As it turned out, these Red Sox were not too good to be true
LOS ANGELES — My parents went through their high school and college years during America’s Great Depression. My mom had seven siblings, my dad four, and there was never extra money for anything. They never felt financially secure.
They had what we all came to know as the “Depression Mentality,’’ and passed it on to their children. The message was: Take no risks and always say yes to a steady job. You never know when it might all go away.
This is how I explain my year-long skepticism about the 2018 Red Sox — the greatest Boston baseball club in history and now in the discussion with the 1927 Yankees and a handful of others as among the best ever.
I have the Depression Mentality about this franchise, and I believe it’s because of the times I grew up in.
The Sox were always bad when I was a little kid. Coming of age as a fan in 1961, my local team finished eighth or ninth in a 10-team league every year. While the Mickey Mantle-Roger Maris-Yogi Berra Yankees kicked sand in our faces annually, the Sox rented space at the bottom of the American League with the Kansas City Athletics and Washington Senators. Today we would call such a team a Clown Show. Back then, we just said, “The Red Sox stink.’’
They lost 100 games in 1965. They were always out of it by June. They drew crowds of less than 1,000. We had an occasional batting champ (Pete Runnels, Carl Yastrzemski), but the Sox were never part of the October discussion.
Everything changed in 1967, which is why that season forever will be special. The Sox were suddenly contenders. They won the greatest pennant race of all time. Yaz was the greatest athlete in the world, and our Red Sox made it to the seventh game of the World Series.
Since 1967, the Sox have never been really bad for a really long stretch. They’ve had good players, healthy payrolls, and big crowds. They’ve pretty much been annual contenders for more than a half-century.
But between 1967 and 2003, they perfected the big tease, the near miss. They were a study in frustration. We were dying of starvation, and they would put a hot plate of tasty burgers and fries under our noses, then cruelly snatch it away.
It happened in 1972, 1974, 1977, and 1978. They lost the World Series in seven games in 1975 and again in 1986. They lost the Bucky Dent one-game playoff. They lost the Bill Buckner Game 6 at Shea Stadium. They lost at Yankee Stadium with a 5-2 lead in the eighth when Grady Little went too long with Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
These were ghoulish, impossible defeats, seemingly scripted by Stephen King.
Everything changed, of course, with the long-awaited championship in 2004, and even two more followed. But still, you never lose the childhood fear that it can all go bad.
Hence, my Red Sox Will Blow It Syndrome (RSWBIS).
It’s hard to shake.
So, yes, I doubted these guys throughout the 2018 season. I did not trust the greatness. When they won 108 regular-season games, I wondered whether it was largely owed to an American League stocked with an unusual number of horrible teams. Sure, the Sox were winning, but they seemed to be playing the Orioles, Blue Jays, White Sox, or Royals every day.
At the end of the year, I looked it up, and sure enough, the mighty Red Sox had played sub-.500 ball against the rest of the American League playoff field (18-21 vs. Yankees, Astros, A’s, and Indians).
I remembered 2016 and 2017. Those Sox teams finished first in the AL East with most of these same players. And they went 1-6 in the playoffs, checking out in the first round both years.
The 2018 Sox did not have a single pitcher who’d ever won a postseason start. Craig Kimbrel had never been on a team that won a playoff series. Mookie Betts had never driven in a postseason run.
They won their first playoff game against the Yankees, but it felt like a loss when a 5-0 lead was shaved to 5-4 in the ninth. Then the Yankees routed David Price at Fenway, hitting three monstrous homers in a 6-2 win. Aaron Judge trolled the Sox, playing Sinatra’s “New York, New York’’ as he walked out of Fenway.
Here it comes, I figured. The big fall. The Sox would shrink and die at Yankee Stadium.
No. They came out on Monday, Oct. 8, and beat the Yankees, 16-1.
And they never stopped. From then until Oct. 28, they won 10 of 12 postseason games, seven of them on the road. They erased the 100-win Yankees and the defending world champion Astros (103 wins).
Still, I suffered one last relapse of RSWBIS in the World Series.
After the hideous Game 3 loss — the 18-inning marathon that ended at 3:30 a.m. Eastern time — I wondered whether this might be 1986 all over again. It had all the ingredients. Ian Kinsler’s error snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
I wondered whether the Sox would pay. When they trailed, 4-0, in the seventh inning of Game 4, I was having flashbacks of Mike Torrez, Mookie Wilson, and Grady Little. My Depression Mentality.
Turns out, there was never any reason to worry about this group.
These were worthy champions who never doubted themselves. They were a postseason wagon.
They were not our fathers’ Red Sox.