Reaching .500 wasn't exactly the Red Sox's goal coming into a season in which they were favored by many to win the American League pennant. But after their stunning 2-10 start to the season, manager Terry Francona admitted to some satisfaction after their 7-5 win over the Yankees Sunday night at the Stadium put Boston at 20-20.
"Actually, it feels good now,'' said Francona, who downplayed that objective before the game. "It's not really what our goal is, but we're making strides. We played a good series.''
What could be better than sweeping the Yankees in New York to reach level ground? Leave it to the Bard, as in reliever Daniel Bard, to crystallize what the Red Sox were feeling after climbing to within one game of the Yankees and three of first-place Tampa Bay in the AL East.
"I was told a week ago the Yankees were the best team in baseball,'' Bard said, "so I guess you have to feel pretty good about this . . . We're definitely capable of winning 95 games this year.''
Although Jonathan Papelbon got the save, it was Bard who came on in the seventh inning after the Yankees pushed a run across to cut Boston's lead to 6-5. With Alex Rodriguez on second, Bard ultimately walked Robinson Cano intentionally and struck out Nick Swisher to end the threat. Bard also retired three straight batters after walking pinch hitter Jorge Posada to start the eighth, but the Swisher at-bat was the key.
"I felt good coming out of the gate,'' Bard said. "I executed a lot of good pitches, even to Cano. I like coming in with men on base because it forces you to lock in right away.''
Boston starter Jon Lester fell behind 4-1 largely because of a solo home run by Andruw Jones to lead off the second and a two-run homer by Curtis Granderson later in the inning. But in the top of the third, Kevin Youkilis tied the score with a three-run homer off Freddy Garcia. Lester settled down, leaving the game after six innings with a 5-4 lead and coming away with the win.
"The offense did a great job of picking me up,'' Lester said. "I tried to ruin a good offensive night for us, but [the Yankees] had a big inning and then we had a big inning. It was huge. It changes the momentum of the game.
"To be honest, I didn't have a feel for the game. I didn't have a comfort level. There was no flow. I started throwing more changeups, and I had to battle through. That's big as a pitcher to not have your best stuff and come out with a win.''
Suddenly, that awful 2-10 start seems like a mere footnote to a season that is just beginning. "I don't think one person in this locker room doubted us or worried,'' Lester said. "Everyone knows how good this team is.''
Especially the Yankees.