Memory is selective. It’s said that if people could remember the pain of running a marathon or giving birth, they would never do it another time.
This is what it’s like if you are a Red Sox fan. If you could remember the pain of October, you’d never give the Sox your heart in July and August.
But Boston baseball fans do it almost every year.
The Sons of Kevin Kennedy in 1995 stirred the fires of Red Sox Nation, surprising all the skeptics by blowing away the competition in the American League East. For three weeks in August, the Red Sox were the best team in all of baseball (20-2). For a few hallucinogenic moments, they made us forget the fundamental notion that no matter what else happens . . . they are still the Red Sox.
And so last night they traced the tracks of past years and tears back to Fenway Park, where they finished their season with a remarkably lifeless 8-2 loss to the mighty Cleveland Indians. In three games against Cleveland, Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco combined to go 0 for 27 with nine strikeouts and 17 stranded baserunners. Veteran Sox watchers could only remember Ted Williams hitting .200 in his only postseason appearance (1946 World Series).
It’s nobody’s fault that the Sox drew the Indians (a baseball-best 100-44 in 1995) in the first round of the playoffs, and there was nothing disgraceful about Boston’s two losses at Jacobs Field this week. But in the end, the 1995 Red Sox played down to their bloodlines.
“I’m extremely proud,” manager Kennedy said after the beating. “I think we’re at the tip of the iceberg. There’s 53 guys that touched this club and contributed in every way. There are no excuses to be made for this series. We lost, they won, and we’ll be back.”
And so it ends. They told us all summer that they were different from other Fenway editions. They said the past had nothing to do with them. But then they were swept, just as the 1990 and 1988 Red Sox were swept. They extended Boston’s postseason losing streak to a record 13 unlucky games. And they made it certain that for the 77th consecutive year, fans in a city other than Boston will honor a championship team.
Nothing felt right about last night. For the first time since 1990 and the seventh time since 1918, October bunting hung from Fenway Park’s upper facades as New Englanders once again huddled in the old yard to see if there was any remote possibility that this might be the year.
Carrying the embarrassing postseason losing streak and 77 years of bad karma into the night, the Red Sox were attempting to come back from an 0-2 deficit in their best-of-five first-round series.
The Indians were pretty cocky about the outcome. They were, in fact, downright insulting. Cleveland’s ballplayers checked out of their Boston hotel rooms yesterday afternoon, prepared for a flight home and some rest before the League Championship Series. Smart move.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, remain locked in a room they can never leave, condemned to another winter of “Wait Till Next Year.” And after all the great things these Sox did, they go into their long winter while the hated New York Yankees still have a chance to win the World Series. Ouch.
It was a gloomy evening all around. The temperature at game time was 56 degrees with wind gusts of 20 miles per hour, and the Red Sox looked weatherbeaten.
Faced with elimination, the Sox turned their desperate eyes in the direction of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, a onetime star who was cut by the Pittsburgh Pirates this spring, only to be reborn at Fenway. The losingest pitcher in the minor leagues last season, Wakefield obviously struck some Faustian bargain early this summer. Unfortunately for Boston fans, the baseball devil snatched Wakefield’s supernatural powers sometime in late August.
It was soon clear that Wakefield was toast. He yielded a two-run homer to Jim Thome in the second, then gave up a hit and three walks in the third to put the Red Sox in a 3-0 hole as Fenway fell deadly silent.
The bottom of the third typified the Sox’ frustration in this series. Boston had runners on second and with third with one out and Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco due up. Vaughn struck out swinging, extending his slump to 0 for 12, then Canseco lined to left to end the inning and give Jose a line of 0 for 11.
In the top of the sixth, Cleveland routed Wakefield and reliever Rheal Cormier for five more runs. It was quiet at Fenway as the sand ran out on the 1995 season. The stands were practically empty when Mike Greenwewll flied to left to close the curtain.
It was fitting that Greenwell made the final out. He’s played in every game of the nine-year, 13-game playoff losing streak. He lost his innocence some time ago. He knows that the Boston uniform is heavier than all others.