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Is The Pressure Off The Red Sox?

With the Yankees in their rear-view mirror, and the Red Sox now deep into the ALCS with the Astros, it begs the question: is the pressure off this group?  They have managed to get out of the first round for the first time in three years, and as I am writing this, just crushed the Astros in 8-2 in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the ALCS.  But after 108 regular season wins, is getting to the ALCS and being competitive enough to consider this a successful season?

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Coming out of spring training, most of the experts gave the edge to the Yankees in the AL East after the Yankees took the Astros to seven games in the 2017 ALCS, and the offseason acquisition of NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton.  The Red Sox were a consensus pick to get one of the two Wild Card berths, with the hope that the addition of J.D. Martinez and new manager Alex Cora would be enough to make them at least competitive in the playoffs.  Those hopes were realized, and then some, which brings us to where we are today.

Winning 108 games in the regular season was certainly memorable, but like the Patriots 16-0 season in 2007, it will ultimately be meaningless without a championship banner to go with it.  Clinching the East in Yankee stadium, and then besting the Yankees in the ALDS in the Bronx were also very nice footnotes to file away for the next time a Yankee fan throws 27 World Championships in your face.  But like the Patriots, after winning it all in 2004, 2007, and 2013, anything less than a championship is somewhat of a disappointment.  Coming into the season that may not have been the case, but after 108-plus wins, expectations have changed.  The pressure to get past the ALDS may be gone, but there is plenty more left to be accomplished.

Damn Yankees

Aside from winning a World Series, is there any better feeling for Red Sox fans than seeing them send the Yankees home for the winter?

Red Sox fans who do not have the history with the Yankee rivalry prior to the early 2000’s only has a small fraction of the misery the Yankees have imparted on the Sox over the decades which came before that.  No matter how strong the Red Sox where in any given year, the Yankees more often than not got the best of the Boston nine.  They routinely crushed the summer dreams of Red Sox fans, and often in dramatic fashion (look up Buck “Bleeping” Dent).

The Yankees have been loaded with villains and Red Sox killers over the decades.  From Reggie Jackson - Mickey Rivers - Thurman Munson in the 70’s, through Derek Jeter - Jorge Posada - Mariano Riveira in the late 90’s / early 2000’s, to Stanton - Aaron Judge – C.C. Sabathia today, the Yankees are always have their share of players we love to hate.  And as if having their own great layers wasn’t enough, they occasionally stole some of ours.  Wade Boggs, Johnny Damon, Roger Clemens (via Toronto) and Jacoby Ellsbury (in retrospect a good loss) were all once Red Sox fan favorites who were turned to the Dark Side, lured by the glamor and allure of the Big Apple.

The Yankees and their fans carry themselves with a certain arrogance that just rubs us Red Sox fans the wrong way.  A few examples.

·        When Red Sox fandom adopted the name “Red Sox Nation”, the Yankees had to up the ante and coined the term “Yankee Universe”, taking not just the planet, or solar system, or galaxy, but the entire universe. #AstronomyLesson
·        When the Yankees acquire a marquee player such as Stanton, he is not considered as being a “true Yankee” until he has a signature moment, such as a walk-off home run.
·        Yankee fans routinely call players out for curtain calls for getting big hits in otherwise meaningless regular season games.
·        And finally, as a retort to Fenway’s “Yankees Suck” chant, Yankee fans have brilliantly come up with a “Boston Sucks” chant, thereby not just chiding the team but the entire city as well.

With all the above factors and more, a Red Sox playoff series victory is all that much more special and sweeter when it comes against the Bronx Bombers.

ALCS Random Thoughts

If you had Steve Pearce and Jackie Bradley Jr. as the players who would carry the Red Sox offensively in the first few games of the season, buy a PowerBall ticket for tonight’s major prize.  If you also had Rick Porcello as the eighth inning stopper for the Red Sox, don’t go with a Quick Pick – pick the winning number. 

Three weeks ago, the popular thought was Nathan Eovaldi would play a key role as the eighth inning stopper, but has emerged as one of the Red Sox most reliable starter.  He’s now in line to start in a Game 7 finale in Fenway, if necessary.  Conversely, Eduardo Rodriguez appeared to be the number four starter in the playoffs.  Now he is buried in a bullpen mop-up role.  It’s amazing how fast things can change.

Is anyone missing Mitch Moreland’s defense at first base?  Pearce has not only stepped up with the bat, but his play at first, particularly his stretches, have bailed Red Sox pitchers in a number of critical situations already.

Alex Bregman is an incredible ball player.  Did you know he was initially drafted by the Red Sox?  The difference in defense alone at third base between Bregman and the Red Sox duo of Eduardo Nunez and Rafael Devers is striking, and arguably was the difference in the Red Sox Game 1 loss.

The Red Sox win in Game 3 guarantees at least one more game will be played in Fenway Park this season, whether it is Game 6 of the ALCS or Game 1 of the World Series.  Depending on the outcomes of Games 4 and 5 in Houston, a potential Game 6 in Boston will present an elimination game for one of the teams.  If everything stays true to form, Cora will hand the ball to David Price with the prospect of the Red Sox either playing next in a winner-take-all Game 7, in the World Series, or on the golf course.  If the Red Sox do face elimination, there can be no greater pressure situation for Price.  It will be yet another chance for Price to get a win as a starter in the postseason, and, at least temporarily, silence his critics.  Let’s just hope it’s a day game and unseasonably warm for Boston in late October.

Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT.

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