Change sure can come fast in baseball. Good times that seem to come easy for weeks suddenly turn fleeting. As a fan, you start to anticipate the worst, and the players’ faces cannot mask the truth: They’re right there stressing along with you. Then the prophecy self-fulfills, a rut becomes a full-on collapse, and it seems like it will never end until the season ends.
The Red Sox won a baseball game Saturday. It’s true. They beat the Blue Jays, 2-1, to earn a split of a doubleheader. I mention this because right now, it feels like the Sox haven’t won a game since, oh, the third week of May.
But they won that one, on Saturday! It wasn’t that long ago. You probably exhaled afterward. Tried to convince yourself that the worst was over. Maybe you even succeeded. Silly you. Turns out the worst was just ahead.
In their last two games, the Red Sox suffered arguably their two most agonizing losses of the season. On Sunday, they coughed up an 8-4 lead in the seventh inning, losing, 9-8. After a day off Monday, they brought the agony again Tuesday, give up four runs in the ninth inning to lose to the first-place Rays, 8-4, a game the Red Sox once led by three runs.
The Red Sox entered Wednesday’s game five back of the Rays, a team they led by 4½ games July 5. Since that date, the Red Sox have gone 11-18, including losses in 10 of their last 12 games. There are dozens of other miserable statistics confirming how poorly they have played the last few weeks, but I’ll spare you them here. You have all the evidence you need. You’ve seen them play recently.
The only reminder we have right now of how well they played for 3½ months is their overall won-lost record. They entered Wednesday still 15 games over .500 at 65-50, holding the second wild-card spot. Those 3½ months shouldn’t be totally disregarded, and the recent meltdown doesn’t validate the predictions of those who thought this team would be terrible this season.
What it validates is the notion that they needed help at the trade deadline. Deserved it, too. For a team that was 23 games over .500 on July 28, they sure had — and still have — multiple players seeing significant time who haven’t performed well enough to be on a major league roster: Bobby Dalbec, Garrett Richards, Franchy Cordero, Marwin Gonzalez, and another co-conspirator or two. Bullpen pickups Hansel Robles and Austin Davis have become punch lines.
Chaim Bloom is extremely bright and has a keen eye for talent. He’s wise to take the big-picture view. He’s going to do an excellent job here. But he could have enhanced this roster more without spending significant prospect capital (wouldn’t reigning NL player of the week C.J. Cron have helped more than Dalbec?), and he didn’t. Some of this is on him, and the Red Sox players who have propped up this team all season should be angry at him right now.
It’s reached the point where we’re already comparing what’s happening in real time to this team to historic collapses in Red Sox past. In terms of where we are on the schedule, it feels somewhat like 2006. Those Red Sox also hit a high of 23 games over .500 that summer, but a pair of six-game losing streaks — one of which included a five-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees — during a 9-21 August did them in.
That team was more talented than this current Red Sox edition, but it was devastated by injury and illness. Jason Johnson and Kevin Jarvis were the Garrett Richards and Martín Pérez of their time.
The other parallel commonly drawn is 2011, when the stacked Red Sox collectively swallowed their tongues in September, going 7-20 and getting bounced from the playoffs on the final day of the season. That doesn’t feel like that long ago, but as I mentioned leading off this piece, it all changes fast in baseball. The Red Sox’ loss to the Orioles in the season finale was Vladimir Guerrero Sr.’s final MLB game. Ten years later, his son Vladimir Jr. is an MVP candidate and a full-fledged Red Sox tormentor.
The only players remaining from that game who are on active MLB rosters right now are Jon Lester and, amazingly, Daniel Bard, who lost four games that September. (Matt Barnes is enduring a similarly brutal stretch right now.)
The ‘11 Red Sox had far more talent than the current team, but a fraction of the character. The resilience the Red Sox showed early this season is the only reason to cling to a strand of faith that they’ll get this straight soon.
Some might find this strange, but I think there’s some solace to be found in what happened in 1978. That season is treated as the collapse of all collapses, with the Yankees coming from 14½ games back to win the division. The Sox did collapse, with injuries and Don Zimmer’s staggering incompetence conspiring against them so thoroughly that not even Jim Rice’s singular brilliance could help them hold on.
But after their massive lead had evaporated, those ‘78 Sox showed remarkable guts, winning their final eight games of the regular season to force a one-game playoff.
As you may have heard, the Red Sox did not win that final game. But they were admirable in those final weeks when they could have folded, and they were admirable even in bitter defeat.
Forty-three seasons later — yep, it’s been that long — the current Red Sox should show such character. Hard to believe, but that’s where we are right now. Suddenly, we’re looking to 1978 for … inspiration. Told ya things change fast in this game.
Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.