It is a three-team scrap, at the moment, in the American League East. Boston clings to a 1-game lead over the New York Yankees with Tampa Bay hanging 2.5 back. The Rays are visiting Yankee Stadium for a four-game series that starts tonight. Boston hosts surging Kansas City, an AL Central and wild card contender, for three starting on Friday. It’s not a good time to be in a slump, but both Corey Dickerson of the Rays and Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox are in one. Former Meridian Community College star Dickerson, a first-time All-Star this year, is batting .209 with one homer and four RBIs over his last 23 games. His average has plunged to .303. Yankee Stadium is a great hitter’s park for lefties, and Dickerson is batting .343 with three bombs against Yankees pitching this season. So … a breakout might be coming. The Rays would love to see it. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout, is hitting .124 without a homer in his last 24 games and went 2-for-17 on the club’s recent road trip. His average is down to .239, and he’s been dropped in the BoSox’s order. He suffered a broken toe in mid-June but played through it and says it’s fine now. If there is a positive for Moreland entering the weekend, he is a better hitter at Fenway Park: .253 with six of his 12 homers and a .341 on-base percentage. He doesn’t have a hit in seven at-bats against Royals pitchers this year, so … perhaps he is due. The Red Sox surely hope that’s true.
Sitting in the right-field nook at Fenway Park, just inside the Pesky Pole, it is very easy to imagine George Scott, a Boston Red Sox star of the 1960s, blasting a home run right at you or Boo Ferriss, the Sox ace in the mid-’40s, firing a fastball past an overmatched hitter. It’s easy to imagine such long-ago things because once you’ve entered Fenway, you are wrapped in history. It’s virtually the same as it was when it was built in 1912. There have been renovations, most recently the splendid work of Jackson native Janet Marie Smith, but the essence of the park was left unchanged. It’s one place that lives up to the hype. The Green Monster in left field still defines Fenway, but there is so much else to take in. You think about Bill “Spaceman” Lee, the former Sox pitcher who famously said that the first time he walked into Fenway, he dropped to his knees and uttered, “Thank God for making me a ballplayer.” Virtually everyone in the park is wearing a Red Sox hat or a Red Sox shirt. You see replica jerseys honoring players from Yastrzemski to Betts. There are lots of Pedroias but also a Millar, a Varitek, a Martinez, even a Matsuzaka. And the fans are very much into the game and the team. When Rusney Castillo, just called up for his 2015 debut on this particular Friday night, is introduced as the right fielder, cheers erupt. The “Sawx” have been searching for production from a right fielder all season. When Castillo drops a fly ball during the Los Angeles Angels’ nine-run fifth inning, the crowd boos lustily. When he gets a hit in the seventh, he gets cheers again. Quite a few of Mississippi’s brightest stars have heard the roars — and the moans — from the Fenway faithful. In addition to Ferriss and Scott, Mississippi natives Ellis Burks, Oil Can Boyd, Jerry Moses, Buddy Myer, Baldy Karr, Milt Bolling and Bill Hall played for the Sox. So did Mississippi State alumnus Jonathan Papelbon, Ole Miss’ Steve Dillard and Southern Miss’ Bill Selby. Once defined by heartbreak, the Sox have won three World Series since 2004. But you don’t get the feeling that the Fenway faithful are spoiled. With the Sox down 12-5 in the eighth inning on this chilly Friday night, many of the announced crowd of 36,150 are still around. And when Neil Diamond’s classic “Sweet Caroline” is played over the p.a., the old ballpark rocks. Indeed, good times never felt so good. Fenway is an experience you won’t forget.