In their modern history, the Red Sox have found it — well, not easier, but at least more attainable — to win the World Series than to win 100 games in the regular season.
Oh, be sure that I’m not equating the achievements — after all, only one is celebrated with a parade — but it nevertheless is kind of amazing that their last 100-win season before this one occurred 72 years ago, or when Carl Yastrzemski was 7 years old.
They’ve had many sensational seasons (2004, 2007, 2013, and even though the final scenes weren’t fulfilling, 1967, ’75, ’86, and ’03 deserve at least honorable mention) and spectacular players (Yaz, Rice, Pudge, Pedro, Papi . . .) since 1946. But none delivered 100 wins in a year.
The closest they came was 1978, when they stalled devastatingly at 99, losing a one-game playoff to the Yankees when feeble-hitting shortstop Russell Earl Dent — forever known around here as Bucky “Bleeping” Dent — picked a cruel time to hit one of the 40 home runs in his 12-year career.
This season, thank goodness, has little in common with the soul-crusher of 40 years ago. It does have quite a bit in common — though there are notable differences, too — with ’46.
The current Red Sox hit the milestone Wednesday night with a 1-0 victory over the Blue Jays, improving to 100-46, a record that would look downright ridiculous if we hadn’t seen it build up win after win, game after game, week after week, month after month.
The 1946 Red Sox, who finished 104-50 in clinching their sixth American League pennant and first since 1918, won their 100th game on Sept. 21, a 7-5 victory in 11 innings over the Washington Senators.
The box score tells us that Ted Williams was 1 for 1 with a double, two walks, and a hit-by-pitch, while Johnny Pesky had two hits, including an RBI single to score pinch runner Paul Campbell to tie it, 5-5, in the ninth. The Sox won on Leon Culberson’s two-run single to score Wally Moses and Dom DiMaggio in the top of the 11th. Bill Zuber picked up the win with three scoreless innings of relief.
The common threads between the 2018 and 1946 Red Sox are the usual ones found in the fabric of any excellent team. Williams, back after missing three years serving as a fighter pilot in World War II, won his first of just two Most Valuable Player awards, slashing .342/.497/.667 with 38 home runs, 123 RBIs, with 156 walks and 44 strikeouts. The current Red Sox, of course, have a pair of MVP candidates in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.
Like the current Red Sox of Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello, the ’46 club featured a high-quality front of the starting rotation, one that was durable that year although the careers of Tex Hughson (20-11, 2.75 ERA in 278 innings in ’46) and Dave “Boo” Ferriss (25-6, 3.25 in 274 innings) would ultimately be abbreviated. Third-starter Mickey Harris was 17-9 with a 3.64 ERA in 222⅔ innings.
The present Red Sox lineup features superb producers in shortstop Xander Bogaerts and left fielder Andrew Benintendi, as well as a cast of accomplished veterans and role players who expertly complement the stars. The same could be said of Williams’s teammates in ’46 – especially those who were saluted in “The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship,” David Halberstam’s book about Williams, Pesky (.335, 208 hits, 115 runs), DiMaggio (.316, 73 RBIs, splendid defense in center field), and Bobby Doerr (.271, 116 RBIs). Veteran first baseman Rudy York chipped in with 17 homers and 119 RBIs.
And of course, good ol’ Joe Castiglione was the familiar radio play-by-play voice this year as well as in ’46. Can you believe it? OK, you cannot — he got here in ’83, when that Yaz kid was an admired 44-year-old grinding through his final season.
The main difference in ’46 was the structure, skill, and usage of the bullpen. If the ’18 Red Sox are to fall short of their postseason aspirations, most would assume right now it will be because of a failure of the relief corps, which is talented but addled with inconsistency. It’s a far different scenario from ’46, when relief pitchers were afterthoughts — and not especially hard-throwing ones.
Bob Klinger led the Sox bullpen with all of 27 appearances. He had a 2.37 ERA, but struck out just 16 in 57 innings. Of their five most-used relievers, three walked more than they struck out. The ’18 Red Sox have seven relievers who have made 27 appearances or more, including relative newcomer Ryan Brasier. Five of them are averaging at least a strikeout per inning.
The ’46 and ’18 Red Sox took similar paths to dominance, starting fast and hardly ever relenting. The ’46 Sox won their first five games, 21 of their first 24 (including 15 straight), and 41 of their first 50. They clinched the American League pennant on Sept. 13, ultimately finishing 12 games ahead of the runner-up Tigers, 17 ahead of the Yankees, and 55 ahead of the last-place Philadelphia Athletics, an inept forefather to this year’s Orioles. They were as tough as a team can be at home, going 61-16 at Fenway Park.
Of course, this wouldn’t be Boston if fans weren’t looking at the sunny sky and expecting it to collapse upon them at any moment. We dealt with it this year — I cannot tell you how many times I was admonished “Don’t forget what happened in ’78!” this season, even though the Sox have never lost more than three in a row — and caterwauling about the doom sure to come was apparently a thing in ’46 as well.
This from Jerry Nason’s Red Sox column in the June 28, 1946, Globe:
“It was remarkable how some of the citizens yah-yahed! and I told-you-so’d once the Red Sox got out on the open road and ran into a series of flat tires. When June was busting out all over, and the Red Sox with it, we were naive enough to suppose that all the people were with ’em. It was disillusioning to discover, when troubles finally beset ’em, that their misfortunes were met with genuine delight here and there.
“However, the termites can crawl quickly back into the wallboards because their hilarity over a Red Sox tailspin away from a pennant is premature by one year.
“This team isn’t going to blow up. Every now and again the law of averages will catch up with it and tip it on its applecart. But it won’t stay down, because it isn’t the kind of team that does.”
I suppose it should be noted that the ’46 Sox did not win the World Series, losing to the Cardinals in seven games. Williams was limited to five measly singles, playing with an elbow he injured in a three-game series against a team of assorted All-Stars the Red Sox played to keep sharp between the end of the season and the World Series.
There will be boos and hisses if the Red Sox do not win it all this year, and that’s understood. There’s no parade for winning 100 games. But it is a feat worth celebrating, one so rare that I hope even you termites among us can appreciate it.