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Even though the Boston Red Sox have won three World Series this century, many of the Fenway Faithful still look for the dark clouds on sunny days. Eighty-six years in the wilderness will do that to a fan base. The generation that watched Ted Williams bat .200 in the 1946 World Series is mostly gone now, and those who knew in their heart of hearts that Yaz’s last best chance at the brass ring faded away the day he popped foul to Greg Nettles in 1978 are beginning to diminish in number as well.
Today’s “Red Sox Nation Generation” of 25-54-year-olds celebrates instead of curses the name Mookie. For them the “Boston Massacre” refers to the Game Three loss in 2004 that preceded the greatest comeback in baseball playoff history. But, as always, the ghosts of Octobers past lurk in the Fenway Park shadows.
Yes, there are more than a few “Sullies from Southie” who will tell you how wicked awesome this year’s team is — 108 wins thanks to the highest-scoring offense in the league will do that. But for every “Donnie from Dorchester” who basks in the rally from being down 3-0 in the ALCS to the New York Yankees, there’s another who recalls the late-season collapse of 2011. While Bill Buckner has been forgiven, the knowledge that baseball’s fickle momentum can turn on a dime is never forgotten. So despite the best record in baseball, wiser heads are cautiously optimistic. Or maybe optimistically cautious. One can never tell these days.
The Sox may have the best record in the American League, but the American League’s top team in 2017 – Cleveland — was bounced in the Division Series. And twice in the last five years the squad with the best record was swept in the ALDS. There’s also the case of “momentum” — a 15-11 September mark that saw this team lose four of six to the New York Yankees and two of three to Houston and Cleveland is far from ideal (for the record, they didn’t face Oakland during September … but lost four of six to the A’s before Memorial Day). While teams have bounced back from late-season fades before, the glass remains half-empty for Sox fans who still recall Bucky Dent taking Mike Torrez over the Wall in 1978.
A quick glance at the stat sheet will tell you that Boston led the Majors in batting average and runs scored — but look closer. In September, they ranked 13th in scoring. Pitching? How about 26th in team ERA over the last month.
From Chris Sale evolving from Cy Young shoe-in to postseason non-factor (12 innings pitched over four starts) to David Price’s poor performance against potential ALDS foe New York (0-3, 10.34 ERA), it looks like we’re going to bank on Rick Porcello and his flammable 4.28 ERA. That’s encouraging.
But Boston has the best outfield in the game today, led by likely AL MVP Mookie Betts who led the majors with a .346 batting average. Slugger J.D. Martinez’s 130 RBI were the most in baseball … and shortstop Xander Bogaerts drove in over 100 runs. Fellow middle infielder Brock Holt is getting hot at the right time, hitting .341 in September and making the absence of Dustin Pedroia somewhat tolerable. Will the lineup find its groove in a postseason world where pitchers are flipped like blackjack dealers at a casino?
Yes, it’s the first year at the helm for manager Alex Cora. But the Sox won it all in John Farrell’s first year and broke the curse during the initial season of Terry Francona (my records seem to be incomplete regarding the first years of Bobby Valentine and Butch Hobson). Cora’s pushed every button correctly over the 162-game marathon … but can he make the right moves during the five (and hopefully seven, and then another seven) game sprint? Sully’s glass of Sam Adams Octoberfest is more than half-full … but very well may spill on the first sip. Naturally I’m going to watch every pitch like it’s the end of the world. It’s our nature in Red Sox Nation.