There obviously comes a point at which you have to accept that an era has come to an end. You say your goodbyes, write off your losses, and move on. I write this before watching the final two games of the season—and I don't plan to rescale my opinions, regardless of what happens. I've already said my goodbyes to the 2011 season, emotionally at least.
Why have I given up? Well, a lot of it has to do with the fact that it seems a lot of the team has also given up—or at least they play as a team bereft of hope. Don't get me wrong—I don't mean to smear everyone with the brush of resignation to fate. The only way Dustin Pedroia gives up is if his body won't let him get on the field, and you know that guys like Tim Wakefield and Josh Beckett have that competitive fire burning inside of them. But, that fire never caught on with the rest of the team. As much as Pedroia is lauded as the heart and soul of this team, he didn't really seem to lead the team this year. In fact, there was never consistently a leader this year, somebody who took charge and put the team on his back all the way through. Jed Lowrie did it for a few weeks at the beginning of the season to guide them out of their April doldrums, and Jacoby Ellsbury did it for stretches as well, but there was no consistent focal point, no one to really rally around all year long. Did that hurt the team? I don't know, to be honest. But it certainly couldn't have helped.
One could also drag out the injury card and use that to try and explain things. Yes, there are shadows of 2010 looming large in the story of 2011 to date. But yet, it's still not the same.
Last year, with the 2010 Red Sox, after that horrific week of interleague play in which Pedroia, Jason Varitek, and Victor Martinez all went down in short order, everything spiraled out of control in a hurry. After Kevin Youkilis and Pedey both got shelved for the year, It was clear that there wasn't going to be a cure-all to fix the problems. Obviously, there were entertaining moments watching the new guys like Ryan Kalish prove their mettle, but that was tempered with having to watch players like Bill Hall and Darnell MacDonald impersonate major leaguers. However, the team was doing as well as could be expected, given the material they had to work with (no comments on Josh Beckett and John Lackey). But there was the small consolation knowing that this wasn't the Red Sox team that opened the year. How can a team survive without two of their very best players? And then pile up all of those other injuries, too (remember, over 1000 games lost to the DL!)? You just can't expect a team to absorb infinite losses and come out unscathed. I certainly can't, not after this year. But I do expect them to play to their talent.
So, is 2011 really all that different from 2010? Well, this time the problems were on the pitching side. Losing the teams #5 starter in May? Eh. Losing the #3 starter in June? Now we've got some problems. Losing one of the team's best relievers coming out of the gate to Tommy John surgery as well? Ruh-roh. But then there's also the disappearance of J. D. Drew; the injury (again) to Kevin Youkilis late in the year. And a few other injuries here and there, too. So, it's getting close, and the team at the end of the year is pretty clearly not the team that Theo Epstein was hoping to have.
But what I've seen of late is dispiriting, to say the least. Good offense ruined by lackluster starts. Decent starts marred by awful relief. Shellshocked players not getting the job done through bad luck, bad play, or at times seeming indifference. The team never seemed to fire on all cylinders coming down the stretch, and now we are where we are. As fans, it's disappointing; but what is it like to be in the middle of the maelstrom?
It's easy to try to say, "I can't imagine," but, on closer examination, I think I can understand it. I've actually lived it: and not once upon a time, but this very year, alongside the Sox's own frustrations. While many good things happened to me in 2011 (and having this gig has been one of them), it's also been, bar none, the roughest year of my personal and professional life in a long, long time. There were days when I was running completely on empty, and barely could make it out the door. But I got what needed to be done—what kept the lights on, if you will. But it was frustrating to know that it wasn't enough, and couldn't be enough. But I had to deal with it, and live with it. So, I have some respect for players who just can't measure up.
However, you can't really say that about the 2011 squad. There are still good players taking the field. Quite a number of them are banged up, but even if they're hurt, I want to see some signs of fight. (No, this isn't a slam on "emotionless" Drew, and I don't think everybody needs to get as keyed up as Pedey.) But there's a big difference between playing like you're snakebitten, and playing poorly because you're Bill Hall. The second is an inherent limitation that has to be accepted; giving yourself over to fate is not.
But, ultimately, this also comes down to a matter of protecting myself. I don't want to find myself truly hating the Red Sox. They've been a source of endless entertainment and wonder. Even at that awful nadir in October 2003, my ire was directed at the situation and its handling by Grady Little, and not at the players, not at Wakefield, not at Epstein, and not at the Sox. I never want to be in the position where I hate this team and what it's doing. So, I'd rather close myself off to a particular edition, so that I can continue to root for them in the future. Because I never want to have to live without the Red Sox—and I could see how failure this year could drive many a fan off the bandwagon.
So, sure, I'll certainly hope for the best—I'll never root against the Sox. But I'm not going to pray for a miracle, and I'm not going to get worked up, whatever the outcome. Whether the season ends in two games or twenty-two, they will do it without me (at least in spirit). I won't tear all my hair out if there's a choke, and I won't howl at the moon if there's a Duck Boat parade.
I'm checking off the emotional roller coaster now, so that I'll be able to get on it again next year.