Boston Red Sox’s Mookie Betts bats during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the against the Los Angeles Angels Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Watching the Red Sox in the first game of the umpteenth critical series of the 2019 season, this one against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night, was like watching an old friend in the last stage of a fatal disease. The Sox have been dying all year but, on Tuesday night, with their backs to the proverbial wall, the symptoms of the disease that had cost them the season, so far, was probably going to prevent any miracle recovery that their fans may have been expecting.

With three games against the American League West leading Twins and four against the AL East leading Yankees facing them and trailing in the Wild Card race by five and a half games, with just 25 games left to play, the Sox desperately needed a hot streak to have any chance at the playoffs.

Carl Johnson

First, Rick Porcello dug them a hole, giving up six runs on eight hits before being removed with nobody out in the fifth and the Sox behind 6-0. As usual, they came partway back, mainly on the strength of Rafael Devers 29th homer, a three-run shot to make it 6-4 after five. But, as they have done so many times this year, aside from Benintendi’s solo homer in the seventh that brought them to within a run, they could not finish the job. In the ninth, with one out and the tying run on base, last year’s MVP Mookie Betts tapped to the pitcher for the second out and this year’s candidate for MVP, Devers, went down on strikes to end the game and add another nail to the coffin.

This has been a painful year for me as a writer, following a Red Sox team that has earned my support over the past several years, even though I remain a Yankee fan.

I have followed and written about this team from 2011 to this year, through the end of the Francona era with the collapse in 2011 and the debacle that was Bobby Valentine in 2012. I was there through the beginning of the John Farrell’s tenure when the 2013 team made him look like a genius until the 2014 and 2015 teams finished last and the 2016 and 2017 teams couldn’t get through the first round of the playoffs and that era ended and Alex Cora was hired.

I had so much faith in that 2018 team that, long before the season began, I decided that this was probably going to be the Sox fourth championship of the decade and began to write a book that followed their progress from before the season started.

Day by day, I would bring the book up to date, faithfully following their progress toward what I hoped would be a successful end, knowing that, if they didn’t go all the way, all my work was out the window. After all, what interest would there be in a book about just another Red Sox failure?

I was ecstatic when on Feb. 26, 2018, right after the start of Spring Training, they signed J. D. Martinez, perhaps the last piece of the championship puzzle. When they finished Spring Training with a 22-9 record, the best in all of baseball, I knew they were on their way.

When they got off to a 17-2 start and were in first place, four games up, the writing was easy. When they stumbled and lost the first two games of a three-game series to the Yankees falling into second place on May 29, the writing was a chore and the same was true in late June when they went 10-7 in their last 17 games and spent seven days in second place.

On June 27, they beat the Angels at Fenway, 9-6, to reclaim first with a 54-27 record at exactly the halfway point, my investment of time and effort was looking better. They had exactly the same record, 54-27, for the second half of the season and never relinquished their lead.

In August, Chris Sale said he was “….proud to be a member of the best team ever to walk the face of the planet” and I had the title for my book, “The Best Team Ever?” All the Sox had to do now was get by the Astros, Yankees and Dodgers and all my effort and faith would not have been for nothing.

We all know what happened from then on and the Sox may well have been “The Best Team Ever.” After the 108-win season, (119 with the playoffs), Red Sox fans, myself included, expected great things from this team in 2019. Fortunately for me, I did not have enough faith in their ability to begin to write another book about the 2019 team, (I dodged a bullet there).

I think that, at this point, it is safe to say that the Sox will not be the first team to win successive World Series’ in this century. Despite the trend in baseball to analyze and reduce everything to numbers, no one will ever know what happened to this “Greatest Team.”

Maybe it’s just that this is a team with everything, except pitching. They do not have a single pitcher in the top ten in the league in earned run average and had a team era of 4.69. Eduardo Rodriguez, their top pitcher this year with 16 wins, had the best ERA of all the starters at 3.97. They had, as of Wednesday, the highest team batting average in all of baseball, three batters in the top ten in batting average, runs scored, on base percentage, doubles, total bases and runs batted in and four batters in the top ten in total hits.

Red Sox fans are disappointed, to say the least, in the performance of their team. A third-place finish seems in their near future but that is not the end of the world. Since 2001, the Sox have had only three losing seasons and have been the only team that has won four World Series titles. In that time, they have been to the Playoffs in 10 of 18 years, won five Division titles, finished second seven times, third three times and fifth three times.

Despite the fact that it appeared as of Wednesday that they will be missing the playoffs for the first time in four years, the sky is not falling yet. No matter what happens with Mookie, J. D., Porcello and the others who could find themselves elsewhere next year, there is a strong nucleus of young players who should keep the Sox in the race for at least the near future.

Carl Johnson is a noted baseball lecturer and author. His books include the popular series “THE BASEBALL BUFF’S BATHROOM BOOKS” and “THE BEST TEAM EVER?” which chronicles the Red Sox 2018 World Series win.

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