No matter what happens in Sunday night's game, the New York Yankees have spoiled and soiled the birthday party for Fenway Park thrown by the Boston Red Sox. After an easy 6-2 victory in Friday afternoon's throwback game, the Yankees shocked and demoralized the Red Sox on Saturday with their stunning 15-9 come-from-behind win. And with these two games punctuating the rough start to the season for Boston, which is coming on the heels of last September's historic collapse, the Red Sox are taking a beating of epic proportions. But is there more to it than just losing a few games? Is karma also involved?
I was lucky enough to have lived in Boston in the 1980s and first half of the '90s when one could walk up to Fenway and purchase tickets any day of the week, whether the Sox were playing the Royals, the Angels or the Yankees. Fenway was a grand old park, with baseball history oozing from every nook and cranny, but it was rarely sold out and attending a game there wasn't the event in and of itself that it became soon after. It was just a nice day at the ballpark. And the team was different, too. No matter if they were in last place or first, there was a sense that the Red Sox would somehow fail. Prosperity wouldn't last long. The team was Sisyphus, continually pushing the boulder up the hill until it rolled back down between Bill Buckner's legs. They were the heroic everyman schlub who couldn't catch a break. Fans everywhere sympathized with Sox rooters, and saw Boston as the ultimate underdog fighting the good fight against the big, bad, evil Yankees. The Red Sox were the Brooklyn Dodgers, St. Louis Browns and Chicago Cubs all rolled into one.
But then something happened. The Red Sox became just another Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers and, yes, New York Yankees. They finally won a World Series in 2004, and they kind of, sort of sold their soul to do it -- meaning they did it the Yankee way (and I'm sure the Yankee organization and its fans are comfortable with the phrases "sold their soul" and "the Yankee way" being tied together, as they make no qualms about spending enormously and gathering players by any means necessary). A giant payroll, mercenary free agents and star players acquired via trade that only a handful of rich teams could have afforded was the blueprint for their success, not to mention their two biggest stars being caught using PEDs. The Sox became the behemoth, on equal footing with the Evil Empire. Red Sox Nation went from a sad-sack, woe-is-me, downtrodden bunch to a trademarked, entitled, we're-better-than-you group (ok, not all of them, but the dynamic in Fenway has certainly changed). Decades of suffering and sympathy has disappeared and been replaced by the overdog. The little brother finally beat up the big brother, but he became just as insufferable as his older sibling. And the clubhouse in turn became a country club with the players' lack of discipline ultimately resulting in their beloved manager making his exit.
The Red Sox have gone from Ralph Kramden to diva in the last decade. They became exactly what they have hated all those losing years. We want to root for this franchise but they transformed into their philosophical opposite. Sure, these last two losses to the Yankees were just a couple of games, with Boston's woeful bullpen being the real culprit, and last September's loss may have just been one of those things, where the momentum was impossible to stop. But whereas the baseball gods can giveth, as they did in 2004 and 2007, they can also get mighty angry. Is it all karma? Probably not. But it sure seems like it.