This is it. We're down to the last game of the year. One game to see who wins the Wild Card. If both the Red Sox and Rays win there will be one more, tomorrow in Tampa. After 161 games, over 1400 innings, over 8500 outs, it all comes down to today. And maybe tomorrow.
I love this. Generally speaking anyway.
We all know how the Red Sox have been playing recently, but the team isn't in as bad a shape as we might believe from looking at the results. While the Sox have lost an ungodly number of games over the last month, indeed the last time the team won back to back games was over a month ago, it hasn't been because of the team's offense. The Sox have been uneven at the bat, but most micro views of a small sample yield larger variations. It's only when the sample increases that things start to smooth out. Usually.
There is no secret that the Red Sox problem has been their pitching. But the bullpen has not actually been so bad. Daniel Bard has hit a wall of some sort, but the rest of the pen has been remarkably effective considering what has been asked of them. And when I say "what has been asked of them" we get to the heart of the problem. The starters have not only been The Chevy Chase Show bad, but they've done it in very few innings which has put lots of strain on the pen. The Sox starters have averaged fewer than four innings of work per start in September.
If, and it is admittedly a huge 'if', the Red Sox can get a competent - not great, not good, just competent - start from Jon Lester, their chances of winning are good. As I noted in Daily Links today, Lester has compiled over a 10 run ERA during his last three starts. Lester maintains he isn't hurt, which if true means he is capable of an effective start tonight. Whether we get one or not is up to Lester and the baseball gods.
As Terry Francona said (I'm paraphrasing here), if you can't get excited about today's game you don't have blood running through your veins. Every pitch is important, every hit vital, every wait between pitches excruciating. It's wonderful. With that, I'd like to take a second and address my colleague, lone1c and his piece this morning.
I don't begrudge him his opinion. He's perfectly within his rights as a fan to give up hope. But I do feel sorry for him. The pain of a loss stings with more intensity when you watch and root for your team without reservation, but that pain is what makes the elation of victory so powerful. Without losing, winning is nothing. Without loss, how do you know what you have?
The obvious go-to for any situation such as this is the 2004 ALCS. Down three games to none to an excellent Yankee team, the Red Sox won four in a row including two extra inning contests. Many people gave up on the Sox on the eve of game four and with good reason. Boston was dead in the water. But imagine if you hadn't watched. Imagine if you had given up on them. You would have missed out on the greatest comeback in baseball history.
I'm not saying that is going to happen here, and the Red Sox don't face nearly the daunting odds of that day anyway. But this team is not finished. Not technically, not in reality, not yet. Despite what you may have heard on TV or the radio or read in the paper or on blogs, the Sox have earned this game and maybe another. I'll be watching and yelling at the top of my lungs for them. Sure, it will hurt more if they lose. But I'm OK with that.