There’s a point in a baseball season when it seems like it might never end. That the “sunshine and high skies” the late Commissioner Bart Giamatti once wrote about – in his meditation on the setting sun of a Red Sox season – could last forever.
For those with short attention spans, those who want baseball to be something it’s not, 162 games are cruel and unusual punishment. For others, the calendar flip to October is a reminder that – once again – we took it for granted, and a miserable New England winter is right around the corner. Let’s enjoy some bonus baseball while it lasts.
The Boston Red Sox will play at least three more times in 2021, in the American League Division Series. It might come as a surprise that they didn’t winnow away the opportunity down the stretch. And they not only survived their first one-game playoff with the New York Yankees since 1978, they thrived on the big stage.
But a vocal contingent has been done with this season for months.
The script isn’t good enough. Throw it out. Surely, Mac Jones and the Patriots will save us from whatever disappointment the Red Sox are certain to deliver. There’s no way the football team could start the season 1-3 or anything.
Damn this bunch for giving us a reason to care. As Tony Massarotti wrote on April Fool’s Day, “what this team needs more than anything is hope.” And we got it. They rocketed to first place in the AL East. They hit. They pitched well enough. They gutted out victories late. Come the Fourth of July, they had a season-high 4.5 game lead in the division.
Ultimately, the offense sputtered. The pitching unraveled. COVID-19 was a factor. Kyle Schwarber came in at the deadline and couldn’t get on the field for weeks. When he finally did, it was clear he didn’t have a position.
And we got an opportunity to be the very best Red Sox fans we can be. In 2021, that means a 24/7 online argument generally devoid of nuance. The optimists typing in all caps when Bobby Dalbec bloops a single. The negative Nancies delighting the collapse of Chaim Bloom’s Dollar Tree bullpen.
By contrast, fans 3,000 miles away who haven’t seen October in two decades were just happy to be in the hunt this late in the season, with Mariners play-by-play man Dave Sims gleefully losing his mind at the prospect of having a chance.
Do we even deserve this playoff run?
Red Sox fandom is like abstract art. It’s ugly to a lot of eyes. But what we’ve seen in 2021 is just the evolution of an art form practiced by our dads and grandmas. And therefore, we deserve both the dessert and the disaster. We deserve a fickle ownership group. A team that takes us on the ultimate thrill ride, then bottoms out and trades its franchise player.
Bloom seems to think he can turn the Sox into some kind of model franchise that both competes and boasts the best farm system in the game. That might work in Seattle, in Tampa, even in Los Angeles – where they’re favored to win the World Series again this year. But those teams aren’t subject to the same level of scrutiny.
Didn’t Theo Epstein realize Bloom’s goal a little over a decade ago? He had to leave Boston twice. Once, in a gorilla suit. It’s just Red Sox baseball. Things will eventually get ugly. Until they’re not. Ask Yaz.
The 2021 season has been a fine mess. And it’s entirely what we deserve. It’s easy when the team follows the script. You either pump ’em up or write ’em off. But this one has had elements of both, to the great pleasure of the madding crowd.
Here are our boys, after postseason skirmishes in 2008 and 2013, on the cusp of a rubber match with the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s a great setup. The result will ultimately be painted with a very broad brush.
I’d say to enjoy it, but you probably won’t.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk baseball with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.