BOSTON -- They’re in, they’re real, they will be playing deep into October.
Those are sentiments many have been reluctant to utter, the memory of 2011 still too fresh to ignore.
Purge those thoughts, Boston Red Sox fans. The Soggy Bottom Boys have met every challenge, answered every question, spiked every doubt.
They went to Los Angeles and took two out of three from the hottest team on the planet, the Dodgers. They came back home to Boston, knocked the Orioles out of the division race, swept three from the White Sox, and now have taken two of three from the Tigers, who had designs on snagging the league’s best record but leave town 2½ games behind the Red Sox.
One night after beating the Tigers in as gripping a pitchers’ duel as two contenders can deliver in September, the Sox exploded Wednesday night for eight home runs -- matching the club record set July 4, 1977 -- in a 20-4 thrashing of the Tigers. The 20 runs were a season high for the Sox, and six more runs than the Tigers had given up in a game in 2013.
History? David Ortiz doubled in the sixth inning for the 2,000th hit of his career, bookended by two monster home runs, the last serenaded by the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey" and a raucous standing ovation for Big Papi, who bounded out of the dugout for an encore of the helmet waving he did from second base on his double.
More history? Mike Napoli hit home run No. 8, following, in order: Stephen Drew (second inning), Jacoby Ellsbury (third), Ortiz (fourth), Will Middlebrooks (sixth), Daniel Nava (sixth), Ryan Lavarnway (seventh), Ortiz again (seventh). Seven different players went deep, most ever for the Sox in a single game.
The Sox hit 3,168 feet worth of home runs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s two-thirds of a mile.
Timely? Middlebrooks, one night after beating Tigers ace Max Scherzer with a two-run single, busted this one open with a grand slam in the sixth inning, his first slam since connecting for his first big-league home run on May 6, 2012. Middlebrooks hit the second pitch thrown by Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque, who had inherited a bases-loaded, no-out jam right after starter Rick Porcello had walked in a run to give the Sox and Ryan Dempster a 6-4 lead.
Variety? Drew and Ellsbury hit home runs just inside the Pesky Pole. Ortiz’s home runs cleared the bullpens. Middlebrooks’ slam landed on Lansdowne Street. Lavarnway’s home run required an umpires’ review after it just cleared the top of the Monster. Nava’s gave Sox fans a heart attack, as closer Koji Uehara tried to make a leaping catch of it in the Sox pen. Napoli’s went the opposite way.
Best moment, non-home run division: Shane Victorino made a leaping catch of Austin Jackson’s fly ball at the right-field foul line, tumbled into the stands, held onto the ball and retrieved a spectator’s cellphone that had fallen onto the field.
The Sox have 21 games left. They are 84-57, 27 games over .500 for the first time this season. Their lead over the Rays in the AL East was six games, pending the outcome of Tampa Bay’s game in Anaheim against the Angels later Wednesday night.
Since the wild card was added to postseason play in 1995, only five teams that led their divisions by 5 ½ games or more in September failed to win the division: the 2012 Rangers, who made the playoffs as a wild card; the 2009 Tigers, who led by 5½ games with 19 to play but fell to the Twins (extenuating circumstances being Miguel Cabrera’s arrest); the 2007 Mets; the 2006 Tigers, who went to the World Series as a wild card; and the ’95 Angels.
The Soggy Bottom Boys won’t be joining this list. Book it.