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Opinion: Can’t help but like this Red Sox team

04.17.13 at 8:32 am ET

I like this Red Sox team.

Maybe that’s unpopular and maybe I’m shortchanging the powerful ugliness of the previous year-plus. Or maybe that’s an obvious point and I’m just overreacting to the 9-4 start. But I don’t care.

I like this team.

I like that the Sox removed the bad apples from the bunch. Yes, it was helpful that Magic Johnson’s Venture Capital Firm team was willing to pick up the tab for the necessary bloodletting. But credit Ben Cherington and his staff for finding the right guys to replace the lost talent.

And the right manager, too.

If nothing else, John Farrell (and Juan Nieves) seem to have the co-aces on the right track. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have a combined ERA of 0.88. Every time they take the mound, there is legitimate reason for confidence. The team has yet to lose one of their starts.

I like that the new guys have contributed to wins. Shane Victorino had a huge Opening Day and added a walk-off hit against Tampa. Mike Napoli added a walk-off two days later and put the series opener in Cleveland out of reach with his third double in as many at-bats. Ryan Dempster should have two wins already.

I like that the lineup has speed and OBP at the top, power in the middle, and a bottom third with promise. It’s well-balanced and multifaceted. It’s helped the Sox win with home runs one night, walks the next. One day it’s defense, the next day it’s aggressive baserunning. It should serve them well as the schedule throws its numerous challenges at them throughout the season.

I like that the bullpen is deep with a slew of different weapons.

All of those components make the team fun to watch and should lead to wins. But the reason to really like this team goes beyond that.

I like that this team likes itself. You can see it on the face of Jacoby Ellsbury, who finally is running wild on the field and smiling again in the clubhouse. It’s obvious when the players joyously tackled each other after their second walk-off win in three days. It’s apparent when they blast music before a game or support each other after a (so far rare) loss.

And yes, you can tell it’s different in the way they handled the Copley Square bombing. Joe Castiglione told us the team was very quiet on Monday’s flight to Cleveland as players learned of what had unfolded. Dustin Pedroia said the players all went out to dinner together when they landed — a good sign on any day but even better in the midst of tragedy.

It continued on Tuesday when the players took a pregame picture (shown above) together in the clubhouse alongside a banner that displayed the Red Sox logo over the word “Strong.”

A small gesture to some, but to those that remember how last year’s group failed to show at Johnny Pesky’s funeral let alone how the miserable 2001 team couldn’t come together to properly honor the victims of Sept. 11, it said a lot.

It continued in the dugout, where a jersey with the number 617 (representing Boston’s area code) and the words “Boston Strong” hung as a symbol of support.

The jersey is nice, but as Farrell explained, the story behind it is better.

‘€œThere was talk before the game in the clubhouse,” he said. “Talk of how guys could possibly reach out and be helpful to some who are in need. ‘€˜How can we contribute? How can we get involved?’€™ I know, as an organization, we’€™ll do something much larger. This is being carried by each guy — evident by the thought to put the jersey together, which everyone saw hanging in the dugout. Guys are very conscious of what’€™s taken place.”

This Red Sox team understood the severity of what had transpired at home. Some (like Will Middlebrooks) have made Boston their offseason home. But they all understood their importance in the community on an incredibly difficult day. And they provided the perfect diversion.

Can this team win 90-plus games and make the playoffs? It certainly looks capable. But we’ll find out over the course of the next few months. For now, I’m certain only that I like this team. It’s a good start.

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, John Farrell, Mike Salk
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