On Aug. 2 last year, the Bobby Valentine-led train wreck Red Sox were 53-53, and nine games out of first place in the American League East.
In 2011, on the same date, Boston was 67-41, one game up in the division.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, before you go and accuse me of intentionally bursting any bubbles as the Red Sox come off a second straight dramatic walkoff win against the Seattle Mariners, I can assure you that is simply not the case. But, at 66-44, and one game up on the Rays, the 2013 edition is right on pace with where the club two years before it was, before we fully understood what choking dogs they were.
Does anyone really think there’s any way that lightning is going to strike twice?
Clearly, if there is one trait of this team that rises above all, it is its resiliency, most recently illustrated in Thursday night’s six-run comeback in the bottom of the ninth. Put last year’s team or the 2011 Heimlichs in that situation and those throngs that left Thursday after the wretched sing-along would have been justified. This year? You stick around. Because you never know.
And frankly, with increasing frequency, you do know.
Manager John Farrell calls it “magical.” The 2-6 p.m. slot on 98.5 The Sports Hub calls it “fluky.”
Those of us in the realm of reality find it somewhere in the middle: A hell of a lot of fun.
“We just play until they tell us we can’t,” Dustin Pedroia said after driving in the third run of the ninth with a single.
That is the direct antithesis of the 2011 club, one that played until they were told the clubhouse buffet was hot. On Aug. 2 of that year, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth to beat Terry Francona’s current squad, the Cleveland Indians, 3-2. It was Boston’s sixth walkoff win of the season.
Of course, Thursday night’s win was the 11th win for the Red Sox in their final at-bat this season. That’s the most since 1978, and only two short of the club record set way back in 1940.
“We don’t quit. Ever,” Farrell said. “There’s no quit in this bunch. They truly believe there’s a chance to do something special, whether it’s on a given night or over the course of a given year. That one would be this year.”
Call it cliché to chalk this year’s success up to character and competitive drive, but isn’t it almost that simple? Ben Cherington (or, Red Sox ownership if you talk to Larry) not only did a masterful job last August in clearing out the clutter in the mega-deal with the Dodgers, but he immediately changed the culture by bringing in, for lack of a better word, “gamers.” Admit it, you mocked the Jonny Gomes signing in the offseason, and if you didn’t, then hell, I mercilessly mocked it. I was wrong on every account. Gomes happens to be a corner piece in this puzzle. Looks fine without it, but complete once you find it hidden under the couch.
After two years of anger, frustration, and, perhaps worst of all in a baseball-crazed region, apathy, Cherington put the Red Sox back in our hearts by crafting a ballclub with guys like Shane Victorino, Gomes, Mike Napoli, and Koji Uehara, that we could fall in love with again. Despite the similarity in records, did you ever fall for the 2011 club? Or did that unlikeable roto-bunch make it too damned difficult to truly find passion in following them?
Bottom line, the records are the only things to compare between this year’s club and the one that collapsed in 2011.
Boston is on pace to go 95-67, which should be good enough for its first playoff spot since 2009. According to coolstandings.com, the Red Sox stand a 55 percent chance of winning the AL East, 37.7 percent chance of landing one of the two wild cards, and are a 92.6 percent favorite to make the postseason via either road. Two years ago, Boston had a 99.4 percent chance of making the playoffs…on Sept. 6.
Red Sox fans don’t have to worry about that though. Josh Beckett is … somewhere, John Lackey is healthy, Jonathan Papelbon is blowing saves down 95 these days, the entitlement of lingering veteran players has been retired, and the sluggish drive of big-money team “leaders” has been replaced with the same “yee-ha” attitude that helped drive the Sox squads of a decade ago.
Now, here comes Arizona, and here comes Jake Peavy. What’s there to complain about?