Today is an opportunity to troll the city of Boston and their Red Sox, who blew a 9-game lead to the Tampa Bay Rays in the month of September. Last night, Robert Andino of the hapless Balitmore Orioles hit a single off of Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon to complete a comeback for the Orioles. Mere minutes after that, hundreds of miles away, Tampa's Evan Longoria hit a sharp line drive over the shallow left field fence near the foul pole.
It's something unprecedented in sports, but with the Red Sox up 3-2 and Tampa Bay down 7-0 just an hour earlier, the turnaround is just one of those things you can't predict. Baseball and political statistician Nate Silver tweeted that there was an 85% chance that the Sox would make the playoffs, but it seemed like so much more than that. With Tampa likely to lose, all Boston had to do was turn to their bullpen and their late-game defense, who were 77-0 with a lead after eight innings throughout the season.
(Continue after the jump. We relate this to the Canucks, somehow)
This post is not designed to troll the city of Boston, lest we show we still feel bitter over the results of seven hockey games in June, but more today to show off the power of narrative in shaping sports discussion. This is one of the greatest collapses in baseball history.
Not only did the Sox submit the worst September in franchise history, and not only did they blow the biggest September lead in the entire history of baseball, but they also closed out the season last night at Baltimore’s Camden Yards with a loss so shocking that it’s right up there on the top shelf with Bucky Dent’s homer . . . the ball going between Bill Buckner’s legs . . . Grady Little napping while Pedro Martinez fried . . . Luis Aparicio tripping as he rounded third . . . Denny Galehouse being handed the game ball against the Indians . . . and on and on and on.
Seem familiar? Across Boston newspaper websites, many hidden behind a paywall, you'll find headlines such as "How did the Red Sox go off course" or "Red Sox have no one to blame for their meltdown". The Boston Globe website has even taken to linking archived stories of the worst Red Sox meltdowns in history ranging from Aaron Boone's walkoff shot in the 2003 American League Championship Series to Bill Buckner's error in 1986.
This is a refrain familiar to Vancouver fans. Roberto Luongo is draped in the albatross of Dan Cloutier, and people continue to discount the Canucks because of their past and their inability to establish a history. It's a load, and it's a load that's unfair to the current Canuck or Red Sox squad. Sportswriters and fans love a player that has done it before. Any team that has won a championship or knows what it takes to win or insert any cliché into your dreck of an opinion that ignores factual analysis. While there are some new faces on this lineup who are still wet behind the ears for postseason play, some key players were holdovers from the 2007 Red Sox squad: Jacoby Ellsbury (who should still be the American League MVP, but won't) Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, and JD Drew. Jon Lester and Papelbon were pitchers from the '07 team who both took to the hill Wednesday.
So, what did we learn? That the 2011 Red Sox are the biggest chokers of any team in Bill Simmons' lifetime? Nope. We learned that no matter how much money you sink onto players or analytics, the game still has to be played, and for this reason, it will never cease to be interesting. To win baseball games, you have to score runs, but you have to score them in the right combinations. The 146 runs the Red Sox scored in September versus the 171 they gave up should have been good for twelve wins. But it wasn't. It earned them seven. In a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays in September they won a game 14-0, but lost the other two 1-0 and 11-10. It's akin to throwing a handful of rice at a hockey net, and a few of those grains will defy odds and not get through, hitting a small length of twine and stopping harmlessly.
As a baseball falls travels just far enough to hit a fielder's glove on one occasion, on the next occasion it may regress just a tiny bit and fall short. Sometimes a puck that's shot with precision from a dangerous spot finds a corner of the net that the goalie hadn't covered, and in another, a goalie will, scramble through a blind spot to get a piece of it.
IVancouver fans shouldn't have to worry that the Canucks aren't good enough or gritty enough. They're certainly both of those things; you don't get to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals with a roster of scrubs unless variance is pre-dominantly in your favour. The Boston Red Sox were a good team that won 90 baseball games and lost only 72, but the 72nd game they lost will be all that people remember.
In fact, due to Boston's history of getting on the wrong side of luck, if you google "2011 Boston Red Sox collapse" the search yields 21,200,000 results. If you google "2011 Atlanta Braves collapse" you get 1,290,000. The Braves had an 8.5 game lead at the start of September and blew it to the St. Louis Cardinals, who will make the postseason instead. But that's not important, because the Braves don't fit the "choker" mentality, just as the 2009 Detroit Red Wings didn't when they lost the Stanley Cup after conceding 2-0 and 3-2 leads in the Finals, just as the 2011 Canucks did. Recent history dictated that this team had what it took, but it seems the media has forgotten that Boston won a championship just 4 years ago.
It wouldn't fit.