Originally posted on Extra Pine Tar  |  Last updated 7/20/12

“State Of The Sox” is a weekly Friday piece detailing where the Red Sox currently stand in Major League Baseball and whether or not they can be successful going forward. We apologize if, at times, it comes across as a bit harsh.

It finally happened.

It took all of April, May, June and most of July, but there was no mistaking what I saw on Thursday night – the Red Sox acted as if they don’t want to fight each other. They looked…almost as if they like each other

When Cody Ross hit a walk-off three-run home run on Thursday night to lift the Sox to a come-from-behind 3-1 win over the White Sox, it was the most human moment that this robotic team has had since last August, and it came in a big game at a big time with the pennant race starting to heat up.

At 9:56 p.m. I sent my brother a text that said “Have the Sox walked off all year? How bout now.”

That was about 87 seconds before Ross launched his bomb into the monster seats.

It just felt like it was going to happen. There’s no way to put my finger on exactly why – maybe just because they’ve been playing better lately – but I almost expected the Red Sox to score a couple of runs and win the game.

That ending was exactly what we’ve been looking for all season long. Refreshing is a huge understatement. I remember back in March, I was at my brother’s house and it was late at night. We’d drank a bunch, and we started getting into a little Red Sox season forecasting. We both agreed that it wasn’t hard to picture Cody Ross (yes, him specifically) going deep sometime in April and the team just going absolutely ******* on him when he gets to home.

That was how we envisioned the Sox kind of leaving behind last September, bonding together and saying, basically, “Screw this, we’re still good. Watch.” They would turn the page, rally around some of the new guys.

The only part of the story we messed up on was the month. I won’t apologize for that. Who could have predicted that it would take 50 “there is clubhouse turmoil” stories to finally make the turmoil stop? Granted, that’s a bit of a blanket statement based on one game, but did you see the team’s reaction to that walk-off? That wasn’t normal.

Nick Punto, pinch-running for the suddenly hot Adrian Gonzalez (who singled on an 0-2 count, by the way) ran towards home plate with a huge grin on and he made that motion with both his hands across his chest, highlighting the “Red Sox” on his jersey. Then Ross came around third, threw his helmet and started tip-toeing towards the plate.

But as he got closer, someone took the water jug and fired blue Gatorade all over the celebration. Then Punto grabbed Ross and started ripping his jersey off his body. It was bedlam.

Apparently Punto is known as “The Shredder” around baseball because he routinely rips the jerseys off players when they hit walk-off home runs, which is also tremendous.

“I got to meet “The Shredder” tonight,” Ross said in his postgame press conference.

Actually, we all got to meet “The Shredder,” and it was absolutely the coolest moment of the season, hands down. You had Ross, who has become the hottest hitter in the league over the past two games (3 three-run homers) coming through in the clutch. You had Gonzalez getting a big hit when he’s only had a handful all year. You had Carl Crawford, back from injury, leading off the inning with a hit.

You had Clay Buchholz pitching great for eight innings. And best of all, you had the entire team going insane because they won a game on a home run from a guy they like.

Look at the picture at the top of this post and check out the faces on the guys. Jacoby Ellsbury looks like he’s about to ravage Ross, and Crawford is downright giddy. Dustin Pedroia is crouching down to the left like he’s going to tackle Ross, Gonzalez looks like he might jump over Ellsbury’s back and Friendly Mike Aviles looks friendly as ever.

It’s terrific. It should be framed and put somewhere in the living museum for Larry Lucchino to scowl at while he has sex with a pile of money.

So what the hell happened? Just a week ago the Sox were in disarray after getting smoked by the Yankees. Now they’ve won five of seven since the all-star break and look confident and excited and downright enjoyable to watch.

As much as I’ve mocked it, it feels like a big part of the reason for the team’s success has been the return of Ellsbury and Crawford. Hitting 1-2 in the order, they’re getting on base, stealing, setting the table and scoring runs. Combine them with a resurgent Gonzalez (two home runs!!!) and Ross hitting like a young Albert Pujols and the top-to-middle of the order has been absurd. Do you know the Red Sox lead the American League in runs scored?

And what about Buchholz? Eight innings, against that lineup? One run? God, the Sox haven’t had a start like that all year, it feels like. That’s the sort of start we expect from Clay, and hopefully it sets a little tone for Jon Lester and Josh Beckett as the season goes on and the games get more and more important.

On July 20, the Red Sox are one game out of the second Wild Card spot. They’re winning, they’re hitting and they’re pitching. They’re beating good teams, they’re getting healthier (with the exception of David Ortiz) and they’re gaining confidence.

I’ve been one of the biggest critics of the team all season long. I gave up on them a month ago. I write scathing columns on a weekly basis. But man…what’s not to like right now? The “varsity” is back, and there is some life in the air at Fenway.

The Cody Ross game (which it will be known as, from here on out) was airing on MLB Network, and Matt Vasgersian was doing the play-by-play. When Ross  gets a hold of it and sends it into the seats, Vasgersian screams out “SANTA MARIA!”

I don’t know how it applies, at all. I also don’t know how the Red Sox suddenly look like realistic contenders.

But I like both things.

Santa ******* Maria indeed.

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