Sox poised to seize summer spotlight

BOSTON -- It's the Fourth of July, but we're still talking about hockey?

The Boston Red Sox sit in first place in the American League East, 4½ games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles after an 8-2 win over the San Diego Padres on Independence Day, sweeping the three-game interleague series. The Sox lead the majors in wins with 53 and sit a season-high 19 games over .500 (53-34) after their final home game before the All-Star break. Following the game, they boarded buses for the airport to head out on a 10-game West Coast swing that will take them to the All-Star break.

And yet Tyler Seguin, whom the Bruins traded to the Dallas Stars on Thursday, was the buzz about town for most of the holiday afternoon. The Red Sox, even though they finished their final homestand before the All-Star break at 8-1, once again found themselves as a bit of an afterthought in Boston sports.

But a good one at that.

"These fans are resilient, they went 86 years without a World Series, so I think they know we've got their back like they've got our back," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said Thursday. "Regardless if we're from Florida, California, wherever, when you're here, this is our city. This is where we live."

They have repaid the faithful with their efforts at home, as well.

The Red Sox wrapped up their pre-All-Star home schedule at 31-16. During that 47-game span, Red Sox pitchers have posted a 3.85 team earned run average, while the bats have hit at a .293 clip. Their run differential is a plus-44 at Fenway this year.

The 31 wins at home before the All-Star break marks the third time in the past decade the Red Sox have totaled more than 30 wins before the midsummer hiatus. They last hit 31 wins (in 45 games) in 2009. Their best pre-All-Star home showing of the past decade came in 2008, when they were 36-11.

Of course, players put little stock in the numbers underscoring their success.

"It'll be a clean slate tomorrow," said Jonny Gomes, who ended Wednesday night's win with his second walk-off home run of the season. "We'll turn the clocks back a few hours and see how it goes on the West Coast."

The Red Sox next play at home on July 19, the first game in a three-game weekend series against the New York Yankees.

It's a safe bet that, by then, the Red Sox and their old foes will have moved to the forefront of conversation -- finally.

"It is still Boston," Red Sox first baseman/outfielder du jour Mike Carp confirmed before the game.

"I still think fans are following us," he added. "But it's shifting to summertime, it's baseball time, now. We're sitting in first place and it should be a fun ride the rest of the way."

Carp spoke those words in the Red Sox clubhouse before Thursday's matinee win. Tom Petty's "Last Dance with Mary Jane" was playing, infusing the energy of a holiday cookout into a room that would have otherwise been more subdued, given the time of first pitch following a late-night, walk-off win Wednesday.

"I feel summer creepin' in," Petty crooned over the sound system.

But this town isn't tired.

And it certainly won't sleep on the Red Sox, who are positioned to make a pennant run after a surprising first half.