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Roche: More Likable Red Sox Return For Home Opener

BOSTON (CBS) - One of my favorite tweets in week one of the 2013 Red Sox regular season was one that simply read "I forgot what it was like to enjoy watching a Red Sox game."

That says a lot as to just how miserable the last couple of Augusts and Septembers were for Sox fans. You had very few reasons to watch other than to see an antsy and fidgety Bobby Valentine in the Sox dugout and maybe a quick glimpse of a few younger players. After another disappointing end, an underwhelming (by Red Sox standards) off-season followed, and all we had were Spring Training games, where we all know the wins and losses don't matter.

But, now they count.

It's only six games into the 2013 season, and there's a long, long, long way to go. In fact, one of the problems we have around the Boston area is that each regular season baseball game is being treated like an NFL football game; fans tend to get way too high over one win (Sunday's 13-0 win at Toronto) and way too low over a loss (Saturday's 5-0 loss to the Jays). A baseball season is comparable to the Boston Marathon, and we're barely a mile into the race. We're still in Hopkinton, folks.

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Jose Iglesias won't hit .500 and Jon Lester won't go 25-0. And, the same fans that are heaping praise on the Sox now may be killing them next week.

The 2013 Boston Red Sox are 4-2. They've played six of 162.

However, there are indicators that do give Sox fans hope for this season and beyond.

I think the first thing is attitude. Go back to the season opener in New York and the biggest impression on me was Jonny Gomes scoring from second on a ground ball to second in the ninth inning of a 7-2 ballgame. Not only was it a great hustle play on the part of Gomes, but the ensuing reaction from his teammates was telling. A kid like Jacoby Ellsbury, who has been ripped from time to time for not showing emotion, ran to the video room to find Gomes and to tell him how awesome a play it was. And, postgame, the players were raving about it.

General Manager Ben Cherington wanted to bring in guys who loved the game, knew how to play it right, and weren't afraid to have some fun along the way. We're seeing that.

I also saw Gomes and John Lackey appear on the MLB Network's "Intentional Talk" show Tuesday in New York. Any fan who saw the show quickly began to see that this Sox team appears to be a likable group.

On the field, Lester is leading the starting pitching staff. Just about everyone, including Lester, harped on that this spring and through Spring Training, and two starts in it looks like Lester is ready, willing -- and most importantly -- able to do just that. Yes, Will Middlebrooks had three home runs in Sunday's 13-0 blanking of the Jays, but Lester tossed seven scoreless innings while giving up five hits while walking none and striking out six. That's what should give Sox fans hope about this season.

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Now Middlebrooks and his three home runs should be recognized as a sign of potential great things to come. I continue to say that the two biggest impressions of power left on me in all my years of covering Spring Training came when I watched David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks take batting practice for the first time. Middlebrooks generates ridiculous bat speed, and he's like watching Tiger Woods hitting his driver -- the backspin is amazing. Watch Middlebrooks in BP and you will see what I'm talking about; the kid has 40 home run potential.

I also understand that Stephen Drew was signed to be your starting shortstop and I realize that Jose Iglesias won't hit .529 this season, but his offense almost doesn't even matter to me any more. What that kid does with his glove is convincing me that he should play every day. The play he made in the hole Friday night to get a force out at second was amazing, and when Eduardo Nunez and Brett Gardner were thrown out trying to steal last Thursday in New York, Iglesias perfectly picked both throws from David Ross to ensure they were caught stealing. He has incredible hands.

I understand that Jackie Bradley Jr. is only 3-for-21, but he has helped by getting on base as well as by playing very good defense. If he eventually goes back down to the minors, he has at the very least given Sox fans a glimpse of all the things he can do. Patience is a key here.

Meanwhile, the bullpen has shown that it can be the single biggest strength of the 2013 edition of the Sox. Friday night's four inning, one run, three hit, five strikeout effort by the 'pen in a 6-4 win in Toronto had Sox manager John Farrell raving about how great a game it was, even two days after the fact.

All of that leads to another positive from this season: John Farrell and his coaching staff. It's been a seamless fit thus far, and while there will be problems along the way (aren't there always?), Farrell seems to be the perfect fit that the Sox had hoped he would be.

It's only six games in, but it's certainly been a lot more fun than any stretch of last season. Enjoy it while it lasts -- no matter how long that might be.

And, of course, Happy Opening Day!!!

Follow WBZ-TV's Dan Roche on Twitter @RochieWBZ.

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