Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Five Years Ago Tonight...

On October 4, 2004, the Boston Red Sox beat the LA Angels of Anaheim, 8-3, and took a 2-0 series lead in the ALDS. Pedro Martinez went seven innings strong, giving up three earned runs, while his counter part, old friend Bartolo Colon, went just six, also giving up three runs. The difference was in the bullpens: Boston's kept the Angels to just one hit, while the LA delegation surrendered five hits and five runs.
The only men to appear in that game that are on Boston's roster today are Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, and Kevin Youkilis (defensive replacement at third base), and as different as the roster looks these days, the attitudes of Sox fans have been even more changed.

In 2004, we were just one year removed from Aaron Boone. We were at eighty-six years without a title, and (as far as the world was concerned), "wait 'til next year" was the regional motto. Red Sox fans of all ages looked at the 2-0 series lead and decided that the home town team would doubtless find some way to blow it, if not against that Angels then against the Yankees. As painful as it is to revisit that mindset, the 2004 Red Sox might have been lovable and talented "Idiots," but the skeptics always won out when it came to playoff predictions: after all, the pessimists had history on their side.

Of course, the moral of Sox fans would fall to its lowest point just ten days later, when New York took a 3-0 series lead in the ALCS. No one, we told ourselves, had ever come back from such a deficit in the history of professional baseball. You know the rest, but most fans (let's be honest, ourselves included) were convinced that they would somehow blow it until the very last out was made. As Yogi Berra so famously said: "It ain't over 'til it's over."

And then? It was over. The years of suffering, the "1918" chants, and the lovable losers moniker. The people of New England, raised in the Puritan tradition of self-inflicted torture, had something to celebrate, and celebrate we did. I was fourteen at the time, so I didn't celebrate in quite the same way most people did, and not just because I was seven years away from the legal drinking age. My relative youth meant that the victory just didn't have the same significance for me as it did for those who had lived through decades of disappointment: I'm not belittling the joy of young Sox fans, but it's a fact that we lacked a certain perspective.
Now, of course, we start every season with the expectation of making it to the playoffs, but we need to remember that wasn't always the case, and that even within my short lifetime the Sox were more likely to finish their season in September than October (or November). Let's not take the Angels for granted: it's miraculous what the death of a teammate or a loved one can do for motivation. The major networks are already advertising for a Red Sox/Yankees ALCS, and honestly, it's what most fans of both teams expect. There would be a certain poetic justice in celebrating the five year anniversary of Boston's fist World Title in living memory by going through the same teams (Anaheim, New York, and St. Louis) to get another one, but the playoffs are often more luck than skill.

So let's find out if Lady Luck is a Red Sox fan.

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