The Red Sox made their mark during a stellar run through April: the smash debut of Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka on April 5, their rain-delayed sweep of AL West favorite Los Angeles on April 16, and their stunning sweep of the New York Yankees on April 22, capped by four consecutive Red Sox homers off New York starter Chase Wright. But no date looks more meaningful in retrospect than April 18, when Boston beat the Blue Jays and captured an AL East lead it would never relinquish.
April showers brought May flowers in Boston, where the Red Sox grew a 3 1/2-game lead on May 1 into a 10-game advantage over Baltimore (13 1/2 games over New York) on May 31. May saw the emergence of rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who batted .415 (27-for-65), raising his average from .182 to .308. It witnessed slides by new acquisitions Julio Lugo (.209 in 110 May at-bats) and J.D. Drew (.171 in 76 at-bats). Still, paced by Kevin Youkilis (.402 and 19 extra-base hits, including six homers), Boston scored 155 runs, averaging 5.54 runs per game.
The Red Sox entered June with a roar, hosting the Yankees for three games, and left it with a whimper. Despite the promising Major League debut of Jacoby Ellsbury on June 30, Boston lost a 5-4 heartbreaker to the Rangers on that day, cementing their only losing month of the season. The offense flatlined in June, with Lugo skidding into an 0-for-33 slump, the worst of his career. But there was a silver lining to a month in which the Red Sox padded just a half-game to their lead: the performance of Matsuzaka, who had a 1.59 ERA in 34 innings.
Perhaps most significant in a month in which the Red Sox recovered their winning ways was the stunning resurgence of the Yankees, from 37-40 on June 30 (11 games back) to 57-49 on July 31 (seven games back). Not looking back, Boston sent six players to the All-Star game, the most in baseball, and ran off an 8-1 stretch against Chicago, Cleveland and the Devil Rays. Lugo redeemed himself, posting his best numbers in any month (.313 average in 96 at-bats), while Curt Schilling, out since June 18 with a shoulder injury, pitched brilliantly during rehabilitation in the high Minors. Also in July, lefty starter Jon Lester won his first Major League start since he was diagnosed with cancer on Sept. 1, 2006.
The Yankees picked up two more games in the standings, going 18-11, while the Red Sox hit their highs (a four-game sweep of the White Sox in which they totaled 46 runs) and lows (a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, as the Red Sox's league-best bullpen began to struggle). Recent acquisition Eric Gagne grew frustrated with his performance out of the 'pen, while observers wondered whether lefty reliever Hideki Okajima was fatigued. The Red Sox were glad to have David Ortiz (.311 average, .424 on-base percentage, .631 slugging percentage), no more than when Manny Ramirez went down against the Yankees with an oblique injury, which would cause him to miss the next 24 games.
September baseball arrived with a flourish in Boston, with a handful of rookie callups providing a much-needed jolt. It all began with the historic Sept. 1 no-hitter of 23-year-old Clay Buchholz in his second Major League start. Fellow rookie Jacoby Ellsbury, who shuttled back and forth on the Pawtucket express during the summer, made the transition from top prospect to Major League contributor, reaching base at a near-.400 clip. Not coincidentally, and despite losing two of three to the hard-charging Yankees on Sept. 14-16, the Red Sox enjoyed their best month of the second half. With a win at home on Sept. 28, the Sox broke out the champagne to celebrate their first AL East title in more than a decade.
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.