Well, this is a nice little twist, isn’t it?

Our Boston Red Sox are shaping up to be one plucky group, are they not?

It’s kind of nice to root for the underdog again, know what I mean?

For 86 years, we rooted for the underdog, a team that had to overcome an alleged curse, racist ownership and an Evil Empire just to have a shot at winning a championship. Then the Sox won it all in 2004 and suddenly we were on a par with the New York Yankees — spending more than everybody else, stealing everybody’s best players, picking on the poor Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays and all the other little guys.

Now, we’re rooting for a lineup full of guys nobody had even heard of two months ago. We’ve got a disabled list with more names on it than the bottom of the Declaration of Independence. Our starting catcher has played in a total of 30 big league games since we got rid of him two years ago. Our starting pitchers are wearing heating pads on their backs and hamstrings. Yet here we are, just a game out of first place, behind the Yankees, as of this writing.

OK, let’s not get too carried away. Part of the reason the Red Sox have been able to withstand their recent run of bad luck is because they spent the money to build a deep starting rotation. And even after losing two All-Star catchers, an MVP second baseman, World Series MVP third baseman and one of the top young leadoff hitters in the game, Terry Francona can still fill out a lineup card with Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, J.D. Drew, Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro. Not many teams can suffer this many injuries and still put that much exceptional and/or at least proven Major League talent on the field.

It’s still hard not to get caught up in the excitement, though. And make no mistake, there is a different level of excitement around these Red Sox. All you had to do was watch Friday night’s nip-and-tuck affair with the Orioles to get that sense. The atmosphere was not that of your typical Sox-O’s atmosphere. The folks at Fenway know this team is hanging on by its fingernails until reinforcements arrive.

Or maybe they were just overcome with giddiness because J.D. Drew not only played, he hit two homers.

The season had already had a pretty good dose of the unexpected before this fun run. Beltre has hit better than anyone could have expected. Prior to his hammy whammy, Clay Buchholz was blossoming into the top-of-the-rotation starter everyone wondered whether he could become. Ortiz emerged from a brutal start quicker than he did last year and became a force in the middle of the order, not quite on the par he once was, but still a real threat. And Daniel Bard became Mariano Rivera, circa 1996.

But lately, we’ve gone from surprises to you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me’s. Darnell McDonald burst upon the scene with a home run in his first game. Daniel Nava topped that with a grand slam on the first pitch in his first Major League at-bat. Somehow, they’re both still contributing.

And now there are guys named Niuman Romero (Hello, Niuman), Gustavo Molina and Robert Manuel on the roster, and can anyone doubt that, based on the way this season has gone, all of them will come up with a big hit or, in Manuel’s case, escape a bases-loaded jam in extra innings?

That is too much to ask, of course, We should happy if the Red Sox are within five games of first place by the time the big names start trickling back.

But a small part of me wouldn’t mind if we got to see how Darnell, Nava and Niuman would do if given a chance to see this through to the end. Royals and Rays fans might not see them as underdogs, but they’re our underdogs.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. His e-mail is [email protected]

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