THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Let's not go there just yet

Email|Print| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 8, 2008

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Could everyone take a cold shower and calm down a little bit about the 2008 Red Sox?

The Sox are good, no doubt about it. But this attempt to anoint them as the 1927 Yankees of the new century worries me.

Go to a news rack and check out the baseball pulp magazines. Just about everyone likes the Sox to finish first and win the World Series. Talk to citizens of Red Sox Nation, particularly the ones who think David Ortiz is the first lefthanded slugger in franchise history, and you get the feeling that a 115-win season is expected.

Two new books (at least) are scheduled to hit stores this spring: Michael Holley's "Red Sox Rule: Terry Francona and Boston's Rise to Dominance"; and Tony Massarotti's "Dynasty: The Inside Story of How the Red Sox Became a Baseball Powerhouse." Whoa. Dominance? Powerhouse? (Gulp) Dynasty?

"I'd call that poetic license on the part of the authors," says Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino.

Since when do two championships in 89 years constitute a dynasty? Have we all forgotten that the Sox trailed the Indians, three games to one, in the American League Championship Series after losing to the Tribe at the Jake on the night of Oct. 16?

"We were nine innings away from being eliminated," notes Mike Lowell.

The Florida Marlins won World Series in 1997 and 2003. That's two in seven years. Why no dynasty books on the mighty Marlins?

This is not to be negative. The Sox have won twice in the last four years and they appear to be the best team in the American League at this hour. But astute fans with any kind of memory know how hard this is. The idea is to win enough games to be one of the eight teams playing in the postseason tournament. Then you try to be the hot team. The Sox have pulled it off twice since 2004, but they had narrow escapes both times.

The Sox are good. No doubt. They have the kind of relentless lineup coveted by Theo Epstein. They have depth and experience in the starting rotation and bullpen. They have a dominant closer, a good bench, and a manager who knows how to get the most out of his players. But like any team, they are susceptible to injuries, slumps, and old age.

"You need good health and good luck, just as you need good talent," says Lucchino.

Here's some news for you nouveau fans who came on board in 2004 and remain blissfully unaware of what it's like to struggle and wait: The Detroit Tigers are really good. The Indians are good. So are the Angels, Mariners, Blue Jays, and, yes, the New York Yankees are still to be taken seriously.

"Expectations are a lot higher," acknowledges Alex Cora. "The first question I got last year, after the plane ride home from the World Series, was, 'Are you guys gonna win it again?' "

Boston's Too-Great Expectations are easily explained. Much of it has to do with the way the Sox finished. After falling behind the Indians, they won their final seven playoff games by an aggregate score of 59-15. It was 7-1, 12-2, and 11-2 over Cleveland, followed by 13-1, 2-1, 10-5, and 4-3 over Colorado. Absolute carnage. On the grandest of stages. We were left with a memory of a team that looked like it could play until Christmas and never lose. Apparently, this caused a number of fans to forget about the daily struggle that is baseball.

"I think people expect us to win every single game," says Kevin Youkilis.

Not going to happen, people. The Red Sox will lose some games this year. Every team in major league ball averages at least one loss every three games.

Bet you spoiled newbies have no idea that the 2001 Seattle Mariners were eliminated by the Yankees in the playoffs after winning 116 regular-season games. The 1969 Orioles won 109 games, then lost the World Series in five games to the miracle Mets.

Again, the Sox are good. But they are not far better than all the other teams.

"Anyone who thinks we are that much better just doesn't know much about baseball," says Youkilis. "There's a lot of great teams out there. We feel we can match up with them and we feel we're a better team top to bottom, but don't forget what happened to the Patriots."

It's nice to have so many fans associate the Red Sox with clutch play and championships. Nobody misses the angst that dogged the team for 86 years before the miracle of 2004. But it's important to remember that there are 29 other teams in baseball, several with big payrolls, stocked with great lineups and a few healthy arms. The Sox are good, and if they'd acquired Johan Santana, they could have been the best Red Sox team of all time. More than most teams, they are protected from the inevitable land mines on the path to 162 games. But they are not a slam dunk.

"Our job in management should be to control expectations," says Lucchino. "I suppose a little bit of excess is inevitable, as long as we don't fall victim to it ourselves."

The Sox are good. But they are not a dynasty. Not yet. Not even close.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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