In and around the Red Sox' 3-1 win over Orioles, Friday night, it was clear there had been some alterations since Fenway Park last saw their hometown team.
Rocco Baldelli and Nick Green huddled to strategize when to hand over the "Rescue Squad" t-shirt to the newest member of the club, Adam LaRoche, signifying participation on the Sox' bench.
Green fiddled with his "J.D. Drew" model outfielders glove in preparation for his potential new role as the Sox' fifth outfielder.
A few lockers down, where outfielder/first baseman Mark Kotsay resided before being designated for assignment Friday, LaRoche attempted to get settled, asking his new teammates questions such as where the batting cage might be.
On the other side of the clubhouse resided another newbie, pitcher Clay Buchholz, who hadn't seen his Fenway locker since last summer.
And also returning was the Japanese media, which bemoaned the fact that -- after talking to the object of their tape recorders, Daisuke Matsuzaka -- it would have to head back down to the heat and humidity of the Red Sox minor league training facility in Fort Myers to follow the rehabbing Japanese pitcher.
But there was one thing that hadn't changed -- the Red Sox' recipe for winning.
The pitching of Brad Penny and his bullpen, coupled with just enough hitting, gave the Sox the kind of confidence usually uncovered upon returning to Fenway. There's a reason the Red Sox are sixth in the majors in runs at home, and 12th on the road. Or eighth in ERA at home, and 14th in the category as visitors.
The Red Sox have 32 wins at Fenway, the third-most home wins in the big leagues. They have played four fewer home games than the first-place Yankees, and one more than the hard-charging Tampa Bay Rays.
Simply put, the Sox need to take full advantage of each and every one of their 35 remaining games at their own ballpark. Friday night they did, extending what has become their longest win streak over the Orioles at Fenway (10 straight, extending an amazing 28-6 mark over the O's in Boston since Sept. 3, 2005).
Here are some things we learned at the outset of what figures to be a pivotal, mid-summer homestand for the Red Sox:
FEW ENJOY BOSTON LIKE BRAD PENNY
Throughout all of the trade rumors in May, June and early July, Penny has adamantly professed his infatuation with playing for the Red Sox. He likes his teammates, his teammates like him, his adopted shoulder program has paid big dividends, and he's winning.
Now, after starts like the one Friday night, more and more folks in these parts are liking the fact Penny is still here, as well.
The Sox starter turned in his longest stint without allowing an earned run (6 1/3 innings), pumping in some of his best fastballs of the season on the way to a one-run, five-hit, four-strikeout, no-walk outing.
"I think everybody could see his velocity, it picked up a little bit," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "And I think he's been feeling physically better as the season progresses. As opposed to maybe in some years past where he has thrown so many innnings, it's caught up a little bit.
"Tonight, as good as he felt, he didn't get carried away with how good he felt and he still pitched. And that's a real good combination. He felt good about himself, the ball came out good, well, he was aggressive."
Penny continues to turn back most doubts regarding his viability in the Red Sox' rotation. Prior to the season there were some doubts about his ability to pitch at Fenway, having given up nine runs over five innings in his only appearance at the park prior to this season. And when he allowed eight runs in just three innings in his first home start to begin his stint as a Red Sox -- against the Orioles -- the whispers continued.
But now Penny stands with a 5-1 mark and a respectable 4.02 ERA in 10 Fenway starts this season, including a 2-0 record with a 1.59 ERA in his last five home starts. After Friday, there have now been three occasions where Penny hasn't allowed an earned run in a home outing.
"The important thing is we win the game," Penny said. "That was probably the best I felt tonight. My fastball, I don't know if I can throw it better than that. I'm a fastball guy so I just mixed in my offspeed to try and get them off my fastball."
J.D. DREW MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE MOST SATISFIED SOX
Frustration appeared to be following Drew back to Boston when he hit a ball sharply to center field that Orioles' outfielder Adam Jones tracked down. It stretched the Sox hitter's streak to no hits in 24 at-bats.
But then came the fourth inning and all became right with Drew's world.
On the sixth pitch of his at-bat against Baltimore starter Brad Bergesen, Drew lifted a single to left-center, halting his woes. He would ultimately score after a Mike Lowell double and Jason Varitek single, giving the Red Sox a 2-1 lead.
Perhaps it was the presence of his good friend, LaRoche -- with whom Drew spends countless hours hunting in tree stands back in Georgia during the offseason -- or maybe it was just a pep talk given by Red Sox manager Terry Francona, but whatever the reason, Drew appeared appreciably more comfortable at the plate.
"We talked a little bit today," Francona said. "And J.D. doesn't show it very much, but just because he isn't slamming helmets doesn't mean it doesn't wear on him, or that he's not trying too hard at times. Any time a guy gets a hit, not just take a good swing, cause we are looking for that, it helps. Then you see him take the turned around first with a little energy... it's good to see."
JONATHAN PAPELBON DID WHAT HE DOES BEST
You might think we're talking about closing games -- which Papelbon isn't that bad at, as his 25th save in 27 chances would suggest. But no.
What Papelbon continued to excel at is striking batters out withe bases loaded.
The Sox' closer fanned both Luke Scott and Melvin Mora with one out and the bases juiced. And with those two punch-outs Papelbon has now faced eight hitters this season with the bases loaded and struck out seven of them.
This time Papelbon went to his go-pitch, pumping in fastballs on eight of the last nine pitches. For his outing, the reliever went to four-seamers on 20 of his 24 offerings.
Another situation Papelbon thrives in is facing the Orioles, against whom he has now allowed just one earned run in 26 career innings.
Along with Papelbon's ability to escape another jam, the Red Sox got continued solid work from the rest of their bullpen, with Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima combining to pitch 1 2/3 scoreless innings. It extended the Sox' bullpen's scoreless streak to 16 1/3 innings since the All-Star break.
TIM WAKEFIELD FOUND OUT WHAT AILS HIM
Wakefield, who was still moving around the clubhouse gingerly before the game, had some peace of mind after diagnosing what was causing the problem in his back.
The knuckleballer had gone straight to Massachusetts General Hospital after arriving back in Boston from the Sox' road trip, getting an MRI which determined that he had a herniated disc and bone fragment in his lower back.
Wakefield was given an epidural shot filled with cortisone, which will now be followed with rest and further evaluation before taking the next step.