They are ready to celebrate. One night this week, the Boston Red Sox will pop champagne in the clubhouse for the first time since 2009. After the collapse of 2011 and the ignominy of 2012, it will be a long-awaited party.
While there are no certainties in life, the Sox are a lock to win the AL East title for just the second time since 1995. They’ve already won 92 games — best in the majors — and need to go just 6-5 down the stretch to match their best record in the last 35 years.
In just six months the Sox have raised expectations from playoff hopeful to World Series contender. At this point, anything short of first place would be a total disappointment.
But success is achieved by reaching one goal at a time. The first order of business is for the Sox to secure a playoff spot. In 2013, clinching a wild-card spot only guarantees a one-game playoff. The Sox want to avoid that. They want to face the winner of that showdown — a team that’s tired physically and mentally and has used up key pitchers just to get to Game 1 of the League Division Series.
So what will the Red Sox do if they clinch a playoff spot a night or two after nailing down the division title? Will they party like it’s 2003?
That was the “Cowboy Up” season of Kevin Millar, Johnny Damon, Pedro Martinez and others. The year that laid the groundwork for the 2004 championship that set off church bells around New England.
On September 25, 2003, the Red Sox obliterated the Baltimore Orioles 14-3 at Fenway Park. The win clinched the AL wild card for Boston (the division was already won by the Yankees). With three games to go in the season the Sox held a clinching celebration worthy of a championship. Millar and others ultimately took their champagne to the nearby Baseball Tavern on Boylston Street, still wearing their jerseys and spikes.
The team was roundly criticized for overly celebrating, but to a man they had no regrets. They were letting loose after 159 games of stress-filled baseball.
There’s a good lesson for these Red Sox to remember over the next few nights. Clinching a wild-card spot might seem like a small step forward for a team with the best record in the game, but it’s a step that was hard fought and won. They should take every opportunity to enjoy the moment.
With a bigger prize in the offing, it’s doubtful the celebration will come anywhere near what we saw 10 years ago. But we now fully understand how fleeting such moments can be.
The Red Sox haven’t been to the playoffs in four years. They haven’t won a postseason game since Oct. 18, 2008.
David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are the only two members of the 2013 Red Sox to play in that game. They’ve waited a long time to celebrate a return.
They’ll get their chance this week. Maybe two chances. They — and we — should enjoy each moment of both.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.