SOUTH PORTLAND – Harry Simones sat on a bench at the Maine Mall minding his business when a wise guy walked up and asked him a simple question. “Why?”

I was staring at his high-priced polo shirt with the pair of red socks over the heart. Why would anyone show their allegiance to the Red Sox after this miserable season?

“It was the first thing I saw in my closest and it looks good on me,” said Simones, of Auburn. He had a hint of defiance in his voice. “I went out for breakfast this morning. The cook is a Yankees fan. The assistant cook is a Yankees fan.”

Tough times call for tough fans to stand up for their team. Simones knows the difference between loyalty and disloyalty. What didn’t I understand?

For the third straight year, Red Sox fans are looking at a barren October. No red-white-and-blue bunting stretched across the Fenway Park facade. No adjusting bedtimes or sleep patterns to compensate for playoff games that end after midnight.

The 93 losses endured by the team this season has humbled Red Sox fans in ways the hated Yankees never could. But humility and despair are two very different emotions. I found stages of one during my pulse-taking Saturday morning and afternoon. I didn’t really find the other, although Dan Bailey, 34, of Yarmouth had a distinct sense of foreboding.

“I was 10 years old when I became a fan. I suffered through the 1990s. I think this team is heading in that direction. I think things could improve, too. It all depends who the next manager is.”

Next manager? How about the next owners? John Henry, Larry Lucchino and their cohorts do get credit for ending 86 years of futility and providing the support that enabled the Red Sox to win in 2004. But it’s one thing to guide a functional franchise and quite another when things seem busted. Henry denies he’ll sell the Red Sox. He should take the money and go.

While celebrating the 2007 World Series win, some fans boasted of a Red Sox century. It wasn’t even a Red Sox decade. The Red Sox have lost their way.

“I’m not afraid,” said Jay Morin of Portland. “They’ll turn it around.” His young, school-age sons wore new caps bought maybe 10 minutes earlier. Trase had a Red Sox cap on his head. Younger brother Miki wore New England Patriots colors.

Certainly some Red Sox fans wadded up their team T-shirts, uniform tops, hats and wrist bands in disgust and buried them in a corner of their closet. I didn’t find them.

I found Chris Tardif of Biddeford, leaving a pee wee football game in Saco with his 2-year-old daughter in his arms. He was a Biddeford High baseball player. “True fans can’t give up. Sure, this year it was hard to put on your Red Sox stuff.”

Bill and Missy Thibeault, and Leonard and Susan Bineau of Biddeford sat alongside the football field. The B’s on their caps stood for the Red Sox, not their hometown. Hope for better times next season all the way around. Yes, they remember when people called their favorite baseball team Red Flops from years of bitter disappointments.That perjorative was erased in 2004 from collective memories.

Ray Emery of Durham wore his faded Red Sox T-shirt with Jason Varitek’s name on the back. “Why not? It’s comfortable.” Is Varitek his choice for manager? “Not yet, but yes. Catchers make great managers.”

Sure. I’ll pitch again the name of another Red Sox catcher: Tony Pena, the current bench coach for the Yankees and the Kansas City manager for a false spring or two.

Emery might adopt a team for October. Most will, if they’re baseball fans.

Saturday, the Oakland A’s were favorite sons, what with former Red Sox players Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and George Kottaras on the roster. All but Crisp played for the Portland Sea Dogs. Hungry players without egos or big contracts.

If not Oakland, then Baltimore. That local boy Ryan Flaherty started at second base in Friday’s playoff victory over Texas and got a hit off Yu Darvish has been noticed. Of course, any team that can eliminate the Yankees in the next round is a candidate for adoption.

Just ask Simones. He’ll tell you.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway