Time Out for Sports Talk: Numbers, Numbers, Numbers
Todd: In the words of new Pro Football HOF inductee Ray Lewis, you can play with numbers, but some numbers you can never change.
While the majority of Lewis’ speech was a rambling, incoherent mess, that one line could be a decent theme for some Red Sox thoughts.
But before getting to baseball, for those who remember the movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and the fictional TV channel ESPN 8: The Ocho, the real four-letter network now celebrates this faux channel every August 8th with broadcasts of actual dodgeball, cornhole and spikeball games along with an airing of the Dodgeball flick. Just wish I had remembered to set my DVR yesterday for that Kabaddi match.
August 8th also reminds me that 30 years ago (on 8/8/88) the lights were turned on for the first time at venerable Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Cubs intentionally chose that date to plan this historic event, but in true Cubs fashion—long before Theo Epstein helped end a second long-running baseball curse—they were only able to complete three innings before the heavens opened, thus making 30 years ago today (8/9/88) the first official Wrigley Field night game. So much for numerical symmetry.
But when it comes to the 2018 Sox, every number feels symmetrical and serendipitous (if that reads strangely, blame Ray Lewis). Boston’s baseball club has reached the 80-win plateau faster than any team in franchise history (114 games). Only two other MLB teams have even reached the 70-win mark (Astros, Yankees) and the best team in the National League (those Cubbies) only have 66 victories.
That’s right, your Red Sox lead the entire NL by a whopping 14 ½ games as play begins today. That’s insane, but so was having the same lead over the Yankees 40 years ago and losing the division on a ‘Fenway popup’.
But back to the present—this franchise that dates back to 1901 has won 100 or more games in a season just three times, the most recent being 72 years ago. The Boys of Cora are on pace to win 113 games, which would completely shatter the franchise record of 105 wins set all the way back in 1912 by a club featuring guys named Tris, Duffy and Heinie, along with a 22-year old pitcher named Smoky Joe who won 34 games.
While no Boston pitcher will even make 34 starts this season, the point of reeling off all these numbers is a long way of saying the 2018 Red Sox could wind up as one of the all-time single season greats. I say ‘could’ because of the four other teams that started this strong (’69 Orioles, ’98 Yankees, ’01 Mariners, ’17 Dodgers), only the Pinstripes of twenty years ago went on to win the World Series.
Did it again—sorry. Back to hopeless optimism—speaking of reeling and pinstripes, that’s how the New Yorkers looked after the Sox completed their four-game weekend sweep at Fenway, flipping the script from that infamous ‘Boston Massacre’ of ‘78 and sweeping four straight from the Yanks for only the third time since 1970.
Every game was compelling, from Steve Pearce’s (who?) 3-homer game in Thursday’s comeback, to Rick Porcello’s dominant complete game 1-hitter on Friday, to Nathan Eovaldi’s (who??) eight shutout innings on Saturday, to Sunday night’s rally from three runs down with two outs in the bottom of the ninth against closer Aroldis Chapman leading to an extra-inning win that had shades of the 2004 ALCS both in terms of drama and game length (the Fri/Sat games combined clocked in at 4 hours and 48 minutes, just nine minutes longer than it took to play the entire Sunday series finale).
The Sox also managed to pull off this memorable sweep without Chris Sale, with a good start by David Price against NY (finally) and Alex Cora’s first ejection as a manager (well-timed).
With a roster not drastically different than last year’s, Cora’s performance in the dugout stands out to me as one of the biggest reasons that these guys are winning at a .700 clip. The team has responded to Cora’s friendly, yet straightforward demeanor and are playing with a quiet confidence that has led to an MLB-best 12 victories this season when trailing by three or more runs.
Boston’s never-quit attitude was never more apparent than Tuesday’s opener in Toronto, a game ripe for a letdown following the sweep of the Yankees. Yet the bats exploded for nine runs after the seventh inning to win in extras for the sixth straight time (coincidentally, their last extra-inning loss was in Toronto back on May 11). J.D. Martinez (leading all of MLB with 34 HR and 98 RBI) continues proving on a nightly basis that his signing appears to be the most important offseason acquisition made by any team.
Speaking of the Sox’ roster shaper, Dave Dombrowski’s pickups during the season haven’t been too bad either. Pearce has consistently mashed left-handed pitching, Eovaldi has 15 scoreless innings to start his Red Sox career (the first seven of which Mike and I witnessed in person on Maine Day at Fenway—hi, Slugger), and then there’s Ian Kinsler, who once he returns from the DL will prove his worth at second base. I would still like to see DD acquire another veteran bullpen arm with a strong postseason pedigree, as the current relief corps have all had their ups and downs this season.
I’ll wrap up with two thoughts: not sure whether the following news speaks more to Boston’s ridiculous run of wins or Baltimore’s season-long ineptitude, but the Sox will likely eliminate the Orioles from the AL East division race when they play them at Camden Yards this weekend with seven weeks left in the regular season.
Finally on a serious note, I want to offer well wishes for Jerry Remy, who unfortunately is dealing with another bout of cancer that has again forced him to step out of the broadcast booth. Here’s hoping the RemDawg has a swift return to be part of what has become a season well worth watching.
Don’t forget to follow Time Out for Sports Talk on Facebook and Twitter. Previous TOST programs are available for viewing on demand at http://belmontmedia.org/watch/public-access-tv/time-out-for-sports-talk. You can also listen to the TOST ‘Todd-Cast’ and access the entire library at https://soundcloud.com/belmont-media-podcast-network/sets/tost-todd-cast.
The next live TOST (featuring plenty of more Red Sox talk) is on Wednesday, August 22 at 8:00pm, which you can watch at (link: http://www.belmontmedia.org/watch/publictv). Tweet your questions or comments using the hashtag #TOSTaug22.