"Well, they're the same old Red Sox," began the first call to Boston radio station WRKO's Sportscall show last Wednesday night. Minutes earlier, the A's had completed a three-game sweep that brought Boston's losing skid to seven of eight. The next morning the Globe ran a decline-and-fall story across the top of page one, and when a sportswriter walked into the dry cleaners on Washington Street in Brookline that day, a perfect stranger turned to him and said, "It's over."
At the time, the Red Sox had a three-game lead over the second-place Yankees.
New Englanders have been conditioned to believe that the Red Sox have no more chance of hanging around until mid-October than the oak leaves in Aroostook County, Maine. The slide following Oil Can Boyd's July 10 outburst did nothing to change that notion. In the next 13 games, the Red Sox won three times, all Roger Clemens victories. On their West Coast trip after the All-Star break they were 2-8 and saw their six-game lead over New York cut in half. While Clemens was saying, "We don't believe in all that garbage in the past—this is a young team," some fans were panicking nonetheless.
Old-timers have never forgotten 1949, when the Red Sox went into New York with two games remaining and a one-game lead and lost both games and the pennant. This is the eighth time in 15 years in which the Red Sox have been in first place after July 4, and they have only one division championship to show for that period.
Two of the worst collapses were in 1974 and 1978. In '74 the Sox led by seven games over the second-place Yankees on Aug. 23, led third-place Baltimore by 8 games by Aug. 29—and finished third, seven games behind the Orioles. In '78 they led second-place New York by 14 games on July 19, and had the Yankees down by nine on Aug. 9. Boston eventually fell 3� back in September but won its last eight games of the regular season, only to lose that famous playoff game 5-4 to New York when Bucky Dent hit a three-run homer off Mike Torrez in the seventh inning at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox were in first as late as Sept. 26 in 1972 and finished half a game behind Detroit. They were in first on July 10 in 1973 and finished eight games behind Baltimore. They were in first as late as Aug. 23 in 1977 and finished 2� games behind New York. In the second half of the 1981 split season, they were in first as late as Sept. 25 and finished 1� games behind Milwaukee. In 1982 they had a three-and-a-half-game lead at the All-Star break and finished six games behind Milwaukee.
"We were two games up when we lost Al Nipper and Bruce Hurst in late May," says Red Sox second baseman Marty Barrett. Two weeks later they also lost Sammy Stewart. "Now we're [three] games ahead. We should get Boyd, Nipper and Hurst back in gear. We have Tom Seaver now. What's the big deal?"