The Red Sox return to Fenway Park tomorrow for Game 3 of the ALDS down 0-2. They are on the verge of elimination, putting them in must-win territory Sunday and, if they apply, Monday and Wednesday.
Spirits, obviously, are not running high. The Sox came close to overcoming the Indians in Game 1, but that was a pitching matchup that did not feel like it should have been close. Game 2 was, simply put, a demolishing. There’s little reason to be happy right now, particularly with how the Sox have played these last two games.
This is hardly unprecedented, though. The last time the Sox made the playoffs, they won it all. The time before that? 2009, when the Angels swept them out of the ALDS as the Indians are on the verge of doing here. I don’t remember 2009 particularly fondly. Nor do I remember it particularly negatively. I expect the latter is in no small part because of the struggles that followed—2011 in particular.
Things are not over yet. But they might be shortly. And if the Sox are, in fact, swept out of the postseason...well, that’s one of those things that can make the atmosphere in and around Boston awfully toxic awfully fast.
It should not.
The last 13 years have seen what it means to be a Red Sox fan change dramatically. If the Sox had simply succeeded in 2004 that would be one thing. But they didn’t. They made the ALCS in 2003, won another World Series in 2007, and missed the playoffs only once between 2003 and 2009. That run of success produced expectations, few of them reasonable in a game where money counts for less and less and it’s become harder and harder to find an area other front offices aren’t fully aware of to gain a different advantage.
But 2009 is not just the last time the Sox got swept. It’s the last time the Sox lost in the playoffs period. Since then, it’s been exclusively World Series victories and Octobers spent on vacation. That’s a good seven year period to put things in perspective. Getting swept out of the playoffs may seem like a failure, but it isn’t. Not really. It’s a bad end to a successful year. No team is good enough to avoid the possibility of a five- or seven-game series going against them in a sport where winning two thirds of their games would leave a team among the all-time greats.
To put it bluntly: shit happens. It happened to the Red Sox in June when they dropped three-of-four to the White Sox and ended that long Rays losing streak. That did not make them a failure, though. They won the East in spite of that. Losing a five-game set to a good team in Cleveland, even if they’re an injured good team, certainly is not worse.
(Winning a five-game set against a good team in Cleveland after going down 0-2 would obviously be a whole hell of a lot better but nobody needs to be told that.)
So tomorrow the Red Sox will play in Fenway Park in what might be their last game of the season. If it is that, it will also be the last game of David Ortiz’ career. It wouldn’t be the best way to see him go out, but him going home on a win was either going to be very disappointing, or very unlikely. There’s only three ways to do that, after all. Yes, winning the World Series is one. But the other two are getting hurt or going home after Game 162.
If you’re one of the lucky few who get to attend tomorrow’s game, go there and show the Red Sox your appreciation. Not for their performance these past couple days, but for their performance over this year as a whole. For #WinDanceRepeat, and award-worthy campaigns from Mookie Betts and Rick Porcello. For Andrew Benintendi, and the crazy tears of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Sandy Leon. And for ensuring that if David Ortiz’ career does end on a loss, it will end on one that mattered.
Go out there and cheer like it’s the Red Sox and David Ortiz’ last game. Because that might well be the case and, if it’s not, then they’ll have earned that support all over again with a big win when it mattered most.