Three weeks ago, on Aug. 6, the morning after the Red Sox completed a four-game sweep of the Yankees to build their record to 79-34 and their lead in the American League East to 9½ games, I wrote that all that was left of the division race was the accounting. The division title, a third straight, would be theirs. It was just a matter of how and when it became official.
Three weeks later, on Aug. 27, the Red Sox are 90-42 with 30 games remaining. They have lost six of eight after a three-game sweep at the hands of the annoyingly innovative Tampa Bay Rays over the weekend. Their lead in the division has been whittled — actually, more like chopped — to six games after it had hit a high of 10½ on Aug. 17-18.
I’ll agree that the accounting isn’t as satisfying as it was those three weeks ago. But I’m sticking to what I believed then, because I believe it now.
Forget that old Yogi Berra saying. It is over. Still.
I say that not reluctantly, but perhaps — perhaps — a little more nervously than before. There is suspense in the race that didn’t exist three weeks ago, and that suspense will grow if they don’t take care of business against the Marlins, White Sox, and Braves (a good team, but a National League team, and thus one they should handle) over their next nine games.
There is a greater degree of difficulty at the moment, with Chris Sale having reached the part of his Pedro-like season where we all must hold our breath while awaiting confirmation that his shoulder is OK. Twelve of their remaining 30 games are against the Astros (three), Indians (three), and Yankees (six, including three at Fenway to end the regular season). There’s a six-game gauntlet on the road against the Yankees and Indians from Sept. 18-23 that is going to tell us a lot. They may not need Sale before then, but they will need him at his dominant best for hopefully two games in that stretch.
But I trust that they will get this right, and take care of the business, because that’s who they have been through a significant sample of 125 or so games. J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, and the rest of these Red Sox have spent all season filling a silo of trust that should lead to fans believing in them in the rare times of tension.
The Red Sox are still on a 110-win pace. They are up six games in the division with 30 games to go. With big-picture context, that is exactly where you want them to be.
I know, there’s an element of the fan base that will, “Yeah, but . . .’’ any belief in this team, then dredge up the collapse of 2011, probably right after referencing 1978. These are the same people, I strongly suspect, who did not believe in the 2013 Red Sox until the duck boat engines were warm, feel like they lost part of their identity in October 2004, and prefer to discuss the dysfunctional 2011 Red Sox that collapsed in September than enjoy this thus-far historic season in real time.
The war is over. The curse ended. The Sox have won, and won, and won again. I’ll never understand these people and why they choose to be this way. I just wish they would stop trying to lure me into their sad fellowship of misery.
These Red Sox have already overcome more than they get credit for. Dustin Pedroia has played 27 innings this season. Hanley Ramirez, their No. 3 hitter on Opening Day, didn’t last through May. Christian Vazquez, their starting catcher with a new contract to prove it, has been out almost seven weeks with a broken pinky. Jackie Bradley Jr, their starting center fielder, was hitting .178 on June 23. Drew Pomeranz, a 17-game winner last year, has turned into 1997 Steve Avery. Eduardo Rodriguez, fulfilling his top-of-the-rotation promise with 11 wins in 19 starts, has missed six weeks with an ankle sprain.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing. It has just felt that way, in large part because of the deft navigation of rookie manager Alex Cora, who is the anti-Don Zimmer, and I mean that as a compliment in any way you want to take it. Zimmer notoriously burned out his regulars in 1978, and I suppose there is some irony in Cora’s opposite approach; he should have played J.D. Martinez and/or Andrew Benintendi Sunday. That he didn’t is at least a sign that there’s no strain of panic in the manager’s blood.
Yeah, there’s still some accounting to do in the AL East. That 10½-game lead with 40 games to play was a lot more fun than a six-game lead with 30 to go. Kudos to the Yankees for hanging in there without Aaron Judge. But it’s not going to matter. The Red Sox haven’t resembled the best team in baseball over the last 10 days or so. But that is exactly what they are. They have 90 wins as evidence, and another 20 or so to come.
This might be deja vu all over again, to borrow another Yogi-ism. Just not in the way the miserable want to believe. This isn’t 1978, or 2011. It’s a season all its own, one that so far feels a little like 2004, a little like 2013, and a whole lot like 2007.
The 2018 Red Sox haven’t been at their best lately — but for most of the season, they have been so good that no Red Sox team before them could claim to be better.
They’ve given us much to anticipate. The worst should not be one of those things.