BOSTON (CBS) — Last year, lest anyone forget, the Red Sox went into a coma during the final week of the regular season. The Red Sox lost five of their final six games, clinching a playoff spot during an awkward walk-off loss to the Yankees in New York. Then they got unceremoniously swept by the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the playoffs.
But before we ask whether history is repeating itself, here is a far more important question:
Do the Red Sox know how to close?
“That’s something that we can’t necessarily just think is going to happen. The way this team is comprised, we have to lead the way from the mound,” an increasingly antsy John Farrell, the Red Sox manager, told reporters following last night’s pasting at the hands of the Houston Astros. “I don’t think how we regain that momentum will shift to a different formula.”
OK, so the term is certainly more than a little abstract. Closing. What exactly does it mean? Last season, in September, the Red Sox won 11 straight and 16-of-19 to all but mathematically secure the American League East. But when it came time to sign the proverbial contract, the Sox got sweaty palms and buttery fingers, and many of us thought it was nothing more than a meaningless late-season letdown.
Then the Cleveland series happened and the Sox got their tails kicked.
Now it seems to be happening again. This year, the Sox were 14-3 in their last 17 September games entering the final week, during which the division felt like a formality. And you know what? It still is. But it’s one thing for those of us on the outside to feel that way. It is another thing entirely for the uniformed members of the club to already be in shutdown mode.
Back to that esoteric term again: closing. If you’re one of the people who believes that any old schmuck can pitch the ninth inning of a close game, well, then you can stop reading here. But if you believe that some people can harness anxiety and pressure while others cannot – I mean, can Matt Barnes close the same way Craig Kimbrel does? – then you probably believe the same is true of teams.
Some know how to finish a job. Some don’t.
Maybe this means something and maybe it doesn’t, but the Chicago Cubs ran away with the National League Central last year and then obviously won the World Series. During the final week of the season, the Cubs went 5-2. This year, the Cleveland Indians have won four of their last five and the Astros have won four straight by scores of 11-2, 14-3, 12-2 and 12-2, the last being last night’s shaming of the Red Sox.
Will that mean anything come next week? Last time we checked, no one could predict the future. But it certainly feels like Cleveland and Houston are gearing up for October, which is more than we can say for a Red Sox team sorting through health issues and bad starting pitching while having failed to officially win anything.
Remember: this Red Sox team is largely comprised of younger players who have never won anything before. The only player on this roster with any track record of team success is Dustin Pedroia. But given how the Sox fell on their faces last October – the Sox posted a 5.04 team ERA while batting .214 with 31 strikeouts and 21 hits in three games – one cannot help but wonder if they think they are better than they really are.
At the moment, after all, it feels like Cleveland and Houston are elevating while the Red Sox are dropping, which gives some of us an eerie sense of déjà vu all over again.
Does that mean the Sox are already doomed in October? Of course not. But in order to erase the late-season failures of 2016 the Sox need to change history, not repeat it.
And right now, the end of 2017 feels very, uncomfortably familiar.