Rushin: Enjoy The Ride
In late August, when the Cape Cod League has sent its players back to college and this flexed arm in the Atlantic Ocean once again becomes the Red Sox Riviera, two questions preoccupy New England residents: (1) will the 2018 Red Sox have the best record in baseball history, and (2) will it be in vain if they fail to win the World Series?
For many, the answer to both questions might still be “yes,” but even if Boston eclipses the 2001 Mariners (by winning 117 games) and equal those same Mariners (by falling in the playoffs) this summer has been a remarkable one for the Red Sox, who I’ve come to think of as J.D. Power & Associates.
J.D. Martinez might yet win the Triple Crown and his team is already making like Secretariat, who won his Triple Crown by running away at Belmont by 31 lengths, the kind of victory margin the Red Sox might approximate in the American League East. But Secretariat was led straight to the winner’s circle, not forced to run a lightning round of stakes races—the Division Series, the Championship Series, the World Series—to confirm his greatness and seal his place in posterity.
So let’s enjoy this run for what it is, not whatever it might fail to be: one of the finest in the history of Major League Baseball. Those initials—MLB—on the monogrammed towels of Markus Lynn Betts, whose chief rival for AL MVP (along with the Indians’ Jose Ramirez) is J.D. Martinez, who just last September hit four home runs in a game. And while he did that for the Diamondbacks, these Red Sox are performing similar comic-book feats every other night.
Betts hit for the cycle against the Blue Jays on Aug. 9, one week after Steve Pearce hit three home runs in a game against the Yankees. The next night, Pearce homered again in his first at-bat, at which time my 9-year-old said: “The Steve Pearce shift: all the Yankees go sit in the Monster seats.”
And that’s the thing about the six-month regular season: the results cannot be retroactively invalidated based on postseason outcomes. You may remember the 2016 Golden State Warriors for losing to the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, but the Dubs were no less thrilling in their 73-9 regular season. No Men-In-Black neuralyzer can wipe those memories away. Goosebumps are non-returnable.
Throughout his scorching campaign, Betts has worn a lucky ball and bat pendant handed to him by a kid from Kentucky in spring training. He also wears a lucky gold chain given to him by his father. During a lull in a game in May, Dennis Eckersley, the Red Sox discursive color analyst, mentioned that he himself pitched in a turtleneck even in the high heat of summer to prevent his own medallion from swinging on its chain and chipping his teeth. To hear Eckersley tell it, not wearing a medallion was not an option.
Eck still looks magnificent: the hair, mustache and tan preserve him in amber, in his 1970s and ’80s playing prime, as does his vintage baseball lingo. Martinez steals a base and Eck says J.D. “thinks he’s Johnny Wheels.” Didi Gregorius strikes out looking and “he’s got a pair of shoes.” Sonny Gray, rocked in his last outing, “got his lunch.” Luis Severino, in throwing at Betts, “tried to a Studly Do-Right.” Pearce “goes bridge” with a “three-run Johnson.” One of the pleasures of a season bereft of pennant-race tension is playing Eck Bingo, covering a square every time he says “iron” (for money) or “moss” (for hair).
With the highest payroll in baseball, a disproportionate share of national coverage and their long line of literary lionizers, from John Updike to Stephen King, the Red Sox will never endear themselves to the rest of America. But in New England, where even the classic-rock deejays work them into their patter before playing “Piano Man”—“Billy Joel is coming to Fenway on Friday night and bringing more hits than the Yankees did”—it is almost impossible to tune them out. They’re a song you can’t shake, Mookie in the Sky with Diamonds.
On a Saturday night in late July, Red Sox manager Alex Cora learned of the death, in a Jeep accident, of 16-year-old Ari Arteaga, this qe son of Cora’s close friend J.D. Arteaga, the pitching coach at the University of Miami. Cora managed the Red Sox through the Sunday matinée that afternoon, and said afterwards: “I had a joy watching our guys play.” And that’s why, whatever happens in October, this regular season can never be rendered meaningless. The fun is already in the books.
You cannot repossess joy.