While in the metaphysical sense the Sox seem to have improved just by fleeing the Left Coast, in the strictly reality-based scheme of things, there have been two key factors in the series against the Orioles: Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, or as Surviving Grady likes to call them, Ellsbury n' Elf.
They've been a one-two rookie punch, kicking ass and taking names from their otherwise separate spheres on the field, since last year's World Series. This series against the Baltimore Orioles has seen them team up once again to fight crime, have high OBPs, and come back from this road trip at .500 after all.
Ellsbury has mainly been doing it with an insanely high OPS (1.007) over the last seven games, hitting .364/.462/.545. He's 8th in the AL with a .389 OBP. But never mind the rate at which he gets on base, what he's really bringing to the table is his work once he gets there. He was caught stealing once over the weekend, but in his last seven games he's successfully stolen 8 times, which means you can almost literally add one base for every base he gets. He's also leading the team and third in the AL with 41 runs scored.
I'll never get tired of watching him run. In the fourth inning yesterday, he laid down a bunt on the first pitch Brian Burres threw, and by the time the newly svelte Kevin Millar had gotten to it about ten feet from first base, Ellsbury had traversed most of the 90 feet toward the bag, kicking up clouds of chalk on the baseline with each precise step. He'd only taken about three of those steps before I was saying, of Millar, "No chance."
Pedroia's bat has gone somewhat limp, like many of his teammates over the last seven games, where he's hitting .185/.214/.333. His superpower in this series against the Orioles has been defense--he's a 5' 7" one-man Iron Curtain on the right side of the infield. Yesterday, Pedroia also made the highlight reel with a diving, scrambling putout from one knee in the sixth inning. "If he can get to it," was Remy's conclusion watching him vacuum up grounders at second for another night, "You're out."
In addition to his own fielding prowess, this series his tandem with Julio Lugo has been greater than the sum of its parts. Saturday night, Lugo's midair feed to Pedroia ended the game and a threat against Papelbon, who couldn't seem to locate the plate.
Pedroia also had his own adventures on the basepaths. During the Sox rally in the third inning, Pedroia coasted into third on his stomach on a Kevin Youkilis single, flinging himself with such abandon over the ground that he actually spun about 180 degrees before washing up on third base. Sometimes when he's flopping himself around as baseman or baserunner, I get worried that he's going to break himself one of these days. Most of the time, though, I just figure playing with abandon is what's gotten him here, and it's just too fun to watch.
I'd also like to thank David Aardsma, somewhat belatedly, for his appearance Saturday, and for also helping the Sox buck recent trends by coming out of the bullpen and not outright sucking. Continued acknowledgment is also due Manny Ramirez, whose swing is truly sweet right now with the "500" pressure off. He hit his 501st last night, but I was even more impressed with the hit he laced to left field for the go-ahead run in the top of the third inning. The swing and connection with the ball were as smooth and automatic as Jacoby's steps toward first base.
Meanwhile, with Manny hitting so well, the Sox have apparently decided to save Big Papi for later, and have sent him on vacation. At least, that's what I'm telling myself right now. Vacation. Big Papi is on vacation.