I am not at my own computer right now, and will give this more
attention later, but I am struck by the schizophrenic reaction of much
of the media, Boston and otherwise, to the Red Sox recent struggles. As
of July 4, lots of commentators, including the very knowledgeable Adam
Gold and his Baseball America pals here in the triangle were calling
the Sox the best team in baseball. I personally regarded that as silly
- the team's flaws, especially in its rotation and middle relief were
obvious then. And, while Varitek's injury was clearly a blow, there's
no way that his absence alone accounts for the 2-run difference in the
team's ERA since Varitek went out - this was a thin, top-heavy
pitching staff to begin with, and the dog days have been unkind to it.
But, now, the team is being fitted for a coffin, and that strikes me as
premature as well. And, even if it's true that the Sox don't end up
winning the division or making the post-season this year, it is not
true - as Jeff Brantley outrageously suggested on Baseball Tonight last
night, that if the Sox don't win the next two games of their five-game
series with the Yankees, "they have no chance of making the playoffs."
Dan Shaughnessy argues in the Boston Globe this morning that the Theo honeymoon is over, but it's not clear to me that Theo ever thought of this team as THE team. He must have been shocked that his young closer could be THIS good this quickly, he surely had to have questions about Schilling's health, and Theo's job one has always been to re-build the farm system and put the team on a permanently competitive footing for the long-term. The 2004 championship has certainly bought him time to do that, and even if the WEEI talk guys are screaming their heads off, I don't see Theo deviating from his plan. Shaughnessy suggested that Theo might be headed for a fate similar to Lou Gorman and Dan Duquette - that is simply preposterous.
There's also been a lot comparison made between the so-called Boston Massacre of 1978 and this series, and it's unsurprising that people are raising that (I remember the 4-game blitz in 1978 well). But, the comparison obscures as much as it illuminates and the fact that it's being invoked now says a lot about how this Red Sox team is being mischaracterized.
When the Yankees stormed into Fenway in September 1978 for a pivotal four-game showdown, they had already erased ten games of a seemingly insurmountable 14-game deficit. And, in out-scoring the Sox 42-9 in that four game series, the Yankess not only erased the last four games of that 14 game lead, they simply demolished the Sox from the very opening batter of the first game until the final out of the fourth game. In games 1 and 2, the Yankees won 15-3, and 13-2 respectively. And, keep in mind, this was 1978 - when scoring double digits in a game wasn't a weekly occurrence for a team, the way it is now. That was an entirely different offensive era. This is from memory, but my recollection is that Yankee lead-off hitter Mickey Rivers had his third plate appearance in each of the first two games, before Boston's number nine hitter had come to bat even once. In other words, the Yankees jumped all over the Sox from the outset. In game 2 of this weekend's series, the Yankees were trailing as late as the seventh inning. In the 1978 series, the Sox never led at any point in any game and even the final game, a 7-4 Yankee victory, was not as close as the score, as the Yankees rapped out 17 hits and the Sox scored some meaningless runs late.
Game 3 of the 1978 series was perhaps the key game. The Yankees were sending Ron Guidry to the hill. Guidry, of course, was in the midst of his historic 25-3 season, but in those days, Fenway was an absolute death trap for lefthanders. In fact, when Guidry took the mound that Saturday afternoon, the Red Sox had not been shut out at home by lefty in four years. Guidry dominated the Sox that afternoon, winning 7-0 and insuring that the weekend would be a debacle for the Sox even if they won the final game.
The 1978 Sox, though few people recall, mounted their own late season comeback that year - winning their final nine games to erase a 3.5 game deficit in the standings to the Yanks to force the fateful one-game playoff.
But, the 1978 Red Sox were the last hurrah of the Rice-Lynn-Fisk-Yaz Bosox, a team that had advanced as far as the 1975 world series and also won more than 95 games each in 1977 and 1978. That group would never again challenge for a division title or a shot at the World Series. Consequently, both the thoroughgoing nature of the rout in 1978 and its place in that era of Sox history, make it far more consequential than what has gone on so far this weekend for the Sox.
The current Sox are, as everyone now knows, short on pitching. But, they were never built for this season in particular. There is a long-term plan in place, most of the key guys are locked upfor at least two more seasons, with lots of young arms in the pipeline, a World Series title already under the belts of the core group (Ortiz-Manny-Tek-Schilling), and a division lead that was never more than four games.
The way in which Boston's strengths were exaggerated earlier this season (, to give one example, Beckett's beeen terrible since May - but his good won-lost record had people mis-stating his actual performance) has led to an over-reaction to their current struggles.
Even when the Sox had a three-game lead, the Yankees, despite all their flaws and pitching shortcomings and Bubba Crosbys, had the same run-differential as the Sox (and a better expected won-loss record). That's a pretty good indicator of a team's underlying performance level, and it was, and is, plain to see that this is not a great Yankee team.
More than any other sport, baseball is about the long march. The insistence with which baseball scribes ignore that and continue to read larger truths into two-day or two-week, or even two-month performances continues to be one of the wonders of commentary on our national pastime. At both their highs and lows, the Sox are a case study in that this year. And, if the 1978 season is an indication of anything, it's that a team is more than capable of rebounding from even the most serious whuppings, even when there are only three weeks, not seven, left in a season.