The View From a Collapse: A Red Sox Fan’s Perspective

It had to be this way. There was no other way it could end.

Since 2004 Red Sox fans have been spoiled. We’ve forgotten what losing felt like. Not just regular losing, but Red Sox losing. The kind that comes with the perfect timing, just when you believe that things will go your way. The kind of losing that physically hurts, that cruses your soul and leaves you shaken for days, wandering around in a daze, wondering exactly where it all went wrong. The kind of losing that makes you want to stay in bed, to avoid any and all contact with the outside world, because it only serves as a reminder of your pain.

If you think this is all hyperbole, ask any Cubs fan how losing feels. Better yet, find a Braves fan right now and ask them.

As Red Sox fans we never thought that we’d have to feel this way again. 2004 exorcised nearly a century’s worth of demons from Boston and made us believe that we could be winners. 2007 cemented our new found confidence and self-esteem, made us believe that we actually were the big boys now and that the 21st century belonged to us.

But a funny thing happened along the way to our much dreamed about century of dominance. In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays, who had been a punching bag for the Red Sox throughout their brief existence, emerged as a contender, led by an electric left fielder named Carl Crawford and rookie third baseman Evan Longoria, who would quickly establish himself as one of the best players in baseball. We dismissed the upstart team from Tampa at first, but they forced us to take notice by taking the division title and then beating Boston in seven games in the ALCS.

2009 was even worse, as the Red Sox saw a division lead evaporate in the second half of the season as a juggernaut Yankees team steamrolled the American League, like a world champion locomotive. Still, we shrugged it off. The 2009 Sox had been hurt by injuries and we reasoned that with some health and reinforcements from free agency the Sox would be back on track soon enough.

2010 was rock bottom, or so we thought. Sox GM Theo Epstein made a rare strategic blunder over the winter, referring to the season as a “bridge year” before it even started, a gaffe that the Boston media pounced on. The Sox got off to a horrible start in April, yet had somehow managed to claw their way back in to contention by the mid-June before it all unraveled. On Friday June 25th, star second baseman Dustin Pedroia fouled a ball off of his foot, breaking his navicular bone. It was a day after his best game of the season, in which he hit three home runs in a win against the Colorado Rockies. In the next few days, the Red Sox lost pitcher Clay Buchholz and catcher Victor Martinez to injuries as well, and by the time they returned, the Rays and Yankees had created enough space in the standings that Boston could forget about any October celebrations.

Coming in to the 2011 season it was apparent that the team needed a face lift. The days of Big Papi and Manny Ramirez making pitchers piss their pants from the 3 and 4 holes were over. The Sox needed to find players to anchor their lineup for the next decade. And Theo Epstein did just that, emptying the farm system in  a trade to get first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres and dishing out big bucks to steal Crawford away from the Rays. The Red Sox were now an offensive juggernaut, built to grind opposing pitching staffs into tiny piles of dust. And for the most part, they did just that. After a slow April, the Sox went on an all-out blitzing of the American League. Gonzalez led the way, with his graceful opposite field swing and easy power. David Ortiz seemed rejuvenated, although a far cry from the 50-plus homer Papi of 2006, he hit over .300 and smiled that magnanimous Papi smile that we had all grown to love. Leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury developed a legitimate power stroke, turning himself into a modern-day Fred Lynn, except with Tim Raines speed. The only everyday player who didn’t meet expectations was Crawford, who got off to a terrible start, started to heat up, pulled a hamstring and came back as a model of mediocrity. Still, between May and September the Red Sox were the best team in the American League and looked like a comfortable lock for the playoffs.

The last weekend of August, the Yankees came to Fenway for a three game series. Up until that point, the Sox had handled New York, even knocking around Yankees ace and Cy Young candidate CC Sabathia, who looked invincible against every other team in the league. That weekend, the Bombers took two out of three at the Fens, and although we didn’t realize it at the time, the character of Boston’s season changed irreparably. The Sox followed that series by losing two out of three to the Texas Rangers and then two out of three to the Toronto Blue Jays. When the Rays swept Boston in a weekend series starting September 9th, cutting a wild card lead that was once nine games to a mere three and a half, it was officially panic time. The Red Sox fell into a September tailspin the likes of which the franchise has never seen, even in the 86 years of futility between 1918 and 2004, winning only seven games during the month and failing to do so much as win two games in a row. Suddenly, every flaw seemed exaggerated and every turn of luck seemed to go against the team. A thin starting pitching staff, made weaker by a mid-season back injury to number three starter Clay Buchholz, cratered completely with aces Jon Lester and Josh Beckett unable to stem the bleeding. Relief ace Daniel Bard went from lights out to imminently hittable. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis went down with a sports hernia. Every line drive seemed to be right at a defender.

And so there we found ourselves on September 28, with the Sox tied for the Wild Card, desperately needing a win over the lowly Orioles to preserve a season that began with the highest of expectations. And for eight and a half innings, it really looked like things were going to go our way. The Sox scored a run on a balk. Dustin Pedroia homered on a pitch up near his head. Jon Lester, working on three days rest, was nails, going six strong innings. Daniel Bard looked like Daniel Bard in the eighth. And there in the ninth was Jonathan Papelbon, breathing fire and getting two quick, easy outs. There was no way that Boston was going home tonight. And then Chris Davis doubled down the first base line and like so much this September everything unraveled. Papelbon quickly got ahead of the next batter, Nolan Reimold, only to leave a pitch over the middle of the plate which turned into a ground rule double. The next batter, Sox killer Robert Andino, lined a pitch to left, which popped out of the glove a of a sliding Crawford, allowing the winning run to score and putting the final nail into Boston’s coffin. It was an appropriate ending for Carl, who after signing one of the richest contracts in club history, turned in a season so putrid that he actually wrote a public apology to Boston fans.

Meanwhile, in Tampa, the Rays clawed their way back from a 7-0 deficit, exploding for six runs in the eighth inning and getting a last-strike homer from little-used Dan Johnson to tie the game. Minutes after the Sox had blown up, Evan Longoria laced a pitch over the left field wall in Tampa and the Rays had captured the wild card. It all felt so right. So familiar.

Sox fans won’t get any pity, and we don’t deserve any. The truth is, we’re the worst kind of sports fan. We’re petulant, entitled children, convinced of our own superiority and general awesomeness. Years of losing caused us to become bitter, spiteful little people, with shriveled up souls. Winning allowed us to unleash our most disgusting, boastful character traits, which we had kept bottled up for so many years out of extreme shame. Scratch even the most seemingly level-headed Red Sox fan deep enough and you’ll find Tommy from Quinzee, tucked away in the deepest crevice of his reptile brain, in the past we just rarely let him out. Yet suddenly, after 2004 and 2007, being a Red Sox fan was no longer something you hid from new acquaintances, girls you were trying to sleep with, and prospective employers. We reveled in our team’s success  and made sure that we shoved it in everyone else’s faces.

Well now that’s over, at least until next October. For a lifelong Red Sox fan, those words have a bitter, but familiar taste. On September 29th, Boston will wake up, and life will continue, but in a way we’ll have turned back the clock. The talk-radio mouthbreathers will be on in full force, calling for anyone and everyone’s heads, and they may have a smidgen of a point for once. Local media trolls, like the ever-repulsive Dan Shaughnessy will be piling on, and trying to score new book deals about some invented “curse.” It will all be unbearably typical and sad for a city that cares way too much about sports.

That is, after all, all this is. It’s just sports, and it doesn’t really matter. It still sucks.


Posted on September 29, 2011, in Baseball, Serious Topics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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