Do It For the Guy Next To You

Do It For The Guy Next to You

(Boston Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

The Sox Are Taking Care of Business, And Each Other

Cowboy Up! ... Why Not Us? ... Do It For The Guy Next To You

Game 2 starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka (rear above) threw in the outfield yesterday to a trainer (foreground) who was wearing an inspirational shirt that read "For The Guy Next To You" on the back and "Do It" on the front.

No Longer Dead Men Walking

No Longer Dead Men Walking

(AP and Getty Images/Elsa Photos)

Nothing serves notice that we’ve embarked on a new season better than Josh Beckett’s 94-mph two-seam fastball eluding Angels bats with mocked ease, or a Big Papi blast that reverberates the October night. Put them together and the Boston Red Sox have kicked off the 2007 playoffs on a decidedly clearer mission than with which they ended the regular season.

Only two weeks ago, Red Sox Nation was enduring comparisons to the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers, who gave away a 13-game lead, the most philanthropic in Major League history but just one larger than Boston’s advantage back on July 5. And to the 1934 New York Giants and 1938 Pittsburgh Pirates, the only teams to lose divisions after leading by seven games during September before the Mets joined them on Sunday. It was free game to openly discuss 1978 and speculate on what it would mean for New York to win the East. After all, only one team since Abner Doubleday ever dug out of deeper than the 14˝–game hole facing the Yankees on May 29. In fact, you’d have to go back to a day when both sides milled around the keg between innings discussing which mustache wax holds up best to the head of a good draught to find them - the 1914 Boston Braves, who trailed by as much as 15 games.

In retrospect, this year’s Red Sox did not make things easy for themselves. Once they reached their high-water mark in May, the 2007 season was by-and-large 1978-proofed. But a 54-48 record over the next 102 games – capped by a three-game sweep in Toronto that left them a scant game and a-half on top by mid-September - fueled fears of its reincarnation. For most of the summer, the Red Sox displayed all the enthusiasm of a shackled Sean Penn as they made their way down the bright corridor to a fate of historical proportion. Meanwhile, the Nation could only console itself from behind the glass pane like a helpless Susan Sarandon, clutching our wild card binky with ever-tighter fists. Fortunately, the now kinder and gentler ghost of the Bambino let us off for the second time in three years.

Nevertheless, as we stood on the threshold of this postseason, considerable conjecture arose over which team would greet the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Wednesday night – the invincible boys of spring or the dead men of summer. Yet, if we’ve learned anything from history, it’s that the postseason never tips its hand until that first 94-mph fastball is thrown.

Take last year. The Detroit Tigers’ stretch drive made up in superlatives what it lacked in intensity or success. Losers of 31 of their final 50 regular season games and the A.L. Central after being swept by Kansas City, they may well have been the deadest on arrival of any postseason team ever. Nor were their eventual World Series opponents better. The St. Louis Cardinals closed out at 25-36 and, with only 83 wins on the season, were the uninvited guests who assumed the throne.

By contrast, the Minnesota Twins certainly expected an invitation to last year’s World Series. Thieves of the A.L. Central on the last day of the regular season after Detroit held it nearly wire to wire, the Twins played a Major League-best 71-33 since June 7. And their efforts were handsomely rewarded with the greatest postseason benny of all – the Oakland A’s, baseball’s Black Monday. Back in 2001, after a 66-18 bull run to capture the A.L. West and gain a 2-0 advantage in the ALDS, the A’s crashed and burned. So, too, in 2003 when their 83-33 regular season finish and another 2-0 ALDS lead fell carnage to the bears. Yet, in 2006, the A’s finally proved to be anything but spoils for the Twins, sweeping them in three.

So, let’s exercise caution in assessing this year’s field. Boston awoke to a wildly successful opener after a lackadaisical four months while the Angels, who managed only a 14-14 record in September, may have hit the snooze alarm once too often. Meanwhile, the Yankees, who finished 73-39 since May 29, 57-27 since July 1, and 23-9 since August 27, have seemingly earned this year’s door prize with the Cleveland Indians, whom they swept in the 2007 regular season. One of those wins was on April 19 in which they trailed by four with the bases empty and two away in the bottom of the ninth. But Cleveland closed strong as well, winning 27 of their final 37. And remember: the Yankees drew the reeling Tigers in last year’s ALDS to no avail.

So, for those who’ve stood graveside through the fortnight waiting to empty their shovels over the final resting place of the 2007 Red Sox, there might be a way to go. Only two years back, the Chicago White Sox watched their own large lead – 15 games in early August - dwindle to 1˝ in the final week of the regular season, then went on to an 11-1 postseason. Who knows? The casket that rests below may even be empty. -- 10.5.07, Bob Ekstrom, Boston Dirt Dogs contributor

BDD is a feature of Boston.com. All posts are by Steve Silva unless otherwise indicated.

Boston Globe:

Red Sox end losing streak > Shaughnessy: Debunking myths about the 2014 Red Sox > Cherington: Everyone needs to get better

Boston Herald:

Ortiz, Red Sox bats break out to end losing streak > Buchholz still bewildered > Memory loss haunting Red Sox

ProJo:

Lester was once a good hitter, now heading toward dubious record > Travis Shaw brings hot bat to Pawtucket > Ranaudo shines > Betts not a candidate for Boston, yet

NY Post:

St. Louis lets Ozzie Smith bid Jeter goodbye > Yanks prevail in extras again > Nonsense leads off in MLB broadcasts > Beltran elbow on mend

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