Expect full-blown panic over the Jose Iglesias trade by the time you're driving home from work Tuesday. Iglesias and the Tigers shut down Boston 3-0 on Monday, despite another solid effort by John "Give me some damn runs" Lackey.
But September 2013 will be different than recent past Septembers. The Red Sox cannot go 7-20 or 7-19 this September because they only play 25 games this month. They're currently playing at a .500 clip this month, way ahead of last year's pace.
But it's not just math that's going to make this a month to remember for all the right reasons, and it doesn't just apply to the Red Sox.
Here's our 10 reasons why this September will be different for the Red Sox and their fans.
10. The Red Sox Rotation: Jake Peavy, Boston's key get in the deal that sent Iglesais to Detroit, mowed down his former teammates on Saturday as Boston eventually swept the hapless White Sox. His complete-game victory over the Dodgers nine days ago is the signature pitching performance of the season for the Red Sox and helped to stabilize things after a week of "Dempster-hit-A-Rod-and-the-season-is-over-because-of-it idiocy" that permeated the interwebs, Twitter and sports talk radio.
The Red Sox remain a team without a bonafide No. 1 starter/ace/Cy Young candidate. Not having a top-tier starter is hardly a barrier to a championship. The defending world champions, that would be the San Francisco Giants, did not have a single starter with more than 16 victories last season, and only one starter with an ERA under 3.00. [Matt Cain, 16-5, 2.79 ERA]. The Giants had Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito in the big-name category. But neither was dominant like he had been in the past. You get extra baseball fantasy points if you can name their primary closer. [Hint: It wasn't Brian Wilson, he got hurt in the first week of the season. Click here if you give up.]
The pitching roster for the 2011 world champion St. Louis Cardinals was even more obscure. There are the 12 pitchers Tony LaRussa used to beat the Rangers in the World Series [with some help from Nelson Cruz, of course]: Mitchell Boggs, Chris Carpenter, Octavio Dotel, Jaime Garcia, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn, Jason Motte, Arthur Rhodes, Marc Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas and Jake Westbrook.
Lackey, who has emerged as the most valuable 8-12 pitcher in Red Sox history, has reached the seventh inning in 15 consecutive starts and has thrown more than 90 pitches in every start since May 19. Even more astonishing, his ERA inched up to 3.22 Monday. This time in 2011, Lackey was usually knee-deep into the Bud Light and Popeye's by the seventh inning. That year, his ERA was an astronomical 6.41 and he threw only 160 innings. He surpassed that mark Sunday and has thrown 162.1 innings thus far in 2013.
And then there's Clay Buchholz - who has re-invented the term "Fantasy League Star."
Caution: Soft Shoulder Ahead.
Buchholz has gotten a virtual free pass from Red Sox fans and critics, taking a slow and deliberate path back to the Red Sox rotation. While Dempster was excoriated by many in State Run Media for bouncing a few pitches at A-Rod, Buchholz has escaped nary a nasty word for taking two months to recover from a strained bursa sac in his right shoulder.
Buchholz pitched 3.1 innings Friday night for Pawtucket, throwing 53 pitches (34 strikes), allowing one earned run on seven hits with no walks and two strikeouts as the Paw Sox eventually won the IL North Championship. He even made it back to Boston in time to catch the end of Friday night's victory over Chicago in the Red Sox dugout. Surprised he wasn't given his own Duck Boat parade given the glowing reviews of his latest effort that doesn't help the Red Sox. Buchholz is a sure-fire favorite for the "Simulated Game Cy Young Award," given his stellar bullpen and rehab efforts.
He says he needs "one more" rehab start.
Don't rush it, Clay. Clay? More like "dough."
If Buchholz [9-0, 1.71 ERA] is able to partially replicate his pre-exile performance during the later half of September or in October, the Red Sox should have enough decent pitching to have a shot at playing on Halloween, which is the scheduled date of Game 7 of this year's World Series, if necessary/weather permitting.
Trick or treat indeed.
9. The Red Sox Actually Have A Manager This Time: September 2011 and '12 had a lot in common for the Red Sox, one major factor was that the team was without a viable manager each time. In 2011, as we learned following the Great Collapse, Terry Francona has grown ineffective in handling his players and commanding their respect. The inmates not only ran the asylum, they drove it off a cliff in the most notorious September collapse in baseball history. Last season, Bobby Valentine mailed it in during the final month of the season. Actually he mailed it in during the final six months of the season.
With John Farrell, you knew things were going to be different from Day 1. The photo at right was taken of Farrell in the Red Sox dugout during the third inning of a B-squad spring training game against the Rays in March. In that image, Farrell is demonstrating more effort than Valentine did during his entire reign with the Red Sox.
8. Chemistry and Physics: Red Sox General manager Ben Cherington has become baseball's Louis Pasteur given his success creating "team chemistry" this season. Clubhouse issues, which helped derail the Red Sox each of the past two seasons, have been either non-existent or successfully smothered by State Run Media. Players appear to have each other's backs, save for David Ortiz's issues with Dempster plunking Papi's pal Alex Fraudriguez.
More important than chemistry in baseball is physics. This Red Sox team is not relying on home runs to win games. Ortiz broke out of his slump over the weekend by finally going to the opposite field. The Red Sox have scored 698 runs this season, second in the majors to Detroit's 702. Boston ranks 11th in the majors with 140 home runs but leads in both walks and doubles. That's a sure sign hitters are being patient at the plate, or at least those not named Mike Napoli, and not swinging for moon.
7. The Competition: All season, we've been wondering when the teams trailing the Red Sox were going to make their move. The biggest threat in the A.L. East remains the Orioles given their recent history against Boston. The Yankees had faded since their "A-Rod-got-hit-inspired two game surge in the standings."
Then there are the Rays. Tampa Bay posted this Tweet five weeks ago:
Since then, the Rays have lost six games to the Red Sox in the standings. It's no longer 2011 in St. Petersburg, as well.
6. Clutch Plays: How many other teams have turned one of these: double play 7-unassisted?
But Jonny Gomes gets the edge for pulling off his feat in the top of the 15th.
5. We've Got Hockey This Time: Last September, the NHL was speeding toward a lockout that dragged into the new year. Training camp opens a week from Wednesday. The new-look Bruins carry loads of questions heading into to the new season, along with the sweet and sour smell of last's year playoff run still hanging in the air. Some hockey is better than no hockey. More good will to rub off on the city's baseball team.
4. Xander Bogaerts: His first-ballot Hall of Fame career will start with a deep run into the playoffs. It is written.
3. Happy Endings: This is a family website, so get your mind out of the gutter. The Red Sox have won 20 games this season in their final at-bat and have 30 come-from-behind victories. Games like this one.
Welcome to #WalkOffCity.
These numbers belie coincidence or karma. There's something at work here that simply won't stop since the official 2013 Patriots calendar no longer features Aaron Hernandez for this month. The 2011 and '12 Red Sox were notorious quitters. This bunch never quits and that "never-say-die" attitude could be infectious, just like it was the other way around during the Great Collapse of 2011.
2. Distractions Aplenty: One reason why the Red Sox have not caught on as they did in year's past has been the "big story" distraction factor. While the Red Sox were the big story in March, they were pushed out of the lead web package thanks to a string of events including the Marathon bombings, the Bruins unexpected June playoff run, the dismantling of the Celtics, Tim Tebow, Hernandez, Wes Welker and the resumption of football season.
Even on July 4, the most sacred of all baseball holidays, the "big story" was the trade of Tyler Seguin to Dallas.
It was a day of mourning for teen-aged and 20-something female hockey fans from Bangor to Bristol, R.I. or Conn..
If the Red Sox tank this month, fans and media would have already moved on to the Patriots and other matters.
1. The World Will Not End If They Collapse: Millions of fans and the media outlets that crave them as an audience have became emotionally un-invested in the Red Sox following the Nuclear Winter of 2011-12. The Red Sox made the gargantuan mistake of becoming not only hated, but unimportant. They reached a point where things could not have gotten any worse, either on or off the field [save for having a key player arrested for murder].
After 19 months of abuse and neglect, fans and the press moved on to other things. And the odds of the Red Sox putting together back-to-back-to-back seven-win Septembers is probably about the same as a team going from a 69-win season to the American League playoffs in 12 months. It's a longshot, but it's never far from our minds.
Unlike their 2012 predecessors, there's no doubt the players on this team are out to win every game. It's just that millions of people have come to the conclusion that their lives no longer depend on just that happening. It's the reverse-bandwagon effect. Right now, the Red Sox remain on emotional double-secret probation.
Like a bruised lover, it will take years for the trust to return. Or at least the first playoff win since the night Sarah Palin hosted Saturday Night Live in 2008.
Ortiz's mini-slump, which ended over the weekend, could have derailed a lesser team but was a mere blip on this team's radar. He's playing angry these days, which will only help motivate him during the final months. The rousing ovation given to Lackey Monday is a perfect example of this. He pitched well, but not spectacularly. Yet the fans at Fenway Park noticed and showed their appreciation with a standing ovation. For John Lackey. In a game he was going to lose.
Hating Lackey, and the rest of the scoundrels from the past two seasons, just isn't worth the effort any more.
It's all good, even if it goes bad.
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