Friday, October 16, 2009

GUEST POST: Five Epic Red Sox Collapses, by Tom Ehrenfeld

I am in Indianapolis, attending Bouchercon (the World Mystery Convention). My longtime friend and occasional co-conspirator Tom Ehrenfeld has kindly agreed to step in for me today. Thanks, Tom!

Yeah, this week's defeat to the Los Angeles (nee California) Angels of Anaheim was pretty dramatic and dispiriting, but, well, for diehard Sox fans, I gotta say, "Feh." We lost. We lost to a good team that's just playing better than us. We lost dramatically and painfully. But it's been a good ride. It takes an enormous amount of skill and fortitude just to MAKE the playoffs. Winning the World Series takes much more; my belief is that the team that has really gelled over the past weeks is the one that will take it all. And over the past month, the Red Sox didn't gel. In fact, they did the very opposite. They melted.

And here's the thing, the real thing here:

We live in a post-2004 world.

For Red Sox fans such as myself (born and raised in New England and a fanatic for 40-plus years), there's a solid, intractable dividing line in time: October 30, 2004. That day we won the World Series, contradicting the lifelong experience of suffering fools like myself, proving that, yes, indeed, the Gods did not conspire against us; that it was okay to hope for it all; that, simply, it was not completely inevitable that fates would conspire to make us lose, and lose in the most improbable and agonizing fashion imaginable. Or unimaginable.

Winning in 2004 showed that we could win. And because of that, Sox fans should understand how to lose as well. Oh yeah, we got beat. Move on. Losing a series, ending a season no longer confirms a gut-wrenching knowledge that the world sucks and always will. Everything is different.

Because prior to ought-four, there was a series of losses so epic, so unimaginable, so painful, that, well — here they are in reverse order from worst to most-worst:

5. Aaron Boone's game-and-playoff-winning home run off Tim Wakefield in 2003. Painful, yes, but only number five overall. Yes, it happened to the Yankees, which gives it extra weight, and yes, the loss was compounded by a baffling act of defiant managerial ignorance (WTF? He's leaving Pedro in the game?).

But despite the walk-off drama of this, I don't know, it was merely bad and painful. And ultimately mitigated by the fact that the Yankees went on to lose the Series. Which brings up one other factor: this took place after 2001, which conversely represented one of the top five Red Sox moments: the epic loss of the Yankees in the final game of the 2001 World Series. Ah Schadenfreude. So wonderful a defeat. Seriously, for Sox fans (and yeah, sure, I admit this is completely Wrong) that was so delicious a moment that years of future failures were buffeted.

4. Losing Rick Burleson and Carlton Fisk in the off-season of (I believe) 1975. This may not have occurred on the field of play, but it stung true Bosox fans to the core nonetheless. This was a colossal failure on the part of ownership and management, and confirmed a vague fear that so many New Englanders had, which was that championships are ultimately won and lost from the very top down. Both the Red Sox and the Patriots became repeat champions only after a change in ownership that took several years to completely change the organization. It was not just the Red Sox players where the problems lay, but the stars above them aligning their actions.

3. Losing the 1975 World Series to the Reds. Truth be told, there was much to love about this World Series (among them the fact that I attended games one and seven!). It featured the best World Series game ever (game six), was played at an extraordinary level all around, and was gripping just about every minute of every game (the final six games were decided by one run.) To come this close and lose was disappointing, though, at this point, not epically so. This more or less framed the beginning of what some folks came to call the Curse. (I never bought the Curse itself.)

2. Bucky F'ing Dent hitting the game-winning home run in the 1978 one-game playoff. This was probably the most intense loss of them all, for so many reasons. It came at the height of Red Sox-Yankees mutual hatred, a season that featured a huge brawl that left Bill Lee injured, a season whose story (Red Sox pull ahead and seem destined to win, Yankees claw back improbably, and ultimately win) was the game writ large. It came at a time when the Yankees were so detestable, with Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson. They had come apart so beautifully in the first half that to watch them overtake us was bad bad bad. (This was the year I became the first person to sell "Yankees Suck" t-shirts, by the way.)

1. 1986's loss to the Mets. Look, there's very little that hasn't been said about this, so I'll just add a few things: Bill Buckner should never have been villainized the way he was. The boot came during a tie game after the Red Sox had had two outs and two strikes more than a dozen times. (Go on, torment yourself here.) So it never should have been even a question of forgiving him in the first place.

By the way, pitchers and catchers report to spring training in 125 days.

1 comment:

Anna said...

Fantastic posting, Tom! My sister practically didn't speak to me again after, as a total fluke, I happened to be in Boston the night of Game Five against the Yankees in '04 and got to go to the game. She is the female version of the guy in Fever Pitch. Thanks for the memories - even the bad ones!