Major Leagues: Red Sox should be ashamed of themslves
BOSTON ó It never should have come to this.
Conceivably, the Boston Red Sox still can clinch the American League wild card without even beating the Orioles in Baltimore this week, provided the Tampa Bay Rays lose two of three at home to the New York Yankees. A win or two would force the Rays to mound a ferocious charge. The dramatic, Jacoby Ellsbury home run that helped beat the Yankees in 14 innings on Sunday night ensured the Red Sox would hit the home stretch just a little bit ahead.
But they’ve still shown few signs of stringing together wins or playing consistently good baseball thus far, and it’s getting harder and harder to believe they’ll do so before they go home for the winter.
The Orioles series should have been more of a victory lap than anything else.
The Rays trailed the Red Sox by a whopping 11 games in the race for a playoff spot in early August, and they still trailed by nine games as recently as Sept. 3. Since then, while the Rays have not exactly torn the cover off the ball, they’ve done enough — going 13-8 — to pull even with the free-falling Red Sox. A split at Yankee Stadium on Sunday lifted the Red Sox to 6-18 in the month of September, still the second-worst final month in franchise history.
The last time the Red Sox collapsed like this back in 1978, they led the Yankees by 14 games in late July before crumbling. They actually found themselves 3 1/2 games out of first place after a loss on Sept. 16. That team won 12 of its final 15 games, including eight straight at one point, to force the infamous one-game playoff.
The stars still are aligned for the Red Sox to win enough games to get into the postseason, just like they did in 1978 — and it shouldn’t take that much.
They’ll have their three best starters pitching for them — Josh Beckett on Monday, Erik Bedard on Tuesday, Jon Lester on three days’ rest on Wednesday. They might even have Clay Buchholz available to throw an inning or two in relief by Wednesday.
They’ll also be facing one of the worst teams in the American League, a team with the highest ERA and a below-average lineup of hitters across the board.
But none of that will matter if they can’t shake themselves out of the funk in which they’ve spent the month of September.
“We’ve been not playing well for three weeks,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “It’s not a good feeling.”
“Everybody has to come through and do his job, you know what I’m saying?” designated hitter David Ortiz said. “When people are struggling, you bounce back and get better.”
Some want to see Terry Francona throw a tantrum and get thrown dramatically out of a game. Some want to see clubhouse leaders Ortiz or Pedroia overturn a table in the clubhouse.
“What’s that going to solve?” Ortiz asked. “It’s not all about flipping tables or wrestling anybody or any of that. It’s about playing the game better.”
The words sound more and more hollow, however, with every loss that piles up. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez offered some brave optimism on Saturday night looking ahead to Sunday’s doubleheader — “We can come out tomorrow and win the two games and pretty much be a lock to be in the playoffs,” he said — but he went 0-for-4 in the first game of the doubleheader and his prediction did not come true.
Words in the media aren’t going to help. Words in the clubhouse aren’t going to help, either. Only hits from the hitters and outs from the pitchers are going to turn the Red Sox around.
“We have four games,” Francona said in his office between games of the doubleheader. “We can write our …” Francona trailed off, searching for a word — and then he decided to skip it and push forward. “We just need to work on our writing skills a little bit,” he said.
The word Francona wanted to use was “destiny.”
Should the Red Sox not find an answer at some point on the way to Baltimore, however, the appropriate word will not be “destiny.” It will be “obituary.”