Monday, September 22, 2003

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Why the Red Sox will win it all

In the wake of my last Red Sox post, Tom Maguire has been teasing me about my baseball loyalties. So with the final week of the regular season upon us, this post -- a few thoughts and a bold prediction -- is just for him:

1) Statistical indicators indicate that the Red Sox have a 97.4% chance of reaching the postseason. Woo-hoo!!

2) A few weeks ago one of my commenters recommended Bill Simmons from ESPN's Page 2 as a sportswriter worth reading. After reading this column, I'll second that emotion. The highlights:

Have there been some painful times for Red Sox fans? Absolutely. We lost seventh games in 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986. We also lost the most dramatic game of all time -- the playoff game in '78 against the Yanks, which deserves its own column some time. All things considered, Game Six of the '86 World Series was one of the most painful, agonizing defeats in the history of sports, maybe even the worst. And as I mentioned before, we're terrified that we may never see this team win a World Series, at least in our lifetime.

But plenty of sports fans battle similar demons, don't they? What about Cubs fans closing in on the 100-year mark? What about Bills fans losing those four straight Super Bowls, including the horror of the Norwood Game? What about Browns fans losing their team, for God's sake? Who's more tortured than Maple Leaf fans? You think Astros fans have had tons of fun over the past four decades? You think the Bengals and Cavs have been laughing it up?

For the most part, Sox fans have been pretty fortunate. Including me. Over the past three decades, I watched an inordinate amount of winning teams (more than any other franchise in baseball), as well as stars like Lynn, Fisk, Tiant, Rice, Yaz, Eckersley, Evans, Mo, Nomar and Manny. I was blessed with the chance to see Clemens and Pedro in their primes -- two of the best pitchers of the past 50 years. Dave Henderson's homer against the Angels remains one of the great sports moments of my life. Same with Pedro coming out of the bullpen and blanking Cleveland in the '99 playoffs (conspicuously missing from the documentary, of course). And for all its faults, Fenway (in the right seats) is still the best place in the country to watch baseball.

Indeed. This is the attitude of a true Red Sox fan. As opposed to this sort of behavior.

3) Just to jinx the team as they try to clinch a playoff spot this week, here's my explanation for why this team will win the World Series this year: they're better prepated prepared for overcoming temporary disasters than any other team in baseball.

According to Tom Tippett, in all of Major League Baseball, the Red Sox have endured the greatest number of defeats this year in situations where they should have won (by generating more total bases than the other team). He concludes: "Boston hasn't taken full advantage of its opportunities this year." I'd be even harsher -- factor Tippett's criteria in with Sox' second-worst bullpen in the American League, and one can only conclude that the Red Sox lead the league in "heartbreaking losses."

However, it's worth quoting Tippett more extensively:

After they blew the August 20th game against Oakland, I thought the Red Sox were done. Time after time, they had been able to bounce back from tough losses, and they've earned a lot of praise for being a resilient team. But you can only dig a hole and climb out of it so often, and I thought they may have used up their quota.

To their credit, they won the series finale against Oakland, swept the Mariners at home, and took two of three from New York in Yankee Stadium the next weekend. During the toughest part of the schedule, they played their best baseball of the season.

The key to the Red Sox success this year is that they have refused to allow heartbreaking losses to affect their overall equilibrium. It would obviously be better if they had no such losses. The key, however, is that such reversals don't cause the team to go into a tailspin.

This is why the Red Sox will win the whole shebang -- playoff baseball is all about heartbreakingly close games. The team that wins the playoff series is the one that can live with temporary disappointment and then come back the next day and play better baseball.

The obvious example is the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite two dramatically blown saves by Byung-Hyung Kim in Yankee Stadium, a manager that had no touch in terms of pitching changes, and a powerful symbolism that suggested the Yankees should win in the wake of 9/11, Arizona gutted out the series and won in it in seven games.

Most teams that enter the postseason are used to success and unaccustomed to staggering reverses. The 2003 Red Sox, on the other hand, are veterans of this sort of emotional workout.

Of course, they also have Kim as their closer.

[If you're wrong, you're setting yourself up for a world of hurt--ed. Yeah, but if I'm right, this post will ring throughout the ages... or at least make up for my disastrous political predictions.]

posted by Dan on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM


Hey... been a Sox fan since even before my dad lost the tickets to Ted Williams' last Saturday game and took me to see football instead. And look, I'm always rooting for them, I'm hopeful they'll win, but I also know that you have to be dumber than a brick to predict they'll win the World Series. I was once young and foolish enough to make that prediction, in fact, I predicted it when they were with an out of winning it all. Then again, while they were still within an out. Then again when they were still one out away but had a little smaller lead.

