BOSTON -- There is plenty of room on the Red Sox bandwagon. Jump on board.
The nightmarish start to the season has been mitigated to some degree over the last three days, with the Red Sox fashioning a three-game winning streak at the expense of the Toronto Blue Jays.
OK, so Boston’s record still is only 5-10, and the Sox are five games behind the New York Yankees in the loss column in the American League East.
But that sure looks a whole lot more promising than the 2-10 mark the team was saddled with after Friday night’s loss.
And one of the most promising aspects of this modest streak is that the pitching staff has turned in three quality performances in a row.
On Monday, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was lit up for seven runs on eight hits in only two-plus innings in his previous outing, was uncharacteristically efficient on the mound.
The righthander blanked Toronto on one hit over seven innings, a seeing-eye ground single up the middle by Jose Bautista in the first inning. He threw only 89 pitches, an uncommonly low total for the often maddening Dice-K. In the fifth and sixth innings, for instance, he threw a total of only 14 pitches.
Matsuzaka walked one and fanned three, retiring the final 16 batters he faced, most of them on lazy fly balls.
So, on the heels of Josh Beckett’s one-run, seven-inning outing on Saturday and Jon Lester’s one-run, six-inning performance on Sunday, the last three Red Sox starters have gone 3-0 with a microscopic 0.90 earned-run average, sparking the winning streak.
The offense, meanwhile, also has started to heat up, led by white-hot Jed Lowrie, who went 4 for 5 with four RBIs Monday, including a two-run homer. Lowrie has hit in seven straight games at a .625 clip (15 for 24) with two homers, nine RBIs.
Kevin Youkilis got over the Mendoza line, coming within an inch or two of a pair of homers. He clouted one drive off the top of the bullpen fence in right-center, with the ball bouncing back for a double. Even beleaguered Carl Crawford got a hit, bashing one off the wall for an RBI double in the sixth, giving the Sox an 8-0 cushion.
So things aren’t quite as bleak for the Sox as they were a few days ago as Boston finished its homestand with a 5-4 record and now heads out West for the start of a nine-game trip Tuesday night in Oakland.
WESTWARD, HO!: No one can be looking forward to leaving Fenway Park and heading across the country for the second road Red Sox trip more than Crawford.
The left fielder, whose offensive struggles have been well documented, once again was hearing boos from the fans, who are well aware the team is not yet getting any kind of return to its seven-year, $142-million investment.
Manager Terry Francona dropped him down to seventh in the lineup for Monday’s game. But when you’re scuffling you always seem to be batting in key situations.
So it was with Crawford in his first two at-bats. In the first inning, with two runs already in and runners at first and third s loaded with two outs, Crawford was late on a couple of fastballs before flying out to shallow left, stranding two.
In the third, Crawford came to the plate with a run in and runners at first and second with none out. He was so anxious he was jumping at pitches, leading to a front-foot, one-handed swing that produced a very soft popup to second base.
Even in the field Crawford, a Gold Glove winner, is looking shaky. And while that has had more to do with strong swirling winds and a bright sun than Crawford’s abilities, several catches were turned into adventures.
He finally got some wood on the ball in the fifth, flying out to the warning track in left, and he snapped an 0-for-15 drought with a run-scoring wall double in the sixth, no doubt causing him to breathe a sigh of relief as the fans cheered him as he stood on second base. He grounded out in the eighth.
THE SHIFT: Generally speaking, when David Ortiz bats, the opposition swings its second baseman way over into the hole on the right side. And most often, the second baseman will play on the outfield grass for Ortiz.
But when Ortiz came to the plate with a runner at second and none out in the third, Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill was swung over only a little toward the hole, but not stationed in the hole because the Red Sox had a runner at second base.
That positioning wound up benefitting the Red Sox because Ortiz pulled a routine bouncer into the hole, not particularly hard hit, but placed nicely, eluding Hill’s dive and rolling into right field for an RBI single that put Boston on top, 3-0.
In the sixth, the Jays stationed Hill on the right-field grass, moving third baseman Jayson Nix into the second baseman’s customary spot. Ortiz hit a bouncer to the hole that was gobbled up by Nix for the out.
FOUND LACKING SO FAR: The Red Sox left Fenway Park after Monday’s game for the West Coast, where they will open a nine-game trip in Oakland Tuesday night.
John Lackey, who was skipped in the rotation, will start the opener on the journey. He’ll be pitching on 10 days rest, and lugging an unsightly earned-run average -- 15.58 -- with him to the mound. Thanks to the Sox’ offense he is 1-1, but he has been scorched for 17 hits and 15 earned runs in only 8 2/3 innings, covering his two starts.
Oakland, which leads the league with a 2.59 E.R.A., will counter with left-hander Brett Anderson (0-1, 2.29).