Everyone has their moments on the baseball diamond. As children we compete in our local little league. Everybody gets a chance to hit. Everybody is allowed to try to pitch an inning or two. As we get older, it becomes more and more difficult to compete in the sport. Kids from warmer climates have the advantage because they can field ground balls in January and us New Englanders, frankly, cannot. Even if we miss out on playing the game, there is still baseball. It never leaves us, no, it comes to us around February, stays through September (and hopefully October) and is known for the large letter ‘B’.
The Red Sox.
In my fanhood, which dates back to the early 2000’s, I have become a prisoner of my own affection for baseball. No matter how many times I have been let down, I will always come back for more. Us Red Sox fans have always been thick skinned. We understand the injury bug that has plagued us for consecutive seasons now. We can live with a few bad at-bats by Mr. Carl Crawford and a couple of nights in which the knuckle ball just isn’t dancing. We have been spoiled with two World Series championships, and that has engraved the mentality in our heads to “never give up” on the Sox.
The ’11 team was unique in so many ways. The Red Sox hadn’t boasted this kind of talent in a long time, perhaps matching the 1986 team in terms of sheer baseball abilities. We had signed two future hall of famers in their primes, had a 1-2 punch at the top of the order in Ellsbury and Pedroia, included above average veteran commodities like David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis, and had an intriguing rotation and quality bullpen that had Sox fans optimistic.
The ’11 Red Sox were picked by many to win it all this season. They were going to win 100 games, take September off to get healthy, and rumble with the big boys from Philadelphia or New York in the playoffs. We were going to have a three headed monster at the top of our rotation (Beckett, Lester, Bucholz), we were going to throw former Yankee and current stud Alfredo Aceves, budding star Daniel Bard, the passionate Jonathan Papelbon, in relief. We were going to lead the majors in every major statistical category. Why? Because we had the best players. Because on paper, we were a dynasty in the making.
News flash, Boston. Baseball isn’t played on paper.
How far can talent alone take you? How often can you rely on your guys to give so-so effort, not run out ground balls, not run up pitch counts or have good at bats, make base running blunders, and still expect to win ball games? The Red Sox fell apart in September for one reason alone; they stopped playing baseball. Think about it. In the last three series of the season against Baltimore, New York, who had already clinched the division, and again the Orioles, who lost 93 games this season and hadn’t played a game of relevant baseball since early July, the Sox lost 7 of 10. When it was time to flex their muscles and make a statement to finally shut up the baseball world, who, by the way, could not have enjoyed the Red Sox collapse any more, they couldn’t get it done.
Baseball is an intricate game. A lot of people, including the large number of saber metric crazed fans out there, think that assembling nine players with high WARs and OBPs is the key to success. As long as my pitching staff has a combined WHIP of less than 1.20 than we will be alright. I guess that works sometimes. But the 2011 Red Sox show us exactly why that approach does not work.
Let’s take a look at Terry Francona. The poor man lost control of this team and could never quite light the fire beneath them that they needed. I don’t see how you could possibly blame him for his team mailing it in before the calendar flipped to September. There are just so many pep talks and lineup shuffles a guy can do before he becomes desperate. Needless to say, Terry Francona became desperate.
The 2011 Red Sox won games by scores of 9-2 yet lost them 3-2. In Major League Baseball, successful teams buckle down and do the little things. They run out ground balls, they capitalize on every possible error a pitcher makes, they slide into home plate just to make sure, they lay out for ground balls, they grit and grind for every possible base and fight for every run. Good baseball teams are opportunistic. You have to score at least two runs if you have first and third with no outs. You have too! The 2011 Red Sox would get hot, score four runs in the third inning, and then go dead for the rest of the game. In the final game of the season, the Sox were thrown out twice trying to extend singles into doubles, and once thrown out at the plate. That’s dumb baseball. That’s three avoidable outs. They allowed the Orioles to intentionally walk their best player three times and NEVER made them pay. Not once. Lest us forget, this is the 69-93 Baltimore Orioles, not the 1927 New York Yankees. These guys made Matt Wieters look like a bonafide superstar. The Sox had no mojo. Their psychology was all out of whack. Winning ball clubs have confidence in their abilities to get guys out and to score runs when the opportunity provides itself. The Sox failed miserably at both areas of the game, and it showed.