Over Easy: Sox’ Train Is Rolling, but Could It Run off the Rails?

  • Boston Red Sox's Mookie Betts, left, and J.D. Martinez react after the double by Houston Astros' Alex Bregman dropped between them during the third inning of a baseball game in Boston, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

For the Valley News
Friday, September 07, 2018

At the time of this writing, the Red Sox are 7½ games ahead in the standings and are taking a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth. This would seem to augur well, but in my heart I feel the Sox are doomed.

True Red Sox fans understand my sorry condition. Murphy’s Law is our lodestar, our guiding truth: “What can go wrong, will go wrong,” and it usually takes just nine innings.

I can hardly account for this bedrock pessimism. The Sox have flourished in recent years, winning championships in 2004, 2007 and 2013. And this has been an extraordinary season. They have won 50-plus games more than they’ve lost. They will almost surely win more than 100, a mark of excellence.

But will they fly too close to the sun, a new Icarus, whose wax wings will melt as he ascends singing Sweet Caroline?

I have followed the games on radio and online or, when sleep puts me on the shelf, have opened the morning paper with anticipation to glean the final score. I have been amply rewarded. The Sox have been sprinting out to big leads, catching up like the Furies when trailing, getting shutouts from emergency starters, plugging in replacements who hit 3 for 3.

All this good fortune leaves me uneasy. It is not the way of the world.

As the Sox stumbled just a little, I started thinking again of Butch Hobson, their butcher of a third basemen in 1978. Floating bone chips in his elbow made for wild throws across the diamond. He made a heinous 43 errors, and had the worst fielding percentage for a regular third baseman since 1916.

Hardheaded manager Don Zimmer declined to bench one of his favorites, even as the Sox squandered a big lead to the New York Yankees, giving New England a case of the vapors that lasted until 1986, when things got even worse. (We will not speak of it).

A twinge in my leg makes me think of Jim Lonborg, their 1967 ace who hurt his knee while skiing that winter, ensuring that “the Impossible Dream” would remain just that.

If my 65-year-old brain seems fuzzy for a moment, I fear a cognitive decline exhibited by certain Red Sox managers. With a few exceptions in my lifetime, they have been dolts and poltroons, as any fan knew as soon as one of their decisions went badly.

Recently, the Sons of Sam Horn, a fan site for obsessives, ran a poll entitled “Are You Worried?” It came after the Sox had lost two games in the standings to the hated Yankees. Answers ranged from something along the lines of “No, ups and downs are part of every season’’ to “Kill me now!” I scoffed at the Chicken Littles, but I found myself pointing my anxious beak toward a possibly lowering sky.

 I wonder if the nervous systems of Red Sox fans — myself included — have changed after so much angst and grievances. As you may know, the sympathetic nervous system readies humans for fight or flight. The parasympathetic one, like the seventh inning stretch, relaxes them. Sox fans may have evolved something else, a Malus Pessimus system that jangles the nerves something fierce.

Or maybe they suffer from Torrez-Buckner Syndrome, a fear of balls that fly over high walls or dribble through the first baseman’s legs, wounding deeply. (Ask any true Red Sox fan for details.)

Today, the Red Sox failed to cough up the 5-2 lead and despite dark portents, omens and too many walks, won 8-2 against Atlanta. The Yankees soon after fell to defeat, pushing the Sox’ lead back to 8½ games.

You may have cheered the win, and the Yankee loss, but in my habitual state I see nothing but trouble ahead.

The bats are cooling or, at the very least, cannot stay so hot. In the bullpen are arsonists or, at the very least, lackluster resumes and names like Heath, Matt and Brandon. These are not the names of champions, like such ballplayers of yore as Grover Cleveland Alexander and Three Finger Mordecai Brown. Heath, Matt and Brandon are the names of dudes who make the office pizza run on Fridays.

Manager Alex Cora is confident and smart, but untested. His best pitcher, Chris Sale, has skipped a couple of starts with inflammation. What are they not telling us? And why do his real pains give me phantom ones?

Yes, the Sox have won three titles in this century, but it feels, in my heart of hearts, that those were just oases on the parched road to new disappointments. In the long course of a baseball season, weaknesses will be exposed, nerves rattled, character flaws exposed — and that’s just me.

The Irish poet W.B. Yeats did not follow the Red Sox, I don’t think, but he seemed to have some knowledge beyond knowledge about them. In The Second Coming (could that be Mookie Betts?), he wrote like a baseball Nostradamus:

“Things fall apart (the rotation?).

“The center cannot hold (a future disastrous Jackie Bradley Jr. error while “turning and turning in the widening gyre” of center field?).

“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” (the Fenway bleachers?).

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” (infamous manager Bobby Valentine?).

“The falcon cannot hear the falconer” (Hawk Harrelson?).

Some Red Sox fans and others made of sterner stuff tell me and other afflicted fans to reframe our paradigm, often in blunt, non-affirming words: “Get over yourself!”

But this is the only self I have. No longer young, I have witnessed much, and I cannot unsee what I have seen.

Hall of Famer Satchel Paige, whose poetry was in his pitching, crafted a set of colorful rules of life that he shared for the edification of baseball writers and their readers. One of them was, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.”

I see the wisdom in that, but I have spent my entire life doing otherwise. Mortal Red Sox fans, especially older ones, know that something indeed is gaining, and we can only choose whether to look it square in the eyes.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.