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Fans stay confident in crisis

Experience has helped ease panic

“You have to be positive,’’ said Steve Puppo, 62, a Red Sox fan from Lynnfield. “You have to be positive,’’ said Steve Puppo, 62, a Red Sox fan from Lynnfield. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / September 20, 2011

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They were the type of people who could identify past Red Sox collapses by year.

“In ’86, I couldn’t do anything for two weeks,’’ Dewey Gartland said.

“In ’78, I wanted to put a gun to my head,’’ Rich Jacobs said.

They cited 1974, when the Sox had a seven-game AL East lead and coughed it up. And 1975, when they came so close to winning the World Series but still lost.

“Losing in seven to the Reds,’’ Gartland said. “That was hard.’’

But yesterday, in-between games of the Sox’ doubleheader with the Orioles, in which they dropped Game 1, 6-5, and saw their lead in the wild-card race drop to 1 1/2 games - it was restored to two games after an 18-9 victory in the nightcap - they didn’t reach for the panic button.

Gartland, Jacobs, and other Sox loyalists tried to remain calm, even though what was a large Sox lead in the wild card had been dramatically trimmed.

“They’re going to be in the playoffs,’’ said Jacobs.

Gartland, 61, who was born in Dorchester, grew up in Connecticut, and lives in Brooklyn as a Sox fan, met his friend Jay Cassidy at Fenway Park, along with Jacobs and Jacobs’s son Matt for yesterday’s twinbill.

Part of it’s faith, that the Sox’ bats will heat up, the pitching will come around, and the breaks will go their way again at some point.

“It think they’re going to be all right,’’ said Gartland.

Part of it’s logic.

“The Rays and Yankees still have seven games against each other,’’ said Cassidy, a 54-year-old from Norwalk, Conn.

But part of the reason the old standing-on-the ledge feeling when it came to late-season Sox baseball doesn’t seem as pervasive is the fact that the team won the World Series in 2004, its first since 1918, and 2007.

The Sox are trying to fight off what could be one of the largest disappointments in sports - $160 million team blows division and wild-card lead - and the response from Red Sox Nation has been something between stubborn confidence and, as one security guard described it after seeing fans leave the early game yesterday, “glazed indifference.’’

“2004 changed everything,’’ said Jacobs, 61, of Hollis, N.H.

His father Bill, a lifelong Sox fan, died eight years ago next Monday. When the Sox won it all in ’04, he said, his brothers went to the cemetery and poured champagne on their father’s grave.

“That exorcised all of the demons,’’ he said.

“They can’t hurt us anymore,’’ said Matt Jacobs, 31. “Now we can just love them.’’

Manager Terry Francona has been relentlessly even-keeled during the recent struggles, and his team has followed his lead. In the first game, the Sox had a hard time buying a break. The biggest blow came in the fifth inning, with Dustin Pedroia on third after an RBI triple, when David Ortiz lined a ball to right field that seemed to carom fair off the lower part of a short wall near the Pesky Pole. It was ruled foul by first base umpire Mike Estabrook.

Francona didn’t overreact.

“It’s baseball,’’ he said. “Bad luck happens, but eventually good things will start to happen and go your way, so you can’t let it beat you up.’’

Ortiz said, “It feels like things are going from bad to worse,’’ but the focus almost immediately went to finishing off the doubleheader.

“The only concern is to go out there and try to win games,’’ Ortiz said. “Can’t shut it down now, we’ve just got to go back out there and compete with the same attitude. We’ve got to fight, go out there and fight and make things happen.’’

Bobbi-Jo Johnson, who drove with her husband Troy from their hometown in York, Pa., to Baltimore to fly in for the game, was more than surprised to see the Sox spiraling.

“I didn’t think it would come down to this,’’ she said. “Especially with Baltimore possibly knocking them out.’’

Even if it happens, though, they won’t enjoy it.

“I can’t stand the Yankees,’’ said Troy, 34. “I don’t have anything against the Red Sox.’’

Steve Corey was driving down from Walpole, N.H., with his 13-year-old son Joe, listening to the first game of the doubleheader. He’s been around long enough to have seen the Sox slip out of contention.

“I grew up with them back then and you get accustomed to this happening,’’ he said.

But his son’s seen two Series titles, and the idea of a late-season meltdown was foreign to him. How was he taking it?

“Not really well,’’ Joe said. “I want them to make the playoffs.’’

Steve Puppo didn’t understand the segment of Red Sox Nation staring down the “In Case of Emergency’’ box.

From his seat in loge box 22, the 62-year-old Lynnfield native pointed out to the scoreboard on the Monster.

“You look out there, we’re a game-and-a-half up,’’ Puppo said. “You have to be positive.’’

Sitting next to him, Scott Aldrich, his friend from North Reading, still shook his head at the circumstances.

“It’s amazing,’’ he said. “We were nine games ahead, what, two weeks ago?’’

Aldrich, 53, has seen some of the Sox’ more epic collapses.

“It was a way of life,’’ he said. “I remember in grammar school, the ’67 Red Sox was the first time in my life they had a real chance to do well. Then after that, it was ’75 again before they were good.

“If you’re under 10 years old, you think Boston is the greatest sports town going. But you just don’t know about the past.’’

This season has been an odd one. An awful start and a puzzling finish sandwiched a stretch in which the Sox were the most dominant team in baseball.

“It’s definitely been a funny year like that,’’ Aldrich said. “Horrendous start, horrendous finish.’’

If the Sox can hang on long enough to reach the postseason, Puppo said, “Anything can happen in a short season.’’

But the season’s end makes the team’s playoff performance a question mark.

“I almost wish they wouldn’t make the playoffs,’’ Aldrich said. “Because I think they’re gonna get spanked right away.’’

Despite Aldrich’s pessimism, Puppo’s half-full glass comes from a sincere place. His father, he said, was born in 1908. He never witnessed the Sox win the Series.

“The bottom line is, hell or high water, we’re going to be Red Sox fans,’’ he said. “You don’t jump on the bandwagon. We’ve been here through the bad times. Thank God, in my lifetime we’ve seen a World Series [win].

“There are hundreds of thousands of people - perhaps millions of people - who never saw what we saw.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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