ANAHEIM, Calif. — Today’s the day. The Red Sox have officially reeked for one calendar year. Today marks Day 366 (leap year, people) since the last time everything was peachy in Red Sox Nation.
On this date last year, Josh Beckett pitched seven strong innings and the Sox beat the Yankees, 9-5, at Fenway Park, giving Boston 11 wins in 14 games against the Bronx Bombers (I think the game was a sellout and they might have played “Sweet Caroline” before the home half of the eighth).
The win lifted Beckett’s record to 12-5, a gaudy 4-0 against the Yanks.
“This is the guy we’ve relied on for so long now,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona. “We were hoping he could come back with a vengeance and he has.’’
Daniel Bard came on in the eighth and set down the Yankees, 1-2-3. Jonathan Papelbon finished things in the ninth, stretching his scoreless streak to 17 innings. Jason Varitek hit a two-run homer. Jed Lowrie hit an RBI single. Adrian Gonzalez started a rally with a single.
Beckett? Francona? Bard? Papelbon? Varitek? Lowrie? Gonzalez?
Look at what happened to all those guys. They’re all gone (OK, Bard is only gone in the competitive sense). This truly is an alternate universe we’re living in on Aug. 31, 2012.
Believe it or not, one year ago today, we were debating the merits of John Lackey or Eric Bedard to start the third game of the playoffs. Nobody said a word about Francona working on the last year of his contract. The Sox were a lock to make the postseason for the sixth time in eight seasons, and Francona had Belichickian security. Popeyes was just another takeout joint in the basement of the Buckminster Hotel.
Aug. 31, 2011, also marked the first time Theo Epstein commented on rumors that he might be interested in taking over as president of the Chicago Cubs.
“Something like that, I can’t even contemplate it long enough to comment on it,’’ said Epstein. “I’m all Red Sox all the time . . . I’m really happy to be with the Red Sox. I’m really happy to have the ability to come to work to a place like this.
“I know there are a couple of articles which have appeared, but I’m completed focused on the Red Sox of 2011, first and foremost, and what potentially lies ahead for our club.’’
Something happened that night. It was The Day The Music Died in Boston baseball.
Our Year of Living Dangerously started innocently enough at Fenway Park the next day, with a 4-2 loss to the Yankees. No big deal. It was only a flesh wound. The Sox were still in first place.
Then the deluge. Free fall. Abject chaos. Seven and 20 in September led into the abomination of 2012, when the Sox have never been right.
Since this date last year, the Sox are 69-90 (after Thursday night’s 5-2 loss to the Angels). Your Boston Red Sox haven’t played 20 games under .500 for a full big league season since 1965, when they went 62-100 and finished 40 games behind the Minnesota Twins.
It is truly unbelievable. And the misery of the last 12 months makes it easy to forget that exactly one year ago today, the Sox were really good. They were 83-52, leading the American League East by 1½ games. They had just completed a four-month stretch in which they were 81-42 — a whopping 39 games over .500 over a period of 123 games. That’s more than three-quarters of a full baseball season.
They were the best team in baseball. They were touted as the Best Team Ever, consensus favorites to win the World Series. Everyone thought they were a lock. Now this. In USA Today’s “Power Rankings” the Red Sox today are judged to be the 19th-best team in baseball. They are worse than the Seattle Mariners.
Has any team ever gotten this bad this quickly? (OK, the 1969-70 Celtics hit rock bottom a year after winning the NBA title, but that’s because Bill Russell and Sam Jones retired.)
Seeing the reeling Red Sox in Anaheim this week (it was tempting to put a “FORT MYERS” dateline on this dispatch) is like stumbling into a once-grand hotel in a dilapidated section of Atlantic City. A place where tuxedo-clad millionaires stepped out of Rolls-Royces and clinked champagne glasses has become an empty mansion with broken water pipes, unpainted shutters dangling off hinges, and wildlife roaming the once-gleaming hardwood floors.
I approached Dustin Pedroia three hours before Thursday night’s series finale in Anaheim. The Sox were trying to avoid going 0-6 against the Angels this year. I reminded him what things were like just one year ago today. He shook his head. It felt like we were talking about something that had taken place in the 19th century.
“Yeah, that seems like a long time ago,’’ said the second baseman. “Every year is obviously different. We were playing good back then. I remember Josh kept asking me, ‘How many games will we need to win to win the division?’ And I’d tell him, ‘We need to be 30 games over .500.’
“And we were. We were 30 games over. I’ll never forget saying that to Josh.
“Teams that are on top every year are consistent. Since that time last year, we haven’t been consistent. This is the big leagues. Everyone’s good.’’
Not the Red Sox. Today is the one-year anniversary of the last time they were good.