By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
In the insane nearly two-decade run of professional sports franchises in Boston, I can’t recall one that has become about as dislikeable as you can be after taking a duck boat tour of the city less than 12 months ago as this Red Sox squad so quickly.
For as historic their performance was a year ago – 108 wins which was the 119-year old franchise’s best in their history – Alex Cora’s club was still looked upon as fatally flawed as late as the last week of September.
Given the fact that the back of their bullpen was shaky with closer Craig Kimbrel looking as vulnerable as he had ever been in his three years in Boston – not to mention the team’s young core of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogearts and Andrew Benintendi had folded like a cheap lawn chair the previous two postseasons – not many were too sold on the Sox winning the World Series entering October.
Adding to this almost universal feeling was the fact that staff ace Chris Sale once again went from the acknowledged top Cy Young candidate at the All-Star break, to a guy that looked like his pitching arm was going to fall off for his second-straight year in a Red Sox uniform.
And the assumption that David Price would once again pee down his leg in the playoffs as he had his whole career – talk surrounding the team as they were approaching the first round series against their ancient rival the New York Yankees, didn’t exactly instill a lot of faith, even in the most of those who make up the Fenway Faithful.
Nevertheless, the Sox – led by rookie manager Cora who seemingly couldn’t make a mistake throughout his first season as a MLB skipper – not only found a way to win the team’s 4th title since the sent from heaven 2004 squad gave permission to many Boston baseball fans to die in peace, they steamrolled the competition.
They put away the Yanks in four games of the best of five divisional series. They completed a gentleman’s sweep of the defending World Series Champion Astros in Houston, and they did the same to the Dodgers in Los Angeles, making them look like dopes in the process.
So emboldened was the former Sox utility infielder turned manager Cora, during the pep-rally at Fenway before the “rolling rally” that the late Boston mayor Thomas Menino started in February of 2002 to celebrate the Patriots first Super Bowl win over the then St. Louis Rams – and who could have never imagined at the time what a tradition this celebration would become – he brashly bragged about his team bashing the Yanks 16-1 in their own ballpark in Game 3 of the opening round.
“Think about it,” Cora said. “The New York Yankees? Yeah, the sky was falling. We lost Game 2 and it was panicking here, everybody was like, ‘oh, it’s over.’ We scored 16 at Yankee Stadium. Suck on it.”
No doubt, that is a classic line, but it seems that was the beginning of this Red Sox team believing almost everything that was written about them until spring training started in February.
In the offseason, team president Dave Dombrowski did nothing but weaken his team. He signed World Series MVP Steve Pierce – aka, blind squirrel finding a nut at the most opportune time –for an inflated $6.25 million for this season, and two-time Tommy John surgery pitcher in Nathan Eovaldi – a guy who has never pitched 200 innings in a year in the big leagues – to $17M for the next four seasons and is currently only capable of playing catch after yet another injury to his pitching elbow.
The nauseating number of times that Cora has referred to what the team did last year – a team that doesn’t have anything close to the bullpen that was anchored by Kimbrel – has been just plain silly since the team began camp in Fort Myers some four-plus months ago. Similarly, so has Dombrowski’s unwillingness to address what very likely will be the reason that his team doesn’t make the playoffs if they continue to puke on their shoes in the late innings.
Sorry to say it Sox fans, but this ownership group is more likely to stick with this pathetic group of bullpen pitchers that they have right now before they go over MLB’s salary tax threshold this season.
As it stands now, the truth is reality sucks and so does the back end of Boston’s bullpen. And I doubt that a guy who has his pursestrings held tight and a poor reputation of selecting reliable relievers who can close out games is going to somehow figure out the mess the Sox are in right now.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.