By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — It would have honestly been rather challenging for the 2021 Red Sox season to get off to a worst start than it did. A shutout loss on Opening Day rolled into an uninspiring loss the next day, which set the table for a disastrous showing on Easter Sunday to fall to 0-3, getting swept … by the Baltimore Orioles.

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As such, Boston reacted appropriately. After an absolute waste of a 2020 season, which came on the heels of a 2019 season that ended with the Red Sox sitting 19 games out of first place and 12 games out of a wild-card spot, we all did what seasoned Boston sports observers know how to do best: We mocked, we laughed, we whined and complained that the baseball team was in for another miserable, useless season.

Now, that may still be true … but after back-to-back wins over the Rays, we all must give credit where it’s due. The team has put together consecutive wins against the reigning American League champs. The first of which was a bona fide blowout, and the second came on a night when the Sox were facing a favorite to win the Cy Young this season, and it came on a night when the Sox rallied in the ninth to force extra innings, only to fall behind in the 11th and the 12th, before pulling off the dramatic walkoff victory.

It’s not a win that vaults the Red Sox up the standings. It doesn’t change the scope of the season outlook. There’s no reason to gas up the duck boats right now.

But in a year where most people are just hoping to see a competitive team take the field every night, a win like the one delivered late Tuesday night is not nothing. It’s certainly something.

“We did a good job. We didn’t stop playing. That’s a mark of a good team,” manager Alex Cora said around midnight. “It didn’t look great at one point, but we kept fighting, and we kept them within distance. The pitching staff did an amazing job, we made some plays. I don’t remember every play of the game, but we kept fighting.”

Cora added: “”We won the series. We won the series against the defending American League champions. And it’s a good bounce-back from what happened this weekend. And we have a chance to sweep ’em [Wednesday].”

While any win is obviously a positive, a win where a team erases three deficits — including a final one with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the 12th inning — carries a little extra oomph in terms of a team’s belief in itself.

In this case, Christian Vazquez eased the pain of J. D. Martinez’s base-running gaffe by launching an absolute bomb out of Fenway in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game at 3-3.

It took Rafael Devers all of one pitch in the bottom of the 11th to erase a one-run deficit, as he smoked a line shot into left field to score the free runner from second base.

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And in the bottom of the 12th, Alex Verdugo was staring at an 0-2 count with two outs. Then he stared at a fastball hitting him squarely in the keister. Up stepped Martinez, far and away the Red Sox’ best hitter this season, and he delivered, hitting a nearly identical extra-base hit over the head of Randy Arozarena to score both runners and win the ballgame.

You could use whatever adjective you’d like to describe that kind of showing. Gutsy, tough, character-revealing — those would all do just fine. Yet the way Cora described the approach to extra innings, both of those comebacks after the ninth inning were almost expected by everyone in a Boston uniform.

“We talk about it. If they don’t score, we try to score one. If they score one, we got a man on second and no outs. And I think the chances of scoring are very high. … If they score one, we don’t care,” Cora said. “Emotionally, it’s a roller coaster. But knowing that one run, it doesn’t matter. One run, you got a man on second and no outs. And that’s what we kept telling them when they came in: ‘Aw they scored one? It doesn’t matter. Hey, man on second, no outs.’ I mean, if you have a man on second and no outs in the first inning or second inning, from the first through the ninth inning, your chances of scoring are high. So we kept telling them, ‘Don’t worry about it, just do what you gotta do, and we’ll be OK scoring runs.'”

In a game won with three late comebacks, the offense tends to get most of the shine. But Boston’s pitching on Tuesday — and on Monday, for that matter — may be the most encouraging aspect of the series win. Martin Perez pitched reasonably well, allowing three runs over his five innings of work. The trio of Austin Brice, Hirokazu Sawamura, and Darwinzon Hernandez pitched three scoreless innings, before Matt Barnes pitched two dominant innings (four strikeouts, no base runners allowed) in the ninth and 10th.

Tanner Houck allowed a fake run in the 11th (the free runner on second scored off a leadoff double) before ending the inning with a pair of strikeouts with a runner on third. Valdez allowed another fake run on a groundout after a wild pitch advanced the free runner to third, but managed to limit the damage to just that one run — a deficit which Cora’s team is clearly comfortable with in extras.

Throw in a game-changing catch against the Monster by newcomer Franchy Cordero …

… and an error-free night in the field, and the Red Sox had themselves a complete and thorough victory.

“It was overall a great game,” Cora said, “and I think the most important thing out of this is we won the series against the American League defending champions.”

It was only one win, and they’re still a game under .500. Sure. But more than anything else, the Red Sox showed they are capable of competing in tight games against good baseball teams. That’s not necessarily the capability that gets everybody’s juices flowing in this town, but after two miserable years of baseball, it’s a positive first step in the right direction.

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You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.