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Davidoff: Slow-starting Bosox looking up at Yanks, Rays

Los Angeles Angels' Mike Napoli, right, heads to

Los Angeles Angels' Mike Napoli, right, heads to the dugout as Boston Red Sox's Kevin Youkilis throws his bat after striking out to end the fifth inning. (May 5, 2010) Credit: AP

BOSTON

The Red Sox, when they're home at Fenway Park, have to work particularly hard to ignore the American League East standings.

They needed only to look at the Green Monster, between the CVS ad and the W.B. Mason ad, to see that they began last night residing in fourth place in the game's toughest division.

But the panic level has subsided here in Beantown. Last night, the Red Sox came back from a four-run, first-inning hole to defeat the Angels, 11-6, completing a four-game sweep over the perennial contenders from Los Angeles of Anaheim. In doing so, they raised their record above .500, at 15-14, for the first time since their Opening Night victory over the Yankees.

Now, with the Yankees making a return visit this weekend, the Red Sox are playing more like the contender they're supposed to be. But they have some catching up to do.

"They're going to struggle at some point, too," Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis said, referring to the first-place Rays (20-7 entering last night's game at Seattle) and second-place Yankees (19-8). "They can't go the whole season like the way they are now. They'd set a record. If they do set a record, then we're never going to catch them anyway.

"At some point, they're going to struggle. It's the nature of the beast in the game. Hopefully, it's when they're playing us, so you gain more ground."

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, hanging out in the Red Sox dugout before the game, pointed out that his club went 13-14 through 27 games - the one-sixth marker of the 162-game season. In every season from 2003 (when he became the club's GM) through 2009, with the exception of 2005, the Red Sox went 13-14 during one of those 27-game segments - but later in the season.

"Getting out of the gate slow means there's no context for your slump," Epstein said. "It makes things look a lot worse than they are sometimes."

But they were bad. When the Red Sox were swept by the Orioles in a three-game series in Baltimore last weekend, Epstein - in an interview with The Boston Herald - described his team's play as "unintelligent, undisciplined, uninspired baseball. It's got to change. It either changes itself or we have to do something to change it."

Epstein said that when he spoke of "change," he didn't mean in personnel. It's nearly impossible to pull off a big trade this early in the season, and any large roster maneuver would be "symbolic," he said. Rather, he said, he was referring to the team meeting that manager Terry Francona held when the club returned home Monday.

That allowed the team to take a "collective deep breath," Epstein said, and the team spent these last four days knocking around the Angels, who eliminated them from last year's playoffs.

After early struggles, the starting pitching, most importantly, has started to perform capably.

The offense, too, has emerged, scoring a total of 36 runs in the series. David Ortiz, off to another terrible start, looms as a headache. The righthanded-hitting Mike Lowell started in the DH spot instead of Ortiz against Angels lefty Scott Kazmir last night.

"Guys kind of get to their level," Francona said. "They don't always do it as quickly or consistently as you want, but guys get to their level."

In the Red Sox's world, they have to count not only on their guys getting up but on the Yankees and/or Rays going down. Otherwise, those standings won't be getting any prettier.

New York Sports