You can root for the Sox, you can cheer for them, you can be optimistic. But NEVER, NEVER, EVER predict they'll win it all. THAT's the curse, not the silly Bambino thing. And what's really bad is that now, as the team is getting popular outside New England, we're getting more and more fans like you who simply don't know any better. And as much as we lifers go around trying to keep you all quiet, there's inevitably going to be some little dimwit somewhere in Montana who predicts that This Is The Year, and that's it, we're screwed.

I must admit though, with the advent of the Internet, it's getting much easier to police this stuff.

posted by: Knows Better on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

Knows Better,

Clearly, you didn't read my earlier post. I grew up and went to college in New England. I'm fully aware of the myriad theories of the curse.

You raise an interesting point about the growing national support for the Red Sox, Yankees, and other sports teams. There's an interesting item to be written about this -- I have to think that teams with national fan bases perform better on the road -- but I'll leave it to a true baseball blog.

posted by: Dan on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]


I admire your site, but you have lost your mind on this one. The Red Sox lack depth to support their position players, and their pitching is mediocre once you get past a few stars. As one who suffered through the 80's and cheered through the 90's, I say again: GO YANKS!

posted by: Ben on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

Sorry, actually I did read the bio. I guess I just ignored it when writing... perhaps I have a future as a speechwriter.

And at any rate, you should know enough not to predict The Big One.

And y'know something, it finally dawned on me that if we really did win the Series, it might spoil all the fun. I mean, it'd be like losing your virginity, nice to have it over with but nowhere near as good as the anticipation.

posted by: Knows Better on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

Oh, and we might end up being as obnoxious as Yankees fans. I'd rather be a loser.

At any rate, I think the Sox are more likely to run afoul of the Giants this year than the Yankees. They can beat Tampa Bay okay, but they're pretty lame against winning teams.

posted by: Knows Better on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

Not obnoxious, just confident -- which happens when winning becomes a habit.

posted by: Ben on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

As I said, obnoxious, at every possible opportunity. They go out of their way to be obnoxious.

Yet they have no idea how much fun we have watching the Sox almost make it. The Yankees win a Series and it's "yawn, ho hum". We'll lose one in the bottom of the 33rd inning of the seventh game and we'll have a whole decade of fun with it.

posted by: Knows Better on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]


Don't you have a superstitious bone in your body? WHat the bleeding heck are you doing *writing this prediction down,* instead of quietly nursing it in your heart?? You've gone and blown it all...

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

Interesting theory, but I'll join in an say that for fear of jinx I'd never even allow myself to think such thoughts to myself, let alone post them in public.

And, yeah, while I don't literally believe the ghost of Babe Ruth hangs about trying to gum up the works for the Red Sox, I am superstitious. (It's part of the fun.)

posted by: Edw on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

Uh, they haven't made the playoffs yet.

posted by: ....a moment with Easycure on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

#4 : Abe Sapien is a fan ( See: Bones of Giants)

posted by: Art Wellesley on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

Hey, my Astros have been breaking hearts my entire life. That's long-suffering enough for me.

They've participated in probably the two greatest NLC series of all time. Lost both.

But I am warning all of you ... if Houston cannot hold off Chicago (and judging by the past three days, they can't), there is a strong possibility that we could see a Cubs-Red Sox series.

The amount of bad karma each could bring to October may very well result in what the astrophysicists call a "singularity".

posted by: Steve in Houston on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

Chicago Cubs.

posted by: Kris Lofgren on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

The Yankees a problem if they meet the Red Sox in the playoffs - they can prevail, but they can't win.

No matter how crushingly we humiliate them, Sox fans will add it to their lore and come back for more.

OTOH, if the Sox win, you need to go long gallows and plastic bags, because Yankee fans will need a quick end to their misery, and an escape from a lifetime of goading.

That said, I am heartened by a question raised by a sports commentator upon hearing that the Red Sox had picked up Kim. "Let me get this straight", he wondered. "The Sox are trying to lift the curse of the Bambino, and they bring in a guy with his own private curse?"

posted by: Tom Maguire on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

The key is that Lowe, Kim and Wakefield have been pitching well lately. The postseason puts a premium on front-line pitching (ask the D-Backs), but you have to go a bit deeper than just a #1 starter. If you need a fourth starter, you go to Suppan, and you buy John Burkett a bleacher ticket. And you need Pedro to get off the pitch counts and air it out.

posted by: Crank on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

I'm a Yankees fan for many years, lived through their droughts (albeit small compared to others) and in once sense I've become a baseball fan. I'm slowly trying to see a game in every ballpark, at least in the majors. I flew to San Diego this summer, supposedly to help my daughter move apartments, but really to go see a game at the Murph because I never had. I sitll have a lot of parks to go, but my favorite park is by far and away Fenway. Wrigley would be a close second. The character, the fans, the view, the manual scoreboard, the screen until they put seats above the Green Monster, the sense of history and the neighborhood all make Fenway something not to miss.

posted by: Harry on 09.22.03 at 03:31 PM [permalink]

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