Life after the streak

Life after the streak
May 27, 2014, 2:00 pm

Hey, so the Red Sox finally won a game.
 
Yesterday afternoon in Atlanta, they erased a five-run deficit to earn an 8-6 victory over the Braves. It was Boston’s first win since May 14, the same night the Bruins’ season ended against Montreal. In other words, it was the Sox first win in a long time.
 
The streak lasted 12 days in all. It featured 10 losses in a row. And after all that losing, it doesn’t feel right to celebrate one little win.
 
There’s no time for that when you’re sitting at the bottom of a self-imposed hole. And that’s where the Sox are now. As much as they’d love to just forget that this losing streak ever happened, the impact of the last 12 days will linger for a while.
 
On the morning of May 15, the Sox were a half game back in the AL East. Today, they’re eight back. They’re also six games back in the Wild Card and only the lowly Houston Astros have fewer wins in the American League.
 
Being the second worst team in a league that includes the Astros is like the being the second most racist person in a room that includes Donald Sterling. There’s no consolation. This is bad news. With a record of 21-29, the Sox just completed their worst 50-game start since 1996. Only this time, Heathcliff Slocumb’s not around to absorb most of the blame.
 
Yup. The Sox have some work to do.
 
And despite any positive vibes from yesterday’s win, it won’t be easy.
 
For now, they’re short Mike Napoli, who’s on the DL with a sprained finger on his left hand. On the bright side, Napoli needed this break badly. This is the same finger that he nearly snapped off sliding into second base back in April. And while you have to credit him for playing through pain, we can all agree that it wasn’t working. In the month-plus since originally hurting that finger, Napoli hit .186 with a .237 OPS. He’s not OK. But now he has a chance to take a step back, give that finger the rest and attention that it needs and hopefully return feeling as great as he did in March.
 
The Sox are also short Shane Victorino, who’s on the DL with a sprained right hamstring, but unlike with Napoli, there’s no bright side. This is the second time this season that Victorino’s been sidelined with that right hammy. Given his age, and his history, it’s a safe bet that Victorino will be dealing with this injury for the rest of the season, if not for the rest of his career. Right now, all the Sox can do is hope to keep him healthy for the stretch run, while praying that they have enough firepower to be back in contention when the stretch run arrives.
 
With Napoli and Victorino out of action, with Will Middlebrooks gone missing, Stephen Drew still a little ways away, Grady Sizemore deteriorating, David Ortiz now walking with a permanent limp and Dustin Pedroia less than 24 hours removed from lining a baseball into his own toe at 100 MPH, depth is a huge concern for Boston. And that concern balloons to size of Prince Fielder’s tighty whiteys when you look at the schedule.
 
Starting today, the Sox will play 29 games over the next 30 days, and while I’m sure that every stretch of this kind is its own version of hell, it’s hard to overstate the insanity that lies ahead for the Sox between now and the end of June.
 
After their two-game series in Atlanta, Boston’s back home tonight for two more against the Braves, and then three games against the Rays. The following night, they’re in Cleveland for a three-game set against Tito and the Indians.
 
Now it’s June 5. A Thursday. The Sox are off. They catch their breath.
 
The next night, they start a three-game series against the Tigers in Detroit; and then fly to Baltimore for three games against the Orioles; and then fly to Boston for six games in six nights against the Indians and Twins; and then fly to Oakland for three games against the A’s; and then fly to Seattle for three games against the Mariners.
 
After that, they get one more day off, during which they’ll fly cross-country to New York for a weekend series at Yankee Stadium. When the Sox touch down, they’ll have flown more than 7,500 miles in a month. With two days off in between. And given how the line-up looks now, it’s scary to think what it will look like then.
 
The pitching side doesn’t look much better, with Felix Doubront on the DL with car trouble and, even worse, the Clay Buchholz situation now at a critical mass. Buchholz walked eight guys yesterday. In only three innings! At this point, there’s no use in speculating about what’s wrong with him. Whether it’s an injury to his arm or his body or his feelings. But there’s something wrong, and the Sox need to take action. They need to finally figure out what’s really going on.
 
If it’s physical, give Buchholz some time off, have him make a few rehab starts, and make sure he’s healthy in August and September.
 
If it’s mechanical, have him skip a start, clear his head and get back to the basics.
 
