Let Them Eat Chicken: What If the Boston Red Sox Didn’t Collapse?
There’s an alternate universe out there somewhere. In it, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are on the golf course reminiscing about the rally bucket of chicken and beer they drank as they watched the Boston Red Sox close out Game Seven of the team’s third World Series victory since 2004. Terry Francona is driving a Duck Boat down Landsdowne Street and Theo Epstein is contemplating whether the Red Sox can fit both Adrian Gonzalez AND Albert Pujols on the team.
Baseball is a fickle game where the real and alternate universes can be decided by something as small as a few drops of rain. I know what you’re thinking, but I’m not insane.
Let me back up. At about 9:30 pm on September 29, 2011, the Red Sox were leading the Baltimore Orioles 3-2 in the seventh inning, and the New York Yankees were leading the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-0. At that moment in time, here’s what we knew:
If the Red Sox held on to win and the Yankees didn’t blow an easy 7-0 lead, the Red Sox were going to make the playoffs. Even if they blew their one-run lead, they were most likely going to wind up in a playoff game with Tampa Bay. If they could have somehow made the playoffs, there’s at least a colorable claim that they could have won the World Series.
Dating back to 1995, when the wild card first became a playoff factor, ten wild card teams have made it to the World Series and five of those teams have won. The team with the best record in the regular season has only won the World Series three times and has missed the World Series completely ten times. This may be me generalizing, but teams that advance to the postseason or win a World Series don’t usually get criticized for their clubhouse irregularities or in-season training regimens. The “idiot” Red Sox that won a World Series were revered for their clubhouse quirks. Who doesn’t think Kevin Millar ate a shitload of fried chicken in that clubhouse?
So when it started raining at 9:30 on the 29th of September, everything changed. The Red Sox entered the rain delay up by a run. During the rain delay, they probably watched as the Rays stormed back from a 7-0 deficit and trailed the Yankees by only one run. Think about that. If the rain delay never happened, the Sox have a completely different tension to close out their game. They have to think that the worst-case scenario is that they’re going to a playoff. But as the rain continued and the Rays rallied back, the pressure for the Sox continued to mount.
We all know what happened after the delay. But that loss set off a whirlwind of events that led to the uncovering of a cancerous clubhouse environment, the end of Francona’s reign in Boston, Theo’s departure to the Chicago Cubs, a St. Louis Cardinals World Series, Tony LaRussa’s retirement, and the closing of at least one Popeye’s franchise somewhere in the world. The great thing about baseball is that it’s so easy to picture a world where none of that ever happened. One more strike. One more win. That’s all it may have taken for the world to be talking about the Sox’s epic run after a near-collapse in September.
Just look at what actually happened. Tony La Russa, who might have suffered a similar fate to Francona someday, just retired with one more ring after being 8.5 games out of the wild card on September 1st. Who knows? Maybe Jason Motte was drinking a rally beer when La Russa made the call to the bullpen in Game 5.