Sox have work to do after first half for ages

Sox have work to do after first half for ages
July 16, 2013, 2:30 pm
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Yesterday afternoon, the Red Sox media relations department sent out an e-mail entitled “Red Sox at the Break” which was filled with all sorts of impressive stats from an undeniably impressive first half.
For instance, as of today (and I promise these get more interesting as we move along), the Sox are 58-39 and own the best record in the American League. Aside from a 2-9 slide in early May, they’ve played at a .651 clip (56-30). They’re also one of two teams in baseball whose record has been above .500 all season, and this (97 games) is the longest any Sox squad has gone without dropping to or below .500 since 1946.
Their 58 wins are the most in franchise history before the All-Star Break (I know, they’ve played a lot of games). They spent the first 38 days of this season in first place (the longest run to start a year in team history), and have spent 49 consecutive days atop the AL East since reclaiming the spot on May 27. They’ve already spent more days in first than any Sox team since 2007. (That last paragraph was sponsored by the Duquette Corporation.)
And finally, statistically speaking, the Sox lead the majors in .OBP, .OPS, runs scored, total bases, extra base hits, doubles and walks. They’re second in average, triples and run differential.
In other words, it’s been an insanely successful first three and a half months.
And the truth is that numbers don’t tell the half of it.
The story of this Red Sox team isn’t only that they’re winning, but also how they’re winning. For the most part, selflessly and without ego; in a way, that flies so aggressively in the face of what the organization has come to represent over the last two years. There’s also the issue of when they’ve been winning. In this case, during perhaps the most devastating and emotional three and a half months in Boston sports history. They won as the city struggled through the aftermath of the marathon bombing. They won as the Bruins fell short of another Stanley Cup in heartbreaking fashion. They won while the Celtics said goodbye to Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. They won as one of the youngest, seemingly happiest and most likable Patriots found himself, first, in the middle of a homicide investigation, and now, in jail on a first degree murder charge. Through it all, this Red Sox team has remained on top of its game, at a level that not even the most optimistic fan could have predicted.
It’s funny to think back to last year’s All Star Break, the condescending letter that Larry Lucchino sent out to season ticket holders, and compare it to what the Sox sent out yesterday: No fancy and empty words, basically just a page full of numbers declaring Boston’s supreme dominance. You can’t help but wonder what the hell happened? How did this thing turnaround so quickly?

But as the Sox prepare to kick off the second half, the most interesting question is: Why doesn’t anyone care?
"Anyone" is a bit of an exaggeration. There’s obviously still a significant group of die-hard fans who eat up every storyline and hang on every pitch, but when you consider all this team has done, and when and how they’ve done it, you’d think they’d have this city in the palm of their hand. With all that’s gone wrong, Boston needs something positive to rally around, and the Sox have been there the whole time, writing a story that almost perfectly fits the bill. Still, the Sox have lingered in the background. The connection between this specific team and this city on a whole isn’t there.
So, why?
Part of it is a baseball problem, the length of games and dwindling attention span of Americans.
Part of it is a Boston problem. One of the drawbacks of the city’s recent (although not so much anymore) run of championships is that the regular season, across the board, has become meaningless. It no longer matters how you get to the playoffs, or what happens along the way, only that you get there. So regardless of how surprising this season might be, the city’s not going to get too giddy over a few good months, and as long as they occupy one of three legitimate playoff spots, no one’s going to act all that concerned. It’s like a state of limbo, in the best-case scenario.
Part of it is a Red Sox problem. In the bigger picture, it’s the lingering effect of 2004 and 2007, and the absence of that overwhelming sense of fear and doom. The Sox could go another decade without winning a World Series, and even though it would suck, it would never suck as badly. Sox fans are still protected by and little drunk off those two World Series rings.
Under a microscope, the Red Sox problem stems from the lingering effect of September 2011 and all of 2012, the cloud that had formed over this franchise and the distaste for the three guys at the very top. This is an extreme example, but you know how a bunch of people swore off Chick-Fil-A after the owner came out against gay marriage? There’s a similar feeling in knowing, deep down, who truly benefits from the Sox surprising success, and that holds some people back. They’ve been burned and disrespected too deeply by this ownership group. It will take more than a brief run of success for everyone to just forgive and forget.
Part of the problem truly is just a product of all the craziness that’s unfolded around here since late April. Starting with the marathon (which is obviously in a category all itself here), people have been seriously hurt. Their faith in humanity (and the Hernandez case piggy backs on this) has been put to the test. In so many ways, Boston has become numb to everything. As a result, it’s hard to hitch the wagon to this Red Sox train knowing that, by doing so, you’re opening yourself up to more potential pain and disappointment. It’s far easier to just say, “Eh, whatever. They can never keep this up.” Or, “Yeah, this great, but talk to me in September.”
Seems like that’s the path that most casual fans are taking, but I guess you can’t really blame them. And at this point, it’s entirely up to the Sox as to whether the city eventually does go all in.
Starting on Thursday, when they take the field at home against the Yankees, Pedroia, Papi and company will be the only show in town. The Bruins and Celtics will have shut down for the summer, the Pats will be on the verge of an assortment of training camp talk that will soon feel about as significant as all the spring training storylines feel right now.
Meanwhile, the MLB season will officially kick into gear. Phrases like “small sample size,” and “it’s still early” won’t hold the same water. It’s about to get real, and if the Sox keep up the pace, as adverse as everyone might pretend to be right now, the city of Boston will be ready to get real with them. If not immediately, then eventually. And while that may not be fair, it’s just the reality. As great as this first half was, statistically, spiritually and everything in between, it’s going to take more for the Sox to regain the love and trust of this city on the whole.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at some of the specific stars of the first half, and whether they’ve got enough to keep it together moving forward, but for now, that first half speaks for itself. The numbers, the records, the mark that it left on Red Sox history. And the hope that it was more than just an impressive press release, but the start of something special.