The Red Sox have done a lot of time-travel this season.
The Red Sox have been trapped by their past ever since Babe Ruth was sold allegedly to finance "No-No Nanette." Ever faithful to history, the Red Sox honored future first-ballot Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera before Sunday's 9-2 demolition of the Yankees. The Sandman got a painting depicting his opening day smile from 2005, the No. 42 from the left-field scoreboard signed by all the Red Sox on the current roster, a seat from 1934 with a "42" on it and the pitching rubber from the visiting bullpen.
Dr. Charles Steinberg was unable to pry second base from Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS out of Dave Roberts' hands.
Rivera did not speak. But Mike Napoli's beard crashed his party.
Given his grace, class and character, It would have been the perfect capper if Rivera had said: "Los Medias Rojas de Boston son mi papi."
The mini-lovefest showered upon Rivera was just one luxury that the success of 2013 has afforded the Red Sox. If Rivera had announced his retirement before the 2012 season, there's zero chance you would have seen anything close to what occurred Sunday night.
At least not without riot police, tear gas and multiple arrests.
In the past 11 months, the Red Sox have pulled off the biggest comeback this side of Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton or Charlie Sheen.
2013 has emerged as the start of a new era for the Red Sox and their fans.
The period of 1967-2012 was defined as one that saw the creation of a Nation, the ascension of the franchise into the upper echelon of non-sports culture of New England and the transformation of a simple baseball team into a multi-billion dollar civic entity.
The Red Sox continued to break the collective hearts of their fans throughout Boston's four-and-a-half-decade Golden Era. Red Sox fans never stopped loving them back. There were generations of cynics and critics, but they were always rooted in passion. No matter what boneheaded moves the Red Sox pulled, how badly they choked or how many times they let the likes of Sparky Lyle, Carlton Fisk or the pre-roid Roger Clemens leave town, fans never stopped caring.
The Nuclear Winter of 2011-12 stopped that cold. The 19-month period that ended on opening day this year provided a clean break from Red Sox Nation's first epoch. When the team dealt big-name stars like Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick "Shemp" Punto for pennies on the dollar, the much-needed organ-transplant was cheered from Waterville to Waterbury.
The conflagration of hatred spawned by it all eventually consumed a good portion of the Red Sox fanbase. The Nation was emotionally spent. The ensuing ennui and apathy created a realization that even if the Red Sox crashed, burned, destroyed the runway and left no survivors, live would pretty much go on as normal for the rest of us.
As reader Peter Harris noted: "2011 and 2012 were like a cold shower on a fresh autumn morning."
That was the real low point for this team.
Of course, some old habits die hard:
The rebound whose seeds were sown in the Great 2012 Salary Dump continued quietly in the offseason. A series of middle-of-the-road acquisitions [Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Stephen F. Drew, Koji Uehara, eventually Mike Napoli] were met with a collective yawn followed by questions about "How well will the Patriots' defense hold up in the playoffs?"
Except in Drew's case, there were multiple expletives and wise-ass remarks about his brother and "three-week stints on the DL for torn hangnails" thrown in for good measure.
Ben Cherington was quietly working to eclipse Epstein and the late Dan Duquette in the "Home Grown Boy Genius" department. No one noticed until the Bruins lost to the Blackhawks.
This season, the Red Sox have emerged as "king of the hill, top of the list and head of the heap" in major-league baseball, especially following this weekend's sweep of the Yankees that officially eliminated the Bronx Bombers in the A.L. East.
And 2013 stands alone in Boston. Thankfully, we won't see another 2012 for many decades, either. Those who have enjoyed 2013 from the start, four games in three days in Fort Myers and Port Charlotte was enough for yours truly, know this set of circumstances and these nightly outcomes are unlikely to be duplicated for another 35, 50 or 75 years.
The 2011-12 Nuclear Winter not only released Red Sox fans from the irrational grip the team once had on their souls, it also relieved the Red Sox from the burden of expectation. The realistic goal this season was to regain the trust of their public, not completely suck, no longer be completely despised, and produce a watchable product.
Those benchmarks were demolished sometime between David Ortiz's infamous "f-bomb" on April 20, all those walk-off victories, the eighth grand slam of the season courtesy of Jarrod Saltalamacchia Friday night and Clay Buchholz's 11-0-with-a-three-month-break start.
The Red Sox [Magic Number: 4] could wrap up the A.L. East as soon as Wednesday and clinch a playoff spot Tuesday. They've played 25 games since Ryan Dempster hit Alex Rodriguez four weeks ago Sunday night and have won 19 of them. They have gained 8.5 games on the Tampa Bay Rays and five games on the Yankees in that span, in addition to winning series against both those teams, the Orioles, Tigers, Giants and Dodgers.
Boston finished 13-6 against New York this season.
So much for the "Curse of the Dempstino."
Bane spoke of poisoning Gotham's mind with hope. Many Red Sox fans and media types who covered the team foolishly chased that rabbit for the first four months of last season. This year, it is the Yankees and their partisans who are being conned. The Yankees are in fourth place in the A.L. East, 12.5 games out of first with 12 to play and sit three games out of a wildcard. They must leap past Cleveland and Baltimore, in addition to either Tampa Bay or Texas, just to reach a one-game playoff.
See you in 2014, fellas.
This Red Sox team is unique among Red Sox teams in our lifetimes, at least depending on how long you've been alive. They are on track for their biggest one-season turnaround in terms of victories since 1945-46.
The "Impossible Dream" 1967 Red Sox shocked New England on a daily basis as "pennant fever gripped the Hub." They did not begin the season pleading not to be hated. Rather, they just hoped to be noticed. All they ever promised was that they'd "win more than we'll lose." These Red Sox have delivered cardiac win after cardiac win this season like their ancestors did 46 years ago, but they do not boast a Triple Crown threat or a Cy Young Award candidate like their 1967 ancestors.
These Red Sox have plenty of characters, but they don't have a character like their 1975 predecessors did in Bill Lee or Luis Tiant. Sorry, but 2013 rookies Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are no Jim Rice and Fred Lynn, at least not yet.
These Red Sox have been in first place for 143 days this season, but they won't crumble like their 1978 or 2011 counterparts.
Boston even dealt a big-name shortstop at the trading deadline this year, following in the footsteps of the 2004 Idiots [no, we don't mean Theo Epstein]. But that post-Nomar Garciaparra surge of 2004 was not necessary in 2013 since Boston was only a half-game behind the Rays the day they got Jake Peavy from the White Sox, as opposed to 9.5 games behind the Yankees the day Nomar became a member of the Cubs.
[The jury is still out on whether or not they achieve the postseason success of 2004 and '07, or meet a calamitous end like we witnessed in 1986 or 2003.]
But this team is clearly different.
The next manufactured Red Sox crisis in the digital, print and broadcast sphere is going to center on the fact that Boston will likely go at least a week without playing a meaningful game before the postseason begins, even if the Red Sox go all out down the stretch to lock up home-field advantage throughout the A.L. playoffs. Game 1 of ALDS in Boston would be Friday, Oct. 4.
What the 2013 Red Sox must do to avoid seeing this miraculous season tagged as a "fail" is to win a playoff game, if not advance to the World Series.
We've run out of ways to analogize how long it's been since Jason Varitek's home run won Game 6 of the 2008 ALCS in St. Petersburg on the same night former Alaska governor Sarah Palin hosted "Saturday Night Live." That was Boston's last baseball postseason victory.
All signs point to that changing in a few weeks.
This year is different, you see.
In so many ways.
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