The Boston Red Sox, as everyone in New England surely knows by now, are back in the World Series for the 4th time in 15 years.
Since the turn of the Millennium, the Red Sox have been singularly successful – winning The First championship in 2004 in a four-game sweep of the Cardinals, followed by The Second in 2007 in a four-game sweep of the Rockies, followed by The Third in 2013 in a heroic six-game victory, again over the St. Louis Cardinals.
For us Red Sox fans – coming off a best-ever 108 win regular-season, and after polishing off with astonishing ease both the Yankees and the Houston Astros – there is plenty of room for optimism. This Red Sox team has earned its endless encomiums. Clearly, the glass is half-full.
But we New Englanders are also intrinsically pessimistic, and so it is easy to see how the glass could also be half-empty. I mean, don’t get me started: Chris Sale has a tender shoulder, the bullpen is abhorrent, and there are nights when Craig Kimbrel can’t find home plate with a Google Search, and so, for all the success this season, it feels like we are forever dancing on the precipice – one false step, one awkward stagger, from falling into the abyss.
In this context, the World Series is known to be dangerous waters, as frightening and foreboding as the shoals off Cape Hatteras. Some teams in the midst of an historically successful season arrive at the World Series and dominate, as expected. Think the 1984 Detroit Tigers, featuring Kirk Gibson in his prime, a team that started the season with an astonishing 36–5 record and never looked back. They cake-walked over the San Diego Padres that year. The official verdict was nolo contendere. Tigers in a knockout.
The dominant Yankees teams of the late 1990s steam-rollered everyone, including the National League, winning four World Series in five years (1996 and 1998-2000), and no one ever touched them. Likewise the Charles O. Finley Oakland Athletics of 1972 to 1974 were the dominant baseball team of the era, and won three consecutive World Series against three different NL opponents.
Ditto the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati in 1976, which absolutely plastered the New York Yankees in sweeping the World Series in four straight games.
But just the year before, in 1975, that same Big Red Machine barely squeaked past a young and inspired Boston Red Sox team, eking out a hard-fought victory by one run in the seventh game, after losing in twelve innings in Game 6 – probably the best World Series game ever played.
In fact, lots of great teams have done a stumble and face-plant in the World Series. From 1988 to 1990, the Oakland A’s, featuring a great starting pitching rotation, Dennis Eckersley in the bullpen as their Hall-of-Fame closer, and the Bash Brothers (Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco at their PED-rumored primes), dominated baseball. Yet those A’s won the World Series only once, in 1989, losing to the huge underdog Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988 (a crippled Kirk Gibson hit an epic pinch hit home run off Eckersley that still plays on TV), and then being astonishingly and incomprehensibly swept by the Cincinnati Reds in 1990.
The list of upsets goes on and on. The best team in 2004, unquestionably, was the St. Louis Cardinals, which won 105 games that year, and yet were swept by a magical Red Sox team that Johnny Damon aptly described as "a bunch of idiots."
COME NOW the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that could very credibly be described as "probably the best team in baseball on paper" in each of the last six years, including an epic season in 2017. Yet these Dodgers only made it to the World Series last year, where they fell in the 7th game to an inspired Houston Astros team. The Dodgers, over six years, have had pitching and hitting, offense and defense, and a very impressive closer; they have won their division six years in a row; and yet they came up nada on the big stage.
All of which feeds into the fear that a single pull of the thread could cause the closely knit 2018 Red Sox to completely unravel over the next week. Lots of great teams have had the wheels come off on the way to a World Series win. Are these Red Sox the rightful heirs to the celebrated champions of 2004, 2007 and 2013, or are they the progeny of those much-lamented teams of 1946, 1967, 1975, and 1986, all of which suffered heart-breaking losses in the 7th game.
The biblical injunction forewarns us: The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but time and chance happenstance to them all.
On the other hand, famous Las Vegas bookie, Jimmy the Greek Snyder, provided the ultimate analytical framework: "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet."
So here is my fearless (and fearful) prediction: Red Sox win it all in Game 6 at Fenway Park on the night before Halloween.