By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
September came and went, in what seemed like a mad rush to flip the calendar to October. Like clockwork, a truck nailed a bridge on Storrow Drive. Thousands of students poured back into the region, reminding me how it’s been a decade-plus since I’d done the same, destined to slack off a few weeks playing Wiffle Ball before hunkering down in time for midterms. There were sunny days, rainy days – two days spent in an emergency room and one at the funeral of a beloved family member. Football completed its take-filled takeover of the sports news cycle and knocked the temperature down another 10 degrees.
And the Red Sox kept winning.
The Boston nine are going to the playoffs for the 16th time in my lifetime and the 10th out of the last 16 seasons. It’s funny how, as the years roll by, things seem to lose their luster when you’ve seen them a few times.
I’m going to the eye doctor next week. I’ll stare at a chart, and with lenses swapped in front of my eyes, I’ll inevitably be asked, “does that dull it a little?”
Yes, doc. Funny you should ask.
I remember replaying the Tom Brunansky catch that clinched the AL East in 1990) in the backyard and in my mind for years. But this year, a third consecutive AL East title, even one that shoved the 100-win Yankees into a Wild Card play-in game, was decidedly anticlimactic.
From day one, this season has always been about October and exorcising the demons of the past two autumns. The flaccid showings against the Indians and Astros by one of the top three highest paid teams in the game. The fact that Sale, Price and Porcello turned into pumpkin guts: a combined 19 earned runs in four starts totaling just 15.2 innings.
By setting a franchise record for wins and blowing away the competition the last six months, the Red Sox only heightened expectations for a franchise that is no longer cursed, but a contender, flush with talent and cash and positioned for a run at a fourth world championship since 2004.
My son has been here just shy of six months, born in the midst of an extraordinary April winning streak. He won’t watch these playoffs, much like he’s missed the majority of the season. Even on Saturdays, the Red Sox seemingly refuse to play a day game. He does appear to have an interest in college football, but then again, he’d probably stare intently at anything with bright colors and movement these days.
I’ll eventually introduce him to baseball and along with it, the lore of his home team. No longer will it be framed by nearly nine decades of futility. But the chapter on the 2018 Sox could feature some familiar tropes.
See, back in the day, I’ll tell him, we needed an excuse, a scapegoat, to get by. It became a part of my own sports fan education. That 1990 team of Brunansky’s heroism was the first playoff-bound Sox team I followed closely, and I thought they were world beaters. My fledgling baseball card collection contained a Red Sox team set that told me Dwight Evans led the American League in home runs during the 1980s, Ellis Burks was a 20-20 man. Wade Boggs was a threat to hit .400, and Mike Greenwell, “The Gator,” nearly won the 1988 MVP award.
Roger Clemens was elite. Mike Boddicker was solid. Jeff Reardon looked like your uncle who liked to go hunting.
And the A’s squashed them like the stink bugs I’ve been finding all over my deck for the past month. The Sox scored four runs, total, in that ALCS. Boston’s bullpen proved to be the other fatal flaw, as they allowed 11 runs in the first two games.
The A’s, powerhouse precursor to the juggernaut Yankees of a decade later, went to their third World Series in a row, but we had our guy: Terry Cooney, who ejected Clemens in the first inning of Game 4. No matter that the Sox were already in a gaping 3-0 series hole - to many, it was Cooney's fault. To the rest, Clemens continued a heel turn that started during a 1987 spring training holdout and ended with him in pinstripes at the close of the century.
Five years later, the next AL East winners charged into the postseason against a bonkers Indians team that featured Albert Belle, Jim Thome, and Manny Ramirez, who combined to mash 106 home runs. The Sox, meanwhile, plated just six runners in a three-game sweep. Clemens was good but not great, Tony freakin’ Pena walked off Game 1 in the 13th, and a fading Tim Wakefield got mauled in the clincher. But Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco’s disappearing act (a combined 0-for-27) provided the kindling for the Hot Stove of Hate that winter.
Depending on your perspective, this year’s Red Sox team is either destined for greatness or set up for scapegoats. With a dynamic offense led by a transcendent MVP candidate and a guy (J.D. Martinez, who Tony Mazz thinks should be MVP) who hit the most homers of any first year Red Sox player, batted .330 and led the majors in RBI, plus a decorated pitching staff, Boston is loaded on paper. But the storylines are almost too easy: Sale isn’t right and gets knocked out early in Game 1, the bullpen implodes yet again, Price gets steamrolled by the Yankees.
Internet People, and others I respect got after me when I wrote that I didn’t want LeBron on the Celtics. I don’t pine for the 16-year fallow period in this city prior to 2002. Do I miss the days when Jody Reed’s mustache and penchant for lobbing doubles off the Monster made him cool? In some ways, yes.
But when frustration turned to success, we eased up. The 2005 Hangover Sox? A near-miss in the 2008 ALCS against the Rays? A 2009 sweep at the hands of the Angels? Meh.
Chicken and Beer and Bobby Valentine got us riled up, sure. But we even tolerated two consecutive last place finishes under John Farrell.
Now, the stakes have changed. If the Sox flame out for a third consecutive year, it won't make Boston fans ravenous for retribution. They'll just assign the goat tag to somebody and turn their heads to another G.O.A.T. in Foxboro, or to the Celtics and Bruins at the Garden.
These days, sidewalks are flecked with soggy leaves as t-shirt vendors hawk their wares on the Common or in Cambridge, local institutions of higher learning represented in an array of colors and logos. Their inventories are changing over to hoodies and beanies.
Let's hope this Boston postseason requires a few layers.
And with the kid (hopefully) asleep in the crib, I’ll settle in for some heinous late nights and muted yelling at the television screen.
Whether it all comes to an end next week or somewhere around Halloween, we don’t know. But I’m in it to win it. Let’s hope the Red Sox are, too.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.