Night after night it has come, a jackpot of triumphs that seems to have no end.
Baseball teams aren’t supposed to win with the frequency experienced by this year’s Red Sox, who, despite a 13-7 loss Friday night, own a shocking 66-30 record and .688 winning percentage. A team is not supposed to amass three streaks of eight or more consecutive wins prior to the All-Star break, or to march to 66 wins through 96 games.
Skeptics question the Red Sox’ wins in a year in which three American League teams are on pace for 100 losses. Yet while it’s fair to examine that context, it’s also increasingly reasonable to explore another, chiefly:
Could this end up emerging as a team worthy of the title — or at least in the conversation as — the best Red Sox team ever?
For now, it’s far too early to reach such a conclusion. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons managed against the Red Sox in the championship seasons of 2004, 2007, and 2013. He’s not prepared to declare this year’s team better than those, even as he remains singularly impressed with a club that has steamrolled Toronto for eight wins in 10 games.
“I really like their team. It’s a great team. I’ve seen some of the old ones. I don’t think this team is any better than those ones, but they’re clicking,” said Gibbons. “It’s a great team, but they’ve had so many great teams.
“It’s a different style. They used to just slug it out. Now, they hit home runs but they can also manufacture because they’ve got good team speed. It’s probably the best defensive team I’ve ever seen them have. They’ve got a lot of energy, young guys who compete and bust it.”
It is in those finer points — the hustle plays that translate to wins, the nine innings of energy in pursuit of victories — that the Red Sox appear to be taking the most pleasure on a nightly basis.
But while members of the team try to appreciate each victory, there’s a growing awareness of what the accumulating wins total is starting to mean.
Some members of the Red Sox organization will take a look at the standings on the Green Monster’s scoreboard and try to appreciate what they’re witnessing.
From 2011-13, J.D. Martinez played for three Astros teams that finished the year with 56, 55, and 51 victories. Newcomer Steve Pearce was part of one of those Astros teams a couple years after playing for a Pirates club that finished 57-105 in 2010. Hitting coach Tim Hyers was part of a 53-109 Tigers team in 1996. Third base coach Carlos Febles was part of a Royals team that went 62-100 add in 2002.
In each of the last 10 years, there has been at least one major league team that finished the year with fewer victories than this year’s Red Sox already possess with 67 games remaining on the schedule. What the Red Sox have done to start the season puts them in select historical company.
■ The Red Sox are the 10th team since the introduction of the League Championship Series in 1969 to start with a record of at least 65-30. Of the first nine, seven reached the World Series and three won it. All nine teams won at least 100 games. Four of the five teams to open with a record of at least 66-29 (including last year’s Dodgers) reached the World Series.
■ They entered Friday’s game on pace for 113 wins, a mark that would represent the fourth-most victories in big league history, behind only the 2001 Mariners (116), 1906 Cubs (116), and 1998 Yankees (114).
■ They’re on pace to join the 1946 Red Sox (104-50), 1915 Red Sox (101-50), and 1912 Red Sox (105-47) as the only teams in franchise history to clear at least 100 wins.
And the idea of feeding on vulnerable prey is common to teams typically associated with greatness. The transcendent 1998 Yankees, for instance, went 14-1 against two expansion teams (the Rays and Marlins) while going 18-3 against bad teams in Kansas City and Detroit. Yet in hindsight, no one criticizes them for their remarkable season based on the ability to dominate lesser opponents.
After all, that’s what great teams do — and achieving dominance to the extent of this year’s Red Sox through 96 games is difficult. Members of the Red Sox bristle at those who would seek to put asterisks on their record.
“If you look at it on paper and look at the names we have, this is by far the best team that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Rick Porcello, who has been a part of six division winners, including three Tigers teams that reached the ALCS and one that played in the World Series. “People start talking about other teams being bad, but they’re not bad. We’re just beating them. We take a lot of pride in that. We know how hard it is to win ballgames every night. We go through a pretty extensive process every day just for that game, that night. It’s not easy. I’m sure it’s easy to take it for granted if you’re watching it sometimes with the amount of wins and the things you’re seeing from guys like J.D. [Martinez], [Chris] Sale, those guys. We don’t take it for granted.”
Those who have experienced the depths of teams that reached triple-digits loss totals note all of the elements that have harmonized to create the windfall of wins: Incredible talent, awareness of details on subtle plays such as relays or decisions on whether to advance on dirt-ball reads, defensive positioning, and pitch execution in critical situations.
There is, to be sure, some luck in play as well. Consider the Red Sox’ five-run rally on Thursday, which was abetted by a second baseman’s inability to keep his foot on the bag on a force play, a tapper in front of the plate for an infield single, and a dropped foul ball that kept Mookie Betts’s memorable 13-pitch at-bat going. Nonetheless, the Red Sox recognize that the regularity with which they’ve been able to capitalize on missteps by other teams has been unusual.
“Us coaches talk about savoring every single one of [the wins],” said Hyers. “It’s not easy to win a major league game. When you win one, take notice and try to celebrate the accomplishment.”
Red Sox manager Alex Cora was a member of the 2007 World Series-winning Red Sox. Though perhaps the least remembered of the three Red Sox champions this century (they had neither the end of the 86-championship drought in 2004 nor the emotional link to the city in the wake of the Marathon tragedy in 2013), many consider it to have been the most balanced and perhaps even most talented of the three.
In this group, Cora sees something similar to what he encountered that year, perhaps even something better.
“I think we’re more dynamic,” said Cora of this club. “We know people have their jokes, like, ‘If you take a shot for every runner that’s thrown out, you’d be drunk every game,’ but we can steal bases. People don’t like that. Teams don’t like that. In an era that they just sit back and wait for the three-run homer, we don’t do that. We’re leading the league in OPS and almost leading the league in stolen bases. If we’re not hitting homers, we’ll push the envelope, steal a base, put the ball in play, and we can score.”
“As far as the offense, it’s a more dynamic team [than 2007]. The bullpen, pretty similar, but we have more depth. We’re deeper . . . On a nightly basis, there’s a quality start. They’re going to continue the streak or stop the streak. That’s why we feel comfortable. Whoever you put on that mound is capable of having a special night.”
The Red Sox have featured the well-rounded components that typically characterize teams capable of historic runs. It is beyond the point of a hot stretch, and is instead nearing a place, after almost 100 games, where the piling victories create the possibility of something memorable.
Of course, there is also the possibility that, like potentially great Sox teams of 1949, 1978, and 2003, these Red Sox could see the Yankees spoil their season, or that the team could have a year that ends in postseason disappointment. The Red Sox understand this.
And so, for now, the Red Sox are trying to enjoy each victory, the process that has positioned them to have one of the greatest seasons in franchise history — but with an understanding that there is work remaining if they are to warrant such consideration.
“There’s no room to sit around and enjoy it,” said Porcello. “You’ve got to keep going.”
“We won in ’07,” added Cora. “You’ve got to win it.”