It seems unfair to call it a collapse, because what the Boston Red Sox have managed to do in the month of September–going 7-19 and squandering a nine-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the race for the American League Wild Card–has been an utter meltdown. A Mona Lisa of choking, if you will.
Now, as a card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation, I have still been sporting my Pedroia Destroy-ah shirt and wearing my Jacoby Ellsbury jersey with pride (I will save Ellsbury’s MVP argument for a later, less stressful date.) And for the last week or so, I walked around campus late at night trying to convince myself that if the Sox could just get into the playoffs, everything would be all right and Terry Francona’s club would stop doing its best 2007 Mets impression.
It’s not too late, as the Rays and Red Sox are now tied with identical 90-71 records with one game left to play in the regular season. And if Jon Lester can make mincemeat of the Orioles tomorrow night and the New York Yankees stop letting the Rays win (and yes, the Bombers are indeed trying their best to lose these last few games and keep the Sox out of the playoffs), I could rest easy for a few days.
But I don’t see that happening. The 2011 Red Sox are too much machine and not enough man. The championship teams from 2004 and 2007 both had distinctive team personalities–Kevin Millar’s ‘Cowboy Up’ was the rallying cry in 2004 and 2007 featured the Bash Brothers, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, with a dash of rookies, Pedroia and Ellsbury. But this year has been a struggle to find a team identity, as newcomers Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford don’t appear to have any emotion if they hit .340 or .250, respectively.
Sure, the lineup is a threat to score 10 runs every night, but they don’t seem to know how to win the games that matter the most. Against the Rays, Boston has struggled mightily, going 6-12 on the season and 1-6 against Tampa in the final month. Gonzalez has hit well below the Mendoza Line against the Rays all season, and Ellsbury and shortstop Marco Scutaro have seemingly been the only ones able to hit anything when it counts.
In a city that eats, drinks and breathes sports, the fans have had to swallow the kind of pain that they haven’t experienced in a decade, the kind of pain only inflicted by the likes of Bucky F****** Dent, Bill F****** Buckner and Aaron F****** Boone.
And the players aren’t immune to the pain and anger flowing from the hallowed stands at Fenway Park.
“If I was a fan, I’d be frustrated, too,” slugger David Ortiz said following last Wednesday’s 6-4 loss to the Orioles. “I’ve been here, what, nine years? I’ve never seen a collapse this bad.”
I pray that the Red Sox can find some way to dismiss the losses as a fluke, a combination of misfortune and a tiny pitching slump. But there is no manual on how to survive a late-season collapse, and when rumors are flying about which starting pitcher your club is looking to trade for just to start the 162nd game of the season, it’s probably not a good sign. (For the record, I would have been just fine if General Manager Theo Epstein picked up Pedro Martinez and threw him out on the mound to face the Orioles tonight.)
Thankfully, the Stanford bubble seems to keep most of the Red Sox haters away, so I have not had to endure much more than the occasional chuckle from a passerby in a Yankees hat, or some good-natured ribbing from my roommate, a Dodgers fan who is still counting his blessings that this story is bumping the Frank McCourt saga from the limelight.
But if you happen to bump into me on the steps of Hoover Tower and it’s after 7 p.m. tomorrow, don’t hesitate to call the police because it will mean that the Red Sox have lost, even after having the second-best record in baseball for three months. I’m going to need some serious talking down.
If the fate of the Red Sox is anything like that of his fantasy baseball team, Miles is cruisin’ for a bruisin.’ Send Miles Bennett-Smith clips of Buckner’s blunder at milesbs “at” stanford.edu.