BOSTON -- The resurgence actually started before the All-Star break, when the Red Sox followed their London letdown by taking five out of six against the Blue Jays and Tigers.
But the symbolic start to what they hope will be their dramatic rebirth was Friday night at Fenway Park, when the second half opened with a World Series rematch against the Dodgers, in which Boston prevailed, 8-1.
For this to be a stretch run to remember, the Red Sox need to pitch better -- a lot better -- than they did in the first half.
Eduardo Rodriguez did just that for the defending champs, stifling MLB’s winningest team to become the Red Sox’s first 10-game winner this season.
“Happy we came out this way,” said Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts. “A lot of guys starting it off, [Rafael] Devers, [Christian] Vazquez. I think Eddie pitched a good game. It seemed like he settled in real nice as the game went on and it was a much-needed win and way to start the second half.”
Over seven impressive innings, Rodriguez generated a career-high 22 swings and misses. Half of them came on changeups, as L.A. swung through 11 of the 33 that Rodriguez threw. He allowed five hits and a run, walking two and matching a season high for strikeouts with 10.
“I mean, first inning, I didn’t have that feeling for my changeup and I had trouble with it, but after that it was perfect and where I wanted all the time,” Rodriguez said. “And it worked pretty good today with the fastball, cutter. Everything was working good after the first inning.”
To give you an idea of what type of X-factor Rodriguez is for the Sox, consider they are 10-0 this season when he pitches at least six innings, and 42-11 in his career. In a rotation that also includes Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello, it will be hard for Rodriguez to emerge as the front man. But his innings -- a staff-leading 109 2/3 this season -- are vital.
“I mean, that’s something that I’ve been seeing from Sale, Porc, DP, I’ve been seeing that since I got here, them doing that,” Rodriguez said. “And that’s my goal now: to go out there and be able to go seven innings.”
If the Sox can get back to who they thought they would be on the mound, everything could change quickly. Even with the victory, manager Alex Cora’s squad is 18-25 against teams with winning records. That makes this weekend against the Dodgers one to watch closely. And Friday certainly represented a strong start, as Boston (50-41) got to nine games above .500 for the first time this season.
“We have to come out aggressive, because we know these guys are one of the best teams in the game,” Bogaerts said. “Obviously they’re going to come here and try to beat us pretty bad for last year. I think it was a good way to start.”
The offense, which has been prolific of late, continued to do its thing. Four days off for the break did nothing to cool off Devers. The sweet-swinging third baseman smashed a solo homer over the Green Monster in the bottom of the first and later added an RBI double -- again to the opposite field.
By the seventh inning, after a one-hour rain delay, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had seen enough of Devers and ordered up an intentional walk. That didn’t work either, as Bogaerts followed with a three-run shot that just cleared the Monster to turn the game into a rout.
“As far as tone-setter, I don’t know. That was a good baseball game all around,” said Cora. “We did a good job putting in at-bats, running the bases well and playing good defense. And obviously Eddie was outstanding on the mound.”
The baton will be passed to Sale for Saturday night’s game, and he is perhaps the player to watch for the Sox the rest of the way after his inconsistent start.
And if the Red Sox can build momentum with their pitching staff, a lot of very good things could start happening for a team that trails by nine games in the American League East, but just one in the Wild Card standings.