I'll admit it.
I walked into the Red Sox clubhouse Thursday and wondered, "How are these guys doing it?"
How are these Red Sox an American League-best 58-39 coming out of the All-Star break with names like Brock Holt, Drake Britton, Brandon Workman, Alex Wilson, Steven Wright and Brandon Snyder?
That is not to disparage or disrespect any of them, not at all.
Heading into a weekend series at Fenway against the fourth-place Yankees, I am on a mission this weekend to find out just how to characterize these Red Sox. These Red Sox, who have helped New England baseball fans embrace the game more than the hype.
These Red Sox, who are winning with half of their projected late-inning bullpen disabled. These first-place Red Sox, who lead Tampa Bay by 2.5 games in the American League East. These Red Sox, who very well could be without their best starting pitcher for the rest of the season if the right shoulder of Clay Buchholz doesn't cooperate soon.
These Red Sox, who have had the left side of their infield on a shuttle between Triple-A Pawtucket, the disabled list and the active roster.
These Red Sox, who have managed to withstand the human firestorm that is Alfredo Aceves until his outright just before the All-Star break.
After covering the Celtics and then the Bruins on their playoff runs, and then taking a week to decompress, I am turning my attention to the Red Sox.
So on Thursday, a day before they begin the post-All Star break run, I asked Daniel Nava - one of the true symbols of these 2013 Red Sox - to answer just that question: What is the identity of this team?
"Wow, that's a tough question to answer," he admitted.
"Obviously, there are the staples that have been in this clubhouse for a long time as representations of who we are as a team. You have grinders and you have guys who come every day ready to play. The identity of this team is just a bunch of guys who want to win."
Those staples are, of course, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. They are the veterans who have led the Phoenix rising in Boston. The ashes of Sept. 2011 and the 2012 season have transformed into a legitimate AL pennant contender. It's no mistake that both Ortiz (an early AL MVP candidate at .316/19 HRs/1.008 OPS) and Pedroia (.316 avg/.832 OPS) are leading the way.
Yes, there are others like Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. And yes, John Lackey's transformation has been stunning and refreshing. A rejuvenated and refreshed Mike Napoli, with 11 homers and 59 RBIs, has provided the right-handed pop the Sox desperately needed behind Ortiz.
But still, this team, predicted to be a cellar-dweller by the experts, is putting together the most unanticipated run since the "Impossible Dream" season of 1967. That was the year the Red Sox went from ninth place to AL champs and lost to the Cardinals in seven games in the World Series.
This team has yet to define its identity but the way they're overcoming a carousel on the roster makes one start to believe in fate.
"What does [identity] mean as an actual verb, or an adjective or a noun is kind tough to put into words," Nava told me. "Unfortunately, there have been a lot of changes in this clubhouse with injuries and stuff, so we're constantly just evolving.
"It does say a lot about the team if we can be without one of our better pitchers in Buch and without Rossy [David Ross] and some of the things that have happened with our bullpen to still be where we are. It does say a lot about what this team is and it comes down to the core. We have a bunch of guys who stick together, whether we have full strength or half strength, we're still going in that direction of pulling our team toward first."
I asked Nava if this team is starting to take on one of those classic "no-name" Cinderella identities.
"Honestly, is that what people have put on us?" Nava replied.
They might as well.
With lefty Matt Thornton's addition on the roster this week to take the place of Andrew Miller, that gives the Red Sox 41 players who have already appeared on the 25-man active roster in 2013.
"If that what people put on us and we keep winning, it's fine. I don't think guys really care too much as along as the wins keep happening and the losses don't happen as frequently as the wins hopefully do."
And what about a guy like Brock Holt? He was one of those late-inning replacements in Fort Myers the last two springs. He was one of those names you always saw make the road trip in spring training. Now? He's the starting third baseman for a team that had to send one of its stars of the future (Will Middlebrooks) down to Pawtucket to help him re-discover his confidence.
"Brock Holt? I met him in spring training. That's when I first got to know him. Besides being a really good guy, which is something that I think has really been over-played [in the media] a lot this year. But it means a lot to bring up a guy who you know is going to be with the whole team mantra. Quietly, he has come in a played a great third base with clutch hits and I don't think he feels any pressure to do anything but come in and play the game hard, which is all anyone asks."
Indeed, Daniel. People thought this team would be a bunch of good guys who would help Boston embrace baseball again after the previous 18 months. But they are more than just good guys. They have proven themselves legitimate pennant contenders now for almost four months.
What does manager John Farrell think of all this identity talk?
"I think every team is always evolving till the last out is made, wherever that takes you. I think that's ongoing. I think there are some things we identify with, and that is a talented team that is a tight-knit unit," he told me when I asked Thursday. "We've had our challenges thrown our way that we have to continue to answer to what we know is our common goal, and that's to win a division and compete for a World Series."
Farrell pointed out something else on Thursday that has been key to his club's success.
"Our ability to forget, forget what yesterday [gave] us, good, bad or indifferent, and to re-focus on what our goal is today, and that is to put together a work day that leads us to a win."
Farrell is in the midst of a juggling job that has him at the top of the "manager of the year" discussion in the American League. He's the one that has had to deal with the 41 players on his roster. He's the one who's had to have the tough talks with Jon Lester during his recent struggles and keep Aceves from blowing up in the clubhouse. He's the one who learned the art of clubhouse karma from Terry Francona.
"I don't know if you can ever fully anticipate any kind of injury or the number of them," Farrell said. "Certainly, you plan for a number of players you that you think you forecast that you need to have in house. As those injuries occur, as changes to the roster take place, you begin to [think] what's plan D, E and F? And you keep going on down the line.
"Fortunately, we've been able to tap into a high number of guys that have really stepped in, and you can say every guy that has come up here has contributed in their own way. I wish we did have a crystal ball that we could say, 'the end [of injuries] is nearing,' or whatever that might be, but that's not the case."
But if there's one player in the Red Sox clubhouse - outside of David Ortiz - who knows what a good vibe is it's Jonny Gomes. He was part of the A's resurgence in 2012 that had Oakland overtake the Rangers in September in a truly stunning run.
"I think with all of the injuries, it's the guys penciled-in at the 2-hole, penciled-in in the 5-and-6-holes, and the bottom of the lineup and shortstops back and forth," he said. "I think that the identity is just that we're deep and there are many ways for this team to win. We've walked off at home, we've won by a bunch, we've won close games. So, I think we have a couple of identities, which is good."
Gomes came back from a relaxing All-Star break on Cape Cod. He joked Thursday that the waves there are exactly surfing material like back home in California. But there are different waves he and the Red Sox are looking to make now as they gear up for the final two months.
"Just being hotter than the other team," he said. "I'll tell you what, the Giants have two World Series [titles] in the past three years and I don't think they're the best team. And I don't think they'd tell you they're the best team. But they're the hottest team and that's what wins championships is being the hottest team down the stretch."