Last night’s game was a gut punch. Sure, it was technically only one game, but to Red Sox fans it must have felt like three or four. An early slap in the face, an inspiring comeback and then a 1-2 from A-Rod and Marcus Thames which probably felt like a mugging. With that the Red Sox have now lost 14 of 17 to the Yankees and at 19-20 in the toughest division in baseball, stand 8.5 games back. Wait, that’s not right. They sort of sit there, kind of dazed, shifting their weight back and forth.
It’s the kind of game that can make the talk radio guys go from asking “what’s wrong with the Red Sox” to shouting about who should be cut, traded and fired and demanding to know why anyone should even care. More importantly, it’s the kind of game that could cause fans to decide that 2010 just isn’t happening and inspire them to find something else to do with their summer days than extend the Red Sox’ sellout streak.
But I think all of that wrath will hold off for a bit longer. At least a couple weeks longer, anyway, and maybe as long as a month. What’s stopping it? The Celtics, who currently look unstoppable. For those of you who don’t traffic in the lesser sports, the men in green -- after unceremoniously kicking LeBron James out of the playoffs and maybe out of Cleveland -- lead the Eastern Conference finals 1-0 over the Orlando Magic, and look poised to head into the finals to challenge for their 18th banner.
Because the NBA is far more ridiculous than even Major League Baseball when it comes to scheduling, even a four-game sweep of the Magic would take until next Monday and a seven game series would take this sucker through May 30th. Then, unless things go differently than they currently appear to be going, it’s on to the Finals which could stretch into mid-June. It should all serve as a nice distraction.
I’m not saying that the Red Sox will get a free pass to continue sucking while all that plays out -- Boston is a baseball town above all else, and the Sox’ bad play will make some people cranky no matter what happens -- but a nice long playoff run for the Celtics, preferably with a championship at the end, may prevent the more casual fans from hopping onto the Red Sox hate-wagon.
Of course when they do ultimately jump on, they’ll jump on hard. That is, unless they reverse a trend that currently has them giving up more runs per game than any other team in the American League (yes, including the Kansas City Royals). And unless Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury come back and remind everyone that, yes, this is a good defensive team. And unless last night’s explosion from Victor Martinez is a harbinger of a long hot streak that will make the middle of the Sox’ order as truly formidable as it was supposed to be.
And make no mistake: last night’s game aside -- if indeed it’s possible to put it aside -- the Sox have improved. It’s just that this improvement means very little as the Rays and Yankees continue to stand on the gas pedal and motor off into the distance.
But for the moment at least some non-trivial percentage of Red Sox Nation -- those whose passports are a tad newer, it’s safe to assume -- are only paying half attention. Instead, they’re watching the Celtics. A team that, with each win, pushes the Sox’ day of public reckoning farther into the future.
The only problem? Each Celtics’ win also puts the Sox’ current state in sharper relief.