Optimism abounds as Sox gain steam

BOSTON -- Unless the Boston Red Sox become mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, every player in the clubhouse believes there's plenty of baseball remaining to climb back into the pennant race.

With the help of Mike Napoli's go-ahead solo home run in the sixth inning, the Red Sox defeated the Kansas City Royals 2-1 on Saturday night at Fenway Park. Boston has won six of its past seven games, and the Red Sox are showing signs of life as they attempt to crawl out of the AL East basement.

In the first half of the season, the Red Sox lost 20 one-run games, which matched the New York Mets for most in the majors. Since returning from the All-Star break, Boston has won back-to-back one-run games, which is a good sign for manager John Farrell.

"We've had our fair share of one-run games, let's be honest," Farrell said. "Of late, we've won a number of them here in Fenway -- whether it's the walk-off variety or shutting things down with Koji [Uehara] coming into the ninth inning. I don't necessarily buy into the adage that all things even out because blind fate, sometimes you're expecting something good to happen. I think, once again, we pitched extremely well. Andrew Miller, Koji in behind [starter] Rubby [De La Rosa]. When you can limit the opposition to one run, you get a chance to make that hold up."

Boston had the pitching, but it needed Napoli's 11th homer of the season to help seal the victory.

"I got into a hitter's count, 3-1, just trying to hit something hard from there. Got a pitch up to handle, then drove it," Napoli said.

He had no doubt it was gone when he barreled up the ball.

"I hit it pretty good, with that wall right there; yeah, I knew when I hit it," he said.

Despite all the one-run losses in the first half, the Red Sox believe that trend will vanish in the second half.

"We're going out and playing the same way, playing hard," Napoli said. "We won a couple one-run ballgames; hadn't won too many of those in the first half. We're just going out there and trying to execute. Hopefully, things start turning our way."

On the mound, Red Sox starter Rubby De La Rosa held up his end. The right-hander worked seven solid innings and allowed only one run on five hits with four walks and two strikeouts. He tossed 104 pitches (61 strikes) to earn his third win of the season.

When he did pitch his way into trouble, he found a way to work himself out of a few jams. Kansas City left seven runners on base, part of which was due to Boston's defense, but De La Rosa settled down when he had to.

"He was at his best with men on base tonight," Farrell said. "May have issued a couple more walks than we've seen, particularly here in Fenway, which he's been outstanding anytime he's taken the mound here at home. Even in a couple of situations where we gave an extra base runner he shut it down and pitched with a lot of poise tonight once again."

All three of De La Rosa's wins have come at Fenway Park this season. He appears to thrive in this environment and channels that emotion in a positive manner. After Saturday's win, he now owns a 1.38 ERA when pitching at Fenway and has allowed no more than one run in three of his four starts at home.

"It's fun to pitch here. I'm comfortable here," De La Rosa said. "Everything works. I like the mound here. I like the fans, too. I feel comfortable here."

Part of that comfort zone comes with the fact fellow prospect Christian Vazquez is catching. The two have worked together at Triple-A Pawtucket, and now that familiarity is evident at the big league level, too.

"I trust him and he trusts me," Vazquez said. "We have a lot of confidence with each other. We've known each other a long time and we can work together."

Speaking of a strong battery, pitcher Jon Lester and catcher David Ross will attempt to help Boston complete the sweep of the Royals on Sunday afternoon (1:35) at Fenway. Lester enters his 20th start of the season with a 9-7 record and a 2.65 ERA. Boston's southpaw has held the Royals to no more than one earned run in eight of his 10 career starts against Kansas City, including his no-hitter on May 19, 2008.

In his past five starts, Lester is 2-0 with a 0.97 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 37 innings of work. It's safe to say he's dialed in as he makes his first start of the second half of the season.

When Lester toes the rubber on Sunday, he'll need help. During the Sox's current run of success, everyone has contributed, which has been a mirror image of 2013. For them to somehow climb back into the AL East race, the Sox will need more of that consistency.

"That's what we did last year," Napoli said. "That's how you win ballgames, it can't be one guy. Everyone is going to have to contribute. We all know that. We're going to take it one day, one game at a time."