So here we are again. .500, once a positive milestone that marked a return to respectability, now proof of mediocrity.
Yesterday the Sox returned to .500 yet again with a sweep-completing loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. It's a routine we're all-too-familiar with now, because the Red Sox have done it 11 times.
In an effort to ruin my day, I'm going to go ahead and recap our adventures to .500, starting with Day 1.
April 5 -- 0-0: This doesn't count in the eleven runs to .500 since we started there, but 0-0 is .500 all the same, if you ignore the actual mathematical process that provides the number.
Sadly, April 5 can now be looked back at as a better time. Sure, there were plenty of people unhappy with the team's construction, and the injuries had been piling up, but at least there was some level of hope. In the same way that preseason dogs can always hope for Cinderella seasons of the sort that the likes of Baltimore, Oakland, and Pittsburgh have enjoyed, even those with little in the way of expectations could have some hope.
April 28 -- 10-10: The first time back to .500 covers that whole positive milestone thing. Coming after an excellent 6-0 run against the AL Central, the Sox finally looked like winners. In fact, they were ahead of the pace set by the 2011 Sox, who hadn't reached .500 until the middle of May. Not the best comparison to make, but given another couple of weeks to build their lead before September, the '11 edition actually would likely have made the playoffs.
Unfortunately, this return to .500 also introduced the trend of the Sox responding to a good run by playing terrible baseball and wasting all the gains of said run.
April 30 -- 11-11: Wait for it...
(May 10 -- 12-19: No, seriously...)
May 21 -- 21-21: Finally, three weeks later, the Sox manage to dig themselves out of the awful hole they'd dug for themselves with series losses to Oakland, Baltimore, and Kansas City. The post-game thread described it as a "great day" due in large part to the Sox' return to .500, and at the time that wasn't an awful mark. The Yankees were right there with us, the Angels were 18-25, and the AL East was led by a Baltimore team expected to come to Earth some. There was still 75% of the season left, plenty of time for the Sox to prove themselves, even before the important trade deadline.
May 23 -- 22-22: Lose one, win one...
May 26 -- 23-23: ...lose one, win one...
May 28 -- 24-24: ...and lose one, win one.
Six games gone without progress, but still, no big deal.
June 6 -- 28-28: By itself, this return, coming on the back of a three-game losing streak, including two close losses to the Orioles, isn't such a big deal. But pull back a bit and you see that this particular peak on the roller coaster started with a 5-1 run...and that the three losses quickly became part of a 1-7 free-fall against the Jays, Orioles, and Nationals.
June 17 -- 33-33: The Sox would not get back to .500 for another 11 days, and looking back at May 21, things were clearly different. The Yankees had gone insane, running straight through to 40-25 to establish a 7.5 game lead over the Sox, while the Angels had started pushing the bar for the second wild card spot, sitting at 36-31. Where the Sox had wasted a month, some of their biggest competition had taken full advantage of their opportunities, leaving the Sox in their veritable dust.
The good news was that for the only time this year the Sox were about to go on a lengthy run. Not only would they take 7-of-8, but also 9-of-11, 11-of-14, and ultimately 13-of-17. On July 1, at 42-37, they looked like a real baseball team.
July 7 -- 42-42: Unbelievably, just six days later, they were right back where they had started. Their West Coast trip had gone from an alright start to a pathetic conclusion as they put up all of five runs in Oakland before getting pounded into the dirt against New York. Having the final blows dealt by the Yankees--effectively the Sox being put in their place by their betters--was an especially difficult pill to swallow.
July 9 -- 43-43: Win one, lose one, leaving the Sox at .500 at the All-Star Break. Simply put: mediocrity at its most textbook.
Of course, the Sox would build us up again. Needing a good start to the second half they would burst out of the gates to 5-2, with Cody Ross' walkoff homer seeming to put an exclamation mark on the Sox' statement that they were not about to go quietly into that good night.
Unfortunately, such a statement holds no weight when three games later they fell right back to .500, which is where we stand today. And now, unfortunately, just to stay above .500 the Sox will actually have to break that pattern of terrible streaks that seems guaranteed to continue given their competition. Texas? New York? Detroit?
Nothing can be said for certain until the games are all played and in the record books, but the Sox sure chose the wrong time to find themselves back at .500.