Let others hold the 2018 Red Sox’ feet to the fire. Let others scream, “World Series or bust!” I choose to take what I consider a much more reasoned approach to the subject.
So go ahead. Call me Pollyanna. Call me irresponsible. Call me unreliable. Call me undependable, too. (Sorry, sometimes my inner Sammy Cahn bursts forth). I’m sorry, but I don’t think it will be the end of the sports world as we know it if the Red Sox do not win the World Series.
Do I think the Red Sox have a good team? Of course. Do I think the Red Sox have had a wonderful regular season? Without question.
But should this particular regular-season success automatically transfer to the postseason? No, not necessarily. The best anyone can do is hope things will turn out well.
I am hardly the first to point out the vulnerability of the Red Sox’ pitching staff. Their three primary starters are 0 for lifetime, W-L-wise, as starters in the postseason. So they each have something to prove. The bullpen has been endlessly dissected for the past three months. The pen is a huge question mark entering the playoffs. None of this is exactly new news to anyone who has been following the 2018 Red Sox.
And there are foes to respect, if not fear. We all know what the Yankee possibilities are. The lineup is always scary. If it’s the A’s, be careful. The Indians are sneaky good and they have a championship manager. Plus, there could be the matter of a defending champion Houston team that could easily put things together for three weeks in October.
Beyond that, we have the little matter of history.
Winning a heap of games in the regular season is nice and the achievement should be applauded. The problem is we have ample evidence that regular-season success is not always easily transferable to the postseason. The old cliché that everyone starts off 0-0 is completely relevant.
Chew on this one: Three of the four winningest regular-season teams in baseball history did not — repeat, did not — win the World Series.
The lesson was brought home in the third World Series ever. The Chicago Cubs went 116-36 for a winning percentage of .763. That remains the percentage record. They lost the Series in six games to their crosstown rivals, the White Sox. Why? Well, basically because they were outpitched. File that one.
The 2001 Seattle Mariners likewise won 116 games. The Yankees won 21 fewer games. The Yankees took them out in five games in the ALCS. AL Rookie of the Year and MVP Ichiro Suzuki was shut down (4 for 18, one extra-base hit).
The 1954 Cleveland Indians won 111 games. Buoyed by a sensational pitching staff (so deep that 35-year-old Bob Feller was 13-3 as the fifth starter), the Indians were overwhelming favorites against the New York Giants. Didn’t matter. The Giants swept them.
Yes, we had the 1998 Yankees, who won 114 games and blitzed through the postseason, capping an 11-2 run with a sweep of the San Diego Padres in the World Series. So you can hang your hat on that hook if you like.
One issue clouding the discussion around these here parts is that we have witnessed so many championships we sometimes think that a) it’s our birthright or b) it’s really not that hard. So when a team knocks on the door, as the Red Sox have by winning three consecutive AL East crowns, and then fails to complete the deal, as the last two Sox teams have, we feel cheated and they are branded as failures, rather than just being accepted as, well, not quite good enough.
Winning it all just isn’t that easy, and the margin of error is often very small. Certain losses sting; no question. I think frequently of the 2009-10 Celtics, who saw a 3-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 7 over the Lakers turn into a 6-point deficit in 94 seconds and three trips down the floor, and never mind that the difference-maker in the game was the odious Metta World Peace. Bruins fans will forever look at the Blackhawks and think of the horror of 2013.
Older Bruins fans will forever kvetch about the overpowering 1970-71 team, which racked up 121 points; scored 399 goals; boasted of the Hart (Bobby Orr), Art Ross (Phil Esposito), Norris (Orr), and Lady Byng (Johnny Bucyk) winners; and who had the top four scorers in the league (Espo, Bobby, Chief, and Ken Hodge); and who — oops — lost to the Canadiens and rookie goaltender Ken Dryden.
By the way, have you forgotten that when the 2004 Red Sox broke the alleged curse they did so at the expense of the 105-game-winning St. Louis Cardinals?
Never, ever, ever, ever, ever take winning any championship for granted. All we need do is look at the Patriots.
Your New England Patriots have been to eight Super Bowls in the Belichick-Brady era. There were no routs. They could easily be 8-0. They could easily by 0-8. They are 5-3, which is probably what they deserve. It ain’t easy, folks.
In case the Red Sox do not prevail, will this make me forget the many enjoyable nights and afternoons I have spent at Fenway this summer? Will not winning the World Series erase from my mind the memory of Xander Bogaerts’s eyewitness walkoff grand slam, or my televiewer’s glow of Mookie Betts’s 13th-pitch granny, or the many other great moments the Red Sox gave us? The answer is no.
I’ll be pulling a Dusty Springfield: wishin’ and hopin’. But I ain’t expectin.’
One more thing: The 2013 postseason Big Papi (1.948 World Series OPS) and the postseason Curt Schilling (11-2, 2.23) will not be walking onto that field.