May Day again
Even on vacation -- even out of the country -- I heard the whispers. The Sox were fading. Their lead was evaporating. The Yankees were charging, and a seemingly insurmountable edge was suddenly surmountable.
I scoffed at the naysayers. After all, the Red Sox had the best pitching in the American League -- the best bullpen in all of baseball -- and had picked up Eric Gagne at the trade deadline while all the other AL contenders had remained relatively quiet.
I had kept track of the team from afar, reading the box scores while the Canadian sports pages spent key space covering the Doug McLean-led purchase of the Tampa Bay Lightning (you just can't get that kind of hockey coverage in the States during the season, let alone in August.)
All in all, the Red Sox seemed to be surviving the road trip, even after Friday's rare bullpen collapse in Baltimore. How bad could things get?
The answer to that question, of course, is very bad. Which is where we are right now. The Sox are home from a sub-.500 road trip, a 10-day stretch that saw their lead fall from eight games to four games, the smallest margin the Sox have had since May 1.
It was May Day then, it's mayday now.
In Sunday’s Boston Globe, Sam Allis wrote in his Observer column that "to finally win the damned division would be sublime." He suggests that it is a prize worthy of daydream, even at the expense of the usual dreams of a World Series win.
Obviously, winning the final game of October is much more important than winning the season finale on the first day of the month. Yet, after nine straight AL East championships for the Yankees, wouldn't it be nice to see the Sox celebrate a division title rather than the Wild Card. "We're number two" just doesn't seem as fulfilling, does it?
There will be no complaints in Red Sox Nation if the Sox take the fourth and final AL spot in the postseason party and parlay it into a championship, like they did in 2004. That said, it will be a hard September to swallow if we are forced to watch the Yankees storm past Boston to take the title for the 10th straight year.
The schedule has favored New York of late, with a steady diet of Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Toronto since the All-Star break. The Yankees have fattened up on that schedule to the tune of 23-8.
That's why New York's sweep of Cleveland at Jacobs Field over the weekend was a statement. The Indians consider themselves contenders, but they were pounded by the torrid New York offense three straight times.
There are eight games with Detroit and three with the Angels on the Yankees schedule before they host the Sox for three games at the end of the month. Those dates are suddenly looming as make-or-break games.
The Sox? They've got six games with the Devil Rays sandwiched around the four-game, three-day weekend with the Angels. Conventional wisdom says Boston should win most of those games.
Of course, that same wisdom said the Sox should've won the weekend series in Baltimore, and that Eric Gagne shouldn't have given up five runs in his last two appearances.
Like it or not, the race is on. There will be no coasting into the postseason. The Sox will have to earn their place at the table, and that won't be easy.
It never is, is it? Anyone who remembers baseball before 2004 can attest to that.