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Zero pressure is turning Sox into diamonds

Updated: October 3, 2013 6:22AM

BOSTON — There isn’t much tangible evidence to prove the notion that the White Sox played their best baseball because the pressure was off.

Some players thrive under the bright lights. Others would just as soon do without as long as they’re collecting a check.

All we know about the Sox is that they expected to be contenders this season and failed miserably. They were out of contention before the All-Star break, and in August, they had their best month (16-13).

“It depends on who you are,’’ Sox home-run and RBI leader Adam Dunn said. “I’ve always thought certain guys, if you put them in a winning environment, they’ll be a better player. You have people who can handle the pressure and all the hype, and others who can’t. A lot of people would rather fly under the radar. I’m not saying that’s this team, but it’s definitely true.’’

Former teammate Jake Peavy was bouncing off the clubhouse walls before the trade deadline with the anticipation that he’d be traded to a contender. Peavy, who embraces the pressure, got his wish and is thriving for the first-place Red Sox.

After Peavy and Alex Rios were traded, the Sox didn’t get better, but they’ve won more games than they’ve lost.

Go figure.

“They really have nothing to lose, and they’re going out there and letting it all hang out,’’ Peavy said. “You see the results they’ve gotten over the last few weeks.’’

Teams such as the Sox are always viewed as dangerous by contending teams because they play with nothing at stake. While Peavy perked up before the trade ­deadline, Dunn said it affected others in a negative way.

“Now with the trade deadline over, everyone pretty much knows they’re going to be here the rest of the year,’’ Dunn said. “It was [hanging over the team]. I’m not sure if it affected people, but it’s a lot easier to worry about one thing than it is 10.’’

The pressure put on the Sox early in the season was from within. Media and public expectations were moderate. Did the Sox buckle under the weight of their own high hopes? Not at first, but after a while.

“People who struggled have been pretty successful for a long time,’’ Dunn said. “Once things started snowballing, you had so many people struggling at once, and then everyone is press, press, press. Next thing you know, we’re at where we’re at.’’

Which is last place and having to dump Peavy, Rios, Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton looking ahead to 2014.

Playing with nothing to lose didn’t help the Sox against a team with everything to gain this weekend. The Red Sox completed a three-game sweep with a 7-6 victory Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park for their seventh win in eight games.

In a game that took two hours to complete the first four innings because of — among other things — four walks by Sox starter Andre Rienzo and Robin Ventura’s lengthy beef with third-base umpire Paul Nauert — the Sox climbed back from a 5-0 hole with a four-run fourth against starter Felix Doubront and to within 7-6 in the eighth on Tyler Flowers’ 10th homer.

A key play, which resulted in Ventura’s third ejection this season and seventh of his two-year career, was a diving play by Conor Gillaspie on a liner by Dustin Pedroia in the fourth. Gillaspie appeared to glove the ball to his right and was crawling to third base to double off Jacoby Ellsbury, but the ball fell out of his glove on the way.

When Nauert said no catch, Gillaspie made an errant throw to first trying to get Pedroia, and Ellsbury scored.

“He felt he didn’t control it all the way, and I felt that he did, and he was going for the second out,’’ Ventura said. “Obviously, we didn’t agree.’’

When crew chief Dana DeMuth entered the discussion, Ventura said words that got him tossed.


Twitter: @CST_soxvan

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