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8/27/2007 08:41:00 AM

AL East: Sox Rules

By Alex Belth

I contributed two narrative chapters for the new Baseball Prospectus book, It Ain't Over 'Til it's Over. One of them is about the 1974 American League East. That summer, the Boston Globe featured a daily this-date-in-1967 column, reminding pennant-starved Red Sox fans of the improbable run the team had seven years earlier. The '67 team is credited with the resurgence of the franchise, even though it did not lead to a championship.

The Sox narrowly missed reaching the playoffs in 1972, and they could thank a strike and poor executive planning for that. In '74, they found themselves in first place for most of the summer. On Aug. 23, Luis Tiant, the first black player to be fully embraced by Sox fans, shut out the A's 3-0, winning his 20th game of the season in front of the largest crowd to fill Fenway Park in 18 years. Boston was seven games in front of the Orioles and Yankees.

Then, they lost 14 of their next 20, and finished the season in third place. The season would epitomize Boston's reputation until 2004. From Bucky Dent to '86, the Sox always found a way to come up short. But after thoroughly humiliating the White Sox in Chicago this weekend, 11-3, 10-1, 14-2, and 11-1 -- giving a new twist on the old Boston Massacre line -- the Red Sox are 7.5 games in front of the Yankees, and this is a brave new world.

These Red Sox are different. Sox fans wailed last winter about J.D. Drew so far have been proved right. Drew, who hit just his seventh home run of the year on Sunday, could be the first Boston right fielder since 1953 to hit fewer than 10 bombs in a season. Imagine the Boston-baked beatdown this guy would otherwise be suffering if the Sox weren’t in first place?

Of course, Red Sox have had lots of good offensive teams in the past, but now their strength is pitching. Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and ol' reliable, Tim Wakefield have been excellent this year, while Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Paplebon have been extraordinary out of the bullpen. Not the same Red Sox at all.

Even in New York City, there is a different feeling about them. I lived in Brooklyn from '94 through 2000 and knew of only one Red Sox fan in my neighborhood. Now, Brooklyn's rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods are littered with Red Sox fans. The Sox have become virtually the third team in town. Most Sox fans are transplants from New England. Some are old Dodger fans, others are anyone in general who hates the Yankees. Others are Dominicans who have loved Boston ever since Pedro, then Manny and Ortiz arrived.

It's not so much that older Red Sox fans are finally comfortable wearing their gear out -- though they certainly are -- it's that the younger generation of Sox fans, the ones that don't actually remember '86, are proudly sporting their team pride without fear of reprisal. You know, the Patriots-Era Red Sox fans. These fans are too young to care about the team's history of losing. They remember the comeback of 2004. They root for the best organization in football. They have developed a sense of entitlement about winning that reminds me of, dare I say it, Yankee fans.

Whether Boston will reach the World Series remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely that they will miss the playoffs, despite the team's history. While some older fans will always wait for the other shoe to drop, younger Sox fans expect nothing but good things. August is not October, but Boston can deliver the knockout punch to the Yankees this week when the teams meet for a three-game series in New York. Curt Schilling had it wrong a few years ago when he said there was nothing he enjoyed more than shutting up the 55,000 at Yankee Stadium because there's generally 15,000-20,000 Red Sox fans in attendance for Yankee-Sox games. This week will be no different. The Stadium will be filled with raucous Red Sox rooters as their team looks to bury New York and sail away with the division title.

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posted by SI.com | View comments |  

Comments:

Posted: August 27, 2007 12:14 PM   by Anonymous
I just wanted to say that seeing "Paplebon" on this site is getting old. It's PapELbon, people, not PapLEbon. Just my picky $0.02 worth...
Posted: August 28, 2007 2:09 AM   by Anonymous
Hey Alex:

Dude, Luis Tiant is Cuban, not black. A little rusty on your Bosox lore, I see.
I also have to wonder if I should give up and stop teaching my students that there's such a word as "proven".

But more importantly, go Sox.

I remember '86 well, but not quite '78, where does that put me?
Posted: August 28, 2007 10:12 AM   by Anonymous
I think it's interesting that most of the New York transplants that are now located in New England have all of a sudden either stopped ranting about the superiorty of their city, or have become Mets fans. I think New York is the prime example of fair weather fans. I hope the Sox pummel them this week!
Posted: August 28, 2007 11:59 AM   by Anonymous
Hey moron. Remember Reggie Smith? George Scott? Tommy Harper?

Why does SI hire these idiots that cannot do simple investigative work?

And like the person before me said Loooooooie is Cuban.

As for the late season fades, well I've seen a few. I'll never forget Aparicio falling down rounding third. It still hurts. And I blame Zimmer for 78. He doesn't pitch Lee because he doesn't like him? What a Gerbil! And how about throwing the young phenom in the 4 game sweep by the Yanks. How about never pulling Hobson from third? The guy couldn't throw anymore. Zimmer is the only reason we lost in 78.

Well I rant. I was pissed about the black reference by this piss poor writer. Boston is tired of hearing we are racist.
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