If it’s mental, and you think that either of the two options above would send him into a deeper tailspin, crush his psyche and turn Buchholz into the next Daniel Bard, well then you have a decision to make. Maybe you give him one more chance to figure it all out. Right now, Buchholz is scheduled to pitch on Saturday, at home against Tampa. That’s a big game. In front of the home crowd. It’s a chance for Buchholz to step in, stand out, and restore some confidence in himself and from the fans and organization.
 
And as bad as he’s been, if it’s legitimately not a physical issue, I’d say Buchholz still deserves that opportunity.
 
Either way, we’ll see. For now, that’s certainly the biggest story surrounding the Red Sox. That, and the injuries and a few other negative after effects of Boston’s 10-game losing streak that currently overshadow any positives that can be taken from yesterday’s victory.
 
But even if it doesn’t feel right to celebrate one victory after 10 losses, we can at least be thankful for the absence of another defeat. Without yesterday’s comeback, Boston would’ve matched its longest losing streak since Butch Hobson’s Sox lost 11 straight in 1994; a streak that was so horrific and traumatizing that they canceled the rest of the season.
 
Without yesterday’s comeback, the Sox would have tied the 1998 Marlins for the longest losing streak by a defending World Series champ. And if you remember, that ’98 Marlins squad was one of the worst in major league history. Their two best players were a homeless guy who accidentally wandered into the clubhouse during Spring Training and an actual marlin.
 
It was no fun to see these Red Sox in the conversation with teams like that. So no matter what, it’s a good thing that the streak is over. At the very least, it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a start. And they have to start somewhere. If the Sox are ever going to save this season, there needs to be a catalyst. One moment when everything clicks and this year finally starts feeling like last year.
 
And who knows? Maybe yesterday’s win was that catalyst.
 
Maybe we’ll look back on Memorial Day 2014 as the turning point.
 
You have to admit that there was some freaky Red Sox karma in the air this weekend. Manny Ramirez became a minor league player/coach. Josh Beckett threw a no-hitter. Julian Tavarez was named Vice President of the Dominican Republic! OK, he wasn’t. But if it was ever going to happen, it was this past weekend. It was eerie. And even if it was just for a brief window at the end, the Sox got caught up in the magic.
 
It felt like 2013.
 
Yesterday afternoon, with two outs and nobody on in the fifth, and the Sox down 6-1, Daniel Nava worked a full count and then a walk. Next, Brock Holt worked a full count and then doubled down the line. Xander Bogaerts worked another full count and another walk. Now the bases were loaded, and the very guys they wanted up were up.
 
There was Dustin Pedroia at the plate, slamming foul balls of his foot, falling behind 0-2. Meanwhile, there was David Ortiz acting like David Ortiz in the on deck circle. Laughing and/or talking trash with the fans. Relaxed. Somehow happy.
 
Pedroia drove an 0-2 pitch into left for an two RBI single (6-3), Ortiz stepped in and launched a 1-0 offering over the left-center field fence. Tie game.
 
Two innings and one rain delay later, Holt singled with one out and nobody on in the seventh. Xander Bogaerts worked another full count and another walk. Dustin Pedroia walked. (The Sox may have walked nine batters on the day, but they drew eight walks). With the bases loaded, Ortiz gave Boston the lead (7-6) with a sac fly, AJ Pierzynski added some insurance with a single.
 
Junichi Tazawa made quick work in the seventh. Andrew Miller took care of business in the eighth. And then, for the first time since May 11, Boston caught a glimpse of a long lost image that defined the 2013 season. Koji Uehara on the mound with a victory on the line. Uehara retiring the side on eight pitches, and being carried off the field while draped over Ortiz’s shoulders.
 
For a brief moment, the Sox were back.
 
But obviously, the question now becomes: How long will they stick around?
 
There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about Boston’s chances, but we might as well take advantage of one of the rare chances to be positive. I’d say there’s a better chance of the Sox turning things around than there is that Josh Beckett will throw another no hitter. A better chance of the Sox returning to the playoffs than there is that Manny Ramirez will become the first person in International League history to win MVP and Bench Coach of the Year in the same season.
 
As ugly as these first 50 games were, there are still 112 games left. The Sox are only eight games back in the division, six games back in the Wild Card and have so many games left against all the teams that are ahead of them.
 
Regardless of everything that’s standing in the way, the time to make a move is now.
 
And at the very least, it’s a lot easier to get moving on the heels of a comeback victory than it is after an 11th straight loss.
 
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