What does it really mean?
55 foot fastballs aside, last night was amazing. Watching them do what they did was breathtaking, gut wrenching and many other things, all occurring within what felt like 5 minutes of time.
The thing CHB, Bob Ryan and so many other self proclaimed ‘experts’ can’t explain to you, beyond the normal rhetoric and column filling scraps they now turn out (which is desired at this point, far more than seeing CHB’s comic book fro even one more time) is what it truly means.
Let me see if I can help out.
What does it mean to win/lose in the most extraordinary comeback ever by a team facing elimination?
Well if you win there are some no brainers. You live to fight another day. You get to throw your ace one more time. You still must win two more games. But beyond that, what does it really mean? Until the game starts tomorrow it means absolutely zero. More on that in a second.
What does it mean to lose that game? No question it was a quieter flight than it could have been, much more sober as well. Every single member of that organization had the thought at some point “Damn, 7 more outs and we are in”. Seriously bumming you out sort of stuff. But I would guess based on the presence of players like Eric Hinske, Carlos Pena and a few others, there was not a lot of time before they started to reach out inside the clubhouse, and the flight, with the “So what? We still only need to win one more game” talk and guys quickly went to neutral and many likely went over to that positive place competitive people go when they need to change their state of mind.
But, exactly like the winning scenario above it all means absolutely zero on it’s impact until pitch 1 of game 6.
Now there will be some players on one team or the other, maybe both, that will take the effects of this game and it will absolutely impact them tomorrow, but that’s the minority.
That all changes when Shields delivers his first pitch tomorrow. Now, if you want to find a ‘physical’ tangible edge that the Sox might have, not over the Rays, but over other teams in this position, it’s there. It exists and it’s the very same reason you saw what you saw last night. There are enough players from 04 and 07 to impact the guys that weren’t. One pitch, one hitter, one AB, one inning and one play at a time. That’s the only mindset, imo, that you can possibly come back and win when you are facing 3-1/3-0 deficits. When 25 guys and coaches buy into that, and play with that single mindset, unreal and never before seen things happen. You don’t have to win 3 straight, 4 straight, no one wins 3 or 4 in a night. You have to win the 1st, then the 2nd, and so on. You might lose one, tie a few, but you just have to win 1 more inning than the other guy. When men of this caliber of talent allow themselves or are coached to understand this mindset (Thanks Big Don Kalkstein!!) they do things no one outside of them thought possible.
Now that’s not going to beat Tampa, the players are.
But what is going to happen tomorrow, mentally, is some of this. You have the entire world, outside of the 18 guys on the field, just waiting for what you think and feel should happen. The guys are not doing that, the game is way too hard and involved to think or waste that mental energy in that direction. But, the very first ‘incident’ changes everything. By that I mean this. Look at the last 4 games. Starting with TB jumping out early in 3/4/5 you had a fan mindset of “Holy crap we can never win if we keep giving up huge leads”. To some extent that hits the players, but I always felt it hit us far later than it did you. By the time you are griping before game 6 for the 5th consecutive day about giving up runs early we as players are generally done with that and onto something else. I’d argue it’s basically us operating under the law of averages, just knowing it’s not going to continue. It’s the same reason success sabotages itself, we just can’t believe it’s going to continue, history tells us as much. It works both ways. But there does and will come a point when it permeates the dugout, and onto the field. The X factor is the teams, situation and history. Remember “Don’t let us win this game, don’t” from 2004? We felt it, we thought we believed it, and after game 4 we did. Did that affect the Yanks, hell no, but it didn’t matter to us because it affected us, at least some of us, and in turn we affected each other.
If the Sox jump out early, which I think is important but not crucial, not only will Ray’s fans be thinking ‘oh no’ the first time we have a RISP early, but if we throw a few runs across early and Josh is even remotely himself, it will hit them. How hard and how much is a TBD but it will. At that point they will be at a severe disadvantage because the Sox will be operating with a mindset that could not be farther from that. Now that’s a hypothetical, completely, because Shields could absolutely come out and dominate and make it moot. Nothing, and I feel comfortable in saying this as an absolute, nothing on the planet affects momentum more than the starting pitchers. That’s both pre game and in game, in the post season. Josh’s credentials, regardless of his last two, are already impacting the game. I guarantee you they invaded some minds last night. If he’s on early, and they score early, that momentum generated last night will go to another level.
The one overriding thing to remember here though, for each team, is this.
1) Tampa has spent 6 months being told by some ‘expert’ or another they were ‘going to fade’ or they would not hold up by people that just don’t know what the hell they are talking about. Time and again they ‘held up’ and time and again they earned the respect of people that know the game. They earned their place here, and that in and of itself makes them every bit as capable of going to the World Series as anyone.
2) Boston has history, and that’s not irrelevant, not even close. There is ZERO ‘can we do this?’ going around in the clubhouse or the front office, zero. No need to ask, it’s been done, and it’s been done by the very guys in this room. They will take the 1 pitch at a time approach and if Josh is fine they will win.
Put experience in one hand, poop in the other see which one fills up faster. The ‘lack’ of experience Tampa Bay has is 100% completely irrelevant in this context. It’s served them well far more than it has ever hurt them. Not to mention the guy steering the ship is someone who has been badly mislabeled and branded as ‘quirky’ or ‘outside the box’. This guy is a quality human being, every bit the solid person Tito is, and like Tito is a baseball lifer. Joe Maddons team will win or lose on the field. They won’t be unprepared, over matched or anything else. Don’t forget this guy managed his team in the AL East and won more games than anyone. Both teams will be ready, and at the end of tomorrows game it will come down to those same old cliches the media hates to hear but knows are true.
Regardless, like 04 and 07 there is a feeling, and players don’t really think like this but more so fans and others, that we are now playing on house money. Every team ever in the situation the 04 and yesterdays 08 team went home. Their season was over. So once again you’ve got a group of guys who done something that’s never been done before, trying to do something that’s never been done before, again. I like that, they like that, if you’re a Sox fan you gotta like that too.
I’m saying Sox 7-1, Papi goes deep again, Petey has 4 hits and Josh goes 7, punching out 9 and Sox nation exhales, even if just a little, for one night…..