BOSTON — Extra-inning game after extra-inning game. Exhausting distractions on team planes and beanball wars.
Whatever happens down the stretch, the first-place Red Sox can probably find confidence in their accumulated experience. As far as a baseball season goes, they’ve had their share of craziness.
To be clear: we’re not talking about adversity of a more serious nature here. This is baseball fantasy land, where things for the Sox to overcome include what someone says on a television broadcast. Or late innings with tired bullpen arms.
Nonetheless, there’s a blooming pennant race, and the Red Sox have a right to feel buoyed by what they’ve gone through this year.
Consider that the Sox have won 10 of 12 games this season when they were tied after eight innings.
That win percentage in tight games may well be a product of good fortune. It’s certainly the product of an excellent bullpen, as well, a group that did not allow any runs in five innings on Friday night in a 3-2, 11-inning win over the White Sox.
But late in the year, or even into the expected playoff run, it doesn’t hurt for the Sox to have some tough days to lean on. To be able to say themselves, hey, we’ve done that.
“Let's face it, we've been pretty accustomed to playing extreme games,” Sox manager John Farrell said afterward. “I don't know if that makes us any more comfortable or relaxed, but we've found ourselves in that position many times. But credit our bullpen, walk-offs are directly attributed to a timely hit late, and certainly how well our bullpen has pitched to extend ballgames. Tonight another big blow from Mitch, a timely one obviously, on a night where we were maybe able to increase a lead.”
No one’s talent level changes because of those moments. But experience can help control a heart rate. For the most cynical out there, it can at least act as a placebo: If a player believes he’s better off batting with two out and the bases loaded in the ninth inning because he’s come through in that moment before, let him roll with that belief.
This line of thinking is ultimately tricky. You go too far if you look at the world-beating Dodgers and suggest they’re at a disadvantage because they haven’t had enough adversity. A team that could win more than 110 games isn’t at any disadvantage.
But if the Red Sox are going to finish with 92 wins, there can be some value found in the way some of those more memorable games were won, in the amount of atypical drama this team has had to sort through.