a two-run homer in the ninth to beat Toronto, 3-1. In June, David Ortiz launched a three-run homer in the ninth to beat Texas, 6-3. In May, the Sox scored four in the ninth to beat Cleveland, 6-5, with a Jacoby Ellsbury double the final blow.
They have shrugged off injuries, doubters, challenges — those Rays were within a half-game in early September — and they have persevered.
The Sox are certainly capable of advancing to and winning the World Series, of steamrolling all in their path. For sure, they have question marks, notably the bullpen, Buchholz’ arm strength after his many months off, and Lackey’s declining results in September and October. But other teams have their issues, too. The bottoms of Oakland’s and Detroit’s orders don’t scare anybody, for example, nor do the National League batting lineups.
But maybe another team will simply outplay the Sox, or another obscure, second-string catcher like Lobaton will crash their party with a stunning homer.
Still, after what the Sox have done in a season that began with uncertain expectations and has already brought so much to enjoy, it’s hard not to conclude that they — and their fans — are just playing with house money at this point.

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