Red Sox Parting Sweep Sorrow
Honestly, I was surprised by the outcome of the Division Championship Series between the Indians and Red Sox. Given their adherence to history, I was sure the Townies would take the series, for it is an established fact that in years when the Red Sox win a playoff game (1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986), they will advance to the seventh game of the World Series, which they lose.
However, I find this seemingly dismal fate much more preferable than the other alternative for a Red Sox playoff team: getting swept. They are the only team to suffer a four-game sweep in the League Championship Series when it was the only barrier between the regular season and the World Series.
Ergo, the setback in this year's set-to with Cleveland seems bizarrely ordinary. A 3-1 series loss is hardly epochal enough to garner a place alongside Pesky holding the ball, Lonborg pitching on two days' rest in Game Seven, the Spaceman tossing his Leephus pitch to Tony Perez and Bill Buckner misplaying Mookie Wilson's grounder.
Similarly, this year's playoff results do not approach the woefulness of the sweeps in 1988 and 1990. Note: I regard the 1995 season, in which the Sox were swept in three games by the Tribe, as a sacred, marvelous aberration, a magnificent stardust leap from oblivion to glory. Hence, I will generally refrain from discussing it here.
For the first time in history, a Red Sox team has lost an American League postseason series without getting swept. The sheer mediocrity of this means, I think, that no Curse of the Bambino shadows this team; it has merely suffered from bad luck--80 years of it, certainly, but bad luck just the same.
The postseason is a magnification of the web of lesser dramas woven within the first 162 games. Each of these highlights illustrates Yogi Berra's timeless maxim, "It ain't over 'til it's over." True, the Red Sox surrendered Game Six in '86 to the Mets with none on and two out in the bottom of the tenth. This still cannot match the bewildering denouement of the Sox' home opener this year, when the Mariners breezed to a 7-2 lead after eight, then failed to record another out as seven Townies scored in the ninth.
Funny, I didn't recall the Pirates scrambling for supernatural reasons for their surprising playoff collapses against the Reds and Braves earlier this decade. And the Phillies and Royals shrugged aside their postseason ineptitude in the late seventies. The Brewers, Padres and San Francisco Giants have yet to win the Fall Classic. The Mariners, Angels, Rockies, Expos, Astros, Rangers, and (of course) Diamondbacks and Devil Rays have yet to reach the Fall Classic.
These comparisons of non-achievement probably do little to ease the pain of Red Sox Nation. For me, this year's team was difficult to root for from the beginning.
Watching Mo Vaughn's play saddened me; next year, I believe he will transfer his invaluable talents as a leader, slugger and first baseman to another team, and we will rue his passing as we did Roger Clemens'. So while I celebrated this team's accomplishments, I viewed its future with approbation.
But as the Red Sox penned their final entry into the annals of 1998, with Darren Bragg fanning on Mike Jackson's high heat, my anxieties over free agency and our meek playoff exit were quieted by an event overwhelming in its simplicity and grace.
The Indians were running boisterously about the field, but Nomar Garciaparra ignored them. Rather, the Red Sox shortstop stood on the edge of the home dugout, a solitary, gallant figure applauding the fans for their support.
More than his three home runs and 11 RBIs in the four-game series, more than his spirited urges for support of the Sox in that final inning, Nomar's applause lingered in my mind.
On a Friday in 1995, as I left Brother Gilbert Stadium after the Malden Catholic football team's 22-0 blanking of Westford Academy, I heard the radio system broadcasting the play-by-play from Game Three of the Sox-Tribe series. Returning home, I found the Sox hopelessly behind, 8-2. Yet as Mo stepped up to the plate, the fans gave him a standing ovation for the glorious season that he and the Red Sox had enjoyed.
That ovation, coupled with Nomar's dignified heroics in Game Four this season, showed me that the pain of defeat is only temporary, but grace is timeless, and through it humanity can triumph over history.