The baseball gods were merciful this week in sparing the Red Sox a one-game playoff for the American League wild card slot. That would only have reinforced the comparisons, made frequently this week, with the 1978 team, which lost a one-game playoff on the infamous Bucky Dent homer. Any linkage would have been deeply unfair to the ’78 team, which won its last eight games to force the playoff. This year’s squad did nothing to deserve such a chance.
Every day, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia fought valiantly to keep the team alive, sometimes with the help of Marco Scutaro, but the rest of the dead-eyed roster dragged them down like a sack of fungo bats. The pitching, in particular, was so awful that no lead was safe, and many games were over before the middle innings.
Ironies abound. General Manager Theo Epstein is supposed to be unafraid to make changes when the team struggles, but not this year. Manager Terry Francona’s specialty is keeping a team loose, but this one tightened up like an electric wrench. Designated hitter David Ortiz is supposed to thrive under pressure, but this September he had no trouble hitting the ball - except with men on base.
Nonetheless, Epstein, Francona, and Ortiz - each a truly class act - will never lose their special places in Red Sox history. And no fans have the right to expect a winning team, no matter how well-paid or ballyhooed. The baseball gods reminded us of that, rewarding a scrappy Tampa Bay team, punishing a store-bought, big-contract Red Sox team, and treating fans across the country to a tense, exciting, unpredictable night. Nothing unfair about that. It’s just baseball.