Right where they want to be

BALTIMORE -- After No. 162, Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes was asked for a closing thought. He answered with what sounded like an opening salvo.

"We're not going to the playoffs alone, obviously,'' said Gomes, who can now claim to have been on four different teams that advanced to the postseason: the Red Sox, Athletics, Reds and Rays, all in a span of six seasons. "But how many teams can say, truly, 'We're right where we want to be'?

"Health, offensively, defensively, no questions. People who can start, people who can close, people who can bat leadoff, whatever, whatever.

"No unanswered questions. Some teams are going in with questions,'' he said.

The Sox will run out a rotation of four starters with postseason experience -- Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy. Lackey (2002) and Lester (2007) each have won the deciding game of a World Series, Lackey a Game 7.

The closer is Koji Uehara, who has allowed just one run in his past 33 appearances, led major league relievers with 44 perfect appearances, and led AL relievers with 65 scoreless outings.

The leadoff man is Jacoby Ellsbury, who led the majors in steals with 52, was caught only four times all season, and opened Sunday's 7-6 loss to the Orioles with a home run, the 10th time he has led off a game with a homer, setting a club record.

Health? Asked if his return from a 16-game layoff with a broken bone in his right foot has gone better or worse than expected, Ellsbury said: "I think it's been really better. I'm definitely really pleased, very happy. Everybody's happy, obviously.''

Shane Victorino has played much of the season with hamstring and back issues and most recently with a jammed thumb. Which is the biggest annoyance?

"Everything,'' he said. "Everybody's sore, everybody's in pain. These three, four days are going to be nice. Get some time off and let the body recoup. Hey, it's time to go, you know what I mean? That's how I look at it.''

Offense? The Sox led the majors in runs scored with 847, the only team in the majors over 800, with no letup in September. They averaged 6.48 runs and 1.56 home runs a game in the season's final month, hitting two more home runs Sunday (Ellsbury and Quintin Berry, in his first start for the Sox). The last time they averaged more runs in September was 1938. More home runs? It was 1921.

Defense? The Sox ranked fifth in the league in defensive efficiency. Their shortstop, Stephen Drew, made eight errors all season. Their second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, made five. They led the league at four positions (first base, second base, center field and right field) in a significant defensive metric, zone runs, which measures how many runs above the average a player saved his team. That includes Mike Napoli, who was projected to be a defensive liability when he made the transition from catcher to first base in the spring. Victorino was supposed to be on the downside of his career. He played a Gold Glove-caliber right field.

The whatever, whatevers? The Sox haven't lost more than three games in a row. Gomes has four pinch-hit home runs, one fewer than Hall of Famer Joe Cronin's club record. Napoli has hit three grand slams, one fewer than Babe Ruth's club record. Nine players have driven in 50 or more runs; a 10th, Will Middlebrooks, drove in 49. They succeeded on their last 39 base-stealing attempts. They wear beards. They enjoy being around each other. "I've never had this much fun in baseball,'' Lester said, "but when it's time to work, we work.''

They respect their manager, and he respects them.

"I think everybody in the organization is proud of the team that has been assembled here, the way it represented not only Boston, but certainly the Red Sox,'' said John Farrell, who, one suspects, intended to reference the team first, then the city. "There have been a lot of individual moments inside the season, but the characteristic of this team is one that's relentless. They don't give anything away, and it's been a very fun bunch to be with.''

And they've obliterated the memory of last year, and the 2011 September collapse that preceded it.

"We never talked about it,'' Ellsbury said. "All the guys in this clubhouse are very competitive and took that into offseason workouts, took that into spring training, took that into the season, but it's something we never talked about. But it's definitely very gratifying, from where we were to where we are now.''

And now the October gantlet beckons, for the first time since 2009. "Survival,'' David Ortiz said.

This team is built to survive, said Victorino, who won a World Series more recently than anyone else on the roster, having been with the Phillies in 2008. And it's built to win.

"Absolutely,'' he said. "You look at what we've done. The regular season is a whole different animal, but it attests to what we've done. We haven't lost four in a row all season. I'm not saying it can't happen -- it can -- but that, to me, says a lot about what we can do in a [short] series. And overall, the kind of attitude, the kind of baseball we play as a team.

"As I've always said, it's always the right team playing the right baseball at the right time. There will be times things don't go your way, there's going to be some luck involved, there are going to be plays you look back on and say, 'Damn, that was a turning point.' For us, it's minimizing damage, minimizing mistakes, and it also all comes down to pitching. Our team is built on that.''

The Sox will take Monday off, then assemble again on Tuesday for three days of workouts.

"We've got every single piece in place,'' Victorino said, "but at the end of the day, we've got to do it. I can sit here all day and talk about how good we are, how we're going to be going down Boylston Street on those duck boats. That's the goal. But we've got to do it.''