BOSTON -- John Farrell could use a lot of adjectives to describe the 2013 Boston Red Sox. "Competitive" and "tightly-knit" are two that quickly spring to mind. If the Boston manager wanted to focus less on baseball and more on aesthetics, he might opt for "pine tar-laden" or "questionably-groomed." But Farrell has seen enough of this team in action since spring training that one particular description trumps them all.
"The one word that we've continually tried to drive home is the word 'relentless,'" Farrell said Saturday. "And I think that's played out whether it's in a given game, a given series or over the course of the season. Our guys love the attention to detail."
The Red Sox also love grinding opposing teams into submission, and have a greedy side to them that never leaves them satisfied. That communal mindset has left them nine innings and another workmanlike performance away from taking the next step toward their ultimate goal.
The Red Sox expected to face a major test in the American League Division Series against Tampa Bay, a pitching-rich club with a strong AL East pedigree and no fear of Boston's superior payroll and big-market cachet. But the first two games of the series have left the Rays' pitchers dispirited and the odds heavily weighted toward a quick finish and a sad end to the season in St. Petersburg, Fla.
A day after Wil Myers' bizarre outfield gaffe catapulted Boston to a 12-2 romp at Fenway, the Red Sox had to weather some anxious moments. But they simply had too many weapons at their disposal. Jacoby Ellsbury singled three times and scored three runs, and David Ortiz clubbed a pair of home runs off David Price. Dustin Pedroia drove in three runs and started two late-inning double plays to help the Boston bullpen escape jams, and the Red Sox beat the Rays 7-4 to take a 2-0 series lead into Game 3 Monday at Tropicana Field.
The Red Sox have hit .352 as a team and outscored the Rays 19-6 in the first two games of the series, thanks in large part to a deep and balanced lineup. In Game 1, all nine players in the Boston batting order hit safely and scored a run. The Red Sox joined the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals and the 1936 Yankees of Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio as the only three teams to achieve the feat.
Boston's assembly line offense continued to do its thing in Game 2. Eight of the nine Red Sox position player starters hit safely, and first baseman Mike Napoli, the only starter without a knock, went 0-for-2 with two walks.
Media eye-rolling typically ensues when baseball players talk about "total team efforts" and hitters picking up teammates who failed to produce in the spot before them in the lineup. But the Red Sox are living the concept every day.
Catcher David Ross, who doubled and scored a run out of the No. 9 spot Saturday, smiled when asked how challenging the Boston batting order is to navigate. The Red Sox have speed and dynamism in the 1-2 spots with Ellsbury and Shane Victorino, and things just get tougher from there.
"I'm just glad I'm a catcher on this team and I don't have to figure out how to pitch to this lineup," Ross said. "You've got two speedsters at the top who can steal bags and both have power. You've got a 3-hole hitter in Dustin Pedroia who has a Rookie of the Year, an MVP and a World Series [ring].
"Then you've got David Ortiz, who's one of the best left-handed hitters in the game and may be a Hall of Famer. Then you follow up with Mike Napoli, who has 23 homers and seems to go 3-2 in every count. Then you've got Jonny Gomes against a lefty or Daniel Nava, who hit .300. Will Middlebrooks is hitting ninth and he missed two months of the season and has 17 jacks. Where does it stop?"
When the Red Sox do this much damage against Price, you know they're in sync. The 2012 AL Cy Young Award pitcher threw a complete game gem against Texas on Monday to save the Rays' season, and he entered Saturday's game with a 10-6 record and a 2.93 ERA against Boston. But any hopes that Price might duplicate his sensational effort in Arlington quickly vanished when the Red Sox dinged him for four runs in the first three innings.
Price, typically so composed in interviews, seemed slightly irritated by the sequence of events. In the eighth inning, he was upset when he thought Ortiz stood and admired his second home run just a little too long.
"They had some broken-bat singles and broken-bat doubles and 305-foot fly balls go for doubles and triples," Price said. "That's part of pitching in this park. They played extremely well and tonight just wasn't my night.
"Absolutely, I'm disappointed. I don't know what my stat line was, but I know I gave up quite a few earned runs. It stinks, especially in the postseason when you want to go out there and pitch your best. You're always as good as your last game, and tonight I wasn't very good. Honestly, I thought I was pretty good tonight but that team just beat me. It's a very good team. I've said that for quite a while now."
Between the exhaustive scouting reports and the constant barrage of front-line pitching, the postseason provides a lot of challenges to a lineup. But the Red Sox's body of work during the regular season suggests they're up to the task. They scored a league-leading 853 runs this season -- 57 more than the second-place Detroit Tigers. The Sox also ranked at or near the top in the AL in hits, doubles, triples, homers and stolen bases, and were one of the most patient teams in the game. According to Fan Graphs, they swung at only 28.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. Only the Rays and Indians swung at fewer.
Even perceived weaknesses and mismatches have worked in Boston's favor in the first two games of the series. Ortiz went homerless in 37 at-bats against Price before taking Tampa's ace deep twice Saturday. Boston shortstop Stephen Drew, who hit .196 against lefty pitching during the regular season, contributed a big RBI triple against Price.
Next on Boston's hit list: Alex Cobb, who's been stellar with a 5-1 record and a 2.41 ERA since the All-Star Game. He extended the Rays' season with 6 2/3 shutout innings against Cleveland in the wild-card game, and now he'll be pitching against Clay Buchholz amid the comfortable environs of home in Monday's Game 3. If the Rays can get the job done, they'll send Jeremy Hellickson to the mound against Jake Peavy in Game 4 on Tuesday.
Although it's premature to label this series over, manager Joe Maddon's Rays will have to start playing a tighter brand of baseball and produce some hits in the clutch very quickly if they want to make this matchup more than a walkover. If Game 3 plays out like the last two, Cobb might need a sympathy card to go along with that scouting report.
"Matt Moore is a heck of a pitcher," Gomes said. "David Price is a heck of a pitcher, but we've got the best offense. That showed tonight and last night."
Farrell prefers the word "relentless" to describe the Red Sox. So what word would Gomes use to characterize the Boston lineup?
"I'd say good," Gomes said. "These guys are good, man."