Before the Red Sox get on with the inevitable business of clinching a third straight American League East title in the next day or so, a victory lap around the bases for me:
It was over when I told you it was over.
I trust you recall that back on Aug. 6, after the Red Sox completed a four-game sweep of the Yankees to build a 9½-game lead in the American League East, my column carried this headline: Red Sox effectively, if not officially, clinched the division with a sweep.
And if you don’t recall, go ahead and count this as the reminder, and a necessary one. The response after that piece could be boiled down to this:
Whoa-whoa-whoa, what are you doing? Don’t jinx them! Don’t you remember ’78?
Yeah, I remember ’78, and as vividly as an old man can. I was 8, it was my first year as a fan, my favorite player, Butch Hobson, had to adjust the bone chips in his elbow before he could throw from third base to first, Don Zimmer did everything wrong, and the Sox punted away a 14.5-game lead over the Yankees, losing in a one-game playoff in their 163rd game.
Yeah, I remember ’78. I also remember Jim Rice being as fearsome as a hitter could be, Luis Tiant beating the Jays on the final day of the regular season — the Sox’ eighth straight win, not that that fits a choking narrative — to force the playoff, the Eck pitching every fourth day down the stretch and seeming to win each time, and the feeling that even in crushing disappointment, I knew then that this is something I wanted to have in my life for every summer afterward.
I also remember 2004, 2007, and 2013, even more vividly, too, and so I will never understand so many Sox fans’ decision to buckle on a safety helmet and assume the sky is going to fall even when things are going so well. Jinxes are the desperate narrative of the negative, and all ghosts were exorcised on Oct. 27, 2004. It’s been 40 years. Get over it already.
More than five weeks after I told you to chill, that the Sox had it in the bag, the math is finally about to confirm it. If the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the opener of their three-game set Tuesday night in the Bronx, the AL East title will belong to them.
It will be a heck of an achievement, to lock up the division with double-digit games remaining. It was logicial to believe for much of the season that this six-game stretch of road games (the Red Sox go to Cleveland for three after finishing with the Yankees) would be important, even season-defining.
But the Red Sox, just two wins from tying the 1912 edition for the most in a season (105), have been so good all season that they have rendered their last 12 games on the schedule basically meaningless. Who figured when the schedule came out that those three games with the Yankees to end the season would be so irrelevant?
It’s strange to say, but it’s true: This extraordinary regular season can’t be over soon enough.
Save for bullpen issues that can only be ultimately settled by postseason performance, it’s all good for the Red Sox right now.
They are where they need to be in the standings. They will clinch home field soon enough (they’re 8.5 games up on Houston, and an astounding 19.5 on Cleveland).
Chris Sale returned Sunday and looked like classic Chris Sale for 42 pitches; if we can get through the next day or two without reports of any unusual soreness, the collective exhale in New England might seem like gale-force winds.
The lineup, which leads the majors with 799 runs, is healthy, despite a scare Sunday that is the exact reason this regular season needs to accelerate to the end already.
Mookie Betts got pulled in the sixth inning of the Red Sox’ 4-3 win over the Mets after Jackie Bradley Jr. noticed that he kept stretching out his left side. This is at least mildly alarming. He’s been the best player in the American League this season if J.D. Martinez has not, but he did miss a stretch of games for about two weeks into mid-June after suffering an abdominal strain on his left side. He acknowledged Sunday that he’s had soreness for a couple of days when he throws.
Betts said he will be fine, and the Red Sox said he will be in the lineup Tuesday as the designated hitter. That’s an encouraging sign for sure, but they should give him the day off. He has been as essential as one player can be in getting the Red Sox here, to the edge of officially clinching. They can complete this long-inevitable achievement without him. They have wiggle room, and they should use it.
Their games aren’t important now. Their brilliance from April on made that so. But the biggest games of the season are still to come. The rest of September must be used to make sure they’re ready for October, to give themselves the best chance of eventually confirming that for all of the fun of this regular season, the sky will not fall this year, and the best is yet to come.