BOSTON — If keeping most of the 2017 Red Sox together presented a risk because of the joyless moments the group too often discovered, it also presented a potential gain.
The Red Sox clubhouse — or more specifically, the team's chemistry — was always a layered matter. The Sox a year ago were 15-3 in extra innings. If you want to fall into a rabbit hole discussing how much of those wins are owed to skill or good fortune, you can. But what you cannot discount is the power of belief: even if the Sox are not truly gifted when it comes to winning those long, tiring games, there’s no arguing that repeated, favorable results beget confidence. (Here’s to believing that, indeed, some skill is involved as well.)
“I’m sure it does,” Mookie Betts said Thursday when asked if there’s a cumulative effect of all the longwinded W’s. “It just seems like it’s not a good game unless we play extras. Once we get into extras, we’ve been here 50 million times. Might as well keep doing it.”
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Thursday’s frosty, swirling winds at Fenway Park’s home opener seemed pointed straight to a Sox loss. The Sox looked lost all day.
Well, almost all day. A ninth-inning rally for a pair of runs brought about a tie. Another rally three innings later led to a second straight win in extra innings. Hanley Ramirez, as he did Tuesday when the Sox last played, broke the deadlock. A long single to right field banked Thursday’s 3-2 victory over the Rays.
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The Rays are a competitive eyesore. So are the Marlins, whom Ramirez and the Sox swept in a two-game series this week. Everyone knows that.
But for all the talk of change amongst the 2017 Red Sox, and the need for change and the possibility, this is where continuity can be beneficial. Where it appears continuity has already shone through for the 2018 Sox, who are now 6-1.
“I told you guys earlier, in spring training, we’re stronger, we learned from the past,” Ramirez said.
It doesn’t hurt that Ramirez is healthy and seemingly more focused, helped by manager Alex Cora and the background incentive of a contract year. He can still be a tremendous hitter and he’s showing it. Chemistry doesn't make up for bad shoulders.
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On a whole, the Sox have yet to reach their hitting potential. The lineup is moving in the direction Cora hoped for in terms of pitch selection, but they’re ultimately scratching and clawing.
In that way, they resemble the 2017 team as well. J.D. Martinez’s presence, plus expected rebounds from others, are meant to make the offense more power-centric. Xander Bogaerts, who doubled again Thursday — plating the game-tying run in the ninth inning with a long liner that he thought was going to hit high off the Monster and almost became an amazing catch by Mallex Smith — is carrying his weight. Martinez and some others aren’t there yet.
"It’s time,” Martinez said Thursday. “That’s how it is with me every year. I usually don’t start off really good. It always takes me a little bit to get going but I’m kind of used to that. It’s just getting at-bats, getting your feet underneath you."
A year ago, it made sense to keep telling yourself in the first couple months, "the Sox will eventually show their power." After the power never came in 2017, it doesn’t make sense to say that for quite as long this year. But it is still incredibly early. Repeat the mantra for now: it will come.
Until it does — assuming it does — the Sox can feel good about the fact they have bonds and experiences from a year ago that are still serving them well. At the very least, they don't hurt.